Let's look at a destination often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Hvar Town. But if you think there's little to do on the other side of Hvar Island, think again. Meet Stari Grad, a charming town whose name translates to ‘Old Town,' and for a good reason. As one of Europe's oldest settlements, dating back to around 3,000 BC, Stari Grad offers a slice of history with a generous serving of natural beauty, all tucked at the end of a six-kilometer sea inlet.
Stari Grad is the perfect getaway for those looking for a more peaceful vibe, far removed from the everyday hustle and bustle. Take strolls along the historic Riva, find your perfect beach among its varied shorelines, or kick back in one of the many konoba's (local eateries) to savor the island's rich culinary heritage.
Let's look at some of the best things to do in Stari Grad.
1. Tvrdalj Castle
First on our list of things to do in Stari Grad is Tvrdalj Castle. It is one attraction that might look like any other building from the outside, but once you're inside, it's a whole different story. The place has this super cool fish pond that's a perfect spot to chill, especially when you need a break from the heat.
They give you a little guide explaining all the Latin sayings written on the walls, which is nice. The best part, you can see the castle in less than an hour, so you have extra time to hang out by the fish pond or snap some great photos. Entry's only 20 kuna, which is about £3, it's something we think is good value for money. If you can, try to get there around sunset—the lighting is amazing.
2. Glavica Hill
Glavica Hill is a quick and rewarding hike right in Stari Grad. The trail starts at a local street and is easy to follow. You won't need fancy hiking boots; running shoes will do just fine. Just take it easy on the gravel parts. The views are beautiful once you reach the top, especially around sunset, and it's a peaceful spot with benches to sit and take it all in.
If you're unsure about the trail, stop by the Information office across from Tommy supermarket. They'll point you in the right direction. The hike up is short, like 15 minutes short. But don't trust Google Maps; they might get you lost. Many people talk about having the spot to themselves, and even when others showed up, it was always open and is a perfect way to end the day with some great views.
3. Stari Grad Riva
The Stari Grad Riva is like the town's living room as it is a place where you'll find yourself hanging out a lot. It's got everything: cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, and ice cream. With boats on one side and cool old buildings on the other, it's the go-to spot for grabbing a coffee and people-watching, which is one of the best things to do in Stari Grad.
What sets it apart from Hvar's waterfront is it's a lot more laid-back. You've got sun almost all day, and instead of clubs and crazy bars, think sunset drinks and good local food.
4. Church of St John
If you find yourself strolling through the charming streets of Stari Grad, make it a point to stop by the Church of St. John. This isn't a massive cathedral, but its smaller size adds charm and makes for an intimate experience. The place is super well-kept and gives a peaceful vibe that's a nice breather from all the exploring. Even walking tours make a pit stop here, often splitting into smaller groups so everyone can fit inside and soak in the tranquility. There's also an intriguing backstory to this church, so it's not just a pretty facade. Overall, it's a little oasis of calm and history worth visiting.
5. Stari Grad Museum
Stari Grad Museum offers a unique experience for those interested in history and culture. Housed in a 19th-century neo-renaissance palace, it captivates its visitors with various exhibits, including an intriguing collection of amphorae dating back to the 4th century. These ancient vessels were recovered from a shipwreck and are one of the museum's main highlights.
Guests who have visited speak highly of their interactions with the museum staff, often mentioning Veronika, the curator, who brings the museum to life with her knowledge and enthusiasm. Although it's not a large museum, visitors find it packed with insightful displays that illuminate the rich history of Stari Grad and the island of Hvar.
It's a perfect spot for a rainy day escape or those looking to understand the area better. Admission is affordable, which will suit frugal travelers, and the museum offers a unique, enriching experience that won't take up your entire day.
6. Trg Škor
Trg Škor, situated in the heart of Stari Grad, is more than just a square. It's a blend of history and architecture that captures the town's spirit. Created in the 17th and 18th centuries on a site that used to be a shipyard, this baroque square has evolved over the years, becoming a residential area for both nobles and the working class.
Visitors are instantly captivated by the stone villas and Renaissance structures that frame the square, all featuring distinctive roof windows known as “luminari.” The scenery is further enhanced by Dalmatian stone terraces and staircases adorned with lush foliage that lends an air of tranquility to the area.
While the square is fairly compact, it's full of life, especially in the summertime. Cafés line the perimeter, offering visitors a chance to soak in the atmosphere, and numerous cultural events and festivals find their home here during the warmer months. If you're looking to experience the soul of Stari Grad, Trg Škor is a must-visit spot that punches well above its weight in terms of historical and aesthetic value. It should be on everyone's list of “what to do in Stari Grad.”
7. Sample Wine at Hora Farm
If you want to taste Croatian culture while in Stari Grad, take advantage of the opportunity to visit Hora Farm and Restaurant. Nestled amidst the Stari Grad Plain, a UNESCO-listed site, this farm is steeped in history dating back to ancient Greek wine-making traditions. It's not just a farm; it's an experience.
At Hora Farm, you can savor wines crafted from grapes unique to Hvar Island. Among the selections, the white grape variety is called Bogdanuša, which means ‘godsend' and stands out for its floral notes and is a favorite among many visitors. The farm produces four specialty wines that are paired with a selection of local cheeses and meats, all grown or sourced from the surrounding area.
But it's not just about the wine. The farm also offers a rich Dalmatian feast, which you can pre-order for lunch. Imagine dining on a terrace overlooking fields of lavender and vineyards, a truly immersive experience encapsulating the region's essence.
The farm is open from May to October and offers wine-tasting experiences for around 150HRK. It's easily accessible, being just a 15-minute bus ride from central Stari Grad, or you could even include it in a stroll or bike ride around the Plain.
Stari Grad wine tasting at Hora Farm is an essential experience for any visitor to Stari Grad, offering both a taste and a view you will remember.
8. Try Lavender Ice Cream
If you are after unique things to do in Stari Grad, you've got to try the lavender ice cream. It's a celebration of the island's abundant lavender fields, a flavor you are unlikely to get anywhere else. The saying goes that ‘rose is the scent of the heart, lavender is the scent of the soul,' and what better way to indulge your soul than with ice cream?
Imagine a scoop of creamy goodness infused with the floral notes of lavender. It's a flavor combo that might surprise you, but it works. Lavender's scent is everywhere on the island, so why not taste it in ice cream? Plus, with many stalls and gelaterias offering their takes on this unique treat, you'll have a tasty excuse to explore more of Stari Grad.
9. Visit One Of The Great Beaches
There are 3 Stari grad beaches worth checking out.
- Oslič Beach – Just a stone's throw from the Old Town, Oslič Beach offers a mix of sand, rocks, and a concrete plateau. This is your spot for a killer sunset and a peaceful evening walk by the sea.
- Maslinica Bay – If sandy beaches are your jam, Maslinica Bay is your go-to spot. It's just a short drive from the town center and boasts the only sandy shoreline in Stari Grad. Remember, you won't find many amenities here, so pack everything you need for sun and surf.
- Banj Beach – This small pebble beach is the closest to town, but you'd never know it, thanks to the thick trees that make it feel secluded. Banj Beach has covered you with showers, changing rooms, and even hammocks for rent. The shallow waters are great for a relaxing swim.
10. St Stephens Church
Built in 1605 on the foundations of a much older 9th-century church, it was the first cathedral on Hvar island and has long been a significant gathering spot for the community. The church is a masterpiece of baroque architecture, a style brought to life by local artisans and then adorned by artists from Venice.
Don't miss the bell tower that was added in 1753. The church and its bell tower are considered some of the finest examples of baroque architecture in the Dalmatian region.
11. Sample Food At Some Local Restaurants
If you visit Trip Advisor, you will see that there are a lot of highly-rated Stari Grad restaurants. We are going to focus on 2 restaurants that people give a lot of praise to.
Blue Doors Restaurant
When you think of dining in a beautiful place like Stari Grad, you envision fresh, local flavors combined with exceptional hospitality, and that's exactly what Blue Doors delivers. Owned by Tadi and his chef brother, this restaurant is a masterclass in providing a meal and an experience.
The menu features staple Croatian cuisine, including Black Risotto and Sea Bream, prepared with expertise that can only come from those who have a deep-rooted love for their craft. The ambiance elevates the experience further; sometimes, accompanied by live music, the atmosphere becomes almost enchanting. From the carefully chosen wine pairings to the relaxed but attentive service, Blue Doors becomes more than just a place to eat; it's a dining event you don't want to miss while in Stari Grad.
Restoran Santa Marija
Restoran Santa Marija offers a culinary adventure that goes far beyond the plate. This family-owned restaurant and winery combo delivers traditional Croatian “Peka” dishes cooked perfectly in iron pans over an open fire. It's not just about eating; it's about experiencing the culinary culture of Croatia.
The restaurant even encourages reservations for their Peka dishes, as these slow-cooked marvels require two hours of preparation. This gives guests a deeper understanding and appreciation for the cooking process, as the staff are more than willing to share their cooking secrets with curious diners. Combine this with the homemade wines, and you've got a complete gastronomic experience that is both intimate and authentic. The reasonable prices and less touristy atmosphere make Santa Marija a must-visit spot for anyone looking to savor the true essence of Croatian cuisine in a laid-back setting.
Blue Doors and Restoran Santa Marija encapsulate what Stari Grad dining is all about.
Final Thoughts on Stari Grad
With beautiful beaches just a short walk or drive away, historical landmarks like St. Stephen's Church, and unforgettable culinary experiences at places like Blue Doors and Restoran Santa Marija, Stari Grad offers a vacation experience rich in culture and relaxation.
Instead of buzzing beach clubs and constant crowds, you get peaceful sea views, incredible dining, and the space to appreciate the local culture truly. This laid-back atmosphere allows you to dig deeper into what makes this ancient town special, from its storied history to its mouthwatering cuisine.
Which destination will be on Hvar for you? Stari Grad or Hvar Old Town? Let us know in the comments below.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.