This perfect weeklong road trip through Croatia's Istrian Peninsula starts and ends in Zagreb and includes a visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park. You'll have three nights in the charming coastal town of Rovinj, a great jumping-off point to explore its romantic countryside. Venture amid a sea of hills and valleys decorated with vineyards, olive groves, and medieval hilltop towns before discovering more of the coast, like the port village of Fazana, the island of Veliki Brijun, and Istria's largest city, Pula.


  • Explore the best of Croatia's capital in medieval Zagreb 
  • Stroll Opatija's Lungomare for postcard-perfect views of the Kvarner Gulf
  • Drink Istrian wine and eat truffle-infused dishes in Motovun
  • Discover the Roman and Byzantine ruins of Brijuni National Park
  • Explore Pula's famed Roman arena, leftover from the first century

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Zagreb, Free Time Zagreb
Day 2 Drive to Rovinj via Opatija Rovinj
Day 3 Day Trip Into the Heart of Istria: Grožnjan, Oprtalj & Motovun Rovinj
Day 4 Day Trip to Coastal Istria: Fažana & Brijuni National Park Rovinj
Day 5 Walking Tour of Pula, Coastal Drive to Plitvice Lakes Plitvice Lakes National Park
Day 6 Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Drive to Zagreb Zagreb
Day 7 Depart Zagreb  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Zagreb, Free Time

Zagreb is Croatia's capital and largest city
Zagreb is Croatia's capital and largest city

Start your great Croatian adventure in Zagreb, the capital. 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 are also modern shopping complexes, outdoor malls, and endless dining and drinking options. On arrival, a private driver will meet and transfer you to your hotel. Refresh and get ready to explore. Consider heading out on a guided walking tour of the city's historic heart, taking you from the main square to Zagreb's Upper Town through local markets to St. Mark's Square.

Alternatively, you could 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 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: Drive to Rovinj via Opatija

St. Euphemia Church stands out amid Rovinj's colorful buildings

After breakfast, pick up your rental car and begin the scenic drive west to Rovinj, stopping first for lunch after two hours in the coastal town of Opatija. A popular tourist destination since the 19th century, Opatija is known for its Mediterranean climate and historic Habsburg-era buildings, remnants of its touristic past. Stroll along the famous Lungomare, a promenade that follows the Adriatic coastline, before finding a restaurant for a bite to eat and a drink with a view that overlooks the Kvarner Gulf.

After lunch, continue to another hour west to Rovinj, a small jewel on the west coast of the Istrian Peninsula. Though Rovinj remains an active fishing port, it wasn't until 1763 that it became part of the mainland. Its restricted access resulted in the labyrinth of narrow, cobblestone streets you see today. Explore Old Town and marvel at the centuries-old Venetian-influenced architecture as you pass under archways, through alleyways, and up stone stairwells. Navigate your way to Balbi's Arch and the 12th-century Town Clock, noting Rovinj's skyline dominated by the Baroque St. Euphemia Church.

Seek out your choice of interest, from churches to galleries and pebbled beaches, and cap off the day with a delicious dinner of fresh fish and local wine. 

Day 3: Day Trip Into the Heart of Istria: Grožnjan, Oprtalj & Motovun

Croatia - Motovun - Istria's charming hilltop town of Motovun
Istria's charming hilltop town of Motovun

Get behind the wheel this morning and set out for a full day exploring the rolling hills of Istria. You'll taste the best local olive oils and wine varieties and explore charming Croatian villages. First, drive 75 minutes north to Grožnjan, a medieval hilltop town surrounded by terraced olive groves and vineyards. Once an important stronghold for the Venetians, the town declined with the collapse of the 18th-century empire. In the 1960s, Grožnjan reemerged as an artist town. Lose yourself in the maze of cobbled streets, popping into art studios and galleries.

Then, continue 30 minutes to Oprtalj, a medieval fort town on the north side of the Mirna River valley. Oprtalj is home to traditional narrow streets, shops, and fine examples of Istrian and Venetian architecture, including the 16th-century St. George's Church and Venetian-style bell tower. Finally, drive south to Motovun, an ancient sleepy town atop a 909-foot (277 m) hill. Its present appearance, with the city walls surrounding the center of the town, dates back to the Middle Ages. Sample local wines and enjoy a meal with truffles sourced from the nearby truffle-rich forests before making your way back to Rovinj.

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Day 4: Day Trip to Coastal Istria: Fažana & Brijuni National Park

Enjoy a drink along Fažana's waterfront
Enjoy a drink along Fažana's waterfront before taking the ferry to Veliki Brijun

Take today to discover the beautiful coastal regions of Istria. You'll first head 45 minutes south down the coast to Fažana, where you'll want to spend a little time exploring this port village, popular with families and campers in the summer months. Grab a bite to eat at the Stara konoba (tavern) along the waterfront and try the local pilchards before you board your 15-minute ferry to Veliki Brijun. One of fourteen islands belonging to the Brijuni National Park, this is the largest island and the main tourist attraction.

On the island, you can cycle or walk along designated paths and choose one of a number of beaches within walking or cycling distance to the ferry port. To see more of the island and its fascinating political history, you can purchase tickets in Fažana for the option to tour the island's main points of interest, including Roman ruins, a Byzantine fortress, a safari park, and the once-infamous White Villa by a miniature tourist train. In the late afternoon, return to the mainland, stopping at the favored Alla Beccaccia restaurant in Valbandon on your way back to Rovinj.

Day 5: Walking Tour of Pula, Coastal Drive to Plitvice Lakes

Pula's Roman Arena
Pula's Roman Arena is one of the largest amphitheaters the Romans ever built

Get an early start and drive 45 minutes to the southern tip of Istria, where ancient Pula awaits. Its strategic location means Pula has been occupied throughout the centuries by everyone from the Romans to the Allied Forces in World War II. While Pula is known for its beaches and harbor, it's most famous for its Roman amphitheater, the Pula Arena, dating from the first century. Make a beeline for the arena, which is one of the 10 largest colosseums the Romans ever built. Stand in the tunnels and corridors where warriors and lions were kept before entertaining crowds of up to 25,000.

In Pula, you can also admire the Arch of the Sergii—an ancient Roman arch dating to 29 BCE—and the Temple of Augustus, a Roman temple built in 2 BCE. Grab some snacks, then when you're ready, jump in the car for the three or four-hour coastal drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia's natural masterpiece. A must-visit for any traveler to Croatia, the UNESCO-protected park comprises an exquisite collection of 16 glassy emerald green and blue travertine lakes, more than 90 cascading waterfalls, and numerous caves.

If you arrive early enough, you'll have some time to explore the park at your leisure, but tomorrow you'll get up early to explore the park before the crowds arrive.

Day 6: Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Drive to Zagreb

Boardwalks lead you throughout the park

Explore the surreal beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park at sunrise

Early morning is one of the best times to visit Plitvice Lakes before the midday crowds arrive. Many hiking routes within the park follow along wooden boardwalks, and you can explore them on your own or with a private guide. The benefit of opting for a guide is that they'll be able to offer insight into the region and lead you to the most interesting areas of the park. After enjoying a leisurely morning in Plitvice, return two hours north to Zagreb and drop off your rental car.

The rest of the afternoon is yours to explore Zagreb at your pace. Use your time to experience Croatia's famous café culture and indulge in the local pub scene. Head north of the city's main square and you'll find Tkalčićeva Street. This famous vibrant strip is filled with small boutiques, traditional stores, and places to eat and drink, making it the perfect day-to-night destination to settle in for a laid-back Croatian dinner and reflect on your special week exploring Istria.

Day 7: Depart Zagreb

Sip coffee in a café onTkalčićeva street
Sip coffee in a café on Tkalčićeva Street

If you have a free morning before departing, make like a local and visit one of the many café-bars in central Zagreb. Try the pedestrianized section around Bogovićeva and Preradovićeva or the popular Tkalčićeva Street for a morning coffee and pastry and to people-watch before you say farewell to Zagreb.

When the time is right, a private transfer will collect you for the 30-minute drive to the airport with enough time to check into your departing flight home or onward. This concludes your grand Croatian adventure. Safe travels!

More Great Croatia Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Croatia? Check out these other Croatia itineraries, explore different ways to spend a week in Croatia, or discover the best time to visit Croatia.


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Map of Magical Istria: Road Trip Through the Croatian Peninsula - 7 Days
Map of Magical Istria: Road Trip Through the Croatian Peninsula - 7 Days