Best Cities in Croatia

From the cobblestone streets of Dubrovnik to the Austro-Hungarian architecture of Zagreb, Croatia has a wealth of fascinating cities that are culturally rich and historically significant. With attractions including historic forts, intriguing museums, well-preserved Roman sites, and vibrant culinary scenes, there is plenty to see and do whilst on a holiday in Croatia. Whilst it would be difficult to visit them all on one trip, here are the best cities in Croatia to experience on your next trip.
View of Dubrovnik Old Town

Dubrovnik

Often called the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik is widely regarded as Dalmatia’s most picturesque city, occupying a promontory that juts out into the city under the shadow of Mount Srd. Its Old Town is surrounded by historic stone walls, encircling the well-preserved medieval city within. Step through one of the imposing gates to explore the pedestrianised Stradun, a limestone-paved path running nearly a thousand feet through the historic part of the city. Marvel at centuries-old landmarks like the Renaissance-style Rector’s Palace and Sponza Palace, the Baroque-style St. Blaise Church, and Onofrio’s Fountain. Walk atop the 1.2-mile-long city walls for a view overlooking the historic centre, the sea, and nearby islands.

Split waterfront

Split

Split is a vibrant city along the eastern shore of the Adriatic and the second-largest in Croatia after Zagreb. It dates back to the late 3rd century when Roman Emperor Diocletian chose the area for his retirement residence. Today, his massive palace complex is home to some of the world’s most beautifully preserved Roman architecture. Its centuries-old buildings now serve as little independent shops, galleries, wine bars, cafes, and restaurants. Visitors shouldn’t miss the opportunity to climb the nearly 200-foot-high bell tower at the Cathedral of St. Domnius for a panoramic view. The Riva, Split’s waterfront promenade, is the place to go for great people-watching and a sunset with the sky engulfed by fiery rays lighting the city aglow.

View of Pula amphitheatre

Pula

Nestled at the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula, the seafront city of Pula provides an ideal base for exploring the region’s Tuscan-like landscapes, complete with olive groves, vineyards, and medieval hilltop villages. It also offers plenty of its own, including one of the country’s most famous sites, the well-preserved Roman amphitheatre. Dating back to the 1st century AD, it once hosted gladiator fights and is the only one of its kind managing to survive with all three Roman architectural orders and four side towers. There are many other ancient sites to discover, like the Roman Forum, now a bustling piazza lined with cafes, and Hercules Gate. Dating to the 1st century BC, it’s the oldest Roman monument still standing today.

Zagreb cathedral

Zagreb

The capital of Croatia and its largest city, Zagreb lies along the Sava river at the southern slopes of Medvednica Mountain in the north. It has a long and interesting history that dates to Roman times as one of the oldest in Central Europe. Visitors can enjoy an idyllic combination of lively street life, rich heritage, and fascinating museums. The architecture is a mix of classic Austro-Hungarian and brutalist socialist buildings. Some of the most iconic landmarks include the gothic-style Zagreb Cathedral with its soaring twin spires and St. Mark’s Church with a famously colourful roof, both in the Upper Town. In the Lower Town, you’ll find secessionist, Baroque, and Art Deco buildings along with numerous shops, cafes, and restaurants.

Aerial view of Sibenik cathedral

Sibenik

With a rich and fascinating history and the gateway to Krka National Park, historic Sibenik dates back to around the 7th century when the area was settled by Croats. Some 200 years later, they built a fortress here overlooking the sea, which can be visited today, evidence that it was becoming an important port. It became the heart of the Adriatic salt trade and a prosperous mercantile hub, with its past revealed in the city walls, forts, and cathedrals like St. James. Visitors should also head to the Gothic-Renaissance cathedral, built between the 15th and early 16th centuries entirely from stone quarried from Brac, Korcula, Krk, and Rab islands. Unmissable with its golden globe it also features a frieze with more than 70 sculpted faces of men, women, and children. Climb the battlements at 11th-century St. Michael’s Fortress for a magnificent view.

Aerial of Zadar

Zadar

The oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia, Zadar is ideally situated on the Adriatic Sea, known for its fascinating Venetian and Roman ruins. Dating back over 3,000 years, the city offers everything from a 1st-century BC Roman forum to the early 9th century St. Donat’s Church and 16th-century defensive walls. Learn more about Zadar’s history through artefacts at the Archaeological Museum that span from prehistoric times through the 15th century. Additionally, the Museum of Ancient Glass is a unique institution worth exploring with mostly Roman-era glass from the 1st to 3rd century AD. Along the modern waterfront promenade, are a pair of famous art installations: the Greeting to the Sun plays a light show after dark whilst the Sea Organ makes music using the power of the waves.

View of Rovinj Old Town

Rovinj

Situated along the coastline of Istria, Rovinj is undoubtedly one of the best cities in northern Croatia, often compared to Dubrovnik but with far fewer crowds. Boasting a meticulously preserved Old Town, the historic buildings and atmospheric cobbled streets feature tightly clustered homes painted in Habsburg pastels and Venetian reds. Its setting is spectacular, with the harbour named the “cradle of the sea” by ancient mariners. For a bird’s-eye view of the vibrantly coloured facades and the sea, climb the nearly 200-foot-high bell tower of Baroque-style St. Euphemia Church. It’s been compared to the tower at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice and features a statue of Saint Euphemia at the top.

View of Rijeka

Rijeka

A major Croatia port city in the heart of Kvarner Gulf along Kvarner Bay, Rijeka is unique and cosmopolitan, with a turbulent history. During the 20th century, it was ruled by eight different countries in just nine decades. Its architecture includes striking neoclassical palaces among predominantly secession-style buildings. There are multiple museums, and cultural and historical sites to discover, including the City Tower, the original gateway to the city from the port in medieval times, 17th-century St. Vitus Cathedral, and Trsat Castle looming above it all. Popular among locals and visitors alike, the 13th-century castle/fortress was built on the site of an ancient Illyrian and Roman fortress high upon a hill, offering sweeping views of the Kvarner Gulf.

Osijek buildings

Osijek

Croatia’s fourth largest city and the cultural hub in the eastern region, Osijek is rarely visited by tourists and is about as far from the sea as you can get here. As it’s close to three international borders, visitors can explore four different nations in just one trip: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Hungary. The wider Slavonia region is easily accessed, known for its wetlands inhabited by rare birds and producing some outstanding white wines. Although it’s more like a large town, it has a charming medieval Old Town focused around a tranquil square, enticing museums, picturesque parks, and opportunities for scenic riverside walks. It’s particularly lively in the summer, jam-packed with festivals and events like Osijek Summer Nights.

Varazdin street

Varazdin

Varazdin is just an hour’s drive north of Zagreb. One of Croatia’s most underrated cities, an increasing number of travellers have been discovering its many charms of late, including Baroque architecture, some of the country’s best beers, and pampering spas. It offers an impressive list of museums like the Varazdin City Museum which tells the story of the town from the Counts of Celje to the modern age and every ruler in between. The 14th-century castle/fortress is a rich piece of the city’s history with a collection of artefacts donated from some of the most prestigious families in Varazdin over the years. Other highlights include the 16th-century Town Hall, one of the oldest in Europe, and the Baroque-style Varazdin Cathedral.

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