Have you heard of Hvar Island? While it may not be familiar to Americans, it certainly is well-known to Europeans. Sun-drenched beaches, cobblestone lanes, ancient hilltop fortresses, and glamourous nightclubs have allegedly attracted celebrities such as Prince Harry, Beyoncé, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Tom Cruise. Sometimes called the “St. Tropez of the Adriatic,” and consistently listed in the top 10 islands by Conde Nast Traveler magazine, there are things to do in Hvar to please just about everyone!
“What happens in Hvar stays in Hvar!” the crew told me as I stepped off the Dionis, my Katarina Cruise traditionally-styled 2-mast boat. Apparently, there was a bit of a reputation surrounding this colorful island…
Hvar at a Glance
It’s no wonder that Hvar is one of Croatia’s most popular destinations. The idyllic Adriatic island has a 6,000-year-old history, a combination of relaxing and partying vibe, and impressive Venetian architecture. And of course, there are a lot of crystal-clear blue beaches on Hvar.
Just 25 miles from Split, it’s an easy one-to-two-hour ferry ride for visitors who want to do a day trip. There’s also no airport on Hvar, making ferries, yachts, motorboats, catamarans, and cruises the only way to get there.
- Population: 4,251
- Size: 42.25 mi. long
- Climate: Hot-summer Mediterranean
- Currency: Croatian kuna
- 3500 to 2500 BC –inhabitants of Hvar Island by Neolithic people
- 4th century BC – colonized by the Greeks in the
- 7th century BC –occupied by Slavic tribes during the
- 1797 –annexed with the fall of the Venetian Republic by the Habsburg
- 1806 –seized by the French Empire seized during the Napoleonic wars
- 1812 –taken by British marines and sailors
- 1921 – Hvar with the rest of Croatia joined the Kingdom of Yugoslavia
If you just have one day in Hvar, I recommend spending the time in Hvar Town, which is where most of the action takes place. Here are the TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN HVAR.
1 Old Town
Emerging from my yacht in the harbor, I was immediately enveloped by Hvar’s charming medieval old town, nestled between the port and the not-too-distant hills. Gleefully, I set out to explore the delightful labyrinth of narrow cobblestone alleys, historic churches, and piazzas that gradually wind up the hillside.
In Old Town, you can people-watch while sipping a glass of local wine or coffee or browse the many stalls for jewelry and souvenirs. In the narrow alleys, you’ll find stairs to restaurants and doors that open onto shops and sometimes people’s houses!
2 St. Stephen’s Square
Also known as Hvarska Pjaca, St. Stephen’s is the main square in the center of the old town dating back to the 13th-century. You can’t miss it as most of the old town streets lead to it. Many of Hvar’s historic attractions are located along the square, such as the Renaissance St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace, and the Hvar Theater constructed in 1612. The square is the largest in Dalmatia, measuring 48,000 square feet and is home to a 16th-century fountain.
Life in Hvar revolves around the square. Lining the light gray cobblestones of the plaza are many cafes and restaurants with lots of places to sit facing the square and the sea. It’s a perfect, sunny place to enjoy a coffee, people-watch, or have a rest.
3 St. Stephen’s Cathedral
If you’re sitting in the plaza, you’ll notice the impressive cathedral at the end of the Square. The iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral was built in the 16th and 17th centuries with a unique bell tower that has an additional window on each tier, giving an oddly top-heavy appearance.
Still a functioning church, please note that if you want to enter the cathedral, your shoulders must be covered. Keep your sarong in your tote or day pack — it has so many uses!
4 Spanjola Fortress
You can’t miss the iconic 16th-century Venetian fortress (Fortica) perched above the town, the highest point in Hvar. From the fort, 13th-century town walls tumble down the hillside, built to protect the inhabitants and the port. Inside, there are exhibits of amphora (ancient bowls) and other medieval artifacts for visitors who want to learn more about the history of the fort and also access to the dungeons.
Climbing the hill to the Spanjola Fort is one of the top things to do in Hvar. It’s a bit of a walk, uphill through alleys, switchbacks, an herb garden, and a steep staircase from the old town (wear walking sandals!). From the old fortress, visitors have panoramic views over the roofs of the old town, the Adriatic Sea, and the neighboring Pakleni Island Archipelago on the horizon.
5 Franciscan Monastery
Just a short saunter from St. Steven’s Square, the square bell tower of the Franciscan Monastery can be seen from almost anywhere in Hvar Town. Overlooking a small cove and enclosed by high walls and a garden of 300-year-old cypress trees, the 15th-century monastery is known for its Renaissance architecture and famous paintings of 16th-century The Last Supper and 13th-century Madonna and Child.
6 What to Eat
Fresh seafood can be found in all the Hvar seaside restaurants and can be a bit expensive. Take note, that they are generally served European-style, not American-style. For example, my squid was not delivered “calamari-style” and I found it difficult to get past my eyes and into my mouth!
Traditional food to try:
Buzara – mussels in a wine broth with garlic and breadcrumbs prepared similar French moules marinière
Crni rižot – black risotto made with cuttlefish or squid, olive oil, garlic, red wine and squid ink, which gives the black color
Gregada – a stew with fish, potatoes, onion, garlic, and olive oil, served with freshly baked bread
Janje na ražnju – lamb on a spit
Ćevapi – grilled pork and beef served with chopped raw onions, ajvar (a relish made from peppers) and served on flatbread.
Hforski koloč, a citrus-flavored cookie
7 Explore the Harbor
Filled with luxury yachts of the rich (and possibly famous), the harbor offers a long promenade that meanders in a sort of semi-circle.
I spent a couple of hours strolling around the seaside boardwalk, stopping in at the shops and cafes along the way. It was probably the most enjoyable thing that I did in Hvar!
8 Partake in the Nightlife
I’d heard Hvar compared to Sodom and Gomorrah, but I didn’t see any evidence of that. While the music at night wafting out from the clubs was loud, I didn’t see any of the so-called sightings of people vomiting and urinating in the street, overt sexual activity, or drug solicitation. Not at all.
That could be because of recent laws that prohibit lewd behavior in public. Apparently, fines of up to 600 euros can be levied for being topless on the beach or even wearing bikinis in town.
There are a variety of nightlife venues to suit everyone, from posh wine bars for the jetsetters, to raucous pub crawls for backpackers, and jazz venues for romantic dancing. A few of the more popular places are Hula Hula Hvar, Carpe Diem, and Veneranda.
9 Lounge on the Beach
There are a number of beaches within a short walk of Hvar Town, including one right before you reach the entrance to the Franciscan Monastery. You’ll find the cerulean blue Adriatic Sea irresistible. But not so much the beach itself, which is not powdery-soft, but rocky and pebbly. Access into the water is even made via a “ladder” from the rocks into the water at some beaches. Water shoes are advisable if you are going in swimming.
If you walk along the boardwalk to the other side of the harbor you’ll find more luxurious beach clubs with beach beds and restaurants.
10 More Than One Day
If (lucky) you have more time than one day available, you can rent a car and explore more things to do in Hvar.
- Stroll through the streets of Stari Grad – the oldest town in Croatia and UNESCO site
- Tour the vineyards in Jelsa
- Discover the abandoned villages of Malo Grablje and Humac
- Explore Grapceva Cave
- Stroll through the lavender fields (June and July)
What to Pack for Hvar
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.