Why you should Visit Šibenik
Šibenik is not one of those places that people mention when listing ‘must see’ destinations in Croatia. Maybe it’s why we didn’t expect much – and also why we came away quite impressed by our visit to this Central Dalmatian city. In fact, while Šibenik doesn’t quite rank up there with Split or Dubrovnik, I think it is just as impressive as the much more popular towns of Trogir and Zadar.
What makes Šibenik impressive? I’ll cover that here – but I’ll also cover why it could also be even more impressive.
1. The Cathedral and one of the most beautiful squares in Croatia
Šibenik is mostly known for its Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. James (Katedrala Sv Jakova). It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site built by the Venetians in the 15th (and 16th century because it took more than 100 years to complete) and is made entirely out of stone. In fact it is the only European cathedral constructed using only stone. The exterior of the cathedral is magnificent and the centerpiece of one of the most beautiful squares we’ve seen in Croatia. Across the square lies City Hall, a 16th century Renaissance building that looks like it was transplanted from Venice
Šibenik has 4 fortresses – 3 in town (all with great views) and 1 a few kilometers out protecting the channel to the city. Two of the fortresses have been renovated, the other two are not.
St Michael’s Fortress is the fortress you’ll see highlighted in most of those postcard photos of Šibenik . It is the most accessible of all the fortresses (a 10 minute walk up from the main square) and the most popular with visitors. It is totally renovated, has views looking straight down into town, and includes a large theatre for concerts.
Barone Fortress (also known as Šubićevac) is the second renovated fortress in Šibenik. There’s not much to it actually, it is too renovated and manicured for my taste. BUT it has fantastic views of Šibenik. Barone and St Micheal’s fortress are included on the ticket you buy at either ticket office (50 kuna per person).
St John Fortress is the highest of the fortresses in the city. It is a 5 minute walk from Barone fortress, but unlike Barone it’s been left neglected. People come here to walk their dogs or have a picnic in the ruins…and the views are fantastic. Free entrance, actually signs will tell you that you enter at your own risk.
The 4th of the fortresses is St Nicholas’ Fortress. It is located a few kilometers outside of Šibenik at the mouth of the channel that accesses the city from the sea. It is a massive fortress with huge walls. You can drive up to it and actually walk to the fortress over some rocks when the sea is at low tide. Unfortunately you can no longer enter the fortress in this manner. As I later found out writing to the Šibenik tourist office, the only entrance to the fort (now) is by the sea entrance. That makes no sense.
Below: images of the (largely abandoned) fortress today
Related: Castles and Fortresses that you may have never heard of
Note the last photo above. It’s the prelude to my rant.
While we were trying to get into St. Nicolas fortress we met a German guy (the only other tourist) who told us that he had been a couple of years ago and that the fortress had been open. He couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t be open anymore. Which led to a conversation about the lack of development in Croatia. Imagine if this amazing fortress was in Germany or France – it would be a major tourist attraction. The authorities would have restored it to its former glory. There would be a museum on the premises. They’d be a small restaurant looking out over the channel to the sea. Instead, this huge, glorious fortress is basically being allowed to fall into ruin. You see this all over Croatia. I don’t even think it’s just about restoration – I actually think the Croatians do restoration badly (just look at St. Michael’s fortress or Barone fortress where stone has been replaced by concrete. Same all over Dubrovnik). Sometimes it’s just about care and getting rid of debris. In the last little while we’ve been to the fantastic fortresses of Klis and Knin which are open to the public. But go there and you’ll find rooms full of metal pipes and other stuff left over by workmen. Museums in the castle may or may not be open (the one at Klis was closed for some reason, the most likely being that the guy running the place was too lazy to open it). And the marketing effort to promote these castles is zero. People will say “well, Croatia doesn’t have the kind of money that Germany or France does to restore its castles”. But as I say, it’s not necessarily about restoring them: it’s about getting rid of the debris left over by the workers, cleaning up the dog shit and cigarette butts left over by locals, having someone responsible administrating the place. Croatia has SO many amazing castles or ruins that we’ve visited: Klis, Knin, the fortresses of Šibenik, the Starigrad in Omis….there are many others that we are just learning about. Even in Split, there is Gripe fortress which houses the Maritime museum (otherwise the rest of the fort is just a parking lot and a place where dogs poop). All I’m saying is that the authorities could do a much better job when it comes to its old fortresses and there is SO much potential. When you see fortresses like the above being neglected it just makes me sad.
3. Detail and beauty in Šibenik
I’ve ranted a bit about the fortresses. But where the authorities have done a great job in Šibenik it is in restoring the beauty of its many statues, plaques, and magnificent buildings. Šibenik’s buildings sure seem to have a lot of detail:
More images walking the streets of the old town…
As I wrote at the top: Šibenik is not a place listed as a ‘must-see’ for visitors and we didn’t expect much. We came away surprised and very impressed by our visit. Besides the Cathedral, the fortresses, and the beauty found in the streets, we also enjoyed the geography of the old town with its hills, steps and many viewpoints. We’ve already decided that we’d be back, maybe spend a weekend and take in a concert at St Michael’s Fortress (they hold summer music concerts there which I’m told are very popular).
Related: Just 20 minutes away is the pretty town of Primosten
– Bus. Šibenik has frequent connections by bus. It takes about an hour to get there from Split. The bus station is right next to the old town.
– Car Rental. We rented a car and found parking right next to the bus station. We always use Rentalcars.com when renting a car. Warning for drivers: bad signage and some very narrow backstreets in Šibenik (if you get lost as I did. Was a bit of a nightmare). If you don’t know Šibenik, I think best just to park the car somewhere and explore the city on foot.
– Visiting the fortresses. You can walk up to St. Michael from the old town. Barone and St. John’s are a bit further out (a 15 minute walk) – but you can drive to Barone (up a very narrow lane), park, and explore both fortresses.
– Accommodation. A few recommendations: Apartment Luka, Studio Vicencin Place, Apartments Laurus. All in the town center, all reasonably priced.
– Organized Tours of Šibenik (the last one below includes Šibenik and Krka NP – recommended).
Related: Why go to Zadar? Here’s why it’s worth a (short) visit
Related: A Day Trip to Trogir, Croatia
Related: Exploring the Best of Central Dalmatia
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I visited Sibenik from Zadar and loved it. In fact, I preferred it to Zadar. Oh, to be back travelling around the Balkans!
I love these sort of places! Easy to get to but no-one seems to know about them! Looks quite and peaceful at the same time as being really interesting to explore!
Frank, sounds like this was an easy day trip for you from Split? It is great to find a place that is not totally crowded by tourists. It is a shame that they are not looking after their heritage as they should, it is beautiful. Some gorgeous photos here and incredibly blue skies. I will definitely do a proper good long visit to Croatia in the near future, so much to see and do there 🙂
Yes, easy day trip. You can take the bus or drive and get there in less than an hour. We had a weekend road trip and took the long way to get there (by way of Trogir and Primosten) but when we left we had to bring the car back and it was a very quick drive along the highway.
They could do a better job as you say, especially with St. Nicolas fortress. It’s MASSIVE and must be so impressive on the inside…I can’t for the life of me understand why it wasn’t open.
“(the one at Klis was closed for some reason, the most likely being that the guy running the place was too lazy to open it)”
Curious what you base that observation on.
It’s based on the observation that the people running the entry to these places treat it like a part time job secondary to whatever they seem to want to be doing that day.
In Klis we were actually lucky to get in because the guy drove up to the castle as we were walking up (when it was already supposed to be open). Who knows, he might have been having a coffee somewhere in town when he saw a bunch of tourists heading in the way of the fortress…
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
you’re right about castles & fortresses being neglected. yes, the money is a big issue, but to have them clean at least doesn’t cost much. Don’t know what to say really, apart that culture and history aren’t that important here actually to the authorities.. sad fact but it’s true.
Yes, you are so right Tanja. They’ll invest in the highly visible sites where there’s mass tourism but there are many other incredible sites that require some work (or just cleaning up). I actually prefer ruins and not the overly-restored buildings you see in some places…as you say, just about cleaning them up so they’re presentable. And then promoting them somewhat.
Nice to hear from a Croatian
Unfortunately, a disparaging attitude towards their history (and general sloppiness) is a common feature of all the Slavs.
So gutted not to be coming back to Croatia this summer but, as we have touched on in our email correspondence, being on that coast in July and August is not a good idea – too busy, too expensive and too hot! We enjoy visiting places that aren’t listed as ‘must-see’ destinations or listed in guidebooks and Šibenik seems to fit the bill perfectly. It is also becoming apparent that we are going to need longer in the vicinity of Split that we initially thought. I will continue to bookmark all these little places you are finding for ‘us’ Frank (:-))!!
Thanks Mark. I think you’re making he right decision – we were here last July and it was all those things (busy, expensive, hot). Too hot to really want to walk around exploring in the sun. Spring and Autumn are better for many reasons.
Split makes for a nice base, lots to see in the area. You can even rent out our place Mark! We’ll most likely have it on the market in August and when rented out we’ll be discovering more of the region.
The detailed sculpture work on the nooks and crannies of these buildings is incredible! Thanks for showing such an intriguing if lesser known side of the area’s architecture.
Thank you for taking the time to comment 🙂
Loving these photos it makes me feel like I’m actually there! Croatia looks absolutely stunning!
It is! Thank you Becky.
Mike from Travel and Destinations
Thanks for sharing Frank. I haven’t been to Sibenik yet but it looks really nice. I can totally see why the Cathedral of St. James is so popular. It’s stunning! The city hall square reminds me a bit of Dubrovnik actually. I will try and make it here one day! 🙂
Actually the hills and many steps also reminded me of Dubrovnik. But much fewer crowds 🙂
I too wonder what they mean by “men country”. Maybe they figure it would end up being too touristy? Some of the images remind me of Malta :-). It looks like a lovely, idyllic place. Very nice!
I think it’s just a joking reference to having to get over the rocks to get to the fortress. Like the post I did on the “Man’s Hike” on Mosor. Just macho Croatian humor 😉
I keep going back to the photo, about13 down I think, of the light shimmering on the water. That’s such a pretty capture, it must have really been a moment in time to see that, or maybe you didn’t see it until it showed up in your photo? Either way, it’s so pretty.
I am curious about the graffiti on the sign, “men country.” Interesting.
The photo of the 3 men’s faces, in a row, are really something – something ominous!
Anyway, it looks as if you enjoyed your visit and it looks picturesque. If you had one place to highly recommend to someone visiting Croatia for the first time, where would you suggest?
One place: my choice would be Split. There’s lots to see in the city itself, there are beaches, there are the mountains in the background (which for me epitomizes Croatia) – and Split is close to many other nearby destinations that can be visited as day trips (including some of the islands). I think it is the perfect base for someone coming to Croatia for the 1st time.