Enjoy nine days immersing yourself in Croatia's Istrian Peninsula, starting and ending in the vibrant capital of Zagreb. You'll spend four nights in the coastal Venetian-style town of Rovinj, a great base to explore the romantic landscape of nearby vineyards and olive groves, medieval hilltop towns, and dramatic coastline. Stroll Opatija's Lungomare for pretty views of the Kvarner Gulf, drink Istrian wine and eat truffle-infused dishes in Motovun, as well as discover the lush beauty of famous Plitvice Lakes.

Highlights

  • Take in the history on an in-depth bike tour of Zagreb's Lower and Upper Town
  • Navigate the tightly-woven network of cobblestoned streets in historic Rovinj
  • Discover the Roman and Byzantine ruins strewn throughout Brijuni National Park
  • Walk along the cliff's edge of Cape Kamenjak, Istria's most southern point
  • Relax in a secluded treehouse amid tall pines and rolling hills in rural Grabovac

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Bike Tour of Zagreb Zagreb
Day 3 Zagreb to Rovinj, Lunch in Opatija Rovinj
Day 4 Into the Heart of Istria: Grožnjan, Oprtalj, & Motovun Rovinj
Day 5 Coastal Istria: Fažana & Brijuni National Park Rovinj
Day 6 Sun & Relaxation in Cape Kamenjak Rovinj
Day 7 Rovinj to Grabovac Nature Park & Resort Grabovac
Day 8 Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Drive to Zagreb Zagreb
Day 9 Depart Zagreb  

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: Bike Tour of Zagreb

13th-century Kamenita Vrata and equestrian statue of St. George and the Dragon
13th-century Kamenita Vrata and equestrian statue of St. George and the Dragon

Today you'll spend a few hours on an entertaining bicycle tour through Zagreb—a convenient way to see many of the major sights (with the added option to ride an e-bike!). You'll meet your guide and then venture through the winding network of small streets through the oldest part of Zagreb, Gornji Grad (Upper Town), an area that stretches between two hills: Kaptol and Gradec. You'll stop to visit Parliament and the Government House, the Kamenita Vrata (Stone Gate), as well as learn why the Grič cannon fires from the Lotrščak Tower every day at noon and why a street in the heart of Zagreb is referred to as Krvavi Most or "Bloody Bridge."

You'll then work your way down to Donji Grad (Lower Town), an area made up of spacious parks and boulevards, like the impressively grand, Lenuci Horseshoe (or Green Horseshoe) capped by the neo-baroque Croatian National Theater. Your local guide can also let you know where to go for the best restaurants and shopping, as well as the most popular places to grab a coffee, beer, or rakija brandy.

Day 3: Zagreb to Rovinj, Lunch in Opatija

Rovinj
Rovinj

From Zagreb, you'll make the scenic drive west to Rovinj, stopping first for lunch 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 on to Rovinj where you'll settle into your accommodation before taking the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore this small jewel on the west coast of the Istrian Peninsula. 

Though Rovinj remains an active fishing port today, it wasn't until 1763 that it became part of the mainland. As such, its restricted access resulted in the labyrinth of narrow, cobblestoned 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, capping off the day with a delicious dinner of fresh fish and local wine. 

Driving time (Zagreb to Opatija): 2 hours
Driving time (Opatija to Rovinj): 1-2 hours

Day 4: Into the Heart of Istria: Grožnjan, Oprtalj, & Motovun

The idyllic medieval town of Motovun, Istria
The idyllic medieval town of Motovun, Istria

Today, head inland to explore the rolling hills of Istria, taste a few of the best local olive oil and wine varieties and explore some of the most charming villages in the country.

First, drive north to Grožnjan, a medieval hilltop town surrounded by terraced olive groves and vineyards. Once an important stronghold for the Venetians, the town's importance went into decline with the collapse of their empire (in the 18th-century). It wasn't until the sixties Grožnjan became what it is today: the town of artists. Lose yourself in the maze of narrow and cobblestoned streets, stopping to pop into one of the numerous art studios and galleries.

Then, continue on to Oprtalj, a medieval fort town sitting on the northern 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 explore Motovun, an ancient sleepy town located 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. Sitting opposite Oprtalj on the southern side of the Mirna river, Motovun today hosts a popular film festival for one week in the summer. Sample local wines and enjoy a meal with truffles sourced from the nearby truffle-rich forests.

Driving time (Rovinj to Grožnjan): 1.25 hours
Driving time (Grožnjan to Oprtalj): 30 minutes
Driving time (Oprtalj to Rovinj): 1.25 hours

Day 5: Coastal Istria: Fažana & Brijuni National Park

Enjoy a drink along Fažana's waterfront
Enjoy a drink along Fažana's waterfront

Take today to discover the beautiful coastal regions of Istria. You'll first head south down the coast to Fažana, where you'll want to spend a little time exploring this port village, popular with families and camping types holidaying in the summer months. Grab a bite to eat at the Stara konoba along the waterfront and try the local pilchards before you board your 15-minute ferry to Veli Brijun. 

One of fourteen islands belonging to the Brijuni National Park, Veli Brijun is the largest island and the main tourist attraction. You can cycle or walk along designated paths to explore the island and choose one of a number of beaches within walking or cycle-distance to the ferry port. To see more of the island and its interesting 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, 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.

Driving time (Rovinj to Fažana): 45 minutes
Ferry time (Fažana to Brijuni): 15 minutes

Day 6: Sun & Relaxation in Cape Kamenjak

Kamenjak National Park
Kamenjak National Park

Take the day to discover beautiful Cape Kamenjak, the Istrian peninsula's most southern point. Protected as a Nature Park, the peninsula offers a variety of secluded coves and beaches, some of the best in the Pula region. Here you can relax, soaking in the fresh salty air and enjoying the mesmerizing sea, as you swim, cycle, or walk to explore the park.

Note that if you opt to drive into the park there is a small fee, though it's waived if you choose to go by foot or bicycle. Take the walking or cycling road that follows the peninsula coastline, breaking at one of the 30 bays that strike your interest. Stop for lunch at the busy Safari Bar before taking a walk along the cliff's edge—popular with cliff-jumpers. The more active might opt to visit Medulin, Istria's main destination for watersports for more of a beach day and to take a windsurfing or sailing lesson.

Break up the drive back with a stop in Premantura, a village that borders the park, for dinner at Konoba Ancora.

Driving time (Rovinj to Kamenjak): 1-1.5 hours

Day 7: Rovinj to Grabovac Nature Park & Resort

Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park

Say farewell to the Istrian Peninsula and venture through the scenic Karlovac countryside to your accommodation in rural Grabovac. You'll stay in a secluded treehouse at the Resort Turist Grabovac, located amid tall pine trees and rolling hills and a short distance to Croatia's top-rated park, Plitvice Lakes National Park.

There are a host of options to enjoy, from organized mini trips to Plitvice Lakes, Barać Caves, or the Rastoke Waterfalls, to explore the grounds through a number of fun activities. The more active might like to partake in free climbing, horseback riding, cycling, and kayaking, while there's also the option to indulge in a game of paintball.

Driving time (Rovinj to Grabovac): 3.5 hours

Day 8: Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Drive to Zagreb

Plitvice Lakes National Park at dawn
Plitvice Lakes National Park at dawn

Early morning is one of the best times to visit Plitvice Lakes before the mid-day crowds arrive. You can explore the park on your own or opt for a local guide who will take you on a number of defined routes of varying lengths throughout the park. After enjoying a leisurely morning in Plitvice, carry on your way north, venturing farther inland to Croatia's capital, Zagreb.

Settle into your hotel before venturing out to spend the rest of the day 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.

Driving time: 2 hours

Day 9: Depart Zagreb

Sip coffee in a café onTkalčićeva street
Sip coffee in a café onTkalčićeva 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 and head to the airport.

Driving time (Central Zagreb to the airport): 30 minutes

Map

Map of Magical Istria: Zagreb, Rovinj, Cape Kamenjak, & Plitvice - 9 Days
Map of Magical Istria: Zagreb, Rovinj, Cape Kamenjak, & Plitvice - 9 Days