From the medieval city of Dubrovnik to the so-called Great Wall of Croatia, these are the top historic destinations in Croatia. For spectacular views of the Adriatic and excellent stories that relate to Croatia’s fascinating past, you’ll find what you’re looking for in our selected sites below.
Dubrovnik is a Croatian city on the Dalmatian coast. Dubrovnik’s old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site which was a powerful merchant town in the 13th century. Before the 18th century, it operated as a free state.
Despite suffering a devastating earthquake in 1667 and having been attacked by the Nazis and the Yugoslav People’s Army in the 20th century, many of its stunning buildings survive. Its churches are a particular draw, including the beautiful Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary and its impressive organ, the Church of St. Ignatius, the church of St Blasius (the patron saint of Dubrovnik) and the Franciscan Monastery which houses the third oldest pharmacy in the world.
Pula Arena, also known as Pula Amphitheatre, is a dramatic historic Roman amphitheatre in Croatia. Built in the 1stcentury AD, Pula Arena was constructed during the reign of emperor Vespasian, who was also responsible for beginning construction on the Colosseum in Rome.
Capable of accommodating around 20,000 spectators, Pula Arena would have played host to gladiatorial battles under the Romans and the tournaments of knights in medieval times. Now restored with a capacity of 5,000 people, the contemporary Pula Arena largely presents operas and film festivals.
Just a ten minute boat ride from Dubrovnik in Croatia is the beautiful Lokrum Island, home to stunning wildlife – its main inhabitants are peacocks and rabbits – a French fort and a Benedictine Monastery and Abbey.
Lokrum Island has a rich history and is believed to have been inhabited since prehistoric times. Richard the Lionheart was supposedly shipwrecked here in 1192 while returning from the Crusades and vowed to build a church there in the event that he was saved. In the end the church was built in Dubrovnik.
The first mention of Lokrum’s monastery is in 1023, although some records place the monks there as early as 915AD. The Lokrum Monastery owned the entire island at one point, while its abbey served as a hospital and almshouse up until the mid-15th century. Visitors to Lokrum Monastery Complex today can see the remains of its 12/13th century basilica, its 15/16th century monastery, and the 19th century summer residence of Maximilian of Habsburg.
Designed and mostly built during the 1460s by Michelozzo di Bartololmeo, an Italian architect considered to be one of the great Renaissance pioneers, Bokar Fortress is one of the world’s finest examples of ‘harmonious and functional fortification architecture’ and was built to defend the western entrance to the city of Dubrovnik. In fact it was the key defender of the strategically vital Pile Gate.
The fort you see today was finally completed in 1570 after a century of debate to decide whether it should actually be finished. Today, the fort is open all year round and is perhaps most famous as a venue for performances of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
The Walls of Ston are the longest complete fortress system in Europe (and second in the world behind the Great Wall of China) and they are known colloquially as ‘The Great Wall of Croatia. The isolated wall system on the Peljesac Peninsula connects Ston with the neighbouring town of Mali (‘little’) Ston.
The walls were built in the 14th and 15th centuries with two distinct purposes in mind. Firstly to act as the first line of defence for Ston as well as the strategically vital port city of Dubrovnik. And secondly, to safeguard the highly lucrative salt pans in the area which are still operational to this day. The salt produced in Ston is said to be the purest in the entire Mediterranean region.
The Stari Grad Plain is a prime example of ancient Greek agricultural practices and organisation dating back to the Greek colony of Pharos. Inhabited by Ionian Greeks in the 4th century BC, the Stari Grad Plain became an important farming landscape, where mainly grapes and olives were grown. Remarkably, the land has continued to serve these purposes for centuries and still does so today.
In 2008, the Stari Grad Plain was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. Among the reasons for its inclusion was the excellent state of preservation of its “chora”, geometrical shaped plots each enclosed by stone walls. These agricultural practices were an important method used by the ancient Greeks to parcel up land in the course of farming.
The St John Fort (Sveti Ivan) in Dubrovnik is one of the city’s most impressive medieval defences, with towers dating back to the fourteenth century and its main structure to the sixteenth century. Today, the St John Fort contains the city’s maritime museum.
Zadar Roman Forum was built between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD and would have been the centre of everyday life in Roman Zadar. The Zadar Roman Forum is still home to several monuments. It’s located in front of the famous St Donatus Church.
Built in the early 1460s at the height of the Turkish threat, the Minceta Tower is a huge round fort dominating the north-western section of Dubrovnik. The Minceta Tower is as recognisable an icon of Dubrovnik as the Eiffel Tower is of Paris. It was originally constructed as a four-sided fort in 1319. Its name derives from the Menčetić family.
The tower was completed in 1464. Even though the 750 steep, winding steps to the top are a challenge, the journey is rewarded with sensational views of the old town of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea. You can also visit the museum in the excavated basement.
Fort Lovrijenac is a stunning and imposing cliff-top fort located just outside Dubrovnik’s medieval city walls. One of Dubrovnik’s most impressive structures, it guards the western entrance to the city from the Adriatic Sea.
Fort Lovrijenac may have been built in the 11th century by the people of the Republic of Dubrovnik to head off an imminent attack from the Venetians. Game of Thrones fans will recognise Lovrijenac Fortress as the Red Keep in King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms. Scenes filmed here include the tournament thrown in honour of King Joffrey’s name day in the second series.