Where turquoise blue water meets spectacular mountain ranges – welcome to Makarska Riviera! This approximately 50 kilometre long section of coast in the south of Dalmatia is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and impressive holiday destinations in Croatia.
Right behind the roofs of the picturesque coastal town, the barren peaks of the Biokovo Mountains rise steeply into the sky. The natural backdrop along the Makarska Riviera is definitely something quite special.
Small warning: It could happen that after reading this travel guide you will want to book a holiday in Makarska Riviera right away. Not to say we didn’t warn you. We let you in on our best tips and the most beautiful beaches along the Makarska Riviera so that you can perfectly prepare for your trip. Here we go!
1. Makarska Riviera in Croatia: Overview of interesting Facts and initial Tips
Where is the Makarska Riviera?
The Makarska Riviera starts a one-hour drive south of Split in the town, Brela. From there the Makarska Riviera stretches about 50 kilometres south until Gradac.
Along the coastal road, which snakes along the feet of the Biokovo Mountains, you will pass by many picturesque port cities. The largest city of the Makarska Riviera (and also where the name comes from) is Makarska. We will share more detailed information and tips about each place in later chapters.
What can I experience in the Makarska Riviera?
The Makarska Riviera is first and foremost a beach holiday destination. This is because there are some dreamy beaches located along this section of Croatia’s coast – including the Punta Rata beach in Brela, which is often voted the most beautiful beach in Croatia.
You will mainly find pebble beaches along the Makarska Riviera. The water glows with intense blue tones. With the combination of the high towering Biokovo Mountains behind, you can look forward to an incredible backdrop.
Are you not so keen on spending the entire day lying on the beach? No problem – the Makarska Riviera is also a great destination for anyone who prefers to be sporty and active. For example, there are endless hiking trails in the Biokovo Nature Park. The area is also suitable for biking tours.
Last but not least, we find the small coastal towns (or often villages) along the Makarska Riviera very picturesque and worth seeing. It is most lively in Makarska. A coffee here, an ice cream there and an aperitif at sunset – if you are looking for relaxing Mediterranean flair, you’re in the right place.
Where is the best place to stay along the Makarska Riviera?
Short answer: It depends! There will be some places that are more suitable than others, depending on what you are after. Spoiler: The differences between each place are not so big that you could go seriously wrong.
We will briefly describe the most well-known holiday spots so that you can get a bit of an idea in advance. Detailed information with our tips will follow in the next chapter.
- Makarska: The largest city in the region is suitable for anyone who like to have it as urban as possible. Here you can sip an aperitif on the lively promenade and dine in various restaurants.
- Baška Voda: If you find the hustle and bustle of Makarska to be too much, you will be in good hands in Baška Voda. It is a little more relaxed here. The backdrop (turquoise blue water, ports, mountains in the background) is very similar.
- Brela: The perfect place for people who love the beach because here you will find some of the most beautiful beachers – especially Punta Rata. The town itself is quite a long stretch, so you shouldn’t expect to find a proper historic town centre here.
2. Best Places, Beaches and Sights along the Makarksa Riviera
The largest city in the Makarska Riviera is the port city of the same name, Makarska. With around 13,000 inhabitants, it has a very city feel, although the centre still leaves a very relaxing impression – different than in Split, for example.
Makarska has a comparatively large old town when you compare it to other cities in the region. So if you like to stroll through small alleyways, stop in at one or another café and let yourself drift a little, you are in good hands in Makarska.
Sights, highlights & must-dos in Makarska
Main square: You should definitely pay a visit to Makarska’s enchanting main square (‘Kačićev trg’). A few buildings worth seeing are nestled in this spacious square – above all the baroque parish church of St. Marko. And in addition, you have the spectacular mountain panorama – wow! Our tip: We recommend Caffé Bar Kantun for a coffee break, located nearby.
Banks of the promenade: Another highlight in Makarska is the long, lively harbour promenade called Riva. Countless restaurants are situated here. In the morning the locals enjoy their ‘kava’ here, in the evening people pour into the restaurants.
View of Makarska: It is worthwhile to walk further along the promenade, both in the direction north and south. You can enjoy a lovely view back towards the old town in both ends. We ‘only’ made it to the viewpoint next to the Sveti Petar statue. However, if you like you can take a longer walk through the pine forest until you get to the lighthouse.
Dining at Arta Larga by Gastro Diva: Of course, we can’t miss a restaurant tip in our blog article. For Makarska, we can highly recommend this small restaurant hidden in the old town. On the menu they offer Mediterranean, modern inspired dishes – including vegetarian options. We found it great!
Beaches in Makarska
Main beach in Makarska (Donja Luka): Makarska’s city beach can be found about a 10-minute walk west of the old town. Here a long-stretching pebble beach with a breathtakingly beautiful mountain backdrop is waiting for you. It was very peaceful when we were there, but we were told that it can often be very overcrowded during the main season.
Nugal Beach: Here you can expect to find one of the most beautiful bays around Makarska. This rather natural beach is located south-east of the old town in Osejava forest park and is only accessible on foot or by boat. Nugal Beach was once a legendary FKK beach (in one particular section), now many people in swimsuits also visit the beach.
Baška Voda is located about a 15-minute drive north of Makarska. The town is kind of the smaller version of Makarska. The flair and backdrop are similar however, it is less busy. (Important: Baška Voda is nevertheless a popular holiday destination in the high season. Just so you don’t get the wrong impression.)
The old town of Baška Voda is tiny – it is not much more than a few streets. The beaches, however, are gorgeous and the atmosphere is very pleasant.
Sights, highlights & must-dos in Baška Voda
Promenade & view of Baška Voda: One thing not to be missed is a relaxing stroll along the promenade in direction north. There you will find a kind of headland. From here you can enjoy the best view back towards the town centre including the mighty Biokovo Mountain Range rising up behind it.
St. Nicholas church: The most well-known church in Baška Voda is the St. Nicholas church, located practically right on the promenade. Don’t expect any big highlight, but it’s worthwhile to stop by.
Beaches in Baška Voda
There are many pretty beaches located close to the old town of Baška Voda, which are within easy walking distance. The backdrop is mostly similar: light pebbles, turquoise blue water, and all that in front of the impressive mountain backdrop.
We ourselves spent our time at the town’s beach close to the St. Nicholas church, which was uncommonly empty when we visited. Important: Sometimes the situation can be very different during the high season. Then probably the beaches further away from the town centre are the better option.
Where is the most beautiful beach along the Makarska Riviera? If you want to trust the top rankings, then it’s in Brela: Punta Rata Beach, with its distinctive, overgrown cliffs jutting out of the sea, is something of a landmark of the region.
One thing is for certain: Brela is not a classic beach holiday destination. It doesn’t have a proper historic centre; the beaches are more clearly the focus. The town is very long and skinny and one bay is lined up beside the next.
Along the kilometre-long promenade, some of which runs very idyllically under pine trees, you pass by hotels, apartments, restaurants and of course beaches – Dalmatia like in the picture books, so to speak.
Speaking of taking a walk: You can walk from Brela to the neighbouring town of Baška Voda (approx. 20 to 25 minutes). So, if you desire a little more hustle and bustle, you don’t have to go without.
Our restaurant tip: You can eat very well in Konoba Feral. Unfortunately (like almost everywhere), there are not many vegetarian options, but the quality of the meals is fantastic.
THE beach in Brela: Punta Rata
Hello postcard motif! The pebble beach of Punta Rata is simply a feast for the eyes. A striking cliff rises out of the turquoise blue sea, which is overgrown with green pines. Wow!
Important to know: There was really very little going on during our visit – however, unfortunately this beautiful little place on earth is usually not so empty. Nevertheless, the backdrop is just gorgeous. It can be a little challenging to find a carpark during the high season. So, if you are staying in Baška Voda, we would recommend walking over from there instead.
3. Tips for Day Trips in the Region
Biokovo Nature Park
Imposing, mighty & visible from afar – the Bioskovo Mountain shape the Makarska Riviera landscape in a special way. One section of the mountains is declared a nature reserve to protect the flora and fauna. We can only warmly recommend taking a day trip to this nature park.
What is there to experience in the Biokovo Nature Park?
The Biokovo Mountains are the second highest in Croatia and therefore an Eldorado for everyone who likes to spend time in wild, untouched nature. An extensive network of hiking trails runs through the nature reserve. Since climb up to the top of Sveti Jure (1,762 metres) requires some fitness, many people (including us) explore the mountains by car. (We will get to the many special things that await you here soon).
Even though at first glance Biokovo seems to be barren, the vegetation is surprisingly lush. One special part is that an incredible number of different animals live here: In the few hours that we were there we spotted horses, cows, and countless birds.
Drive to the skywalk & peak (Sveti Jure): Our tips
Perhaps you have already come across reports online about the dizzying roads that snake their way through the Biokovo Mountains? In case you haven’t, then we can reveal that quite an adventure awaits you here.
Just a single road makes its way through the Biokovo Nature Park. It begins at the main entrance (in the south-east, close to Podgora) and winds its way from here 23 kilometres upwards. The mountain road ends right on top of the peak (Sveti Jure) at 1,762 metres above sea level.
About halfway along this stretch is the newest attraction in the Biokovo Nature Park, the spectacular skywalk. Think what you like about such ‘artificially created’ viewpoints, but the view from here is really incredible. The entrance is free.
Important info for the drive
- The street is just one lane! That means you must avoid oncoming traffic. There are quite regular wider sections. However, you need to be aware that sometimes it may be necessary to reverse. So, it you aren’t comfortable with doing hill-starts or steering on steep mountain roads, you shouldn’t drive your own car!
- The second section of the journey (from the skywalk to the peak) is even more nerve-wracking than the first. So, if you were already sweating after the first part, you should think about whether or not to continue further.
- Only a certain number of vehicles are allowed into the nature reserve at one time. In the high season it is not uncommon to have a line of vehicles waiting at the entrance very early in the morning.
- We personally probably wouldn’t drive up during the high season anyway but rather hike up or take a scooter. There was barely anything happening when we were there (due to the pandemic). However, when we think about having to perform daring evasive manoeuvres every hundred metres, we would be a little different.
More detailed info including opening times and entrance fees can be found on the official website: Biokovo Nature Park
Imotski & Blue Lake
Deep in Croatia’s inland, shortly before the border to Bosnia and Herzegovina, you can find the sleepy town of Imotski. Imotski is famous for an extraordinary natural jewel: The blue Lake, a karst lake, shimmering with the deepest blue tones.
You can reach Imotski from the Makarska Riviera in about a 30 to 50 minute drive (depending on where you leave from along the coast). Once you park your car, you can explore Imotski and the Blue Lake on foot. If you want a relaxing time, we would plan at least half a day for this excursion.
Imotski: Walk to the attractions in the town centre
Contemplative, likeable & pleasantly calm – this sums up the mountain town of Imotski in just a few words. Before you explore the Blue Lake, we warmly recommend taking a stroll through the historic town centre.
The cobbled alleyways exude a very special flair. In some corners the plaster is crumbling a lot, but it is precisely due to this reason of the houses not being perfectly renovated that gives the town its very likable charm.
For a coffee break, you can stop off at Šetalište Stjepana Radića. A few cafés and bars are nestled there. From there you can head up a few stairs to the legendary football stadium ‘Our Lady Dolac’, build directly on the mountain.
From there it is just a stone’s throw to Topana Fortress – a historic castle complex built practically directly at the precipice of the Blue Lake. You can visit the fortress. (There is a small entrance fee in summer.) You have the best view of the lake from a small viewing platform right in front of the entrance to the fortress.
Blue Lake: Decent to the natural phenomenon
The Blue Lake (‘Modro Jezero’) is already quite simply a surreal, breathtaking sight from the bird’s eye view. It was probably created from the collapsing of the karst layers above. The water is fed from underground paths. Therefore, it is possible that the water is very low during the height of summer, or the lake can even dry up for a short time.
A gravel path snakes its way down to the lake. If you have enough time and are reasonably good on your feet, then we can only warmly recommend the descent. Allow around 30 minutes for the track. Sun protection and reasonably sturdy footwear are recommended. (From experience, you can also do it in Birkenstocks – so not to worry.)
Once you reach the bottom, a long awaiting cool down in the cold lake water is waiting for you. Good to know: We were actually the only people down the lake shore when we visited. That is however unfortunately not the norm, as we have seen in other photos. The lake is a popular day trip destination, especially during summer.
Red & Green Lakes
Just a few kilometres away from the Blue Lake lies the so-called Red Lake (‘Crveno Jezero’), the name of which is somewhat misleading. It gets its name from the steep red walls that rise up around the lake. With the combination of the green water, a very special spectacle of nature is also waiting for you here.
In contrast to the Blue Lake, you can’t walk down to the lake – the walls are far too steep for that. The Red Lake is therefore only viewable from the bird’s eye view and the stopover is quite manageable in terms of time. You can park your close to the lake.
All good things come in threes: The third lake in the league is the Green Lake (‘Zeleno Jezero’) It is located a bit out of the way, about a ten-minute drive away from the Red Lake. It is not surrounded by the high rock walls, but more spacious and just a worth seeing.
4. Staying along the Makarska Riviera: Our Tip
Perhaps you are searching for the ideal place to stay during your holiday in the Makarska Riviera? Then we have an excellent tip for you. We chose (after some extensive researching) the Villa Basca in the town of Baška Voda, which we can highly recommend.
What should you expect? A peacefully situated, family run accommodation in which you feel very comfortable right from the start. Here you have a historic house which has been carefully renovated and which houses but nine comfortable rooms. A small side tip: We were very happy with our balcony and would definitely book a room with a balcony again.
The place is outstanding: The Villa Basca is located in an extremely quiet side street right in the centre. The promenade and beaches are just a stone’s throw away and getting there is also convenient thanks to the on-site parking.
The hosts are very accommodating and friendly – you feel a bit like one big family. The extensive breakfast is also worth a mention. (If you are vegetarian, you should let them know the day before.) Our conclusion: highly recommended – we will gladly come again.
You can book the hotel here: Villa Basca
Disclaimer: Affiliate Links
This travel guide contains our personal recommendations in the form of affiliate links. If you book or buy something through the links, we receive a small commission. This does not change the price for you at all. A million thanks from the both of us!
And now we are curious: Have you ever been to the Makarska Riviera? Were you just as impressed as we were? Where did you stay? We look very forward to hearing about your experiences and tips in the comments – thank you very much!