Planning a holiday to Croatia? Read our guide to the best regions, with expert advice on Istria, the Dalmatian Coast, the cities Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar and Zagreb, the islands, including Hvar, and the national parks.
Croatia was all but forgotten for almost a decade following the war (1991–1995) that saw the break-up of Yugoslavia. It is now firmly back on the summer destinations map. And with its stunning coastline, unspoilt nature (including eight national parks) and beautifully-preserved centuries-old harbour towns, it offers a less commercial take on the sun, sea and sand holidays you would expect in Greece or Spain. So where exactly should you head for?
Fly to Pula in the north-west to explore Istria, a green peninsula with close cultural ties to northern Italy. Popular with both Italians and Central Europeans on account of its accessibility, it’s also the most highly organised region in terms of tourism facilities and infrastructure.
The region is best known for its Venetian-era port towns on the west coast, including its top seaside destinations, Porec and Rovinj. The undulating hills of the interior are planted with vineyards giving forth the rich red Teran wine, and pungent truffles are unearthed in its woodlands. Ideal for a low-key foodie holiday with some hiking and culture included, Istria also attracts festival-goers with open-air electronic music bonanzas by the sea at Fort Punta Christo (fortpuntachristo.net) just outside Pula.
More rugged and wild, and less developed, Dalmatia lies to the south, and can be divided into three. From the UK, you can fly direct to Dubrovnik (South Dalmatia), Split (Central Dalmatia) or Zadar (North Dalmatia).
The big pluses are the blissful pine-scented Dalmatian islands and the warm Mediterranean climate, but you also get plenty of historic buildings too (most obviously in Dubrovnik and Split, both Unesco world heritage sites), and the dramatic, soaring Dinaric Alps backing the coast.
The most visited islands are trendy Hvar, with its slick minimalist design hotels and boho-chic seafood eateries, slower-paced Korcula, with its lovely medieval-walled car-free old town, and Pag, where Zrce beach near Novalje hosts a string of open-air music festivals through summer.
The main hubs for ferries to the islands are Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar, so with a bit of planning you can fly in and sail out the same day. For ferry timetables, see jadrolinija.hr.
Islands aside, the Dalmatian coast more than warrants exploration. If you hire a car and drive up from Dubrovnik to Split, you’ll pass the Peljesac peninsula, a haven for foodies with its hillside vineyards producing the potent red Dingac, Ston Bay, with its acclaimed oysters and mussels, and the Makarska Rivijera, with its fine pebble beaches and turquoise waters, backed by the imposing heights of Mount Biokovo.
Alternatively, you could fly to the capital, Zagreb, then hire a car and drive (or take the train) across to Rijeka or down to Split to explore Istria or Dalmatia respectively. If you head south for Dalmatia, work in a stop at Plitvice National Park to see spectacular waterfalls and lakes at Croatia’s most visited inland destination.
British Airways currently operates from London Gatwick and Heathrow to Dubrovnik, Pula, Zagreb and Split.
Budget airline options include easyJet, Croatian Airlines, Monarch, Ryanair and Jet2.
DialAFlight or the Charter Flight Centre can advise on seat-only tickets from regional UK airports with tour operator charters to Pula and Dubrovnik or book direct at Thomson Airways.