Hvar Island Travel Guide
Considered to be one of the 10 most beautiful islands in the world, Hvar Island is located in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Dalmatia in Croatia.
Hvar Island has a pleasant climate, with mild winters and gentle summers.
The hills of the island are covered in forests of pine, and has many vineyards, fruit orchards, olive groves and lavender fields.
A Little Bit of History
The island has a long history, being inhabited from as far back as the Neolithic age. The tribes of Illyria were the next to occupy this land, followed by the Ancient Greeks.
It was the Greeks who founded the town of Pharos in 384BC.
That site is now called Stari Grad, and it is the oldest town in Europe. During the Medieval period, the city of Hvar became a major naval base in the Venetian Empire, and with the rise in power, art and culture began to flourish.
In the 16th century, a turbulent time for the island, the citizens of the island rose up against their Venetian masters in what is now known as the Hvar Revolution.
The island was also beset by pirates from the sea and the Ottoman armies from the mainland.
This led to the local population building some fascinating fortifications, especially on the northern section of the island.
The island was then ruled by the Napoleonic Empire for a short period of time, before finally becoming a part of the Austrian Empire.
This was a period of peace and prosperity, with trade expanding tremendously. The fishing industry grew, as did the export of wine, lavender and rosemary; the herbs were used for the production of French perfumes.
Unfortunately, by the 20th century, the island once again declined, when the phylloxera disease destroyed wine production, and traditional wooden fishing boats were replaced by the larger metal fishing fleets.
The one industry that has flourished since then is tourism. This is largely due to the efforts of the Hygienic Association of Hvar, which was founded in 1868. It was created to help visitors with lodging, food and entertainment.
It was this organization that has been responsible for the creation of the infrastructure needed for tourism to flourish – hotels and apartments, restaurants and bars, marinas and museums, and galleries and cafés.
Today, the prestigious Conde Nast Traveler Magazine has named Hvar Island as one of the 10 most beautiful islands and has the most UNESCO heritage in the world.
Do you know that Hvar is also known as the birthplace of organized tourism?
It started 150 years ago!
The Towns of Hvar Island
Hvar Town Municipality
Hvar Town is the largest town on the island, and it is located in the south coast of Hvar Island in a beautiful bay.
With a long, rich and varied history, it has been the center of trade as well as culture in the Adriatic region for centuries. Today, this town is the center of the tourism industry on the island!
A tiny little hamlet located just 6 kms from Hvar Town, Brusje was founded as a settlement for shepherds back in the 16th century. This little village is famous for its lavender and rosemary fields, and you can treat yourself to locally-produced lavender and rosemary oils.
Another 5 kms down the old road from Brusje, this little village is even older, having been established in the 14th century. At one time, this was a prosperous town, renowned for its wines, olive oils and as an exporter of honey and lavender oils.
Today, it is a sleepy but beautiful little village with a few locals who can give you cooking classes on how to make Dalmatian delicacies.
Just below the highest point of the island, on the gorge of the southern shore of Hvar Island is located the village of Sveta Nedilja.
This is one of the oldest settlements on the island, with evidence of Neolithic people having lived here.
This is the place where some of the best red wines of the country (and of the world) are produced. For adventure sports fans, the cliffs of Sveta Nedilja are the perfect place for free climbing.
Milna On Hvar Island
Located just 4km away from Hvar Town, this little coastal village is stunning and worth a visit!
Nestled in a little cove, this gorgeous settlement is surrounded by pristine and radiant beaches, perfect for families.
Stari Grad Municipality
Stari Grad municipality consists of the town of Stari Grad, as well as the villages of Dol, Selca, Rudina and Vrbanj.
Stari Grad is called the historical jewel of the island and was founded in 384BC by the Ancient Greeks.
Located on the north-west part of the island, it sits in a deep cove that is protected on three sides by beautiful hills.
Because of its location, and a safe and deep harbor, Stari Grad has been a key port in the Mediterranean for centuries. In fact, the oldest part of Stari Grad has been deemed a UNESCO Protected World Heritage Site.
The Stari Grad Plain, which has been carefully preserved as an agricultural site is still used. The same agricultural system set up by the Ancient Greeks 24 centuries ago is the same one in use today. Even the same crops – olives and grapes – are still grown on this land.
An ancient city with a rich history, Stari Grad is home to many cultural events throughout the year, with the Stari Grad Summer festival being the biggest. It is also home to the Faros Marathon, the international long-distance swimming championship.
6km away from Stari Grad is the village of Dol. An old village with lovely stone houses and courtyards, Dol is where you can see the 18th century art of famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Rendić. There is even a stunning painting of the Madonna that dates back to the 15th century.
Just 4km away from Stari Grad, this ancient settlement should be on your visit list. The rustic stone houses and the stunning views are worth it.
Barely 2km north of Stari Grad, Rudine is one of the island’s last secrets. With just 19 permanent residents remaining, you will find many abandoned, ancient buildings, reminiscent of more prosperous times gone by.
The center of the village is a heritage site, protected by the Republic of Croatia, where you will see an ancient olive mill, a grave mill as well as stone column.
The best time to visit Rudine is in August for the Rudine Art Festival. A must try is the hamlet’s unique Paprenjak biscuits, made from saffron grown in the village and honey.
Established in the time of the Romans, the quiet, yet stunning village is located in the heart of the island.
This is where the Hvar Revolution began back in the 16th century.
A must visit for wine lovers, the vintner Plančić’s wine tasting center is located right here in this village. The konoba of Miki Bratanić is located here too, and it is another must see!
Located 27 km to the east of Hvar Town, Jelsa is on the northern coast of the island.
The town is surrounded by the two highest mountains on the island – St. Nikola to the west and Hum to the east.
The south side of the town is protected by the mountains Vrh, Samotorac and Gozd, and the bay is protected from cold winds by Biokovo hill.
Jelsa has been a center for tourism since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
You will still see remnants of ancient summer villae rusticate scattered on the outskirts of the town.
This is great place for adventure enthusiasts, for hiking, free climbing, bicycling and trekking. It’s also got a really great night life, with one of the most famous discotheques on the island located here.
A small village with ancient olive groves, lavender fields and vineyards, Gdinj is a lovely place to visit.
A tourist village located 10km away from Jelsa, Ivan Dolac is renowned for its exceptional wines and vast vineyards.
Lavender and rosemary fields also surround the village, so there is this heavenly smell that relaxes you!
Some of the best beaches are located close to this village, so it is a great place to visit.
The perfect beach getaway, this little village dates back to the 17th century. You will also find some interesting architecture here, since this was a stronghold against marauding pirates in the past!
Just 3km away from Jelsa, this is a tiny little village that still preserves its old Dalmatian architecture.
4km off Jelsa, the village of Svirče is home to the church complex of St. Magdalena. A beautiful, 18th century village, you can visit the vineyards and olive groves here.
This tiny little hamlet, located 15 km from Jelsa, is worth a day trip. The beautiful Sv. Ivan Krstitelj (St. John the Baptist) church is located here, and you can savor the delicious homemade olive oil.
A quick visit to Vrisnik, located just 3km from Jelsa, is worth it, where you can walk down ancient narrow cobbled streets and just enjoy the peace and quiet of the stunning countryside.
Vrboska on Hvar island
Vrboska, the smallest town on the Island of Hvar, sits on either side of a long narrow bay.
The two parts of the town are connected by beautiful stone bridges, and it is known as Mala Venecija (Little Venice).
The town is surrounded by forests of pine, and the Gothic and Renaissance style houses and cobbled streets will transport you to another world.
Located on the south shore of the island, Zavala is the perfect summer getaway, with pebbled beaches and sparkling waters.
An ancient Illyrian fort atop the Vela Glava hill in the village of Zastražišće is testament to its martial role as a defender of the land against Turkish pirates and other invaders.
Rustic, old buildings, paved streets, old olive groves that produce the best olive oil on Hvar Island are waiting for you in the lovely little village.
The Municipality of Sućuraj
This municipality consists of the town of Sućuraj, which is located on the east cape of the island.
The ancient little fishing town has a history that goes back more than 2,300 years!
This little town has been demolished and rebuilt innumerable times in the past and it still survives to this day.
The town has a unique architecture, where the stone houses are interconnected and there are closed streets.
This style of building is because of the constant danger the town faced from vicious pirates coming down the Neretva river and regularly attacking the town.
Sun, beaches, delicious food and wine await you in the lovely little town!
Things to Do on Hvar Island
If you think that Hvar Island is a sleepy little place perfect only for history buffs, you will be happily surprised by how much there is to do! This beautiful island has so much to offer you that you will want to come back again and again!
The Beaches on Hvar Island
There are so many beaches to choose from in Hvar! While most of them are pebble beaches, there are a few sandy ones too. But if you’re not sure where to visit, then here is a list of the top 5 beaches on Hvar Island:
Located on the southern side of the island, just before entering the tunnel that takes you to Stari Grad, this is one of the most iconic beaches of Croatia.
Nestled in a perfect little bay, with a unique stone house overlooking the sea, to get to this beautiful beach, you need to park your vehicle on the main road and then trek down to the beach.
According to legend, this sheltered little beach has procreation powers. Which makes it a popular destination for those wanting to have a baby. It is also one of the prettiest beaches in the region, a tiny little place surrounded by rocks and pine trees. It is located on the southern side of the island, along the new road off Sveta Nedjelja.
This pebbly beach is perfect to soak in some sun, but beware, it is open to naturists! If you’re okay with that, then head on over to Kordovon, which is located on the other side of the island of Jerolim, and try out one of the best bars in Dalmatia – Mare’s Place.
Located on the north side of Jelsa harbor, this is one of those rare sandy beaches in the region.
The beach is shallow and the water is clear, making it perfect for families with kids.
Gdinj Bays beach:
Located on the eastern side of the island of Hvar, these beaches are not as well-known as their western counterparts. However, the Gdinj Bays, a series of 7 separate beaches, are truly worth a visit.
These are beaches with large pebbles, but stunningly pristine, with absolutely clear, azure waters!
Carpe Diem Beach
Oh, and if you like the more active and party lifestyle, then the Carpe Diem Beach is a must visit!
This beach is home to a beach club, the Carpe Diem Beach Club, which has been ranked among the top 9 in the world by Conde Nast Traveler magazine.
The first half of the club is in Hvar Town, and the second is on the tiny island of Marinkovacoff – which is where the action is!
To get to Marinkovacoff, you need to take either a water-taxi or a private yacht from the beach club at Hvar Town. It takes just 10 minutes to get there.
From soaking in the sun, to beach volleyball, to taking a dip in the sea – the club has it all.
But what makes this club really worth the visit are its full-moon parties! DJs from the top clubs in Europe, like Pete Tong and Roger Sanchez, are flown in regularly to play at these parties.
And the massively wild Ultra Europe Festival’s beach party is also held at this club!
You will truly get to experience the most awesome electronic dance music that will blow your mind!
The Pakleni Islands
Even though we already gave you a few tips on the beaches to visit, the Pakleni Islands need a special mention.
Located off the southwestern coast of Hvar Island, this string of emerald islands is a popular destination for tourists!
The main island, simply named Big Island, has 3 stunning resorts.
With multiple islands, secret coves and perfect beaches, this is a sea-lover’s paradise. Tourists with yachts and smaller craft love to tour through these islands, and this is a perfect place for those who love snorkeling, scuba diving, underwater fishing and other water sports.
The Wine in Hvar
The Hvar wine story dates back centuries – way back to 384BC, when the Ancient Greeks established their settlements on the island.
Wines from Hvar are today exported across the world, to California, Russian, China and even Singapore!
The majority of the wines are produced from local grapes, strains that most people haven’t even heard of – the Plavac Mali (translated: Little Blue), which is a cousin of its more famous Zinfandel. And the rocky slopes of Hvar Island’s south are the best growing region in the world for these grapes.
In fact, there are 130 indigenous varieties of grapes in Croatia, and there are many of these that are only grown on the island of Hvar.
One of the most famous varieties found only on this island is the Bogdanusa, which literally translates to a gift from God.
You can visit Andro Tomic’s Romanesque wine cellars in Jelsa, or Ivo Dubokovic, who is known as Croatia’s leading boutique winemaker.
Or, you can take a trip to Svirce, the wine village, and try some unique organic wines. There, you can meet with Ivan Dolac Barrique, who won the gold medal for creating organic wines in Germany two years consecutively.
And of course, your wine tour would not be complete without a visit to Zlatan Otak, Croatia’s only Grand Cru, and the island’s most famous wine producer. You can even try out the underwater tasting rooms!
A Walking Tour of Hvar Town
With so much of history here, take a walk back into the distant past in Hvar Town.
There is so much to see in this little town that it may take you several days to really complete the tour, and even then, you would only scratch the surface of all that history here.
The Arsenal Theater
This is the oldest surviving public theater in Europe. And it is still in operation.
The theater was established in 1612 and has survived the test of time. In reality, the building was actually constructed in the 13th century and was used as a warehouse. It is the present form that was created in 1612.
After being closed for 20 years for renovations, the Arsenal was finally reopened for performances in May 2019. So, if you have a love for the theater, then Arsenal theater is one place you must visit and experience performances from ages past!
The Fortresses of Hvar Town
The ancient fortresses built on the hills of the town dominate the Hvar Town, and strong walls surround the old town protectively.
The town walls are the more ancient structures, having been constructed in the 13th century. The watchtowers were built between the 13th and 16th centuries.
The two forts were built later.
The Tvrđava Španjola (Spanish Fort), was built over the old 13th century fortress in 1579, after a gunpowder explosion destroyed the old one.
The Trđava Napoleon was built in 1811 to the northeast of the Spanish Fort, on a higher hill.
Within those walls are the palaces and public buildings that have combined local and Venetian styles to produce some unique architecture.
At the center of the town is the Pjaca (Plaza), which connects the waterfront to the Cathedral. The Bishop’s Palace, the Governor’s Palace, the Arsenal, and other public buildings ring the plaza.
You can even visit the birthplace of Ivan Vucetic, the developer of dactyloscopy – the science of fingerprinting!
There is so much history in this town and so much to see, that it is impossible to mention all the sights – you need to visit Hvar Town and experience what it has to offer!
Culture and Festivals on Hvar Island
Considering the rich history this island has, it is natural that it would also have amazing cultural festivals.
The plays at Artesan are a must if you are a culture lover. As is the Za Krizen (Behind the Cross), a UNESCO-inscribed procession that has been held every single year for the last 500 years.
The Feast of St. Prosper is another spellbinding local festival held on May 10 every year. In fact, this date is considered the start of the tourist season on the island.
The Hvar Summer Festival has been held every year for more than half a century, and you will see some of the greatest artists in classical music play at the most exquisite locations, including the Franciscan Monastery at Hvar Town.
The Lavender Festival in June has been called Croatia’s most aromatic festival, and for good reason!
Wine festivals are held all summer, but the most famous and popular one is the Bogdanusa Evening that is held in June.
And of course, the Jelsa Wine Festival, called the biggest wine festival of the Adriatic, cannot be missed either! It’s held on the last weekend of August.
You can also attend the delightful 2-day Humac Eco-Ethno Festival that celebrates the facets of Hvar tradition.
Called Europe’s best boutique festival by Vogue UK, the Escape Festival organized by the Escape Community is another must try.
If you are in Dol in August, then a really fun festival called the Puhijada Edible Dormouse Festival is a great one to try.
Adventure Tourism on Hvar Island
This island has something for everyone! So why not some adventure tourism too? You can go sea kayaking, sailing, hiking, mountain biking, cycling, trail running, scuba diving, snorkeling, rock climbing, rafting, zip-lining, canyoning and so much more!
A small island like Hvar wouldn’t have much to offer in terms of cuisine, right? Wrong! You can taste not just local cuisines here, but also Japanese, American, Italian, Thai and even exotic Cajun food on this lovely island.
And don’t short sell Hvar’s local Mediterranean cuisine either! The food is so good and healthy that the island’s diet was marked as a UNESCO Intangible Heritage in 2013!
Food on this island is at Michelin star levels. Yes. Hvar boasts a Michelin star restaurant!
And it’s not located in Hvar Town. In fact, it’s in Stari Grad. The restaurant, Villa Apolon, was awarded a Michelin star in 2018 for its contemporary Mediterranean style dishes. A must visit!
And now, another Hvar restaurant, Laganini, has been shortlisted for a Michelin star!
And if you think the island’s olive oil is good, you’re mistaken. It is more than good. It is awesome.
Did you know that the world’s best and most expensive olive oil is produced on Hvar Island? If you can afford it, then the Golden Olive Oil is a must try.
It sells for a massive £3,750 per liter at Harrod’s in London. A small bottle of 200ml goes for £750!
And of course, the best wines in the world are right here!
How to Get to Hvar
Getting to Hvar Island will depend on your mode of transportation.
You can also get to these cities if you are traveling by train, bus or car.
From either of these two cities, you will then need to do a boat transfer.
You can go either by ferry or by catamaran and disembark at Hvar Town. If you are planning to take your car then you will need to take the ferry either to Stari Grad or to Drvenik Sućuraj.
There are also international ferries starting from Italy that make multiple stops, one of which is at Hvar Island.
Where to Stay at Hvar
Where to stay at Hvar should be the least of your worries – unless you’re going in the summer. Then, it would be best to book your accommodation in advance, since it is peak tourist season for the island.
You have a range of accommodation to choose from – from 5-star luxury hotels and villas, to budget hostels.
The island offers something for all travelers.
Hvar Town has the highest number of hotels and resorts. You will find accommodation in all the towns too, but the tiny villages may not offer you any accommodation.
You can also book villas, cottages, apartments and houses for that more personal experience.
Getting Around on the Island
If you are planning to travel around the island (which is what most visitors wish to do), then you will need a mode of transport.
The island has quite a good bus network that can get you to most parts of the island, however, it you’re planning on taking the road less traveled, then you might want to get yourself some wheels.
Taxies are available, but they can cost a pretty penny, so most people prefer to hire scooters or cars to move around.
If you are planning to really move around, then go ahead and hire a vehicle, but if you’re not really planning to do much traveling on the island, then it would be a better idea to use the bus and ferry services.
You can even hire private yachts to travel around the island and visit nearby islands.