From densely populated islands with bustling resorts to sleepy isles with unique dialects and cultures, the Adriatic islands are incredibly diverse. Whilst some are practically barren and unwelcoming to life, others resemble glorious floating jungles. No matter whether you're a diver, foodie, sightseer, animal lover or nudist, Croatia truly has an island for everyone. We've picked out 14 of the best to visit on your sailing vacation.
Our list of islands is sorted by location — we start in Istria in the north and continue southwards to Dalmatia. If you run your finger along the map as you read on, you'll notice that the infamous islands of Sibenik Bay are missing. But don't worry, we haven't overlooked them: they can be found in our article on the most beautiful sailing routes in Croatia.
1. Krk — the most visited island
Krk is one of the largest Croatian islands and the fact that it is connected to the mainland by a bridge and has its own airport makes it also the most frequently visited. Even a whole week wouldn't be enough to discover all its beaches (more than 15 of them have been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag) and the historical sights of local towns such as Vrbnik and Dobrinj, which have a rich and colourful history. Sailors frequently head to Punat for its large marina or to the renowned resorts of Krk, Malinska, Baska and Njivice. You can moor practically anywhere. Just watch out for the Bora on the east of the island.
2. Cres — the home of vultures
Cres is the second largest of the Adriatic islands, the second longest after Hvar and is an island that almost seems to have been created solely for nature to thrive. The island has two ornithological reserves for griffon vultures and the waters around Cres are a protected area for bottlenose dolphins. It's probably no surprise that you'll find one of the most picturesque beaches in Europe — Lubenice Beach in the emerald bay of St. Ivan. The crystal-clear Vrana Lake also benefits from special protection, as it supplies the entire island with fresh water. In addition to making friends with the local dolphins, we recommend doing a bit of hiking.
A beautiful aerial view of Osor (Ossero), a town and port on the island of Cres in Croatia.
3. Lošinj — the island of vitality
The protected waters reserved for dolphins extend to the island of Lošinj. But these mammals are not the only ones that thrive here. The towns of Mali and Veli Lošinj are renowned climatic spas. A stay here is said to be a guaranteed recipe for a long, healthy and fruitful life. That is why Lošinj maintains its reputation as the island of vitality and relies heavily on health tourism. The island is more or less split in half by the Privlaka canal, which saves us sailors from having to sail around.
More tips for beautiful sailing destinations:
4. Rab — a nudist paradise
The island of Rab is rare in two ways. Firstly, it offers the sandiest beaches on the Adriatic, which makes it an exception to the usual Croatian pebble beaches. Secondly, these beaches are not only shared by sailors, holidaymakers, locals, and water sports enthusiasts, but also nudists! If you want to avoid the crowds, we recommend heading to the Dundo Nature Reserve and Komrčar Forest Park, and if you love a bit of culture venture to the town of Rab. Captains should be warned of the Bora, which blows strongest on the eastern side of the island.
5. Pag — an island for gourmets
Pag is strikingly different from the surrounding islands due to its barren moonlike surface. What it lacks in vegetation, it makes up for in local wine production, famed sheep cheese and lamb specialities. There's no better place than here to learn about Croatian cuisine, and its beautiful beaches and rich nightlife make it all the more appealing. Pag has the most indented coastline of all the islands in the Adriatic, making it abound with deep, calm bays to anchor in. In the northwest, however, watch out for the Bora.
The town of Pag on the Adriatic in Dalmatia.
YACHTING.COM TIP: In the Kvarner Bay area you will also find a number of small but quite distinctive islands, such as the island of flowers Ilovik, the island of love Silba or the diving paradise Premuda. We recommend sailing there from Pula — a beautiful town filled with amazing sights. We've got the perfect itinerary for nature and privacy lovers too.
6. Dugi otok — a mecca for divers
The island of Dugi otok should be on the radar of those that love sunken wrecks and the underwater wonders of nature. The most enticing of these is the natural bay of Telascica in the south, where you will find hundreds of species of fish, crustaceans, corals and octopus. In the west, there is the Brbiscica cave, where the sun's rays reach through the waters creating an extraordinary colour and radiance. And the legendary shipwreck of the Michele awaits in the shallows off the islets of Mali and Veli Lagan. We've written more about these diving spots and other top diving locations in our article on the 7 most beautiful snorkelling spots in Croatia
7. Kornati — no man's land
The Kornati archipelago is made up of almost 150 smaller islands, islets and reefs. The limestone bedrock and the complete lack of fresh water makes them uninhabitable for humans, most animals and plants. This has left the islands and the surrounding sea virtually untouched, and its status as a national park should ensure that this remains the case in the future. The waters around Kornati Islands are a paradise for sailors and divers. What the land may lack, the marine life beneath the surface definitely makes up for. Visiting the park comes at a price and is governed by rules that are definitely worth following. However, you will be rewarded with tranquil sailing in waters unlike any other in the world.
An aerial view of the famous Adriatic sailing destination, Kornati National Park.
8. Brač — the highest island
Photos of Zlatni Rat — the beach, cape and peninsula together — are perhaps the most used in the promotion of Croatia as a destination. But this magnificent beach is not the only attraction of Brač. The resorts here cater to all the needs of tourists, yet have managed to retain their picturesque Dalmatian character. There are more than a hundred churches and other historical buildings scattered around the island to satisfy your hunger for history and beauty. And the island's dominant feature, Vidova Gora (780 m), is unmissable and the highest on the Adriatic, making it the perfect place for trekking and paragliding.
9. Hvar — a treasure trove of history
No sightseer can miss Hvar. On the island, you'll discover 6 UNESCO cultural monuments — both tangible and intangible. Firstly, there are the remains of the ancient settlement of Starogradsko polje (incidentally the only Croatian UNESCO site that lies on the island, the others are on the mainland). You can also admire the technique of building stone walls without cement or the impressive Procession Za Krizen ('following the cross'). On Hvar, traditional agave lace-making and the multipart Klapa singing are recreated daily. And of course, the Croatian cuisine is a much part of the cultural heritage, so find out what food to sample in Croatia
YACHTING.COM TIP: It's no coincidence that many of these remarkable islands boast equally remarkable towns. For travel inspiration, check out our list of the 33 most beautiful towns in Croatia.
10. Vis — an island of beaches
Due to its strategic location, the history of Vis is inextricably linked to the military and what it left behind. Climb up to the Cave of Titus or see the remains of English fortifications from the Napoleonic Wars. We recommend this island because of its numerous beautiful little coves and the white pebble beaches that are hidden within them. The most famous of these is Stiniva beach, literally squeezed between the cliffs, and although every one of the coves here is well worth a visit, this one might be the perfect starting point to drop anchor.
11. Korčula — little Dubrovnik
In Korčula you will become truly intoxicated by the architectural gems, perfect beaches and excellent local wine. Every sailor should sooner or later explore the historic centre of Korčula, which has earned the nickname Little Dubrovnik thanks to its massive fortifications and townhouses. Also worth seeing are the traditional Moreška sword dance or the wine-growing region of Čara inland. If you're in search of some peace and quiet, you can just as easily escape by climbing one of the local mountain ridges. They guarantee phenomenal views of the island and the surrounding sea.
YACHTING.COM TIP: There is plenty to see between Split and Dubrovnik. Get some inspiration from our week-long UNESCO sightseeing itinerary and decide for yourself which islands you might want to add.
The main square in the old medieval town of Hvar.
12. Lastovo — a paradise for yourself
From afar you'll be surprised how green Lastovo is — something unusual for the Croatian islands. Its abundant vegetation is interspersed with picturesque towns with well-preserved monuments and beautiful beaches. The surrounding waters are also absolutely breathtaking. Lastovo Nature Park is one of the best-preserved marine areas on the Adriatic. But despite all these attractions, you won't find hordes of tourists here, because few are willing to endure the several-hour ferry ride from the mainland. It also provides one of the best views of the night sky and stars.
13. Mljet — the greenest island
Even greener than Lastovo is Mljet. More than 70% of its area is covered by forests, making it the most wooded island in the Adriatic. The vegetation and wildlife here are, of course, protected by a national park — there is an entrance fee and you can only go on designated paths. For more information on snorkelling here, check out our article on the 7 most beautiful snorkelling spots in Croatia. Veliko Jezero, Rikavica and the mythical Odysseus Cave promise incredible experiences underwater.
National park on the island of Mljet with the oldest pine forest in Europe.
14. Palagruža — a remote island
Palagruža is the remotest island of Croatia. Except for the lighthouse keeper, no one lives there. The conditions on the island are not favourable to people or vegetation. But the surrounding sea is full of fish and crawfish, which fishermen come here to catch. This is the perfect place for introverted sailors who crave a little peace and privacy. Just watch out for the rocks and reefs lurking beneath the surface.