The sun always shines on the Dalmatian Coast—one of the most scenic coastal drives in Europe. In 12 days, you'll have the freedom to explore on your own, starting from historic Zagreb and ending at the walls of mighty Dubrovnik with a wide selection of national parks and beautiful coastal towns to stop at along the way.

Highlights

  • Visit the storybook castle of Trakošćan in the bucolic Zagorje region
  • Find your way to cascading waterfalls and emerald-green lakes in Plitvice National Park
  • Listen to the sea organ of Zadar and explore its storied alleyways
  • Relax on the spectacular golden sands of Zlatni rat beach on Brač
  • Discover baroque buildings of Croatia's most historical city, Dubrovnik

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Day Trip to Castles of the Zagorje Region Zagreb
Day 3 Zagreb to Zadar, Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park Zadar
Day 4 Explore the Coastal Town of Zadar Zadar
Day 5 Zadar to Split, Visit Krka National Park Split
Day 6 Historical Walking Tour of Split Split
Day 7 Ferry from Split to Brač, Explore Brač Brač Island
Day 8 Explore Brač, Relax on Zlatni Rat Beach Brač Island
Day 9 Ferry from Brač to Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 10 Explore Dubrovnik, the "Pearl of the Adriatic" Dubrovnik
Day 11 Day Trip to Montenegro Dubrovnik
Day 12 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: Day Trip to Castles of the Zagorje Region

Trakošćan Castle
Trakošćan Castle

Just a few miles northwest of Zagreb lies Zagorje, 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. A quick day trip from Zagreb allows you to immerse yourself in this beautiful region.

Find your way to Trakošćan Castle, a good example of one of these storybook locales, as it sits perched on a hill adjacent to a glassy 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. 

Afterward, visit Veliki Tabor Castle, which is located just southwest of Trakošćan. This gothic-renaissance castle dates to the 16th century and also sits on a green hill overlooking the fertile countryside. It was originally built for a noble Hungarian family and its fortifications were designed to defend against Turkish invaders. A tour of Veliki includes visits to the towers, guardhouses, and inner courtyard plus a small museum featuring exhibitions of medieval artifacts like armor, weapons, and paintings. 

Apart from castles, explore nearby old villages, like Kumrovec, where you'll find restored peasants' houses from the 19th century. These are great areas to browse local craft shops and enjoy some traditional country cuisine like grilled lamb, meat skewers, and veal stuffed with cheese and ham.  Kumrovec is most well known for being the birthplace of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the communist revolutionary who was President of Yugoslavia from 1953 to 1980.

Day 3: Zagreb to Zadar, Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park

Today, you'll head south to the sunny shores of Dalmatia and the beautiful town of Zadar. En route, you can stop to visit one of Croatia’s most popular national parks, Plitvice Lakes.

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. 

Here, you can request a private, expert local guide to walk with you through the park to show you the most interesting places and explain the significance of its history and natural features. You may wish to bring a bought lunch (and a bottle of wine!) with you to enjoy a picnic.

Following lunch, your journey south to the ancient Roman city of Zadar will continue. 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. The rest of the day is yours to relax and explore.

Driving time (Zagreb to Plitvice): 2 hours 
Driving time (Plitvice to Zadar): 2 hours

Day 4: Explore the Coastal Town of Zadar

Oštri Rat Lighthouse
Oštri Rat Lighthouse

Today is yours to explore an often-overlooked star of Dalmatia: Zadar. This is the largest city on Dalmatia's northern coast, and there's a lot to see and do. You can stroll the marble streets of Zadar's famous Old Town—once the mightiest fortress city in the Venetian Republic—or wander beyond its Venetian gates, past stone walls and examples of Roman and Byzantine architecture in the form of the 1st century remains of the Roman Forum and the 9th century Church of St Donat.

Another noteworthy site to check out is the baroque St. Simeon Church for a sighting of the Queen Elizabeth-commissioned sarcophagus. Be sure to stop for lunch and a glass of wine in the center of town at a konoba restaurant like Stomorica

After touring the city by day, come to the waterfront just before dusk to witness one of Dalmatia's most beautiful sunsets. During this time, you can marvel at the light shows of the Monument to the Sun (a 72-foot disc built by the Croatian artist Nikola Bašić that reflects light patterns off its smooth surface as the sun goes down) and the singing waves of the Sea Organ (architectural sound art that utilizes tubes located underneath the waterfront steps to transform sea waves into organ music).

In the evening, partake of Zadar's to-die-for seafood. There are plenty of great restaurants in the historic center. Some of the best include:

  • Restaurant Groppo. This popular eatery celebrates local ingredients and serves them up in an elegant space in the heart of Old Town. Try the John Dory fillet with wild truffles and homemade gnocchi.

  • Restaurant Bruschetta. For such a chic space, the service here is surprisingly friendly and unpretentious. You can't beat the location near the water, nor its delectable Dalmatian/Mediterranean menu items like seafood bruschettas and the star dish: pasta pljukanci with prawns and zucchini.

  • Kornat Restaurant. Located on the water, this spacious but intimate space serves fresh seafood like Adriatic whitefish, lobster, squid, and venus clams. There are plenty of meat dishes too, like steak florentine, lamb chops, and guinea hen served with gnocchi. Don't overlook the deep wine list.

Day 5: Zadar to Split, Visit Krka National Park

Krka National Park
Krka National Park

After breakfast, you'll drive south toward Split, stopping at Krka National Park and the charming coastal towns of Primošten and Trogir. With seven waterfalls—the largest and most impressive being Skradinski BukKrka National Park is one of eight national parks in Croatia. 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 to viewpoints of the majestic series of falls and enjoy a quick swim if the mood strikes. One great section to explore starts at Skradinski Buk. From there, head to Roški Slap, where you can take a short walk across the river to a small set of rapids, said to resemble a pearl necklace from above. At Roški Slap, you can stop to grab a bite to eat of locally produced prosciutto, cheese, and seasonal salads.

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 find 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: 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 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 Blaca 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: Explore Brač, Relax on Zlatni Rat Beach

Stunning aerial shot of Zlatni Rat beach
Stunning aerial shot of 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 Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik

In the morning, you'll catch a public ferry to Dubrovnik and make your way to your hotel to check in.

Often referred to as the "Pearl of the Adriatic," Dubrovnik is a world-renowned city of exceptional charm. Take the time to explore its 16th-century stone walls, including the Minceta, Lovrijenac and Revelin fortresses, visit Onofrio's Fountain and the Church of St. Blaise (St. Vlaho), and stroll along the limestone-paved Stradun, Dubrovnik's main street to get your bearings. Dubrovnik offers excellent nightlife and some of Croatia's best restaurants and wine bars. 

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. Here you can explore the 19th-century Fort Imperijal  (built during the Napoleonic Wars) before stretching your legs and walking back down the hill enjoying views of the city below.

Ferry time (Brač to Dubrovnik): 4.5 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. We recommend getting 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: Day Trip to Montenegro

Our Lady of the Rock Island in Perast
Our Lady of the Rock Island in Perast

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.

Know that you can do this trip on your own (with a rental car) or hire the services of a private driver. Navigating the border crossing and finding parking in Montenegro can be challenging, however, so it's recommended that you opt for a private driver.

Driving time (Dubrovnik to Perast): 2 hours
Driving time (Kotor to Dubrovnik):

Day 12: 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 Classic Croatia: Zagreb, Split, Brač, & Dubrovnik - 12 Days
Map of Classic Croatia: Zagreb, Split, Brač, & Dubrovnik - 12 Days