There’s no better window on life on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast than one looking out across Šibenik’s Old Town square in the shadow of the UNESCO-listed Cathedral of St James. Order a coffee from the sunlit café opposite and absorb the scene. Away from the summer rush of Dubrovnik and Split, this is a lesser-known capital of Croatian culture, where travellers blend in with locals, where centuries-old forts have become Game of Thrones backdrops, and where visitors are immersed in local history (there are some 600 archaeological sites, 11 medieval fortresses, 24 churches and 230 cultural monuments in the city and beyond). In the region’s western reaches, hills unfold inland towards Croatia’s highest peak, while a handful of sun-soaked islands await just off the southern coast. This is the Croatian coastline at its finest.
1. Culinary exploration
Sample traditional delicacies, from pies to prosciutto
The Mediterranean diet is one that many travellers think they already know, but the Adriatic does things differently. The welcoming cafes, restaurants and bars that line the cobbled streets of Šibenik offer the opportunity to sample local specialties include sir iz mišine (sheep’s cheese matured in cloth) and soparnik (a savoury pie with figs and olives, a type of Croatian pizza alternative). Marry them with a tumbler of native red babić wine, or a thimble of nostril-tingling rakija brandy for the most delectable Dalmatian experience.
Head further into the region’s hinterlands and you’ll find a further trilogy of culinary towns to discover — Drniš, Knin and Skradin — each with their own distinct draw. Drniš is renowned for air-dried pršut, a slivery prosciutto, while Skradin is best sampled through its namesake cake — a celebratory fruit and nut recipe dating back to the 14th century.
2. A historic central city
Head back in time and stroll stone-lined streets
Ambling at leisure from backstreet to flag-stoned square is the best way to explore the historic city of Šibenik. This is the Dalmatian coast at its most authentic, with art-filled churches, Gothic-Renaissance monuments, sea-view wine bars and dramatic maritime forts, but with drastically fewer crowds than the southern cities of Split or Dubrovnik. As you stroll between them, drink in the colours of the city, from the soft-cherry tiles of the rooftops and the white stone of the Town Hall to the honey-hued fort walls looming over the Old Town.
3. Aquatic opportunities
Sail the lesser-seen Šibenik archipelago
The approach from Šibenik to the Adriatic Sea is unforgettable, such is the delightful geography of St Anthony’s Channel. Drift past bobbing yachts in the uncrowded harbour and take in the sea’s myriad shades of blue as you approach the narrow channel guarded by St Nicholas’ Fortress. Before long, you’ll reach the bays of Krapanj, Zlarin, Prvić, Kaprije and Žirje, Šibenik’s cradle of off-the-radar islands. This is the cruise-ship-free Adriatic as it once was, with quiet marinas and fishing villages a world apart from the popular beaches of Hvar and Brač. Travelling with children? For family-friendly aquatic thrills, head to the Solaris Aquapark, a themed water park with slides, lazy river and fairytale cave.
4. Rugged national parks
Hike, bike and swim through undisturbed landscapes
Šibenik’s two standout national parks — Krka and the Kornati Islands — offer countless ways to immerse yourself in Croatia's natural beauty. The first abounds with waterfalls, riverine islands, hiking trails and a karstic canyon, and is quickly becoming a firm feature on any Dalmatian itinerary. The uninhabited Kornati Islands, meanwhile, is an unsung national park of pebble beaches, soaring cliff walks and remote swimming spots that the world has left behind. To get to its most far-flung corners, you’ll need to join an organised boat excursion or rent a yacht.
5. Captivating UNESCO heritage
Discover ancient fortresses and historic cathedrals
Nowhere else in Croatia can boast of its history quite like Šibenik. It’s the only city in the country with two UNESCO marvels and both are equally enthralling to explore. Start with the Cathedral of St James, which bore witness to the cross-Adriatic exchange of architectural ideas between Venice, Tuscany and Croatia in the 15th and 16th centuries. Both inside and out, this holy colossus is an art and sculpture lesson writ in stone. Šibenik’s ancient fortresses — namely, St John’s, St Michael’s and Barone — also offer an intriguing glimpse into the region’s history, but crumbling St Nicholas’ is the prime pick of the city’s many storied bastions. Arrowhead in shape and anchored off the coast in the midst of St Anthony's Channel, this striking architectural monument is a defensive tour de force, first built by the Venetians to defy Turkish invaders.
6. Natural exploration
Take in mountain heights and river sights
Most visitors to Dalmatia will make a beeline for the coast, but more curious travellers should make for the hinterlands to be rewarded with high-energy adventures in Croatia’s newest nature park. The second-largest nature park in Croatia, the Dinara Nature Park was designated in 2021, thanks to its unspoiled natural surroundings and plentiful opportunities for exploration. Its crowning jewel is the soaring Sinjal, the country’s highest mountain at 1,913m, and its spaghetti-tangle of hiking and biking trails. However, it’s the Cetina River Spring, set in the southern foothills, that truly captivates most visitors. Often referred to as ‘the eye of the earth’ (due to its resemblance of a blue-green dragon eye from above), the cerulean hues of this swimming hole appear almost as an optical illusion. It seems inevitable that tourism will build here, but for now, it feels reassuringly and manageably empty.
Zadar and Split are the best gateways to the Šibenik region, with direct flights available from several UK airports. Both cities are around 1hr from Šibenik by bus or taxi transfer. The easiest — and most memorable — way to experience the region is to hire a car.
For further information, visit dalmatiasibenik.hr
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