With miles of turquoise coastline over the Adriatic Sea, beautiful islands, and craggy mountains with forests and gurgling waterfalls inland, it’s no surprise that Croatia is one of the hottest European summer destinations. But what are Croatia’s hidden gems? Can you find beautiful spots that you can have all to yourself?
If you look beyond the popular spots such as Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar you’ll find that there are loads of other lesser-known places in Croatia that have lots to offer. Most holidaymakers head straight to the coastline, so you can often discover way more off-the-beaten-path locations if you keep away from the beaches. There are also plenty of remote islands for those that want to stay close to the water.
This guide to Croatia’s hidden gems will talk you through nine lesser-known attractions in this beautiful south European country. From isolated islands to small mountain villages, you’ll learn about Croatia’s best-kept secrets…
If you’re looking for Croatia’s hidden gems, then the small coastal town of Omis might be the place for you. The town is located where the turquoise Cetina River flows into the Adriatic, with the horizon defined by craggy mountains in the background. It comes as a surprise that this place is one of the lesser-known in the country, since it’s only 15.5 miles south of Croatia’s second-largest city, Split.
Omis might be a small town, but there is lots to do and see there. For starters, you can head to the Starigrad Fortress, which is a 15th-century structure on top of a hill with fantastic views over the landscape below. If you’re not scared of heights, you can take a ride on a zipline that runs in a canyon further inland. You can also take a refreshing dip in the river or at one of the nearby coastal beaches (Ruskamen or Dugi Rat are the best).
Croatia is one of the most popular summer holiday destinations in Europe, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how many lovely beaches and islands this country has. That means it might be a little tricky to find seaside spots without the crowds, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. One of those places is Vis Island, which is the farthest isle from the mainland. It’s so far out, in fact, that it rarely gets the same crowds as Hvar or Brac.
Whether you like spending your holidays basking in the sun, visiting the sights, or prefer active exploration, Vis has you covered. Komiža and Stiniva are only two of the many wonderful beaches on the island. Inland, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails that will reward with panoramic vistas. One of them is a walk to Mt Hum, the highest peak on the island.
You can get to Vis by regular ferries from Split and Hvar. There are also a couple of seasonal routes that go from Dubrovnik, Rijeka, and even Ancona in Italy.
Another of our top Croatia hidden gems is the small village of Rastoke. It’s a unique little place with wooden and stone houses nestled between rivers and waterfalls north of the town of Slunj. One of the highlights is a working watermill, known as Stari Mlin, in the center of the village. It was once one of 22 mills in the area, but there are now only two left.
Despite being only 20 miles away from the turquoise lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice National Park, Rastoke is not a popular stop on most Croatian itineraries. This quaint village has plenty to offer beyond its serene surroundings, from kayaking to rafting and fishing. You can easily get there on your way down from the capital in Zagreb, too.
Mljet is the southernmost of the bigger islands in Croatia, a little over 20 miles northwest of Dubrovnik. A large part of the island is covered by a national park, which is one of only eight in the country. That has brought tourists over the years, but, luckily, most of the crowds stick to the most popular northwestern tip of the island around Pomena. The rest of the island is still Croatia’s little secret.
There is no shortage of things to do and see around this long Dalmatian rock, from exploring the pinewood forests, the lakes, the beaches, and the caves in the national park area to snorkeling and diving around the rock reefs offshore. One of the lakes on the island, Veliko Jezero, has a small islet known as Sveta Marija in its center. It hosts an old monastery that has been there since the 12th-century and now serves as a café.
You can only reach Mljet by ferry. There are daily connections from Dubrovnik, the Pelješac Peninsula, Split, and Korcula. Once you get to the island, it’s worth renting a car or bike because it’s hard to get around without one.
Adventurous travelers who are looking for off-the-beaten-path attractions in Croatia will surely enjoy what this canyon has to offer. From technical climbing routes to hiking trails and thrilling ziplines, this place is a paradise for outdoor lovers.
It runs for 14km (8.6 miles) along the Čikola River, which flows into Visovačko jezero in the middle of Krka National Park. The canyon is very steep, with walls as high as 170 meters in some parts.
Čikola canyon is in Northern Dalmatia in the wider Šibenik region, less than 20 minutes’ drive from Lozovac. There is parking close to the entrance to the canyon, so you won’t have too much trouble getting in by car.
Pakleni, also known as Paklinski, is a group of 18 gorgeous islands and islets on the shimmering Adriatic Sea in Central Dalmatia. From crystal-clear waters to secluded coves, hidden beaches, and turquoise lagoons, the Pakleni Islands don’t lack in natural beauty. Inland, there are plenty of easy-going hiking trails that boast panoramic vistas of the surrounding area to boot.
These lovely islands are only a short boat away from lively Hvar Town, which means they might not be the best-kept secret on the map of Croatia’s hidden gems. That said, there is hardly any accommodation, and no roads on any of the islands, so the region doesn’t get the same crowds as elsewhere. However, if you really want to have these islands to yourself, you should rent a private boat to get to the places not accessible by water taxi.
Motovun – home to less than 1,000 people – is a beautiful hill town surrounded by dense forests in the heart of Istria. Despite being renowned for producing the finest olive oils, truffles, and wine in the country, this village is one of Croatia’s best-kept secrets. It’s not just the local produce that makes this place unique, though. It’s also a charming spot with cobbled streets and stone houses overlooking the woods and vineyards in the valleys below.
There are lots of restaurants in town that specialize in local produce, especially worth visiting for the world-class truffle dishes they serve. We recommend charming Kanoba Mondo, where you’ll get wonderful views along with mouthwatering food.
One of the reasons why Motovun is one of the lesser-known places in Croatia is its location. It’s in the northern part of the country, in central Istria. That’s about 1.5 hours drive from Rijeka and around 2.5 hours away from Zagreb.
Most visitors to Croatia head straight to the shimmering Adriatic coast, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth heading further inland too. There are lots of beautiful attractions away from the sea, like the amazing Imotski Lakes, two colorful sinkholes filled with water, known as Blue Lake and Red Lake. They sit in a small town close to the Bosnia and Herzegovina border on the northern side of Biokovo massif.
The Blue Lake is the larger of the two and closer to the town. It was likely a result of a collapse of an underground cave that is today filled with turquoise water throughout most of the year. At the end of the summer, the water often completely dries out, and the bottom turns into a football field! Unlike Blue Lake, the water in Red Lake is present all year round. It’s much deeper, which means you can only enjoy it from above – no swimming!
From unspoiled nature to azure aqua, from vineyards to charming churches and chapels, the remote island of Lastovo has a lot up its sleeve. Under Yugoslavia, this island was a military base. That meant it was totally closed to visitors until the late 1980s. Even today there is only a fraction of tourists compared to the rest of the country, hardly any hotels, and only a handful of restaurants and cafes.
There are plenty of hiking trails inland, though, and lots of secluded coves on the coast, so it’s worth spending a few days here if you want to explore the island to its fullest. There are also lots of small islets dotted around, so you might want to consider renting a boat or a kayak. The villages of Lestovo, Ubli, and Zaklopatica are where you’ll find the main amenities.
You can get to Lastovo by ferry from Split, Dubrovnik, or Korcula, which arrive at the port of Ubli. Getting around is easiest with a car, but there are also a couple of infrequent buses between the main towns.
Croatia Hidden Gems – our verdict.
While millions of visitors enjoy Croatia’s attractions every summer, you can still find plenty of places that don’t get the crowds, even during the peak season. Small mountain villages such as Motovun or Rastoke are only a few inland locations worth visiting. If you want to be close to the beaches, you can stay in the remote Vis, Lastovo, or Mljet islands, which are nowhere near as popular as most coastal regions. Meanwhile, outdoorsy people will surely enjoy the hiking trails around Čikola canyon and Omis.