Explore the highlights of Croatia as you cross the country starting in the Istrian Peninsula in the north and working your way down the Dalmatian Coast to the "Adriatic Pearl", Dubrovnik. Along the way, you will explore ancient Roman ruins, medieval fortressed towns, and beautiful national parks. You will also bike, hike, kayak, and zip-line on this tour that highlights both adventure and cultural discovery.

Highlights

  • Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park and see waterfalls and emerald-green lakes
  • Explore the famous Diocletian's Palace in Split, dating back to the 4th century
  • Explore the marble streets and baroque buildings of Dubrovnik's Old Town
  • Zip-line over the Cetina River canyon at 492 feet
  • Discover the iridescent blue waters of the Blue Cave on Biševo Island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Pula, Overnight in Rovinj Rovinj
Day 2 Into the Heart of Istria: Grožnjan, Oprtalj, & Motovun Rovinj
Day 3 Rovinj to Plitvice Lakes National Park via Opatija Plitvice Lakes
Day 4 Plitvice Lakes National Park to Zadar Zadar
Day 5 Explore the Historic Charm of Zadar Zadar
Day 6 Zadar to Split, Stopping at Krka National Park Split
Day 7 Walking Tour of Split Split
Day 8 Rafting, Zip-lining, & Canyoning on the Cetina River Split
Day 9 Ferry from Split to Hvar Hvar Town
Day 10 Private Sailing Tour: Vis Island & Blue Cave Hvar Town
Day 11 Hike to the Hidden Villages of Hvar Hvar Town
Day 12 Ferry from Hvar to Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 13 Sea Kayaking around Lokrum Island & City Walls Dubrovnik
Day 14 Day Trip to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina Dubrovnik
Day 15 Depart Dubrovnik  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Pula, Overnight in Rovinj

Sunset over Rovinj
Sunset over Rovinj

Meet your driver at Pula airport and transfer to your accommodation in Rovinj, a small jewel on the west coast of the Istrian Peninsula. You will have the rest of the day to explore Rovinj at your leisure.

Though Rovinj remains an active fishing port today, it wasn't until 1763 that it became a part of the mainland. As such, its restricted access resulted in the idyllic narrow, cobblestoned streets you see today. Explore the town and note Rovinj's skyline, dominated by the baroque St. Euphemia Church.  Seek out your choice of interest from churches to galleries and pebbled beaches to the many seafood-offering restaurants.

There are also 13 beaches to choose from within a couple of miles up and down the coast. Most are pebbled or rocky beaches, so be sure to bring your water shoes. Try Monte Beach, next to St. Euphemia and follow a stairway that leads down to pool contained by rock on three sides.

Cap off the evening with a delicious dinner of fresh fish and local wine before returning to your hotel on one of the 14 small islands just off the mainland. 

Driving time (Pula airport to Rovinj): 45 minutes

Day 2: Into the Heart of Istria: Grožnjan, Oprtalj, & Motovun

The idyllic medieval town of Motovun, Istria
The idyllic medieval town of Motovun, Istria

Today, head inland to explore the rolling hills of Istria, taste a few of the best local olive oil and wine varieties and explore some of the most charming villages in the country.

First, drive north to Grožnjan, a medieval hilltop town surrounded by terraced olive groves and vineyards. Once an important stronghold for the Venetians, the town's importance went into decline with the collapse of their empire (in the 18th-century). It wasn't until the sixties Grožnjan became what it is today: the town of artists. Lose yourself in the maze of narrow and cobblestoned streets, stopping to pop into one of the numerous art studios and galleries.

Then, continue on to Oprtalj, a medieval fort town sitting on the northern side of the Mirna river valley. Oprtalj is home to traditional narrow streets, shops, and fine examples of Istrian and Venetian architecture, including the 16th-century St. George's Church and Venetian style bell tower.

Finally, drive south to explore Motovun, an ancient sleepy town located atop a 909-foot (277 m) hill. Its present appearance, with the city walls surrounding the center of the town, dates back to the Middle Ages. Sitting opposite Oprtalj on the southern side of the Mirna river, Motovun today hosts a popular film festival for one week in the summer. Sample local wines and enjoy a meal with truffles sourced from the nearby truffle-rich forests.

Driving time (Rovinj to Grožnjan): 1.25 hours
Driving time (Grožnjan to Oprtalj): 30 minutes
Driving time (Oprtalj to Rovinj): 1.25 hours

Day 3: Rovinj to Plitvice Lakes National Park via Opatija

Stroll along the Lungomare in Opatija
Stroll along the Lungomare in Opatija

This morning you'll make the drive to Opatija before carrying on to Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of Croatia's most popular national parks.

Head northeast across the Istrian Peninsula and stop in the coastal town of Opatija. A popular tourist destination since the 19th century, Opatija is known for its Mediterranean climate and historic Habsburg-era buildings, remnants of its touristic past. Stroll along the famous Lungomare, a promenade that follows the Adriatic coastline and enjoy a drink at one of the many bars that overlook the Kvarner Gulf

Continue east to Plitvice Lakes National Park, arriving in the afternoon to settle into your accommodation and to explore the park at your leisure. A must-visit for any traveler to Croatia, the UNESCO-protected park is comprised of an exquisite collection of 16 glassy emerald green and blue travertine lakes, more than 90 cascading waterfalls that seemingly cover every corner of the park, and numerous caves. The terraced lakes are surrounded by beech and pine forests and are home to extensive wildlife. 

Here, you can request a private, expert local guide to lead you throughout the park along the wooden paths and bridges to show you the most impressive points of interest and explain the significance of its history and natural features. After your tour, you will have free time to continue exploring, have dinner, or you may wish to bring a bought dinner (and a bottle of wine!) with you to enjoy a picnic. 

Driving time (Rovinj to Opatija): 1.5 hours 
Driving time (Opatija to Plitvice): 2.5 hours

Day 4: Plitvice Lakes National Park to Zadar

Waterfront views of Zadar
Waterfront views of Zadar

In the morning, continue your drive south from Plitvice to the ancient Roman city of Zadar. A historical center of the Dalmatian Coast, Zadar is famous for its picturesque coastline full of islands and vibrant blue waters, as well as fresh seafood and unforgettable sunsets.

Take the rest of the day to relax and explore. You may wish to stroll along Zadar's Riva, a wide ribbon of stone paths bordered by a grassy park on one side and the sea on the other. It runs along Old Town’s waterfront, where it comes alive at night with vendors and Dalmatian a capella groups called Klapa that serenade the passersby, including folks on yachts who dock there.

Take in a legendary sunset (Alfred Hitchcock is on record saying they're the best in Zadar) from Café Brazil before discovering the pretty patterned lights of the Monument to the Sun while listening to the nearby Sea Organ.

Driving time: 1.5-2 hours

Day 5: Explore the Historic Charm of Zadar

Oštri Rat Lighthouse
Oštri Rat Lighthouse

Today is yours to explore the often-overlooked star of Dalmatia. The largest city on Dalmatia's northern coast, there's a lot to see and do. You can stroll the marble streets of Zadar's famous Old Town—once the mightiest fortress city in the Venetian Republic—or wander beyond its Venetian gates, past stone walls and examples of Roman and Byzantine architecture in the form of the 1st century remains of the Roman Forum and the 9th-century Church of St Donatus.

Another noteworthy site to check out is the baroque St. Simeon Church for a sighting of the Queen Elizabeth-commissioned sarcophagus. Be sure to stop for lunch and a glass of wine in the center of town at a konoba restaurant like Stomorica

After touring the city by day, come to the waterfront just before dusk to witness another of Dalmatia's most beautiful sunsets. During this time, you can marvel at Croatian artist, Nikola Bašić's 72-foot Monument to the Sun art feature while you listen to the nearby Sea Organ play its unending melody, fueled by the ebb and flow of the Adriatic Sea's current. And in the evening, partake of Zadar's to-die-for seafood. There are plenty of great restaurants in the historic center.

Day 6: Zadar to Split, Stopping at Krka National Park

Krka National Park
Krka National Park

Krka National Park is a couple of hours away from Zadar and is a nice place to visit in the morning before the crowds arrive. With seven waterfalls—the largest and most impressive being Skradinski Buk—Krka National Park is one of Croatia's top-rated parks home to a network of striking waterfalls. The Krka River, another highlight of the park, carves through the limestone and creates a spectacular canyon on its 44-mile journey (70 km) from the foothills of the Dinaric Alps to Šibenik. 

Follow the winding wooden paths that traverse emerald pools and river islands to prime lookout spots in which to view the falls where you'll also be able to take a dip in one of the lagoons as Krka is the only national park in Croatia where swimming is allowed. Mother Nature saved the best for last with Skradinski Buk. Cascading 78 feet (24 m) down into an emerald lagoon wider than the falls are tall, you'll find restaurants, snack stands, and ice cream shops at the base of this picture-perfect locale to satisfy any food-related cravings.

Come mid-afternoon, travel further south to Split, settling into your hotel before taking the rest of the afternoon to wander its historic center. Start at Pjaca Square for pretty views of white marble tiles, the Iron Gate (the western entrance to Diocletian's Palace), a Romanesque clock tower with the remains of a medieval sundial, and the 15th-century Town Hall. Next, visit the popular Voćni trg or Fruit Square to enjoy renaissance architecture, influenced during Split's Venetian era.

For a bit of shopping and a bite to eat head to Marmont Street, though you'll want to make your way to the waterfront to catch the sunset.

Driving time (Zadar to Krka): 1-2 hours
Driving time (Krka to Split): 1.5 hours

Day 7: Walking Tour of Split

Diocletian's Palace, Split
Diocletian's Palace, Split

An ancient coastal city founded 1,700 years ago by Roman Emperor Diocletian, Split's Old Town includes a number of impressive sites, including Peristyle, the Cathedral of St. Dominus, the Piazza, and Diocletian's Palace, one of the best-preserved Roman buildings in the world. Meet your expert guide in Peristyle Square for a walking tour, taking in the 3,500-year-old sphinxes Diocletian brought back from Egypt before exploring the 4th-century Diocletian's Palace and other noteworthy sites.

If there's time following your tour, climb the Romanesque bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Dominus (St. Duje)—considered the oldest Catholic cathedral still in use—for stunning views over the city and Adriatic. Another option for great views is to hike or bike to the top of Marjan Hill. Referred to as the "lungs of the city," the entire Marjan peninsula is dotted with tiny centuries-old churches, large cypress and black pine trees, and Mediterranean plants and herbs.

In addition to the stunning vistas, you'll be rewarded with attractions less visited: the Jewish cemetery and 13th and 15th-century churches, St. Nicholas and St. Jerome, respectively.  Afterward, head to Bačvice Beach and relax on the sand warmed by the day's sun before choosing a nearby restaurant for dinner.

Day 8: Rafting, Zip-lining, & Canyoning on the Cetina River

Zip your way across the Cetina River canyon
Zip your way across the Cetina River canyon

You'll get an early start this morning to drive south along the coast to Zadvarje for a day of rafting and canyoning the Cetina River, ending with the option to zip-line in Omiš. 

You'll begin with rafting in a protected area of the river canyon popular with tourists every summer. The quiet parts of the river, as well as the second and third-grade rapids, create the perfect combination of relaxation with high-adrenaline adventure over the course of three hours. Next, you'll meet your guide and change into your gear (wetsuit, life vest, and helmet) to hike, climb, slide, swim, and cliff jump (optional) your way down the river until you reach Omiš. Celebrate the fun with a break for lunch, before taking the early afternoon to zip-line over the Cetina.

After lunch, you'll experience a true adrenaline rush. You'll have the chance to zip your way across the magnificent Cetina River Canyon suspended by a harness and wire. There are eight wires in total running a length of 6,890 feet (2,100 m), the highest wire reaching 492 feet (150 m) above the river canyon. Enjoy incredible bird’s eye views of the surrounding scenery on this three-hour excursion.

After the tour is complete, you'll transfer back to Split.

Driving time (Split to Zadvarje): 1 hour
Driving time (Omiš to Split): 45 minutes

Day 9: Ferry from Split to Hvar

Hvar and the Pakleni Islands in the distance
Hvar and the Pakleni Islands in the distance

After an easy morning in Split, catch the ferry to the island of Hvar and check into your hotel. A Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea, Hvar is a popular destination with tourists due to its natural setting, mild climate, and its historic port town of the same name. Highlights of Hvar Town include its 13th-century walls, a hilltop fortress, and the main square anchored by the Renaissance-era Cathedral.  

For some of the best views of the island, Hvar Town, and the nearby Pakleni Islands take a short walk up to the 16th-century Španjola Fortress. Or, join a kayaking tour and head out on the Adriatic to discover the many secluded coves that outline the islands. To cover some ground and appreciate the variation in island landscape: from lavender plantations and olive groves to vineyards and pine woods, you may like to join a (wine tasting) cycling or hiking tour. The less active might opt to rent a scooter for faster coverage of the local scenery.

After the day's adventures, treat yourself to a drink in the ancient piazza of Hvar overlooking the Venetian loggia, 7th-century fortification walls, and the oldest municipal theater in Europe.

Ferry time: 1.5-2 hours

Day 10: Private Sailing Tour: Vis Island & Blue Cave

The Blue Cave or Modra špilja
The Blue Cave or Modra špilja

This morning you'll meet your skipper before sailing to the islands of Biševo and Vis.

First, you'll sail to the east coast of Biševo Island, a popular, though often crowded destination, to see the mesmerizing iridescent blue waters of the Blue Cave (Modra špilja). Upon landing on the island, you'll transfer to a cave friendly boat before floating inside the cave to discover the natural phenomena for yourself.

From Biševo, you will then sail to Vis Island to meet with a local guide who will take you to the small fishing towns of Komiža and Vis, showcasing ancient Roman ruins like the thermae (public bath), Levaman Fortress, and St. Jerome's Church and Monastery. Enjoy lunch on the island as well as sample local wines to round out your day of sightseeing natural and ancient wonders before sailing back to Hvar.

Day 11: Hike to the Hidden Villages of Hvar

Hike through island vegetation and see more of Hvar
Hike through island vegetation and see more of Hvar

Lace up your hiking boots for a day hike along rocky paths amid vineyards and olive groves to discover abandoned villages and hidden bays. You'll meet your guide in Hvar Town's port and transfer to Velo Grablje, the starting point of the hike. Velo Grablje was founded 500 years ago when Hvar’s patricians and nobles sought refuge in the hills during a revolutionary period. Today, only a few people inhabit the village throughout the year, but many gather for the lavender festival to harvest and to celebrate the village's saints.

From here you will hike down a canyon, following an old trail—the main thoroughfare in medieval times connecting the north and the south of the island—to the village of Malo Grablje. Enjoy a delicious lunch at perhaps the most authentic of the island's taverns before carrying on the gravel road to the beachside town of Milna.

Depending on your energy level, you will have the option to continue your trek to Hvar Town from Milna (1.5 hours) or transfer back to town (20 minutes).

Hiking distance: 3.4 miles (5.4 km)
Hiking time (including stops): 5-6 hours

Day 12: Ferry from Hvar to Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik's old city walls
Dubrovnik's old city walls

Catch a morning ferry today to Dubrovnik where you will have the day to explore one of the most ancient fortress cities in Europe. Known as the "Pearl of the Adriatic", Dubrovnik is a piece of history. While there's evidence of settlements as far back as the Byzantine era, this area only came into its own in the 12th and 13th centuries when it was under the rule of the Venetians. Throughout the middle ages, it was a fortress port encircled by stone walls and filled with baroque churches and renaissance/gothic palaces that still stand today.

After checking into your hotel, you'll want to get out and explore. Can't-miss activities include riding the cable car up to Srđ Mountain to take in the sunset over the nearby Elafiti Islands, visiting Lovrijenac and Bokar fortresses, and walking along the smooth, limestone-paved streets of historic Old Town. And be sure to find your way to Stradun, Dubrovnik's main street to get your bearings and to choose from a number of excellent restaurants and wine bars. Alternatively, there's Buza Bar along the water's edge and outside the city walls—a great spot to enjoy a cocktail while taking in the sunset.

Ferry time (Hvar to Dubrovnik): 3.5 hours

Day 13: Sea Kayaking around Lokrum Island & City Walls

Sea kayaks explore the fortresses of Lovrijenac and Bokar
Sea kayaks explore the fortresses of Lovrijenac and Bokar

Explore Dubrovnik from the water and go on a half-day guided kayaking tour around the city and Lokrum Island—the closest island to Dubrovnik.

Starting from Banje Beach, you will paddle to Lokrum Island where you can enjoy a swim in the saltwater lake named the Dead Sea, explore the 15th-century Benedictine monastery, and trek along the car-less trails through overgrown gardens. This is a great way to experience the cultural and historical sites of Dubrovnik from a unique perspective.

Day 14: Day Trip to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

View Stari Most and surrounding Mostar
View Stari Most and surrounding Mostar

This morning you will meet your driver and travel northwest to the historic town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, stopping along the way in Blagaj.

Blagaj is a small town that sits at the source of the River Buna just south of Mostar and features an impressive Dervish or Sufi monastery, Blagaj Tekke (or tekija, both meaning a building designed for Sufi gatherings). Sitting 656 feet (200 m) high and built into a rocky cliff, Blagaj Tekke has been around for 600 years, the last of the Sufi order expelled in 1952. Enjoy stunning views of the tekke and the Buna river spring at its base.

From there, you will continue to picturesque and friendly Mostar, a tourist's paradise. Enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the Neretva River from the minaret of the Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque, traipse along ancient alleyways and paths and cross the reconstructed medieval Stari Most (Old Bridge), and take in Bosnian hospitality at a local guesthouse. The number of notable architectural landmarks combined with the relaxed and inviting atmosphere of the old city will leave you charmed.

You will have additional time in the afternoon to explore the city on your own before joining your driver for your transfer back to Dubrovnik.

Driving time: 3 hours

Day 15: Depart Dubrovnik

Rector's Palace
Rector's Palace

Depending on when you depart, you may have time to visit one of Dubrovnik's museums, like the Franciscan Monastery and Museum. This large complex houses many treasures, including the world's third oldest pharmacy dating from 1317.

Alternatively, for a collection of 15,000 pieces of interesting works, visit the Rector's Palace and Cultural Historical Museum. Wander this well-preserved palace-turned-museum and explore its exhibits, some detailing life in the Republic of Ragusa during medieval times.

The drive to the airport from Dubrovnik takes around 45 minutes with normal traffic.