Sibenik is Dalmatia’s most underrated coastal city. Find out why, and what to see and do, where to eat and stay in this UNESCO fortress paradise.
- Welcome to Sibenik!
- How to get to and around Sibenik
- 5 things not to miss
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
- Festivals in Sibenik
- Beaches in Sibenik
- Top 5 day trips
- Meet 3 Sibenik legends – Dalmatinac, Mrvica, Petrovic
- 5 things you didn’t know about Sibenik
- Traditional Sibenik souvenirs
- More information
Of all the Croatian destinations which exceeded my expectations when I first visited, Sibenik tops the list. For many, the only contact tourists have is seeing the motorway signs to Croatia’s oldest coastal native city. Boy, what they are missing!
This is a city which is a temple of stone perfection. No less than 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, some of the most impressive fortresses and innovative tourism uses in Croatia, and a range of national parks and islands in the neighbourhood to make it truly a destination for all.
So the next time you are driving along the motorway from Zagreb to Split and pass the sign for Sibenik, drop in for a visit. Here is why.
Despite not having its own airport, Sibenik benefits from two neighbours whose airports continue to expand, thereby offering even more choice to Sibenik arrivals.
Split Airport handled over 3 million passengers last year, and that number is set to rise in the near future with the opening of its new terminal. Sibenik is just 60 km away, and so very accessible. Learn from about Split Airport from the Total Croatia guide. Similarly, the arrival of Ryanair to Zadar in 2007 opened up another airport option for Sibenik a short drive north. Zadar Airport is now a low-cost hub and brings many tourists to the Dalmatian coast.
The Zagreb to Split A1 motorway has made Sibenik accessible as never before, and one can be in Split in under an hour, Zagreb in three. But do not neglect the old coastal road, for not only is it picturesque, but there are many great villages and towns to explore.
Sibenik has excellent bus connections, both locally, nationally and internationally. You can check schedules and buy tickets online here.
There are also options by boat, both to Zadar and Split on the mainland, as well as several islands. You can find details about the latest routes and sailing times here.
Sibenik is also pioneering the use of eco-friendly ferries to transport passengers to and from its neighbouring islands.
UNESCO World Heritage Site 1: St James Cathedral
Tourists often overlook Sibenik who head instead for better known Dalmatian cities such as Split and Dubrovnik, but just a very tiny look at what Sibenik has to offer shows that they are missing out. Big time!
One of the great architectural wonders of the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cathedral of St. James, dominates the front of Sibenik’s gorgeous old town. Just how did they build it entirely from stone? Learn more from the official UNESCO website.
UNESCO World Heritage Site 2: Fortress St. Nicholas
Having a UNESCO World Heritage Site in your city is pretty cool, but how many cities in the world can boast two? Sibenik is the only city in Croatia with two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after the inclusion of the spectacular St. Nicholas Fortress last year. The triangular-shaped fortress has been guarding the city for centuries, but in 2018, the UNESCO raised its flag. And, as you would expect with any self-respecting UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is a fortress full of legend, as you can see from the video below.
Fortress Innovation – St Michael’s Fortress
One does not have to be in Sibenik very long before the city’s fortress heritage hits home. The city has had a turbulent history given its strategic position, and its various fortresses have played an important role in defending its citizens. But while other destinations lazily leave their fortresses and tales of the past to attract tourists, Sibenik is leading the way in terms of innovation and technology. Is there a finer concert location in all Croatia that St. Michael’s Fortress, for example?
Fortress innovation – Barone
St. Michael’s is not the only Sibenik fortress worth hiking to – do check out the cosier and more compact Barone, which you can also visit with the same entrance ticket and only a short hike from St. Michael’s. More info on the video above, but do explore the views and then the delightful tasting menus of local products, a really interesting selection, with something from everyone. And don’t tell anyone, but the olive oil on sale is among the best you will find in Croatia.
A Mediterranean garden in a sea of stone
The magnificence of the stone of Sibenik is a stunning first impression, and one really does not mind climbing the steps to the fortresses, for there is a stone architectural wonder at every turn. And plenty of surprises.
In this sea of stone, do seek out the fantastic Mediterranean Garden of St. Lawrence, a true gem, and a fantastic place to stop for a refreshing drink on your way to those fortresses. Learn more here.
Tourism needs strong hotels to be successful, and in this respect, Sibenik is both fortunate and seeing those fortunes improve. The biggest show in town is Solaris, whose various hotels and campsites offer the bulk of accommodation in Sibenik, as well as many activities – a really great family resort. Learn what is on offer here.
For a real touch of quality, however, the arrival of Turkish Dogus Group has helped lift the profile of the city from a luxury tourism point of view. Not only did the Turks build the 5-star D-Marin hotel and construct an impressive marina, but they also hosted Brad Pitt. Rumours are that Pitt is in the process of developing an ultra-luxury resort. Check out the marina here.
Another really nice option close by is the Olive Garden Resort in Jadrija, about which I have written before:
“One of the most unusual things I tasted last year was rakija from roses, a beautifully presented aperitif (see below) at the Olive Garden Resort in Jadrija, just around the corner from Sibenik. A delightful little tipple, matched totally by its wonderful surroundings. Where else can you enjoy a holiday in an olive grove with the beach literally at the end of the garden?”
There are an increasing number of accommodation options coming to Sibenik, and you can check what is hot and what is not as the usual global search engines.
All this UNESCO World Heritage Siting can make a grown man hungry, so what better than a spot of lunch overlooking the amazing Cathedral of St. James in a restaurant which is regularly named the best in Dalmatia and Croatia. Pelegrini has become a byword for Dalmatian gourmet excellence over the years. Take a tour of the menu on the official website.
The Sibenik dining scene has improved considerably in recent years, and there is much more choice. Check out the leading restaurant options currently.
Sibenik is a city for kids, and children are the theme of its most famous festival:
“In June and July, Sibenik becomes a city of children, a city celebrating children’s imagination and creativity. This year it will be host to children of the world, for the 58th year in a row, and its streets will be taken over by children’s creations. Just as every year for the past five decades, those who value this children’s world of games, joy and goodness will surely come and visit.
Notwithstanding the rich tradition of this city, it is the children and the now traditional International Children’s Festival – a unique cultural event of world proportions during which the city squares surrender to children and dedicated to the development of all the artistic forms of their creative drive – that have become the trademark of Sibenik.
The festival has three basic programmes: a festival of domestic and international children’s ensembles, the workshop programme directly and publicly involving children in the act of creation, and the educational part where a symposium addresses issues such as aesthetic education of children. During these two weeks, Sibenik should be an inevitable destination to those who never forget their playful side, and even more so to those who have completely forgotten it.”
Dalmatian tradition, Dalmatian architecture, Dalmatian song. Where better to finish our Sibenik tour than in the heart of the city, which gives itself over by music each August with the annual Dalmatian Sansona Festival, a wonderful occasion which showcases this outstanding city in all its glory.
Sibenik’s beach offer improves considerably with the wealth of choice available on neighbouring islands, but the city has a good selection, as the tourist board explains below:
Banj beach is Sibenik’s public beach from which a unique view can be seen over the old town centre. A beautiful pebbly beach with numerous facilities that is ideal for children and for all sports lovers.
The „Sand Beach” in Solaris Beach Resort
Except for the sea and sun, Solaris Beach Resort in the vicinity of Sibenik, has the best Sand Beach on the Adriatic coast.
Solaris Beach Resort with its attractive Sand Beach is an ideal place for vacation – not only for the comfortable relaxation in the shade next to a turquoise sea, but also for the numerous amenities and attractions you will find wherever you look.
Solaris Sand Beach is the bearer of the Blue flag which is an international ecological brand for top quality sea and has also received numerous national awards for being the best beach on the Adriatic coast.. For those, that do not prefer sand, they will definitely find a perfect spot for themselves along the 4 km coastline of Solaris.
The beach in the settlement of Jadrija is a pebble beach equipped with numerous additional contents and represents a favourite summer gathering place of Sibenik residents and visitors since as far back as 1921. Thanks to its vicinity and good transport connections with both the mainland and the sea, it is rightfully thought of as a charming suburb of Sibenik.
In the settlement of Brodarica, the suburb of Sibenik, is situated a pebble beach Rezaliste, suitable for children and sport activity lovers.
Krka National Park (and other parks)
Just as Sibenik is a near-perfect example of stone perfection, so too the nature around it excels.
Just a few kilometres away is the outstanding Krka National Park, one of the great treasures of Croatian tourism. A visit is a must, especially when you can combine it with the delightful town of Skradin. And wine lovers can make it day to truly remember by visiting arguably Croatia’s top producer, the Bibich winery. Check out the video below.
Krka is not the only national park within striking distance of Sibenik, of course. There are no less than three others which are easily accessible. Plitvice Lakes is the most famous, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right. But Kornati and Paklenica National Parks are also worth at least a day trip. Learn more about the 8 national and 11 nature parks of Croatia.
Historic coastal towns: Split, Zadar, Trogir
Where to start with your daily exploring up and down the coast? The northern part of Dalmatia is blessed with some real gems to discover. Three of the best – all of which are easily accessible for a day trip by car or by bus are Split, Trogir and Zadar, with Total Croatia guides to each on the links in this sentence.
Visit an island
Sibenik has a number of great islands within touching distance, and visiting an island is an essential part of the Dalmatian holiday experience. With good ferry connections during the summer, there is an enviable selection of islands on offer.
Among the most appealing are Zlarin, with its lush vegetation, sandy beaches and incredible coral traditions. Prvic is best known for the Faust Vrancic Memorial Centre. Here you can learn all about the man who invented the parachute.
I really liked Zirje, whose excellent diving more than justifies the ferry to the furthest island in the Sibenik archipelago. And for something a little more unusual, head to Krapanj to learn more about the island’s unique natural sponge harvesting and processing.
And if the idea of luxury island glamping appeals, take the short trip to Obonjan, which has transformed itself in recent years from sleepy island to luxury glamping location and boutique music festival destination.
Kayak and Zipline the Cikola Canyon
Experience the thrill of a lifetime with Sibenik seaside kayaking through the St. Anthony channel and along the walls of St. Nicholas fortress (UNESCO) followed by an exciting zipline tour.
Did you know that channel of St. Anthony was the entrance of Braavos in HBO series Game of Thrones? No? Now is the perfect time to explore Braavos! After breathtaking kayaking we are taking you on Zipline adventure! The view of the Cikola river canyon scenery is breathtaking, especially if you are looking at it from above.
Soar over the tree trunks and ravines with the wind in your hair! Take the 1.4 km long zipline adventure that will boost your adrenaline and make you feel the kick you were longing for. To learn more about this tour, click here.
Dubrava Falconry Centre
Wildlife lovers may be interested in the Dubrava Falconry Centre, which is located 7km from Sibenik and is the only centre in Croatia which offers birdwatching for all kinds of birds of prey. Come face to face with these fearsome creatures and learn more about the Centre for Rehabilitation of Birds of Prey here.
There is no doubting who is Sibenik’s most famous sporting son, arguably the finest Croatian basketball player of all time. Having been awarded the Golden Badge as the best athlete in former Yugoslavia, Petrovic moved to the States, where his performances for the New Jersey Nets had him in consideration for the NBA title of best shooter ever.
Tragically, his life was cut short at the age of 28 when he was killed in a car accident. He is still revered in Sibenik today, and it is possible, by arrangement, to visit his local club and shoot a few hoops in the place where his career began.
If Petrovic is Sibenik’s famous sporting son, his musical equivalent is world-famous pianist and musical genius, Maksim Mrvica. Mrvica may be a global star these days, but it was his determination to continue his musical studies while war erupted around him in his native Sibenik in the 1990s which gave him the backbone to succeed. Learn more about his astonishing career here.
Sibenik’s stone heritage is due in large part to one Giorgio di Sebenico, or Juraj Dalmatinac as he is known locally. A sculptor extraordinaire, Dalmatinac was the chief architect on the Cathedral of St James from 1441 to 1473, just one of his many accomplishments. Learn more about his life and work.
Is it the oldest Croatian town on the Adriatic
Among its many claims to fame, Sibenik is also the oldest native Croatian town on the Adriatic. It has a wonderfully authentic feel to it even today, and one of the finest promotional videos about how life used to be can be found in the fortresses of the city – as well as online, above. I encourage you to watch it.
Thanks to Nikola Tesla, Sibenik has the oldest street lights in the world
Sibenik was not too far from the birthplace of that mind of the future, Nikola Tesla, and while the fabulous Krka waterfalls were not of the same magnificence of Niagara, they did play a role in history.
“The oldest Jaruga power plant was the first alternating current (AC) power system in Croatia. It was designed to power the street lights in Šibenik, making it the first city in the world with street lights powered by a polyphase system of alternating current (AC).” Read more…
Sibenik has its own local Casanova
Sibenik is a very romantic city, and it is probably no surprise to find that there was a local charmer who has become known as the local Casanova, and whose legacy is partly upheld in a delightful hostel bearing his name – Johnny’s Place.
Eternally penniless, with money just around the corner, Johnny had a range of tricks to seduce beautiful foreign women and access their purses to fund his luxurious lifestyle. Learn more here.
Sibenik is the birthplace of the parachute
While Nikola Tesla may have lived up the road in Smiljan, Sibenik’s most famous inventor is Fausto Veranzio, or Faust Vrancic, a polymath and bishop who was born in the city. Among his many accomplishments, he is credited with the invention of the parachute, and you can visit the Faust Vrancic Memorial Centre on the nearby island of Prvic.
Sibenik is the EU Funds success story of Croatia
Croatia is famously useless at taking advantage of all the EU funding opportunities on offer, but Sibenik is an outstanding exception to the general rule, so much so that a colleague recently named the city the “uncrowned champion of planned development and the best example of how to make the most from EU funding.” Up to a billion kuna, planned and received, so far.
Looking for an authentic Sibenik souvenir? Help is at hand from the Sibenik Tourist Board:
Over the years, the Šibenik Button decorated male national costumes, whilst over the last few decades, it has been recognized as an original souvenir of Šibenik. Today, the Šibenik Button can be bought in the form of earnings, rings, charms, tie pins, brooches, necklaces and other similar items. The Button has the form of two half spheres connected in the middle and hollow inside. The outer part is decorated with thin silver threads and balls. The original Button was made in silver, with an exact size; however, today you can find it made out of gold and aluminium and a number of different sizes.
The Šibenik Button was made by the famous filigree Ljazer Čivjak according to the ideas of the designer, Franka Baranović. In 2007, the Šibenik Button was named the most original Croatian souvenir by the Croatian Tourist Board. Today the Šibenik Button is a component of the costumes of Šibenik Klapas (a cappella groups).
Šibenik was the first Croatian city to mint its own money.
The Council of Nine in Venice approved the creation and usage of Šibenik coins – Šibenik bagatin as a twelfth part of 30 Venetian ducats. Bagatin was a mean of payment in Šibenik for more than two centuries.
According to the Decree on Forging, one side of the coin contained a figure of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice and the other, St. Michael, the town of Šibenik’s patron. Immediately after Šibenik other cities also started to mint their own money: Split in 1490, Zadar in 1491, Trogir in 1492 and Hvar in 1493.
The Šibenik Hat is one of the most recognizable symbols of the town itself. Over the last century, it stabilized in an orange colour with characteristic black embroidered decorations. It is basically a very old popular tradition. However, the Šibenik Hat dates back to the period when Šibenik was the first Croatian city. Later the first and only cathedral was built here with regard to the means of construction. The Šibenik Hat reminds us of the recent periods when this city experienced an industrial boost constructing the first encircled production and distribution system of alternating current in the world.
The industrial potential which was, by these new possibilities from that period, positioned on the edges of the town, strongly established it until the present day. Here. too, companies dealing with aluminium usually chose colour orange for their companies.
To follow the latest news from Sibenik, check out the dedicated TCN page.