First-time visitors to Croatia are often startled by the striking turquoise hue of its sea and see-straight-to-the-bottom waters. This Mediterranean sun destination certainly has no shortage of beaches – thanks to its 1777-km-long (1104 miles) Adriatic coastline and close to 1200 islands, there’s a beach for everyone. The question is, do you prefer sandy or pebbly?
The pros and cons of each are a topic of debate – some swear by the crystal clear waters of a pebble beach not clouded by sand, while others need to feel the soft sandy powder between their toes. In Croatia, you’ll mostly find pebble beaches nestled in the coves of rocky shorelines, but there are also many sandy exceptions.
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And did you know that all beaches in Croatia are public? It’s the law! You can lay down your towel where you please – there’s no such thing as a private beach here.
Whether you’re looking for pebbly or sandy, family-friendly or sporty, we have the beach for you with our handy guide to the best beaches in Croatia.
1. Zlatni Rat, Brač Island
Croatia’s most photographed beach does not disappoint. Follow the pine-scented promenade from seaside Bol to this gorgeous expanse of fine soft pebbles, lapped by inky blue waters. Its astonishing V-shape changes and shifts with the tide and currents of the Adriatic Sea. The beach’s windy eastern side is a top spot for windsurfers, while the cool kids hang out at the beachside Auro Cocktail Bar.
Planning tip: It’s a 30-minute stroll from Bol. An alternative is to park at Parking Zlatni Rat, a 10-minute walk away.
The turquoise sea provides a welcome respite from the hedonistic diversions of Hvar island © xbrchx / Shutterstock
2. Dubovica, Hvar Island
Hvar Town revelers recover from their boozy nights at Dubovica, a tiny cove swathed with a beach of dazzling white pebbles 10 km (6 miles) east of town. At its eastern end, look out for the small cave hidden in the rocky shoreline. When you’ve had enough sun, lounge under the pines at Duba Beach Bar where cold drinks come with a chilled soundtrack.
Planning tip: After a 15-drive east from Hvar Town, it’s a 10-minute trek downhill along a stony zig-zagging path from the main road. Or just catch a taxi boat.
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3. Sveti Jakov, Dubrovnik
It’s a 30-minute walk from the Old Town and a hike down – and back up – 160 stone steps, but Sveti Jakov gives you some breathing space from the busyness of Dubrovnik’s main beach. And you get sublime views of the walled Old Town, which are even more spectacular as the sun goes down. Secluded it might be, but you can still rent sunbeds and umbrellas and grab a bite at the beachside bar.
Planning tip: From Pile Gate take bus no. 8 to Sveti Jakov church. Behind the church, you’ll see steps down to the beach. Or take a taxi boat from the Old Town port.
Stiniva’s setting is like something from a smuggler’s tale © SimonSkafar / Getty Images
4. Stiniva, Vis Island
Off the southern coast of Vis Island lies striking Stiniva Bay, surrounded by a near-circle of rocky cliffs, with only a narrow opening to the sea. Part of its appeal is its inaccessibility – you can try to brave the steep downhill footpath from Žužeca but most visitors arrive by boat and swim through the passage to the white pebble beach.
Planning tip: Set out early to avoid the worst of the boat traffic.
5. Plaža Ušće (Delta Beach), Neretva Delta
Kitesurfers and windsurfers – you’ve found one of the best beaches in Croatia to fly across the sands and waves of Plaža Ušće. Delta Beach, as it’s known in English, is the wide sandy expanse that hugs the delta of the Neretva River as it empties into the Adriatic. Gaze at the beautiful mountains of the Pelješac peninsula in front of you as you flop on the sands and order a cold drink in the simple little beach bar.
Partying at Hideout Festival on Zrće Beach © Hideout Festival
6. Zrće Beach, Pag Island
Zrće Beach is large, easy to access, amped up and offers little shade. If you’re ready to party, this is absolutely the place to be. In recent years, Zrće’s open-air beachfront Papaya Club has taken up residency on DJ Mag’s prestigious annual Top 100 Clubs list. From June to September, the “Ibiza of Croatia” fires up with festivals, themed party weekends and guest slots from superstar DJs.
Planning tip: Zrće Beach is 3.5km (2 miles) from the port town of Novalja on Pag Island, which is linked to the mainland via a bridge.
7. Šunj, Lopud Island
One of Croatia’s loveliest sandy beaches is a dreamy day trip from Dubrovnik by boat to this chilled-out island in the Elaphiti archipelago. Walk from the main port through the pine woods to the wide sandy beach at Šunj, where you can set yourself up for the day on the soft sands or on a shaded sunbed. The shallow waters here make this a favorite of families with small kids, while the eastern end of the beach is reserved for naturists. There’s a simple restaurant too, and if you can’t face the 25-minute walk from the harbor, hire one of the golf cart taxis to take you there.
Planning tip: The ferry trip from Dubrovnik’s Gruž port takes just under an hour and stops at Sipan island on the way.
8. Stračinska, Šolta Island
Šolta is so close to Split, but it seems to slip under people’s radar in the headlong rush to reach Hvar and Brač. But this wonderfully laid-back island has a deeply indented coastline sheltering tiny beaches, including the pebbly cove at Stračinska Bay. It’s a tiny, secluded spot, lined with fragrant pine trees and rocky shores – and that’s about it. No bar, just sparkling blue-green waters perfect for lazy swims and snorkeling.
One of Cape Kamenjak’s rocky coves © jlazouphoto / Getty Images
9. Cape Kamenjak, Istria
The shoreline of this rugged and rocky peninsula on Istria’s southernmost tip is traced by quiet bays and coves. Its western coast is ideal for swimming and snorkeling, while its breezy eastern side is where the windsurfers congregate. When it’s time to seek out some shade and refreshments, head to the quirky Safari Beach Bar, a local favorite.
10. Lopar peninsula, Rab Island
This is where you can find some of Croatia’s best sandy beaches. Just over a mile long, half-moon-shaped Paradise Beach is the biggest and most family-friendly thanks to its shallow waters. For something more secluded and untamed, head to the beaches on the northern edge of the peninsula. Here rocky outcrops stretch like long fingers into the sea with sheltered coves and swathes of golden sand nestled in between.
Planning tip: Ciganka and Sahara beaches are “clothing optional” – ideal for those who like to get their kit off before diving in. Stolac beach is exclusively nudist.
Families enjoy the dappled sunshine on Punta Rata © Jorg Greuel / Getty Images
11. Punta Rata, Brela
The rocky coastline around the town of Brela, on the stretch of the Dalmatian mainland known as the Makarska Riviera, is made up of a succession of pretty, pebbly beaches. This 300-meter (1000-ft) pebble beach with see-right-to-the-bottom waters is popular with local families, with its Aleppo pines providing some welcome shade from the scorching summer sun. Take your mask and snorkel to the waters around the tree-covered Brela Stone at the beach’s western end to explore the underwater world.
Planning tip: Rent a stand-up paddleboard or kayak. Or try pedal boating, jet skiing or parasailing here.
12. Lubenice, Cres Island
From Lubenice, a scenic hamlet perched on the edge of a 378-meter-high (1240ft) cliff, Cres island’s most idyllic beach seems tantalizingly close but can only be reached via a steep and demanding one-hour descent along a rocky path. The intrepid are awarded by pristine white pebbles and turquoise waters, but so are those arriving by boat – a much better idea. Half a mile southwards in nearby Žanje Bay is the magical Blue Cave with a small pebble beach tucked inside.
Planning tip: There are no beach bars or food stalls – bring food and sufficient water.
Ask Lonely Planet: which Croatian island is right for me?
13. Sunčana Uvala, Lošinj Island
On Lošinj Island’s western coast lies Sunčana Uvala (Sunny Cove) skirted with white pebble beaches and impossibly turquoise waters. Shadowed by a large hotel, lovely Veli Žal beach can get busy with families. In this case, follow the promenade southwards along a rocky coastline to the smaller but just as pristine Borik beach, a favorite with local beachgoers. Afterward, kick back with a cocktail as you ogle the sunset from Borik Mediterranean Bar.
14. Veruda Island beach, Istria
Hop on a boat from Pula for the short ride to tiny Veruda Island – known by locals as Fratarski Otok (Friar’s Island). This is home to Croatia’s only “eco-beach” thanks to its undeveloped and unblemished landscape, as well as local efforts to protect its plant, sea and animal life. It’s also delightfully car-free.
Planning tip: Bunk down for the night at the tourist camp and wake up to the sound of water lapping the shore.