Illyrians settled on Rab in 350BC, followed by Greeks and Romans, then the Venetians, before two waves of plague hit in the 15th century. Venice allowed refugees to come in and run local businesses and the island was developed for tourism from the late 19th century. A long history of receiving holidaymakers means that Rab has an extensive tourist infrastructure of established bars and restaurants, and staff who take pride in their work.
Rab town is on a skinny peninsula that sticks out parallel to the mainland, bounded within city walls, distinguished by those four church towers. Three main streets – Upper, Middle and Lower – are interlinked with tiny lanes. The town is also divided into the oldest quarter, Kaldanac, at the far south-eastern end, and Varoš, with elegant Gothic and Renaissance buildings. The historic core is accessed by focal Trg sv Kristofera. The Church of St Mary the Great (open 10am-1pm, 7.30-10pm daily) has the biggest of Rab’s four towers. The church itself, consecrated in 1176, is quite plain with later Renaissance touches. You can climb the campanile for superb views. The oldest belltower is neighbouring St Andrew’s, a mix of Renaissance and Baroque styles. Further inland on the hillcrest, the Church of St Justine contains a modest collection of sacred art, while the fourth tower belongs to the Church of St John. Not much survives aside from the tower but you can climb it for great views. This hilltop row of churches sits above an Old Town that drops straight down to the sea. Stairs cut into it lead down to the water.
Inland from the old walled town, where the peninsula meets the mainland, there is a beautiful park called Komrčar, with paths winding around heavily wooded hills and emptying out onto the beaches, which are heavily crowded in high season.
Unlike Rab town, most of Lopar is new. Its centre – a school, a church, the post office opposite and a few shops – consists of one street, and addresses are given as one number: no need to name the street. Few come to Lopar for its services – Central Europeans (you’ll see German, Czech and Hungarian on most menus) still descend in droves for its beaches