Explore Northern Dalmatia's cities and stunning coastline on this 5-day trip, starting in Zagreb, the charming capital of Croatia. Continue to Croatia's most popular national park, Plitvice Lakes, to walk amid glassy lakes and cascading waterfalls, ending your adventure in the ancient city of Split along the Adriatic. Stroll through Zagreb's 1000-year-old town center, visit ancient Roman remains in Split, and enjoy a day of sailing to  Šolta Island.

Highlights

  • Visit the open-air markets of Ban Jelačić Square in medieval Zagreb
  • Discover dramatic waterfalls and glittering emerald-green lakes in Plitvice Lakes
  • Walk Split's 1,700-year-old stone-paved streets, leftover from Roman times
  • Step back in time and sail to the island of Šolta

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park Plitvice Lakes National Park
Day 3 Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Drive to Split Split
Day 4 Sail & Swim around Šolta Island Split
Day 5 Depart Split  

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: Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Drive to Split

Discover Plitvice Lakes in the early morning light
Discover Plitvice Lakes in the early morning light

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 south to Split. Upon arriving in Split, check into your hotel and settle in before taking the rest of the afternoon to wander Split's 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 Split): 2-3 hours

Day 4: Sail & Swim around Šolta Island

Enjoy a day of sailing on the Adriatic Sea
Enjoy a day of sailing on the Adriatic Sea

Today you will spend a full day enjoying the sun and sea on a sailing boat with time left over to explore Šolta Island. Head to the Split marina to meet your captain and crew, before departing for Šolta, your speed and route determined by weather conditions.

You'll stop for swimming breaks, taking advantage of the many beaches and pristine coves this sleepy island has on offer. Once on Šolta, you'll have the chance to explore the small town of Stomorska as well as have lunch in one of its local restaurants. Though Šolta is so close to Split, it is far from modern life, further adding to its understated charm.

You'll return to Split in the late afternoon.

Day 5: Depart Split

Wander Split and discover its ancient buildings
Wander Split and discover its ancient buildings

If you have a free morning before departing, check out the Green Market (Pazar Market). A lively fruit and vegetable outdoor market just east of the Diocletian Palace, this is a great place to see how the locals shop and to pick up some fruit for your flight home. Farmers from the surrounding areas of Split come into town every day to sell their seasonal local produce from sunrise to 2 pm. 

Depending on traffic, it usually takes 45 minutes to travel from Old Town to the airport. Best to arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to your international departure (and with some extra time to drop off your rental car, if you have one).