5 Hidden Gems in Croatia You Must Visit This Year

5 Hidden Gems in Croatia You Must Visit This Year

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Are you thinking of traveling to Croatia but not sure where to go to avoid the crowds? Well, you arrived at the right place! You are about to discover 5 hidden gems in Croatia, from beautiful islands, secluded beaches, and charming villages that even on busy Summer might not be as packed as the famous spots on the Croatian coast.

Croatia is a stunning country that’s known for its beautiful beaches with turquoise water, stunning architecture, rich cultural heritage, and of course Game of Thrones tours.

While major tourist destinations like Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar attract a lot of visitors (because they are amazing indeed), there are some hidden spots in Croatia that you might want to check out too. 

Photo o a sunset over the sea, view from Pag Island in Croatia.
Some of these hidden gems in Croatia have the best sunsets in the country.

To help you get new vacation ideas and enjoy your holidays in Croatia to the max, we created a list of some of the most beautiful spots Croatia offers. Each of them has a quick guide on what to do and see, the best places to stay, and also how to get to these hidden places in Croatia. 

This is the perfect Croatia bucket list and an easy guide for planning your Croatian vacation.

Even though Croatia is one of the safest European destinations, we added some advice on staying safe on your trip, including what tech necessities you should bring and health tips to enjoy Croatia’s unspoiled nature.

Talking about safety, don’t forget to buy travel insurance before going on any trip. We have been using HeyMondo and SafetyWing for years, and we really like how easy it is to buy it and make a claim.

Pag Island is a famous Croatia island, but it still has some secret spots. The photo shows a few people in the crystal clear water and others on the sand relaxing.
Summer holiday mood on!

Pag Island

Croatia is often called “the land of thousand islands,” which makes it immensely challenging to pick only one island to visit. However, the island of Pag should definitely be on your list.

The 5th largest island in the country, it’s often referred to as “the Moonrock”. One side of the island resembles the barren and rocky Moon surface, which makes it an excellent movie-set location. Plus the beaches with turquoise waters by the Adriatic Sea are an invitation to relax, not to mention the stunning sunsets.

If you are a party person, you might have already heard of this not-so-hidden gem in Croatia. Pag is one of the best party islands in Croatia. But apart from its charming town and the party beach, the rest of the island is quiet and you can find many tranquil and secret beaches.

What to do in Pag, Croatia?

Those on the quest for crazy parties should visit Zrće Beach in Novalja. It turns into a Croatian Partying Mecca during the summer, and it’s guaranteed to give you the time of your life.

On the other hand, if you favor less intense vacation activities, beach hopping and swimming in crystal-clear waters are the main attraction. This Kayaking Tour is amazing and will take you on a day trip to pebble and sandy beaches and a visit to the incredible Gače Cave.

You can also visit Kolan. This small town is located in the interior of the island and is known for its traditional lace-making. You can visit the lace museum, watch a demonstration, and even try your hand at making your own lace.

If you love good olive oil, don’t miss the chance to visit the olive groves. Pag Island is home to some of the oldest olive groves in Croatia. Take a walk through the groves and learn about the history of olive cultivation on the island. You can also taste some of the locally-produced olive oil.

Pag scenic and isolated hiking trails are waiting for you. You can walk or cycle through the beautiful countryside and along the Adriatic Coast. You can explore the island’s rugged landscape, including its cliffs, canyons, and hidden coves.

And of course, spending a day or two in Novalja, the charming fishing village and historic town on the island.

What to eat on Pag Island?

Alongside magnificent olive oil and fish, Pag is known for its complex, deep-flavored sheep milk cheese you must try! For more local cuisine tips, read our guide about the best islands in Croatia for food lovers, which includes Pag, Brac Island, and Vis Island.  

The Croatian island of Pag is known for its centuries-old salt production tradition, so seeing the factory will be a unique experience. 

How to get to Pag Island?

Travel to  Pag Island is easy, as it is well connected with other cities and islands in Croatia. 

Getting to Pag Island by car: Pag Island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, which works well if you are planning to rent a car and travel between the stunning Croatian Beaches. You can find the best cart rentals in Croatia here. Once you have your vehicle, you can drive to Pag Island through the A1 highway and then follow signs for the Pag Bridge.

Getting to Pag Island by bus: There are regular bus services that run from major Croatian cities, such as Zagreb, Split, and Zadar, to Novalja, which is the main town on Pag Island. I suggest you buy the tickets in advance, especially during Summer. We already made the mistake of trying to buy the ticket int the same day and had to replan all our road trips because the buses were sold out. 

Getting to Pag Island by ferry: During the summer season, there are ferry services that connect Pag Island to the nearby island of Rab, as well as to the mainland port of Prizna. From Prizna, you can then drive or take a bus to reach your final destination on Pag Island. I would say to plan your ferry ticket at least one day in advance.

Getting to Pag Island by plane: The nearest airport to Pag Island is Zadar Airport, which is located about 70 kilometers away. From there, you can rent a car or take a bus to reach Pag Island. 

Safety Tips:

Since temperatures in Pag can reach up to 30 degrees Celsius, remember to bring water-resistant sunblock and a hat. This is especially important if you venture into hiking or cycling trails.

To make the most of your vacation don’t forget to bring comfy beach shoes. Most of the stunning beaches are covered in pebbles and they can be quite painful to walk over.

Also, if you plan to visit some of the festivals on Zrće Beach, bring a portable charger to power your devices. You don’t want to miss a video or a message from your friends because you run out of power.

Motovun, Istria

Located in the Istria region, Motovun is a small picturesque hilltop village at the top of the hill. You can climb up to the ancient City Walls and get an overview of the whole area. It resembles those small beautiful villages in Tuscany with cobblestone streets and cute houses, and the food is just as good.

Ancient city Motovun on top of the mountain. The city is surrounded by a fortress wall. The background image are mountains and fog at the foot of the mountains. Istria, Croatia. The view is from the drone. It's one of Croatia secret places to visit.
That’s what we call a Croatia secret spot worth visiting!

What to do in Motovun, Croatia?

The main thing to do in Motovun is to walk along the town walls and get lost in the medieval vibes of this Istrian hidden gem. You can also visit the Church of St. Stephen, a 17th-century church located in the center of town and features beautiful frescoes and a Baroque altar.

If you’re visiting in July or early August, aside from the beautiful countryside, you can attend the Motovun Film Festival and enjoy some fantastic independent films, concerts, and shows.

The forest surrounding the town is also a great place for nature lovers to unwind and admire wildlife, including deer, boars, and foxes.

For those in history, the Municipal Museum can be a good place to visit. This small museum features exhibits on the history and culture of Motovun and the surrounding area.

What to eat in Motovun?

Despite being one of the hidden gems in Croatia for tourism, Motovun is world-famous for its truffles and fantastic wines.

You can get your hands on the truffle-hunting business by joining a truffle-picking walking tour like this one

I also suggest you enjoy a glass of Malvazija wine with fuži pasta in a creamy truffle sauce. Another good option is to go for a wine-tasting experience.

How to get to Motovun?

 Motovun is approximately 250 km away from the capital city of Zagreb, and 35 km away from the nearest coastal town, Poreč. It’s located in central Istria, Croatia, and the two easiest ways to get there are by bus or driving. 

Getting to Motovun by Car: if you decide to rent a car in Croatia you can drive to Mortovun from Zagreb via the A6 motorway towards Rijeka, and then follow the signs for Istria and Pula. From Pula, follow the signs for Motovun, which is approximately 40 km away. The whole trip takes about 3 hours depending on the traffic. 

If you are coming from the coast, take the E751 road towards Pazin, and then follow the signs for Motovun, which is approximately 15 km away.

Getting to Motovun by bus: there are regular bus services to Motovun from Pula, Rijeka, and Zagreb. The journey time from Pula is approximately one hour. You can check all the routes and timetables on Bookaway or 12Go, we use both websites to plan our bus/train trips. Don’t forget to book your ticket in advance, especially during peak seasons. 

Getting to Motovun by bike: if you really want to do something unique in Croatia, and if you like cycling you can rent a bike in Poreč, and follow the cycling route to Motovun. The journey is approximately 35 km, and it takes about 2-3 hours.

Day trip to Motovun

Another easy and hassle-free way to visit Motovun and other beautiful destinations in Croatia’s countryside is by joining a day tour. 

There are many day trips and organized tours to Motovun departing from nearby cities such as Rijeka, Poreč, Rovinj, Bale, and Pula, and even from Zadar which is quite far.

Most of the tours will include stunning views of the beautiful forests, a visit to Motovun hilltop town and wine cellars, and of course a taste of local life and cuisine. 

Here are a few day tours to Motovun that are worth checking out:

Safety Tips:

If you visit forests around Motovun or go on a truffle hunt, always wear long trousers and sturdy shoes to avoid any unpleasant encounters with a venomous horned viper which is very common in Istria.

Rastoke, Slunj

If you have always wanted to see Plitvice Lakes National Park but can’t stand the crowd during peak season, consider taking a trip to Rastoke Waterfalls instead because it’s got similar beautiful scenery without as many tourists.

Rastoke is a beautiful and charming village located in central Croatia, known for its beautiful waterfalls and traditional wooden houses.

Waterfalls in Village of Rastoke river canyon, a hidden gem in Croatia.
Rastoke is another Croatian destination worth visiting.

What to do in Rastoke?

Rastoke main attraction is the breathtaking waterfalls. It is the network of waterfalls and cascades that flow through the village. Take a stroll along the wooden footpaths and bridges that criss-cross the streams and admire the natural beauty of the area.

You can also have some water fun going on a rafting trip to Mrežnica River, which offers rapids of varying levels of difficulty. This is a great way to get your adrenaline pumping while enjoying the stunning natural scenery.

Also, take some time to stroll around the village, and don’t miss charming watermill spoons, the Rastoke Museum, and the Milling Museum.

Rastoke was an important center of milling and grain production, and the Milling Museum showcases the history and technology of this traditional industry. You can see old millstones, wooden gears, and other exhibits that bring the past to life.

If you are looking for souvenirs to take home but don’t want any fridge magnetic, have a look at small shops in Rastoke. There you can buy locally made crafts, such as wooden carvings, pottery, and lacework.

What to eat in Rastoke?

Freshly caught trout with crispy potato slices and a glass of white wine will make your mouth water. Add a beautiful view overlooking the river to the equation, and you will have a perfect dinner date experience.

Where to stay in Rastoke?

Rastoke is a tiny village, so when looking for accommodation you will have more success if you do your search in Slunj town. Then you can pick your accommodation based on ratings, prices, picturesque location, or how close it is to the falls.

Here are our suggestions for places to stay near Rastoke:

Hotel Mirjana & Rastoke

Rooms Maria

Room Bea Rastoke

How to get to Rastoke, Croatia?

Rastoke is a small village located near the town of Slunj, approximately 130 km from the capital city of Zagreb. And as Motovun, you can get there by car, bus or booking a day trip.  

Getting to Rastoke by car: if you are coming from Zagreb, take the A1 motorway south towards Split, and then exit at Karlovac. Follow the signs for Slunj, and then continue to Rastoke. The trip takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.

Getting to Rastoke by bus: the best way to travel by bus to Rastoke is to take any of the daily busses departing from Zagreb, Zadar, Split, or Rijeka to Slunj, and from there you can take a local taxi to Rastoke village and the waterfalls. Depending on where you are coming from this trip can take up to 4 hours (if you are coming from Split, for example).

I would recommend checking the timetables and routes on Bookaway and 12Go websites and planning this trip in advance.

Day trip to Rastoke

I know we talked about finding secret places in Croatia, but when it comes to organized day trips to Rastoke you will probably end up visiting the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park as well. Which is not a bad thing at all, just more touristy. 

This happens because most of the day trips to Rastoke include a stop at Plitvice Lakes. 

Here are a few day tours to Rastoke that are worth checking out:

Safety Tips:

Make sure to bring mosquito repellent and invest in a sturdy waterproof case for your phone if you plan to see the waterfalls. Having a GoPro or waterproof action camera in hand is also a good idea.

Trakošćan Castle, Zagorje

Some of the best-hidden gems in Croatia are located in the central part of this beautiful country. Think of breathtaking castles and fortresses.

So if you happen to find yourself around Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, taking an hour-long drive to visit one of their most preserved 13th-century castles is definitely worth the effort.

Trakošćan Castle, Zagorje, is a magnificent place in Croatia. The photo shows the castles on top of the hill surrounded by forest, such a hidden gem in Croatia. It's one fo the must visit places in Croatia and still unknown by many tourists.
Did anyone ask for a fairytale destination in Croatia? Here it is!

What to see in Trakošćan Castle?

Alongside scenic views, you can peek into the lives of the castle’s former residents. Take a self-guided tour through the various rooms and halls, which are filled with antique furniture, paintings, and other historical artifacts. Learn about the castle’s fascinating history and the people who lived there over the centuries.

The castle also houses a museum that showcases the cultural and historical heritage of the region. It has an impressive collection of objects dating from the 15th to 19th centuries.

After that, you can enjoy a relaxing walk around the nearby lake surrounded by dense forests and get the authentic experience of living like a 15th-century royal.

Fancy yourself a fairytale-style wedding? You can actually book a chapel and some of the rooms in the castle for your nuptials! No doubt one of the most romantic destinations in this European country.

What to eat at Trakošćan Castle?

The Zagorje region is known for štrukli, a soft pillowy dough stuffed with sweet or savory fillings, most commonly cottage cheese. A true comfort food!

Where to stay to visit Trakošćan Castle?

The castle is located in northern Croatia and quite isolated, so the best way to visit it is to combine a trip to one of the nearby towns and from there reach the castle for your visit.

The nearest towns with accommodation options are:

– Krapina: a small town located approximately 30 km from Trakošćan Castle. It has a few hotels and guesthouses. Krapina is also known for its Neanderthal Museum, which is a popular attraction in the area. Check the hotels in Krapina here!

– Bednja: is a small town located approximately 10 km from Trakošćan Castle. It has a few guesthouses and apartments. Check out the Bednja accommodations here!

You can also check out Hotel Trakošćan which is one of the closest hotels to the castle and Moment’s Pool House.

How to get to Trakošćan Castle?

This Croatia hidden gem might be hard to reach but totally worth a visit. Things are easier if you are doing a road trip in Croatia, but don’t worry if you are on the bus team, because we got you covered as well.

Getting to Trakošćan Castle by car: the castle is located approximately 100 km from Zagreb and can be easily reached by car via the A2 motorway. The journey takes 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic. There is a large paid parking area near the castle.

Getting to Trakošćan Castle by bus: as we mentioned for accommodation, you can use the nearby towns to get to the castle. You can find buses from Zagreb and many other major towns in Croatia to Varaždin, Bednja, and Krapina, and from there get a taxi or local bus to the castle. To plan these routes you can use the Croatia Bus website

Getting to Trakošćan Castle by train: you can get a train from Zagreb to Varaždin, and from there are taxis or local buses to the castle. You can check the train schedules and routes on the Croatian Railways website.

Day Trip to Trakošćan Castle

The easiest way to visit Trakošćan Castle is by joining a day trip departing from Zagreb. You can choose between a Fairytale Castle Tour with wine tasting and lunch or a Tour to Varazdin Baroque Town & Trakoscan Castle. Both tours have great recent reviews. 

Safety Tips:

Since Trakošćan castle is built on a hill, you’ll need a good pair of shoes to climb up, especially on rainy days.

Arboretum Trsteno

Remember the beautiful gardens of King’s Landing that appeared in the third and fourth seasons of Game of Thrones? Well, Arboretum Trsteno was where it was filmed.

Dubrovnik was always a popular tourist destination, but GoT turned it into one of the most visited destinations in Croatia. However, while Dubrovnik City is often flooded with tourists, Arboretum Trsteno remains a much quieter spot for those who want to enjoy beautiful scenery and nature.

Adriatic coast with the sunny harbor in Trsteno, Dalmatia, Croatia. A tourist attraction near Dubrovnik. It's still a hidden gem in Croatia.
Do you remember this place and its breathtaking views?

What to see at the Arboretum Trsteno?

The noble Gučetić family started tending a beautiful garden back in the 15th century, and to this day, it has stayed one of the most magnificent examples of Renaissance garden horticulture.

Visiting the famous pergola that frequently appeared in the Game of Thrones series, the superb Neptune fountain, and old plant species that are at least a few hundred years old are just some of the reasons to visit this hidden gem in Croatia.

Don’t forget to check out the Orangery. It is a unique building that features a collection of citrus trees. It is a great place to learn about the history of the garden and the cultivation of citrus trees.

The complex also houses an ethnographic museum that showcases traditional Croatian culture and heritage

If after visiting the Arboretum Trsteno you feel like you need more info about Game of Thrones, you can always join a GoT Tour in Dubrovnik. And after Croatia, you must visit Girona in Spain. This hidden gem in the Catalonia region was also a filming location for many episodes and seasons of GoT.

What to eat at Arboretum Trsteno?

The Dubrovnik area is heaven for those who like fresh and locally produced food. Enjoy fresh fish, superb olive oil, fine Croatian wine, and cheese.

If you have a sweet tooth, try traditional Ston cake from a nearby village of Ston. It’s a pastry stuffed with penne pasta, chocolate, nuts, butter, cinnamon, and eggs – you can’t go wrong with that.

Where to stay to visit Arboretum Trsteno? 

The Arboretum Trsteno is located near the city of Dubrovnik, so staying there or in one of its nearby towns would be the best option.

– Dubrovnik Old Town: it’s the most popular area to stay in Dubrovnik. The Old Town is full of historic buildings, charming streets, and great restaurants, but also very busy and full of tourists.

– Lapad: a peaceful area with a beautiful beach and plenty of restaurants and cafes. It’s only a short drive from the Arboretum Trsteno and is a great option for those who want to stay near the city but prefer a quieter atmosphere.

– Mlini: a small village located just south of Dubrovnik. It’s a popular spot for beach-goers and it’s still close to the Arboretum Trsteno.

– Zaton: a peaceful town located a few kilometers north of Dubrovnik. It’s surrounded by beautiful nature and has a few restaurants and cafes. It’s a great option for those who want to escape the crowds in Dubrovnik.

– Cavtat: a small resort town located around 20 km south of Dubrovnik. It’s a popular destination for yachts and sailboats. It’s also close to the airport, making it a convenient option for travelers.

How to get to Arboretum Trsteno?

The Arboretum Trsteno is located about 20 km northwest of Dubrovnik, and getting there is very easy.

Getting to Arboretum Trsteno by car: if you are driving your own vehicle or renting a car, you can get to the Arboretum Trsteno by taking the D8 highway north from Dubrovnik. The journey should take around 30 minutes, depending on traffic.

Getting to Arboretum Trsteno by public transportation: Dubrovink and the other towns we mentioned in the accommodation section have buses going to the Arboretum several times a day. Depending on the place the trip can take up to two hours, being Cavtat and Mlini the farthest places.

Getting to Arboretum Trsteno by taxi: you can easily book a taxi to take you there, or you might hire a driver for the day. But remember to always negotiate the price before starting the trip.

Getting to Arboretum Trsteno by water taxi: you can hire a water taxi in Dubrovnik or any of the coats towns near the Arboretum Trsteno. 

To have an idea, the journey by water taxi from Dubrovnik to Arboretum Trsteno takes around 20-30 minutes, depending on sea conditions and the exact location of departure. During the journey, you can enjoy beautiful views of the coastline and the Adriatic Sea.

However, water taxis can be expensive compared to other forms of transportation, so it’s important to negotiate the fare with the operator beforehand. Additionally, water taxis are weather-dependent, so check the weather forecast before planning your trip.

Safety Tips:

Since the site is further out of the town, and there aren’t any shops nearby, remember to bring water. Long walks under the sun can lead to sunstroke.

Also, keep your money, tech, and other valuables close because any area with a higher number of people is an excellent opportunity for pickpockets to try their luck.

Croatia’s hidden gems wrap up!

If this is your first time visiting Croatia, be aware that there is so much to see and enjoy there. From popular destinations like the beautiful city of Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar Island to unique hidden gems on Croatia’s coast and countryside.

Croatia is known for its beautiful nature, architecture, and magnificent cuisine. We truly enjoyed our trips there and can’t wait to revisit them.

It’s a perfect destination for a weekend getaway or a summer holiday. Whether you are looking for a seaside resort in one of the majestic Adriatic islands or panoramic views while driving along the coast. Croatia has something special for travelers and It’s not hard to fall in love with it.

Love this guide about the hidden gems in Croatia? Pint it for later!

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