From the lavender-scented isles of Dalmatia to the pumping beach bars of Hvar, the jaw-dropping castle city of Dubrovnik to the romantic canals of Venice, Adriatic cruises will whisk you through some of the most enchanting corners of the Mediterranean Sea.
Along the way, you'll dance into the night under twinkling stars, hike the craggy tops of the Dinaric Alps, and taste a medley of rich Slavic and Italian foods packed with truffles and uber-fresh seafood.
Tempted? Of course you are! This guide has all you need to know about planning your Adriatic cruise this year, with info on the best times to take to the seas, the various types of cruises that are out there, and some destinations that simply have to make it onto the itinerary. Let's begin…Table of contents
- What is an Adriatic cruise, exactly?
- When's the best time for an Adriatic cruise?
- Types of Adriatic cruises available
- Amazing places to visit on Adriatic cruises
- Adriatic cruises in Croatia
What is an Adriatic cruise, exactly?
An Adriatic cruise is exactly what it says it is: A cruise on the Adriatic Sea. That’s the northernmost arm of the Mediterranean Sea, so you’ll be hoisting the sail and skimming over the waters that run between Italy and the western side of the Balkan Peninsula.
Cruises in these parts can come in all shapes and sizes, from big-boat cruises on ships that host thousands of passengers to luxury yacht charters to small-boat expeditions with the ability to seek out hidden coves where it's just you and the swaying Aleppo pines.
When's the best time for an Adriatic cruise?
Most companies start offering trips from around mid- to late-April and then wind up again at the end of September. That crosses with the very best of the weather in the north-central Mediterranean, with each time of the year offering something pretty unique. Let's break it down…
This is the best time for active cruises. Hikers can stop at ports in Dalmatia and wander wildflower meadows in the Dinaric Alps. Cyclists will have cooler weather for day-long rides through the ancient farms of Hvar and pine woods of Vis. It's also a great time for hitting major cities like Dubrovnik and Venice, since the huge summer crowds haven't appeared in earnest.
Summer is hot, hot, hot in the Adriatic. You can expect frequent temperature highs of 29° or 30° in the southern parts of the sea, around Dubrovnik and Montenegro. It's also the driest season, so perfect for soaking up Vitamin D on the pebble coves of Brac and the lidos of Venice. Finally, summer has the calmest seas, making it a top option for relaxing, romantic cruises.
Average daily highs on isles like Hvar and Korcula touch 22° in September, while around 60% of the days are sunny and dry. The upshot? The early autumn isn't quite as balmy as the peak summer, but there are pluses to that – it's great for hikers and adventure seekers, and there are way fewer people on the beaches since the European school holidays are over. Autumn is also a fantastic time to secure great bargains on Adriatic cruises.
Types of Adriatic cruises available
Not all Adriatic cruises are created the same. These days, you can pick from an Istrian mezze platter's worth of different sorts of trips. The main thing to think about is what sort of boat you want to travel on, as that's likely to have one of the greatest impacts on how your holiday comes out.
Here's a look at the most popular options of all…
Also known, simply, as cruises, these large-boat tours are operated on colossal vessels that are more like floating hotels. Some people don't even leave them, because they usually come with swimming pools, multiple bars, and even casinos. Large boats only tend to visit major destinations and aren't able to explore hidden parts of smaller islands – they're just too big!
A small boat tour usually takes place on vessels that host 8-40 people. These are the elegant catamarans and yachts you see all over the Mediterranean. We'd always plump for a small-boat tour over a big one. There are loads of reasons why. First off, small boats stoke a sense of adventure because they let you navigate into hidden bays and moor up at smaller towns. Second, you'll get closer to nature – just drop anchor and dive into the sea whenever you please! Third, fewer people on board means there's a sense of camaraderie about small boats that huge cruises can only dream of.
Luxury yacht tours
If money's not an object then you can splash the cash on a dream boat trip on the Adriatic by opting for a high-end yacht. These are the bee's knees of sailing – think features like bubbling hot tubs up top and luxury bedroom spaces. Most are able to host around 30-50 guests, but they’re luxury, remember? That means oodles of square meterage to relax and unwind.
You can charter a yacht or catamaran that can host between 4 and 12 people and have the whole vessel to yourself with a skipper. Alternatively, guests with skipper qualifications can do a bareboat charter and take to the helm themselves. They're a great way to go if you already have your travel group sorted or are coming as a family.
Amazing places to visit on Adriatic cruises
There's no doubt about it – Adriatic cruises crisscross one of the most enthralling and naturally beautiful parts of Europe. We're talking a region that has pine-topped isles, mystical Orthodox monasteries, cities that were literally in Game of Thrones, and seas so clear they look like glass.
Here are just a few of the highlights you can expect…
Dubrovnik is one of the bucket-list cities of Europe. Half castle, half town, it rises with its 12th-century walls from the southern Adriatic like something out of a fantasy novel. So, it's hardly a surprise that it was chosen as the backdrop for King's Landing in HBO's Game of Thrones.
Spend some time seeing the famous filming locations, then case out the sun-splashed beaches of the Lapad Peninsula, and finish the day with a beer at legendary Buza Bar (it's set on precipitous rocks right above the sloshing sea).
We buzz with excitement every single time we sail into Hvar harbour, which is saying something because we've done it hundreds of times now! From May to September, this is the liveliest spot in the Adriatic, with champagne-clinking marina bars that give way to no-sleep-allowed beach clubs like Hula Hula.
When you're done with the hedonism, take some time to explore what's beyond Hvar Town. Clue: It's a long, thin isle mosaiced with lavender fields and wildflower meadows and ancient farmsteads. Those with a boat in tow can also cruise over to the Pakleni Islands, which have see-through waters to dive into straight off the deck.
Split has been a bustling port city since the days of the Roman Empire. In fact, its whole UNESCO-tagged centre was famously built as a pleasure palace for the emperor Diocletian. Today, it's a great place to wander aimlessly, hopping bars overlooking Balkan cathedrals and delving into subterranean cellars that are 2,000 years old.
Loads of Adriatic cruises leave from Split because it's right on the cusp of the Dalmatian Islands. But the city isn't just a gateway to incredible beaches. It has oodles of incredible beaches of its own, from the white-tinged spit at Kašjuni Beach, the most popular, to the swimming-snorkelling hotspot of Firule.
There are few cities in the world quite as loaded with art and history as Venice. Tucked at the top end of the Italian Adriatic, the town was once the centre of a trading empire that spanned across Europe and Asia to China and the Old Silk Road.
It's famed for its web of canals and opulent churches, particularly the arabesque fronts of St Mark's Basilica and the stunning Grand Canal, a muse of painters past and present.
The downside is that Venice gets very busy in the peak summer and large cruise ships are now totally banned from visiting because of coastal erosion.
If you're cruising through the Adriatic and looking for a picture-perfect beach, then Brac has to be on the travel plan. It's home to the iconic Golden Horn (Zlatni Rat in the local lingo), a softly arcing triangle of the most perfectly daffodil-tinted pebble sand you've ever seen. It's consistently ranked as the very best in the Balkans overall.
A stop at Brac also paves the way for hikes up to the gravity-defying Blaca Hermitage, an 18th-century monastery that's carved straight into the rock faces of the south coast.
Kotor is the jewel of Montenegro. Set deep in an amphitheatre of mountains that huddle around the glistening Bay of Kotor, the town is a patchwork of crooked, cobble streets and buildings left over from the Venetian era.
Cruising in, you'll be stunned by the imposing 1,800-metre ridges. Then you'll be lost in the old town, sipping coffees and tasting black risotto under the gaze of a Romanesque church dating from the 1100s.
Adriatic cruises in Croatia
Croatia is probably destination numero uno for Adriatic cruises. More specifically, the central and southern reaches of the country have established themselves as a veritable mecca for boaters and cruisers of all types.
The reason? Just check the map…they pack in nearly 600 islands and islets, have a glorious coastline that runs for over 180 miles though Roman-era cities and quaint fishing villages alike, plus the benefit of some of the warmest weather in the whole Adriatic.
All that makes for a hugely diverse region; one where you can seek out secret coves for snorkelling with the urchins and rainbowfish, or where you can pull on the hiking boots and leave the boat for a trek up mighty Mount Biokovo.