This complete two-week trip is a great route for travelers visiting Croatia for the first time and includes a day trip to nearby Montenegro. You'll experience the main highlights of the Dalmatian coast, starting from Croatia's capital, Zagreb, to its most popular southern city, Dubrovnik. Swim in the pristine waters of popular Krka National Park, lie out on stunning Zlatni Rat beach on Brač Island, and hike a medieval route between remote villages on Hvar Island.

Highlights

  • Tour over 50 castles scattered across the Zagorje hillside
  • Discover cascading waterfalls and emerald lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park
  • Listen to the sea organ of Zadar and explore its storied alleyways
  • Explore the famous Diocletian's Palace in Split, dating back to the 4th century
  • Roam marbled streets and discover baroque buildings of historic Dubrovnik

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Zagreb Zagreb
Day 2 Zagreb Day Trip: The Castles of Zagorje and Varaždin Zagreb
Day 3 Drive from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park Plitvice Lakes National Park
Day 4 Drive from Plitvice Lakes National Park to Zadar Zadar
Day 5 Drive from Zadar to Split, Visit Krka National Park Split
Day 6 Walking Tour of Split Split
Day 7 Ferry from Split to Brač, Explore Brač Brač Island
Day 8 Guided Hike to Dragon's Cave, Relax on Zlatni Rat Beach Brač Island
Day 9 Ferry from Brač to Hvar, Hike the Lavender Road Hvar
Day 10 Hvar Wine Tasting Hvar
Day 11 Ferry from Hvar to Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 12 Walking Tour of Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 13 Day Trip to Montenegro Dubrovnik
Day 14 Depart Dubrovnik  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Zagreb

Zagreb is Croatia's capital and largest city
Zagreb is Croatia's capital and largest city

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: Zagreb Day Trip: The Castles of Zagorje and Varaždin

Veliki Tabor castle, Zagorje region
Veliki Tabor castle, Zagorje region

Enjoy an early breakfast before driving to Trakošćan Castle in the picturesque region of Zagorje, sightseeing along the way to Varaždin.

Situated just north of Zagreb, Zagorje is a bucolic hilly region, dotted with renaissance and medieval fortresses, numerous baroque castles, and family-run vineyards and farms. It's a memorable, romantic landscape that will take you back in time to a sense of both the aristocratic past and the rural traditional way of life that still exists in Croatia today.

From Trakošćan Castle, you will continue east to Varaždin, once the capital of Croatia. This wonderfully preserved town is known for its baroque and rococo architecture and is an example of how Croatia looked during the prosperous 17th century. 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 are the highlight of your visit.

After visiting Varaždin, enjoy a delicious lunch of traditional specialties from the Zagorje region before returning to Zagreb in the afternoon.

Driving time (Zagreb to Varaždin): 3 hours
Driving time (Varaždin to Zagreb): 1.5 hours

Day 3: Drive from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park

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 4: Drive from 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.

Day 5: Drive from Zadar to Split, Visit 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 6: Walking Tour of Split

View of Split from Diocletian's Palace
View of Split from Diocletian's Palace

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 7: Ferry from Split to Brač, Explore Brač

A pebble beach near Bol on the island of Brač
A pebble beach near Bol on the island of Brač

This morning, board a public ferry bound for the port town of Bol on Brač Island and check into your hotel. The largest of the central Dalmatian islands, Brač is bursting with historic sites dating back to ancient Greece and the Middle Ages. 

Take the day to explore the island by car and discover coastal towns and villages, and older settlements in the interior of the island. Stop in Pučišća and visit the only stone masonry school in Europe (their sculptures scattered throughout Bol). Discover the centuries-old lapidary tradition as you watch the students bring Brač stone to life. Next, drive up to the highest peak on the island, Vidova Gora, for all-encompassing views of Bol, Zlatni Rat beach, and the Adriatic.

Continue the short trip west, winding your way to the UNESCO-protected site and now a museum, the Blacka Monastery (Pustinja Blaca). An impressive hermitage built around a cave by two monks fleeing persecution. And when it's time, return to Bol for a leisurely dinner, perhaps choosing a restaurant with views of the sea, like Terasa Santo or Vendetta.

Ferry time (Split to Brač): 1.5 hours

Day 8: Guided Hike to Dragon's Cave, Relax on Zlatni Rat Beach

Stunning aerial shot of Zlatni Rat beach
Zlatni Rat beach

Step outside your hotel early in the morning and visit the King's Stairs, located in the heart of Bol, to mingle with the locals and buy fresh fruit and veg from the local market. Afterward, meet your guide and drive to Dragon's Cave (Zmajeva Spilja), just 3 miles west of Bol for a hike to explore the impressive Christian and pagan reliefs carved into the cave walls by a 15th-century friar.

From here, return to your hotel to grab your swimsuit before setting out along the Bol Promenade, lined with Brač stone and shaded with pine trees, to Croatia's pretties beach, Zlatni Rat. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon relaxing or take advantage of the maestral winds and windsurf just offshore. A geographical phenomenon, Zlatni Rat protrudes over 1,641 feet (500 m) into the Adriatic Sea in a v-shape, surrounded by deep blue and turquoise water. The shape of the beach changes with the wind and water current, further adding to its uniqueness.

Day 9: Ferry from Brač to Hvar, Hike the Lavender Road

The old town of Stari Grad
The old town of Stari Grad

Catch a ferry to the island of Hvar for a day of trekking the Lavender Road. 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.  

Take the early afternoon to walk along the narrow streets of one of Europe's oldest towns, Stari Grad. Founded in the 4th century BCE, it was one of the first Greek colonies in the Adriatic. Explore its many charming squares and old stone buildings before continuing the 7.5 mile (12 km) trek to the southern coastline and Hvar Town.

Along the way, you will hike through sweetly scented lavender fields and pass by gnarled olive groves before reaching the inland villages of Velo Grablje and Malo Grablje. Velo Grablje was once home to a thriving lavender industry and is slowly undergoing a revival. Today, only a few people inhabit the village throughout the year, but many gather for the annual lavender festival.  

From here, follow 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 meal at perhaps the most authentic of the island's taverns before carrying on the gravel road to discover secluded beaches as you make your way to Hvar town. 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 (Supetar to Stari Grad): 2.5-3 hours 
Hiking time: 3-4 hours

Day 10: Hvar Wine Tasting

Croatia - Hvar - Traditional village in the interior of Hvar
Traditional village in the interior of Hvar

Join a half-day wine tour to sample some of Croatia's best wines. Immerse yourself in wine country, less than half an hour inland from Hvar Town, and tour wineries meeting winemakers and exploring UNESCO-protected vineyards where grapes have grown since the time of the ancient Greeks. Hvar's fertile rich soil produces the rich Plavac Mali red, grown both locally and on the Dalmatian coast, as well as Bogdanuša, a dry white indigenous to the island.

One of the island's most beloved wineries is Tomić, run by Andro Tomić, a well-known winemaker who's famous for his statement, "The way you should drink wine is per hours not per liters." A popular stop for travelers, be sure to ask to see the basement which was inspired by the substructures of Diocletian's Palace in Split. Other suggested wineries are Duboković and Plenković.

Day 11: Ferry from Hvar to Dubrovnik

Historic Dubrovnik at sunset
Historic Dubrovnik at sunset

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 12: Walking Tour of Dubrovnik

Fort Lovrijenac
Fort Lovrijenac

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 13: Day Trip to Montenegro

Bay of Kotor
Bay of Kotor

Today you'll get to check off another country on your travel bucket list as you make a day trip to Montenegro. This Balkan nation borders Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the south and is known for the beautiful beaches and medieval villages along its Adriatic coastline. 

You'll want to get an early start to allow time for the border crossing. After crossing over, you'll enjoy a scenic drive around the Bay of Kotor before stopping at the village of Perast, which is a little bit of Venice on the Adriatic. From here, you'll make the 20-minute drive to stop and explore the medieval coastal village of Kotor. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is built on a sloping mountain and abounds with Venetian palaces and Romanesque churches. 

Kotor is also an ancient fortress town as evidenced by the medieval stone ramparts that run up the mountain to the Fortress of St. John, which dates to the 6th century. You can reach this fortress by hiking up some 1,350 steps from town to a height of roughly 820 feet (250 m). When you're ready, find your way back to Dubrovnik.

Driving time (Dubrovnik to Perast): 2 hours
Driving time (Kotor to Dubrovnik): 2 hours
Transport: Rental car or private driver & vehicle

Day 14: Depart Dubrovnik

Old Town glows at dusk
Old Town glows at dusk

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.