The following selections represent just a few of Croatia’s natural treasures spread from the Dalmatian coast well into the heartland.
Plitvice National Park
Croatia’s best known natural wonder. It’s like an open-air museum conceived by Mother Nature. Just 90 miles southwest of Zagreb, Plitvice is a wonderland of sound and sight with rushing waterfalls of every size and description. It has 16 lakes, each of which appears to be a different shade of turquoise, and panoramas of forested land that are nothing short of spectacular. This is where you go to be awed by nature.
Krka National Park
About 56 miles south of Zadar at Skradin, a town just north of Šibenik in northern Dalmatia. Krka is similar to Plitvice in that its waterfalls are a main attraction. Unlike Plitvice, Krka’s waterfalls are generated by the Krka River, not lakes. More than 60 percent of the river is part of the park and Krka is loaded with a diverse selection of flora and fauna. Swimming is permitted in the river at Krka.
Mjlet National Park
Accessible in an easy day trip from Dubrovnik. Its main draws are two salt lakes—one large and one small—surrounded by forests. There is a small island on the larger lake, where a Benedictine monastery and church still stand. Mjlet is a low-key island whose warm lakes are believed to have healing properties. It also is rich in flora and fauna and a laid-back place to hike. Legend has it that Ulysses was held captive on Mjlet by the nymph Calypso for seven years. Not so legendary is the island’s history with snakes. Mjlet was infested with them until 1910 when the mongoose was introduced to get rid of them. That worked, but the mongoose had no natural predators and overran the island. Some bird species are still recovering.
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Risnjak National Park
Located in Croatia’s Gorski Kotar region in the most mountainous and heavily forested area in the country. Risnjak (rihz-nyak) is just 15 miles northwest of Rijeka and an easy ride from Zagreb on the A6 highway. Risnjak itself is mostly mountain but its proximity to two large population centers makes it one of the most visited national parks in Croatia. Climbing, hiking, flora, and fauna are its main draws.
Brijuni National Park
A string of 14 islands southwest of Pula and the Istrian Coast. Brijuni is best known as Tito’s “Camp David,” but it also is notable because of its history as a Roman settlement and the place where researcher Robert Koch eradicated malaria on the island at the turn of the century. Brijuni also is home to the first golf course in Croatia, Tito’s wild game reserve and a large number of Mediterranean plant species. Brijuni has no permanent residents, and the only way to visit is via organized tours, which leave several times a day from the docks at Fažana.
Northern Velebit National Park
A park for active vacations. This rugged mountain range is perfect for hikers, cyclists, photographers and others who want a challenge. Northern Velebit is just south of Senj on the coast. It is the newest of Croatia’s eight national parks (1999) and open from May to November, depending on snow conditions. The park is a unique environment that is home to a diverse list of plant, animal, and mineral varieties. The Velebit Botanical Garden is there, and it has been designated a monument of landscape architecture in its own right.
Paklenica National Park
This park lies about 100 miles south of Northern Velebit in northern Dalmatia. Paklenica has 120 miles of hiking trails and its climbing opportunities are more diverse than Northern Velebit’s: There are 360 of them, all at different levels of difficulty and length, making Paklenica the most popular rock climbing destination in Croatia.
Kornati National Park
A collection of almost 90 islands and reefs that covers 125 square miles off the coast of Šibenik. The islands actually are underwater mountains whose tops are above water. Kornati’s most spectacular sites are beneath the sea and accessible to divers only. The islands are uninhabited but managed by the nearby island of Murter. You must have a ticket to sail or snorkel around the islands and a SCUBA certification to dive there. Several organized tours leave from Šibenik.
A u-shaped string of seven landscaped, urban park squares in Zagreb planted with thousands of flowers and trees. It runs from Jelačić Square to the main train station, past the Zagreb Botanical Garden, and back to the city center. This city green space was designed and built in the 19th century, and whether you explore or just sit on one of the benches and chill, you can take in sites like the iconic Croatian National Theater, several museums, monuments, lots of outdoor statuary, and shops and restaurants from almost anywhere on the green.
Other protected areas worth visiting are Kopački Rit Nature Park, Lonjsko Polje Nature Park, Papuk Nature Park. Mt. Učka (between the Kvarner region and Istria) and Mt. Medvednica (just outside Zagreb) are also designated Nature Parks.