Croatia has quickly become a tourism hotspot of Southern Europe, as you could read in our post about the Mediterranean Bassin. While cities like Dubrovnik are facing serious issues with mass tourism, instead of cramming yourself with thousands of other visitors why not diffuse the pressure to other areas deserving a little more love and visit Šibenik instead? The first Croatian native town is a charming alternative. It’s full of charm, historical monuments, close to two national parks and… it’s a Game of Thrones film set. Let’s try to convince you some more.
From the beginning, Šibenik is a little different. It was the first city in Dalmatia to have been founded by native Croats, instead of Greeks, Romans or Illyrians. So it has a special place in Croatia’s history.
Located on the Adriatic coast, the city’s looking out to the mouth of the river Krka before it goes into the sea. The old town is a web of small streets and narrow alleyways with Gothic and Renaissance buildings, many dating from the time Šibenik was under Venitian rule. It also counts no less than 4 fortresses, the main one being St. Nicholas’ fortress.
This impressive piece of defense work is sitting on an island, just at the entrance of the St. Anthony’s Channel that leads to Šibenik. After extensive renovation, it’s been reopened for visits in 2019 and is on UNECSO’s heritage list.
The crown jewels of Šibenik is the Saint James’ cathedral, the first renaissance building outside of Italy. It’s listed on UNESCO’s list as well.
As you can see, Šibenik has a lot of firsts! It was the first city in the world to benefit from electric street lights powered by a polyphase system of alternating current. Thanks to Croatian-born Nikola Tesla, Europe’s first hydroelectrical plant was built on the river Krka and the electricity it generated lit up the streets and squares of the city.
Not as famous (and not as overcrowded) as the Plitvice National Park, the Krka National Park is just a few kilometers away from Šibenik. Surrounding a part of the course of the Krka river, the park is a haven for fauna and flora, of which many are endemics. The landscape varies between a gentle river flow, naturally sheltered area made of reeds, lakes and canyons where the river is raging and falling down in spectacular waterfalls, the trademark of the park. By foot, by bike or by boat, the ways to discover the park are endless.
Now that we’ve explored the land, let’s sail the sea! Just of Šibenik lies a second national park: the Kornati National Park. Made up of 89 islands, most of them inhabited, it’s the highest concentration of islands in the Adriatic sea. Imagines a series of rocks, most of them bare, spread over a bright blue sea. That is the kind of landscape you will find there. It’s not only the land that is protected but most importantly, it’s the marine environment. Therefore, snorkeling and scuba diving are some of the must-do activities. Of course, the best way to explore the archipelago is by boat, which you can take from Šibenik, but you can walk some trails on Kornat, the largest of the islands. Be careful to bring enough water!
Between land and sea, Šibenik and its region is known for its wealth of delicious food. From fresh fish and seafood to cold cuts and cheese… Talking about cheese, one of the specialties you should try is mišni sir. Made of sheep milk, the cheese is aged in sheepskin and is kept in the skin until it’s sold. It’s best eaten on flatbread with a glass of wine.
The Drniš prosciutto is considered the Rolls Royce of Croatian hams. Dry-cured a minimum of 12 months in the open air, it gives a run for their money to Spanish ibericos.
From the sea, tuna, sardines and wild oysters are the stars of the culinary show. During the summer, tuna tartare is particularly refreshing.
For dessert, we recommend the Skradin cake. The recipe originates from the 15th century when the maidens of Skradin, a city on the banks of the Krka river, would prove their skills at being the perfect housewife by baking this cake the day before their wedding. Made of eggs, honey, orange (or lemon) zests, rose liqueur, vanilla, ground almonds and chestnuts and glazed with a mixture of chocolate with added butter and milk (or cream).
And as for wine, the local grape is Babić. Grown around Šibenik and Primošten, it gives a powerful, full-bodied red wine with lots of tannins (perfect to go with mišni sir).
Split and most of all Dubrovnik were used as filming locations for Game of Thrones but did you know that Sebenik as well?
In season 5, Arya Stark flees to the city of Braavos, the richest of the Free Cities of Essos and she ends up being taken in and trained by the Faceless Men. The silhouette of the city can be seen when Arya arrives by boat. The Saint-James’ Cathedral portrays the Iron Bank, the most powerful of braavosi banks. Scenes were shots in the old town as well. Ironically, George R. R. Martin, the author of “Games of Thrones”, was clearly inspired by Venice when he imagined Braavos: a city located in a lagoon with many canals and an elected-for-life magistrate at its head. Just like Venice! It turns out Šibenik was under Venitian rule for 3 centuries!
One of the 4 fortresses, St. John’s Fortress, served as the fighting pit of Mereen, the slaver city conquered by Daenerys Targaryen.