Croatia is a beautiful country to visit on a Road trip. You can stop along the way several times as there are many stopovers and everything is in driving distance from the next destination. Here we will explore an itinerary that will make you visit all the best destinations in Croatia.
If you have the time of exploring the other Balkan countries we recommend you have a look at this Balkan road trip guide.
Croatia itinerary road trip
Duration: 7 days
Itinerary: Pula -> Krk -> Zagreb -> Plitvice -> Zadar -> Krka -> Split -> Bol -> Makarska -> Dubrovnik
#1 Pula & Krk
Why starting in Pula? Pula is a nice, inviting small town in Istria with beautiful surroundings. Starting in the north means that you’ll be able to see almost all the country. Oh, and Ryanair flies there…which means a cheaper fly in flight.
Pula’s main attraction is the Roman arena which is the 6th Largest Roman Coliseum in the World. It had a capacity of 25 000 people. It kind of symbolizes the huge influence of Italy in Istria.
Incredibly this arena is still used today! It’s difficult to imagine, but you can actually go to a music festival here. How cool is Croatia?
On our way to Zagreb, we decided to have a small detour to Krk. The only place we have been yet that doesn’t have vowels 🙂 The bridge connecting to the island is an engineering accomplishment – it was the largest in the world at the time of construction and is still the second largest. The clear green/blue water makes a very elegant setting. The interior of Krk is very dry, we didn’t find it especially appealing. Our destination in Krk was Baška a cute little village with a stunning beach. Although eye candy we didn’t dive in because it was a chilly, windy day.
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Zagreb is the capital and the biggest city of Croatia, but it’s far from being the most interesting or touristy places in the country. Although having some interesting buildings, parks, and gardens it lacks on … something. Zagreb’s architecture, style, and environment make me remember of Budapest and Vienna but it doesn’t have the same glamour. Don’t get us wrong, we liked Zagreb and if you have a free day you should visit it, but if you are short on time, don’t miss other Croatian attractions to go to Zagreb. And this far more relevant in summer. In Zagreb, we were introduced to our favorite Croatian treat, the Burek which is a pastry made of spiral layers of phyllo and stuffed with spinach and cheese, or meat. It’s such a tasty snack… We ate those things the whole trip. After Zagreb, we headed to Plitvice.
#3 Plitvice Lakes National park
Travel bloggers tend to exaggerate and call everything the best or the most beautiful in the world. This happens because everyone wants to captivate your attention, but this is the time that it’s true. I can’t imagine anything more fascinating than the Plitvice Lakes and waterfalls. It is by far the most alluring, stunning and dazzling waterfalls we have been to. It’s not one perfect waterfall and lake, or ten… there are literally hundreds of waterfalls, cascades, and cataracts. All of them perfectly drawn and full of color. Prepare yourself to walk, and walk, and walk… but you will be distracted and probably overwhelmed by what you are seeing, always with water everywhere you look, and always with waterfalls. The wooden boardwalks go for a few km, in the shore, through the lakes, really close to the falls. In the biggest lake, you will have a small ferry to take you to the other end of the lake. At the end of the park, fortunately, you can take a bus back to the start, so don’t worry about returning. You should definitely reserve a full day for Plitvice Lakes waterfalls.
The historic old town of Zadar is quite small but absolutely lovely. Therefore we suggest you leave the car outside the old town and then either lose yourself wandering in it or/and renting a bike for a few hours and have some fun riding through the small streets and then into Zadar’s waterfront. We did it both and it was very relaxing to wander about, have a drink and an Ice cream in the Roman and medieval ruins. Zadar has a very good vibe that is difficult to explain, I believe it’s the mixture of many small things, the sea always very close, the touristy atmosphere but not too much, the colors and smells, the sunset, the historical buildings… Although having a Roman forum, the 5 bells square, the bell tower, St. Anastasia cathedral, the city walls and so on, our favorite attractions were the sea organ and greetings to the sun. The sea organ is a musical instrument that plays according to the waves. It’s located on the end of the waterfront and hidden in the marble stairs that go into the Adriatic sea. If you aren’t aware of its existence you will be surprised by the relatively random but somehow harmonic sounds coming from the ground. Greetings to the sun are right next to the organ and is a 22-meter circle array of solar panels embedded in the sidewalk. By day it absorbs solar energy, by night it comes to live in a psychedelic but somehow soothing light show. Zadar is our kind of city!
#5 Krka & Split
After what we saw earlier we were very anxious to get to Krka… We knew that Krka has one huge advantage over Plitvice, you can bath in the lakes!! We are one of those people: we see turquoise water, we want to go in… and these have inviting waterfalls to top it off. Krka is wonderful and on another trip, it would be the #1 attraction, but this is Croatia. In Croatia you have Plitvice and the Krka’s cataracts aren’t as eye candy, neither the water is as pristine or colorful. It’s just a huge shoe to fill.
To enter the park, usually, you have to take a boat up the river. Unfortunately (or not) we didn’t arrive on time for the boat, so we had to rent a bike to go by ourselves. If you like biking consider this option, as it was extremely fun to ride the bicycles to the park. It’s not too far so you won’t need to be in top shape to get there, but if you want to walk you will lose valuable time before getting to the most interesting part of the park. After Krka, we headed to Split where we would get the ferry to Brac.
We have just spent a few hours in Split, near the harbor, where we visited the Diocletian Palace. Although being considered one of imposing roman complex we didn’t have time to properly explore it, as it’s huge and doesn’t look like a palace but a whole historic city center. It’s a shame we didn’t have time to properly explore Split, it’s a UNESCO heritage site and a little underrated. Some people even prefer Split over Dubrovnik…
One great thing about Croatia is that you can island hop and road trip at the same time. There are so many ferries to the islands that will enable you to go from the mainland to islands and even between islands and taking your car with you.
We went to Brac because we wanted to go to Bol and see in the most photographed beach in Croatia, Zlatni Rat, which means golden horn in English. Bol is a small touristy village where I assume not much happens outside summer. Even in June, there were very few people on the boardwalk and on the beach. It was a hot day and having the stunning Zlatni Rat (and the other beaches) almost to ourselves made it even more pleasant. The only downside of Bol (and for what it matters almost every other Croatian Beach) is the lack of sand. From the outside, it looks like white paradisiac sand, but once you get closer and step on it you understand that it’s small rocks…
For us, it’s a bummer, but there are people who actually prefer having rocks instead of sand… Who are we to judge? 🙂 Funny thing about the golden horn, it actually changes in size and shape, according to the currents.
Alternatively, you can visit Korcula which is another incredible Croatian island on the Dalmatian coast. Its amazing views and waterfront make it great for family holidays.
#7 Makarska to Dubrovnik
Having to leave Bol we went back to the mainland, directly to Makarska where we stopped for lunch and a short walk in the walkways, lined with trees near the beach. Apparently, you can’t go wrong in Dalmatia. Then, we headed to Dubrovnik through Bosnia. We decided to stop for a few minutes in Neum. These were a few weird moments, for some reason we didn’t feel comfortable at all, everything looked less colorful, darker and uglier… everyone seemed to be staring at us, confused by our presence. It was probably in our heads… but we all felt it and decided to continue our journey to Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik is the pearl of the Adriatic, the most famous town in the region with its fantastic walls surrounding the old town. The walls of Dubrovnik are 2 km long, 4 to 6 meters wide and up to 25 meters high… pretty impressive right? They were even used to inspire the Walls of King’s Landing in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Actually, a few spots of Dubrovnik were used as inspiration for King’s Landing…
You can walk around it, visit the towers and see the old town from above. If you add to it, the clear green/blue water of the Adriatic sea, the orange rooftops and the view of the historic building below, you get a fantastic and colorful postcard.
The old town is traffic free, so it’s a wonderland for wanders like us. The Stradun is the main promenade of Dubrovnik, the heart of the old town. This is the best place, in Croatia. to people watching, while having a drink or an ice cream, or just setting free your consumer spirit in the many shops along the way. Dubrovnik is also a great place to splurge on luxury hotels. Dubrovnik is also full of bars and clubs so if this is your thing, you will definitely be at home. However, make sure you tour around Dubrovnik to fully enjoy this UNESCO heritage town! The worst part? Parking in Dubrovnik near the old town is a nightmare and expensive. So if you find a spot, just leave the car and have fun walking around.
From Dubrovnik, there are several day trips or an alternative for us to continue our journey. We strongly suggest you go to Montenegro and visit Kotor, another amazing small town in the Adriatic sea! Backpacking in the Balkan region is really entertaining and creates memories that last forever.
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Our Recommended Travel Guide Books For Croatia
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Croatia