The Brijuni Islands are a collection of fourteen islands and islets in Istria off the northern part of the Croatian coast. For a part of the country which has fewer (larger) islands compared to other places – particularly Dalmatia – the Brijuni islands are well worth a visit, and their proximity to the mainland means they are easy to reach (especially as there’s a frequent boat service). All of the islands together also comprise one of Croatia’s eight wonderful national parks.
More on the Brijuni islands:
These small group of islands have a rather unusual history, including as the base of a upmarket health resort in the late 19th century
- Getting To the Brijuni Islands
The best way of getting to the islands
Introduction to the Brijuni Islands
The largest islands in the group are Veliki Brijun (Large Brijun) which is 1,700 acres in size (5.6 square km) and Mali Brijun (Small Brijun); the boat service runs to the former but ask locally for excursions to the latter. (You will most likely not be able to visit any of the other islands in the group.) Veliki Brijun has its own accommodation, so it is possible to stay longer than just a few hours’ day trip.
The Brijuni islands are also famous for being home to the Ulysses Theatre which was co-founded by Croatian actor Rade Serbedzija (who has starred in some of the Harry Potter films, Batman Begins and Mission Impossible II amongst many other Croatian and U.S. movies). The theatre has a special run of productions each summer. If you get the chance to attend a performance, please do – it is highly recommended.
The islands also have a fascinating history, and some unusual sights in the present day, as a result. They were used as the private residence of Yugoslavia’s President Tito.
What to see and do on the Brijuni Islands
Whether you’re staying on Veliki Brijun or not, the best way of taking in most of the sights is on a guided tour. A “tourist train” (i.e. a little motorised train) will guide you around Veliki Brijun, and its a fun and easy way of seeing the most of the island.
In particular, it will take in the safari park on the northern part of the island, and the train give you a good opportunity to view its residents. Many of these animals call the Brijuni Islands their home as they were given as gifts to President Tito in the time of Yugoslavia. Today, the park is home to ostriches, peacocks, llamas, zebra and a sacred Indian cow, and also to Istrian sheep, donkeys and goats in the area designated an ethno park.
An old olive tree, one of the oldest olive trees in the Mediterranean and thought to be around 1,600 years old, can be found here. The tree is unusual to see as it “split” due to a storm in the 1970s. Nevertheless, it still bears fruit today and produces around 30kg of olives each October (olive-picking season!), some of which is used to produce olive oil.
The remains of a Roman villa that was built in the 1st century BC can be seen, located next to the beautiful Verige Bay. The villa was last used as a residence in the sixth century.
Over on the western side of the island you will find the Byzantine castrum, the remains of a settlement that was originally a Roman villa built in the 1st century BC and expanded over the centuries. The structure was last used in Venetian times.
Dinosaur fans will be delighted by the presence of dinosaur footprints, perhaps best seen on Veliki Brijun in the rock as you depart the boat.
A Mediterranean Garden was established on Veliki Brijun in 2007 and is home to 169 different plant species.
The Boathouse by the main port was built in 1902 in the times of Austro-Hungary, and for 30 years was home to Dr Otto Lenz, the doctor of Veliki Brijun. Today, the boathouse is home to an exhibition where you can learn more about the Brijuni islands.
Tito was gifted a Cadillac by Croatian immigrants to Canada, and from 1953 to 1979 he used this vehicle to transport himself – and his very special guests (including Indira Gandhi, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and Josephine Baker) – around the island. Today, the well-preserved Tito’s Cadillac can be rented privately ahead of time for a half-hour drive with a driver.
There is a 13-km long bicycle trail on Veliki Brijun which is a wonderful way of seeing many of the island’s top sights. Because there are no cars on the island – besides the electric cars that can be rented – cycling around is easy and very safe…perfect for kids, too!
There are twice-weekly yoga sessions in the Mediterranean Garden during the summer months.
Accommodation on the Brijuni Islands
There are three hotels on the island, the charming Hotel Istra, the smart Hotel Neptun and the retro but very well furnished Rooms Karmen. All are located right by where the boat docks on Veliki Brijun.
If you’re visiting in a large group (of at least 20), the San Niccolo Hostel may be for you. Housed in a former Austro-Hungarian military barracks, this is a modern hostel offering rooms with bunk beds.
There are also luxury villas for rent that can sleep 4-8 people. Villa rental includes extras such as a small electric car, and passenger boat transport to and from the mainland.
Other facilities on the Brijuni Islands
There are several restaurants located on Veliki Brijun, including restaurants in the two hotels on the island. Whether you’re just visiting on a day trip or staying for a few days, you’ll have several dining options!
- See the Brijuni National Park website