Croatia’s great 8 nature parks to put on your bucket list

Croatia's wonderfully varied nature parks attract hikers, climbers, skiers and cyclists – as well as eminent botanists

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Time Out contributors

Croatia’s 12 nature parks stretch from Učka fringing Istria in the north-west to Kopački Rit in eastern Slavonia, and down to the Lastovo Islands way out in the southern Adriatic. They also include Medvednica, so close to Zagreb, it’s within easy reach of the city’s public-transport system. Without the crowds of Croatia’s most popular national parks, nature parks offer not only stunning landscapes and rare flora and fauna, but also tranquillity. You can explore the wetlands of Kopački Rit by boat or scale the forested slopes of the Žumberak-Samobor hills and hardly see another soul.


The mountain range of Biokovo overlooks the holiday-focused Makarska Riviera in central Dalmatia, best viewed from the nature park’s recently opened vantage point, Skywalk. This sits 1,228 metres above sea level and offers incredible views of the Adriatic and the islands of Brač and Hvar. Extending some 12 metres out into the skies from the mountain at Ravna Vlaska, the viewing platform will surely test the nerve of anyone who gets vertigo when high up, not least because much of the structure is built from super-thick glass. Formerly a toll road, from just outside Baška Voda, a route allows you to pass through the mountain range via the free Tunel Sveti Ilija to experience the hinterland and great natural features such as the Red and Blue lakes at Imotski, a great swimming spot.


The most recent natural attraction to receive the status of a nature park is Dinara, referring both to this region of the Alps and this particular 100-kilometre-long range in the hinterland of southern Dalmatia. Consisting of four main peaks soaring close to 2,000 metres high, the dramatic landscape is practically uninhabited, allowing brown bears, grey wolves, golden eagles and lynx to thrive.

Kopački Rit Nature Park at dusk
@ Ivo Biočina/CNTBKopački Rit Nature Park at dusk

Kopački Rit

Ornithologists are drawn to Kopački Rit, considered the largest and best-preserved wetlands in Europe. Easily accessed from the Slavonian capital of Osijek, this attractive tangle of ponds and backwaters where the Drava and Danube rivers meet can be explored by boat, bicycle or on foot. If you visit at the right time of year, you might spot a white-tailed eagle, a black stork or a European green woodpecker, as well as a European wildcat, a roe deer or a pine marten. Bicycles are also available to rent. 

Lastovo Islands

The remote islands of Lastovo, designated a nature park in 2006, are home to only several hundred inhabitants, the majority gathered in the only town of Lastovo. The rest of the land area of some 50 square kilometres is remarkably undeveloped, allowing locals to cultivate their vineyards and olive trees, and rare Mediterranean flora to grow. Almost 70% of the islands is woodland, covered in evergreen oaks and Aleppo pines. Migratory birds include the majestic Eleanora’s falcon, seen around the Struga cliffs before wintering in Madagascar.

Lonjsko polje

A huge area of protected wetlands on the left bank of the Sava south-east of Sisak are home to more than two-thirds of the total bird population of Croatia. Storks nest in the roofs of the traditional timber-built houses, most notably in the village of Čigoč, providing a classic image of the region, along with the grazing Posavina horses and Podolica cattle. The waters are the spawning grounds for several types of river fish, and Lonjsko polje can be explored by boat, bicycle and on foot, with few cars around. Horse riding is another popular activity in summer.

Ivo Biočina/CNTBMedvednica


If you’re staying in Zagreb, you have Medvednica right on your doorstep. Topped by the highest peak of Sljeme, a major skiing destination, Medvednica is a year-round favourite for families and those who love outdoor activities, particularly hiking. You can also explore underground – stretching for some six kilometres, the Veternica Cave has been the location for rare prehistoric finds, although only the initial 380 metres are open to the public. With its rustic mountain huts, Medvednica offers warming traditional cuisine, most notably mlinci flatbread pasta with turkey, as well as shelter should you wish to stay over. The snow cover here can last for several months, providing picture-postcard scenes when nearby Zagreb is already experiencing the early signs of spring. The long-awaited reopening of the Sljeme cable car should attract even more visitors in the months and years to come. 


Lining the border between Istria and Kvarner, the towering mountain range of Učka can be seen from the elegant coastal resort of Opatija, its snow-capped peaks in winter providing a dramatic contrast to its classy historic façades. The setting also means that Učka also abounds in both continental and Mediterranean species of flora and fauna – the first scientists to explore the area were botanists. If you come at the right time, you might be greeted by a colourful spread of pretty Croatian bellflowers, also named after the great 18th-century botanist, Giuseppe Tommasini from Trieste, who toured so much of this region. This relatively small area is also where you might spot a rare griffon vulture or golden eagle. Themed trails snake around the slopes, dotted with information boards in several languages.

Žumberak-Samobor hills

Stretching between Croatia and Slovenia – the highest peak of Sveta Gora stands by the border – the Žumberak-Samoborsko hills are a perfect day trip from Zagreb. With around 300 kilometres of bike routes, the rolling landscape is ideal for cyclists, while detailed maps show the best trails for hikers and climbers. Thanks to their protected status, the area contains more than 1,000 species of plants, some in the endangered category, while brown bears and wolves roam in more isolated pockets.

This article is sponsored by The Croatian National Tourist Board: 'Croatia Full of Life'.

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