- Stroll through leafy green parks, like Maksimir, in Croatia's capital, Zagreb
- Discover the waterfalls and emerald-green lakes in Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Trek under dramatic limestone cliffs in striking Paklenica National Park
- Visit Sibenik's 16th-century St. Nicholas Fortress, a war architecture masterpiece
- Listen to Zadar's sea organ before exploring its storied alleyways
|Day 1||Welcome to Zagreb!||Zagreb|
|Day 2||Explore the Wonders of Plitvice Lakes National Park||Plitvice Lakes National Park|
|Day 3||Hike the Rugged Mountains of Paklenica National Park||Zadar|
|Day 4||Zadar to Split, Stopping for Lunch in Šibenik||Split|
|Day 5||Depart Split|
Day 1: Welcome to Zagreb!
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
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 3: Plitvice Lakes to Zadar, Stopping at Paklenica National Park
From Plitvice Lakes, you'll make your way south to Paklenica National Park, the most accessible hiking area in the southern Velebit mountains. Made up of dramatic karst formations, the park is most known for two limestone gorges, Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica (literally meaning Big Paklenica and Small Paklenica) which run down toward the sea and offer plenty of hiking and rock-climbing options for the active traveler.
Stop at Velika Paklenica to stretch your legs and choose a well-maintained route for a mid-morning hike through black-pine and beech forests under craggy limestone cliffs that tower 1,312 feet (400 m) overhead. For a more untouched wilderness experience try a hike through Mala Paklenica. Deliberately undeveloped, know that paths are unmarked and not well cared for, so you'll want to snag a good map from a local shop or the National Park Office in Starigrad.
After a morning of visiting the park, you'll continue your journey west to Zadar, where you'll check into your hotel before setting out to familiarize yourself with the ancient capital of Dalmatia.
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 (Zadar to Paklenica): 1 hour
Driving time (Paklenica to Plitvice): 1.5-2 hours
Day 4: Zadar to Split, Stopping for Lunch in 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 head 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 Šibenik): 1 hour
Driving time (Šibenik to Split): 1.5 hours
Day 5: Depart Split
If you have a free morning before departing, check out the Green Market (Pazar Market). A lively fruit and vegetable outdoor market just east of the Diocletian Palace, this is a great place to see how the locals shop and to pick up some fruit for your flight home. Farmers from the surrounding areas of Split come into town every day to sell their seasonal local produce from sunrise to 2 pm.
Depending on traffic, it usually takes 45 minutes to travel from Old Town to the airport. Best to arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to your international departure (and with some extra time to drop off your rental car, if you have one).