Travel Guide To Cres Island, Croatia
The second largest island in the Adriatic and one of the most beautiful islands in Croatia, Cres is a stunning place adorned by forests filled with oak trees, majestic cliffs along the coastline, and medieval hilltop towns.
Located in the northern part of Kvarner Bay, Cres is a relatively untouched gem with only 3,000 full-time residents.
Although not as popular as the other touristy islands in Croatia, Cres is worth visiting because of its rich history and natural beauty.
Cres has a rugged topography, with walking trails that will lead visitors through abandoned hamlets, caves, and beaches.
Cres Island, Croatia itinerary
The northern part of Cres is verdant. Known as Tramuntana, the northern head of the island has several hiking trails which include cobblestone paths laid down by the Romans 2 millennia ago.
Cres is also known for its endless city walls and Renaissance-era churches and palaces.
Cres town dates back to at least 2,000 years and has successive rulers such as the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Venetians, who built the older remaining landmarks in the town.
Visitors can enjoy a natural seaside walk along the wide, expansive bay of Cres town.
Lake Vrana, a freshwater lake that contains both carp and algae, is also one of the crowning glories of Cres.
This natural phenomenon, found in the center of the island, is the largest natural lake in Croatia.
The lake’s surface is above sea-level, and the water is drinkable. However, it is strictly off-limits to visitors.
Lubenice Beach in Lubenice town has absolutely magnificent views and picture-book beauty.
Lubenice town is a 4,000-year old settlement which is located on a cliff that is 382 meters above sea level. This picturesque town has medieval monuments and crumbling old stone houses, a stone fortification that is a fine example of typical rural Croatian architecture.
Lubenice has a unique view of the sea and of Sveti Ivan bay.
On its jagged coast, there are a series of secluded pebble coves that can be reached by a steep footpath.
Secluded Sveti Ivan beach lies on a cove below Lubenice.
Cres’ northern part is rich with forests filled with trees such as red oak, elm, and chestnut.
Its southern part is covered in pastures and hills with evergreen coniferous forests.
The island has rich flora, with more than 1,100 plant species.
About 939 of these plants are indigenous to Cres.
The island is also well-known for being the breeding ground of the extremely rare griffon, a mythical-looking vulture and one of the largest flying birds in the world.
They build their nests on cliffs that overlook the sea.
Griffon vultures start on the island of Cres and migrate across Europe, Asia, and Africa.
One of the last habitats of the griffon vulture, Cres has two ornithological reserves on the east side of the island.
The ‘Caput Insulae’ center features a recovery facility for injured or poisoned griffon vultures.
This serene place located in dense woodland not only shelters griffons but is also home to golden eagles, wolves, and bears.
Settlements in Cres
Cres Town is the island’s main area with a rich culture filled with interesting architecture.
It is located on the northern part of the island, nestled within a deep bay so it is protected from harsh weather on all sides.
Its strategic position along the bay led to the development of industries such as fishery, shipbuilding, and seafaring.
The modern marina is also located in the southern part of the bay. Cres Town is surrounded by fertile land where olive trees abound. The well-known olive oil from Cres is made from olives that grow on these trees.
The commercial center of Cres Town features a café-lined harbor with quaint faded pastel buildings amidst serpentine streets. The 2,000-year-old Cres Town has been inhabited since the Paleolithic times, and a series of rulers successively influenced the culture and architecture of the town.
The Republic of Venice ruled the town for about 400 years, and its architecture is still evident in the area, particularly the Church of Our Lady of Snow, which is located in the heart of town.
Cres’ pebbly beach is just a short walk from the town harbor as you walk through the Lungomare seaside promenade.
The old town center in Cres was fortified with a wall until the beginning of the 20th century.
The town loggia, which is perfectly preserved until today, was built in front of the gate in the 16th-century. Standing in front of the loggia is the pillar of shame, which can still be seen today.
This is the place where criminals were tied in the olden days.
Present-day Cres has many modern amenities, including a hotel, a health clinic, a post office, and a museum.
Martinšćica on Cres Island, Croatia
A relatively new town, Martinšćica is located on the tamest part of the island’s coast, on the western part of Cres.
It is the second largest settlement in the island. It is adjacent to a spacious bay.
Formerly a predominantly fishing village, Martinšćica is now a tourist town catering mainly towards families and campers.
The north of the town is filled with beautiful beaches relatively untouched by nature. Martinšćica’s main attraction is a 16th century monastery of the Franciscan Glagolitic monks of the third order. The monks still live there.
The village has lush Mediterranean vegetation.
The town is named after the Church of St. Martin, which was built in the Middle Ages.
The church is still standing on the western side of the island. Martinšćica is also the location of the former summer mansion of the Cres patrician Sforza.
The little town of Valun is a picturesque littoral place.
This charming fishing village has a small harbor at its center.
An old Romanesque chapel is now used as storage space. Valun is well-known for the Valun Plate which dates back to the 11th century.
The Valun Plate is significant because it is inscribed both in Latin and old Croatian, marking the presence of both Roman and Croatian families on the island a millennia ago.
It is one of the oldest Glagolitic monuments and it is kept in the parochial church of St. Mary.
Lubenice on Cres Island, Croatia
The town of Lubenice is found on a majestic cliff which is 382 meters above sea level.
Lubenice has continually been settled throughout the ancient times and the Middle Ages. The Romans named the town Hibernicia, which means ‘a winter, cold settlement’, probably due to the gusts of winds that pass through the town.
The town is one of the best examples of rural architecture in Croatia, with medieval monuments and old, crumbling stone houses in sinuous rows along a ridge. In some of the buildings, visitors can see preserved water reservoirs located on the second floor.
The Romans built an impressive fortress around the town. Traces of the fortress’ glorious past is still visible, as visitors are still able to see the gun slits and the portholes built in the fortress walls. Classical music concerts are held in the old town square during warm summer evenings.
A huge number of guests attend these music evenings.
There are also many medieval chapels in Lubenice: the chapel of St. James and St. Barbara, the chapel of St. Anthony of the Desert, the chapel of St. Dominic, and the chapel of St. Stephen.
The town is oval-shaped with two parallel winding streets running from north to south.
Beli – Cres island
Beli is one of the oldest places on the island.
This acropolis-type village is on a 130-meter high hill in northern Cres. It draws its roots from pre-historic times, being mentioned in manuscripts as early as 4,000 BC. The name of the town comes from Bela IV, who sought refuge here from the conquering Tartar hordes.
The conquerors of Beli have made their mark on the town. Remains of the Roman period are evident with the Roman-Gothic style churches, the Glagolitic inscriptions on the tombstones, and a unique cemented area located on a slope, which looks like an amphitheater and surrounded by seats made of stone.
The accommodations and amenities in Beli are aimed at families, since the town has a nice pebble beach and a well-protected harbor.
Beli is often the starting point for trekking or walking in the woods of Tramuntana. Beli is where the griffon vulture sanctuary, Caput Insulae, is located.
Beli is also the location of a diving base which starts directly from the beach.
Osor – Cres Croatia
Osor lies on the southern part of Cres.
It was a very important settlement during the Roman times. The remnants of its famous past can be found in the heart of town.
The town forum, the municipal palace, the diocese, and the cathedral are all structures that date back from the 15th to 16th centuries.
The grandeur of Osor is being brought back to life with a string of cultural events that bear the title “The Osor Musical Evenings.”
These events take place in the Osor Cathedral. The town has plenty of restaurants and stores in addition to its gorgeous beaches.
Attractions on Cres island, Croatia
The old city of Cres has a stunning stone defense tower, a symbol of the different defenses that the old city has to face over the years. The defense tower was built in the 16th-century and serves as an observation post for enemies.
In the 20th century, the tower was renovated several times.
Only this defensive tower remains from the defensive ring of the city when it was still part of the Venetian Republic in the 15th to the 16th centuries. Once visitors reach the outside viewing platform on top of the tower, they will be treated to a great view of the harbor and the town.
Osor Town Walls
One of the many highlights of your trip to Cres Island is visiting the Osor Town Walls. The foundations of the city walls of Osor are a great history lesson in itself. The city walls date back to 9th century BC, when the settlement still bore the Latin name Apsoros.
Time stands still in this small, quiet town and the gentle pace of island life is most evident here.
The main square of Osor is also a delight, with stone townhouses that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Some of the streets on the main square are dotted with sculptures from Croatian artists.
Church of St. Mary of the Snow
The Parish Church of St. Mary of the Snow is located in Old Cres town.
This three-nave church built in the 15th century both has Gothic and Romanesque elements.
The 18th-century bell tower is also an interesting part of the parish.
Labyrinths in Tramuntana – Cres Island
This outdoor sight in Tramuntana, which is in the northern part of the island, is truly unique.
There are 7 labyrinths located in Tramuntana, each with their own name and meaning. For instance, Ishtar’s Labyrinth is dedicated to the goddess of love and fertility and it symbolizes Mother Nature.
St. Mark’s Church
St. Mark’s Church in Valun has the village’s main attraction: the 11th-century old Valun Tablet. Built in 1851, it is now a cemetery church.
This church and convent which dates back to the 1300s has a double cloister.
The outer cloister shows the tombs of renowned Cres families, while the inner cloister features the oldest emblem of Cres.
The convent has a museum that features paintings and sculptures of old masters, an ethnographical collection, and a rare liturgical book printed in 1494.
Church of St. Anthony the Hermit, Lubenice
Out of the 5 churches in Lubenice, this stands out because the Gothic church has a bell tower that overlooks the village. This 15th-century church is well-known for its acoustics.
Beaches on Island of the Cres
Zanja Beach in Lubenice and the Blue Cave on Cres Island
Zanja Beach in Lubenice is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island.
The only way to reach this beach is from Lubenice, and from there it is quite a hike to get to the sea.
The last part is steep scree so hikers have to be careful. No matter how hard it is to get to this beach, everything will be forgotten once you catch a glimpse of its wondrous beauty.
The entrance to the Blue Cave is located at the edge of this beach. The entrance to the cave is 3 meters deep, and there is a tunnel that runs into the cave above sea level.
The cave can only be reached by sea and is about 20 meters long.
Locally known as Plava Grota, the Blue Cave or Blue Grotto as some people call it is named because of the light blue flickering ceiling once you swim inside the cave.
The best moment to experience this magic is the first few hours of the afternoon.
Sveti Ivan (St. John) or Lubenice Beach
This beach under the village of Lubenice is one of the top beaches in Croatia.
This pebble beach has tiny pebbles that get finer and finer as you get closer to the crystal-clear blue waters.
There are two ways of going to the beach: hire a private boat or walk from the Lubenice village, which takes about 40 minutes.
Mali Bok Beach, Cres island
Cres is well-known for its hidden beaches and coves, and Mali Bok is a surprisingly beautiful bay surrounded by tall rocks.
The beach, which is close to Orlec, is relatively untouched and although it is quite a challenge to reach the beach area, it is truly worth the effort.
If you plan to visit the beach, make sure you bring enough provisions for the day because there is no food or water service in the area.
There is no natural shade in the area, so prepare to be sunburnt if you plan to stay the whole day. This beautiful beach is truly utopia on earth. It is a great spot for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. You need to be an expert swimmer because the waters get deep very quickly.
Bay Koromacna on Cres Island
This secluded swimming spot, which seems to abound in the island, is found on the steeper eastern part of Cres.
Koromacna is under Belej, a small village.
The beach is not as big as the others found on the island, but there is a man-made stone wharf that serves as protection for small boats.
The bay itself has deep blue, inviting waters with plenty of little coves to explore.
Meli beach – sandy beach on Cres island
This sandy beach with a natural lagoon can be reached from the town of Meli, which is on the eastern side of the island. It is a 30-minute walk from the town and there are no clear signs in the path, so visitors need to be careful.
The water in Meli is crystal clear and shallow, ideal for kids.
This secluded beach can only be reached by foot or by boat. You can park your car up to the village of Plat then continue on foot for about 25 minutes until you reach the beach.
Ustrine beach – Cres island
This beach is located at the southern part of the island, close to Losinj.
In order to reach Ustrine, visitors need to park at the nearest town and trek downhill to the sea. As you can imagine, this is a less crowded beach due to the steep road that leads to it.
The walk takes about 15 to 20 minutes, but back up the hill will take a bit longer.
The beach has clean, blue, pristine waters, which is very safe for swimming.
Raca Beach in Valun
This lovely pebble beach bordered by pines is located northwest of the village in Valun.
This has been voted as one of the top beaches in Croatia and is the best beach for families on the island of Cres.
It is like a big, clear, and safe swimming pool with a lot of shade.
The sea is very clear.
Zdovica Beach in Valun
Another ideal family beach located in Valun is Zdovica Beach.
It even boasts of having a kid-friendly camping ground with a lot of shade and bush sites.
This is perfect for families with small children and it is only 5 minutes’ walk from the Valun town center.
The beach is equipped with public showers and toilets. However, there is not a lot of shade.
Things to Do On Cres Island
Sailing and discovering Cres from sea
Sailing around the waters of Cres is a great experience. There are numerous bays, beaches and coves to be discovered here.
Many sailboat rentals offer excursions to the island, giving visitors a chance to explore the unreachable parts of the Cres coast. Small paddle and motor boats are for rent on the island of Cres.
Camping Kovacine on Cres island
This award-winning camping facility offers comfortable camping pitches.
It is mainly designed for families and it is surrounded by olive and pine trees.
There is a beach area in the camp with a mixture of pebbles and stone.
There is also a separate sunbathing area. Camp Kovacine offers numerous activities for the whole family, including bike tours around the island, scuba diving lessons, and excursions.
Osor Musical Evenings
Since 1976, Osor has been home to a classical music festival usually held every summer.
The ambiance at Osor is the perfect location for a balmy summer night of music and reverie under the moonlight.
How to get to Cres island
The most important port on Cres is located in Cres Town.
Cres can be reached by ferries, by boat or by bus.
The nearest airport to the island is Rijeka Airport, which is in the nearby island of Krk. It is possible to travel to Cres straight from Rijeka airport.
From Krk island, go to the town of Omisalj on the northern part of the island where there a few direct buses going to Cres.
There is also a daily catamaran service from Rijeka to Cres Town. Run by Kapetan Luka, the duration of this journey is 1 hour and 20 minutes.
In the summer months, it makes a stop to Mali Losinj and Martinscica.
There are two directions available by ferry when you want to go to Cres.
The first one is via Krk and the other one is via Istria.
From Krk, visitors must board the ferry on the terminal at Valbiska and they will dock in Merag on Cres.
From Istria, visitors must board the ferry at the terminal in Brestova and dock at Porozina on Cres.
Booking a ferry in advance is not possible, but you can purchase them directly from the ferry terminals.
Many tourists arrive at Cres via yachts or organized boat tours. Harbors on the island are well-equipped and ready to welcome boats.
If you want to go on a bus route, the national bus line network is well-organized and can reach even the smallest villages on the island.
There are daily buses that ply the route of Zagreb to Cres Town. The journey time is 4 and ½ hours.
Best Time to Visit Cres
The best time to visit Cres is during the transition period between summer, which is the high season, and autumn.
So that’s between the months of September to October.
The crowds are starting to thin out and the laid-back atmosphere of the island is more evident.
This is when the unpretentiousness of this island will soothe your mind and soul.