Ancient and Beautiful Stari Grad
A must visit when in Croatia, Stari Grad is one of those picturesque towns you see in photographs of old Europe. Its narrow lanes and cobbled streets – some dating back to 384BC – are made for wandering aimlessly. The smell of lavender floats on the air as you wander the white stone streets and marble paths. This truly is a hidden gem in Croatia.
Stari Grad’s atmosphere is much more relaxed and laid back than the wonderful Dubrovnik or the nightlife of Hvar town. Its Adriatic seafront location with a seafront promenade called the Riva is palm-lined with stonewalls and luscious smells wafting from cafes along the boardwalk that tempt you to stay awhile and watch the sunset.
Where is Stari Grad Croatia?
Stari Grad is located on Grad Bay on the northern side of Hvar island in the Adriatic Sea. It sits on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast at the base of the Kabal Peninsula. Grad Bay is the heart of the Paklenica Riviera and is built on the foundations of an ancient Roman city, Argyruntum.
For thousands of years, the streams and rivers in the Velika and Mala Paklenica canyons carved their way through the Velebit Mountains of Hvar Island to form a fertile plain where Stari Grad is situated. Grad Bay has provided a safe harbour for merchant fleets for centuries. The town of Stari Grad is one of the oldest in Europe, settled by the Greeks in 384 BC, and has been fought over for centuries.
Why You Should Visit Historic Stari Grad
Stari Grad actually means “old town” and it is one of Croatia’s most peaceful and less touristed towns. It located at the apex of an inlet from the Adriatic Sea surrounded by a national park system. It was founded by Greek settlers from the Island of Paros the town or polis (which means City-state) was called Pharos by the settlers.
In 220 BC, the Illyrians who were the original native inhabitants started a war with Rome who destroyed the city of Pharos and rebuilt it as Faria.
The Island of Hvar and Stari Grad is redolent with history. After the Greeks and Romans came the Venetians who left a legacy of fortifications, churches, and stunning Venetian architecture. Stari Grad’s remarkable baroque and renaissance architecture, and the fact that it is one of the oldest towns in Europe dating back 2,400 years, make this a destination well worth visiting.
Best Time to Visit Stari Grad
If you are seeking long warm days with fewer tourists than peak season in summer, then the best time to visit Stari Grad is the shoulder season from April to early June or September to October.
Getting to Stari Grad
Stari Grad is a short drive from Hvar on the newer motorway, but you can also take the old road, which is far more scenic and considered one of the best road trips in Europe. The 25km drive passes by ancient stone villages now abandoned, jaw-dropping scenery, and panoramic views of the Adriatic. It is not a drive for the faint-hearted with its unprotected sheer drops and hairpin turns.
There is a network of local buses that link Hvar to the other towns on the island, including Stari Grad and the Stari Grad ferry port. See the timetable here.
Surrounded by a number of islands including Brac, Korcula, and Vis, Stari Grad is around an hour’s boat ride from Split. You can take a ferry (passenger or car ferry) from Split to Stari Grad and these run around 7 times a day. Stari Grad town is a short walk from the ferry port.
How Much Time Does it Take to See Stari Grad?
Below you will find all the best things to do in Stari Grad. If you only see the major sites and don’t see a museum, it is possible to see Stari Grad in a day. But the restaurants, strolling the Riva, and hiking or cycling the Stari Grad plain means an overnight stay is needed. If you add to that, some time relaxing on Stari Grad’s beaches and poking through wonderful old shops, then a two-night stay or more is ideal.
Map of Stari Grad
Things to Do in Stari Grad
1. Stroll the Riva
Stari Grad’s Riva is home to historic Venetian and Renaissance villas that now house souvenir stalls, ice cream vendors, and fabulous restaurants and bars. Most of the village stroll the Riva in the evening before settling into their favorite spot for people watching.
If you follow the Riva along the coast, you will see a small lighthouse known as the Lanterna, which is a gathering point for young lovers. There is also the famous Stari Grad Rock of Love.
2. Church of St. Stephen
You simply can’t miss Stari Grad’s iconic bell tower at the Church of St. Stephen. Located right in the center of town, and built between the 9th and 10th centuries for the Bishop of Hvar. During the Ottoman raids, the church was heavily damaged but rebuilt in the 1600s. The interior of the Church is Dalmatian Baroque and there is a relief sculpture of Eros inside which is one of the rare finds from the original Greek city of Faros.
3. Srinjo kola (middle street)
Srinjo kola or Middle Street is an ancient street dating back to the Roman era and where a Roman mosaic was uncovered in 1923. Traditionally Srinjo Kola was the street of merchants and craftsmen and it much the same today with shops and cafes.
4. Tvrdalj Palace
Tvrdalj Palace was built over a period of 50 years, in the 16th century by the Croatian poet Petar Hektorovic. Hektorovic designed the villa himself in the Renaissance style and fortified it to act as a shelter for the local population.
The interior of the house is stunning and the views from the terrace are truly outstanding but the main centerpiece is the emerald colored fishpond in the center of the palace.
5. Skor Square
One of the most picturesque locations in Stari Grad is Skor Square. Once the home of the nobles, it is a baroque square with ancient stone villas and Renaissance architecture. During the summer months, Skor Square hosts several festivals and musical events.
6. Dominican Monastery
Founded in 1482 and damaged by the Turks in 1571, the monastery holds treasures such as a Tintoretto painting of the Mourning of Christ and on the altar sits a 17th-century cross. Within the monastery is an old library with ancient archives and an archaeological collection.
7. Stari Grad Museum
The Stari Grad Museum provides a truly interesting overview of Stari Grad’s history. The building itself is a 19th-century neo-Renaissance Palace and it faithfully recreates the life of a wealthy landowner. Artifacts from local sites and from underwater discoveries are on display. There is a collection of Roman amphorae and the Captain’s room is full of sea chests, weapons, and paintings.
8. Visiting the Stari Grad Plain
Above Stari Grad sits the Stari Grad plain, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site where the Ancient Greek system of field division remains virtually intact. This stunning fertile plain is the center of farming of olives and grapes and features ancient stone walls and shelters which have survived intact over twenty-four centuries! It is a significant European agricultural and cultural landscape.
Near Stari Grad plain is Glavica Hill that overlooks the plain. On the hill stands a white cross and there is a small church originally built in 1900 as a celebration of Christianity, but destroyed during WWII. The citizens of Stari Grad rebuilt it in 1990 to celebrate the Croatian hope of a peaceful secession from the former Socialist Yugoslav Federation.
Restaurants in Stari Grad
If you are looking for traditional Dalmatian cuisine in the restaurants in Stari Grad, look for the signs that say Konoba. In Dalmatia, Konoba means, “the room in the house where food is prepared and stored,” and these days they are registered restaurants where the dishes of the coastal region are prepared and served with local wine and brandy.
Antika is one of Stari Grad’s best traditional restaurants. Upstairs is a garden patio where you can have dinner and enjoy the phenomenal seafood and risotto that Dalmatian cuisine is famous for.
Vagonj 25 is a tiny little restaurant with only five tables but its charm lies in the open-air dining experience with food that is simply perfect.
Konoba Pharia has several levels for diners including a gorgeous open-air terrace on the roof with beautifully soft breezes. They serve traditional local dishes from grilled fish and vegetables and the wonderful wines of the area.
Kod Damira is the perfect people-watching cafe that is located right off the bay and perfect for having lunch and a drink. They are known for their cuttlefish risotto and Gregada, which is a traditional Croatian fish stew with potatoes and wine.
Eremitaž is located on the waterfront in a historic hermitage that was built in 1487 for a monk from St. Jerome’s Church. There’s a lovely shady terrace and the menu includes Dalmatian favorites.
Hora Farm is an agri-tourism business that is located on the Stari Grad plain. Not only do they offer a wine tasting experience there is a restaurant that serves local dishes matched with the perfect local wine from their vineyards.
Stari Grad Hotels
Links and Further Information
- There are so many things to do in Croatia. See all of the best things to do in Croatia from Get Your Guide here
- If it will be your first trip to Croatia, read my Travel to Croatia: 7 Tips for Your First Trip
- To choose what to do in the amazing walled city of Dubrovnik, read about Dubrovnik Old Town and the Best Dubrovnik Museums.
- Are you planning a trip to Italy? Perhaps to the Cinque Terre? See my detailed travel guides to the Cinque Terre here
- If you’re on a lovers’ trip to Europe, consider that other iconic destination, Santorini. Read my Athens and Santorini posts here
- And don’t forget to browse all my European destinations for some travel inspiration!
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