Strange how a holiday romance can change everything…
Here was my initial travel prediction about the Makarska Riviera: Croatia was going to give me yet another lovely beach town–one more nice, lovely beach town with shockingly tall mountains to give it a slight edge over the other nice, lovely beach towns.
Wow, if I sound kinda spoiled, it’s because I live in the Balkans now. So I guess I suffer from some sort of ‘Croatia, why are you so pretty?’ brain freeze. And in effect, I get a bit numb to all the prettiness.
But then, I met a boy.
I got swept off my feet and onto the scooter of a Croatian hottie, who took me to so many places the internet failed to tell me about. With him, I went to quieter sights, beaches (including a nudist one) and little treasures in the mountains I would never have known to go to.
Like this place… who knew!
And it’s only 15 minutes from town. But don’t worry, we’ll get to this place in a moment. 🙂
Like a tourist, I saw all the things I was supposed to see. And like a local, I saw all the things tourists aren’t supposed to. And what I discovered was Makarska had more spice than the internet gives it credit for.
So allow me to unpack all the sights and things to do in Makarska that made me fall in love with this incredible section of Dalmatia… Okay okay, and maybe the guy too. But you don’t need a romance during your Croatia holidays to get the most out of this riviera. 🙂
Makarska town, a great place to start.
Of course Makarska town itself is the best base in the riviera. Unless you have a car, I highly suggest staying there. All of the other towns are significantly smaller and mostly good for a day trip, that is, unless you prefer a super quiet, non-happening, buzz-less atmosphere. Nothing wrong with that. But compared to the crowds of Dubrovnik or Split, Makarska is not as bad. I also think that the Biokovo mountain range, that hugs the coast along the riviera, reaches the height of its glorious powers in Makarska town.
You Might Also Like: Should You Visit Zagreb or Belgrade if You Can Only Visit One?
Getting to Makarska.
I arrived in Makarska from the epic Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are three or four buses a day that go from Bosnia and Herzegovina directly to the riviera. There are hourly buses going to Makarska from Dubrovnik and Split. If you are coming from Montenegro, you will most likely have to take a bus from Dubrovnik, and from there take a bus to Makarska.
Makarska Old Town–another Croatian-Venetian dream.
God do I love the old towns that you will find everywhere in Croatia (and much of Montenegro). They were built during the days of the Venetian empire, and they just have a charming loveliness that makes you feel like you’re drunk on awe and anticipation of how lovely your day will unfold.
Coolest Makarska riviera hotels and hostels.
All of the following accommodations are in the heart of Makarska, which is either by the beach, or in the old town, both of which are not far from eachother.
Hotel Dalmacija // for mid-range hotel seekers.
I love this hotel! I actually stayed in a hostel for the first day and then ended up here the rest of the time. It has a private beach which is great because the beaches of Makarska are sooooo crowded. Its rooms are light and bright and it is not in the busiest part of the promenade, so you will be away from the drunken 21-year-olds who docked from their party boats. 🙂
Hotel Meteor Makarska // for luxury hotel-seekers.
Ah, the famous Hotel Meteor Makarska. This is a 4-star hotel that is also down the promenade, but a bit closer to the central park, market and old town. This is out of budget for me, but if you want a hotel with spacious light rooms that will take absolute care of you with a great reputation as one of the most famed Makarska riviera hotels, this is it.
Hotel Biokovo // for budget hotel seekers.
This relaxed 3-star hotel is in the heart of the promenade action and the main strip where you have all the bars, restaurants and nightclubs. It’s also a few minutes from the charming old town. And it has my favorite style of interior: modern, muted color palette, minimalistic and clean wood finishing.
The main promenade. The old town is hiding closely behind.
Super duper Makarska hostels of the old town.
Makarska hotels and apartments are more plentiful than hostels. Really, there are only a few in town, and I think these two are the best.
I didn’t stay here, but I ended up spending a lot of time here because it is a happening hostel for the locals. You heard that right–the locals. This is because it is in the main trg (square) of the old town, where there are rows of bars and restaurants with baštas (outdoor seating). The hostel has a bar downstairs with indoor and outdoor seating, and many locals hang out there.
This is where I actually stayed before I ended up being at Hotel Dalmacija Makarska all the time. This hostel is closer to the promenade and it has an indoor-outdoor vibe to it that is really unique. You sleep inside, but you have to walk outside to do everything else like use the kitchen and have drinks on the picnic tables. This hostel also hooked me up with a sofa bed when they were fully booked, which was so nice of them!
Makarska apartments also are plentiful.
Many of the apartments here are located in the beautiful old town with its whimsical narrow streets. Most Makarska apartments are listed on Airbnb and are much more economical than Makarska hotels.
This is a good time to tell you that I have an Airbnb discount code if you will be using the site for the first time, because many a Makarska accommodation can be quite pricey in the height of tourism season in July and August.
Kotišina Fort, Makarska town’s best kept secret.
The mysterious location of the photo at the top of the post is Kotišina Fort… the mystical place that all the Makarska tourists miss. It’s only 15-20 minutes away by car or scooter too.
My crush standing like a Dalmatian god inside the fort.
As you may or may not know, I am a fortress collector (check out my Fortress Guide Series if you need some Balkan fortress inspiration). So, to discover that Makarska had one of the most unique fortresses awaiting me was so exciting.
Shockingly, there’s not so much information online about this beautiful quasi-fortress carved into the mountains. But you will see some tour groups with kiosks along the beach that should be able to take you there. You could also just take a cab (which might be overpriced), a scooter or a rent a car.
Kotišina is also the cherry on top of a 10 minute hike that contains a botanical garden and lovely mountain views.
A Makarska rental car is best for in-depth exploring.
That is if you don’t have a Croatian to chauffeur you around.
My time in Makarska was truly split into two phases: BB and AB… Before the Boy and After the Boy. Well, I met him within a few hours of arriving, so the BB phase wasn’t so long.
But anyway, this boy was the rental car I was too stingy to purchase and a hidden treasure tour guide wrapped in one beautiful face. If you can, rent a car, because some of the places we went to might be tricky to get to without your own transportation.
One-way Croatia car rental with Sixt.
For exploring the Makarska Riviera, Croatia’s land of epic sea AND mountains, I recommend Sixt car rental. It has one way rental in Croatia. So if you pick-up your car all the way in Zagreb, you can drop it off on the other side of the country, like in Zadar, Split or Pula, just to name a few of the locations.
Tucepi & Baska Voda–Makarska’s immediate neighbors.
I spent a lot of time in Tucepi (Tućepi), which is a 10 minute drive south of Makarska. Baska Voda (Baška Voda) is also a 10 minute drive north. They both look quite similar and they both have less than 10,000 residents.
The beaches in Tućepi and Baška Voda are much less crowded and have more locals at their beach than at the Makarska beach. They feel more authentically Dalmacija, so to be honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time at the Makarska beach. I would pop on over to Tucepi or Baska Voda if you want a bit of a smaller town vibe and fewer tourists with the same beautiful mountains in the near distance.
Nude beach anyone?
Also in Tucepi is a tranquil nudist beach. If you walk north along the Tucepi beach in the direction of Makarska, you will, intentionally or not, hit the nudist partition.
Biokovo Nature park has all the views nobody sees.
Biokovo Nature Park is not a hidden treasure. I mean, those mountains are hard to miss. And yet, there was hardly anyone at the park when we went there.
The park, which is is on the way to Tucepi, offered the best views of the Makarska riviera. You can also clearly see the islands of Hvar and Brač in the near distance.
You can get to the park by car of course or scooter. But a car will take you much higher in elevation into the mountains. On scooter, we had to stop once we reached this first look out point. Yup. You heard that right. This was only the first look out point.
St. Jure, for you crazy thrill seekers.
St. Jure is a high mountain pass with a death-defying road that is 1.76 meters (5,780 ft.) above sea level. There are kiosks at the beach that will offer tours here. But obviously, it’s not easy to get to. Naively not researching just how high it was, I asked my holiday boyfriend if he could take me here, but he essentially let me know what a silly request that was and explained just how high in the sky it was! If you do get to the top, you will be greeted by an adorable little chapel.
Check out Omiš before it’s the new Dubrovnik in 10 years.
Guys, I had to throw Omis (Omiš) in here because it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in Croatia. It is actually not quite part of the Makarska riviera in Croatia, but it is only 20 minutes north by car, and 30 minutes by bus. And man, does it look epic, right!
Omiš is famous for its fjord-like canyon and river that spills out into the Adriatic sea.
For a place that has a landscape unlike anywhere else in Croatia, yet alone Europe, it is so not touristy, which is why you should go there before everyone discovers it and its on the itinerary for everyone’s Croatia holidays. With zip-lining, rafting, rock-climbing and kayaking, courtesy of the beautiful Cetina river, it’s also the adventure capital of Croatia. But for now, it’s still the locals’ little hideaway.
If you are traveling along the Dalmatian coast and do get off the bus at Omis, you’ll probably be the only one. This will be a great sense of pride for you because you will notice jaws dropping from all the other tourists in their seats who had never heard of Omis before this moment; and you will be glad the bus route wasn’t your first introduction to the stunning town.
Be sure to make a stop on my youtube channel’s Croatia Travel Videos Playlist for video evidence of Omis’ splendor, and see my adventures in other parts of Dalmatia as well!
You Might Also Like: Omis Croatia Guide… Croatia’s Best Kept Secret!
Now onto other highlights of the riviera.
Brela Beach is trending.
Brela is the northernmost stop on the riviera, just north of Baska Voda. It is famous for its rocky outcrops and Kamen Brela, that funky stone sticking out of the water that is the symbol of the town. That iconic symbol and its proximity to Split make Brela’s waters one of the more highly-visited Makarska riviera beaches.
Riviera scenes from the beach.
Podgora kicks off Makarska holidays from the bottom.
Podgora, at the base of the riviera, is kind of the first town with a somewhat healthy amount in population. Just like Tucepi and Baska Voda, you can achieve that authentic, small beach town feel in Podgora. It is a good place to stay if that’s what you’re after.
I do think however, that the Biokovo mountain range doesn’t stand out as much, in all its mountainous glory, from the beach of Podgora as it does in Tucepi, Makarska and Baska Voda. Those are the three places where the backdrop looks especially spectacular.
Gradac has a more tropical vibe compared to the rest of the riviera stops with all of its vegetation and lush plant life so close to the beach. It also has the best views of the islands as they are more visible from the Gradac beach. Along with Podgora, Tucepi, Baska Voda and Brela, it has a population between 1,000-2,000. The rest of the towns have populations in the hundreds.
The Islands: Getting to Hvar and Brač.
You should know that you can get to the islands of Hvar and Brac from Makarska. Brač however is much easier to get to, as it is closer. If you are traveling from Makarska, there is a ferry that leaves several times a day and docks in the Sumartin port town of Brač.
Brač is the closer island.
Hvar is a bit trickier to get to. It is actually more advisable to go to Split and take a direct ferry to Hvar. You can also reach Hvar by taking a ferry from Brač. But you will have to make a bus transfer or two, and the commute can eat up half of your day. It is also advisable to arrive at the ferry ports at least an hour early to ensure you get a seat during the high season (June – mid September).
I leave you with one last dreamy picture from Makarska Riviera Croatia.
On my last day in town, I witnessed the most beautiful foggy morning I ever saw in my life. I can’t wait to go back to this impossibly beautiful town and relive more of the Makarska riviera beaches, old towns and mountains. I miss this place dearly everyday. It’s one of those places where, once you have left it, you have to pinch yourself to make sure that you were actually physically there. Writing this blog post allows me to remember that I was. I really was.
Are you traveling soon to magical Makarska Riviera Croatia? Let me know in the comments what you are most excited about and share this post if you found it helpful. Also, feel free to message me on Facebook or Instagram if you need help with anything. 🙂