Croatia is, more often than not, a summer destination with plans for lazy beach days on one of the thousand islands that dot the coastline. My trip was in September, and although the weather can be a little more unsettled, the crowds are smaller.
I visited the wonderful medieval city of Šibenik, perched on the edge of deep blue water for a few days and enjoyed some “beach time” and some exploring.
Šibenik is a small port city an hour north of Split on the Dalmatian coast and is known as the gateway to the 150 Kornati Islands. The historic centre is, unfortunately, surrounded by a rather unattractive city, but once in the old town, Šibenik is an appealing place to base yourself for a few days as you explore the winding streets and the surrounding area.
Šibenik, as does much of Croatia, has multiple personalities in its past, being once Venetian, Byzantian, Austro-Hungarian and Italian before becoming a province of Yugoslavia after WWII.
Croatia broke off from Yugoslavia, becoming an independent country in 1991. Although damaged in the Balkan War (1991-1995) the city retains its ancient cobbled winding streets, four stunning fortresses, a sizable cathedral and a wonderful port with luxury yachts to admire … and, of course, beaches.
And, best of all, Šibenik is a great base from which to see the best of Croatia’s attractions including its famous national parks.
Start with Šibenik’s Old Town
Šibenik has wonderful old streets to wander but bring good shoes as the city is built on a hill and walking involves cobblestones and many steps. There is a good blend of tourist and upmarket stores to peruse. The waterfront promenade has great opportunities to watch the sunset and inspect some of the fancier yachts that are moored along the front….we all like to dream a little.
The Cathedral of St. James, a 15th-century church, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and featured in Game of Thrones. But its real claim to fame is the fact that it is built from stone blocks with no mortar and is still standing after wars and earthquakes.
The façade is decorated with 71 stunning carved heads of local ordinary citizens such as fishermen and peasants from that time.
Four (count ’em, four) fortresses!
Šibenik has four fortresses to explore and each one is different.
• St. Nicholas’ Fortress (UNESCO) is a 16th-century Venetian fort perched on the St. Anthony Channel, the river entrance to and from the Adriatic. It is accessible by boat at a cost of 17.50 euros or you can see it from the parks either side of the channel.
• Fortress Barone, a 17th-century fortress, is suspended over the old town and features panoramic views and a high-tech museum telling the story of Šibenik’s past. There is an admission of 7 euros, which also includes the final fortress, St. Michael’s Fortress.
• St. Michael’s Fortress, the oldest fortress, is found in the historic centre and is now an outdoor theatre. But its walls offer great photo opportunities of the terracotta rooftops of the old town and the cerulean blue Krka River and St. Anthony’s Channel.
• St John’s Fortress is free as it is currently under reconstruction. But you can get some great panoramic photos of the city from here.
• Banj, the small city beach, provides a safe place to swim with a stunning
view of the white old town tumbling down the hill to the water. There is a play area and a bar.
• Jadrija is a larger beach popular with the locals. It’s a 20-minute drive, but there is public transport available. There are lots of facilities there.
• Solaris is a very large sandy beach with a large resort and water park. A car is necessary as it is 6 kilometers from the city.
(Expat Travel Tip: Purchase beach shoes. They are not expensive and are great on the mostly pebbly beaches in Croatia.)
• Krka National Park is one of the main reasons people visit Šibenik as it is less than a 15-minute drive from the city. The national park is smaller than Croatia’s famous Plitvice National Park but has seven main waterfalls, an island with a monastery, and is incredibly popular. Be prepared for crowds in the busiest seasons.
There are two main access points … Skradin, where you can take a boat or Lozovac, and several smaller ones. The park is an important diverse nature area in Croatia, and the incredible blue-green water and impressive gorge attract visitors.
The waterfall Stradinski Buk, is renowned for its 17 individual falls and the opportunity to swim if you want to face the scramble over the travertine boulders.
The island of Visovac has a monastery, which can be visited by boat.
Roski Slap has 12 waterfalls, some old watermills and a flight of 400 stairs if you fancy a view from the top of the gorge.
Manojlovac is the highest falls in Krka and is close to Burnum, the site of a Roman legion camp and town. There are other waterfalls in the park you can reach by dayboat excursions
There are a plethora of water taxis and boats available to take you out to the many islands along the Dalmatian coast. All are worth visiting in their own right, from the largest, Brac, to the smallest, Krapanj, with all the others in between.
Boats are also a way to visit the famous Krka National Park.
Šebinik has lots of super fish restaurants but our favorites were:
• SHE is a super organic veggie/vegan “farm-to-table” bistro with a roof terrace bar. Great food from breakfast to dinner, great local wines and beer and a fun vibe. It bills itself as “Šibenik’s hub for ecology … a catalyst for ecologically regenerative, socially just and culturally diverse communities in Croatia.”
• Bounty has wonderful fresh fish and burgers, all served by the harbor with a friendly staff. A super place to eat dinner and watch the sunsets.
We stayed in the beautifully styled City Rooms, a 16th century house located right on the waterfront and is, as the name suggests, a room. But they are delightfully furnished rooms with an ensuite bathroom and a mini-fridge and kettle.
A short walk will take you to the ferries heading out to the Kornati Islands, the restaurants, historic centre and a small local city beach, Banj.
Šibenik is a modern city with a beautiful old heart along with access to the best of Croatia. And don’t forget to get your Šibenik discount card here.
About the author:
Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past nine years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Writing for Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.