Enjoy this complete 11-day self-guided itinerary across Croatia covering the best sites and attractions from Zagreb to Dubrovnik. Along the way, stop to explore the castle laden hills of the Zagorje, wander the wooden boardwalks that wind through stunning Plitvice Lakes, and stroll along Zadar's waterfront as you listen to the waves of the Adriatic make music. Discover the famous Diocletian's Palace in Split, take in panoramic vistas from atop Hvar's Španjola Fortress, and roam limestone paved streets and discover baroque buildings in Dubrovnik.

Highlights

  • Take in the history on an in-depth bike tour of Zagreb's Lower and Upper Town
  • Discover dramatic waterfalls and glittering emerald-green lakes in Plitvice Lakes
  • Explore the Dalmatian hinterland on an exciting ATV tour from Split
  • Cycle Hvar Island and stop to eat local delicacies and drink native wines
  • Watch the sunset over the Elafiti Islands from Srđ Mountain in Dubrovnik

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Bike Tour of Zagreb Zagreb
Day 3 Day Trip to Trakošćan Castle and Varaždin Zagreb
Day 4 Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park Plitvice Lakes
Day 5 Plitvice Lakes to Split, Stopping at Zadar Split
Day 6 ATV Quad Family Tour (Split Day Trip) Split
Day 7 Ferry from Split to Hvar Hvar Town
Day 8 Cycling and Wine Tasting Tour around Hvar Hvar Town
Day 9 Ferry from Hvar to Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 10 Explore Dubrovnik, the "Pearl of the Adriatic" Dubrovnik
Day 11 Depart Dubrovnik  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Zagreb!

Looking out over Zagreb, Croatia's capital
Looking out over Zagreb, Croatia's capital

Start your adventure from Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer to your hotel to settle in where you'll have the rest of the day to spend as you like. The city center is easily walkable and the streets and parks are easy to navigate by foot. All the main attractions and restaurants are within walking distance.

A gem of a European city, Zagreb is at once historic and new. It's filled with leafy green parks and gothic/neo-renaissance buildings, yet there are also modern shopping complexes, outdoor malls, and endless dining and drinking options. Consider heading out on a guided walking tour of the historic heart of the city. This involves walking from Ban Jelačić, the main square, to Zagreb's Upper Town and passing through local markets before reaching St. Mark's Square.

Alternatively, you can visit one of the many museums and art galleries, like the Homeland War Museum, the Nikola Tesla Technical Museum, or the ever-popular Museum of Broken Hearts. Or stroll through the city center, enjoying 17th-century neo-baroque architecture found at Zagreb's Art Pavilion and Croatian National Theater. Zagreb also has a number of beautiful city parks which are great for exploring and people watching, especially in the late afternoon. Maksimir is a great option, with a variety of cafés nearby to pick up a coffee for your stroll.

Day 2: Bike Tour of Zagreb

13th-century Kamenita Vrata and equestrian statue of St. George and the Dragon
13th-century Kamenita Vrata and equestrian statue of St. George and the Dragon

Today you'll spend a few hours on an entertaining bicycle tour through Zagreb—a convenient way to see many of the major sights (with the added option to ride an e-bike!). You'll meet your guide and then venture through the winding network of small streets through the oldest part of Zagreb, Gornji Grad (Upper Town), an area that stretches between two hills: Kaptol and Gradec. You'll stop to visit Parliament and the Government House, the Kamenita Vrata (Stone Gate), as well as learn why the Grič cannon fires from the Lotrščak Tower every day at noon and why a street in the heart of Zagreb is referred to as Krvavi Most or "Bloody Bridge."

You'll then work your way down to Donji Grad (Lower Town), an area made up of spacious parks and boulevards, like the impressively grand, Lenuci Horseshoe (or Green Horseshoe) capped by the neo-baroque Croatian National Theater. Your local guide can also let you know where to go for the best restaurants and shopping, as well as the most popular places to grab a coffee, beer, or rakija brandy.

Day 3: Day Trip to Trakošćan Castle and Varaždin

Trakošćan Castle
Trakošćan Castle

You're in for a treat because this morning you'll embark on a day trip to the impressive Trakošćan Castle. Find your way to Croatia's northern border, where Trakošćan is located in a storybook setting adjacent to a crystalline lake. The castle, a historic landmark, was built in the 14th century as a defensive fortress but was later used as a home for aristocratic Croatian families. On a tour, you can not only visit the castle grounds but you'll go inside and explore all four floors, which function as a museum with permanent exhibitions. 

From Trakošćan Castle, you'll continue east to Varaždin, a wonderfully preserved town often referred to as "Little Vienna" in part for the abundance of its baroque and rococo architecture. Varaždin is also known as the city of music and flowers, and there's no shortage of festivals and floral exhibitions. A stroll through the old center of town reveals the former palaces of noble families, baroque façades, parks, and palaces, the Old Castle, and the historic feudal fort—the highlight of your visit.

Driving time (Zagreb to Trakošćan): 1.5 hours
Driving time (Trakošćan to Varaždin): 1 hour
Driving time (Varaždin to Zagreb): 1 hour

Day 4: Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park

Croatia - Aerial view over Plitvice Lakes National Park and winding boardwalk
Plitvice Lakes National Park and winding boardwalk

Today, you'll make the drive south to Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of Croatia's most popular national parks. Along the way, make a point to stop at Rastoke. Rastoke is a small village known for its old watermills and beautiful waterfalls as two rivers converge in the area. This is a nice precursor of the sights to come at Plitvice Lakes.

A short drive later, you'll arrive at Plitvice Lakes National Park in the early afternoon and can 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. 

Choose one of eight different hiking trails, ranging from three to eight hours in duration, where the upper lakes tend to be less crowded during the peak season. You may wish to bring a bought lunch (and a bottle of wine!) with you to enjoy a picnic. Tickets are purchased at the entrance of the Park.

Driving time (Zagreb to Rastoke): 1.5-2 hours
Driving time (Rastoke to Plitvice): 30 minutes

Day 5: Plitvice Lakes to Split, Stopping at Zadar

Zadar
Zadar

Today, you'll head south to the sunny shores of Dalmatia and the ancient coastal city of Split. En route, stop to explore the beautiful town of Zadar.

Set on a peninsula surrounded by the sparkling Adriatic Sea, Zadar is a tidy network of polished stone streets and public squares—the Roman forum dating back to the 1st century CE as an example.  Explore the historic center starting at the Sea Organ, passing the 12th-century cathedral and the Church of St. Simeon. Stop for lunch with a glass of wine in the center of town at a konoba restaurant like Stomorica, which is popular for its grilled fish and simple Dalmatian cuisine.

From Zadar, you'll continue along the coast to Split. Check into your hotel and settle into your accommodation before taking the rest of the day to wander Split's 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. Stop for lunch at Trattoria Bajamont, just north of the Iron Gate. From there, visit the popular Voćni trg or Fruit Square. Here you can 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.

In the evening, take a stroll along Split's seafront Riva to admire the views over the Adriatic before finding the off-beat Konoba Dioklecijan restaurant, just to the left of the Bronze Gate for dinner, its outdoor terrace built into the walls of Diocletian's Palace.

Driving time (Plitvice Lakes to Zadar): 1.5-2 hours
Driving time (Zadar to Split): 2 hours

Day 6: ATV Quad Family Tour (Split Day Trip)

ATV  Quad adventure
Discover the Dalmatian hinterland on an ATV tour

Today is reserved for an exciting half-day ATV tour of the Dalmatian hinterland beyond Split. You'll meet your guide for a brief introductory lesson before setting off to traverse over 25 miles (40 km) of gravel roads, seemingly endless fields along the Cetina river and the zagora. Take in the stunning scenery from the vantage of your personal ATV, stopping for a refreshing swim in the river as the mood strikes. The region is rich with archaeological finds from antiquity up to the Middle Ages providing insight into Croatia's fascinating past.

If there's interest, you can also opt for a traditional BBQ lunch set along the river to further add to a pretty perfect day.

Day 7: 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 8: Cycling and Wine Tasting Tour around Hvar

Cyclist explores plains around Stari Grad
Cyclist explores plains around Stari Grad

Spend a few hours today on a cycling tour of the interior of Hvar with stops along the way to visit a number of konobas (traditional taverns) as well as a family-run wine cellar. You'll eat delicious local specialties, take in the stunning sights of the varied island terrain, and drink wines endemic to the island and Croatia.

It'll be an easy to moderate guided ride on mostly flat roads through lavender fields, olive groves, and vineyards, palm trees, and pine woods, and past small stone settlements.

Day 9: 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 10: Explore Dubrovnik, the "Pearl of the Adriatic"

Fort Lovrijenac
Fort Lovrijenac

Spend the day as you like, exploring this ancient medieval city. Get up early to take advantage of all that Dubrovnik has to offer, starting with a visit to the open-air Gundulić Square Market for authentic Dubrovnik wares, like dried lavender, local brandies, and dried fruits. From there, take a stroll through the narrow streets of Old Town, walk atop the encircling city walls, or head to  Lovrijenac fortress and Orlando Column.

Be sure to break up your walk by sampling the local cuisine. Dubrovnik's location on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro means there is some unique fusion cuisine here as well as downright wild fast food options (think octopus burgers). But you can also find good-old Italian-inspired comfort food like pasta in meat sauce, black risotto, and basic but hearty meat-and-potatoes dishes.

In the afternoon, head to Banje Beach for a swim and some relaxation on the sandy stretch of beach close to Old Town. There’s also the option to join a kayak excursion to the islands facing the city. A great way to end the day is to catch the sunset from the water on a sunset dinner cruise (2.5 hours) on a replica of a traditional karaka ship or from your own private boat. Enjoy the view of Old Town from this vantage point.

Day 11: 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.

Map

Map of Best of Croatia: Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes, Hvar, & Dubrovnik - 11 Days
Map of Best of Croatia: Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes, Hvar, & Dubrovnik - 11 Days