- Walk along the wall surrounding the old town of Dubrovnik.
- Explore the Blue Cave on the island of Vis.
- Swim and relax on the beach on the islands of Hvar and Brac.
- Visit the stunning blue lakes of Plitvice.
- Drive through Biokovo National Park for incredible views of the Adriatic.
Croatia has it all: a stunning coastline with relaxing beaches, beautiful national parks, delicious seafood, friendly people, and charming old towns and villages. The mistake most travelers make when visiting Croatia is to jump straight from Dubrovnik to the islands. Hiring a car allows you to not only visit the islands of Croatia but easily explore the rest of the Croatian coastline.
Day 1: Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is the perfect place to start your trip in Croatia. Dubrovnik offers so many experiences and is a great base for some really cool day trips.
What to do in Dubrovnik:
- Walk the 2.5km circuit on top of the wall surrounding the old town for a stunning view of Dubrovnik.
- Take the cable car to the top of Srd Hill for incredible panoramic views of the old town and the crystal blue waters of the Adriatic.
- Swim at either Banje beach (just to the north of the old town) or find one of swimming spots around the walls of the old town.
Where to stay in Dubrovnik:
We would definitely recommend to stay in the old town itself. There are plenty of options to stay in apartments for less than $100 a night. If you do stay in the old tow you may have a whole lot of stairs to climb!
Day 2: Dubrovnik (Mljet)
Mljet is the one of the wildest and greenest islands on the Croatian Coast as the majority of the island is a national park. The island is perfect to have some quiet time away from the crowds of Dubrovnik and is a great fun to explore.
Mljet is a 1-1.5 hour ferry ride from the port of Dubrovnik. The ferry is relatively inexpensive and takes you to the town of Polace. In Polace we would highly recommend that you hire a scooter to explore the island (or some bicycles if you're fit enough).
Make your way through the national park to the two salt water lakes on the island; Veliko and Malo Jezero. There is a very good walking track around Malo Jezero which will take you to a beautiful old Benedictine Monetary (St Mary). If the hike gets too hot just jump into the lake for a swim.
Pomena, the western most town, is a great spot to stop for lunch. You can sit outside on the marina and have a drink in the sun followed by a delicious seafood meal.
Day 3: Dubrovnik (Bay of Kotor)
Today take another day trip from Dubrovnik - this time to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. The fjord-like, UNESCO listed, Bay of Kotor is as picturesque as any fjord you will come across in Norway (which are nowhere near the cost!). The drive from Dubrovnik will take just over an hour and as you get towards the Bay you will get some brilliant views of the area.
First head to the Venitian style (minus the canals) town of Perast. Perast is a beautiful little town despite there being a significant amount of buildings boarded up and is a perfect spot to hire a little dinghy and take a boat trip out into the bay. The two little islands in the Bay, St George and Our Lady of the Rocks, are worth visiting.
After the boat trip take the car back to the walled town of Kotor where you can wander through the beautiful, old cobbled streets and, similar to Dubrovnik, you can walk along the 5km stone wall for great views of the town and the bay. The town itself has a very Italian feel with many nice piazzas and Venetian style churches and is the perfect place for a good lunch or a coffee.
The Bay of Kotor can be quite busy if you are unfortunate enough to go on a day where there are multiple cruise ships in the area. However, even on the busiest of days you can always find a quiet street for a coffee.
When you get back to Dubrovnik take a walk along the wall at sunset (when the cruise shippers have headed back to their boats) to get some incredible photos as the shadows start to fall across the old town.
Day 4: Hvar & Ston
Today we drive to Hvar via Ston. The drive along this coast is absolutely fantastic as you hug the cliff line (Amalfi Coast style) the whole way to Ston, which is just under an hour from Dubrovnik. Ston is a picturesque town on the Peljesac Peninusla and has the world's second longest defensive wall (after the Great Wall of China). The town is small and quaint and worthy of at least a few hours of your time as you make your way down to Hvar.
To get to Hvar (on the island of the same name), you need to get the car ferry from Drvenik. The ferry goes about every hour and half in summer, takes approximately 30mins to get to the island and cost us 160kn for two people and the car. You can find the time table here: http://www.croatiaferries.com/drvenik-sucuraj-ferry.htm. A tip: in peak season, it gets very busy and you may not make it onto your desired ferry if you're too far down the line (it's first come, first on) - aim for the departure before the one you need.
The road from the port at Sucuraj to Hvar is 70km and can be split into two sections. The first is the classic country road and is quite narrow. The second half the road is a brand new dual lined highway and makes for a very comfortable drive.
There are many reasonably priced hotels, apartments and B&Bs throughout Hvar that are all close to the old town. In summer the old town is bustling and has a great atmosphere for a few drinks and dinner.
Day 5: Hvar (Vis)
Today was the highlight of our Croatian Road Trip. We did a 'three cave tour' from Hvar which takes you to the island of Vis and takes you to some really cool spots; including the blue grotto which, we think, is much more impressive than the more famous blue grotto in Capri. The tour (max of 8 people) takes you on a RIB boat across the Adriatic to the former military island of Vis; we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins and our captain was kind enough to stop and let them slowly swim past us.
The tour gives you plenty of opportunities to swim, including in a green grotto, some 'natural spas' (little pools on the edge of the rocks), and (our favourite experience of the whole trip) a small beautiful turquoise cave which is only accessible by swimming into it under the cliff face (don't worry it was perfectly safe and the captain was more than happy to help).
The tour takes the whole day and apart from the caves and swimming spots, we stop on a small beach for lunch and a few drinks. We used the Atlas Tour Company; one of Croatia's oldest and most recommended to us, even by the locals. Find out more information here: http://www.hvar-island-croatia.com/hvar-tours/blue-grotto.shtml.
Day 6: Hvar (Korcula)
Today take another day trip - this time to the classy old town of Korcula. There is so much to do in Korcula; you could enjoy a drink on top of the wall with great views of the town, hire bikes and explore the island, visit a winery on the island, take a fishing trip or simply wander through the old town which Marco Polo called his childhood home.
Day 7: Makarska
Today we drive back to Sucuraj to take the ferry back to the mainland. To get to Sucuraj take the "Lavender Road" to Stari Grad. This is a beautiful, narrow road which starts on the northern side of Hvar and takes you up through the lavender covered hills with amazing views of the the Adriatic and the island of Brac. It is definitely worth the extra 10-20 minutes compared to the main road.
Another good option is to stop at the quaint town of Jelsa. There is not a huge amount of 'touristy' things to do here other than to simply enjoy the beautiful old town. One of the best wineries in Croatia (Tomic winery) is located here and is worth the visit if you can get on the back of a tour. We would suggest to do either do a pre-organised tour of a winery or call up in advance to let them know you are coming. We had a really bad experience when we arrived, without a tour or letting them know in advance, to Tomic (like we would back home).
Once you are off the ferry, it is a 30 minute drive north towards Split to the beautiful riviera of Makarska. Makarska is a very lively place with a beautiful promenade filled with restaurants and bars - not to mention, a breathtaking backdrop of the Biokovo Mountain Range.
For details on where to stay and where to eat refer to our city guide on Makarska.
Day 8: Makarska (Biokovo)
Today we take a drive up Croatia's highest road through the Biokovo National Park for incredible views of the Adriatic and some very cool hikes. The drive begins at the National Park Entrance just outside of Makarska, is 23km long and is not for the faint hearted. The road is extremely narrow and you can only fit one car on the road in most areas (however, there are plenty of nooks in the road to let cars pass. We went early, at around 7:30am, and only had to pass one car on the way up.
The National Park provides some absolute stunning views and on the clearest days you can see right across to Italy. The National Park also has plenty of wild life to see if you are lucky enough. Definitely worth the effort going up.
Once back in Makarska relax on one of the most amazing beaches in Europe and look up and see where you were driving/hiking only a few hours before.
Other things to do in Makarska if heights aren't your thing:
- Take a boat to the island of Brac and visit the beautiful beach of Bol
- Hire bikes and ride from Makarska along the water front to the quaint town of Brela
- Drive to the interesting city of Mostar, the capital of Bosnia, to experience a completely different culture to Croatia.
Day 9: Split (Omis)
The drive to Split is short but you have a great stop on the way in the ex-pirate port of Omis. Omis is situated in a beautiful little cove and offers plenty of great spots for lunch. However, the highlight without a doubt is the stunning walk up to the old fortress. The fortress is situated about a 40min walk up into the mountains and provides some incredible views of the region.
Omis is also a the perfect spot for whitewater rafting if you are up for some adventure.
Split is just down the road from Omis and is the largest city along the coast. The old town is small but very nice to walk around with the 4th century Diocletian's Palace the focal point. Split is nice but visited in peak season can get very busy and you are often better getting out of the old town and exploring beaches in the area or going for hike up Marjan Hill.
Day 10: Split - Trogir
Today enjoy a nice breakfast along the promenade in Split before jumping on a water taxi to the beautiful town of Trogir. The UNESCO World Heritage Listed town of Trogir is one of the best preserved old towns in Croatia. The town itself is encircled by the classic medieval wall and you can easily lose a few hours wandering around the streets. From Trogir you can visit the island of Ciovo (you can also visit by car if you have driven from Split as it is connected to the mainland by a bridge) and relax on their 1km beach surrounded by some cool bars and restaurants.
Day 11: Plitvice (Zadar)
Today we drive inland to the incredible Plitvice Lakes but not before we drive through the charming coastal town of Zadar. I say drive through but it is worth spending the majority of the day in Zadar with the highlights of the town being:
- Climb the bell tower next to St Anastasia Cathedral
- Hangout at The Garden a bar located on top of the Wall surrounding the Old Town. The Garden gives great views of the town and also provides a comfortable stop after wandering through the Old Town.
- Relax and people watch on one of the many beaches.
It is about an hour and a half drive to Plitvitce from Zadar.
Day 12: Plitvice
Today will be the day you walk off all the food and drinks you have consumed in the previous week and a half. Plitvice National Park is on the UNESCO Heritage List and are some of the most amazing lakes, waterfalls and turquoise waters you have every seen. Make your way to park entrance number 2; you can't miss it as it is on the main road near most of the accommodation.
You have many options when exploring the lakes but the advantage you have over all the tourists who have done a day trip from Split of Zagreb is that you have the full day to explore. Plitvice National Park has marked routes throughout the park (A - K). The routes from A - K are longer the further down the alphabet you go; therefore route K gives you the best scope for viewing the stunning lake system.
Route K initially takes you by bus to the top of the lake district. From here you walk a few hours along the board works following the signs and taking in the scenery before jumping on a boat (all transport within the park comes free with your day pass). The boat meanders down the largest singular lake before taking you to more waterfalls and whirlpools.
Day 12: Zagreb
Zagreb is the best point to finish the trip as it provides you with the greatest number of options in terms of transport. The majority of people do not consider Zagreb worth visiting and fair enough too when it is competing against Adriatic Coast; however, it is an interesting and somewhat vibrant city.
I would put Zagreb is the up and coming category and it has good reason to be as it is still recovering from the war in the 1990's. Zagreb highlights include:
- Lotrscak Tower - A beautiful old building which provides stunning 360 degree views of the red and orange roofs below.
- Go on one of the many cycling tours of Zagreb to get some very interesting history and see the city from a different angle. Try using Blue Bike Zagreb Tours.
- Visit the colourful open market of Dolac and try some amazingly fresh food.
- Sit back and enjoy the modern art splattered throughout the city.