Croatia has 1246 islands, and while many of them are mere rocks jutting out of the Adriatic, that still leaves dozens of excellent options to agonise over while you’re planning your summer escape. Here are 10 tailored options, listed from north to south, to get you started.
Best for escaping the crowds: Cres
For an English speaker, the biggest stress about Cres is trying to master its name (it’s pronounced ‘tsress’). The largest of the Croatian islands, Cres is a blissfully under-populated, steeply contoured, green expanse punctuated by pebble beaches and tiny walled settlements. Only Cres Town has over 100 inhabitants, but with a population of around 3000 it’s hardly the big smoke. This Venetian harbour town is a good place to base yourself, but for even more peace and quiet, try historic Osor, the seaside village of Valun or the hilltop hamlets of Beli and Lubenice.
Best all-rounder: Lošinj
Joined to Cres by a short bridge over a Roman-built canal, Lošinj offers a potpourri of attractions including museums, historic churches, pebble beaches, kayak and catamaran hire, cycling and walking tracks, diving and windsurfing. The main town, Mali Lošinj, is large enough to support a range of resorts, hotels, restaurants and even a modicum of nightlife. Neighbouring Veli Lošinj also has some good places to eat and a Marine Education Centre dedicated to protecting the resident population of dolphins and sea turtles.
Best for young families: Rab
Much is made of Rab’s sandy beaches, and they certainly look irresistible in photos. However, they’re also extremely shallow – painfully so, if you’re an adult after a decent swim, but heaven for toddlers. Paradise Beach in Lopar is the best of them, with gelato stands and pizzerias at hand to replenish little bellies after a productive day spent building sandcastles and splashing in the shallows. Older holidaymakers can hit the biking and hiking trails, dive to historic shipwrecks and soak up the beauty of Rab Town’s venerable architecture.
Best for clubbers and foodies: Pag
The lunar-looking landscape of Pag is known throughout Croatia for its traditional lacemaking and the nation’s best sheep’s cheese. But for dance music fans from Berlin to Brisbane it has quite a different claim to fame: the unlikely global clubbing hotspot that is Zrće Beach. In July and August, young revellers pour into the otherwise sleepy town of Novalja to spend their days roasting in the sun and their nights partying in the top-rated, open-air clubs lining the water’s edge. Outside of those months it’s still well worth visiting to sample the island’s unique cheese, lamb and wine.
Best for yachties: Kornati Islands
With no ferry services and a total population of around 20 people, the best way to experience the barren beauty of this cluster of 140 islands and islets is under sail. The 89 southernmost islands and their surrounding waters are afforded environmental protection as part of Kornati National Park. Accommodation is limited to only a handful of rental cottages but, despite this, there are a surprising number of restaurants catering to the passing boat traffic.
Best for active holidays: Brač
Croatia’s third-biggest island is home to the nation’s most famous beach, Zlatni Rat, a spit of white pebbles that tapers gracefully into the sea near the attractive holiday town of Bol. Not only does Bol have some excellent restaurants, hotels, campsites and a custom-built hostel, there’s a smorgasbord of activities on offer including tennis, windsurfing, diving, parasailing, kayaking and mountain biking. Base yourself here for hikes to the island’s highest peak, Vidova Gora (778m), and the isolated Blača Hermitage. Supetar, Brač’s biggest town, also offers diving, boating and beaches. It’s worth hiring a car or, if you’re hardy, a bike to explore the pretty harbour towns of Pučišća and Milna, and the villages of the rocky interior.
Best for glamour and dancing on tables: Hvar
Attracting an oddly endearing mix of up-for-it backpackers, posh yachties and well-heeled urbanites, beautiful Hvar Town is one of the most lively and fun-loving destinations in all of Croatia. Newcomers quickly settle into the Hvar rhythm: beach, sundowner drinks at Hula-Hula Hvar, dinner somewhere fabulous, then endless cocktails and late-night dancing at the harbourside bars. The island’s other main towns, Stari Grad and Jelsa, are worthy of a day trip, but Hvar Town’s most definitely the place to stay.
The secluded Stiniva beach on the island of Vis © xbrchx / Shutterstock
Best for secluded coves: Vis
Blissful, undeveloped Vis is the furthest inhabited island from the mainland. Its two ancient towns drape themselves seductively along the water’s edge, while the mountainous interior is crisscrossed with hiking trails and dotted with taverns serving rustic meals. Of the many little beaches, some sandy and some pebbly, tucked into the crimped coastline, the most spectacular is Stiniva, set within a circlet of cliffs with only a narrow opening to the sea.
Best for walls, wine and rustic fare: Korčula
The most beautiful of all of Croatia’s island towns, Korčula juts out into the sea like a mini Dubrovnik – ringed with walls, paved in marble and centred on a magnificent 15th-century cathedral. Elegant restaurants line its fringes, offering views to the mountains of the mainland. Foodies will want to explore the humble taverns scattered about the verdant interior, while beach-lovers should seek out sandy, family-friendly Pržina near the town of Lumbarda. The island is also known for its quality white wine made from the endemic pošip and grk grapes.
Best for nature: Mljet
Only the westernmost quarter of Mljet is designated as a national park, but the entire island is lush, undeveloped and exceedingly beautiful. The most popular attraction is the pair of tree-lined saltwater lakes within the park. Boats ferry visitors to the tiny island on the larger of the two, where there’s a Benedictine monastery and ancient Roman ruins. Halfway along Mljet’s mountainous spine, a road snakes down to Okuklje, a cluster of houses set blissfully along a circular bay. Continue on to the village of Saplunara at Mljet’s eastern extremity for the island’s best restaurant and a trio of sandy beaches.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.
Last updated in November 2017.