Why You Have to Visit Šibenik, Croatia

At the mouth of the Krka River in central Dalmatia lies the old city of Šibenik, the only coastal city in Croatia that was built by Croats.

Generally speaking, Šibenik doesn’t exactly occupy a prominent spot on the map of popular tourist destinations in Croatia. In this post, I’m going to tell you why it should. Hopefully, I can even spark your interest in visiting this great Croatian city.

Šibenik waterfront, Croatia - Visit Šibenik
Šibenik waterfront

You Only Need Two Reasons to Visit Šibenik

Unassuming at first sight, Šibenik is sure to surprise any visitor to the city. I have to admit that, before we paid a visit to the city on our Mediterranean road trip, I didn’t know anything about it. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you guys and that you arrive with some ideas about what to expect, I want to offer some useful info in this post.

Medieval streets in Šibenik, Croatia
Medieval streets in Šibenik

Cultural-Historical Heritage

In the city’s golden age (see the bottom of this post for more about the history of Šibenik), the city’s main architectural landmark was built, the imposing Cathedral of St. James. Constructed between 1431 and 1536, this huge cathedral is a testimony to the building skills of Šibenik’s architects, a monumental structure that is of such cultural and historical significance that it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Façade of the Cathedral of St. James, Šibenik - Visit Šibenik
Façade of the Cathedral of St. James

The Cathedral of St. James is unique in the world. It is the only monument of this type that is constructed completely out of stone—a building that couldn’t be more typical of Šibenik, which consists of only stone buildings and squares, is built on a steep rocky coast and is protected by stone walls.

Visit Šibenik: Cathedral of St. James details
Details on the Cathedral of St. James

The entire building is built with perfectly carved stones using a method known as dry assembly. No mortar was used. Additionally, the cathedral is characterized by a perfect geometric perspective, at the time of its construction the first time that had ever been done in European architecture.

Cathedral of St. James, Šibenik, Croatia - Visit Šibenik
Cathedral of St. James, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Across the square from the cathedral stands the Renaissance Town Hall, another historical highlight in the city. This harmonious 16th-century building features rows of columns and a balcony, and is home to the town council and an exquisite ground-floor restaurant, Restaurant Gradska vijećnica.

Restaurant Gradska vijećnica in the Šibenik Town Hall
Restaurant Gradska vijećnica in the Šibenik Town Hall

Another important historic attraction in the city is the mighty St. Michael’s Fortress with its top-floor concert venue.

Concert venue, St. Michael's Fortress, Šibenik - Visit Šibenik
Concert venue on top of St. Michael’s Fortress

Further reading: Split is Full of Surprises

Cathedral of St. James seen from St. Michael's Fortress, Šibenik
Cathedral of St. James seen from St. Michael’s Fortress

All these architectural landmarks are connected with one another via ancient cobbled streets and countless stairways—stone is everywhere in this city. Make sure to visit the three above-mentioned attractions (the Cathedral of St. James, the Town Hall and St. Michael’s Fortress) and spend the rest of your time simply strolling the medieval maze of streets that is the historic core of Šibenik.

Stone street in Šibenik, Croatia - Visit Šibenik
Stone street in the medieval heart of the city
Old windows in Šibenik, Croatia - Visit Šibenik
Old windows that allow people to look down on the street
Theater building, Šibenik, Croatia
Theater building on a cozy square
Visit Šibenik, Croatia: Church of St. Barbara
Church of St. Barbara with its 24-hour clock

This is a city to explore on foot.

Urban Parks and National Parks

Šibenik is also home to a few wonderful small urban parks. Although most of the medieval heart of the city is made of stone, you will occasionally stumble upon pockets of green when wandering around.

Visit Šibenik: St. Lawrence Monastery garden
Medieval Mediterranean garden in the St. Lawrence Monastery

Further reading: The Sheer Beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park

King Petar Krešimir IV Statue
King Petar Krešimir IV Statue in a little park in the Old Town
Park in Šibenik, Croatia - Visit Šibenik
Popular park in the Old Town of Šibenik

In addition to boasting historic buildings, walkable streets and cozy parks, Šibenik is blessed with a superb location. Situated on the coast of central Dalmatia, it lies relatively close to cities such as Zadar and Split, but, more interestingly, also near two gorgeous national parks.

Kornati National Park comprises 89 of the 152 islands in the Kornati archipelago, the densest group of islands in the Adriatic Sea. These rugged, wind-blasted, salt-covered and sun-dried islands are, surprisingly, a paradise of biodiversity—many unique species have adapted to these harsh conditions, the very reason the islands were declared a national park. The islands’ star attractions are their famous so-called “Kornati crowns,” steep tectonic cliffs that rise steeply out of the seabed up to heights of more than 80 meters (260 feet).

Lake in Krka National Park, Croatia
Still lake in Krka National Park

The other national park near Šibenik is Krka National Park, named after the river that bisects it. This spectacular park protects seven waterfalls on the Krka River and the surrounding forests, as well as the fauna and flora that inhabit them. It also protects a few important historic sites, including a hydro-electric power plant that was finished only a few months after the world’s first similar plant was built on Niagara Falls by Nikola Tesla, incidentally a man born in Croatia. Krka National Park’s one main attraction is the gorgeous Skradinski Buk waterfall, one of the tallest and most breathtaking waterfalls in the country.

Swimming at Skradinski Buk waterfall, Krka National Park - Visit Šibenik
Swimming at the Skradinski Buk waterfall

I suggest spending two days in and around Šibenik; one to explore the old city center and its architectural landmarks, and one to visit one of the two national parks, Krka being the recommended one.

A Brief History of Šibenik

Unlike Croatia’s other coastal cities that date from antiquity and were built by the Illyrians, Greeks or Romans, Šibenik retraces its history to the Middle Ages. It was founded by the Croats at the turn of the 10th century after the great movement of people that happened in Eastern Europe around that time. It was that very movement that brought ethnic groups such as the present-day Croats, Slovenes, Serbs, Bosniaks and Montenegrins to Southeastern Europe. Those peoples are now known as the South Slavs—Yugoslavia literally meant South Slavia.

Mentioned in documents for the first time in 1066, Šibenik extended slowly but gradually between the 11th and 15th centuries, which is when a construction boom made it a city to reckon with in the Adriatic.

The city’s golden age lasted from the 15th century until the mid-17th century, a period during which all wooden buildings were demolished and replaced by stone ones. Numerous churches were erected, streets and squares cleaned, the old medieval city walls restored and fortified, and additional fortresses were constructed around the city and in the bay. Almost all these stone structures still make up the cityscape of Šibenik today.

Caroline and I were guided around by Vanja, a representative of the Tourist Board County Šibenik-Knin. She also arranged accommodation for us at Apartments Kala and dinner at Restaurant Gradska vijećnica. I would like to thank both the Tourist Board County Šibenik-Knin and the Croatian National Tourist Board for encouraging us to visit Šibenik and showing us around. All opinions are my own, of course!

This article is also available as a smartphone app, allowing you to use it as a reference when visiting Šibenik. You can get the app right here!

One thought on “Why You Have to Visit Šibenik, Croatia

  • I have been to Croatia three times now from Australia in recent years and love Sibenik and this part of Central Dalmatia which I believe is infact the nicest part of the Country although somewhat underrated as although it is busy its not as busy as the North or South but has a large amount of returning tourist that have discovered its secrets and its superb landscapes.

    The water here is the clearest and also has the largest density of islands in all of Croatia. If your in the region you need to visit the Solaris Beach which is stunning but I wont let you in on all its secrets but will say go and have lunch at the Dalmatian Etno village and more specifically the Veal Peka. It will be one of the best traditional dishes you will eat anywhere in the world.

    I would recommend going to the island of Murter which is half hour from Sibenik and from Here doing a day trip to the Kornati Archipelago and Telascisa national park(please google image them). Also a night out in the town of Vodice and Primostan are a must and a great atmosphere in the months of July- August and within 10 to twenty or so mins from Sibenik. The towns of Tribunj is also beautiful as is Skradin at the Krka Falls entrance.

    Please google these places and you will understand what I mean. This part of Croatia is a great base as Zadar is an hour north and Split is an hour south so you are in the middle of these two commercial centres which have airports and away from the heaviest of the tourist bustle although these places are not short on tourist they are not as busy as Dubrovnik & Split.

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