Coastlines don’t come much more idyllic than Croatia’s 2,000km of ruggedly beautiful Adriatic shore. Along this magnificent stretch are ancient Roman remains standing guard over sheltered harbours; olive groves rising above the winding backstreets of tumble-down villages; and sleek resorts backing palm-fringed bays. Scattered in the turquoise waters offshore are more than 1,000 islands and islets, home to everything from remote pebble beaches to hedonistic party towns. It is these stunning archipelagos – coupled with the country’s balmy summer climate – that make Croatia one of the most popular sailing destinations in Europe. Here’s a guide for your first trip sailing in Croatia.
Where should I go – and how long for?
The southern Dalmatian islands are by far Croatia's most popular sailing destination, and the ideal choice for your first visit. Most itineraries comprise round trips from Split or Dubrovnik, or one-way voyages connecting the two. You’ll need around week, although the majority of companies allow eight days or so for the Split–Dubrovnik route (or vice versa).
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The island of Hvar already has a big reputation, with its inlets, pebbly coves, vineyards and stone villages. It's also very family-oriented and affordable. Popular stops include chic bars and restaurants of Hvar Town, historic Stari Grad and its UNESCO-listed plain.
Brač is Croatia's third-largest island, and it's got whatever level of liveliness you desire. Small towns such as Milna on Brač are known for their laid-back charm, while Bol boasts Zlatni Rat beach that's ideal for windsurfing.
You can still find plenty of seclusion in the islands, too. The village of Stomorska on sleepy Šolta has moorings for just fifteen visiting boats. Despite its location close to Split, Šolta is a small island off most tourist maps and ideal for cycling or walking once you get on dry land.
Sveti Klement, Pakleni Islands
A night in Palmižana harbour allows you to explore car-free Sveti Klement, one of the forested Pakleni Islands, a small group of islands to the south of Hvar and easily accessible from Hvar Town - a perfect route when sailing in Croatia.
The farthest flung island from shore is unspoiled Vis, cut off from tourists due to military activity until the early 1990s. It's home to the magnificent Blue Cave, where sunlight reflects through a hole under the surface to bathe the cave in a vivid, aquamarine light.
Korčula’s sandy bays and quiet coves on its southern coast are the pride and joy of the island if what you're looking for on your trip sailing in Croatia is some beach time. It's also filled with pine forests, vineyards, villages and olive groves, providing a stunning backdrop while you take advantage of the clear water.
Verdant Mljet has become more popular in recent years, largely thanks to its beautiful National Park. However, apart from the bustling vibe around Pomena, Mljet is unspoilt and serene.
Want to get further off the beaten track? There are hundreds more islands to explore; check out our top 10 for inspiration.
Croatia's islands often offer impressive vistas over the sea © Eleanor Aldridge
When should I go sailing in Croatia?
High summer in Croatia might be busy, but the weather is simply glorious. Expect gentle averages of 26–27°C in July and August – and, even better, sea temperatures of around the same. Snorkelling, paddle-boarding and swimming, or just simply splashing around in the shallows, are the chief among the joys of exploring the Adriatic.
Croatia's sailing season runs from May to the end of September, and you should heed these dates. End or start of season deals might sound appealing, but with temperatures averaging around 15°C in October and many business shutting up shop for the year, you may not get the trip you envisaged.
Swimming in shallow waters is one of the best ways to spend time when sailing in Croatia © Eleanor Aldridge
How do I find a yacht?
The easiest way to tackle sailing in Croatia is to book a skippered yacht. You might learn a few sailing skills along the way, but generally you’ll be free to sit back and drink in the views (or the local wines).
Your skipper will be an invaluable part of your trip, able to recommend and adjust routes depending on the weather, and guide you to the best swimming spots, attractions and restaurants. You might also want to consider booking a host or hostess, who will take care of the cooking and cleaning.
Experienced sailors can opt for a “bareboat” charter. Requirements may vary between operators, but you will need full certification, such as the ICC (International Certificate of Competence).
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Sailing in Croatia means always catching a great sunset © Eleanor Aldridge
What should I expect on board?
Not all yachts when sailing in Croatia are made the same, varying wildly from cosy, close-quarter set-ups to floating paradigms of unbridled luxury. Most companies offer several levels of comfort; explore the different boats available through your chosen operator and be realistic about your expectations for space and facilities.
At the lower end are smaller, older boats with cramped cabins and shared bathrooms. Modern, high-end catamarans tend to offer a very different experience, often kitted out with plush furnishings, en-suites and extensive deck space.
Bear in mind that if you’re a solo traveller, booking on a group trip with budget and youth operators may mean sharing a cabin, or even a “double” bed.
Croatia's islands are a perfect mix of beach, forest and mountain © Eleanor Aldridge
Is joining Yacht Week a good idea?
You might have heard about Yacht Week – or seen their slew of glamorous promo reels – but be wary of the hype. This mega flotilla trip for moneyed twenty-somethings may be the party of a lifetime, but it’s far from sustainable and certainly not representative of Croatian culture.
Local sailors harbour concerns about safety due to skippers unfamiliar with local waters, while some towns have reportedly been fighting back against “Sodom and Gomorrah at sea” by refusing to provide moorings to the boozy crowds.
Explore more of Croatia with The Rough Guide to Croatia.