HOW TO ROAD TRIP CROATIA + TRAVEL TIPS
So, you are planning a Croatia road trip? With cities like Dubrovnik, Split, Rovinj, or national parks and beaches, this country is a perfect road trip destination in Europe.
Public transportation in Croatia is not bad. Also, you could do guided day tours to visit the top places in the country. However, given Croatia´s geography – stretched over length – it is not easy to visit all the top places as day trips. To create a perfect Croatia itinerary, driving is the best way to get around.
To visit all the places mentioned in this post, I suggest spending at least 14 days in the country. However, you can also skip a few places and do a 5- 7- or 10-day Croatia road trip.
Before talking about the best places to visit, here are some tips for driving in Croatia.
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DRIVING TIPS & RULES FOR ROAD TRIPPING CROATIA
Driving in Croatia is amazing. I have driven in a few countries (mostly in Europe), and it was probably the best conditions I have come across – better than in Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, and of course better than in Italy.
- The roads, even in the mountains, are not as narrow as in many other countries. Plus, most of them are in great condition.
- The streets and roads are not very busy and the best: Croatian drivers are quite friendly (unlike in Italy, I must say).
- People could argue that tolls are high in Croatia – and it is true. Tolls for highways in Croatia are insane. For 100 km you pay around 10€ (just roughly) – BUT… here comes the good news:
- If you drive along the D8 – along the coast – you can avoid the tolls. The most beautiful street to drive to in Croatia is free – and you will have amazing scenic views along the way.
- Gas and diesel prices are quite high, though. Prices change daily but are higher than in Germany or Austria, for example.
- Also, it is pretty easy to find parking in most cities and towns (at least compared to Italy and if you do not visit in July or August) – an exception is Dubrovnik. If you park in the city center – fees can be up to 240€ – for 24 hours!
- Croatia has done a great job. There are many great spots if you want to take a break and enjoy the views. So, pack enough food and drinks for many stops – there is no need to rush to get from one place to the next.
- When you plan to visit any of the islands, like Hvar, you will need to use the ferry or a boat but can leave your car in Split.
- In general, I did not worry about safety – don’t leave any valuables on display and take your wallet, etc., with you (and put everything that could attract thefts in the trunk).
- If you need to rent a car, check out rental prices here and make sure to rent a car in advance. This applies especially if you visit during the busier months.
- If you drive all the way down to Dubrovnik, make sure you have an insurance card with you (either if you drive your own and a rental car) as you will cross borders with Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Check out my accommodation guide for Croatia.
BEST STOPS FOR A ROAD TRIP IN CROATIA
So, here is the perfect Croatia road trip itinerary (skip whatever you want or add other places). If you only have 7-day in Croatia, check out my one-week itinerary.
Start (or end) your trip in Zagreb, the capital of the country It ranks among the oldest cities in Central Europe dating back to the 11th century.
Located more inland than other popular cities in Croatia, Zagreb still has a lot to offer. Its architecture sets it apart from other Croatian towns as well, with a heavy Austrian-Hungarian influence.
- You will want to visit some places: the Cathedral, the Museum of Broken Relationships, shopping at Dollar Market, seeing St. Mark’s Church, eating at Tkalciceva Street, and walking through the cemetery of Mirogoj which is just outside of Zagreb’s city center.
Zagreb is, however, a little more challenging to reach because it is located in the north, close to the Slovenian border. If you have less than 10 days, I would skip it.
TIP: Driving in Zagreb is fine. It is busy but not as crazy as in other European capitals. If you can, book accommodation with free parking though. I recommend staying 1 or 2 days in Zagreb if you have 10 + days in Croatia.
WHERE TO STAY IN ZAGREB:
- I stayed at an Airbnb but here is one of the best-rated hotels in Zagreb that you can check out.
One of the most stunning and famous natural landmarks in Croatia is the Plitvice Lakes. The Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest and largest national park and is almost 80% covered in forest. It is a popular destination for hikers with many trails. It is a biodiverse region with many threatened species and was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
It is a favorite among visitors and is a popular place to visit for your Croatia road trip.
The lakes themselves feature stunning colors in their water.
The Plitvice Lakes are actually made up of 16 larger lakes and numerous smaller ones, the largest in all of Croatia is Veliki Slap.
You can circle them, exploring along eight different routes.
Tip: There are enough parking spots (paid) at Plitvice Lakes. Depending on your speed, I think something between half a day or a full day is enough. Some people spend more than one day, but for me, about 6 hours were enough to see most of it.
The only downside to the Plitvice Lakes is that they are located inland and away from any other travel destinations in Croatia, so you will have to detour on your road trip to reach them.
WHERE TO STAY AT PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK:
- I stayed at a clean, tidy, and nice (though simple) pension a few kilometers near the lakes. The owners were really nice, too. So definitely a place I recommend staying at. Check out the rates for the Pansion House Prijeboj.
Located close to the Italian border – in fact, just across Venice’s water – and on the northwestern side of Croatia is Rovinj.
Rovinj has a very Italian feel to it. From the Venetian architecture to the cobblestone streets and colorful houses, Rovinj will remind you of a town on the coast of Italy. It sits on the Istrian coast, just below the Lim Fjord. There are a lot of charming houses and narrow little streets that are fun to wander and explore.
- Some of the highlights of visiting Rovinj are strolling through the old town, climbing the bell tower, exploring the artistic street of Ulica, and taking a walk on the promenade.
- If you like the beach, there are a few where you can go to relax or swim. And there are also boat cruises offered to see Rovinj from a different perspective.
TIP: Parking in the town center might be difficult in the summer months. Book accommodation that has parking included or park a bit outside and walk to the city center/accommodation. It is a small town but lovely and so different from the rest of the country, making it special.
Unfortunately, it is quite a detour from the Plitvice National Park, so you have to think, whether you want to add it to your road trip. If you visit, I recommend staying for at least one night.
WHERE TO STAY IN ROVINJ
I recommend staying in or near the old town of Rovinj.
- Rooms Barbieri: I picked a little B&B near the old town. Prices are good, they allowed dogs, and they offer free parking. It just takes a short (and lovely) walk to get to the old town. However, there are not many rooms, so book early if you want to stay here. Find out more about the little B&B I stayed at.
- For a more luxurious stay – just a 10-minute walk from the old town – check out Grand Park Hotel Rovinj rates.
- Hotel Adriatic is a very well-rated boutique hotel in the old town. Find out more about the rates.
From Rovinj, you could continue and visit Pula. Pula is a seaside city located at the Istrian Peninsula’s tip and has a very tragic past.
It was founded during the prehistoric era and, over the course of many centuries, was occupied and destroyed, and rebuilt repeatedly. It was favored because of its strategic location within a protected harbor.
Pula has been occupied by the forces of the Romans, the Ostrogoths, the Venetians, and the Allied forces from World War II over the years.
Nowadays, it is a popular destination because of its beautiful and historic landmarks and Roman ruins, its beaches, and its coastline. Visit the Roman Amphitheater and some of the many museums in Pula. It is also the home of various festivals.
TIP: With only 2 weeks in Croatia (or less), I would limit my time here and visit the Roman Amphitheater and then spend the rest of the day driving to Zadar.
Founded in the 4th century, Zadar has an ancient history. Located along the western coast of Croatia by the Adriatic Sea, Zadar is the country’s oldest continuously inhabited city.
Despite its fame, this town is not very busy or crowded, so it is easy to explore and enjoy. You can definitely see the best of Zadar in one day: see the Forum, visit the ancient square, stroll down Kalelarga Street, and see the church of St. Donatus.
You can take in the views from the bell tower and stroll the promenade, where visitors can listen to the Sea Organ’s unique sounds and watch the sunset. Zadar has a very laid-back vibe to it, so take your time exploring this Croatian town for the day before heading to your next road trip destination.
Tip: I am very honest – Zadar wasn’t my favorite stop. Compared to other places here, it lacked attractions, but it is a perfect stop-over. So, from your way to Pula, I would probably spend the evening here (it is charming in the evening) and then continue the journey the next day.
Krka National Park
Spend half a day (or a day) at Krka National Park. It is located in the southern part of Croatia and, similar to Plitvice Lake, has beautiful waterfalls.
Situated along the Krka River, the national park has a series of seven waterfalls that are scattered throughout the area. There is the Roški Slap in the north, a cascade close to a nature trail, and the Krka Monastery, which was created above the catacombs from Roman times.
To the south, Skradinski Buk waterfall is surrounded by two watermills. You can actually swim in the water here.
Also in Krka National Park is on Visovac Island, which was where the Franciscan Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy was located in the 15th century.
I skipped it – I visited Plitvice Falls and was not too eager to see these falls as the weather was not great. So, I can tell you what I have heard. These falls are not as impressive as Plitvice Lake’s, but they are still a good place to visit.
Tip: It is a great alternative if you don’t want to drive up north for the Plitvice Lakes or if you want to swim. Since it is close to Zadar and even closer to Šibenik, it would make a great stop before discovering these two beautiful towns below.
Trogir and Šibenik
Now, it is time to head to Trogir and Šibenik. You can’t road trip Croatia and miss out on these beauties! Located along the Adriatic Sea’s western shores, these two towns are absolutely beautiful and quite charming.
Šibenik is famous as the filming location for the show Game of Thrones, but besides that, it also has a lot of old, picturesque streets and famous landmarks. The town has two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Šibenik Cathedral and St. Nicholas Fort. Trogir felt like a mini version of Split, but even more lovely with its colorful streets, little cafes, and friendly people. There is a really nice seaside promenade that you can stroll, as well as other sights like the Trogir Cathedral, the clock tower in the market square, Kamerlengo Castle, and the bell tower.
The streets themselves are a sight, and you should spend some time exploring these two towns on foot to really get a feel for them.
TIP: Both places are absolutely gorgeous, and you could do them in one day. It is enough time to see the main attractions but I suggest staying overnight in Sibenik or Trogir.
Where to Stay in Trogir:
- Hotel Brown Beach House & Spa looks like a lovely hotel with a pool, lovely views. It is located quite close to the city center. You can check out rates here.
- Hotel Concordia is located in the old town – I think, location-wise, it cannot get much better, and it seems to offer great value for money! Find out more about the hotel here.
Then it is time to visit Split – and spend a day or two in Split, which is located on a peninsula in the southwestern part of Croatia, jutting out into the Adriatic Sea.
Split is one of the most famous and popular cities in the country. It can be very crowded here, partly because it was another filming location for Game of Thrones (GoT) because there are many beautiful landmarks that you won’t want to miss.
Visit the Cathedral and the Bell Tower of Saint Domnius, see Diocletian’s Palace and explore the Peristyle (Peristil) and the Vestibule, and see the City Gate. Klis Fortress is another must-see for GOT fans.
You can also hike up Marjan Hill for views of the surrounding scenery and walk the promenade.
Tip: Split is lovely, though, with a limited time in Croatia (less than 10 days), I would not spend more than 1 day in Split.
Where to Stay in Split:
- If you are looking for luxury accommodation, check out the Hotel Park Split by Bačvice Beach. It is one of the most luxurious places to stay in Split.
- If you are looking more for a mid-range hotel in the old town, then Golden Gate Dreams Rooms might be a perfect choice. It is located in the old town and has great ratings. Find out more about rates and availability here.
Hvar is one of Croatia’s most popular islands – known as a famous port city as well as a party spot.
But it also has a rich history and lovely architecture done in the Italian Renaissance style. The old town is great to walk through and explore.
There are lots of caves, forests, and secluded beaches for outdoor activities like hiking and swimming.
To reach the island, you will need to leave your car in Split and take the ferry to enjoy a day in Hvar. It will take a few hours to reach, but it should be worth it.
Where to stay in Hvar:
- While I did not stay in Hvar myself, this hotel seems like a great place to stay when visiting Hvar.
Spend a day (or half) in Omiš, a port town just southeast of Split, situated where the Cetina River and the Adriatic Sea meet. During the 12-14th centuries, it was a pirate town, so it’s an interesting place to explore
It has lovely scenery and is a very unique and pretty town that really shouldn’t be missed. Huge gorges surround Omiš. For adventure lovers, it’s even better – you can enjoy biking, canyoning, ziplining, rock climbing, and rafting.
Head up to Castle Mirabella, which offers great views of the old town, mountains, and river. A little farther away is Starigrad Fortica, a 15th-century fortress built during the Croatian-Ottoman wars, which also offers nice views.
There are many churches to see, including the remains of the 5th-century Church of St. Euphemia.
TIP: Omis is the perfect place…for anyone actually! Beautiful scenery, a lot of activities of adrenaline junkies, easy hike opportunities, and more.
Punta Rata & Baska Voda
Punta Rata & Baska Voda beaches are among the best to visit in Croatia. The coastline of the country is gorgeous, so visiting one of these two beaches will allow you to enjoy the beauty even more. Punta Rata is well-known as the prettiest beach in Croatia. There are more than a few in this area, but this is a good place to stop and, if the weather cooperates, go for a swim or lay out in the sun. It is surrounded by pine trees and has clear water and smooth sand.
Baska Voda is also along the Adriatic coastline and has smooth sand and clear waters. This beach is a little busier, though, as you’ll notice as you walk along the promenade.
Tip: You might long for a day at the beach after driving and visiting the many towns and villages. This is the place to rest and chill. One day or two here might be enough to sunbathe and chill at the beach, but of course, you could stay here much longer.
However, more great places are waiting for you.
Mostar, Blagaj Monastery, Kravice Falls, and Pocitelj (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
To get to Dubrovnik, you must cross into Bosnia-Herzegovina. So, why not visit some of the most popular destinations along the way!
Mostar, located by the Neretva River, is wonderful! You should take time to stroll through the many shops and market stalls down the city’s alleys. Also, take in the panoramic views from the minaret of the Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque and see Stari Most, a famous reconstructed bridge from medieval times.
In the southeastern region of the Mostar basin, you will find the ancient Blagaj Monastery built 600 years ago on the cliffs, along with a Turkish bath and mausoleum.
The Kravice Falls are lovely cascading waterfalls found on the Trebižat River, in the center of Herzegovina, and just south of Mostar.
Also in Herzegovina is Pocitelj, a historic village with an open-air museum that you can explore.
TIP: I adore Bosnia-Herzegovina. I loved the people, the places…in addition to that, it is also much cheaper than Croatia, so make a gas stop here and do some shopping if you are on a budget. You could visit the places in 1 day – but with crossing the border, I actually suggest spending a night in Mostar before heading to the last place on your Croatia road trip itinerary.
Dubrovnik is one of the most popular and famous cities in the country. Located in the south of Croatia, along the coast of the Adriatic Sea – Dubrovnik is unique.
One of the downsides of Dubrovnik is its location. It is quite far from other main places in the country. However, it is really worth it.
After the excursion (with or without a stop in Bosnia), you will be back in Croatia and visit Dubrovnik.
It is known for its 16th-century walls that encircle the city and a very well-preserved old town that dates back to medieval times. The 2-kilometer-long walls are walkable and offer great views of the city.
You can also see more filming locations from Game of Thrones. Other landmarks to visit include hiking up Srd Mountain, seeing St. Blaise Church, Rector’s Palace, the Dominican Monastery, Dubrovnik Cathedral, Fort Lovrijenac, and Sponza Palace.
The Old Town and the many buildings throughout the streets make wandering one of the best things to do in Dubrovnik.
Tip: The old town of Dubrovnik is car-free. Park your car outside the city center – and walk or take a bus to get to the old town. Parking prices are ridiculously high. Driving up Srd Mountain can be challenging for people who cannot drive the extremely narrow mountain roads.
Where to Stay in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is busy. I mean, really busy, and this is why I recommend staying at least one or two nights. This way you can explore the city when the visitors are gone (many people visit only for a few hours).
- Villa Flora: It is a good choice in the old town, just a minute walk from Stradun. It is not super modern, nor fancy, but a nice hotel if you do not want to spend a fortune. Click here to check out prices for Villa Flora.
- Hilton: If you are looking for a more luxurious hotel near the old town (just 200 meters outside the old town), you may want to check out the Hilton in Dubrovnik.
CONCLUSION OF MY CROATIA ROAD TRIP
I think the Croatia road trip was one of the most fun road trips I have had. The scenery, the streets, the people – not to forget the places you get to visit will surely make your trip amazing!
Avoid highways (for the costs) and see what the country has to offer along the coast. You will meet many friendly locals and beautiful spots. So, enjoy your Croatia road trip and drive safely!
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