Croatia is a country of stunning landscapes and rich, ancient culture—you'll experience the best of both worlds on this adventurous route as you cover the country's highlights. You'll begin in Zagreb and work your way to the Dalmatian coast, spending a little extra time in Hvar before ending your tour in Dubrovnik. You'll explore ancient cities, kayak pristine waters, and hike small islands.

Highlights

  • Stroll through leafy green parks, like Maksimir, in Croatia's capital, Zagreb
  • Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park and see waterfalls and emerald-green lakes
  • Admire Zadar's Monument to the Sun's colorful displays of light
  • Discover Split and learn about its 1,700-year-old history
  • Ride through olive groves and lavender fields on Hvar

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park Plitvice Lakes National Park
Day 3 Plitvice Lakes National Park to Zadar Zadar
Day 4 Zadar to Split, Afternoon to Explore Split
Day 5 Historical Walking Tour of Split Split
Day 6 Ferry from Split to Hvar, Sunset Sea Kayaking Tour Hvar Town
Day 7 Hvar Wine Tasting Hvar Town
Day 8 Ferry from Hvar to Korčula Korčula Town
Day 9 Korčula to Dubrovnik via Pelješac Peninsula Dubrovnik
Day 10 Historical Walking Tour of Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 11 Depart Dubrovnik  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to 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 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

Day 3: 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 4: Zadar to Split, Afternoon to Explore

Split and Marjan Hill in the distance
Split and Marjan Hill in the distance

In the morning, continue your drive along the Dalmatian coast and further south to Split. Upon arriving in Split, check into your hotel and settle into your accommodation 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 Voćnitrg or Fruit Square—a square that got its name from centuries of selling fruit. 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 waterfront views before finding the off-beat Konoba Dioklecijan restaurant, just to the left of the Bronze Gate for a bite to eat, its outdoor terrace built into the walls of Diocletian's Palace.

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

Day 5: Historical 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 6: Ferry from Split to Hvar, Sunset Sea Kayaking Tour

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 7: Hvar Wine Tasting

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 8: 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 9: Korčula to Dubrovnik via Pelješac Peninsula

Mali Ston, Croatia
Mali Ston, Croatia

Today you'll leave Korčula and transfer to Orebić on the Pelješac Peninsula and continue your journey south to Dubrovnik. En route, stop in the medieval city of Ston to explore one of the longest defensive stone walls in Europe (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 Ston and its glittering saltpans from a parapet walkway on Ston's 3,937-foot (1,200 m) wall. 

Reward your efforts with a light meal of Ston's famous fresh oysters or mussels accompanied by a glass of local Dingač red wine. Should you choose, you can take a tour of one of the area's family-run wineries and sample Dingač's famous reds. 

When you're ready, make your way to 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. Depending on when you arrive, you may have time to hop aboard a cable car and ride to the top of Srđ Mountain for stunning vistas of Dubrovnik and the nearby Elafiti Islands

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

Day 10: Historical 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 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.