Best Croatian islands

The azure waters off Croatia’s craggy Dalmatian coast are home to over 1,200 islands. Of these, around 50 are inhabited and boast largely untouched beauty, stunning views over the Adriatic, and some of the best beaches in Croatia. It’s little wonder then, that the Croatian islands are becoming increasingly popular holiday destinations. Here, we look at the best Croatian islands...
Secret turquoise beach yachting and sailing, Island of Brac, Croatia. Photo: Shutterstock
Secret turquoise beach yachting and sailing, Island of Brac, Croatia. Photo: Shutterstock


Hvar Island

With around 12,000 inhabitants, the lively Hvar is one of the more populated islands on this list, and also one of the most popular. Renowned for its fine red wines (the sought-after Plavac grape grows here) and fragrant lavender fields, Hvar Island is also home to the Unesco-declared Stari Grad Plains, an agricultural area created by the Greeks in the 4th century that remains largely unchanged today. After the Greeks, the Venetians occupied Hvar during the 15th and 16th centuries, leaving a unique architectural and cultural mark on this beautiful island, which is one of the best places to go in Croatia. To get to Hvar from Split by ferry, it takes just over one hour. Explore Hvar Island yourself as part of Insight Guides’ Sailing Croatia’s Adriatic Coast trip.

A beautiful sunset, as seen from Hvar Island. Photo: Shutterstock 


Mljet

According to Greek mythology, Odysseus (also known as Ulysses) was shipwrecked on Mljet Island after encountering a fierce storm when returning from the Trojan Wars (the cave where he was washed ashore is named after him). Enchanted by the island’s beauty (and the goddess Calypso) Odysseus went on to spend seven years wandering the pine forests and craggy coves of Mljet. It’s not hard to see why: the east of the island is home to Mljet National Park, carpeted in forest, with two stunning saltwater lakes and a quaint monastery on an island. Mljet Island is home to slightly more than 1,000 people, and is roughly one-hour from Dubrovnik by ferry. Spend a night on Mljet as part of Insight Guides’ exclusive trip, Sailing Croatia’s Adriatic Coast.

The monastery on St Mary's Island, Mljet, dates back to the 12th century. Photo: Shutterstock

 

Korčula

Located at the southern end of Croatia’s dramatic Dalmatian coast, Korčula is thought by many to be the birthplace of Marco Polo.  Korčula was once a part of the Venetian Republic, and a number of families on the island still bear the surname de Polo today, lending credibility to this theory. Each year, Korčula celebrates Marco Polo's birthday in May. Aside from this unique bit of history, this island offers some stunning architecture: Korčula’s walled old town is a fantastically well-preserved medieval settlement, dominated by a fortress that looks out over the Adriatic. Korčula is also famous for its wines, with both the Grk and Pošip grapes growing freely on the island. Sample some for yourself: a stop at Korčula is included on Insight Guides’ Sailing Croatia’s Adriatic Coast trip.

Old town, Korčula, is thought to be the birthplace of Marco Polo. Photo: Shutterstock


Brač

Croatia’s third-largest island, Brač, is home to the country’s most famous beach, the Zlatni Rat (also known as the Golden Horn). This iconic beach, located near the town of Bol, is made up of two adjoined banks of white sand that jut out into the ocean and meet, forming an arrow-shape. See it yourself with Insight Gudies' Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast trip, which includes a stop at Brač. Windsurfing is also popular pursuit in the waters off Bol. For many centuries, Brač, one of the southern Dalmatian islands, was a primary source of white limestone, and supplied stone for illustrious buildings including the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest and the White House in Washington DC. The island of Brač lies off the coast near Split, and is easily accessible via ferry.

 The iconic Zlatni rat beach. Photo: Shutterstock


Elaphiti Islands 

Located just 20 minutes from Dubrovnik, this quaint archipelago makes the perfect getaway for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the Pearl of the Adriatic. There are 13 islands in total, but just three that are inhabited – Koločep, Lopud and Šipan. These three islands make a great place to stay if you are looking to explore Dubrovnik from a more peaceful base. With a total population of just under 1,000, the islands themselves are serene and still, and are carpeted in pine forests and olive groves, with a handful of sandy beaches to explore. An excursion to the Elaphiti Islands is included in Insight Guides’ Sailing Croatia's Adriatic Coast trip. Alternatively, our local experts can plan a tailor-made holiday for you, featuring a stay on the Elaphiti Islands; simply submit an enquiry to get started.

Franciscan monastery on the Elaphiti Island of Lopud. Photo: Shutterstock


Lastovo

One of Croatia’s most remote spots, Lastovo is a collection of 46 individual islands, with only the main island being permanently inhabited. Lastovo is the place to come for relaxation and introspection; wi-fi networks and phone signal are scarce here at best. Previously a Yugoslavian military base, the island was only opened to the foreigners in 1988. Today, Lastovo is home to a dwindling population, and just one hotel, although there are a handful of holiday cottages and apartments to rent. Virtually the entire island is criss-crossed with walking trails and cycling routes, making it perfect to explore. Speak to a local expert today about organising a trip to Lastovo.  

A tiny fishing village on the island of Lastovo. Photo: Shutterstock


Cres

With a surface area of 405.70 km2, Cres narrowly beats neighbouring Krk (which has a surface area of 405.22 km2) to the title of largest island in Croatia. Cres – along with Krk – is one of the Kvarner Islands, named so because they are located in the Kvarner Gulf. Cres is separated from neighbouring Lošinj – also well worth a visit – by a channel that is just 11 metres (36ft) wide, with the two islands often mistaken for one another from distance. Cres is supposedly where Jason and the Argonauts came to search for the Golden Fleece. Today, the island is home to over 500km (310 miles) of walking trails that wind and weave their way through abandoned hamlets, pine forests, caves and beaches. Speak to a local expert today about organising a trip to Cres.

 

One of the many walking trails on Cres. Photo: Shutterstock


Krk

Croatia’s second-largest island, Krk is also its most accessible: a bridge from Croatian Littoral connects the island to the mainland, whilst it is also home to its own international airport, which functions as Rijeka’s airport. As you’d expect then, Krk is a popular choice among tourists, especially locals, so you may want to consider visiting outside of peak season. Aside from its accessibility, Krk’s fascinating history and popular beaches form the basis of the island’s popularity. The town of Baška, in the south, is home to the popular beach of Velika Plaža, and is the location where the 12th-century Baška Tablet was discovered. The tablet is thought to be the earliest recorded instance of the Croatian language and is regarded as the most famous monument of early Croatian literacy. A copy of the tablet can be seen in the nearby village of Jurandvor, at the Church of St Lucy, whilst the original resides in Zagreb’s Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

 Beach at Stara Baška, on Krk island. Photo: Shutterstock 

 

Rab 

Ferries to Rab frequently depart from Baška; the journey is short and pleasant. Rab is much less developed than neighbouring Krk, with Rab Town easily one of the most beautiful towns in all of Croatia. Here, you will find a medieval oasis stretched out in a riot of bell towers, spires and winding streets on a narrow peninsula, surrounded by crystal-clear water. Whether you prefer swimming in pine-shrouded beaches or exploring old churches, it’s practically impossible not to fall in love with Rab Town. The rest of the island is renowned for its beaches, which are – for the most part – sandy, whereas many of Croatia’s beaches are pebble. Rab's most popular beach is Rajska Beach.

The beautiful Rab Town. Photo: Shutterstock