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Though Croatia is small (roughly the size of West Virginia), the influences shaping its architecture, gastronomy and personality are vast. The Greek, Roman, Venetian and Habsburg Empires have all had a hand in the country visitors enjoy today. Thus the activities aren’t just the beach-bound varieties — as you might expect of a place with more than 1,000 islands. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best things to see and do in Croatia:
1. Go island hopping. Croatia has 1,244 islands (only a fraction are inhabited) bobbing above the surface of the Adriatic Sea. Some of the most popular are those of Central Dalmatia, which include Hvar, Vis and Brač.
2. Become a foodie. The Istrian Peninsula, in Croatia’s northwest corner, has been described as the new Tuscany. It is brimming with vineyards producing magnificent wine, olive oil makers with scrumptious oils and even great truffle hunting. When one combines these ingredients with the fresh fish surrounding its shores, you have the recipe for a top-notch progressive dinner.
3. Get natural. Croatia has eight national parks, where the country’s pristine natural heritage is frozen in time. One of the oldest and most popular is Plitvice Lakes, a UNESCO site. Some 16 lakes are connected via an underground river network, which flows through a limestone landscape and over travertine dams. The result: boardwalks surrounded by dramatic falls.
4. Walk the walls. Dubrovnik, in the far southern tip of the country, has ancient protective walls, which completely surround the Old Town — and walking around them is a rite of passage for any Croatian visitor. Completely enclosed by the 14th century, Dubrovnik’s walls are more than 80 feet high and nearly 20 feet wide in places. They also provide stunning views of the sea.
5. Cruise the capital. Often visitors are so focused on getting to the coast that they overlook one of the most interesting capital cities in central Europe: Zagreb. This walkable city lathered in Secessionist architecture feels like a miniature Vienna and is loaded with parks, museums, restaurants and vibrant nightlife. Visit the Mimara Museum, which has more than 3,000 art pieces, and make sure to take in the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, with its mammoth Gothic steeples reaching more than 350 feet.