On this 13-day tour of Croatia, you will explore some of the country's lesser-visited treasures, featuring the barren islands in the Kvarner Gulf and forgotten villages on the Pelješac peninsula. From Zagreb, you'll immerse yourself in the castle-laden hills of the Zagorje, then on to discover the Kvarner Islands of Rab, Goli Otok, and Pag. Once in historic Zadar, you'll sail amid the Kornati archipelago, trek karst landscapes in Paklenica National Park, visit the abandoned village of Nakovana and the fortressed town of Korčula, before ending your stay in medieval Dubrovnik.

Highlights

  • Hike to the top of Kamenjak on Rab Island for sweeping views of the Kvarner Gulf
  • Kayak to Goli otok for an education of its dark and storied past
  • Head underground to the old Roman conduit in Novalja on Pag Island
  • Eat a traditional meal in the one-house village of Ramići 
  • Discover the abandoned village of Nakovana on the Pelješac peninsula

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Scenic Castles of the Zagorje Region Zagreb
Day 3 Zagreb to the Island of Rab Rab Town
Day 4 Guided Hike of Rab Island Rab Town
Day 5 Sea Kayaking Tour to Goli Otok Rab Town
Day 6 Ferry from Rab to Pag Novalja
Day 7 Guided Tour of Pag Island Novalja
Day 8 Ferry from Pag to Zadar Zadar
Day 9 Sail through the Kornati Islands Zadar
Day 10 Hike through Paklenica National Park (Day Trip from Zadar) Zadar
Day 11 Zadar to Trpanj, Guided Tour of Pelješac Peninsula Trpanj
Day 12 Trpanj to Korčula, Onward to Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 13 Depart Dubrovnik  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Zagreb!

Looking out over Zagreb, Croatia's capital
Looking out over Zagreb, Croatia's capital

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: Scenic 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 the Island of Rab

A quartet of bell towers outline Rab Town
A quartet of bell towers outline Rab Town

Get an early start this morning to make your way south to Stinica where you'll board a ferry to the mainland-hugging island of Rab in the Kvarner Gulf. Dotted with a number of green islands, Rab is the smallest of them, though arguably the most beautiful. Cut across the island to check into your hotel in medieval Rab Town before setting out to explore this tiny grey-and-ochre city.

Recognized by the four Romanesque campaniles (bell towers) that run along the Old Town's central ridge, Rab is often referred to as the "Happy Island." This well-preserved late-medieval Adriatic island has a lively atmosphere when the summer tourists arrive, though maintains its medieval charm without being overly touristy.

Navigate the compact grid of alleyways through the two parts of Rab's Old Town, Kaldanac, the oldest quarter at the tip of the peninsula and Varoš, the slightly more modern section (15th to 17th-century buildings and monuments can be found here). 

Driving time (Zagreb to Rab): 4 hours (including ferry time)

Day 4: Guided Hike of Rab Island

Postcard-perfect views of the Adriatic and Rab landscape
Postcard-perfect views of the Adriatic and Rab landscape

The second greenest Croatian island after Mljet farther south, Rab offers numerous and varied hiking and walking trails covering a wide range of landscapes. From dense holm oak forests (one of the last of its kind) in the southwest of the island to barren ridge stone desert in the northeast to stretches of sandy coastline, Rab has something for every taste and fitness level. 

You'll meet your expert guide and choose a route that suits your abilities and preferences. For a varied trek, there's the 5-mile (8 km) option following the Premužićeva Path 1 that runs along the island ridge through the Lopar peninsula to the hamlet of Matići. Part of the route is exposed to the sun while the other part takes you through the woods. Alternatively, there are a number of trails through the Dundovo woods that take you over the Kalifront peninsula and to pebbled inlets suitable for swimming during the warmer months. These options are typically more moderate.

Though for the best all-encompassing views of the island and neighboring islands, consider the challenging trek up Kamenjak. You'll traverse asphalt road, sharp rocky karst terrain crisscrossed with historic stone walls with no shade for protection from the beating sun. It's a route for the fit and daring but the rewarding views are worth it. After a full day of exploring a section of the island, you'll have the evening to yourself to relax weary muscles.

Day 5: Sea Kayaking Tour to Goli Otok

Remains of the former communist prisons on Goli otok
Remains of the former communist prisons on Goli otok

You'll meet your guide this morning to embark on an educational kayaking excursion to Goli otok (Bare Island). Immediately to the east of Rab, this desolate rock of an island is best remembered for its dark past as a political prison where alleged Stalinists were "re-educated" through forced labor among other means. There's a tourist train you can pick up at the harbor to see the derelict workshops where inmates were set to work and simple-looking accommodation blocks and solitary cells where they slept. The whole of the island takes 90-minutes to tour.

Day 6: Ferry from Rab to Pag

Twilight over the town of Pag
Twilight over the town of Pag

Say farewell to Rab as you hop on a ferry to the next island over, the moon-like island of Pag. Barren in its appearance from the mainland, Pag is home to around 8,000 people looking after three times as many sheep, whose diet mostly consists of the grey-green carpet of sage that covers the eastern side of the island. While Pag is known for its cheese, it also has a long history in the salt trade as well as a long-standing tradition in lacemaking. 

There are two main settlements on the island: the 15th-century Pag Town with a pleasing seafront promenade and pebbly stretches of beach and the more modern and lively Novalja with nearby Zrće beach acting as a nightlife hub. Settle into your accommodation in Novalja before sitting down to a meal of paška janjetina, a traditional dish of roasted Pag lamb and potatoes—dobar tek (bon appétit)!

Ferry time (Rab Town to Novalja): 45 minutes

Day 7: Guided Tour of Pag Island

Historical saltpans
Historical saltpans

Join your guide today for a private tour of some of the island's more important attractions. You'll begin with a few of Novalja's ancient Roman remains, including an underground water conduit known as Talijanova buža or "Italian Hole" to the locals. You'll find your way to the Town Museum's basement where you can access the Italian Hole as well as check out a few of the artifacts in the museum, including encrusted amphorae from a shipwrecked Roman merchant ship.

Next, you'll make your way to the 16th-century salt warehouse near Pag Town where you'll also learn about the UNESCO-protected lace industry. From here you'll cut across the island to the Gligora cheese factory in Kolan to sample Paški sir, the cheese the island is known for across the country before concluding the tour with the gnarled and ancient olive trees on the Lun peninsula, a close to 11-mile (17 km) sliver of land that forms Pag island's northernmost tip.

Day 8: Ferry from Pag to Zadar

Zadar's waterfront
Zadar's waterfront

Leaving Pag Island behind you'll board a ferry to Zadar and transfer to 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.

Ferry time (Novalja to Zadar): 75 minutes

Day 9: Sail through the Kornati Islands

The beautiful Kornati Islands off the coast of Zadar
The beautiful Kornati Islands off the coast of Zadar

Today is reserved for a fun day of sailing from Zadar to Kornati National Park. Nearly devoid of life, lie the barren and ruggedly beautiful 90 or so islands of the Kornati archipelago, grouped around the significantly larger Kornat Island. You'll hoist anchor and set sail to take in the stunning raw beauty of the jagged rocks, indented coastline, and relatively untouched marine ecology.  Along the way, there will be time to explore some of the islands more intimately where you'll find your way to secluded coves for swimming and snorkeling opportunities.

Day 10: Hike through Paklenica National Park (Day Trip from Zadar)

Rugged mountains of Paklenica National Park
Rugged mountains of Paklenica National Park

Nature and outdoor lovers delight! This morning you'll get up early to make your way east 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.  

You'll meet your expert guide in Starigrad where you'll lace up your hiking boots and set out to trek through black-pine and beech forests under the 1,312 feet (400 m) craggy limestone cliffs of Velika Paklenica. A prime rock-climbing destination in Europe, you'll complete a 12-mile (19 km) loop and stop for a traditionally prepared lunch in the one-house village of Ramići before making your way back to Starigrad.

After a day of hiking, you'll return to your accommodation in Zadar to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening as you choose. Perhaps take a seat on the marble steps at the water's edge listening to the Sea Organ plays its unending melody, fueled by the ebb and flow of the Adriatic Sea's current.

Driving time (Zadar to Starigrad): 1 hour

Day 11: Zadar to Trpanj, Guided Tour of Pelješac Peninsula

The Trpanj coastline on the Pelješac peninsula
The Trpanj coastline on the Pelješac peninsula

Today you will drive down the length of the Dalmatian coast toward the ruggedly beautiful Pelješac peninsula where you'll ferry from Ploče to Trpanj. One of the main access points to the Pelješac peninsula, Trpanj is a sleepy port city on the peninsula's northern coast with a picturesque fishing harbor and a small pebble beach. Nearby, however, is the popular Divna beach, a stretch of mixed shingle and sand only 5 miles west (8 km). 

After settling into your hotel, you'll meet your guide and set out to explore. A mountainous finger of land, the Pelješac peninsula is home to Croatia's finest red wines, tastiest oysters, and some of the best sand-and-shingle beaches. Your energetic guide will take you to some of the best wineries to sample reds like Dingač, viewpoints for stunning views beyond the peninsula, as well as restaurants to eat your weight in straight-from-the-sea oysters and mussels.

Driving time (Zadar to Ploče): 2.5 hours
Ferry time (Ploče to Trpanj): 1 hour

Day 12: Trpanj to Korčula, Onward to Dubrovnik

Orebić
Orebić

Today you'll set out to discover the 8000-year-old stone village of Nakovana. Sitting on the tip of the Pelješac peninsula amid hills and overlooking the Adriatic Sea, this nearly-abandoned village offers perfect examples of traditional architecture as well as eerie photo ops. After spending some time exploring Nakovana, you'll carry on to Orebić where you can wander its narrow streets, noting the charming stone villas once occupied by famous sea captains.

From here, board a ferry for a quick ride to Korčula (20 minutes). The afternoon is yours to discover this little island's Old Town and its numerous restaurants, taverns, shops, and bars as you roam the maze of stone houses, alleys, churches, and squares. Enjoy a delicious meal paired with a local white, Grk or Pošip, as you admire some of the finest examples of Venetian architecture on the Dalmatian coast—and likely the birthplace of Marco Polo himself.

Later in the day, you'll make your way back to Orebić and transfer the length of the peninsula to the historic coastal fortress city Dubrovnik. The early evening will be at your leisure, allowing time for you to wander and explore this magical city. Find your way to the limestone-paved Stradun, Dubrovnik's main street to get your bearings and choose from some of Croatia's best restaurants and wine bars. Another great option is to make your way to Buza Bar, a hidden gem outside the city walls, for a drink and to take in a sunset over the sea.

Driving time (Trpanj to Nakovana): 45 minutes
Driving time (Nakovana to Orebić): 20 minutes
Driving time (Orebić to Dubrovnik): 2 hours

Day 13: 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.