There are over a thousand islands in Croatia, ranging from party islands catering to the rich and famous, to the uninhabited desert islands loved by those looking for a true desert island experience - which one suits you?
Best for living the high life - Hvar
Croatia’s trendiest island by far, Hvar is where the rich and famous moor their yachts and head ashore to enjoy lobster and champagne at one of the many fancy seafood restaurants in Hvar Town. With plenty of designer stores and boutiques this is a great place for keen shoppers. Alternatively, head to the vineyards of Jelsa or the lavender and olive fields found in the island’s interior. The Renaissance architecture found in the more understated coastal town of Stari Grad provides a great history and culture fix, while there are plenty of hidden sun-soaked beaches including Uvala Dubovica in the south and Grebišće beach in the north.
Best for outdoor pursuits - Brač
Just a short ferry ride from Split, Brač is the largest of the central Dalmatian Islands. While the glamour crowd head to Hvar, Brač offers more outdoor pursuits with fantastic water sports facilities, especially windsurfing and paddleboarding, and excellent cycling and hiking paths. Vidova Gora is the highest point on the Croatian Islands and offers incredible views of the Dalmatian coast. Sheep farming on the islands means lamb is on the menu at many restaurants, but the biggest draw of Brač is Zlatni Rat beach. Stretching out on to a spit into the clear Adriatic waters, Zlatni Rat is regarded as one of the most stunning beaches in the world.
Best for culture - Korčula
Korčula is said to be the birthplace of Dalmatia’s most famous resident Marco Polo who went on to visit Asia in the 13th century. With its Gothic-Renaissance cathedral and narrow stone stairways that wind through the medieval Korčula Town, it feels like little has changed since Polo’s time. It is known as 'Little Dubrovnik’ thanks to the medieval walls that enclose the ancient town, which sits proudly on this tiny peninsula. Korčula is home to the Moreska – an ancient Croat warrior sword dance – and performances can often be seen in the town’s medieval plazas of an evening. But there’s more than just the town - leave the ancient plazas and head inland to find dark forests, endless vineyards and quaint fishing villages along the coast.
Best for natural beauty - Mljet
Unbelievably lush, Mljet is described as the last paradise of the Mediterranean. Peaceful, tranquil and wonderfully quiet Mljet’s natural beauty is surprisingly unspoilt. A favourite of nature lovers who come for hill walks in the dense forests of Mljet National Park, or refreshing dips in one of the two hidden saltwater lakes of Veliko and Malo Jezero. A 12th-century Benedictine Monastery sits on a tiny islet of the island in what must be one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Is it any wonder Odysseus decided to hang around on Mljet for seven years with the nymph Calpso?
Best for healthy living - Lošinj
Lošinj and its northern neighbour Cres used to be connected until a canal was dug at Osor by the Lubernians around 2,500 years ago. Today, Lošinj is known as the island of vitality and has acted as a health resort since the late 19th century. The clean water and sea breezes have been attracting all types, from the Habsburg royals to modern-day pop stars. Mali Lošinj is the largest town on the island and while the once-busy shipyard has been replaced by an upmarket harbour the modern restaurants that flank it still serve wonderful traditional cuisine.
Best for a desert island experience - Sveti Klement
Just off the island of Hvar is the Pakleni archipelago – a number of small islands with sheltered coves that offer secluded areas for swimming and sunbathing. The largest of the islands is Sveti Klement and although only a few minutes by boat from trendy Hvar, this peaceful little island couldn’t be less glitzy. The island is pretty much inhabited during winter months but come summer, tourists visit for rural walks through pine woods stopping for dips at the pebbled coves. Waterside cafes and restaurants can be found dotted along the coast catering to the visitors, and bungalows provide accommodation for those wishing to stay overnight.
Best for food lovers - Krk
The northern island of Krk is one of the largest islands and one of the liveliest too, with more than 20,000 inhabitants. It is joined to the mainland by a bridge and home to some impressive architecture showing styles from its previous Roman, Avar, Frankopans, Venetian, Habsburg and Italian rulers. Expected Romanesque churches and walled monasteries dotted amongst vineyards and olive plantations. The Plominka olives, grown in the Malinska area in the north of the island, produce some of the country’s fines extra-virgin olive oils. Visitors can get stuck into delicacies such as local Kvarner shrimp or handmade pasta (šurlice) at some of the local taverns (konobe) in Malinska. Baška is where local soak up the sun on the beach and picturesque Vrbnik is beautiful.
Best for peace and quiet - Dugi Otok
Meaning long Island this narrow strip of land in the Adriatic is one of the quieter of the northern Dalmatian islands. Small hamlets shimmer atop hills whilst fishing villages including Sali and Božava play host to hungry visitors with their smattering of seafood restaurants. From the white-pebbled Saharun beach in the north, to the stunning sheer cliffs of Telašćica Nature Park in the south, natural beauty is found on every corner of this incredible island.
Best for caving - Vis
Until recently Vis was used as a naval base and closed to visitors. Tucked away deep into the Adriatic Sea, it is the furthest of the main Croatian islands and often visited by yachters. Like so many of the islands it has beautiful beaches and lush green interiors but just off the shore is the beautiful blue cave of Biševo. Sunlight that shines through an underwater opening creates a majestic blue light as fish glimmer in shades of pink and silver. The town of Vis and its southern neighbour Komiža are also home to a number of family restaurants services specialties such as baked octopus.
Best for history buffs - Rab
This small island in the Kvarner Bay is nestled just off the mainland and when viewed from the sea has a stunning medieval skyline resembling a ship. Narrow cobbled streets lit by candlelight after dark, wind through ancient white-walled buildings, their terracotta roofs glowing orange from the Adriatic sunsets. Church spires rise tall across Rab Town in the same way they have since the 12th century, as modern yachts more in the harbour depositing tourists visiting one of the most stunning islands on earth. In fact it was here that King Edward VIII brought his American wife Wallis Simpson after abdicating in 1936. Near Lopar in the north is one of Croatia’s rare sandy beaches.
Best for animal lovers - Brijuni Islands
From 1945 to 1980 The Brijuini Islands was the summer retreat of Yugoslav President Tito. Since his death series of small islets was transformed into the Brijuni National Park and with no permanent residents it retains its peaceful haven. Veliki Brijun is the largest of 14 islets covered in pine forest, rolling hills and secluded coves. During his reign, Tito invited a slew of guests from European royals to Hollywood film starts including Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor to visit him at the island. Dignitaries from Africa and Asia also presented exotic animals as gifts to the former Yugoslav leader and elephants, llamas, zebras and ostriches as well as deer and peacocks all still reside at the safari park on the island. Roman ruins, botanical gardens and the safari park can all be explored on foot and to attend open-air Ulysses Theatre performances after dark.