Often referred to as "Tierra Magica," you'll set out to explore a romantic land full of vineyards, olive groves, stunning Venetian-style coastline, and hilltop towns leftover from the Middle Ages. This complete 10-day itinerary includes four nights in Rovinj with the added bonus of visiting Zagreb, Zadar, and Plitvice Lakes National Park. You'll wander amid Venetian influenced architecture as you pass under archways, through alleyways, and up stone stairwells in Rovinj, visit Tito's former home on Veli Brijun, and dine on fresh seafood in Premantura.

Highlights

  • Tour over 50 castles scattered across the Zagorje hillside
  • Stroll Opatija's Lungomare for pretty 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
  • Walk along the cliff's edge of Cape Kamenjak, Istria's most southern point

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Day Trip to Castles of the Zagorje Region 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 Day of Sun & Relaxation in Cape Kamenjak Rovinj
Day 7 Rovinj to Pula, Catch the Ferry to Zadar Zadar
Day 8 Zadar to Plitvice Lakes National Park Plitvice Lakes National Park
Day 9 Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Onwards to Zagreb Zagreb
Day 10 Depart Zagreb  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Zagreb!

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

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: Day Trip to 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 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: Day of 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 popular 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 Pula, Catch the Ferry to Zadar

Waterfront views of Zadar
Waterfront views of Zadar

Get up early to catch the ferry from Pula to Zadar. You'll arrive in the early afternoon where you'll check in 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 (Pula to Zadar): 6 hours

Day 8: Zadar to Plitvice Lakes National Park

Walk amid travertine lakes in Plitvice Lakes National Park
Walk amid travertine lakes in Plitvice Lakes National Park

After breakfast and packing up your belongings, you'll drive east to Plitvice Lakes National Park, the first Croatian national park—and one of the most popular parks in the country. 

Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s natural masterpiece, gorgeous at any time of year.  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. 

Here, you can request a private, expert local guide to lead you throughout the park along the wooden paths and bridges to show you the most impressive points of interest and explain the significance of its history and natural features. After your tour, you will have some free time to continue exploring or you may wish to bring a bought lunch (and a bottle of wine!) with you to enjoy a picnic.

Driving time (Zadar to Plitvice): 1.5 hours

Day 9: Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Onwards 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 10: 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