Hvar, Lokrum and Elaphiti Islands
"An Ocean breeze puts a mind at ease"
Escape the cities of Croatia and visit some of the many beautiful islands sitting along the turquoise Adriatic close by the country. While visiting Dubrovnik (click here for the blog post), we enjoyed trips to several of the Croatian islands. These islands made for a peaceful break from the busy streets of Dubrovnik. We stayed in Croatia during September which was still nice and sunny though less crowded than High Season. The islands we visited were as follows:
* Elaphiti Islands (Šipan, Lopud & Koločep): Day trip from Dubrovnik
* Lokrum Island: Half-day Trip from Dubrovnik
* Hvar Island: Overnight Trip
There are several boat and yacht tours available from Dubrovnik to the Elaphiti Islands - some of which include kayaking, biking, lunch and wine within the cost of the tour (click here for a list of some of the most popular tours as listed on Tripadvisor). We selected a day tour to three of the islands which included lunch and free wine for the entirety of the day.
Even just sipping wine and sailing the beautiful Adriatic sea made for an enjoyable day in itself! The stunning colors of the sea were something that I was not prepared for! I had visited Bermuda earlier in the year and the color of the ocean there was beautiful, however, while docking at some of the Elaphiti Islands I was taken aback by such impressive crystal clear aqua water. Sitting at some of the ports we could clearly see right to the bottom of the sea and watch the fish swimming around below us!
The Elaphiti Islands are composed of numerous islands, however, the main three islands (and those that are usually available for tours) are Šipan, Lopud, and Koločep. We visited these three islands on our day trip. Upon our return to Dubrovnik there was also a wonderful view of the impressive Franjo Tuđman Bridge (see above gallery for pictures).
There is a ferry service available to these islands, however, I would recommend a day tour if you want to see a lot in just one day. If you would prefer to be more flexible with your time and explore more of the island/s then the ferry is probably a better choice as the day trip does mean limited time at each island. Jadrolinija is the main ferry service in Dubrovnik (click here for timetables) and it is a good choice if you are planning to spend a full day on one of the islands. Note that cars may not disembark on Lopud and Koločep islands as they are pedestrian-only.
Šipan is the largest of the islands and is located 17 km (11 miles) northwest of Dubrovnik. We docked at the picturesque port of Sudurad. Small fishing boats aligned the small and stunning port sitting on top of the crystal clear water. The fort of Skočibuha Palace sits just a few minute's walk from here. It is the ruins of a 16th-century castle with a fort tower built alongside as a guard against pirates. Although Šipan is the largest of the Elaphiti islands, it is Lopud that is the best known for its beaches.
Sipanska Luka is a larger town in Šipan and it is where the second port is located on the island. It is about 5 km from Sudurad and, unlike many of the other islands, there is a road that connects the two towns. Sipanska Luka is where the ferry docks while many of the day trips dock at Sudurad. Kayaking and biking are popular activities while visiting the island. You can bike between both ports - stopping off to visit Gothic Rector's Palace and traveling through the green valley where you will find olive, fig trees, vineyards, and citrus groves. Sipan is popular for its wine and its peaceful ambiance. It is one of the most popular of the Elaphiti islands for a full day trip.
Though a smaller island than Šipan, at just 4.63 km (1.79 miles), it is economically the most developed of the Elaphiti Islands. Here you will see a defense tower and walls surrounding the Franciscan monastery overlooking the Bay. There is a nice promenade along the bay where you dock and it has some nice restaurants and ice cream stands to treat yourself at.
Lopud is very popular for its sandy beaches. Šunj Bay is found in Lopud and it is an extremely popular beach area - it is so popular that it is constantly referred to as the best beach in all of Dubrovnik! Though I found it a nice beach, I did think it was a bit over-hyped. For paddlers and non-swimmers, this beach is a great option though due to its shallow shore that only first becomes deep after going 70 meters in. With limited time on our trip to Lopud, and a 15 - 20 minute walk across the island to Sunji Beach, we decided to take the tuk-tuk ride over. This beach again has calm clear blue water. It is important to note that there is no natural shade so be careful with sunscreen if you intend to spend a full day here! There are two pretty cool beach bars (snacks can be bought there too) along the edge of the beach area. I can imagine how busy it can get here during high season so make sure to arrive early for a nice spot! There are also some nice sandy beach spots along the promenade if you wish to paddle here and stay close to the Port instead of traveling across the island to Šunj Bay.
A smaller island again, at an area of 2.44 km (0.94 miles), is that of Koločep island. It is the southernmost inhabited island in Croatia. Here you will again find more beautiful turquoise sea water and another beach area (located close by the dock).
There is not much to do here but if you are looking for quietness and relaxation then perhaps a trip to Koločep is for you. The coastline is known to have several hidden coves - with the popular Blue Cave being accessed by swimming in the south of the area.
Lokrum Island is located just 600 meters from Dubrovnik and you can catch a boat to the island from the Old Port Harbour. It only takes about 15 minutes to reach the island by boat, however, the boat does not operate during the low season, or, when there is bad weather. The return fare is roughly €20 and departure times are frequent (about every half hour). Many people choose the option to kayak over to the island!
After several days wandering the medieval streets of Dubrovnik, I enjoyed the contrasting scenery found on a trip to Lokrum. Parts of the island are quite secluded and it is full of greenery, nature, animals and many forest trail walks. Peaceful areas are overlooking the sea to have a drink and enjoy a picnic. Just a few minute's walk from where we docked we were met by a lovely outdoor bar; Snack bar Lacroma. Here we relaxed over a cocktail and sat in between the trees with peacocks wandering around by our table! Lokrum island is inhabited by families of peacocks brought over by Maximilian from the Canary Islands. You will likely see many rabbits sunbathing around the island too!
Game of Thrones fans may recognize some of the Botanical Gardens and the remains of the Benedictine Monastery which were used for shots as the city of Qarth in Game of Thrones. There is even a GOT exhibition and a replica throne on display on the island! For more information on GOT scenes filmed in Lokrum click here.
I have read some bad reviews of Lokrum island which I found surprising - I think these people expected too much from their trip to the island. True; there is not much to do except wander and explore nature, however, after a few days in the crowds on the tight streets of the Old Town (Dubrovnik), we found the greenery and sereneness of Lokrum island offered a nice and peaceful break to relax for an afternoon. See the above gallery for a map of the island, or, click here for a map and further information on the island.
Hvar is one of the oldest island towns in Europe. Some of its attributes include its beautiful architecture, picturesque bay, the spectacular views from Spanish Fortress and its fabulous promenade walk along the sea. This walkway has plenty of points to stop off for a dip in the sea, to sunbathe, or, to enjoy a cocktail. One hugely popular tour we did not partake in was the Blue & Green Cave tour....this looks amazing though I'm not sure I would be so brave to snorkel into this cave due to my claustrophobia!
It is roughly a 3 - 3.5 hour journey from Dubrovnik (by ferry) and so an overnight stay is required to explore the island. During peak season Jadrolinija operates a daily ferry service between Dubrovnik and Hvar. Kapetan Luka is another ferry service available to the island (operates during high season).
Sea Walk & Beach Bars
We visited Hvar for just one night and, though others had recommended a longer stay here, I found that one night was sufficient time to gain a good overview of the island. We caught a very early morning ferry and it dropped us to the Port which was located right in the center, close by Pjaca Square. After a quick lunch on the Square, we then wandered by the Port and over along the promenade to the very popular Hula Hula bar. This bar had a great outdoor area to sit by the sea and enjoy a cocktail. While here, we were approached by a stag as the island is popular for hens/stags and you will likely come across some of them drinking during the day as well as evening time. They weren't rowdy and we didn't mind them but just be aware of the party image of the island if you are visiting!
There are several outdoor cocktail bars scattered along the walk from Hvar Port over to Hula Hula bar. We also stopped off at Splash Bar but found the staff rude and we were served the worst strawberry daiquiri I think I have ever had! I have spotted more bad reviews of this bar since our return home so I would advise on avoiding it and walking the extra few minutes over to Hula Hula bar instead! Or, if you are in the mood for treating yourself in an exclusive and luxury beach club with private cabanas (and massages on offer) then Bonj Les Bains may be for you! It is also located close by Hula Hula and Splash Bar. All of these are found just a short 15 - 20 minute walk from Hvar Port / Pjaca Square. You will notice a lot of exclusive areas to drink, sunbathe and beautiful yachts in Hvar as it is a popular spot for the rich and famous!
After our walk along the promenade, we returned to the Harbour and made our way up to the Spanish Fortress (free entry). You can't miss this Fortress as it impressively sits on top of the hill overlooking the town center. The spectacular views from the top of the Fortress did not disappoint! These views not only overlook the town center and port but stretch all the way out over the sea to the surrounding small islands.
During the 13th to 18th centuries, Hvar was an important naval base and thus built this strong fortress. You will see surviving walls encircling the town along the walk up to it; the fortifications were commissioned by the Venetians in the 13th Century as a sanctuary for their fleet.
Pjaca Square is the hub of the town and it is where we had our lunch and dinner. We were hoping to eat at another restaurant nearby here, however, it was booked up by the time we arrived. We tried another popular restaurant nearby here too but it was also booked up. This was even considered off-season and so, if you really want to dine somewhere in particular, then I would advise booking before your trip. The restaurants along the Square were nice and central too and they seemed to have plenty of seating available. The Square had many seating areas located outdoors and so we sat outside and enjoyed the warm evening air over a glass of Croatian wine while we dined.
The architecture of Hvar is quite similar to Dubrovnik but with a strong Venetian architectural style too. In the Square, you will see St Stephen's Cathedral and Bell Tower and just by the waterfront you will find The Loggia and Clock Tower and the Arsenal building.
On the second floor of the Arsenal Building is Hvar Theatre which is the Oldest Theatre in Europe. It has just had a significant refurbishment in recent years and was re-opened in May 2019. In the lobby of the historic Theatre, you will find The Gallery of Modern Art. We stumbled across this Gallery by chance and enjoyed walking around the free exhibition. There are some very pretty small streets just off the Main Square to wander around too.
As mentioned, there's plenty of places in Pjaca Square and its surrounding streets to dine. We had breakfast in the lovely Central Park. The outside garden area of this restaurant is lovely and the food was great too. We were hoping to have our dinner in Black Pepper as it had been recommended by a friend of mine but unfortunately it was booked up for the evening. It is located close by Central Park and the streets here, just off Pjaca Square, are very pretty and have several nice places to dine. Another very popular spot close by here is Lola Bar and Street Food. We ended up dining in Pjaca Square where there are several Italian restaurants, such as La Bocca and Pizza Kogo. We ate lunch in a cafe on the Square too. Both lunch and dinner were very reasonably priced for a town center.
Hvar has become known as the party island of Croatia. I have already mentioned some of the nice outdoor bar areas along the sea, such as Hula Hula bar. In the bars, and at night time, we did indeed see plenty of young people on the island to party, however, during the day the streets were quiet and peaceful. On our night out we started in the trendy modern bar, Carpe Diem Bar, which is located by the port (close to the Square). We then made our way over to Central Park for a drink - it is also located just off Pjaca Square.
After Central Park, we wandered around the pretty streets close by where you will find several more bars - such as the quirky and colorful Lola Bar and Street Food. Unfortunately, these streets were jammed with people drinking and we ended up sitting outside on a curb to finish off our drink after I had my dress ripped by someone trying to push by 😔 I would love to return here during the day, when it would not be so busy, to fully appreciate Lola Bar and Street Food. Our Air BnB was located away from the main bar and club area, however, we could still hear the music and crowds for most of the night while trying to sleep!
For clubbing, the owners of Hula Hula Bar recently opened Pink Champagne which is getting great reviews. Carpe Diem also has free taxi boats out to 'Carpe Diem Beach' which is located on Stipanska Island (note drinks can be pricey once you get out here though)! Also, this island nightclub is not open during off-season months.
Since my trip, I have heard from locals that they are becoming quite frustrated with how the island is being marketed as a party island and that it is evolving too much for locals to live there peacefully. I still found it a beautiful and peaceful island during the day...I just hope it doesn't continue to grow in its image as a party town to a point where it ruins the sereneness and culture of the island.
Thanks for reading,