With a perfect blend of nature, history, and culture, this 12-day self-drive itinerary lets you discover Croatia’s highlights at your own pace. Starting in the capital of Zagreb, you'll drive south along the glittering Dalmatian Coast to Dubrovnik—hiking to waterfalls and hidden lakes, exploring Roman ruins and medieval fortresses, and hopping between idyllic Adriatic islands along the way.

Highlights

  • Visit the vibrant capital of Zagreb
  • Explore the spectacular national parks of Plitvice Lakes & Krka 
  • Wander the ancient halls of Diocletian's Palace in Split
  • Discover the Dalmatian Islands of Hvar & Korčula
  • Experience Dubrovnik's atmospheric, UNESCO-listed Old Town

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Zagreb Zagreb
Day 2 Explore Plitvice Lakes National Park Plitvice Lakes
Day 3 Zadar - Skradin Skradin
Day 4 Krka National Park - Split Split
Day 5 Explore Split  Split
Day 6 Transfer to Hvar Island Hvar
Day 7 Explore Hvar Island Hvar
Day 8 Transfer to Korčula Island Korčula Island
Day 9 Explore Korčula Island Korčula Island
Day 10 Pelješac Peninsula - Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 11 Explore Dubrovnik Dubrovnik
Day 12 Depart Croatia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Zagreb

Zagreb's bustling Ban Jelačić Square
Zagreb's bustling Ban Jelačić Square

Start your adventure in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer to your hotel to settle in where you'll have the rest of the day to spend as you like. The city center is easily walkable and the streets and parks are easy to navigate on 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 are 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 Ban Jelačić, 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 Relationships. 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 several beautiful city parks which are great for exploring and people-watching, especially in the late afternoon.

Day 2: Explore Plitvice Lakes National Park

Boardwalks wind their way through the Plitvice Lakes
Boardwalks wind their way through the Plitvice Lakes

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 with you to enjoy a picnic. 

Day 3: Zadar - Skradin

View of Zadar's waterfront
View of Zadar's waterfront

In the morning, continue your drive south from Plitvice to the ancient Roman city of Zadar. 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 some time for a 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, and sample some of the town's famous ice cream. 

In the afternoon, continue to the beautiful village of Skradin, where you'll overnight. This charming small town with a long history is situated on the river banks of the Krka River and next to a charming small marina and the entrance to the famed Krka National Park. Feel free to walk around on your own before dinner and take a short hike to the small fortress above the town. 

Day 4: Krka National Park - Split

Waterfalls in Krka National Park
Waterfalls in Krka National Park

Start today with a visit to nearby Krka National Park, home to a network of striking waterfalls, including the largest and showiest known as Skradinski Buk. The Krka River, another highlight of the park, carves through the limestone and creates a spectacular canyon on its 44-mile (70 km) journey from the foothills of the Dinaric Alps to Šibenik.

You'll traverse emerald pools and river islands to reach prime lookout spots to view the falls. Skradinski Buk is the final of the seven waterfalls, and Mother Nature saved the best for last. Cascading 149 feet (45 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, perfect for lunch.  

After Krka, you'll get back on the road and continue your journey south. If time permits, take a short detour to Trogir. At more than 2,000 years old, Trogir is one of Croatia's UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a great example of a beautiful island fortress town. It's a small place, and it doesn't take longer than about five minutes to walk from any point in Trogir's historic center to reach the sea. For Instagram-worthy photos, head to Kamerlengo Castle, a fortress built by the Venetians in the 15th century. From atop its battlements, you'll have incredible panoramic views of Trogir and the surrounding area.

Continue down the coast to reach the ancient port city of Split. Travelers come from far and wide to walk along Split's Riviera-esque waterfront and tour the impressive Diocletian’s Palace, located in the heart of the historic center. This "city within a city" is a maze of narrow alleyways within stone fortifications originally built for Emperor Diocletian back at the turn of the fourth century CE. Get settled into your accommodation, then take an evening stroll along Split's seafront Riva to admire the views over the Adriatic before dinner. 

Day 5: Explore Split 

Marble streets in Diocletian's Palace
Marble streets in Diocletian's Palace

Today is yours to explore Split at your own pace. An ancient coastal city founded 1,700 years ago by Roman Emperor Diocletian, Split's Old Town includes a number of impressive sites, including Peristyle, the Piazza, and Diocletian's Palace, one of the best-preserved Roman buildings in the world. The palace has changed its appearance over the centuries as a medieval city grew up around it, but it's still one of the best-preserved examples of Roman architecture in Croatia. There's nothing quite like strolling the narrow stone streets inside the palace fortifications and ducking into little cafés/bakeries/bars for a cinnamon roll, ice cream cone, or a glass of wine. You can enjoy the city on your own or stroll the streets on a guided tour of the city. A tour is ideal as the guide will be able to point out all the hidden gems within the walls of the palace.

For stunning views over the city and Adriatic be sure to climb the Romanesque bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Dominus (St. Duje)—considered the oldest Catholic cathedral still in use. Another option for great views is to hike or bike to the top of Marjan Hill. The "lungs of the city," the entire Marjan peninsula is dotted with tiny centuries-old churches, large cypress and black pine trees, and Mediterranean plants and herbs. In addition to the stunning vistas, you'll be rewarded with attractions less visited: the Jewish cemetery and 13th and 15th-century churches, St. Nicholas and St. Jerome, respectively.  

Day 6: Transfer to Hvar Island

Views across Hvar to the Palenki Islands
Views across Hvar to the Palenki Islands

After an easy morning in Split, catch a boat to the island of 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 port town of the same name. Highlights of Hvar Town include its 13th-century walls, a hilltop fortress, and the main square anchored by the Renaissance-era Cathedral.

For some of the best views of the island, Hvar Town, and the nearby Pakleni Islands, take a short walk up to the 16th-century Španjola Fortress. After the day's adventures, treat yourself to a drink in the ancient piazza of Hvar overlooking the Venetian loggia, 7th-century fortification walls, and the oldest municipal theater in Europe.

Day 7: Explore Hvar Island

Fragrant lavender fields on Hvar
Lavender blooming in June on Hvar

Today, you have free range to explore Hvar at your own pace. Spend a day relaxing at the beach, join a wine-tasting excursion, or explore the island by car or private driver, discovering charming spots like Vrboska, Jelsa, and Starigrad.

You can also hire a private boat to discover some of the many spectacular hidden beaches, coves, and caves. 

Day 8: Transfer to Korčula Island

Korčula city gates
Korčula's Old Town

Hop over to the isle of Korčula this morning, where you can spend the day discovering this little island's numerous restaurants, taverns, shops, and bars as you roam the maze of gray stone houses, alleys, churches, and squares. 

Enjoy a traditional lunch of lamb and goat in Korčula's Old Town, one of the finest examples of Venetian architecture on the Dalmatian Coast. Next, visit the 14th-century Land Gate on top of an elegant staircase, before heading to the Cathedral of St. Mark to admire its strange sculptures of beasts and people. Art enthusiasts will appreciate a visit to the Bishop's Treasury next door for a small but impressive art collection, including works from Carpaccio, Bassano, and Tiepolo. From there, you may wish to visit the simple house thought to be the birthplace of Marco Polo.

Day 9: Explore Korčula Island

Pristine waters off the coast of Lumbarda
Pristine waters off the coast of Lumbarda

Take today to get out and explore Korčula. The island itself is 107 square miles (172 km) and consists of a gorgeous mix of beaches, vineyards, villages, and quiet, harbor-side restaurants and resorts. For a pleasant and scenic way to cover the most ground, rent a bike or scooter and find your way to a secluded beach or hidden cove. Ride through fields, villages, and wineries, covering asphalt, gravel, and dirt roads with vistas opening up to the Adriatic Sea as well as to the impressive Mt. Ilija on the nearby Pelješac Peninsula

This gentle route explores the ancient and historical sites of the eastern side of the island as you work your way to the spread-out village of Lumbarda. Boasting beautiful beaches and centuries-old winemaking traditions, Lumbarda is home to Grk, a white wine grape variety that will pair well with your lunch or dinner. Some of Croatia's best white wines are produced on Korčula and you won't be left wanting.

Day 10: Pelješac Penisula - Dubrovnik

A close up of the defense walls of Ston
Ston's ancient defensive walls

Today you will leave Korčula and head back to the mainland to discover the rugged Pelješac Peninsula en route to Dubrovnik. A mountainous finger of land reaching into the Adriatic Sea, the Pelješac region is home to Croatia's finest red wines, tastiest oysters, and some of the best sand and shingle beaches in the country. Your base for the night is Ston, a peaceful little town with lots of history and a great culinary reputation. 

Tour the nearby wineries to taste the local reds, explore the countryside with a cycling trip through lush vineyards overlooking the sea, or hike along the city's famous medieval walls. Built to keep invaders away from the area's precious saltpans, the 14th-century marvel is the longest fortified city wall on the continent. The preserved section for walking is less than 2 miles (3.2 km) and rewards hikers with breathtaking vistas as you climb, ending at Ston's tiny idyllic neighbor of Mali Ston.

In the afternoon, make your way to your accommodation in the historic coastal fortress city of Dubrovnik. The remainder of the evening is at your leisure, allowing time for you to wander and explore this magical city. Climb the 16th-century city walls for incredible views of countless red rooftops of old stone houses, towers, turrets, churches, and palaces. And be sure to find your way to the limestone-paved Stradun, Dubrovnik's main street to get your bearings and choose from some of Croatia's best restaurants and wine bars.

Day 11: Explore Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik's scenic coastline
Dubrovnik's scenic coastline

Today is all about Dubrovnik! Known as the "Pearl of the Adriatic," Dubrovnik is a world-renowned city of exceptional charm. 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.

There's no better way to pass the time in Dubrovnik than to spend an afternoon strolling its historic walls and smooth, limestone-paved streets while marveling at the spirit of the city. Can't-miss activities include riding the cable car up to Srđ Mountain to take in the sunset over the nearby Elafiti Islands and visiting the Lovrijenac fortress. A tour with a local guide will be that much more rewarding, as they will lead you to the best spots and offer insight into Dubrovnik's culture and history. 

Day 12: Depart Croatia

Sunset over Dubrovnik
Sunset over Dubrovnik

Bid Croatia a final farewell as you drop off your rental car and transfer to the airport today to catch your flight home. Safe travels!