Stunning scenery and adrenaline adventures: 10 ways to enjoy Croatia’s great outdoors

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Nowhere else on the Adriatic can claim such a stunningly diverse range of landscapes as Croatia; a kaleidoscopic sweep of scenery from rugged mountain peaks to sprawling forests, glittering wetlands and scattered archipelagos. There’s something here for everyone – views and experiences to last a lifetime, from hiking through the wilds of Velebit and zip-lining above the River Cetina, to riding adrenaline-fuelled mountain bike trails, or gazing out across the Adriatic from a hard-earned mountain pass, in the golden light of dawn. Here’s our take on experiencing 10 of Croatia’s most exciting natural landscapes and outdoor adventures.

1. Hiking on Velebit
Croatia has thousands of miles of marked hiking trails – but top of anyone’s list for a walking trip to Croatia should be the Velebit mountains, home to two national parks (Northern Velebit and Paklenica), plus a Unesco biosphere reserve, and some of the country’s best hiking routes. Stride out along the beautifully engineered Premužićeva staza, a 35-mile trail built in the 1930s that winds through the remote highlands of Northern and Central Velebit – a place of sublime views and jaw-dropping karst scenery, where eagles soar and lizards dart among the rocks. If that doesn’t sound like enough of a challenge, you can set your sights on the Croatian Long Distance Trail, a 1,300-mile epic covering the length and breadth of the country.

2. Plitvice Lakes national park
If it’s unforgettable scenery you’re after, no trip to Croatia is complete without a visit to Plitvice Lakes. A national park since 1949 and a Unesco world heritage site since 1979, it’s a genuinely magical place – an ever-shifting, watery mosaic of emerald lakes and rushing waterfalls, surrounded by lush green forest. It’s also incredibly accessible, with wooden boardwalks both protecting the fragile landscape of sedimentary rocks and billowing mosses, and bringing visitors right up close to the waterfalls.

3. Adventures on two wheels
Croatia has some fabulous areas for mountain biking, including several excellent, dedicated single-track trails. Head downhill across the forested slopes of Medvednica nature park, above the northern suburbs of Zagreb – or challenge yourself on some relentlessly steep and rocky trails on the island of Lošinj, which in the past has hosted the downhill rounds of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. If road cycling is more your thing, you can set your sights on the 600-mile CRO-Race. Istria is great for cycling, as is Gorski Kotar, where you can try the 160-mile Gorski Kotar Trail.

4. Dalmacija Ultra Trail
The Dalmacija Ultra Trail (DUT) is Croatia’s top trail-running event – a stamina-testing ultramarathon, through the beautiful foothills and mountains of the Central Dalmatian coast. There are three courses – Mountain, Sea and Etno – each of them following rocky trails and gravel roads near Omiš, Makarska and Split. The Mountain DUT is the longest, covering a distance of approximately 75 miles and cramming in a whopping 5,600 metres of accumulated ascent, while the Sea DUT covers about 35 miles with some 3,000 metres of ascent. The Etno DUT is a slightly more modest 11 miles. Expect unforgettable views of the Adriatic and being cheered on by local villagers.

Omiš
The cliffs around Omiš are ideal for climbers. Photograph: Ivo Biočina

5. Rafting on the River Cetina
The River Cetina, which plunges through a tremendous gorge before meeting the Adriatic coast near Omiš, is the best place in Croatia for white-water rafting – with fast-moving rapids and waterfalls, smooth polished rocks and jungle-like, overhanging branches. Other good rafting spots include the Mrežnica, Zrmanja and Kupa, while for something a little more sedate, try sea kayaking off the Elaphiti islands.

6. Climbing
Rope up and try one of the climbing routes in Velika Paklenica, Croatia’s most famous place for rock climbing, with a multitude of single- and multi-pitch routes over beautiful limestone. The cliffs and crags around Omiš are another climbing hotspot, and there are several good locations near Buzet in the Istrian peninsula. Meanwhile, routes near Brela offer wonderful views out to the islands of Hvar and Brač, or head for the overhanging sea cliffs near Brseč.

7. Wetlands of Slavonia
A far cry from the olive groves and mountains of the Dalmatian coast, Slavonia is home to some of Croatia’s greatest wetland areas. Kopački rit, located where the Drava meets the Danube, is a vast expanse of lakes and channels, reed beds and wet meadows – one of the best birdwatching sites in Croatia, where you have a chance of spotting the majestic white-tailed eagle. The floodplains and oxbow lakes of Lonjsko polje are another top birding site, known for the huge number of white storks that nest on the rooftops of traditional wooden houses there.

8. Biokovo Skywalk
The Biokovo massif rises almost sheer from the sun-soaked squares and beaches of Makarska, a succession of white limestone cliffs and crags over which a well-trodden, rocky path zigzags relentlessly upwards. At the top, you’ll find Croatia’s first skywalk – a semi-circular, steel and glass-floored platform projecting 11 metres beyond the cliff edge, about 1,200 metres above the turquoise sea and terracotta rooftops of the Makarska Riviera. You can see all the way to Italy on a clear day. There’s also a road up onto Biokovo, if you don’t fancy the hike up.

Windsurfers
The Croatian coast provides great conditions for windsurfing. Photograph: Nino Marcutti/Alamy

9. Windsurfing off the Croatian coast and islands
The Croatian coast and islands are a windsurfer’s dream – a heady combination of favourable winds (the maestral is a moderate north-westerly which doesn’t create too many waves), beautifully clear waters and hours of sunshine. Viganj on the Pelješac peninsula is a particularly good spot for windsurfing (and kite surfing), in the broad channel between Pelješac and the island of Korčula. The channel between the islands of Brač and Hvar is another, close to Bol and Croatia’s most iconic beach, Zlatni Rat.

10. Zip-lining in Croatia
Directly below the walls of Pazin Castle in Istria, a deep gorge slices through the landscape, at the bottom of which a large cave twists off into the underworld. You can enjoy an exhilarating flight across the gorge, on the 220-metre Pazin Zip Line. Serious thrill-seekers should also head to Omiš, where a series of eight zip lines zigzag above the breathtaking gorge of the River Cetina.

Discover the true beauty and diversity of Croatia for yourself this summer. To plan your perfect Croatian holiday, head to croatia.hr/en-gb/nature