Just back from the best trip to the Balkans and sharing our Croatia Island Hopping experience. When we were looking at Croatia as a destination, it seemed that you had 2 choices – either Croatia by land or Croatia by sea. I’m happy to report that you can have it all – Croatia by land AND sea. It’s so much easier than you’d think.
We met quite a few people on our island hopping journey and everyone was on a different kind of trip. That’s why I wanted to share all your options for a Croatia island hopping vacation. Just pick the one that suits you best and off you for for a fantastic trip!
Just one word of warning from the California girl – there are no sand beaches in Croatia, on the islands or anywhere. They call them pebble beaches but they are really rocks. Because of that, people typically go to beach clubs, rent beach chairs or do their tanning on a boat deck.
Best Time for a Croatia Island Hopping Holiday
You can actually visit the Croatian islands year round but the best time to go is summer so you can take advantage of the warmer weather and sea water. We went in May, which was wonderful for less tourists. The downside was less ferry service and the water was too cold to get excited about jumping in. You could still do some sunning though!
Ferry service triples from June 1 – September 30. The busiest tourist season is July and August. If you want all the benefits of Croatia in summer with lighter crowds, go in June or September.
5 Great Options for Croatia Island Hopping
1. Taking Ferries as a Foot Passenger
If you are visiting mainland Croatia and you want to check out the islands, the ferry system in Croatia is surprisingly easy and affordable. Even during summer, you can buy a ferry ticket and hop right on a ferry. You can also travel from island to island and see as many or as few as you want.
- Jadrolinija has passenger catamarans and car ferries
- Kapetan Luka has high speed passenger catamarans
2. Taking Ferries with a Car
I highly recommend renting a car in Croatia and flying in and out of different airports. Most rental cars won’t charge you extra to drop off at another airport in Croatia.
The main international airports are Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, Pula, Zadar or Rijeka, with the first 3 being the most common choices.We flew in and out of Dubrovnik as Croatia was part of a larger Balkans Road Trip.
Croatia Island Hopping with a car is very similar to the Foot Passenger version but you are more limited on the ferry schedule because you need to take the ferries that accommodate cars. You also need to reserve ahead of time on Jadrolinija.
3. A Croatia Island Hopping Bike Tour or Multisport Tour
You can hop on your bike and do the same trip as a foot passenger or there are multiple companies that run guided and self guided bike/multisport tours. The benefit is that they do most or all of the planning for you.
We met a group of people doing this trip and they were having a blast! They were biking, kayaking, eating out at amazing restaurants. This is a great way to go if you are looking for an active vacation. Here are some of the outfitters:
4. Take a Croatia Cruise
There are so many options when it comes to taking a Croatia Cruise. When we were in Hvar, you could see millennial catamaran cruises next to a luxury yacht, next to a seniors cruise.
For island hopping cruises (not boat charters), there are a few main options:
- Catamaran cruises – typically party cruises for under 35 years old. Companies will match you up with like minded cruisers.
- Midsize cruises with approximately 36 people – These run the gamut from inexpensive to luxurious.
- Large cruise ships with only go to the major ports of Split and Dubrovnik.
5. Chartering a Boat to Island Hop Croatia
There are multiple companies that run boat charters. Prices run from $5,000-$100,000 per week. You can see all the available boats online and can customize your charter to be exactly what you want.
- Choose between small to large sailboats, catamarans with 4 cabins, yachts and mega yachts.
- You can charter a boat that you captain or you can hire a captain for the week.
- You can get your boat stocked with everything you need like groceries, towels, kayaks, etc. or you can do it yourself.
Croatia Island Hopping Itinerary
There are more than 1,200 island to choose from so this post is just highlighting the more typical Croatia island hopping routes. Below you will find more information about the most popular islands so you can make your own itinerary. These are all moving from Split toward Dubrovnik but you can start in Dubrovnik and go the other way.
- Split – Hvar – Dubrovnik: If you have a car and only have time for the most well known island.
- Split – Hvar – Korcula – Dubrovnik: There is no car ferry between Hvar and Korčula so this is better as a foot passenger or a bike tour.
- Split – Vis – Hvar – Korcula – Dubrovnik: The most basic cruise itinerary.
- Split – Hvar – Vis – Korcula – Mljet – Dubrovnik: A faster paced, more islands cruise itinerary.
Probably the most well known and popular island, also the sunniest, Hvar is so much fun to visit. Within 24 hours of being there I felt like totally adjusted to the relaxed pace and fun vibe and was ready to be a local.
Here are a few of the fun things you can do:
- Hang out in Hvar town – very charming with a huge central square, marina with gorgeous yachts, stylish old town, terrific restaurants, a fortress with great views and quite the nightlife, it’s definitely a fun place to spend some time.
- Visit the Pakleni islands – a group of islands you can see from Hvar town, you can take a water taxi. rent a boat, or a skippered boat and spend a lovely day sunning and swimming.
- Boat trip to the Blue and Green caves – these are visited by a tour. Around noon on a sunny day the sunlight hits the limestone floor and makes the water an incredible blue.
- Tour other parts of the island and see the towns of Stari Grad, Jelsa, Sveta Nedjelja to see the vineyards of the local wines, or visit lavender fields and olive orchards.
Korcula is more relaxed and less touristy than islands like Hvar or Brac. It’s actually the birth place of Marco Polo. You can see the house where he grew up in Korcula Town. On the opposite side of the island is the town of Vela Luka. There’s a cool cave to see in Vela Luka that’s worth a visit if you come in on the car ferry from Split.
Mljet’s big attraction is Mljet National Park. It takes up a good portion of the island and borders two big saltwater lakes. One of the lakes has an island with a monastery that you can take a boat to see. The cost to enter Mljet National Park is 125 Kuna and includes to boat trip to the monastery.
Daytripping to an Island
If you don’t have time to island hop and just want to have the experience of visiting an island, you can visit almost every Croatian island on a day trip.
Brac is a really popular day trip from Split. You can take a foot or passenger ferry from Split. You can also travel between the islands of Brac, Hvar, and Vis by catamaran but if you are taking a car, you have to return to Split in between.
If you are taking a car, you might want to consider going to one island like Hvar and day tripping to Brac. On the other hand,, Brac is the 3rd largest island so you may want a car there if you intend to explore beyond Bol.
The main town is Bol. You can walk around the Riva, the harbor area where you will find restaurants and bars. It’s less touristy than Hvar so this is a nice choice if you want an island that’s more low key but has a lot of the same activities of the neighboring islands.
One of the biggest draws on this island is Zlatni Rat Beach pictured above. It’s a pebble beach that changes shape constantly with the current. As you can see in the photo above, the beach is quite crowded and lively in the summer with cocktail bars and beach loungers.
Lokrum is a tiny UNESCO nature reserve right off the coast of Dubrovnik (If you don’t have time for full island hopping, you can still get the island experience by taking a 15 minute water taxi to Lokrum from Dubrovnik’s old town. Another, more adventurous way to get there is a sea kayak tour.
It was raining when we were there so we didn’t go but here are some things to see and do on Lokrum:
- Climb up to Fort Royal Castle, a Game of Thrones filming location and check out the view of Dubrovnik.
- See the botanical gardens and peacocks that were originally brought there by Maximilian von Habsburg.
- Visit Mrtvo More lake (also call The Dead Sea) and the nearby Benedictine monastery.
- Go snorkeling or swimming.
- Fun fact – Lokrum was a temporary home to Richard the Lionheart when he was shipwrecked on his way back from the 3rd crusade.
The Elefiti islands are typically visited on a day trip from Dubrovnik. Tour boat companies visit 3 main islands – Koločep, Lopud (has a sandy beach) and Šipan and serve a fish lunch on board. You can book a trip online or at the Old Port. You can also do a DYI trip with the Jadrolinija ferry.
Renting a Car in Croatia
Renting a car in Europe can be tricky. In the United States, car rentals are very straightforward. You look on a website, you rent a car, you choose insurance (or not) and you pay what you were quoted.
In Europe, we’ve rented cars in 4 different countries but each time, the price we were quoted and what we actually paid were very different. Don’t let that dissuade you though. Renting a car in Croatia made our trip so much better.
Croatia Car Rental Tips
- Reserve a car online but don’t pay ahead of time so you aren’t stuck if the price is more than you thought.
- Insurance – If you have a credit card that includes car insurance, it typically only applies to collision. What it doesn’t cover is injury to you or another person. My advice – just pay for the car company’s insurance but make sure they offer a fair price.
- Some companies are absolute robbers. One very reputable car company wanted to charge us 240 euros for the week just for insurance AND they wanted a 3,000 euro deposit, which made no sense since we were having to pay their full insurance. We ended up renting with Avax and paid 85 euros for insurance for the week. They had the best price and everything they told us was accurate. They didn’t seem to have a lot of cars though and they do charge extra for a one way rental.
- In Croatia and the neighboring countries, an international license was not necessary if your license came from a country that uses a Latin alphabet.
- Check to see if you are allowed to cross borders. In Croatia, there is a spot where the country is split in two by Bosnia. You may also want to go to Montenegro. Crossing borders is easy but you need a “Green Card.” It is provided to you by the rental car company so make sure it’s part of your rental cost.
- Some companies offer one way rentals at no extra charge as long as you are in the same country. In Croatia, you may want to get a car in Split and drop it off in Dubrovnik.
Where to Stay in Croatia for Island Hopping
If you are taking a cruise or chartering a boat, your accommodations are set. For everyone else, there are so many great lodging options from hotels to affordable Airbnbs to gorgeous Villa Rentals.
If you are going during high season (summer) just know that the prices will be higher and you should book as far ahead as possible. In May, we were able to book everything hours before we got there. The same would be true for September.
We did most of this trip with Airbnb. Sometimes when we’ve been staying in a lot of hotels, we just want something that feels a little more like we live there. If you’re new to Airbnb, click here to get $40 off your first booking.
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Our Croatia Island Hopping holiday was so dreamy. You could go back to do it over and over again to enjoy all the different possibilities and activities.