Your Everything-To-Know Guide To The Makarska Riviera, Croatia
If we tell you that the Makarska Riviera is one of our favorite regions in Croatia, it would sound like a bad cliché. But there’s often truth in clichés, and we don’t care, anyway. It’s like telling someone you love them. You don’t care how many times that simple, passionate sentence was told in human history. You just tell it from your heart.
So we love the Makarska Riviera. We’re not the only ones as this beach region is probably the most popular on mainland Croatia. Stretching 60 kilometres from Brela to Gradac, it offers countless pebbly beaches with crystal clear, turquoise water, surrounded by evergreen pine forests. The pebbles are usually small and smooth, they won’t hurt your feet if you walk barefoot. The giant white cliffs of Mount Biokovo tower above the coast, so most of the beaches are blessed with quite picturesque views.
Add some fancy restaurants and bars, seafront promenades and Makarska’s buzzing nightlife, and you get the ideal beach paradise. With one disadvantage though: everyone and their mother wants to enjoy their summer vacation there, making it so crowded in July and August that it’s hardly enjoyable.
So our most important advice: avoid high season
I know, one goes to the beach when it’s hot. July and August are usually the hottest, sunniest months of the year in Europe – and in Croatia. That’s the exact reason that people are usually packed like sardines on any beach in the Mediterranean during the summer. You can choose to be one of them, of course.
But we prefer visiting the Mediterranean countries in autumn. If you’d like to have time on the beach and swim, then September could be the best choice for Croatia.
October is usually too chilly and windy, even on the South Dalmatian coast, and the sea gets cold quite fast with the shorter days and colder nights. May might have beach weather, but the sea is still too cold at that time (at least for us). September is the sweet spot: the sea is warm enough after the hot summer months, and there’s a good chance for beach weather, too. You need some luck, yes. But we usually take the risk, and we can enjoy less crowded beaches in exchange.
Makarska: the center of the riviera
Squeezed at the foot of Mount Biokovo, Makarska is the center of the riviera that’s named after it. It was our base for 10 days the past September, when we visited Makarska the second time together, and both had work and fun while staying there – lots of fun! Where to start?
Our apartment was close to the seafront promenade, so we had no chance not to fall for this pretty city. The promenade leads you to everything you can love there: stunning beaches, restaurants and bars with sea views, Sveti Petar Peninsula, the harbour and the old town.
The beaches of Makarska
Makarska is not large. Maybe that’s the reason that we even liked its Main Beach, though we’re usually not too enthusiastic about centrally located beaches in cities. Makarska’s Main Beach has an urban atmosphere, and it’s surrounded by hotels and restaurants. But it’s large and pretty, the water is clear, and the view of the towering Biokovo Mountains gives it a special charm.
As we walked along the promenade, it led us either towards Sveti Petar Peninsula and the harbor, or various other beaches in the other direction. These beaches have names – like Cvitačka Beach, Buba Beach, Ratac Beach -, but we never really checked the map to differentiate them. And they’re not that different either: pretty pebbly bays with pine trees, rentable deck chairs and mountain views in the back. We usually went to whichever we found the least busy, and we enjoyed them all. Some of these bays are so small that they’re suitable only for one or two families. We’ve only found them free if we arrived early enough in the morning, even at the end of September.
But there are two beaches that we do know by name. Our two very favorites, located on the exact opposite sides of Makarska: Ramova Beach and Nugal Beach. They have a lot in common: you need to walk for them; the path runs through a lovely pine forest; a giant rock wall is right behind the beach; nudists love them. And we love them, too, because they’re so scenic and have a remote, out-of-town-lost-in-nature vibe.
Coastal trails in Makarska
Another thing we loved about Makarska is that staying in an apartment in the center we were walking distance both from the main beaches and the lovely coastal trails. That’s right, there are coastal trails, pretty ones! We show you those that can be reached on foot from the city center within 15-20 minutes.
For one, Makarska has quite a special public park on Sveti Petar Peninsula. This small peninsula is named after a 13th-century church of St. Peter, and it’s at the port entrance of Makarska. We liked walking the loop trail around it, because it rewards with stunning views of the Main Beach on one side and the harbour on the other. Our favorite view of Makarska’s harbor is from the statue of St. Peter, but we liked all the quiet paths of the Mediterranean park. The peninsula also offers some beaches. Although we prefer natural to concrete beaches with ladders, these are so scenic with Mount Biokovo right in front of you that we still liked them. Then there are some natural rocky beaches, too, that are a bit out of sight despite being so centrally located. (And you bet, nudists like them, too.)
Another amazing and easy coastal trail is the one that leads from Makarska’s harbour to Nugal Beach. It’s about 2 kilometres long and took us 50 minutes one-way. On our way back, we did a short detour up to the viewpoint named Gradac. It was our favorite view of Nugal Beach and its giant cliffs from above! The view of the Adriatic coastline and Mount Biokovo is also stunning.
The coastal trail towards Ramova Beach starts where the paved seafront promenade ends. We continued on the path even further than Ramova Beach and reached the peaceful harbor of Krvavica. It’s an official bike route and runs along the coast all the way to Brela.
Makarska’s harbour and old town
So that lovely seafront promenade takes you from the Main Beach to the palm-fringed harbour and the tiny, but picturesque old town of Makarska. The harbour is busy with ferries, excursion boats, and you can easily find boats and jet-skis to rent, as well.
Kačić Square is the center of the old town. It’s dominated by St Mark’s Church and the towering cliffs of Biokovo – just like anything in town. 🙂 There’s a small market next to the church where we could find the best fresh fruits and veggies. For fresh fish, head to the harbour.
Just like any old town on Croatia’s Adriatic coast, the old town of Makarska consists of narrow, cobbled streets and stone houses. They’re definitely not suitable for cars, but suitable for romantic walks and lovely photos.
Brela: visit the most beautiful beach in Croatia
Let’s take a look outside of Makarska, because however fabulous it is, there are other places on this riviera that are worth a visit, as well. Like Brela that has a beach which is consistently voted the best one in Croatia. We had to visit it, of course, to see if it’s worth the hype. It is.
Punta Rata is a spectacular beach! The water is crystal clear, the bay is quite large (though not large enough for the summer crowds) and scenic, and lush green pine trees offer shade on the beach. It even has an iconic pine tree that sits on top of a huge rock at the end of the bay. You shouldn’t resist taking a picture of it, no one does – especially not me.
Punta Rata is considered a sandy beach in many articles, but it’s not really sandy. It has very fine, small pebbles, and they’re comfortable to walk on barefoot. It’s also considered a family-friendly beach. Though the water gets deep soon, the entrance is smooth and the waves are usually small. Our Tomi enjoyed playing in the “almost sand” for sure.
In the evening we walked along Brela’s seafront promenade from Punta Rata towards Podrače Beach and further until the sun set. You’re facing a sea sunset here, by the way, so it’s worth waiting for.
Tučepi: visit the longest beach of the Makarska Riviera
Tučepi is home to the longest beach of the Makarska Riviera. Kamena Beach is almost 4 kilometres long, it has fine, small pebbles and grand views of the Biokovo Mountains. Not surprised? But believe us, you can’t get enough of Biokovo views!
There’s a long promenade fringed by Mediterranean pines behind the beach with bars and restaurants. It’s another great spot for a sunset walk (or drink).
Živogošće: explore hidden beauties of the riviera
We came to know about the small town of Živogošće because of Velika Duba Beach. This large, pebbly bay is actually outside of any town, but Živogošće is about 15 minutes walk from it. The coastal trail from the town to Velika Duba is easy and pretty, and Velika Duba Beach has such a remote atmosphere that’s rare to find in such a popular holiday region. (Again, September matters.)
If you prefer parking right by the beach, then drive directly to Velika Duba on the dirt road – that’s what we did. Parking costs about the same as in Živogošće.
After a lazy beach day at Velika Duba, we explored the scenic coastal trail to Živogošće in the afternoon. The trail ended at the Blato Beach in Živogošće, but we continued walking to the tiny harbour and further along the coast. That’s how we bumped into Dole camping – one which is so close to the sea and has such cute cabins that we got sorely tempted for camp life. (Ah, yes, we’re planning it for a while… waiting for the world to get normal again…)
Meet the mighty mountain of Makarska: Biokovo
We’ve been eyeing with Biokovo during all those beach days until we finally had a day that was not too hot for getting lost in an unshaded, rocky landscape. Biokovo Nature Park is accessible on paved road which leads all the way up to Sveti Jure’s 1166 meters high summit. But don’t expect a highway, it’s extremely narrow and has countless hairpin curves. There are sections where we had to back up when someone else arrived from the other directions. Naturally, there’s no way to pass another car.
But in exchange for the hard drive, we got easy trails. Sveti Jure summit is an easy walk from the parking lot at the end of the road. There are other nice viewpoints on the way that can be reached on 20-30 minutes long hiking trails. Our favorite is probably Vošac that offers coastal views of the Makarska Riviera and the islands below.
The Biokovo Skywalk is right by the road, it’s a new and quite cool attraction. It’s included in the admission that you pay when entering the nature park. (Though as we were told by a somewhat unfriendly park ranger, we were supposed to visit it only once during the day, and it should happen on the way up. They didn’t even allow us to park there on our way down from Sveti Jure.)
Enjoy the sunsets
Sea sunsets, there’s nothing like you! Okay, maybe ocean sunsets. 😛 Anyway, the Makarska Riviera is facing west, and that means amazing sunsets on clear days.
Our favorite sunset view was with the iconic Brela tree, but you know, each sunset has its own beauty, especially when you’re with people you love.
This particular shot is from the small bay of Mala Duba, and as you might – or might not – see I was breastfeeding my baby boy while watching the sun set. A peaceful, warm moment when even our energetic, fidgeting Tomi stayed calm for a while. And another place where I enjoyed an astonishing view while breastfeeding. (Oh, I could tell you about the Alps and the Tatras, too!)
One last thing to talk about: parking. In short: it’s expensive on the Makarska Riviera. Most of the beaches have paid parking lots where you can choose to pay hourly or daily rates. You need to pay for parking in Makarska, too. If you encounter free spots, those are usually for residents only, or for customers of a restaurant or supermarket.
The best solution? Book an accommodation that offers free private parking (lots of them do that!) and is walking distance from the beach. We did that in Makarska, so we only paid for parking when we visited Brela or other beaches outside of Makarska as a day trip.
Have you been to Croatia? Do you have a favorite region?