I seem to be in the absolute minority of the population who had never heard of Hvar Island before this summer’s trip. Once I had decided to visit it people popped up out of the woodwork (like whack-a-moles) acknowledging that they too had been there, or knew someone who had. So, it was just me then. Here’s what I wish I knew about Hvar before I went there.
Where is it?
Let’s start with some geography, shall we? Hvar is the 4th most populated of the Croatian islands and sits off the Dalmatian Coast in the Adriatic Sea. Voted one of the top 10 islands in the world by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine it’s a popular spot for tourists and the yachting set. Facts, it would seem, everyone else was aware of except me. With the knowledge that it is a popular hotspot, attracts the boating types and is absolutely NOT a secret this should help you to determine wardrobe choices (think catwalk, the fashionistas are out in force here), budget spending money and arrange accommodation bookings accordingly. The latter of which needs to be secured well in advance if you are to have any degree of choice in the matter.
How to get there
I got a speedy catamaran transfer from Split to Hvar Port for approx €15 one way with Jadrolinija Ferries and the journey took about an hour so fear not, all you land-lubbers, the crossing was smooth and over in a jiffy. Unless Stari Grad is your intended destination then make sure to select Hvar on the destination menu. I booked my tickets via the website a few weeks in advance but there is a ticket office down by the bus station/ ferry port in Split and it was suggested to me to buy the tickets in advance a) to avoid having to queue in the hot, morning sun b) to ensure you do in fact get a ticket on board for the day you wish to travel. You don’t want to leave it too late and for the ferries to be all booked out, now do you? Or maybe you do. There is also a ferry transfer from Hvar to and from Dubrovnik. I chose this ferry on the journey from Hvar to Dubrovnik. The 998, a foot passenger ferry, is run by Krilo Star and takes about 3 hours from Hvar to Dubrovnik and I assume the same in reverse. Tickets cost 210KN or approximately €30 per person.
What to expect
Hvar, in my opinion, is a mix of young and older visitors (a lot of younger visitors in their early twenties, if I am honest), a lot of wealth and so being seen means prices reflect the class of visitor that the island attracts. There was very little tack on show and while there are plenty of port side stalls selling jewellery and various lavender products as well as snorkels and jelly rock shoes, you will not find the prices to be on the cheap end. The abundance of day trip offers and boating excursions can be daunting and I can only tell you about my experience. Hvar old town is charming with its polished cobbles, narrow laneways and, sparklingly clear port waters.
The wafting lavender scents in the air made me feel as if I was in the countryside instead of a bustling town. The moored yachts and plethora of floating vessels quickly let you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. A stroll past the quay front pizza and bakery shops into the old town via the carved stone steps reveals many fine dining restaurants and boutiques selling extravagantly priced linens, accessories and, artwork. Hvar town council has placards at the edges of the town limits announcing fines for inappropriate dress and public alcohol consumption. I didn’t see anyone stopped or fined but I was told it happens and the fines are hefty (from €500+). So, put on a cover up and don’t walk around in your swimmers holding your beach beer ‘cos Hvar is fancier/ classier than that, please and thank you.
Where to eat
I was on a budget in Hvar so let me tell you where I went and you can decide if you want to dine higher or lower. Hmm, it sounds like a tv game show option.
A traditional Dalmatian/ Croatian dish I sampled was called pasticada and while it may look a tad unphotogenic it is utterly delicious. Slow cooked beef in a rich sauce and served with gnocchi. Restaurant Dordota Vartal serves the best, in my opinion. Their prices are very reasonable for the island and the menu includes pizzas and some pastas as well as salads and smaller bites.
The feta and courgette salad is divine but if, like me, you are averse to garlic then make sure to mention it when you order as this dish comes with at least two crushed cloves of garlic mixed into the feta. At least two, big ones. Fancy some tapas style dishes and great wine? Go to Gurme Wine Bar. It has the most charming set up with small tables and benches lining the narrow, cobbled street and into a secluded courtyard. Glasses filled with tea lights and wine bottles as decorations festoon the walls. This, is an absolute find. The staff is knowledgeable about the dishes and wines served and they have a pairing menu for your delectation.
Off the main square, past the Konzum supermarket is a traditional restaurant claiming to make the best pizzas on the island, Alviz. I didn’t go there for the pizzas but their pasta alla norma is scrumptious and they make a tasty cevapi (another traditional Croation dish) that is reminiscent of Greek gyros and Turkish koftas.
If all of that wine and carb loading is leaving you feeling a bit nutrient parched and you need a healthy boost check out Vita Health Food bar on the Riva near Fontana Travel. I find it hard to get my usual helping of greens when I travel so this spot makes healthy smoothies and juices for about 55kn and salads that are vegan-friendly.
The bar scene
There are a few bars whose names recurrently cropped up during my research on ‘must visit’ island bars, such as Hula Hula, Carpe Diem and, Ka’Lavanda. I will start by saying I am not a clubber and hated every minute (wait that’s a lie, the sunset was pretty) of my visit to Hula Hula Bar in Hvar.
It is an overpriced, sweaty, alcohol-fuelled hot box of a seaside bar that runs like an ad for Pretty Little Thing or Boohoo. Needless to say, I felt old there. Beach beds are open from 2pm and the place closes at 10pm. Be prepared to pay over the odds for drinks on an already expensive island while jostling for bar space beside someone who is already 3/4 mixed drink pitchers deep by 5pm and likely wearing a ‘team’ swimsuit/tank top or outfit along with their friends. The music has a techno/ beats vibe and just because it isn’t my scene does not mean that perhaps you won’t enjoy it. There is a strict no glasses past a certain point when leaving policy (in keeping with Hvar’s general decorum and dress code). The bar limits are patrolled by security from Hula Bar themselves.
Queues for the bathrooms can be long and it can get boisterous so you may end up being bumped into the sea. Just saying. With this experience burned into my memory, I decided to hard pass on a trip to the Carpe Diem Beach club island which seemed to have the same vibe. There is a bar on the Riva of the same name. I’d avoid that too. Not because of my aversion to clubby type bars but because it is overpriced, with very poor service, disinterested staff and but it bangs of wannabe. There are a few bars on the way to the Adriana Hotel and the views from the Aloha are pretty lush for sundowners. The lapping water, gently rocking boats and the sun’s setting rays on the terracotta roofs make for a very chilled out end to the day.
What to do on Hvar Island
Visit the Fort
First thing’s first; take a stroll up to the Fort and absorb the vista from there. You don’t need to pay the 40KN to go in to get a good look out over the bay towards the Pakleni Islands. The walk takes about 15 minutes from the main square and depending on the time of day the degree of sweatiness you will dissolve into varies. I went about 5pm and it was hot but manageable. Plus it means you will have earned the cool, refreshing, lemon beer from the guy who has enterprisingly set up his kiosk before the arch. Not all heroes wear capes.
There are plenty of stony beaches to choose from within walking distance of Hvar town. The island, like most of the beaches in Croatia, has pebble beaches, not sand and so the sale of ‘yoga mats’ to tourists has increased exponentially. Or you can embrace your inner iguana and find yourself a piece of relatively flat-ish rock and perch there. It is the MOST uncomfortable I have ever been while sunbathing so it wouldn’t be my first choice, nor did I repeat it again on my trip. There are a few spots that rent out loungers and mattresses from 50kn a day but closer to Hula Beach and Amfora Hotel the prices are much higher. Not only are the jelly shoes useful while navigating the rocky outcrops and getting your balance in the water but they will save your feet from sea urchins, of which there are plenty. Watch out for those spiky beasties whose homes are, you guessed it, in between rock crevices where you will be walking. I saw a few people hobbling around and pulling spikes from the soles of their feet on more than one occasion.
There are water taxis that leave from the Riva from 9-11am and return to Hvar from 3-6pm give or take. These go to the neighboring islands for day trips and are much cheaper than full-day excursions that might take in a few of these places in one go. If you have decided you want to visit Palmizana, for example, you can get a taxi for about 40kn return depending on the company. Go down to the Riva and chat to the boat drivers who are lined up by the square and they will show you where the boats are going for the day and what times they return.
There are many booths, kiosks, travel centres and websites offering full day excursions from Hvar taking in about 4/5 stops and leave from 9-11am usually returning between 5-7pm. The choice can be overwhelming as most seem to offer more or less the same deal and prices differ by €10-25. Many companies say they cap the number of guests at between 12-17 so everyone has space on board and other companies have bigger boats with up to 70 guests on board. It depends what you are looking for.
Top tips: My advice would be to choose a boat with sufficient shade in case you do want to get out of the sun for a while. Check they have water or a cooler on board to store your drinks. Ask have they enough snorkels and towels (some boats offer towels) for everyone as in my case, they did not. Do a little research as one company I looked into offered a welcome drink but the price was then €20 higher with this great drink included. Hmm, is a glass of bubbles worth €20? If you come across any particularly great companies please do let me know and I will link them here. The company I went with cost 900kn for two (450kn each) which is around €60. We were told you cannot go on an excursion just to see the Blue Caves and that it is part of a day-long trip but in hindsight I think that might be bull.
Our day excursion took us from Hvar to the Green caves, then to the Blue Cave, past Vis, a stop at Stiniva beach and on to Palmizana via another sea cave stop for some snorkeling and swimming.
I was annoyed at the Green Cave because I was told that if you wanted to go inside it would cost you, ok fair enough, but to swim up to the rope was free. So, I asked could I swim up to the rope and the captain told me that I would have to pay to even look in so that was a no, out of principle. I was then told that the Green Caves were nothing special anyway….um, so why do they offer the excursion I wonder. Onwards and upwards to the Blue caves which merit a separate post on their own.
The Blue Caves on Bisevo
These caves are a protected site and so entry to the caves is limited, charged for and short lived. The excursion brought us to Bisevo island and the parting words from our captain were ‘Oh I don’t think you will be here queueing longer than an hour, some days it can be a 3-hour wait.’ Um, ex-squeeze me? This tid bit was not divulged prior to booking the trip so I am warning you now. The ribs and excursion boats aren’t allowed into the cave as it is far too small.
Passengers must disembark at Bisevo while their boat moors elsewhere and get in line for tickets to the cave. They cost 100kn per adult and 50kn per child in high season and the ticket has a number. Keep an eye on the electronic number board for your ticket. Smaller boats will take up to 11 passengers at a time to the cave around the corner.
There is some shade and a cafe there but make sure to bring water with you when you leave your own boat. The smaller boat is navigated by an informative guide who will tell you about the discovery of the cave and the reasons for its name as well as a little info about the geology of the area. Your entire visit to the Blue Cave is about 25 mins or so but the wait time before hand is rather unpredictable. We waited about an hour and a half on the island in total and were lucky. Just so you know in advance.
After the Blue Cave visit there was a stop for a swim and a snorkel in another sea cave area and this was over looked by some goats which made for a fun stop. The captain informed us as we flew past that ‘on our right was the island of Vis where Mamma Mia 2 was filmed’. Rightio, so. That was that.
Palmizana is another stop on the excursions from Hvar and is also accessible via water taxi. It is a stony beach stop with a number of restaurants and a few bars to keep you entertained for the day or lunch stop as was in our case. I’d recommend Bacchus as a lunch spot with fresh fish and delicious pasta dishes as well as a good selection of local, Croatian wines. The welcome shade is hampered only by the wasps and the very laid back approach taken by the staff in bringing the bill with any degree of haste seeing as our boat was leaving in 10 minutes.
There are many kiosks in Hvar old town that offer scooter, car and quad bike rentals to explore the island and while I didn’t avail and so cannot give you an opinion pro or con these booths they are there should you wish to rent transport. Go with God, I didn’t see a lot of helmets being worn.
Where to stay
I booked with Airbnb as I felt there was an extra selection of properties to choose from and I wasn’t limited to the ones on hotels.com or booking. com. One week’s accommodation in a two bed apartment with kitchen and bathroom cost €740 on Airbnb and this was an 8-minute walk uphill from the bus station. Great location really and value. This is my link for a discount if you sign up to Airbnb and book a stay anywhere. I will get a little credit too, so everyone wins.
I stayed on Hvar island for 8 days and while I found it relaxing and had plenty of beach time as well as days for excursions and exploring the town it was a pricey visit. We supermarket shopped all of our breakfasts and most lunches. Beers cost (inc a tax I think) almost 10kn in the supermarket versus 20-40kn in bars and restaurants so we had some pre-game drinks at our apartment before going out and that saved a little. Do try some of the lavender honey for sale on the island as it is yum and that lemon beer, delish.