Explore the best of Croatia on this comprehensive 16-day trip from the dynamic capital of Zagreb to the "Pearl of the Adriatic," Dubrovnik. Immerse yourself in culture, history, and stunning landscapes as you tour the romantic countryside of the Istrian peninsula, overnight in Plitvice Lakes National Park, and drive along the Dalmatian coast. You'll roam the tightly-woven network of cobblestoned streets in historic Rovinj, walk Split's 1,700-year-old stone-paved streets, leftover from Roman times, and feast on fresh-caught oysters and mussels in Ston after sampling wine native to the Pelješac peninsula.

Highlights

  • Stroll Opatija's Lungomare for pretty views of the Kvarner Gulf
  • Wander historic Grožnjan and Motovun, hilltop towns dating back to the Middle Ages
  • Sail amid the ruggedly beautiful Kornati archipelago
  • Explore the maze-like medieval streets of Šibenik
  • Cover island terrain on an exciting offroad tour of Hvar

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Walking Tour of Zagreb Zagreb
Day 3 Zagreb to Rovinj, Stopping in Opatija Rovinj
Day 4 Truffle Hunting, Fine-Dining, & Medieval Villages Rovinj
Day 5 Sun & Relaxation in Cape Kamenjak Rovinj
Day 6 Rovinj to Plitvice Lakes National Park Plitvice Lakes
Day 7 Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Drive to Zadar Zadar
Day 8 Sail through the Kornati Islands Zadar
Day 9 Zadar to Split, Stopping in Šibenik Split
Day 10 Ferry from Split to Hvar, Sea Kayaking around Pakleni Islands Hvar Town
Day 11 Hvar Offroad Tour Hvar Town
Day 12 Ferry from Hvar to Korčula Korčula Town
Day 13 Korčula to Ston via Pelješac Peninsula Ston
Day 14 Explore Ston, Drive to Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 15 Walking Tour of Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 16 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 be transferred to your hotel to settle in. The rest of the day is yours 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's 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 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: Walking Tour of Zagreb

Ban Jelačić Square
Ban Jelačić Square

Chock-full of museums, great architecture, trendy neighborhoods, and nightlife, immerse yourself in Zagreb on a half-day walking tour today.

To begin the tour, meet your guide at the main square of Ban Jelačić and then wind your way through the 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 visit the Cathedral, Tkalčićeva Street, the Kamenita Vrata (Stone Gate), and St. Mark's Church with its famed multi-colored roof as well as learn why the Grič cannon fires from the Lotrščak Tower every day at noon.

You'll then take the funicular 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. Here you'll have the opportunity to explore part of Ulica Street, one of the longest streets in Zagreb and a great place for shopping, cultural sites, and finding a restaurant to grab a bite.

If there's time following your tour, you might like to consider getting yourself to the Mirogoj Cemetery. Just over a mile north of the city center, take some time to admire the ivy-covered fortress-like walls and copper cupolas and historic tombstones.

Day 3: Zagreb to Rovinj, Stopping in Opatija

Rovinj
Rovinj

From Zagreb, you'll make the scenic drive west to Rovinj, stopping first for lunch 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 before finding a restaurant for a bite to eat and a drink with a view that overlooks the Kvarner Gulf

After lunch, continue on to Rovinj where you'll settle into your accommodation before taking the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore this small jewel on the west coast of the Istrian Peninsula

Though Rovinj remains an active fishing port today, it wasn't until 1763 that it became part of the mainland. As such, its restricted access resulted in the labyrinth of narrow, cobblestoned streets you see today. Explore Old Town and marvel at the centuries-old Venetian influenced architecture as you pass under archways, through alleyways, and up stone stairwells. Navigate your way to Balbi's Arch and the 12th-century Town Clock, noting Rovinj's skyline dominated by the baroque St. Euphemia Church.

Seek out your choice of interest from churches to galleries and pebbled beaches, capping off the day with a delicious dinner of fresh fish and local wine. 

Driving time (Zagreb to Opatija): 2 hours
Driving time (Opatija to Rovinj): 1-2 hours

Day 4: Truffle Hunting, Fine-Dining, & Medieval Villages

Buzet at sunset
Buzet at sunset

Enjoy a full day immersing yourself in the sights, flavors, and history of Istria.

Your first stop is Prodan Tartufi near the town of Buzet, to join the Podran family and their truffle-sniffing dogs on an hour-long search for the prized white truffle. Afterward, you'll spend a little time cooking up the delicacy for a light mid-morning meal, a precursor to lunch. From here, get yourself to the nearby Toklarija restaurant for an unforgettable six-course tasting. Set in a rustic, fireplace-lit 17-seat room, the eccentric chef (and owner) prepares locally sourced ingredients in an array of mouthwatering dishes that will leave you speechless. (Reservations are a must as they don't take walk-ins.)

Come late afternoon, walk off your meal with a stroll in 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 that Grožnjan became what it is today: the town of artists. Lose yourself in the maze of narrow and cobblestoned lanes, stopping to pop into one of the numerous art studios and galleries. 

A short distance across the lush Mirna River Valley sits Motovun, an ancient sleepy town located atop a 909-foot (277 m) hill. Its present appearance, with the city walls surrounding the town center, dates back to the Middle Ages. Walk its medieval walls and pick up local products like olive oil and herb-infused brandy called travarica before finding your way to the seaside town of Novigrad to enjoy one of Istria's top-rated dining experiences at Damir i Ornella. The dishes use simple ingredients, think olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, but the atmosphere, the hosts, and the straight-from-the-sea daily catch combine to leave you well and satisfied. 

Driving time (Rovinj to Buzet): 1 hour
Driving time (Buzet to Grožnjan): 40 minutes
Driving time (Motovun to Novigrad): 30 minutes
Driving time (Novigrad to Rovinj): 1 hour

Day 5: Sun & Relaxation in Cape Kamenjak

Kamenjak National Park
Kamenjak National Park

Take the day to discover beautiful Cape Kamenjak, the Istrian peninsula's most southern point. Protected as a nature park, the peninsula offers a variety of secluded coves and beaches, some of the best in the Pula region. Here you can relax, soaking in the fresh salty air and enjoying the mesmerizing sea, as you swim, cycle, or walk to explore the park.

Note that if you opt to drive into the park there is a small fee, though it's waived if you choose to go by foot or bicycle. Take the walking or cycling road that follows the peninsula coastline, breaking at one of the 30 bays that strike your interest. Stop for lunch at the busy Safari Bar before taking a walk along the cliff's edge—popular with cliff-jumpers. The more active might opt to visit Medulin, Istria's main destination for watersports for more of a beach day and to take a windsurfing or sailing lesson.

Break up the drive back with a stop in Premantura, a village that borders the park, for dinner at Konoba Ancora.

Driving time (Rovinj to Kamenjak): 1-1.5 hours

Day 6: Rovinj to Plitvice Lakes National Park

Walk amid travertine lakes in Plitvice Lakes National Park
Walk amid travertine lakes in Plitvice Lakes National Park

Today, you'll have ample time to make the scenic drive east to Plitvice Lakes National Park, the first Croatian national park—and one of the most popular parks in the country. 

Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s natural masterpiece, gorgeous at any time of year.  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. 

You'll likely arrive in Plitvice Lakes in the afternoon, where you can relax in preparation to visit the park at sunrise the following morning. 

Driving time (Rovinj to Plitvice):  3.5-4 hours

Day 7: Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Drive to Zadar

Discover Plitvice Lakes
Discover Plitvice Lakes

Early morning is one of the best times to visit Plitvice Lakes before the mid-day crowds arrive. You can explore the park on your own or opt for a local guide who will take you on a number of defined routes of varying lengths throughout the park. After enjoying a leisurely morning in Plitvice, carry on your way south to the ancient capital of Zadar, the perfect city to arrive in after a day in the storybook wilderness. 

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 8: Sail through the Kornati Islands

The beautiful Kornati Islands off the coast of Zadar
The beautiful Kornati Islands off the coast of Zadar

Today is reserved for a fun day of sailing from Zadar to Kornati National Park. Nearly devoid of life, lie the barren and ruggedly beautiful 90 or so islands of the Kornati archipelago, grouped around the significantly larger Kornat Island. You'll hoist anchor and set sail to take in the stunning raw beauty of the jagged rocks, indented coastline, and relatively untouched marine ecology.  Along the way, there will be time to explore some of the islands more intimately where you'll find your way to secluded coves for swimming and snorkeling opportunities.

Day 9: Zadar to Split, Stopping in Šibenik

Old Town, Šibenik
Old Town, Šibenik

This morning you'll continue south along the Dalmatian coast to Split, breaking up the journey to explore Šibenik. A true Croatian town founded by the Croat king Petar Krešimir IV in the 11th century, Šibenik is home to impressive fortresses, music festivals, and medieval gardens. Start with a visit to the famous UNESCO-protected St. James' Cathedral, before selecting a restaurant for your lunch—perhaps Pelegrini, a restaurant and wine bar just above the cathedral. If there's time, check out the 16th-century war architecture masterpiece, St. Nicholas Fortress.

From here, carry on your way south to Split. Upon your arrival, check into your hotel and settle in before taking the rest of the afternoon 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 famed Diocletian's Palace.

Driving time (Zadar to Šibenik): 1 hour
Driving time (Šibenik to Split): 1.5 hours

Day 10: Ferry from Split to Hvar, Sea Kayaking around Pakleni Islands

Galesnik Island, the first in line of the Pakleni Islands
Galesnik Island, the first in line of the Pakleni Islands

This morning you'll catch a ferry from Split to 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 town of the same name. You'll have the late morning to explore Hvar Town. Visit St. Stephen's Cathedral and climb the steps to the terrace outside of the historic Arsenal to enjoy views over the harbor and the surrounding area. 

In the afternoon, pack your swimwear and towel and head to Hvar Town's beachfront for your guided sunset kayaking tour to the nearby Pakleni Islands. The islands are the most beautiful part of the Hvar Riviera and are a favorite retreat for locals seeking to escape the summer heat. Altogether, there are 14 wooded and rocky islets, which you will get a chance to explore by kayak with a striking pink sky as a backdrop.

Ferry time: 1.5-2 hours

Day 11: Hvar Offroad Tour

Lavender fields along the roads of Hvar Island
Lavender fields along the roads of Hvar Island

Enjoy a full day of guided offroading fun as you cover the undulating island terrain, accented with vineyard-covered hills, thick olive groves, and fragrant fields full of rosemary and lavender. Set out from Hvar Town along a dirt road to the abandoned 16th-century village of Malo Grablje before carrying on to the slightly older, UNESCO-protected Velo Grablje. Once home to a thriving lavender industry, Velo Grablje is slowly undergoing a revival. Today, only a few people inhabit the village throughout the year, but many gather for the annual lavender festival. 

Stop for an authentic lunch at a family-run tavern where your meal is traditionally prepared using locally sourced ingredients and the peka, a bell-shaped lid that is covered in coal. Next, you'll spend a little time relaxing on Soline beach on the northern coast of the island near Vrboska before it's time to head up Vidikovac for views over the Stari Grad Plain, an agricultural landscape that was first colonized by the Greeks and is still maintained today, as well as Stari Grad itself, Croatia's oldest township.

After a moment to absorb the breathtaking surroundings, you'll ascend Hvar's tallest peak, St. Nicholas for additional sweeping vistas over the Adriatic and neighboring islands like Brač, Korčula, and Vis and possibly even the east coast of Italy! On your way down the sloping hillside lies Sveta Nedija, a village surrounded by vineyards so steep they’re renowned the world over for being extraordinarily difficult to tend; but they're also known for the high-quality red wine they produce from the Dalmatian plavac grape. Continue along the southern edge of Hvar as you make your way back to your accommodation.

Day 12: Ferry from Hvar to Korčula

Korčula's Old Town
Korčula's Old Town

Collect your things and catch a ferry to Korčula. Once on Korčula, the afternoon and evening are yours to discover this little island's numerous restaurants, taverns, shops, and bars as you roam the maze of gray stone houses, alleys, churches, and squares. 

Enjoy a traditional lunch of lamb and goat in Korčula's Old Town, one of the finest examples of Venetian architecture on the Dalmatian coast. Next, visit the 14th-century Land Gate on top of an elegant staircase, before heading to the St. Mark's Cathedral to admire its strange sculptures of beasts and people. Art enthusiasts will appreciate a visit to the Bishop's Treasury next door for a small but impressive art collection, including works from Carpaccio, Bassano, and Tiepolo. From there, you may wish to visit the unremarkable house thought to be the birthplace of Marco Polo.

If beaches are what you're after, rent a bike or ride the bus the 5 miles (8 km) to the sandy beaches of Lumbarda. Afterward, grab a bite to eat and pair it with the local dry white, Grk, indigenous to Lumbarda and nowhere else. 

Ferry time (Hvar to Korčula): 1.5 hours

Day 13: Korčula to Ston via Pelješac Peninsula

Orebić
Orebić

Make your way to the ferry terminal in either Korčula Old Town (foot passengers) or nearby Dominče (car ferries) to transfer the short distance to Orebić on the Pelješac Peninsula. Wander the seaside town's narrow streets, noting the charming stone villas once occupied by famous sea captains. From here, you'll continue your journey southeast to your hotel in the medieval city of Ston, stopping to sample Dingač, Croatia's most well-known red at any of the numerous vineyards populating the rugged landscape.

If there's interest, rent a bike and cycle along the Plavac Mali vineyards to a quiet bay for a swim, snorkel, and lunch break before carrying on to Ston, twin settlement to Mali Ston on the opposite end of the peninsula's isthmus. End the day with a meal of Ston's famous fresh oysters or mussels accompanied by a glass of local Dingač. 

Ferry time (Korčula to Orebić): 30 minutes
Driving time (Orebić to Ston): 1 hour

Day 14: Explore Ston, Drive to Dubrovnik

Climbing the parapet walkway of Ston's defensive wall
Climbing the parapet walkway of Ston's defensive wall

Take the better part of the day to explore Ston, its surroundings, and of course its impressive fortified walls—the longest on the continent (originally built to keep predators away from the town's saltpans) and discover the importance this area held in the 14th century. Enjoy beautiful views over the Adriatic and Ston and its glittering saltpans—one of the oldest and still active in the Mediterranean—from a parapet walkway.

Rent a kayak and paddle amid oyster and mussel farms in Ston's bay, taking in the striking views of the walls from the sea. Alternatively, if you're looking for more of a beach day, find your way to Prapratno, just over a mile away for access to the peninsula's largest sandy beach.

When it's time, make your way to your accommodation in the historic coastal fortress city of Dubrovnik. The remainder of the day will be at your leisure, allowing time for you to wander and explore this magical city. Climb the 16th-century city walls for incredible views of countless red rooftops of old stone houses, towers, turrets, churches, and palaces. And be sure to find your way to the limestone-paved Stradun, Dubrovnik's main street to get your bearings and choose from some of Croatia's best restaurants and wine bars.

Driving time (Ston to Dubrovnik): 1 hour

Day 15: Walking Tour of Dubrovnik

St. Blaise Church on Stradun
St. Blaise Church on Stradun

Start your day early (around 8 am) to avoid the crowds and to embark on a tour of Dubrovnik where you'll meet your expert guide outside the entrance to the medieval city at the 16th-century Pile Gate. Entering Old Town, you'll uncover centuries of the city's rich history as you listen to stories of local life and legends and of the importance Dubrovnik once held in the era of the Republic. Highlights include Onofrio's  Fountain, the 15th century Rector's Palace, Luza Square, the Church of St. Blaise (St. Vlaho), and the café-lined streets of Brsalje Street

After touring the streets and alleys, you'll head for Lovrijenac Fortress as well as the city's impressive defensive walls, the second-largest set of city walls in the world. At certain places the wall rises 75 feet high, offering excellent vantage points for photos of the coastline. 

For the rest of the afternoon, explore Dubrovnik and its surroundings on your own or enjoy the afternoon sun on the nearby beaches. Come early evening, you can get stunning panoramic views over the city and Adriatic by taking the cable car up to Srđ Mountain before descending back down for dinner at one of Dubrovnik's great restaurants.

Day 16: 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.