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The spectacular coast and cities brimming with history are calling…get ready for an awesome Croatia road trip.
Croatia is blessed with 1,800 kilometers of rocky, indented and spectacular coastline and more than a thousand islands. All this is surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Adriatic.
The best way to see Croatia is definitely by car. Highways are modern and well-paved, distances are quite short and one has the freedom to stop wherever it feels right. Croatia’s infrastructure has improved massively in the last few years, making driving Croatia safer than ever.
There is a lot to see in this region; during our 9-day Croatia road trip, my father and I explored countless sights across Croatia. Thanks to it being the low season (our trip was in November), both the highways and the sights were crowd-free, making it even more enjoyable and special.
Best Time for Croatia Road trip
If you can choose, the perfect timing for this kind of trip is in May, early June, and September and October. In November, one got to be lucky. Never, NEVER go on Croatia road trip in July and August, unless you want to find the cities crowded and pay the expensive price for accommodation.
Renting a car or a van
Traveling by your own vehicle is definitely the best choice: you have the freedom to stop whenever you want, even if it was just for a quick refreshing dip in the see along your road. I and my father used our own car (Skoda Fabia Combi), but if you need to hire one, I recommend you to consider a van as you get the great possibility to have your home always with you and stay some amazing places overnight. You can rent one from Balkan Campers.They are renting 13 legendary old school VW buses and 6 newer ones. They are based in Slovenia but deliver the vans to Croatia too.
If you are not driving, there is still the option to use public transportation is another option: however, you will have to be counting with spending more time waiting on a bus and transferring. It will all take more time doing the same Croatia road trip as in this article. Keep in mind that there are lots of island in Croatia, so you can also use boat from time to time (I really love it).
What to pack
Traveling by car, you have enough space to bring what you need. These are some essentials not to forget for Croatia road trip
- Comfortable walking shoes: in most cities, you will park the car and explore the area by walking. Croatian cities are often pawed with cobblestone. Bring both sandals and trainers so that you have a choice.
- Beach towel and swimsuit: a huge and soft towel is an essential thing to survive on Croatia’s rocky beaches. Try not to use the hotel towels from your local accommodation, it is often seen as rude.
- Water shoes: if travelers often forget something, then it’s the shoes for swimming. Keep in mind that the rocky coast makes it nearly impossible to get to the water without proper shoes.
Are you planning to visit Croatia offseason? Check out my other post about Croatia in winter.
I created this post so that you can get inspired and plan your own perfect Croatia road trip.
Our Croatia road trip itinerary:
Day 1 – Driving from Czech Republic to Zadar
Day 2 – Zadar, Nin
Day 3 – Sibenik, Split, Makarska
Day 4 – Makarska, day trip to Mostar
Day 5 – Dubrovnik
Day 6 – Kotor
Day 7 – Budva and Sveti Stefan
Day 8 – Driving from Kotor to Slunj
Day 9 – Driving from Slunj to Czech Republic
Over the course of 9 days, we drove approximately 3000 kilometers in total. We were using our own car, therefore the start and end of our route was Czech Republic. We drove across Croatia from north to south, with one day trip to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. With good spirits and favorable weather after reaching Dubrovnik, we decided to prolong the trip to Montenegro.
These are our favorite stops of our Croatia road trip itinerary:
01 | Zadar: Greet the sun and the sea
Why should Zadar be included in Croatia road trip?
Should moving to Croatia ever come into consideration, Zadar would be my first choice. It’s just the perfect marriage of history and a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Even though I have been to Zadar a few times already, this city never gets boring.
Zadar is a perfect walker’s destination. The pedestrian-only historical center is packed with churches, Roman ruins and medieval architecture. The maze of dreamy marble-clad alleyways imprinted Zadar into my mind – for some reason, the cobblestone in Zadar seems whiter than anywhere else in Croatia.
Head to the promenade to experience two of Zadar’s highlights: Sea Organs, which produce organ-like sounds from beneath marble steps when struck by waves from the sea, and the circular Greeting to The Sun visual installation that turns Zadar’s renowned sunsets into once-in-a-lifetime experience.
02 | Nin: A heart-shaped island
Why should Nin be included in Croatia road trip?
Nin, a tiny city surrounded by a shallow lagoon, is a complete hidden gem just a stone’s throw from Zadar.
The setting is very charming: Nin’s Old town is situated on a small heart-shaped island connected to the mainland by two bridges. One great thing about Nin is that you can wander around and find traces of many civilizations – there is 3000 years of turbulent history on display here!
As there was a local festival taking place, we got the great chance to enjoy it with locals in the neighboring village of Zaton. Dragan, the owner of our accommodation in Zaton invited us to sit at his family’s table. Croatian hospitality is amazing – our lunch turned out to be three hours of continuous eating. Every time you finally finish a plate, they always insist on giving you more.
03 | Sibenik: A Fortress overlooking the city
Why should Sibenik be included in Croatia road trip?
Situated at the heart of a deep bay, Sibenik is one of the most naturally protected harbors on the Adriatic coast. It’s not as popular Zadar or Split, yet it makes for a pleasant stop on any Croatian road trip.
It’s the Sibenik’s massive cathedral – the Cathedral Sveti Jakov, dating back to 1434 and a listed UNESCO site, that makes Sibenik worth visiting. It’s the most important architectural monument from the Renaissance in all of Croatia.
Following a 20-minute walk up the steep hill, you can also visit the ancient St. Michael Fortress guarding this harbor town. To our surprise, the ticketing office was in operation even in the low season; we paid 110 Kuna (15 Euro) per person. In exchange, we got an epic 360 degrees panorama of the town.
04 | Split: Heritage of an emperor
Why should Split be included in Croatia road trip?
With so many places to choose from around the Adriatic coast, the powerful emperor Diocletian chose Split as the place to spend his retirement.
Diocletian’s Palace, a Unesco World Heritage site dating back to A.D. 295, still represents the center of the city. This majestic complex takes quite some time to explore – with 200 buildings and what were once 20-meters-thick outer walls, this was once a world of its own.
Head to the lively Green Market (Stari Pazar) to experience life in typical Dalmatian town. They sell some of the best vegetables, fruits and a number of regional specialties. We ordered a calamari from one of the stalls. So tasty!
PS: If you have more time, definitely consider exploring one of the islands near Split. Check out my other post Things to do in Vis for more inspiration.
05 | Brist: Chill-out town near Makarska
Why should Brist be included in Croatia road trip?
Brist, a village of just 400 inhabitants, was definitely the most relaxing stop on our Balkan road trip. We stayed in a rental apartment (Mimoza Apartments) with a spacious terrace facing the sea. After a couple of busy days, we were finally able to slow things down a little. It’s almost impossible to resist the calming effect of the seaside climate J
The mountains behind Brist are perfect for exploration; interestingly enough, this is where the village was originally settled, before they rebuilt it on the coast. Just try to hike up there and you will understand why they moved it – its crazy steep!
Although Brist gets really packed during summer, in winter it’s just a quiet fishing village. We could only found one single restaurant that was open (Restoran Kadena in Gradac). As we were the only guests, the waitress gave us a free desert after we finished our meal.
06 | Mostar: Bridge from the Ottoman era
Why should Zadar be included in Croatia road trip?
How about escaping Croatia for a day? Jump in a car and head to neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Mostar just two hours away. Forget about the highway and pick the more scenic old road passing the spectacular Bacina lakes, which are connected by channels.
The road goes though a fertile region called the Neretva Valley. It’s all about agriculture and fruit, with 80,000 tonnes of mandarins produced every season. This “orange gold” was insanely cheap (one kilogram for just 2 Kunas/0,60 Euros!) We got a 10 kg bag and a bottle of mandarin liquor before heading on to Bosnia.
Going to Bosnia? Check out my other post Things to do in Bosnia.
Mostar is a thrilling place for history lovers. It was the most heavily bombed city in Bosnia and yet remains surprisingly pretty. The centerpiece of the town, the Old Bridge, destroyed and rebuilt 11 years later, spans the dazzling and freezing cold Neretva River. You can truly feel the Turkish influence, with countess mosque minarets standing out from the city’s skyline.
07| Dubrovnik: Pearl of the Adriatic
Why should Dubrovnik be included in Croatia trip?
Nicknamed the “Jewel of the Adriatic,” the historical city of Dubrovnik is the highlight of any Croatian journey. The city features two kilometers of well-preserved city fortifications; wandering above the rooftops and soaking up the lively atmosphere of the inner city was my favorite moment of the whole Croatia road trip.
With such a beautiful city within, no wonder the locals did such a tremendous job at building defensive architecture. Dubrovnik has always been a strategic place facing the Adriatic. It’s the first island-protected port on the maritime route going from Greece towards Venice.
After completing our visit of the Old Town, which was dressed in Christmas colors thanks to the annual Dubrovnik Winter Festival, we took the four-minute cable car ride up to enjoy views of Dubrovnik and the Elaphiti Islands. Dubrovnik certainly didn’t disappoint and there is a lot to see – I am coming back here for sure!
If you have more time, you can definitely try one of the cool day trips from Dubrovnik.
08| Kotor – A fjord in the Mediterranean
Why should Kotor be included in the Croatia road trip?
It would be a pity to wrap up a road in Dubrovnik, with another highlight waiting just around the corner. Prolong your trip to Montenegro and pay a visit to the medieval town of Kotor, set in a fjord-like bay which happens to be the deepest one in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Old Town (Stari Grad) itself is tiny but charming. Once you enter through the Sea Gate, you will immediately find yourself on the main square (Arms Square).
There is an amazing hike to do in Kotor, but it’s not for the faint of heart. On the way to the ruins of Rozafa Castle, we had to climb up 137 uneven stairs perched on a steep hill. As a reward, we got a spectacular view of the city, lake, and nearby Albanian Alps. The gloomy and rainy weather gave it a mysterious look.
09 | Budva and Sveti Stefan
Featuring about forty beaches in the vicinity, Budva is popular sun seeker’s destination and the most visited place in Montenegro. In summer, it’s packed (mainly with Russians and Ukrainians), but the low season enabled us to experience the coastal town in a more quiet setting.
We explored Budva in reminiscence of my father’s childhood memories. About half a century ago, he was here on holiday with his parents. Unfortunately, we only found an empty construction area as hotel Plavi Horizon has already been taken to the ground.
Despite the rain, we continued our coastal explorations by visiting the island of Sveti Stefan. It was with luck that we got a private guided tour and had some time to wander around. It was the last place we visited in Montenegro.
10 | Slunj – Gateway to Plitvice and Rastoke
We stopped in Slunj, a town in mountainous Central Croatia, on our way back. The trip from Montenegro to Czech Republic would be too long to do in one go. We visited cute Rastoke waterfalls, another hidden gem not many people visit.
Slunj is mainly known as the gateway to the Plitvice lakes, one of Croatia’s most celebrated national parks. Unfortunately, the approaching snowstorm changed our plans; we could not risk getting stuck on the way and departed earlier. Plitvice just wasn’t meant to be this time.
I guess sometimes it is okay to miss out on a highlight or two, leaving some lingering curiosity and a reason to come back!
PRACTICAL TIP FOR SLUNJ: Lots of accommodations around Plitvice lakes are aging and really old fashioned. If you prefer modern style, renovated House Ivana is an amazing choice. For booking on Air Bnb, use my $20 travel credit!
HAVE YOU EVER DONE A CROATIA ROAD TRIP?
I am excited to hear about your experience. If you enjoyed the article, don’t forget to share it on Facebook or Pinterest. Thanks for reading!
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My trip was in partnership with Balkanvibe.