Croatia’s glittering Dalmatian coast is no longer a holiday secret. Each summer, visitors from around the world clog the country’s stand-out cities of Dubrovnik and Split. But there’s a smaller, lesser-known gem of a town, located a quick car or bus ride south of Split that truly shines. It’s quieter than its bigger counterparts, but it’s a place you should get to know… and it makes for a perfect day trip.
The small town of Omiš (pronounced OH-mish) has it all: legend and lore, gorgeous buildings and stunning squares, great dining options, and plenty of outdoor activities to try out. It will satisfy both the culture vultures and adventurers in your travel group… and leave them equally enchanted.
Here are five reasons you should consider adding a visit to Omiš to your Croatian vacation!
Omiš is small but cuts an imposing sight as you approach from land or water. The Cetina River runs right through it and into the sea. That topography made it a prime strategic location for pirates during the Middle Ages. They would sail the Adriatic, plunder at will, then quickly steer their ships back up the mouth of the Cetina and steal off into the surrounding mountains. Legend holds these bold pirates even attacked Crusaders heading for the Holy Land. They also built one of two large forts that still tower over the town — Mirabella. It provided both protection and look-out vantages.
In 1444, Omiš fell to the Venetians, marking the end of the pirates’ reign. The town now had to fend off continuing threats from the Ottoman Empire, and a second fort called Starigrad was built. After the fall of Venice at the beginning of the 19th century, Omiš bounced around a bit, coming under both Austrian and French rule. After World War One, Croatia was combined into the Yugoslav state, and finally became independent in 1991.
Pro Tip: Keep your eye out for historic plaques that explain the history of Omiš at each notable spot. There are QR codes, too!
Meandering through Omiš’ small but historic center, one is struck by the clash of cultures still evidenced there. It all comes together in a gorgeous, compact, and utterly charming package. The narrow alleyways through cobblestoned streets are reminiscent of Venice, as is much of the architecture. You can actually climb up both Mirabella (a quicker, easier trek, FYI!) and Starigrad for incredible views. As you wander through town, you’ll encounter limestone homes, businesses, and chapels dating back centuries and spanning architectural styles from pre-Romanesque to Venetian Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque.
The small quirks were what caught my eye in Omiš. Especially one 16th-century structure: the one the locals call “The House of the Happy Man.” Legend holds that Ivan Primojević, a lawyer and the ambassador of Omiš in Venice once lived here. It owes its lovely nickname to the faded Latin inscription at the top, which reads “I thank thee, Lord, for having lived in this world.”
3. The Laid-Back Vibe
Omiš is far different from Croatia’s larger coastal cities or its glitzy island villages. It’s tiny, and therefore the vibe here is distinct: a bit sleepier and more serene, even during high season when compared to other high-traffic seaside spots. The locals are quite friendly, and I felt safe during my entire time here as I explored. There was enough to see here to keep me busy for a full but no-stress day, at the end of which I reveled in a long, lounging tea and cake stop while watching people out and about on their daily errands. Omiš proved the perfect chilled-out palate cleanser to the much more bustling, but also fabulous Split.
Pro Tip: July and August are the peak months along the Dalmatian coast, and Omiš will be much more crowded then as well. However, during shoulder season — April through May and October — the temperatures are still nice, and the tourist crush is tamped down. Consider booking your trip then to truly soak up all the region has to offer without the frenetic pace.
4. Outdoor Activities
Omiš attracts adventure-seekers from around the globe with its vast and varied outdoor activities. Rafting the gorgeous Cetina Riviera is a popular option, as are more leisurely cruises on the gorgeous water. Ziplining over the canyons and above the river is also a high-flying treat — some are as tall as 300 feet!
Hikers will love the trails just outside Omiš, which vary in difficulty. Some wind up to the tops of the surrounding peaks, and through former pirate fortifications. Finally, there’s the gorgeous water where the river meets the sea, perfect for swimming, playing, and lounging. Omiš is even home to a sand beach, a true rarity in Croatia as most coastlines here are pebbled and rocky.
After you’re done seeing and doing everything Omiš has to offer its visitors, it’s likely you’ll have worked up an appetite. You can’t go wrong with any of the konobas — or small cafes — in town. They’ll each offer traditional Croatian dishes — including Dalmatian prosciutto, grilled locally-caught fish, and the traditional Dalmatian peka (meat perfectly roasted under an iron lid). Wash it all down with a glass or two of locally produced wine (a light and bright white called Pošip was one of my favorites!) and you’ve got a Croatian meal you won’t ever forget.
And a word to the wise, don’t dare forget to leave room for dessert. True to its roots, Omiš has some beautiful bakeries and pastry shops that are reminiscent of Vienna — a clear connection to when the Austrians occupied the region. Do not miss I Gemelli, a tiny shop just steps away from historic St. Michael’s Church. The tearoom is charming with a beautiful open-air view of the square below. The confections there, displayed in a case up front, were simply gorgeous, almost too pretty to eat. Almost.