Exploring the best of Croatia's islands

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Croatia’s coast is speckled with dozens of magnificent islands that range from tiny, verdant and unpopulated to massive, arid and sporting ancient towns and villages. One of the chief delights on any visit to Croatia is hopping between the islands on the numerous ferries, catamarans and taxi boats, or, if you’re thus blessed, your own sailing boat. Here’s a cheat sheet of some of the best islands if you're planning a cruise.

Hvar by Sobracroacia.com. Creative Commons Attribution Licence

Hvar

Hvar is the number-one carrier of Croatia’s superlatives: it’s the most luxurious island, and the sunniest place in the country (2724 sunny hours each year). Hvar is also famed for its verdancy and its lavender fields, as well as other aromatic herbs such as rosemary and heather. It draws more tourists than any other Adriatic atoll thanks to its gorgeous hub (also called Hvar). Stari Grad and Jelsa, the island’s two other towns, are emerging as popular alternatives thanks to their quieter, more discerning charms.

Cres

Long, hardly populated and undeveloped, Cres is a wild island and perfect for wandering around primeval forests, visiting ageing hilltop towns, admiring Venetian mansions, swimming in hidden coves and sampling some of Croatia’s most delicious lamb.

Kornati Islands

Imagine this: 147 mostly uninhabited islands and reefs, carved with cracks, caves and cliffs, and dotted with tufts of evergreen forest. The Kornati National Park is a delight for any lover of stark and unspoilt nature, limpid waters and solitude.

Brač

The biggest of the Adriatic islands, Brač  sports Croatia’s most famous beach, the lasciviously alluring Zlatni Rat in the pretty town of Bol. Windsurf and sunbathe here, but don’t forget to explore the island’s gorgeous interior.

Vis

Off-limits to foreign visitors for around four decades, Vis is a mysterious island that’s truly off the trodden path. With its three small fishing villages and one of Croatia’s few real eco-holiday options, Vis is well worth exploring.

Mljet by xJason.Rogersx. Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Mljet

Of all the Adriatic islands, Mljet (Meleda in Italian) may be the most seductive. Over 72% of the island is covered by forests, and the rest is dotted by fields, vineyards and villages. Created in 1960, Mljet National Park occupies the western third of the island and surrounds two saltwater lakes, Malo Jezero and Veliko Jezero. There are also remote sandy beaches, only one conventional hotel and the food is magnificent. Need we say more? Most people visit the island on excursions from Korčula or Dubrovnik.

Elafiti Islands

Elafiti Islands are tiny, forested islands northwest of Dubrovnik. Many in-town tour companies operate cruises or kayaking or trips to the area. The three main islands Koločep (20 minutes), Lopud (35 minutes) and Šipan (1¼ hours) are an easy hop away from Dubrovnik and can be reached by a taxi boat or via a fishing picnic tour. The latter two have old 15th-and 16th-century buildings as well as villages and sand and pebble beaches. The Elafiti Islands range from totally unpopulated swimming spots to small villages on little-explored islands.

Orebić

Orebić, on the southern coast of the Pelješac Peninsula between Korčula and Ploče, offers better beaches than those found at Korčula, 2.5km across the water. The easy access by ferry from Korčula makes it the perfect place to go for the day. The best beach in Orebić is Trstenica cove, a 15-minute walk east along the shore from the port. In Orebić the ferry terminal and the bus station are adjacent to each other. Korčula buses to Dubrovnik, Zagreb and Sarajevo stop at Orebić.

Rab by Kunstee. Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Rab

Nestled between the islands of Krk and Pag is Rab, one of Croatia’s most enticing. The more densely populated southwest is pock-marked with pine forests, beaches and coves, while the northeast is a windswept region with few settlements, high cliffs and a barren look. In the interior is fertile land protected by mountains from cold winds, allowing the cultivation of olives, grapes and vegetables.

The island’s northeast tip is taken over by the Lopar Peninsula, which offers sandy beaches, while the northwest peninsula, which emerges from Supetarska Draga, is fringed with coves and lagoons that continue on to the Kalifront cape and the Suha Punta resort.

This article was first published in July 2010. It was refreshed in August 2012.