Vrana, Croatia is a small town with a big history, meaning that despite its size, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Vrana on a day trip.
We recently took a day trip from Split to Vrana with a group of friends and I truly felt like I’d discovered a hidden gem in Croatia.
If you visit Vrana or the famous Vrana Lake in the town, you feel like you’re venturing off the beaten path in Croatia and experiencing the true Croatian countryside and rural life.
So if you’re looking for a day trip to Vrana away from the crowds, or perhaps you’re passing through the area from Zagreb to Zadar, why not stop here for a Turkish coffee, explore some ruins and see one of the most spectacular views in Croatia?
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The history of Vrana
The history of Vrana is as surprising as it is long!
History in Vrana dates to the 9th Century when the Benedictine Monastery was built in the town and dedicated to Bishop Gregory.
The town had huge wealth from the Bishop and at the coronation of King Zvonimir in 1075, he gifted the town, its wealth and all its possessions to the Pope. Making Vrana the first permanent Vatican residency on the eastern Adriatic Sea.
The Templar Knights strengthen the town's position by adding strong walls and towers with the pope's blessing, although the Knights dissolve around the 13th Century.
However the city maintains its high political and religious status for the rest of the Middle Ages.
In the 16th Century, the Turkish Empire converted the Monastery into a military fortress with hundreds of military soldiers. However the Venetian Army promptly destroys it during the Vrana Liberation of 1647, drastically reducing the town’s status and importance.
The ruins of the monastery then fortress can still be visited and explored on a trip to Vrana, Croatia. We walked among the ruins and the sheer size really speaks to the power and authority that the town held during the Middle Ages.
What is Vrana famous for
Despite its spectacular history, Vrana is a small town now. The 2001 census recorded only 724 residents.
So while the town isn’t as famous for its political or strategic military position, it is most famous now for Lake Vrana and its fortunate position right next to this natural beauty.
Vrana Lake, Croatia
Lake Vrana, Croatia is the largest lake in Croatia at 13 km long and covering a 30km2 area. Vrana Lake is a designated nature park, meaning it holds protected status, making it a haven for bird watchers, sports fishing and wildlife spotters.
It’s believed the lake started forming almost 12,000 years ago, so it might surprise you to know that it’s only around 2 metres deep!
The lake is brackish because it has sea water inflow but is also fed by inland waterways, so the salinity level can change depending on the weather, water levels and amount of evaporation.
Because it’s so shallow, this means it warms up quickly during the summer - perfect for swimming! But it also cools very quickly in colder weather!
The area between the lake and the sea is Modrave, known as the largest and also most compact olive grove on the Adriatic Coast. At its peak, it produced 60 tonnes of olive oil per year, until freezing conditions in the 1950s caused the production to reduce drastically.
Can you swim in Vrana Lake?
Yes you can swim pretty much anywhere in lake Vrana, although it's advised to be aware of wildlife and not disturb them.
The lake is also popular among fishermen and is one of the top sports fishing destinations in Europe - so make sure not to disturb them too!
Where is Vrana and how to get to Vrana
Vrana is in Dalmatia, between the borders of Zadar County And Sibenik-Knin County.
Close to Biograd and just 40km away from Zadar and 1.5 hours from Split.
The easiest way to get to Vrana is to drive. Zadar is the nearest airport.
Where to stay in Vrana, Croatia?
If you’re considering an overnight stay, there’s one place I absolutely recommend and you’ll read about it later as I recommend their traditional Turkish coffee.
Heritage Hotel Maskovica Han is the westernmost example of Ottoman architecture in Europe and this stunning property is home to archeological finds, a museum, a beautiful cafe restaurant and a hotel.
It’s also ideally situated just a short drive from Lake Vrana and the Kamenjak Nature Park.
One day in Vrana, Croatia: things to do
Vrana attractions are small but mighty and you’ll find plenty of places to visit in Vrana, as well as things to do near Lake Vrana during your trip.
Explore the Vrana Fortress ruins
I’ve already outlined the history of Vrana in the section above, but what didn’t prepare me was the sheer size of this building, which dates from the 9th Century.
Although it's in ruins, the fortress covers a vast area and it’s completely free to visit!
The area is so quiet, you can simply wander in and explore as much as you want.
I suggest going up the grassy hill inside the ruins to get a sort of bird's eye view so you can appreciate the sheer size!
Visit Pecina Spring
Pecina Spring is the spring that serves the town water and you can get there on a short 10 minute out-and-back walk along the track right next to the Vrana fortress ruins.
Follow the track for 5 minutes, then you’ll come to a crossroads, continue straight on where you’ll find a small path running alongside a stream with two wooden bridges across it.
Cross one of the bridges and walk towards the rock face and slightly around to the left.
On the left side behind the rocks, you’ll see a wooden stairway which takes you down into the cave where the spring flows from.
It’s not technically a cave, more of a gorge as the roof is “open”, so don’t worry if you’re claustrophobic, there’s daylight in there at all times!
The water here is fresh and cold, especially if you visit in the early months of the year when the heavy snow in Croatia means the water is flowing heavily.
Then head back to Vrana town along the same path you came on.
Enjoy at unique Turkish Coffee Experience
After your walk, head back to the main road and almost opposite the Fortress Vrana ruins, you’ll see a large, imposing stone building, this is Heritage Hotel Maskovica Han.
Inside the hotel is a large courtyard that feels like an oasis and a totally different world from the town outside.
As well as being a hotel, the building is also home to a stunning restaurant, a museum and an archaeological site of an original 17th century Turkish hammam.
In fact, this building is known as the western-most example of Ottoman architecture in Europe.
The restaurant-cafe at the back of the courtyard is where you should be heading, they have beautiful outdoor seating but inside is the most spectacular.
Order a Turkish coffee and you’ll have it delivered to you in the traditional copper pourer and cups with your sugar cube and a square of Turkish Delight.
Sip your coffee and marvel at the soaring wooden vaulted ceiling and huge stone walls and somehow the place is still light, airy and open.
This was my favourite spot on our Vrana day trip and my number one activity for places to visit in Vrana, Croatia.
You can also stay at the hotel if you wish - check here for rates and availability.
Hiking at Vrana Lake
Spend the afternoon swimming and hiking around parts of Vrana Lake.
This is really an outdoor lover's paradise!
We visited in winter so although it was sunny, it was also very cold and windy so we opted for hiking rather than taking a swim!
We parked halfway up the road to Vidikovac viewpoint (where we ended this day trip itinerary) and we followed the walking trails down towards the water. You can also reach this Observation Deck on this walk.
It took around 1 hour there and back, although there’s so many Lake Vrana trails and routes to follow, you can come back here multiple times and explore somewhere different each time!
The views across the turquoise blue water are stunning and you can see why this is such a popular area for locals.
Sunset at Vidikovac Kamenjak
Finish your day in Vrana by seeing one of the best views in Croatia from the Vidikovac Observation Point.
You can drive right up to the Observation Point, just put into Google Maps “Vidikovac Kamenjak” or “Kamenjak Parking” and there’s a good sized car park here.
At the top there is a tourist information centre, a small church and also a konoba restaurant, although we visited in winter so none were open and it was free to go onto the observation point. If you visit in the summer, you’ll need to pay a couple of Euros to visit though.
The views across Vrana Lake, the olive groves and out to the sea allows you to see countless islands from this spot. You can see the islands of Zadar, as well as the Kornati archipelago and Sibenik in the distance.
From the main observation point, there’s also a marked path on the right hand side that you can follow for more views. The unique rocky landscape here is called Karst Relief or “Stone Desert '' and it’s the unique rock formation that covers around 50% of Croatia’s land.
Here on Kamenjak peak, you can bring a picnic blanket, something to eat and drink and enjoy the spectacular sunset looking out across the Adriatic and one of the best views in Croatia!
Summary: Visiting Vrana, things to do and places to visit in Vrana
I hope this quick guide to things to do in Vrana, Croatia has helped put this area on the map for you.
While many people will simply pass by on their way to the coast, it’s well worth a stop, even just to explore the fortress for free and have an incredible Turkish coffee experience.
I’m so glad I was invited here by a friend whose parents are from Vrana. It gave me a real insight into Croatia, beyond the tourist locations on the coast.
Pin for later to plan your trip!