Croatia is a hidden gem destination in Europe where you can get away with seeing some of the most beautiful places on Earth on a small budget. Or, you can opt to stay in any of its luxury seaside resorts for the ultimate Mediterranean getaway. The choice you should definitely make is to road trip around Croatia to make the most of your travels. Planning a road trip to a new destination can be intimidating and overwhelming, but this Croatia road trip itinerary is perfectly curated so you will see the best Croatia has to offer and know everything you need to know before you set off on your adventure.
Croatia is a perfect destination for a road trip, being a relatively small and round country. It’s easier than you think to create a robust Croatia road trip itinerary and customize it to the number of days you will be staying in Croatia.
One to two weeks is an ideal amount of time to spend road tripping Croatia, but ten days is the sweet spot!
Written by Michela from She Goes The Distance
Table of Contents
- 1 Arriving in Croatia
- 2 The Best Croatia Road Trip Itinerary
- 2.1 Day 1: Explore Zagreb For A Day
- 2.2 Day 2: Visit the Natural Wonder of Plitvice Lakes
- 2.3 Day 3: Stay in Split
- 2.4 Day 4: Day Trip from Split to Trogir
- 2.5 Day 5: Day Trip from Split to the 5 Islands
- 2.6 Day 6: Day Trip from Split to Omiš and on to Dubrovnik
- 2.7 Day 7: Explore Dubrovnik
- 2.8 Day 8: Head up to Istria
- 2.9 Day 9: Rovinj
- 2.10 Day 10: Return to Zagreb
- 3 Final Thoughts and Tips
Arriving in Croatia
Croatia’s three main airports are in Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik. There are advantages and disadvantages to arriving in each, but to start the perfect Croatia road trip itinerary, Zagreb is the best airport.
Flying into Zagreb usually means saving money on flights and avoiding the other more tourist-driven airports. It’s also very central in the country, so you can easily loop back around to it to reach your outbound flight.
Tips for Renting a Car
Renting a car in Croatia is easy and relatively inexpensive, especially outside of the tourist-y summer months. However, there are some things to keep in mind about renting a car and avoiding budget-busting fees and tolls.
You have to be at least 21 years old to rent a car in Croatia, but your driver’s license from your home country is all you need to actually drive.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most cars will be manual. If you prefer automatic cars, book early so you can save money because you will have to pay extra!
Try to book as early as possible anyway, especially if you are traveling during the busy summer season, to get the best deal on your rental car.
Highways in Croatia have pricey tolls (up to 25 euros) so I recommend traveling on state roads whenever possible. The drive is usually a more scenic route so you can see more of the beautiful country!
Another budget tip for your Croatia road trip itinerary is to filter your accommodation search to include only those that have parking included. Parking can be tough to find, especially in larger cities like Split or Dubrovnik.
Now that some of the logistics are out of the way, let’s hit the road!
The Best Croatia Road Trip Itinerary
To outline this itinerary, you’ll basically make a circle traveling Croatia. Because of this, you’ll be able to pick your own starting point along this circle to fit your trip needs. If you fly into Split, then you can start from there and follow the itinerary all the way around!
The itinerary is also customizable to the number of days you spend in Croatia, so it’s flexible to your budget and what you desire to see!
If you have less days to spend in Croatia, take a stop out. If you have more days, I recommend extending your trip in a major city like Split so that you can incorporate other easy-to-reach day trip destinations and see more of the country.
Day 1: Explore Zagreb For A Day
After arriving in Zagreb, plan to spend one night there to get your bearings and prepare for the rest of your trip.
There are several unique places to explore in Zagreb, including the upper Old Town where you’ll find the spectacularly tiled St. Mark’s Church. You will also enjoy strolling Zagreb’s central parks during the day, Zrinjevac, Strossmayer Square and Tomislavac.
Plan on an early night so you can wake up and get moving on your road trip. The next day is a long one and quite tiring if you are not used to hiking!
Day 2: Visit the Natural Wonder of Plitvice Lakes
You cannot visit Croatia without taking a day to hike Plitvice Lakes National Park. This natural wonder is one of the highlights of any Croatia road trip!
If you just stick to staying on Croatia’s coast, you may miss out on this experience. That’s why I recommend incorporating Zagreb as a stop since it is closer to Plitvice and makes the amount of driving bearable (so you’re not on the road for 6 hours straight.)
There are many tips to visiting Plitvice Lakes for the day. Look at the map at the entrance and choose a path you would like to follow. All the paths are marked throughout the park but could get confusing if you start to switch routes along the way.
Wear comfortable shoes and lightweight clothing, especially during the summer. Take along your best photography gear to capture the stunning waterfalls and blue lakes and pack some snacks to keep from getting too hungry!
You can usually do most of the park in around 6 hours. This will be a bit of a long and adventurous day, but you’ll have time to relax on the way to Split!
Day 3: Stay in Split
After arriving in Split the night before, you can use a day to explore the city center and head to some of its best beaches. Be sure to visit Diocletian’s Palace, where Game of Thrones was filmed, and stroll the panoramic marina.
If you’re ready for a relaxing day at the beach after all of that activity yesterday, then I recommend Jezinac Beach. Bacvice Beach is Split’s most popular but can be easily overcrowded and uncomfortable. Jezinac Beach is located in a beautiful park and there is more room to spread out compared to Bacvice Beach.
Day 4: Day Trip from Split to Trogir
There are a ton of amazing day trips you can take from Split, so I recommend spending your longest amount of time in this city. Make Split your home base and use the car to its fullest by venturing out and around to amazing spots in Croatia.
One of the easiest and best day trips from Split is to the medieval town of Trogir. Only thirty minutes by car, Trogir has a quaint historic center with small boutiques and narrow walking streets.
It also has some amazing beaches with the clearest cerulean blue sea you’ve ever seen! Be sure to walk across the bridge from Old Town over to the public beach. You can see picturesque Old Town from the rocky shore and enjoy a bit of peace and relaxation in comparison to the busy Split beaches.
Day 5: Day Trip from Split to the 5 Islands
On the next day, I recommend booking a tour to visit some of the islands around Croatia.
Since you have a car, you could also avoid booking a tour and take your car on the Jadrolinija ferry for an extra fee. This option gives you more freedom to explore in comparison to a structured tour.
However, taking the ferry with a car does cost quite a bit and you will probably be confined to one island, for example, Brac or Hvar.
A tour could be more expensive, but it’s also a stress-free way to see a lot of what Split has to offer on its coast, including more remote places like Vis Island and the Blue Lagoon.
Day 6: Day Trip from Split to Omiš and on to Dubrovnik
Omiš is an incredible destination in Croatia for a multitude of reasons, one of those being that it has a large sand beach – something that is hard to find on the Mediterranean!
Velika Plaza beach has changing rooms and all sorts of other amenities so you can feel comfortable swimming in the morning and then driving in the afternoon. If you have time, walk up to Mirabella Fortress, the ruins of an old castle. If you want to spend even more time in Omiš, you can hike up to the Fortress Starigrad, go whitewater rafting down the River Cetina, or zipline through the Cetina Canyon!
Omiš is on the way to the next destination on the Croatia road trip itinerary, Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is about three hours away from Split if you take the routes that have tolls, and about four if you are trying to avoid them.
Day 7: Explore Dubrovnik
This walled city is Croatia’s most famous and one of the most popular destinations on the Mediterranean. You must walk its ancient walls dating back to the tenth century with beautiful views over the sea.
You can hike up to Mount Srd for views overlooking the entire city, or stay within the old town and visit Rektor’s Palace, Fort Lovrijenac, and Dubrovnik’s Cathedral.
If swimming is your main agenda, take the ferry to the forested island of Lokrum for views of Dubrovnik and the perfect blue sea surrounded by nature.
Day 8: Head up to Istria
While I believe Istria is a stunning part of Croatia that everyone should visit, it’s also quite a long drive from Dubrovnik (nearly seven hours.)
So, to make the road trip itinerary less strenuous and incorporate Dubrovnik, I would recommend skipping Istria and just heading back to Zagreb through Split. If you desire to travel off-the-beaten-path and discover a more unique destination, then skip Dubrovnik and head to the region of Istria.
If you really want to see both and not drive seven hours in one day, you could always do half the drive in one day and stop in a city like Zadar for one night.
Day 9: Rovinj
Once arrived in Istria, the best town to visit and stay in is Rovinj. The beautiful Old Town sits on a small, hilled peninsula surrounded by the Adriatic. Its maze of stone streets is full of surprises.
Narrow passageways lead down to the sea, while others may have a long set of stairs begging you to ascend into yet another secret viewing spot of the sea surrounding you.
Take a refreshing break from exploring by grabbing a gelato from Gelateria Italiana and save some space for aperitivo at The Mediterraneo Cocktail Bar, a small café that seats you along the cliffside of the peninsula to enjoy a magnificent sunset view.
And put that car to good use by dining at Tipico Green Garden, just outside Old Town, where you can have dinner in a vineyard, lounge on a hammock, and watch horses roaming the grounds for an enchanting evening experience.
Day 10: Return to Zagreb
The sad day has come, and your Croatia road trip has come to an end. But now you know you can fit in so many incredible experiences into a Croatia road trip itinerary!
If you have time on your way back to Zagreb, you could stop at the fairytale city of Motovun, a walled fortified town at the top of a large hill.
Upon your return, make sure to fill your car with fuel before returning it at the airport to avoid a fee!
Final Thoughts and Tips
It can be intimidating to plan a road trip from scratch, but hopefully, this outline is helpful as a framework for your personal trip planning.
When planning your own Croatia road trip itinerary, be sure to keep these things in mind:
- Croatia’s busiest season is from the months of July and August. Visit in the shoulder months of May/June or September to still enjoy beautiful weather, while beating the crowds and saving money.
- Croatia uses the Kuna as currency, so be sure to have some cash in Croatian Kuna for parking fees or toll roads.
- If possible, try to rent a car on the smaller side so it’s easier to navigate narrow streets and parking stops that are common in some areas of Croatia.
Now you are ready for your road trip in Croatia!
Bio: Michela is a female travel blogger at She Goes The Distance, empowering young women to travel through curated resources and tips. Now based in Bergamo, Italy, she loves to share hidden gem places, budget travel guides, and travel photography tips.
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