Everything You Need to Know About Croatia’s Five Regions

Did you know that Croatia is divided into five separate regions? While most visitors know about the coastal areas, like the Istria peninsula, Kvarner with its islands, and the Dalmatian coast stretching from Zadar to Dubrovnik, there are other regions in Croatia’s interior that are worth talking about (and visiting).

Today, I will share a complete travel guide to Croatia’s regions, so you can better understand what each one has to offer. And trust me when I say – there’s plenty to discover!

The country is divided into 21 municipalities, known locally as “županije.” On my map of Croatia, you can easily identify these districts and regions, which include both coastal and interior areas.

There is also another regional division of Croatia, based on the relief characteristics of the country. I personally prefer this division, which looks like this and it’s easier to follow.

Central Croatia

  • Regions: Zagorje, Međimurje, Pokuplje, Banovina
  • Key Features: This hilly region includes the country’s capital, Zagreb, offering a mix of urban and rural attractions.

Eastern Croatia

  • Regions: Slavonia and Baranja
  • Key Features: Known for its fertile lowlands, this area is rich in agriculture and folk traditions.

North Croatian Coast

  • Regions: Istria and the Kvarner Islands
  • Key Features: This area is famous for its Italian influences, seaside towns, and gastronomy. Also called the Northern Littoral area.

Croatia Highland

  • Regions: Gorski Kotar and Lika
  • Key Features: A mountainous area offering lush forests and national parks, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

South Croatia

  • Regions: Northern, Central, and Southern Dalmatia
  • Key Features: The famous Dalmatian coast, with Split as the unofficial capital, this region is probably the most traveled part of Croatia. Also known as Southern Littoral.
Beautiful view of Rovinj Croatia

Extra: the Hrvatsko Zagorje region (Croatian Zagorje) is a green hilly region spreading from Medvednica mountain above Zagreb to the north all the way to Varazdin.

This is a region of many villages, small towns, picturesque hills, vineyards as well as numerous cultural and historical monuments. Once, this was the center of peasant uprisings against feudal landlords.

Zagorje is not only about picturesque landscapes and rich history but is also rich in spiritual and health retreats. Marija Bistrica, a focal point for pilgrimages since the Middle Ages, draws visitors to its revered image of Mary with Child. Nearby, the spa town of Stubičke Toplice is known as one of the top health resorts close to Zagreb.

The Zagorje region is also renowned for its abundance of thermal spas, although few people talk about this online, preferring the beaches instead.

But traveling from Zagreb to Krapina, you’ll encounter Krapinske Toplice, famous for its four outdoor thermal pools that provide a perfect blend of relaxation and natural beauty.

Not far away, Tuheljske Toplice offers a luxurious spa experience with comprehensive wellness programs just 45 km from Zagreb. Additionally, Stubičke Toplice (already mentioned above) remains a popular destination among Zagreb’s residents, cherished for its tranquil setting and therapeutic offerings.

I will write a more in-depth guide to this lesser-known Croatian region… but until I do, you can check out the best accommodation in the Zagorje area here.

Now let’s move on to the more traditional approach to Croatia’s region and what each of them has to offer.

Istria Peninsula Region: Croatia’s Adriatic Gem

The Istria Peninsula, the largest in the Adriatic Sea, is a geographic wonder positioned at the apex of the Adriatic between the Gulf of Trieste and the Bay of Kvarner.

Well known for its diverse landscape, approximately one-third of Istria is forested, while the remainder is covered with vineyards, olive groves, pastures, and orchards, so true, raw nature can be found here. This has made some travel experts call this region the “new Tuscany” or the “new Provence.”

Istria can be further divided into two regions, and I call them the “Blue” and “Green” areas, detailed below:

  • The Blue Istria: This coastal stretch from Umag to Pula offers spectacular seaside views over the Adriatic, but also great tourist resorts, and historic towns. The clear blue waters and the coastal vibe draw visitors seeking sun, sea, and relaxation.
  • The Green Istria: Inland, the peninsula transforms a bit, where undulating hills and fortified medieval villages such as Motovun offer a completely different experience.

See the map of Istria for a clearer division of these unique regions – and to learn more about this region overall.

Also, I recommend reading my 7 Days in Istria Itinerary to make sure you explore everything this region has to offer.

Kvarner Region: Croatia’s Coastal Gateway

The Kvarner region offers a mixture of coastal shores, enchanting islands, and lush highlands, blending distinctive architecture with a vibrant cultural heritage. Boasting a tourism tradition spanning nearly 160 years, Kvarner is well-connected by excellent road routes to major cities like Zagreb, Vienna, and Budapest.

The railway link with Vienna was opened in 1857, making Opatija (often referred to as the “Nice of Croatia”) one of the most popular and exclusive destination for the Austrian aristocracy.

Rijeka is the capital of the region, standing as Croatia’s third-largest city and the most significant port on the Adriatic.

The city and its surroundings have been deeply influenced by centuries of Venetian rule, evident in the architectural styles and cultural nuances that can be seen in the islands of Cres, Lošinj, and Rab. Also, Krk Island holds a special place in Croatian history as a favored destination among the nation’s nobility.

Finally, moving a bit more inland from the coast, Kvarner reveals its greener side in Gorski Kotar, known as the “Mountain District.”

63% of this area is covered with dense forests and as a result is popularly known as the “green lungs of Croatia” or “Croatian Switzerland”.

Click here to see the map of this mountainous Croatia regions with their steep slopes and deep valleys!

Dalmatia Region: The Jewel of Croatia’s Adriatic Coast

Dalmatia, a region that stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the border of Montenegro in the southeast, is the most visited tourist destination in Croatia.

This expansive area is often segmented into South Dalmatia, Central Dalmatia, and North Dalmatia, encompassing the counties of Zadar, Šibenik, Split, and Dubrovnik. View the map of Dalmatia here.

Zadar and Šibenik & the Northern Dalmatia Region

Zadar and Sibenik are two main cities of Northern Dalmatia. This is an area of several National Parks like Paklenica National ParkKornati islands and the Krka river, and Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Each park offers unique landscapes and diverse ecosystems that are a blessing for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike – and some of the top sights in the country, once you’re done soaking in the sun.

But there’s even more than that! The Zadar and Šibenik archipelago hosts some of the Adriatic’s most pristine and secluded island villages, providing perfect escapes for those seeking tranquility away from the tourist crowds.

Islands like Pag and Dugi Otok (Long island) are famous off the beaten track destinations for a complete relaxation and some of my top recommendations for those looking for some hidden gems in the country.

Central Dalmatia Region: Natural Beauty & Historical Grandeur

Central Dalmatia, stretching from the historic town of Trogir (also called the Little Venice of Croatia) in the northwest to Ploče in the southeast, is a region of amazing beauty and rich history.

It includes the large, popular tourist destination islands of Brac and Hvar as well as the smaller islands of Vis and Solta.

The area south of Split is renowned for the Makarska Riviera, home to some of the most exquisite beaches in Croatia. You can read an in-depth guide to the best beaches in Makarska Riviera here.

More highlights of this region:

  • Roman Ruins and Architectural Wonders: Plenty of diverse architectural styles, from ancient Roman to medieval and Renaissance era can still be visited.
  • Stunning Coastal Views and Activities: Perfect beaches of the Makarska Riviera and many more around, lively old fishing ports, perfect water and delicious food to name just a few.

Southern Dalmatia Region

Extending from Ploče to the Montenegrin border, Southern Dalmatia is a warm and sunny region with plenty of coves, woody islands like Mljet, Korcula island and the Peljesac peninsula, as well as the famous resort of Dubrovnik.

There are only a few cities in the world that can match up to this unique town with its massive city walls with immense artistic heritage available to anyone. You should get more in-depth with it by reading my previous article about Dubrovnik Nightlife, but also my recommended Dubrovnik itinerary and, of course, the best beaches in Dubrovnik.

Finally, I have a complete guide to Southern Dalmatia here, in case you want to fully explore this region of Croatia.

Thanks for sharing this article!

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