Spend a week exploring Croatia's top highlights on this packed itinerary from the lively capital of Zagreb to medieval Dubrovnik. Follow winding boardwalks through lush woods and glassy travertine lakes in Plitvice and Krka National Parks and ride a ferry to the coastal city of Split, dotted with impressive Roman ruins. You'll discover Hvar and its nearby Pakleni Islands on back-to-back kayaking and cycling excursions and cap off your trip touring the "Pearl of the Adriatic."

Highlights

  • Stroll through leafy green Maksimir and sip coffee in trendy cafés in Zagreb
  • Discover dramatic waterfalls and glittering emerald-green lakes in Plitvice Lakes and Krka
  • Explore the famous Diocletian's Palace in Split, dating back to the 4th century
  • Cycle through olive groves and vineyards and past coastal villages on Hvar
  • Roam the marble streets and admire baroque buildings of Dubrovnik's Old Town

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park Plitvice Lakes
Day 3 Plitvice Lakes to Split, Stopping at Krka National Park Split
Day 4 Ferry from Split to Hvar, Sea Kayaking around Pakleni Islands Hvar Town
Day 5 Cycling Tour around Ancient Pharos (Stari Grad) Hvar Town
Day 6 Ferry from Hvar to Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 7 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: 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
Driving time (Rastoke to Plitvice): 30 minutes

Day 3: Plitvice Lakes to Split, Stopping at Krka National Park

Krka National Park
Krka National Park

Get an early start to your morning and make the trip south to Krka National Park, another of Croatia's top-rated parks home to a network of striking waterfalls. 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 44-mile journey (70 km) from the foothills of the Dinaric Alps to Šibenik. 

Follow the winding wooden paths that traverse emerald pools and river islands to prime lookout spots in which to view the falls. As if the stunning beauty of these falls isn't enough, you'll also be able to take a dip in one of the lagoons as Krka is the only national park in Croatia where swimming is allowed. Skradinski Buk is the final of the seven waterfalls, and mother nature saved the best for last. Cascading 78 feet (24 m) down into an emerald lagoon wider than the falls are tall, you'll find restaurants, snack stands, and ice cream shops at the base of this postcard locale to satisfy any food-related cravings.

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. 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 (Plitvice to Krka): 2 hours
Driving time (Krka to Split): 1-1.5 hours

Day 4: Ferry from Split to Hvar, Sea Kayaking around Pakleni Islands

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 5: Cycling Tour around Ancient Pharos (Stari Grad)

Croatia - Hvar - Cyclist explore plains around Stari Grad
Croatia - Hvar - Cyclist explore plains around Stari Grad

Start the morning with a self-guided walk along the Riva to Trg svetog Stjepana, the long, rectangular square that meets the sea. Here you can visit the Venetian arsenal and the town theater—one of the oldest Baroque playhouses in Europe. From the square, head into the Groda to explore the Hektorović Palace, Leporini Palace, and the Benedictine Convent.

In the afternoon, you'll be transferred from Old Town Hvar to Stari Grad to gear up and get ready for a cycling tour around the island—the best way to get to know all sides of Hvar. You'll bike through the center of well-preserved ancient Greek ruins on the Stari Grad Plain—an agricultural landscape set up by the ancient Greeks (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site)—and stop to explore small villages in the inner part of the island. 

Your guide will help you choose from a number of routes, ranging from 6 to 9 miles (10 -15 km). It'll be an easy ride on mostly flat roads through lavender fields, olive groves, and vineyards, palm trees and pine woods, and past coastal villages like Jelsa and Vrboska.

Day 6: Ferry from Hvar to Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik's old city walls
Dubrovnik's old city walls

Catch a morning ferry today to Dubrovnik where you will have the day to explore one of the most ancient fortress cities in Europe. Known as the "Pearl of the Adriatic", Dubrovnik is a piece of history. While there's evidence of settlements as far back as the Byzantine era, this area only came into its own in the 12th and 13th centuries when it was under the rule of the Venetians. Throughout the middle ages, it was a fortress port encircled by stone walls and filled with baroque churches and renaissance/gothic palaces that still stand today.

After checking into your hotel, you'll want to get out and explore. Can't-miss activities include riding the cable car up to Srđ Mountain to take in the sunset over the nearby Elafiti Islands, visiting Lovrijenac and Bokar fortresses, and walking along the smooth, limestone-paved streets of historic Old Town. And be sure to find your way to Stradun, Dubrovnik's main street to get your bearings and to choose from a number of excellent restaurants and wine bars. Alternatively, there's Buza Bar along the water's edge and outside the city walls—a great spot to enjoy a cocktail while taking in the sunset.

Ferry time (Hvar to Dubrovnik): 3.5 hours

Day 7: 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.