Dubrovnik: Dubrovnik’s Old City is one of the most completely intact medieval-era cities in Europe and has historically been best known for its intact city walls (which you can walk along the top of), which date back to the 12th to 17th centuries. Known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik is easily walkable (no car traffic is permitted inside). Go for the walls, as well as Baroque and Renaissance buildings, plus narrow streets that climb steeply up the city’s sloped periphery.
Kotor: Located at the end of the 17-mile Bay of Kotor, the entrance to this Montenegrin city is perhaps more spectacular than the city itself. It takes nearly an hour to glide through the fjord-like waterway (it’s not technically a fjord), with mountains rising on either side of you. Like Dubrovnik, Kotor is also a walled city though not all of its walls remain, but you can walk on them if you’re up for quite a strenuous trek. Inside the Old City are a collection of medieval churches, squares and narrow streets that date back to the 12th to 15th centuries.
Koper: Claiming to be Slovenia’s oldest town, relics found in Koper date its origins back to the Middle Bronze Age. It’s located on the Istrian peninsula, all of which was once owned by the Venetian Empire so it feels more Italian than Slovenian. As with most of the cities along this part of the Adriatic Coast, the Old City is where you’ll find most of the charm, including its main square and 15th- and 16th-century palaces, churches and homes.
Split: Split is the busiest city along the Dalmatian Coast that you are likely to visit (it’s the second largest city in Croatia) and after so much time spent in small towns and places where no cars are permitted, it can feel suddenly overwhelming. But don’t let that stop you from venturing out, especially to see the Palace of Diocletian. The vast spaces take up 10 acres and rather than serve as a dusty museum is a lived-in thriving community with apartments, restaurants, bars and even hotels. You’ll want to take a tour so they can point out how it was all used during Roman times.
Rovinj: A pleasant seaside town, Rovinj is among several towns located along a section of the Dalmatian Coast that is being called the Adriatic Riviera. Yachts and sailboats dot the harbor here; walk a little ways out of town and you’ll start to find resorts and beaches. Rovinj, which like Koper in Slovenia is located on the Istrian peninsula, feels Italian and you’ll see Italian language signs and restaurants throughout the city. It’s also an artist colony and there are ceramic, jewelry and painting workshops and stores in every little winding alley. And, of course, you’ll find a Medieval-era Old City in the central part of the town.
Zadar: Other than its charming Old City, Zadar’s main claim to fame is the unique sea organ that plays music based on the movement of the wind and the waves. Located near the cruise ship dock, the organ, which doubles as a wide stone staircase where you can sit and listen, was designed by architect Nikola Basic and opened in April 2005. It’s got 35 pipes of different lengths and sizes connected to whistles that play seven chords of five tones as the sea pushes air through the pipes. It’s a unique attraction that you’ll find along the Dalmatian Coast.
Sibenik: Cruise ships stop here mainly to disembark passengers headed to Krka National Park, although the city itself has a few attractions to see (a 15th-century cathedral and fortress, among them). But it’s Krka that draws people, with its massive waterfalls and scenic hikes along the Krka river. There’s a spot to go swimming, wooden walkways that run through a pretty forest and a small ethno village with three recreated workshops (kitchen, blacksmith and weaving).