Location: Sibenik, Croatia
I’ve heard a lot of people say that Croatia isn’t the off the beaten track tourist destination they hoped it would be; that prices are sky high and the cities and islands are overrun with misbehaving tourists clogging the cobblestone streets. In some places that would be a very accurate assessment, however there are places that still exist in Croatia that will make you feel like you’re one of the lucky few who have found that untapped and untouristy destination, and I’ll let you in on one such place on the Dalmatian Coast.
Sibenik is Croatia’s third largest city, and unlike many other Croatian cities, it was actually settled by Croats. I do have quite the soft spot for Sibenik with my family connections and memories of my first trip to Croatia after the war ended in 1995, I always felt it was a little unfair that more people didn’t make their way here. Though as more and more people search for an authentic and local Croatian experience they are beginning to discover this amazing city, and to do it justice you should look to spend at least full a day here to get a good feel for a real working Croatian city.
Getting there and away
There is no airport in Sibenik, with the nearest one located in Split or Zadar, and besides driving yourself there, Sibenik is easily accessed using the extensive bus system in Croatia. The city lies on the main bus route between Zagreb (express bus, 4.5 hours) and Zadar (2 hours) in the north, and Split (1.5 hours) and Dubrovnik (6.5 hours) in the south, and the bus station is also a short walk from the main part of town along the marina.
There is a train station in Sibenik but I don’t recommend travelling by rail here as trains are very slow and can involve long waits at stations; buses in Croatia are a far better travel option as the bus network is extensive, affordable and easy to use.
Where to stay
To be honest I’ve only ever stayed with family on the outskirts of town, so I’ve never had to pay for accommodation here. However, in the ten years since my last visit there has been a number of hostels appear around town, and many listings on accommodation sites such as Airbnb. For a short stay I’d recommend staying close to town to ensure you maximise your time spent in Sibenik.
Things to see and do
Sights in Sibenik come in multiples with more than 20 churches and four fortresses within the city limits! However, if you only have a day then the following places of interest should be included on your wanderings.
1. St. James Cathedral: This is the biggest draw card for visitors to Sibenik. It’s tall stone dome sits atop intricate carvings of saints and cherubs, that seem to always be under scaffolding (which it was the last time I was here ten years ago). It is also a working church that holds regular masses and weddings, including my cousin’s nuptials some years back! Entrance is 15 kuna.
2. St Micheal’s Fortress: This hilltop fortress is strategically placed and also the closest one to the Old Town centre. The 50 kuna entrance fee also gives you access to Barone fortress that’s around a 20 minute walk away. Siu On and I only managed to fit in a visit to St Micheal’s Fortress but felt this one definitely had the better views – 360 degree views of Sibenik out to the Adriatic Islands and to the other fortresses behind it!
3. Walk the old town promenade between the old town and the water: Alongside the promenade are a number of boats, some private yachts and others ferries to nearby islands and towns, with a morning market of local produce and arts and crafts.
4. Wander the Old Town itself: Sibenik’s Old Town is a lot smaller and hasn’t had the same amount of restoration works so it looks more authentic and is a lot less crowded compared to other Old Towns in Croatia. Siu On and I spent a good two hours being led by our own curiosity down a labyrinth of side streets and crumbling stairs, to gawk at the incredible architecture and stone carvings above door frames.
5. Visit Sibenik’s open air market: This green market is a 10 minute walk from the heart of the Old Town and you can buy fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. It’s open everyday and within the top street level there is a great exchange office that gives excellent rates which I have been going to since my first trip back when I was 13 years old with my father!
6. Turtle fountain. I feel a little silly writing this as a 33 year old woman, but there is a fountain that has a lot of turtles living in it in the middle of the city, and it’s ridiculously cute. The fountain is located in a small park outside of the Church of Our Lady, and has a large mossy green rock with a fountain spraying the turtles. The park is also a nice lunch stop if you’ve bought food from the market as it’s on the way to the Old Town, and I’ll also add that sitting in this park watching turtles doing turtle things won’t cost you a single kuna. Boom.
If you have more time to spend here then you could also squeeze in a sunbake at Sibenik’s beaches, the city museums and art galleries, or another three fortresses and 23 churches if you really wanted. Additionally, Sibenik is close to Krka National Park (30 minutes by bus) and the Kornati Islands, where you can easily join a tour departing from the city centre to either National Park.
Eating and drinking
Even after ten years, prices in Sibenik were still affordable and comparatively low to other Croatian cities, with the quality of the food and drink even better than I remembered.
Siu On and I didn’t spend too much time eating and drinking in Sibenik, though we did sip an espresso underneath the elegant arches of the old Town Hall at Gradska Vijećnica cafe, where we had the best views of St. James Cathedral. We also had an excellent seafood lunch at Restaurant Kavana Medulic, which was only a short stroll away from the Cathedral.
Sibenik is a great city to stay in if you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten tourist track, where prices are lower and the crowds are lesser; or if you want to take city life a little slower and experience a more local pace of life. Personally, my family ties to this city will always bring me back here, and this trip was made even more special as Siu On and I had our wedding bands made from a local jeweller in the Old Town. It isn’t overpowering like Dubrovnik, and it isn’t the glitz of the Croatian Islands, which is exactly what I love about Sibenik.
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Jelena and Siu On
All photography by Jelena Stipanicev.