If you plan on visiting Croatia, you most likely plan to visit Dalmatia. Dalmatia is an Adriatic region in Croatia spreading from Zadar to the north to the Peljesac peninsula in the south, including many lovely islands like Brac, Hvar, Vis, etc.
We’ll just touch base here regarding Croatian islands because we’ll have an entire in-depth guide to the islands. Some consider even Dubrovnik part of Dalmatia. But as Dubrovnik has a bit different story, we've decided to dedicate another chapter to Dubrovnik region.
Dalmatia is a turquoise Adriatic sea, with a thousand islands, hidden coves, pebble beaches, and a mountainous hinterland. Dalmatia is also famed for its preserved ancient towns where you can enjoy remarkable examples of Venetian, Greek, Roman, and Austria-Hungarian architecture. Besides natural beauties and historical sites, visitors to Dalmatia can enjoy exuberant nightlife, active holidays, good food, and wines.
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Reasons to visit Dalmatia
With over 800 km of coastline, Dalmatia has many beaches to explore. Beaches in Dalmatia are by far the best beaches in all of Croatia, and some of the nicest beaches we've ever been to in the world.
The entire Makarska Riviera is a wonderful stretch of coast with a series of lovely, pebbly beaches ranging from popular summer spots, like Punta Rata in Brela, to secluded beaches such as Nugal Beach where swimmers like to go natural (if you know what I mean).
If you look for a beach holiday in Croatia, Dalmatia is the perfect place to be.
History & Culture
Greeks had their colonies here, followed by Romans, and then Venetians, French, and Austrians, not to mention original settlers – Illyrian tribes, and since the 7th century the Slavs.
All those tribes and nations left their trace in Dalmatian culture and history.
Dalmatian capital and the largest town, Split is entirely built on remains of an almost 2.000 years old Roman palace.
Trogir, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a perfectly preserved medieval town with remarkable examples of Romanesque churches, and Baroque and Renaissance buildings from Venetian times. Visit the ruins of Salona, once the largest Roman settlement in Dalmatia.
Zadar isn't the best-preserved Dalmatian town, due to heavy bombing during WWII, but its impressive Roman forum dating back to the 1st century BC still stands, as well as a wonderful church of St. Donat from the 9th century.
If you like to explore the history and culture of an area you visit, you'll have plenty to do in Dalmatia.
Here, I might be biased, and lucky, as my mother-in-law cooks heavenly Dalmatian food: beef stew – pasticada, with homemade gnocchi, seafood or veal risotto, Swiss chard, or artichokes with broad beans, yummy fish stew (brodeto), dried cod in white wine sauce with potatoes, and my winter fave – rastika cabbage with cured ham and sausages, to mention just a few dishes.
Dalmatian food is above all what I call “clean food”, meaning that besides olive oil, salt, parsley, and garlic, they use very few spices, and thus the food tastes natural. Anyway, when you’ve got such good products, you shouldn’t miss them with spices.
The highest Croatian mountains, Velebit, Mosor, and Biokovo, that backdrop the coastal Dalmatia, offer not only stunning vistas but also endless opportunities for adrenaline-pumping activities.
Go rock-climbing in Paklenica national park, hike Velebit Mountain, enjoy white-water rafting on Zrmanja or Cetina River, or zip-line over Cetina Canyon.
Dalmatia is an excellent place for anybody in search of active holidays.
When to go
The best time to visit Dalmatia is from June through September. Expect crowds from mid-July to late August. On the other hand, if you can visit in June or September, you'll encounter fewer visitors, and more affordable prices, while most of the activities still take place, the weather is great, and the sea is warm enough for swimming.
Things to do in Dalmatia
Four out of seven UNESCO Heritage sites in Croatia are located in Dalmatia. The medieval town of Trogir with lovely Baroque, Renaissance, and Gothic palaces, a street layout typical for ancient Greek towns, the Romanesque church of St. Lawrence, a boardwalk, and the Kamerlengo Castle is not to be missed.
Split old town, set within Diocletian Palace from the turn of the 4th century, is a living museum, and a town full of history and a great vibe.
Built for over 100 years, from 1431 to 1536, St. James Cathedral in Sibenik is a perfect example of the transition from Gothic to Renaissance architecture. The construction was overseen by three different architects over time, it's built entirely of stone, and it features very interesting sculptured faces.
Stari Grad Plains are located on the island of Hvar. Set up by ancient Greeks, this farming landscape remained almost intact since the 4th century. It still features geometrical land divisions, bordered by stone walls, trims, and shelters. People still cultivate here olives, grapes, and veggies just like centuries ago.
No wonder that with all rivers, streams, rapids, and waterfalls that Dalmatia has, white-water rafting, kayaking, and canoeing are extremely popular outdoor activities here.
Get active and sign yourself up for some splashing fun through Dalmatian river canyons.
Visit National Parks
Out of eight national parks in Croatia, three are found in Dalmatia.
Krka Waterfalls are located in central Dalmatia, just a couple of kilometers from Sibenik. The park covers just over 100 m2 of the middle-lower course of the Krka and Cikola rivers. Its main attractions include a series of waterfalls, hiking trails, underground caves, archaeological sites, and Visovac Island. Swimming is allowed.
Kornati Islands are an archipelago of about 140 islands (around 110 of them are part of the national park) spreading over a 320 km2 area west of Sibenik and south of Zadar. Due to the strong north wind – Bura, the majority of the islands are rocky, deprived of any significant greenery. Islands are super-popular among sailing crowds.
Paklenica National Park spreads along the south slopes of Velebit Mountain. It covers an area of 95 m2. Its main attractions are two canyons: Mala & Velika Paklenica. The park is popular among hikers and rock climbers.
Dreaming of Croatian islands where time seems to stay still? Dalmatia is a perfect place to do some island-hopping. The best base for your island-hopping adventure in Croatia is Split and Zadar. They both serve as main ferry ports for many interesting islands. Islands within easy reach from Split are larger with well-developed tourist infrastructures, and popular summer getaways, like Brac, Hvar, and Korcula. On the other hand, islands in the vicinity of Zadar are smaller, and more laid-back, with far fewer tourists, and basic tourist infrastructures, like Ugljan, Iz, or Dugi Otok.
You can explore islands on your own, or book a daily or multi-day island-hopping tour.
Accommodation in Dalmatia
Dalmatia has a variety of accommodation choices for everybody's style and budget: from large chain hotels, boutique hotels, and luxury hotels, to hostels, vacation rentals, and campsites.
The main hotel brands that operate in Dalmatia are Bluesun hotels (mainly located along Makarska Riviera and the island of Brac), Falkensteiner hotels (located in the Zadar area), Valamar (Makarska, Hvar), Suncani Hvar in Hvar Town, and Amadria with hotels in Sibenik, international hotel chains Radisson Blu, and Le Meridien, both with hotels in Split.
You'll find many other small & family-run hotels in Dalmatia. Some of them are members of Relais&Châteaux, an association of individually owned restaurants and hotels.
We are also fans of vacation rentals. Our family rents apartments in the small village of Komarna, in southern Dalmatia (and we rent an apartment in Istria). An excellent alternative to hotels, vacation rentals in Dalmatia are cheaper, and offer more space and comfort, while many of them are also modernly decorated, hip, and stylish. If you'd like to know more, read our full blog about vacation rentals in Croatia.
Food in Dalmatia
Traditional food in Dalmatia is very light, based a lot on fish, and other seafood, green and leafy veggies like Swiss chard, and kale, then broad beans, artichokes, olive oil, garlic, parsley, and other Mediterranean herbs.
As for meat, Dalmatians eat mostly baby beef, veal, and lamb. Pork is almost always eaten cured in a form of prsut, cured ham similar to Italian prosciutto, but in Dalmatia, ham is not only salt-cured but also smoked; and pancetta, salt-cured and smoked pork belly.
Some of the typical Dalmatian dishes are baby beef stew with gnocchi (pasticada), squid risotto in a black ink sauce (crni rizot), and a fish stew (brudet).
However, very few restaurants along the coast serve these traditional dishes. Tourist resorts along the coast are full of unexciting restaurants serving just about anything: from pasta, and risotto, to grilled meat and fish.
For us, food is an important part of a country's identity, and we strive to make our readers realize how wonderful Croatian, particularly Dalmatian cuisine, really is.
This is the reason we try to highlight the best restaurants in Croatia, here on our blog. We've already covered restaurants in Istria that locals love. We plan to do the same for Dalmatia. For now, here are a few of our faves (in no particular order).
Tucked away in the back street of Sibenik's old town, Marenda is a no-frills place serving fresh, simple Dalmatian dishes. This place isn't touristy (yet) and the prices are super affordable.
Villa Spiza, Split
If you are in search of an authentic local tavern in Split, loved by locals and tourists alike, head straight to the Villa Spiza. There, you can taste some of Dalmatian classics like veal and peas soup, veal liver, fava beans and artichokes pasta, tomato soup, or shrimp stew.
Run by wife and husband duo, Nikola and Mira, this tavern is perhaps the best place for fresh fish and seafood in the vicinity of Split. The place is pricy, but rightly so, as ingredients are the freshest you can find: a catch of the day from local fishermen, to tasty homegrown greens that go along.
Just to write about Pojoda, makes me hungry. This is a fish restaurant, and it only has one meat dish (if you really insist). Everything is super fresh, and absolutely yummy here: from their fish soup, tasty scorpionfish brodeto (stew), pasta-fazol (Dalmatian peasant dish of beans, and pasta), octopus balls, to their grilled fish. The garden terrace makes a superb dinner setting.
Jeny is an awesome place to eat, serving innovative yet tasty dishes. Presentation on plates is wonderful and so unusual for Dalmatian restaurants. Choose their food and wine pairing menu, and let the chef create the magic. And not to forget, set on a hill above Tucepi, you get stunning views from their terrace.
As for the prices, like in the rest of Croatia, you can get a light meal for around 6-8 euros at most of the places.
Fancy dinner will set you back 50 € per person. Expect to pay the same for a good meal in any of the best restaurants in the country.
Fish is usually charged by the kilogram. Whitefish (like sea bass, dentex, or sea bream) cost around 60 € per kilogram. For a cheaper (and healthier!) meal, opt for bluefish (like sardines, anchovies, and mackerels). Croatians eat plenty of bluefish, although it is difficult to find it on a menu of good restaurants. Your best bet here is to look for local taverns where business people eat. Read our post on Where to eat cheap, local, and delicious meals in Croatia.
Shellfish goes from 12 € for a portion of mussels, 20 € for a portion of clams, to 5 € per piece for scallops.
Risottos are anywhere between 10 € and 15 € depending on the ingredients. The same goes for pasta.
Steaks are around 25 € a piece.
Beaches in Dalmatia
Dalmatia is full of wonderful beaches, no doubt about that. In fact, central Dalmatia, particularly Makarska Riviera, a stretch of coast from Brela to the north to Gradac to the south, boasts some of the best beaches in all of Croatia.
The best part: while many of them are really crowded from late July through August, the rest of the summer, you can still find plenty of space for yourself, and not too many people.
Beaches here are mostly pebbly, but the pebbles here are wonderful, small, rounded white pebbles, formed naturally with the sea washing over rock particles for centuries.
Biokovo Mountain rises high from the seashores, creating a perfect backdrop, and dramatic landscapes.
Our favorite beaches in Dalmatia are Nugal Beach near Makarska, Duba beach near Zivogosce, and lovely, wild beaches south of Drasnice. The most famous beach is Punta Rata beach in Brela.
Nightlife at the majority of tourist resorts in Dalmatia consists of bar crawling and clubbing until the wee hours. Smaller towns get quiet after midnight.
The most popular party destinations in Dalmatia are Tisno, on the island of Murter, Zrce, on the island of Pag, Hvar Town, on the island of Hvar, Split, and Zadar.
Tisno became a popular nightlife spot after Garden moved from Zadar to this small island. There are various parties with electronic music, and boat parties, going day and night, throughout July and August. Popular events include Electric Elephant, SunceBeat, and Sound Wave Festival.
Zrce, known also as Croatian Ibiza, has been popular among clubbers for almost a decade. Located in an uninhabited bay, a few kilometers from Novalja, Zrce consists of four beach clubs – Papaya, Aquarius, Noa, and Kalypso – where parties go 24/7 from the end of May through September.
Hvar Town became a popular party destination for the younger crowd with the opening of the Carpe Diem Club, almost a decade ago. Other bars followed, like Hula Hula, Veneranda, Ka'Lavanda, and Carpe Diem Beach Club. Today, Hvar is one of the best party destinations in Croatia.
Split has a great vibe and decent nightlife, especially for those who enjoy bar crawling. The old town is packed with cool bars, like Academia Ghetto Club, Charlie's Backpackers bar, Shotgun Shooters, and Sanctuary.
Popular destinations in Dalmatia
Split is a cultural and economical center of Dalmatia, the largest town in Dalmatia, and the second largest in Croatia after Zagreb. Split is also a major port town. The old town is centered within and around almost 2000 years old Diocletian's Palace.
Zadar is the northernmost and the second-biggest town in Dalmatia Croatia. Zadar is popular among visitors for its sea organ. The sea organ is comprised of underwater tubes. Sea waves play the music passing through the tubes. Other landmarks include the Church of St. Donat dating back to the 8th century AD, the Roman Forum dating back to the 1st century BC, Five Wells Square, and the national parks of Kornati and Paklenica.
Sibenik is the least visited town in Dalmatia, yet it's a pretty town famed for St. Jacob Cathedral, UNESCO's World Heritage site.
Trogir is a wonderfully preserved medieval town, just 30 km north of Split. Trogir is also Unesco's World Heritage site.
Makarska is a resort town in central Dalmatia famed for its beautiful pebbly beaches.
Bol, on the island of Brac, is a small village famed for its awesome beaches, Zlatni Rat being the most famous beach in all of Croatia.
Hvar Town is a lovely seaside town on the island of Brac, filled with history and culture, lovely beaches, and great nightlife.
Below you'll find some of the most popular events in Dalmatia. For a complete list of events, visit the Croatian Tourist Board website.
Travelling to Dalmatia
A multi-lane highway A1/ A6 connects Dalmatia with Zagreb and Rijeka, and then further with Slovenia, and Hungary.
The highway is modern, fast, and never too crowded. It takes three hours to reach Zadar from Zagreb, and just over four hours to reach Split from Zagreb. The highway from Zagreb to Zadar costs 120 Kn, and to Split 175 Kn.
Recommended reading: Driving in Croatia
Major airports in the region are Split Airport and Zadar Airport. There are many international flights from all over Europe flying into and out of Split and Zadar Airport from April through September. Split Airport also has direct flights from and to Rome, Frankfurt, Cologne, Stuttgart, Munich, and Zagreb year-round. Zadar and Split Airport also get loads of low-cost carriers flying in and out. Once, there you can either rent a car or jump on the buses.
You can also easily reach Dalmatia by bus. The bus network in Croatia is really extensive. Buses are modern, reliable, and frequent. A one-way bus ticket from Zagreb to Split costs around 125 Kn, and to Zadar around 110 Kn.
There are also a couple of international ferry lines from Ancona in Italy to Zadar and Split in Croatia. Expect to pay 300 to 415 Kn per passenger (depending on the season), and an additional 400 Kn to 520 Kn for a car.
Recommended reading: Getting to Croatia
Traveling around Dalmatia
The best way to get around Dalmatia is by bus. Intercity buses in Dalmatia are cheap and frequent. The bus ticket from Zadar to Split costs around 11 euros.
Islands are connected by numerous ferries. Split and Zadar are major ferry ports, along with smaller port towns like Makarska (ferry to Sumartin on the island of Brac), and Drvenik (ferry to Sucuraj on the island of Hvar).
Recommended reading: Getting around Croatia
Recommended travel guides
- Fodor's Croatia Travel Guide (we are co-authors!)
- Lonely Planet Croatia Travel Guide
- Rick Steves Croatia & Slovenia
- Croatia Travel Guide: 26 Things To Know Before Traveling To Croatia
- Things To Do In Croatia
- Ultimate Guide To Accommodation In Croatia
- Packing List For Vacation In Croatia
- How To Choose Your Destination In Croatia
- Outdoor Activities in Croatia
- 49 Awesome Beaches In Croatia
- Snorkeling In Croatia
- White Water Rafting In Croatia
- 20 Must-Try Foods In Croatia
We hope you've got a better idea of what to expect in Dalmatia after reading our Dalmatia Travel Guide. As always, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, leave them in the comments section below.