Sibenik is conveniently equi-distant to both Split and Zadar airports, 50 minutes to both. It is a touch curious therefore, that visitors from the UK have not “discovered” it in the way they have elsewhere, for example as with Split and Zadar.
Over the following three centuries trade prospered in the region and, inspired by the beauty of the cathedral in Trogir (near Split), the people set about building a similar yet much grander monument and the Catherdral of St Jacob was erected during the period 1431-1536. This monumental Renaissance cathedral (with a mix of late Gothic styles and a three-aisle basilica) is included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and remains at the heart of the town today with locals and visitors alike enjoying the huge square in front of the cathedral for all manner of events and as a meeting place over coffee.
Fast forward to the 20th century under former Yugoslavia, there were two important developments: - a vast tourist complex of hotels and apartments was created around 10 minutes from the centre of town in one direction and on the edge of town in the other direction, a busy industrial centre was established including a large aluminium factory, metal works and a shipyard.
During the conflict of the 1990’s, the industrial zone was damaged and abandoned and the tourist complex was forgotten. Today, while the latter has been stylishly renovated to offer a large attractive resort for families, the industrial part remains unchanged.
Perhaps, just perhaps, this could be a reason why visitors may have passed by Sibenik. Perhaps people from abroad just didn’t know what to expect?
However, the past few years have seen real positive changes. Visitors are coming. The big, four-star resort complex with stylish hotels, pools, spas and beaches now attracts mainly families from all across Europe while couples and friends are discovering that Sibenik’s old town centre is a real gem, with exquisite narrow streets, stonework, palaces, churches, galleries, artisan shops and an eclectic dining scene to suit all tastes and budgets, often located in historic places.
Croatia’s second Michelin star restaurant is “Peligrini”, it gained its star in 2018 and is situated in a very pretty spot near to the cathedral.
Sensitive hotel development is happening in the centre with several new boutique style hotels appearing in recent years. Sunvil’s featured hotel, the four-star Heritage Life Palace is just as the name suggests – a former 15th century noble family’s palace. It is right in the centre of the old town and is absolutely charming, authentic and beautifully restored.
The fortresses of Sibenik may come to mind for those fans of the TV series “Game of Thrones” since St Michael’s Fortress took an important role. This is where Sibenik first started in 1066 when the fortress was built for defence. St Nicholas fortress is located in the sea at the entrance to St Anthony’s channel and is quite spectacular when approached from the sea. Anyone taking the local ferry over to the peaceful islands of Zlarin and Prvic will have a wonderful close-up view of this.
These local ferries from Sibenik are regular with many visitors choosing to make a day visit for the lovely pebble beaches and the sheer “getaway” feel of these tiny islands.
Two of Croatia’s most famous national parks with their waterfalls, Plitvice and Krka are within reach of Sibenik. Krka is more or less “down the road” while Plitvice is a longer drive but still totally doable allowing for at least four hours in the park.
Krka National Park has two entrances, the Skradin one is 25 minutes from Sibenik and the Lozovac one is just under 20 minutes away. They can be accessed on organised day trip excursions, using local buses or indeed with a self-drive car – parking facilities are greater at Lozovac. The drive to Plitvice National Park is just under two hours and the options are using your own rental car or an organised day excursion.
If none of this moving and exploring appeals, then Sibenik makes for a very pleasant and interesting two- or three-night stay as part of a longer itinerary. Prices here are more competitive than in some other places in Dalmatia. Sibenik has started to get noticed. It feels real, not just a tourist resort, but a place dealing with the past history and preserving the wonderful cultural heritage for the future.
Did you know?
- There are a couple of nice pebble beaches around 10 minutes from the centre of Sibenik including Banj Beach which gives a view of the old town while swimming and many people take the local ferry out to Zlarin or Prvic island to swim.
- The island of Zlarin has a strong coral heritage where local families lived for years from coral cultivation. It can still be found and bought there today. It’s 30 minutes by ferry from Sibenik to Zlarin and just 10 minutes to Prvic. Both have crystal clear waters and locals often go there and take a picnic. Both islands are car free.
- St Michael Fortress is a fantastic venue for summer concerts. Past performers have included Bryan Ferry
- Babic red wine from the area around Sibenik is well known and very good. Many new winemakers in the region are producing excellent wines using authentic methods