Some places refuse to be limited by words. They are impossible to capture in just a few sentences because they are too rich with experiences and character - the very life of them refuses to be pressed into words.
The island of Vis is one such place. It could take days to tell all of its stories because its story started in the classical era, and its landscape has been carved in stone since the Ice Age. The history of Vis is the history of nature and human civilization, the history of wind, salt and sea, of fishermen and pirates, military forts and bunkers, galleys and submarines, wine and nature phenomena, and as such it deserves to be explored and enjoyed for days on end.
And yet, in all of its richness, Vis has those special places, unique places that stand out above all others, no matter how beautiful and stunning they all are. It’s those places we visit when we don’t have time for more, places that offer us the vacation experience inside a single day.
The list we’ve made for you in this article is based on just that - we have selected the most unique and interesting locations on Vis that will help you experience the island, its culture, history and natural beauty, within just one day.
1. The Archaeological museum of the town of Vis
If you’re short on time but still want to see at least a little bit of the rich history of Vis, this museum is the place to go first. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a history buff you will not be bored. This museum houses the largest collection of artefacts from the Hellenistic age found in these parts of Europe and they were all excavated on sites of Issa, the ancient city of the Greek and Roman times that stood where the town of Vis now stands.
In case it takes a little more to impress you, let us add that the star of the museum is the collection of almost perfectly preserved amphorae retrieved from a sunken ship in the Vela Svitnja Bay. While normally amphorae are exhibited individually, this collection is on display exactly as it was stored below deck of the ship that transported it, which makes it very visually attractive. While you’re roaming the museum feel free to engage in a chat with one of the museum’s custodians; they are very friendly and have a story or two to share about the sunken ships and the old city of Issa.
2. The town of Vis
If you’re one of those people who, first and foremost, likes to explore the place you’re visiting before anything else, or if you merely prefer strolling around a city to spending your day on a beach, the town of Vis will not disappoint you.
Its cityscape may look familiar if you’ve visited the Dalmatian coast before, but it has a unique spirit about it. The stone houses with their recognizable old doors and windows in brown or white, charming balconies with flower pots, nooks and crannies of narrow streets with bushes, trees and flowers popping out, staircases that lead to stone squares or more staircases, little churches squeezed in between the tall houses and large churches towering over them with their bell fries - all of these common elements of Mediterranean architecture blend here with a specific island charm, creating a singular labyrinth of past and present all rolled into one experience that you will not mistake for anything other than what it is: the experience of Vis.
There are several tourist agencies that offer guided walking tours. But since Vis is not a big town you can take your stroll by yourself. In case you do, we’d like to recommend you visit the Church of St. Cyprian and Justine and the Church of Our Lady of Spilice. These two will prove a real treat for lovers of art and architecture since their interiors are rich with multiple architectural styles and details, including those from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque ages.
3. The ruins of ancient Issa
By now you’ve probably heard of Issa, the ancient city that thrived on the location of the town of Vis a history ago. Parts of it still lie beneath it while other parts intertwine with the later architecture. If you’re loving the fact that every walk through Vis is a walk down the History Lane, you might like to check out the two locations where the city of Issa still stands. They are pretty close to each other and you will find them both on the northern side of the port of Vis. The Roman baths date back to the first century A.D. and, unless excavation is in progress, you will be able to see a lovely piece of the mosaic that has already been uncovered there. The Issa necropolis (also known among the locals as Martvilo) dates back to fourth century B.C. and is full of headstones and stone burial boxes that testify to ancient burial rituals at this site.
4. Fortica - Fort King George
We can pretty much say that most European nations have set foot on the island of Vis at some time or another. The Greek and the Romans, the Venetians, the French, the Austrians, the British - all have made, in one way or another, their mark in the history of the island as well as its landscape. Because of its excellent location in the Adriatic Sea, Vis has always been of great military importance and has served as a military base since the Napoleonic Wars. This is why you’ll often hear Vis being referred to as “the island of forts”: along its coastline the British, the Austrians and the locals alike built a number of forts that served as a defense system.
While each of these forts is worth a visit, in case you don’t have enough time to visit them all, try stopping by at least one of them. The favorite, with most to offer in terms of entertainment and history alike, is Fort King George, also known as Fortica.
Built in 1813 by the British Royal Navy it was named in honor of king George the Third. There’s nothing military about it today except for its history - it has a restaurant, a bar and an art gallery, which makes it an ideal location for anyone who wants a complete experience of sightseeing. After you’ve completed your tour of the fort and taken a gander at the gallery, take your seat at the table in the restaurant or the bar and enjoy the sunset over a Mediterranean menu and the superb locally made wine.
5. The Blue Cave
The island of Vis has so many natural beauties so it’s pretty hard to pick out just one, but the Blue Cave is the one that will, we believe, impress even those who don’t usually spend their free time roaming outdoors. This cave is widely known for the unique light phenomenon that gave it its name. It occurs when the sunlight reaches the inside of the cave through an underwater opening and, depending on the refraction angle and the time of day, illuminates the cave in shades of blue and silver.
You’ll find this cave on the small island of Biševo. The easiest and most poplar way to get to it is to join an organized tour; however, you can also get there by renting a boat in the port of Komiža. If you do that, make sure you tell the clerk where you’re going, since only small boats can enter the cave.
6. For those of you who feel that no visit to an island is complete without a stop to a beach, we’ve got you covered. Vis has more than enough beaches, coves, bays, public and wild, hidden or not, for a full beach experience. Some beaches stand out more than others, though, and if you’re short on time we’ve selected two that we feel will give you a complete sensory seaside experience.
Srebrna Beach, or the Silver Beach, is the most magical place on the island. The name itself hints as to why. The beach is covered with large limestone pebbles, rather unique on the Adriatic, and contrasted against the turquoise shade of the sea in this location make the entire bay look like an imaginary scene. But it gets even more enchanting than that: in the evening, when the moon comes out, all the white pebbles sparkle with a silvery light under its rays, and the bay turns into a scenery fit for any fantasy movie.
In the ancient times the bay was a quarry; all the stones the city of Issa had been built with came from this location. Some parts of the quarry remain embedded into the landscape of the beach so you’ll be swimming and sunbathing inside a piece of local history.
The beach is located near the small village of Rukavac: you can reach it by car and proceed to the beach on foot for about two hundred meters or so.
7. Beach Stiniva
This slice of protected nature was declared the most beautiful European beach in 2016. One of the reasons for making it to the top of the list is the remarkable landscape it sits in. The rocks that surround the beach and form an entrance to it are actually the remains of an Ice Age cave, formed by the power of the sea against rock, that has long since collapsed. The pebbles covering the beach are fragments of the cave’s dome, molded by the sea for thousands and thousands of years and washed up onto the shore.
Aside from this impressive piece of natural history, this beach will welcome you with a tranquil pristine sea, white sand, and a charming little restaurant with a Mediterranean menu.
8.The Wine Tour
If Vis is known as the island of forts it is also known as the island of wine. And we’re not just saying that. Viticulture has been an integral part of the island’s economy since the Classical age, and Vis was the most important and prolific exporter of wine during the Austro-Hungarian administration. This literally makes for hundreds and hundreds of years of wine-making experience, and that is a definite guarantee that any wine made on Vis is going to be nothing less than excellent.
The most famous wine of Vis is Vugava, made from white grapes that give it a dense honey-like flavor. In case you prefer red wine, try Plavac, sure to be a fantastic match to grilled fish, fresh tomatoes and the traditional Komiža savory pie.
Therefore, in case you happen to be a connoisseur of good food and you’d like to see where the island wine can take you, do not hesitate to book a wine tour with one of the tourist agencies in either Komiža or Vis. During the tour you’ll be able to stop at some of the finest local wineries, taste their products (including Vugava and Plavac), see the vineyards their grapes grow in, and all this while taking life in the island way - slow and easy and completely relaxed.
This wonderful, charming little town on the western coast of the island simply had to make it to the list. It used to be a fishing village (fishing here is still going strong today, too) and this trade has left an indelible mark on its character. Unlike the town of Vis, which stretches along its coastline, Komiža is full of stone houses built wall to wall, pressing together, with an occasional church or a fort squeezed in, towering over them. During your bimble around this town have a stop at the Fishermen’s Museum and if you’d like to have a taste of sea food be sure to reserve your table in one of Komiža’s restaurants beforehand.
This pretty town does not lack in lovely beaches, historical sites or churches, either. The Church of St. Nicholas, for example, used to be a part of a Benedictine monastery. We recommend a visit, not only because of its interior rich with art, but also because the view extending from the top of the small hill it stands on will prove spectacular, stretching over vineyards and fields on one side and the coast of Komiža and the island of Biševo on the other.
10. If art and architecture, or beaches and natural sights, are not the first thing you usually want to see when you visit a new place, maybe you have the spirit of an adventurer in you. Maybe you like to explore the countryside by walking or cycling through it, maybe you simply like a bit of good exercise - whichever it is, you will find the island of Vis perfect for you.
And we mean this quite literally. The island’s hiking trails and walking paths will take you on a bimble, an amble or a hike from the coast into the green depths of the island, across fields and meadows, up hill and down hill, and all the way to beaches and coves. These paths are not specifically designated as cycling paths - the established cycling routes will take you over macadam roads and onto field and forest paths, even asphalt roads (but, don’t worry since most of them don’t have a lot of traffic going on, and if you plan your route ahead you can go around them).
The island of Vis has twenty five cycling routes and together they are 250 kilometers long. This probably means you won’t actually be able to take them all in one day. However, if you stop by the tourist office or any of the tourist agencies in either Komiža or Vis you’ll be able to get a map and choose the routes you think you can complete in one day. If, for any reason, you didn’t actually bring your bike along with you, you’ll be able to rent one, and if you’re looking for something a little extra challenging out of your bike ride, the bike club Arcicija will help you design your own individual route.
If you’re a hiking or a walking enthusiast, we have some excellent news - there are about twenty official hiking trails on the island of Vis that, among them, will cover all your walking needs. Each of them is well marked and will take you from either Komiža or the town of Vis, along the shoreline or inland. Some of the marked rest stops include various historical buildings and locations so there’s pretty much no way you’ll be bored. Just relax, there’s no need to hurry on your way even if you have only a day at your disposal - any of these routes can be completed within four hours. If you want to go off the charted paths, you’re welcome to do so. And don’t be startled by any of the animals you may come across on your way - there are no poisonous snakes or spiders living on Vis.
If you’ve never taken a hiking or a cycling adventure before the most important thing to do is to prepare well. So, take your most trusted pair of walking shoes, bring enough water and a few snacks in case you get hungry, and if you’re visiting the island in the summertime bring a hat and maybe some sunscreen, too. And, don’t forget your camera, because you’ll want to take as many photographs of your island adventure as you can.