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hvar or korcula

Hvar or Korčula: Comparing Dalmatia’s Most Popular Destinations

The jewel of the Adriatic, Croatia is a sun-soaked Balkan country offering miles of picturesque coastline, medieval history, dreamy island getaways, and fantastic watersports opportunities. Choosing the crossroad country for your next European getaway is easy, but deciding between Hvar or Korčula is not so straightforward.

Both islands attract hoards of holidaymakers every year with their sun-soaked beaches, 16th-century architecture, fragrant forests, and bustling atmospheres. The walled core of Hvar is anchored by its cobblestone streets and 13th-century fortresses, but it also boasts the reputation of a party hotspot. Meanwhile, sleepy Korčula offers 20 miles of jagged coastline with unbeaten swimming spots and luxury resorts, with the medieval squares, churches, and houses earning Korčula Town the nickname of “Little Dubrovnik”. 

Whichever you choose, you’re in for a treat, but our guide is here to help, comparing everything from the buzz and the beaches to the centuries of history. Hvar and Korčula are just waiting to be discovered, with something different for everyone. Let’s get into it. 

Hvar or Korčula: General Vibe

boats in hvar
Photo by antonpetrus on Envato Elements

Although just 46 kilometers apart by sea, the islands of Hvar and Korčula are more different than you might think. Hvar is one of Croatia’s most luxurious destinations but it also has a party atmosphere revolving around the central Harbour with great restaurants and bars. 

A town full of families and young couples by day, but one that comes alive with activity by night, Hvar has something for everyone. Encircled by 13th-century walls and a hilltop fortress, there’s plenty more to Hvar than nightlife.    

Hvar is surrounded by a number of smaller islands that make for great day trips from the busy town, the walled center also houses one of the largest old squares in Dalmatia. There’s an on-the-go atmosphere that dominates throughout the summer months and Hvar is brimming with tourists from early June until September. Korčula is an equally popular vacation hotspot, but it has a much more laidback vibe. 

You can find great foodie spots and evening venues for a nightcap accompanied by live music, but the island is quieter and more dispersed than Hvar. Korčula Town is the center of the action, and “Little Dubrovnik”, as it is affectionately dubbed, is steeped in history with ancient houses and squares dotted all around. It’s not known for its nightlife, but there’s plenty to do after dark, while daytime activities revolve around the sea and the dense forest on the island. 

From the gastronomical gems to the busy beaches and lively entertainment scene, Hvar is the undeniable champion of the two when it comes to things going on. It feels much busier and more fast-paced than Korčula, but with enough laid-back resorts to satisfy a relaxing break too.

Winner: Hvar  

Hvar or Korčula: Getting There

dock in korcula
Photo by twenty20photos on Envato Elements

When it comes to location, Hvar and Korčula are pretty well matched, both located in the Adriatic just off the Dalmatian coast. You can only reach Hvar and Korčula by sea, but this doesn’t mean that either is hard to get to. The closest international airport to both islands are Split and Dubrovnik, with Hvar being closer to Split and Korčula to Dubrovnik although both ports serve the islands. 

From the airports, you can transfer to the islands by public transport in the form of busses and ferries which run regular shuttles for holidaymakers. There’s also the option of private transfers but this comes at a higher price. Although slightly further from a mainland port, distance-wise, Hvar is better served than Korčula with ferries and catamarans running regularly between Split Town and Stari Grad. 

Split airport is just 30 kilometers from the Split ferry port and the ferry can take as little as 50 minutes depending on the route. You also have the option to fly into Brac, the nearest airport by distance to Hvar, but this island port promises higher airline prices and you’ll still need to take a ferry transfer to get to Hvar.  

The regular 30-minute car ferry crossing between Orebic and Korčula means this island, too, is by no means hard to get to. The car ferry to Hvar can be a different story, sometimes taking up to two hours to Stari Grad on the slower route. However, Orebic Port is 130 kilometers from Dubrovnik, meaning the airport transfer before you’ve even boarded the ferry will take over two hours. 

They might be islands but neither Hvar nor Korčula are isolated and they both act as a gateway to exploring the surrounding Dalmatia region and Croatian archipelago. You’ll need a ferry transfer to get to your final destination whichever island you choose, which can make them more expensive options than visiting mainland Croatia, but against each other, there’s little comparison. Still, as the busier and slightly bigger of the two, Hvar is better-connected and so marginally more convenient. 

Winner: Hvar

Hvar or Korčula: History

croatian view
Photo by MatthewWilliams-Edit on Envato Elements

When it comes to heritage, nowhere in Croatia falls short. Its islands and cities have been ruled by the Romans, Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavians, and more, and each culture has left its mark on the country. Hvar has been inhabited since early Neolithic times and the ancient walls that surround the old city date back to the 13th-century. Many of the noble houses and public buildings have survived from the 15th to 17th centuries and the town is home to the oldest theatre in Europe. 

Hvar is also widely regarded as one of the birthplaces of organized tourism in Europe and recognized by UNESCO for its world heritage sites. Close to Hvar Town is also the traditional village of Velo Grablje, some 10 kilometers by road. This small community is at the center of the ancient cottage industry in Hvar and a scenic place to learn about the history of the island.

Although quieter and more laidback, Korčula leaves Hvar in the dust on the matter of heritage. The birthplace of Marco Polo, the first place in the world to abolish slavery, and even home to a private house of Churchill’s top man in the Balkans, Sir Fitzroy Maclean who is one of the real-life inspirations for Ian Fleming’s James Bond Character, Hvar cannot compete with Korčula. The island is also where Moreska sword dancing and Croatia’s centuries-old boatbuilding tradition originated. 

Once inhabited by the Greeks, Korčula earned the nickname of Black Korcula for the dense pine forest that covers the island. Although, the diminutive “Little Dubrovnik” is perhaps more appropriate now. Korčula Town’s medieval squares, churches, palaces, and houses, as well as the ancient settlements of Vela Luka and Lumbarda each with their own distinctive heritage, make it the perfect place to soak up Croatian history. Paired with its slower pace and more authentic vibe thanks to fewer tourists and lack of mainstream nightlife, Korčula steals the win for this one. 

Winner: Korčula  

Hvar or Korčula: Beaches

hvar from above
Photo by biletsky on Envato Elements

From some of Croatia’s most popular swimming spots to secluded hideaways with the most mesmerizing Mediterannean water, Hvar and Korčula boast no shortage of great beaches. The shores of Hvar are generally rocky, pebbly bays surrounded by pine forests although there are some natural sandy beaches on the north side of the island. This is because the north winds, or bura, are stronger than the south waves and winds, jugo. These winds also make Hvar, as well as Korčula, great destinations for water sports like sailing and windsurfing. 

The best places to sail in Dalmatia are the Pakleni Islands. Although in front of Hvar Town, they’re easily reachable from both islands while the Korčula channel and neighboring Peljesac Peninsula offer it owns fabulous opportunities for windsurfing in particular. 

Korčula has one sandy beach located to the southeast of Lumbarda and it’s among the most popular coves on the island. The jagged coast of Korčula, particularly in the Vela Luka area, makes for some great swimming spots, regardless of the sand. You may need to lay your beach towel on the rock but the inviting waters are perfect for snorkeling and you can jump right in without having to wade across pebbles for depth. 

Korčula has a higher concentration of dreamy secluded bays with clear blue seas and little crowds, while Hvar’s beaches are arguably more popular, like that in Dubovica. There’s something for all sea lovers on both these islands and you can’t argue with the allure of the Adriatic.

Winner: Draw 

Hvar or Korčula: Cost

ice cream in dubrovnik
Photo by MatthewWilliams-Edit on Envato Elements

Croatia is a notoriously low-cost travel destination offering the same dreamy Mediterannean scenery of western Europe but with Balkan prices. It’s not a cheap destination compared to backpacking hotspots like Southeast Asia and even Eastern Europe, but you can easily travel to Croatia on a budget. The islands, however, are going to be more expensive than the mainland.

Due to their similar location, you might expect Hvar and Korčula to be similarly priced, but a lot comes into play when looking at the difference in costs. The average daily expenses per person in Korčula are around $76, compared to $86 in Hvar. However, how you choose to holiday could affect which is the cheaper option for you. 

As the smaller and more quiet island, Korčula offers cheaper local transport and food options. You can expect to spend around $2 getting around Korčula compared to up to $40 in Hvar, and your daily meals could cost as little as $24 in Korčula but closer to $32 in Hvar. Organised trips and entertainment tend to cost more on the bigger, livelier island but with more variety, you could save on attractions in Hvar depending on your interests.

One area where Hvar comes out on top is accommodation. Hvar has far more variety, especially in budget lodgings, and the average price per night for two people is just $64 compared to $98 in Korčula. You’re likely to spend more in Hvar, even if it’s simply because there is more to do. The island has a lot more options for budget travelers, but Korčula comes out cheaper on average overall.  

Winner: Korčula   

Which island is better Hvar or Korčula?

Both Hvar and Korčula offer something for every crowd. The old towns are among the most beautiful in the world and rightfully popular with tourists. Revolving around the sea, the islands offer all manner of beach and water sports activities and there’s plenty to do and see whether it is learning about Croatia’s heritage or enjoying the fantastic Mediterranean cuisine. They’ve taken different paths with their tourism which could help you make your decision, with Hvar catering to a younger crowd while Korčula pushes its authenticity and slower pace towards families and older couples. Still, with daily ferries which connect the two within an hour, why settle for just one?

How much does it cost to go to Hvar?

The average price of seven day trip to Hvar is around $1,300 for a solo traveler, $2,000 for a couple, and $4,000 for a family of four. However, you can see the island on a budget and there are plenty of low-cost lodgings on offer to accommodate backpackers and young partying travelers. Accommodation comes in at an average of around $64 a night for two people in Hvar Town, which is much less than Korčula.

Is Hvar a party island?

There’s much more to Hvar than the raging nightclubs and glamorous beach bars, but it has earned quite the reputation as a party spot in recent years. The buzzing island has no shortage of entertainment venues and is almost on par with Split when it comes to nightlife. 

When is the best time to visit Korčula?

Like the rest of Croatia, Korčula benefits from a temperate, Mediterranean climate with warm dry summers and cooler, wet winters. The best time to visit for guaranteed sun and clear skies is between June and August when average daily maximums exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit. However, this is also when prices, especially accommodation, are at a yearly high. If you want better deals, consider visiting Korčula in April and May or September and October for pleasant weather and fewer crowds.