How To Take the Perfect 10-Day Croatia Road Trip

“André? André! Wake up!!”

My would-be navigator had fallen asleep in the passenger seat, leaving me alone to drive our rental car along a windy road in the pitch dark in the middle of nowhere on our fateful 10-day Croatia road trip. I had no idea where I was going. 

“This is why I usually navigate and you usually drive,” I thought to myself. Nothing like a car ride to knock him out cold. 

slip croatia old town with birds at sunrise

After a couple of elbows to his ribs, about three detours, and another full hour, we arrived at our guesthouse near the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Exhausted and frazzled, we collapsed in our bed. Our Croatia road trip was not off to the best start. 

To be fair, we hadn’t done the best planning, but I’m happy to report things got better from there. We spent the next few days exploring the gorgeous national parks in central Croatia, headed out to the islands for some vitamin sea, and discovered three of the nation’s timeless cities.

Why Take a Road Trip Through Croatia?

Croatia is a great country for a road trip and, in my opinion, it’s the best way to independently explore the country. It’s a small nation and pretty easy to navigate as long as you have Google Maps and a sense of adventure. Driving here is safe and manageable, and your car rental should have an affordable price tag. Most of the best things to see and do are only a one or two-hour drive apart and you can see them all in a little over a week. 

plitvice lakes national park from above waterfalls and boardwalks

Personally, I was drawn to go on a road trip in Croatia because of all the natural beauty has to offer. I wanted to see the national parks, medieval towns, coastal villages, and beautiful beaches most of all. It seems like every new town or city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I also probably don’t have to convince you that the food and wine are to die for. 

Perhaps best of all, the country of super affordable compared to other Western European countries with history, culture, and nature to rival its Mediterranean cousins.

Transportation in Croatia

As mentioned, renting a car in Croatia is easy and affordable. Make sure to ask which kind of gas the car takes before you drive away! If you have a valid license from the US or Europe, you are legally allowed to drive in Croatia without needing an international driving permit. 

In addition, it’s very possible to pick up your car in one city and drop it off in another. Since our trip was an end-to-end trip so to say, we did this and were only charged a small additional fee. 

couple on a boardwalk in the rain in plitvice national park

Also, this was definitely a road trip in my mind, but we actually used ferries to get from Split to the islands and from the island to Dubrovnik. They’re fast, affordable, and definitely comfortable enough to fall asleep in (obviously I speak from experience.)

If you’re not comfortable driving, there are also options to take trains and buses which connect all the major cities and main attractions.

When’s the best time to go to Croatia?

In my opinion, the best time to go road-tripping through Croatia is during the shoulder season. We personally went in early September and while the weather was perfect, the crowds were still pretty intense, especially in Dubrovnik. If you’re visiting during the high season (June-August), you won’t be alone. I’d recommend targeting April/May and September/October for the perfect mix of warm, sunny days and lighter crowds.

lopud island croatia from above drone shot

The Perfect Croatia Itinerary For Your Road Trip

Day 1: Zagreb

Start your trip in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia. We rented our car at Zagreb Airport and drove right into the city center from there. To be completely frank, we didn’t spend much time exploring the city as we both had to catch up on a little work. I wish we had seen a bit more. We did find some delicious eats though!

With a full day in Zagreb, you should have plenty of time to see the main sights like the old town, Zrinjevac Park, and the very intriguing-sounding Museum of Broken Relationships.

After our day in Zagreb, we chose to drive to Plitvice so we could wake up and get right to the national park when it opened. If you’d rather visit Plitvice in the afternoon, it might make sense to stay overnight in Zagreb. 

Day 2: Plitvice National Park

plitvice lakes small waterfalls

Plitvice Lakes National Park was perhaps my very favorite spot along this Croatia road trip. I remember seeing a picture of the lakes on Pinterest years ago and thinking “I’ll get there someday.” It was one of my earliest bucket list items.

The park is a network of turquoise blue lakes and thundering waterfalls interlaced with wiggly boardwalks. There are so many waterfalls that it’s actually super loud most of the time! It’s truly a haven for nature lovers.

boardwalk over waterfalls in plitvice

We spent nearly the entire day walking along the boardwalks and forest trails, taking our time. In many cases, we slowed down to let big groups of tourists pass so we could have the place a little more to ourselves. 

Overall, I don’t think you need more than a day to see everything at the Plitvice Lakes, but you could happily stay longer if you wanted. I also don’t think you need a guide. You can easily walk all the beautiful paths independently. 

Day 3: Šibenik and Krka National Park

Most people visit Krka National Park on a day trip from Split but since it was right on the way, we decided to go it alone. While Krka didn’t hold a candle to the Plitvice Lakes in my opinion, it was still a beautiful place to visit. 

Krka is quite huge but the main area that tourists visit is around the Skradinski Buk waterfall in the southern part of the park. This waterfall is certainly the main attraction as there are plenty of areas for picnicking and relaxing right nearby. There’s a small boardwalk loop that you can walk along, restaurants, and souvenir stands, too.

krka national park waterfall with people swimming

Unlike Plitvice, Krka National Park allows swimming so don’t forget to bring your swimsuit! In the summer months, the water is super refreshing.

One place we missed on our route was Šibenik. Although it’s a small town, it has a lot of historic sights to see such as the Cathedral of St. James and St. Michael’s Fortress. There are also supposed to be great views of the nearby Kornati Islands.

Days 4 & 5: Split

As soon as we reached Split, we returned our car and took a shuttle bus into town. Despite being Croatia’s second-largest city, Split still feels small and almost everything is walkable. The old-world charm is palpable as soon as you enter the ancient gates. 

split diocletians palace early morning no crowds with woman in pink dress

I’d recommend a full two days in Split to see everything. Take one day to do a walking tour to explore the more historic side of things. See Diocletian’s Palace, Jupiter’s Temple, the Republic Square, and the Split city museum. Don’t miss a nice walk along the oceanside promenade, especially at night. On your second day, you can continue to explore on foot, hit the beach, or take a day trip like we did. We went on an awesome outdoor adventure to the Cetina River to go canyoning for the first time ever which was a blast!

When we weren’t exploring the city, we spent our time eating all the amazing food in Split (the best food destination we visited.) Make sure not to miss Bokeria or Konoba Marjan. For my full list of food recommendations in Split, check out this article!

couple sits on the waterfront promenade in split croatia

Days 6, 7, & 8: The Croatian Islands

Does it still count as a Croatia road trip if we switch to a boat now? Good!

After our time in Split, we caught the ferry to Brač where we intended to do nothing but relax in the sun. It was a great place to just chill, work on our tans, and dine by the sea. We chose this island in particular because we wanted to check out the Zlatni rat, otherwise known as the Golden Horn. It’s a striking triangle-shaped beach in the Adriatic Sea that is simply awe-inspiring. 

zlatni rat beach in croatia from above drone shot

We were super content just to sit there on the beach and watch the kite surfers all day (although I do wish we had tried it ourselves!) On another day, we rented a scooter and took a one-day Brač Island road trip to see some of the other coastal towns on the island. On still another day, we took a boat ride and snorkeling trip for a couple of hours.

Brač isn’t the only island you can visit near Split. There’s also Vis, Korčula, Šolta, and Hvar, among others. If I were to do this trip again, I’d definitely want to stay on Hvar to see the Spanish fortresses and visit the Blue Cave on the island of Biševo.

Pro Tip: Many of Croatia’s beaches are not sandy at all. Instead, they’re covered in large stones that can be super uncomfortable to lie down on. If you plan on spending much time at the beach, I’d highly recommend bringing a beach mat or at the very least a thick towel. 

vidova gora brac island croatia with woman standing on cliff

No matter what other places you visit on your Croatia road trip, the islands are the best places to relax, connect with nature, and live the good life.

Days 9 & 10: Dubrovnik

The last stop on your Croatia road trip should definitely be Dubrovnik, the burnt-orange jewel of the Dalmatian coast. This tiny town was seriously pretty, with bright orange rooftops contrasted by the cool blue sea. 

dubrovnik from above drone shot early morning

It was also the most crowded place we visited. Not only do tons of tourists visit the city each year, but Dubrovnik has been a popular hub for cruise ships that dump humans by the thousands in the city daily. The narrow streets and completely walled-in town make for bottlenecks and traffic jams. Personally, this fact alone made me like Split a whole lot better than Dubrovnik. Exploring early in the morning or late afternoon is your best bet if you want to steer clear of the hoards. 

You can easily see Dubrovnik in a day or two depending on what you want to do. On our trip, we spent one day kayaking around Lokrum Island and later jumping off the rocks behind the city wall, one day touring the city and walking the city walls, and a final day taking a day trip to Lopud Island. nearby I actually felt we had a little too much time there and that two days was more than enough time to do everything we wanted to do. 

woman on the stairs of a fort in dubrovnik croatia

I’d recommend you spend one day on a historic tour of the city. Take a walking tour, visit a museum, walk the city walls, and take a cable car to the top of the hill for sunset. On the second day, do something more active or get out of the old town. Take a day trip, visit St. James Beach, go kayaking, or visit the Lovrijenac Fort just to the west. 

man solo kayaking near the fort and walls of dubrovnik croatia at sunset

It goes without saying that this 10 day Croatia road trip itinerary is only one route and that there are hundreds of other places to see in the country that I missed. If you have extra time, consider spending a few days in the islands or in Istria, the peninsula in the far west. 

In a country like Croatia that’s rapidly increasing in popularity among tourists (for good reason), there’s no better way to explore it than on the road, independently. So the only question is, when are you booking your flights to Croatia?

woman in pink dress in diocletians palace in split croatia
zlatni rat beach in croatia from above drone shot birds eye view with two people

February 22, 2020

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