Dalmatian Coast Self-Drive Tour - 12 Days

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

  • Tour over 50 castles scattered across the Zagorje hillside
  • Stretch your legs on a walk through Plitvice Lakes National Park
  • Listen to the sea organ of Zadar and explore its storied alleyways
  • Take the beautiful coastal drive to Krka National Park
  • Explore the famous Diocletian's Palace in Split, dating back to the 4th century
  • Relax on picturesque Brac Island
  • End in Dubrovnik, Croatia's most famous historical city

Overview

This is a great route for travelers visiting Croatia for the first time. You'll visit the main highlights of the Dalmatian Coast, starting from Croatia's capital, Zagreb, to its most popular southern city: Dubrovnik. Self-drive tours are best suited for those seeking a little adventure and who like exploring on their own, and who enjoy getting off the main routes and highways. 

Overview map

Brief itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Zagreb, pick up your rental car Zagreb
Day 2 Explore the Castles of Zagorje and Varaždin Zagreb
Day 3 Drive south to Plitvice Lakes, then to Zadar Zadar
Day 4 Explore Zadar and relax along the coast Zadar
Day 5 Drive south to Split, stopping at Krka National Park Split
Day 6 Explore Split, one of Croatia's most historic cities Split
Day 7 Take the ferry from Split to the island of Brač Brač
Day 8 Explore Brač and relax on Zlatni Rat beach Brač
Day 9 Take the ferry from Brač to Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 10 Explore Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 11 Explore Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 12 Goodbye, for now  

Detailed itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Zagreb!

St. Mark's Square, Zagreb
St. Mark's Square, Zagreb

After arriving at Zagreb's international airport, you'll pick up your rental car and head to a hotel in the center of the city (parking provided).

Zagreb is a wonderful city, with an attractive European style, a charming medieval quarter, and a lively cafe culture. The bustling Ban Jelacic Square lies at the heart of the city. You could spend the day wandering the open-air markets — a bounty of local produce, flowers, jams, and honey. There's also an entire area of vendors selling an array of handcrafted cheeses, cured meats, pastries, and other locally-made products. This is a great time to stock up on supplies and snacks for the drive.

From your hotel, you can opt for a walking tour that will take you through the history of the city, sharing the stories, legends, and pivotal events of its past. You will learn about the history of Zagreb since the Middle Ages, exploring the cobblestone streets of Gornji Grad and over to the cathedral and Kaptol, the religious core.

The rest of the day will be free for you to relax or explore on your own.

Day 2: 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 along with sightseeing in the town of 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.

Then, you can head down the Baroque and Rococo lane to the lovely town of Varaždin, once the capital of Croatia. This wonderfully preserved town is an example of how Croatia looked during the prosperous and lively cultural times. A stroll through the old center of town reveals the former palaces of noble families, Baroque facades, parks and palaces, the Old Castle, and the historic feudal fort — the highlight of your visit.

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

Day 3: Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park to Zadar

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 Croatia’s most famous National Park, Plitvice Lakes. Legend goes that Plitvice lakes were created after a long drought when the "Black Queen" took pity on the people and animals that cried for water. Heavy rain began to fall and continued until they formed the magnificent chain of waterfalls and 16 emerald lakes of today.

Plitvice National Park is Croatia’s natural masterpiece, gorgeous at any time of year. Since 1979, it has been under the protection of UNESCO as a rare World Heritage Site. You can request for a private, expert local guide to walk with your through the park, show you the most interesting places, and explain the significance of its history and natural features. Following lunch, your journey to Zadar will continue, arriving in Zadar in the afternoon. The rest of the day is yours to relax and explore.

Zagreb to Plitvice: 2 hours by car
Plitvice to Zadar: 2 hours by car

Day 4: Explore Zadar

Waterfront views of Zadar
Waterfront views of Zadar

The beautiful and historic city of Zadar was the capital of Dalmatia for many centuries, with continuous habitation for 3000 years! The walled Old Town is a treasure of ancient city ruins and architecture from Roman and medieval times, infused with the ingenious blending of the many periods of history passed inside its fortification walls.

Set on a peninsula surrounded by the sparkling Adriatic Sea, the town is a tidy network of polished stone streets and public squares — the Roman Forum dating back to the 1st century AD. The two modern installations, the Sea Organ and the Salute to the Sun, add to the innovative charm of Zadar and its stunning seaside promenade.

Alfred Hitchcock proclaimed that Zadar “has the most beautiful sunsets in the world,” so be sure to catch one for yourself during your visit!

Specialist tip: Visit the city of Nin and enjoy the beautiful sandy beaches. For more adventurous activities, visit Paklenica National Park for great hiking or caving.

Day 5: Zadar to Krka National Park to Split

Skradinski Buk, Krka National Park
Skradinski Buk, Krka National Park

After breakfast, you'll drive south towards Split, stopping at Krka National Park en route.

With seven waterfalls — the largest and most impressive being Skradinski buk — Krka 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 70-kilometer journey to Šibenik from the foothills of the Dinaric Alps. 

You can follow the winding wooden paths that traverse emerald pools to viewpoints of the majestic series of falls (and even go for quick swim if you like). 

After leaving Krka, you'll head south toward Split. 

Zadar to Krka: 1 hour by car
Krka to Split: 1.5 hours by car 

Day 6: Explore Split

The beautiful city of Split
The beautiful city of Split

Split, one of the Adriatic's most alluring sites, is also Croatia's second-largest city. The palace is the foundation and ancient heart of today’s dynamic and fashionable center of Split.

One of the best-preserved Roman royal residences in the world and originally the palatial summer home of Emperor Diocletian, Split grew into a city after Salona, the Roman capital of Dalmatia, was invaded. Refugees sought asylum inside the two-meter thick walls of the palace. Over the next one thousand years, Split became a safe haven and never grew beyond the walls that exist today! 

Because of this, the remarkable ensemble of Gothic, Roman, Renaissance and other architectural remains are all still here today, along with more than three thousand people still living and working inside these ancient walls.

Split, a living set of ruins, is more than its walled palace; it’s about enjoying the local Dalmatian way of life. If you like, a local guide will lead you through history and time, sharing interesting anecdotes from the history and culture of the wonderful city.

Specialist tip: Try to visit the nearby towns of Trogir and Omiš, as well.

Day 7: Visit the island of Brač

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

After breakfast, you'll check out of the hotel and board a public ferry (with your vehicle) to Bol on Brač island. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel (parking provided). Today is yours to explore the island by car and enjoy the change of scene. 

Split to Bol: 1 hour 10 minutes by ferry

Day 8: Explore Brač; relax on Zlatni Rat beach

Zlatni Rat Beach
Zlatni Rat Beach

Zlatni Rat beach is one of the most stunning beaches on the Adriatic coast and a geographical phenomenon. A pebbled spit extends nearly 500 meters out at right angles from the shore to the clear blue sea, changing shape with the surrounding currents. Also a mecca for kite surfers, windsurfing, and sunbathers! 

Day 9: Ferry from Brač to Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik

In the morning, you'll catch another public ferry to Dubrovnik and head to your hotel to check in and drop off your vehicle.

George Bernard Shaw was so enchanted by this beautiful city, about which he said: "those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik and see Dubrovnik.” A magnificent city with its incredible fortified Old Town, Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and undoubtedly Croatia’s most popular destination. The curtain of towering walls surrounds a tidy concentration of marble streets and baroque buildings exuding a pearly light in the Adriatic sun. The main pedestrian thoroughfare, Placa (Stradun), in all its white stone brilliance smoothed by centuries of wear, is a wonderful mélange of cafés and shops bookended by a cluster of important monuments at either end. Splendid churches, monasteries, and museums are ornamented with finely carved stone facades recalling an eventful, illustrious history and a vibrant artistic tradition of a proud, resilient city.

The remainder of the day will be at your leisure, allowing time to browse, and explore this magical city.

Bol to Dubrovnik: 4.5 hours by ferry 

Day 10: Explore Dubrovnik

View of Dubrovnik from Srd mountain
View of Dubrovnik from Srđ mountain

If you like, you can take the cable car to the top of Srđ Mountain. High above the Old Town, this is the ideal spot for a spectacular panoramic view of the town and surrounding islands. Also on the ridge, you'll find the Croatian Civil War Museum. Of course, a visit to Dubrovnik would not be complete without exploring the magnificent Old city walls that surround and tower above the town.

Day 11: Explore Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik at sunrise
Dubrovnik at sunrise

If you're up for more driving, you can head to Montenegro and explore the Boka Bay, claimed by UNESCO to be one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Towering limestone massif mountains rise directly from the shore, holding the history of many civilizations and cultures - prehistoric fossils, the Illyrian epoch, gothic, renaissance and baroque.

Strung like pearls along the coastline, the small villages, are treasuries of history, art, and beauty with the Old Town Kotor, being the commercial and cultural center. For centuries, it was a crossroad of merchant trading under the strong arm of Venice. Explore the small towns along the way and enjoy lunch before returning to Dubrovnik.

Day 12: Departure from Dubrovnik

You can check out after breakfast and drop off your vehicle at the rental agency at the Dubrovnik airport. Farewell until next time!