Are you looking for a European break without the high price tag? Would you like to stay in a small yet bustling picturesque town by the sea? Do you enjoy history, beautiful buildings, forts, boating, kayaking, uninhabited islands, stunning national parks, waterfalls, forests, or hikes? Have you watched Game of Thrones? If you answered yes to some or all of the above, Šibenik in Croatia is the hidden gem of Europe that you should consider for your next holiday.
We recently visited Šibenik and had an amazing four days packed full of a whole range of activities. Here is our comprehensive guide to the city, after visiting ourselves and falling in love.
Why Go To Šibenik?
Whilst Croatia is known for it’s beautiful coastal cities with plethoras of tourist sights, lesser known gems can be found along the coast of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Šibenik is one of those secret places you want to keep to yourself for it’s unrivalled beauty and authentic vibes. The city boasts brilliant sight seeing, with sights emerging from Venetian eras and forts which defended the city from Ottoman invasion in the 1600’s and the town’s most revered sight being The Cathedral of St James which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Šibenik is located 50 minutes Drive from Zadar airport and about 40 minutes from Split. Flights to Croatia are frequent from many European cities and a taxi to the city will cost around €70. It’s also possible to get there via bus from both Zadar and Split bus stations and both of these cities are well worth a visit.
Don’t be alarmed as you drive along the long stretches of road past many of the smaller, less maintained towns on the way to your destination. Šibenik has a history which pre-dates most of the Croatian coast, dating as far back as the 11th century. As we entered the city late at night we drove across the Krka Bridge which is an impressive span of concrete over the Krka river. From the bridge you’ll be able to catch a glimpse Šibenik’s red roofs and the top of St. Michael’s Fortress. Once we arrived in the city and got settled into our accommodation we gazed out over the old town and instantly fell in love with it’s authenticity.
Šibenik is the oldest genuine Croatian city on the Adriatic coast, situated in a protected harbour in the heart of the Eastern Adriatic Seaboard. The fortification was first documented in 1066 by King Petar Krešimir IV and was claimed as a city on the 1st May 1298 by Pope Boniface VIII. St James’s Cathedral, The City Hall, Small Lodger, and Palaces of Reckter and Bishop are some of the most important historic features of the City. Šibenik was under Venetian rule in the 17th century and the population largely consisted of Greek, French, German, English, Italian, Croatian, Christian, Albanian men and women, causing difficulty in organising so many people from different walks of life.
Šibenik’s salt production was particularly significant to it’s growth, as well as oil, dried fish, grain, meat and wool all being traded. For 700 years, the Venetian empire was at peace with the Ottoman Empire until in 1645 a new war broke out. Ottoman forces under Sultan Ibrahim the first attacked the Venetian holdings on the island of Crete, sparking flames of war which spread across the Ottoman/Venetian border. The Ottomans prepared to attack Šibenik and occupy it’s surroundings and with only a single stronghold, St. Michael’s fortress served as the primary defence point of the city.
St. Michael’s fortress looked over the Šibenik channel and the entire city which acted as a great defence until the townsmen felt they had outgrown it. Šibenik had another fortress built in 1540 called the fort of St. Nicholas. Located in the centre of the Sibenik channel it was deemed as a powerful and well positioned fortification which the Ottomans didn’t dare attempt another attack on for the next 100 years.
Top Things To See and Do
First and foremost, Šibenik is known for it’s unesco world heritage site, The Cathedral of St James
The Cathedral of St James was built in 1434 and is one of the most iconic Dalmatian Renaissance buildings. The church is made of limestone sourced from the island of Brac, and dreamed up by Juraj Dalmatinac and Nikola Firentinac. This church is absolutely stunning and well worth a visit when you’re in Šibenik’s old town. If you look closely you’ll see lots of little heads on the borders of the church. These are portraits of those who lived in Šibenik at the time of building. It costs about €2 to go inside and make sure to make your way to the end of the building and exit through the baptism font which has some absolutely exquisite stonemasonry!
Šibenik is full of fortresses! If you only visit a single fortress in Šibenik, this is the one. St John’s fortress was by far our favourite, despite the long climb up which got our hearts beating it’s a wonderful sight. The fortress is listed as abandoned and there is no entrance fee unlike St Michael’s and Fort Barone. This fort was the setting for Game of Thrones, as well as the site for a cool looking TV mast and a warren of bunkers underneath, make sure to look where you’re stepping!
One of the best views and meals in Šibenik can be had at D-Resort – one of the best hotels in Croatia with excellent staff and customer service. We reserved for a dinner at 8pm and got to watch one of the most stunning sunsets from the peninsula looking out over the Šibenik bay. D-resort is only a 20 minute walk from old town, or a €5 taxi ride away.
We also highly recommend the SHE bio bistro in the centre of town. It’s a vegetarian restaurant with superb food and drinks. Try the smoothies, they are to die for!
Make sure to check what’s going on in the main square, there’s a notice board outside the Town Hall which will detail what’s going on. Tourist guides and the friendly restaurant staff will also help you out with tips. We got to see a traditional Croatian folk dance at about 8pm, and despite waiting for a while it was a great watch.
Attractions Near Šibenik
Krka National Park is about a 20 minute drive from Šibenik and an absolute must if you visit this beautiful area of the world. The waters are absolutely crystal clear. It’s incredible! They run through the forest into beautiful pools such as the one at Skradinski Buk pictured above. The Krka National Park is named after the Krka river and covers an area of just over 142 square km. The park includes two thirds of the river itself and there are many sections with trails and boardwalks over the water. If you do visit Skradinski Buk then be sure to get there early to avoid crowds.
The monastery pictured above is on the tiny island of Visovac is situated in the Krka river and was settled by Franciscan monks in 1445. The monastery was rebuilt in 1815 and daily ferries with shipments of water and food also take over a few tourists.
We travelled to Krka with a group on a day tour which I highly recommend! Despite being the youngest couple there, it was a really fun and worthwhile day out. We stopped at multiple sites of interest and had a wonderful meal (with lots of wine included) at an amazing restaurant called Kristijan. It had waterfalls running through it, and you could even sit and eat with the waterfall running through your feet!
Kayaking is a must if you are visiting Šibenik. We went twice – firstly on the sea and over to a deserted island. This, as you can imagine, was heavenly. You can simply kayak to an island, relax, sunbathe and picnic, and then kayak on to the next island or back home. Talk to the tourist travel information about renting the kayaks, it’s cheap and easy.
And on our last day in Croatia, we kayaked down the Zrmanja river which is quite a way away from Šibenik itself. The scenery around the Zrmanja is stunning, surrounded by mountains. These mountains, however, hold a dark recent history, having been the frontline for the Croatian War of Independence. The area is full of abandoned and ruined houses – a stark reminder that this country is still recovering from conflict.
The kayaking itself was very different to our relaxed sea kayaking. Rather than being alone, we were put in a group of around 30+ people, with life jackets and helmets. Be prepared for a bit of action, as these kayaks are harder to control and you will be kayaking down rapids and waterfalls. We did have some qualms with leaders’ levels of strictness, we thought it a bit over the top and they could have been more friendly. Being in a large group was also, at times, rather annoying. However overall, this kayaking experience is worth it just for the crystal clear waters, stunning scenery through the gorge and waterfalls.
To sum up –
- Šibenik is a beautiful town full of history
- Unlike many European cities nowadays, it’s very affordable
- It’s great for outdoor activities such as kayaking, walking and boating
- National parks and scenery close to Šibenik are stunning
- The weather is wonderful!
- We recommend visiting around mid June/July or September – avoiding the height of the tourist season
We hope you like our guide to Šibenik and its attractions, and hope that it’s inspired you to visit this wonderful place. It really is a hidden gem, see for yourself!