Enjoy culture, history, and relaxation on this packed 15-day grand tour of Croatia's Dalmatian coast and five of the southeastern European nations. You'll begin in Croatia's Zagreb before venturing south to explore the Adriatic coastline and turning inland to navigate a scenic route through Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro. This trip is perfect for the bucket-list traveler who wants to cover as much territory as possible in two weeks.

Highlights

  • Meander Sarajevo's historic bazaar quarter, Baščaršija and pick up a souvenir
  • Tour Novi Sad for pretty pastel-hued Habsburg buildings and café-lined streets
  • Dive into Ohrid's Roman-occupied and Tsar-ruled past at Samuel's Fortress
  • Visit Tirana's grim Piramida, a remnant of Albania's Stalinist past
  • Take in a sunset over the Elafiti Islands from Dubrovnik's Srđ Mountain

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Zagreb to Zadar, Stopping at Plitvice Lakes Zadar
Day 3 Walking tour of Zadar, Visit Šibenik, & Transfer to Split Split
Day 4 Split to Mostar Mostar
Day 5 Mostar to Sarajevo, Walking Tour of Sarajevo Sarajevo
Day 6 Sarajevo to Novi Sad Novi Sad
Day 7 Explore Novi Sad, Onward to Belgrade Belgrade
Day 8 Belgrade to Vrnjačka Banja, Stopping at Kruševac Vrnjačka Banja
Day 9 Vrnjačka Banja to Skopje, Visit Žiča & Studenica Monasteries Skopje
Day 10 Explore Skopje, Onward to Ohrid Ohrid
Day 11 Explore Ohrid, Onward to Tirana Tirana
Day 12 Explore Tirana, Onward to Cetinje Cetinje
Day 13 Cetinje to Dubrovnik, Stopping at Budva & Kotor Dubrovnik
Day 14 Walking City Tour of Dubrovnik & Day Trip to Cavtat Dubrovnik
Day 15 Depart Dubrovnik  

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 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 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 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 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 Zadar, Stopping at Plitvice Lakes

Aerial view over Plitvice Lakes National Park and winding boardwalk
Aerial view over Plitvice Lakes National Park and winding boardwalk

Today, you'll head south to the sunny shores of Dalmatia and the beautiful town of Zadar. En route, you can stop to visit one of Croatia’s most popular national parks, Plitvice Lakes.

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, local guide to walk with you through the park to show you the most interesting places and explain the significance of its history and natural features. Included in the walking tour is a boat ride that allows you to get a little closer to the park's magical beauty. You may wish to bring a bought lunch (and a bottle of wine) with you to enjoy a picnic.

Following lunch, your journey south to the ancient Roman city of Zadar will continue. 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. The rest of the day is yours to relax and explore.

Driving time (Zagreb to Plitvice): 2 hours 
Driving time (Plitvice to Zadar): 2 hours

Day 3: Walking tour of Zadar, Visit Šibenik, & Transfer to Split

Zadar's St. Anastasia's Cathedral
Zadar's St. Anastasia's Cathedral

Get an early start this morning to begin your walking tour of Zadar, the often-overlooked star of Dalmatia. You'll stroll the marble streets of Zadar's famous Old Town—once the mightiest fortress city in the Venetian Republic—and wander beyond its Venetian gates, past stone walls and examples of Roman and Byzantine architecture in the form of the 1st century remains of the Roman Forum, the Cathedral of St. Anastasia, and the 9th-century Church of St Donatus.

From here, proceed south to explore Šibenik. A true Croatian town founded by the Croat king Petar Krešimir IV in the 11th century, Šibenik is home to impressive fortresses, music festivals, and medieval gardens. Start with a visit to the famous UNESCO-protected Cathedral of St. James, before selecting a restaurant for your lunch—perhaps Pelegrini, a Michelin-star restaurant and wine bar just above the cathedral. 

Carry on south to Split, whereupon you'll check into your hotel and settle in before taking the rest of the afternoon to wander Split's historic center. The "capital of Dalmatia," Split is most well known for the UNESCO-protected Diocletian's Palace, one of the best-preserved ancient Roman buildings in the world. Additional highlights worth checking out include the Peristyle, complete with two 3,500-year-old stone Egyptian sphinxes, the Cathedral of St. Dominus  (St. Duje) and the campanile, and the Temple of Jupiter.

For a bit of shopping and a bite to eat head to Marmont Street, though you'll want to make your way to the waterfront to catch the sunset. In the evening, take a stroll along Split's seafront Riva to admire the views over the Adriatic before finding the off-beat Konoba Dioklecijan restaurant, just to the left of the Bronze Gate for dinner, its outdoor terrace built into the walls of Diocletian's Palace.

Driving time (Zadar to Šibenik): 1 hour
Driving time (Šibenik to Split): 1.5 hours

Day 4: Split to Mostar

Stari Most and surrounding Mostar
Stari Most and surrounding Mostar

This morning you'll leave the Croatian coast to make the scenic drive inland to Bosnia and Herzegovina's picturesque Mostar. A tourist's paradise, enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the Neretva River from the minaret of the Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque, traipse along historic alleyways and paths of Old Town, once the center of the city's Islamic culture, and cross the painstakingly reconstructed medieval Stari Most (Old Bridge). The number of notable architectural landmarks combined with the relaxed and inviting atmosphere of the old city will leave you charmed.

Driving time (Split to Mostar): 2.5 hours

Day 5: Mostar to Sarajevo, Walking Tour of Sarajevo

Sarajevo in the spring
Sarajevo in the spring

Following breakfast, you'll venture further north, through the beautiful Neretva Valley to Sarajevo. One of the most culturally diverse cities in Europe,  Bosnia and Herzegovina's capital city spent over 400 years under Turkish rule until the Austro-Hungarians arrived in the late nineteenth century. Fifty years later, the empire collapsed when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated here, hastening the outbreak of the First World War.

After settling into your hotel, you'll join a comprehensive walking tour to piece together Sarajevo's complex and fascinating history as you take in the sights that showcase the city's unique link between the East and West. You'll stroll along the narrow, merchant streets of Baščaršija, the 15th-century historic quarter, visit Svrzo's House and Vijećnica (City Hall)—a site completely renovated after being destroyed in the 1992 Bosnian War—as well as discover the Princip Most (Latin Bridge). 

Driving time (Mostar to Sarajevo): 2.5 hours

Day 6: Sarajevo to Novi Sad

Pretty pastel-colored building of Zmaj Jovina
The pretty pastel-colored building of Zmaj Jovina

This morning you'll continue your drive north through eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina along the beautiful Drina river valley before crossing the border into Serbia. Entering the country, you'll pass through the Pannonian Plain on the way to today's final destination and one of Serbia's more liberal cities, medieval Novi Sad. Meaning "New Orchard," Novi Sad is small enough to navigate by foot and is home to pastel-colored Habsburg-era buildings, art galleries, pretty parks, café-lined streets, and bustling markets.

After a full day of driving, you'll likely get into the city in the late afternoon, in time to check into your hotel, unwind, and set out to find a restaurant for dinner. Head to Trg Slobode (Freedom Square), Novi Sad's main square, to get your bearings and find your way to Zmaj Jovina. The city's main pedestrianized street is a wide boulevard brimming with activity and plenty of bistros to choose between and a great way to take in the local color, including the large-scale street art that's found here.

Driving time (Sarajevo to Novi Sad): 5.5 hours

Day 7: Explore Novi Sad, Onward to Belgrade

Belgrade Fortress in Kalemegdan Park
Belgrade Fortress in Kalemegdan Park

Enjoy a morning of sightseeing Novi Sad's famous buildings, including the University, National Theater, and the country's most impressive monument, the 17th-century Petrovaradin Fortress. Keeping a watchful eye over Novi Sad, the mighty citadel sits atop a 131-foot (40 m) volcanic slab earning its moniker, the "Gibraltar on the Danube."  Tuck into a pre-fortress treat from bakery Multi Tarte as you work your way uphill to the castle where you can roam free or join a tour to discover the nearly 10 miles (16 km) of unlit underground tunnels. 

In the early afternoon, you'll make your way south to the less-pretty, Belgrade. The capital of Serbia, Belgrade rests at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers and is one of Europe's oldest, as well as most happening cities. After settling into your accommodation, you'll want to get out and explore the city's eclectic heritage, chock-full of Habsburg, Ottoman, and communist-era influences. Head to Terazija, the central town square, for a host of things to do and architectural masterpieces to drool over, like the National Parliament

For a plethora of important monuments that span the last 2000 years, be sure to spend a little time in Belgrade's centrally located park, Kalemegdan, before checking out its fortress complex—a great spot to overlook the city and take in a sunset.  

Driving time (Novi Sad to Belgrade): 1.5 hours

Day 8: Belgrade to Vrnjačka Banja, Stopping at Kruševac

The medieval Ljubostinja Monastery near Vrnjačka Banja
The medieval Ljubostinja Monastery near Vrnjačka Banja

Today, you'll transfer from Belgrade to the heart of Serbia and to the resort town of Vrnjačka Banja. Along the way, make a point to stop at the underrated town of Kruševac, the country's former medieval capital. Founded in the late 14th century as the capital city of Prince Lazar's Serbia, you'll have a few hours to spend uncovering its storied history. Visit the archaeological park to see the Donžon Tower leftover from the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, the Lazar monument, and the Lazarica Church—a striking example of medieval Serbian architecture.

From there, consider a visit to the early 15th-century Ljubostinja Monastery, the final resting place of Lazar's wife, Princess Milica, before completing the short drive to Vrnjačka Banja.

Located in the Vrnjačka river valley at the slopes of the forested Goč mountain, sits Vrnjačka Banja Serbia's premium health resort town thanks to its seven mineral springs—known for its curative powers since antiquity—and the town's 19th-century upgrade. After settling into your hotel, you might like to get out and indulge in a restorative spa treatment and relax in the lushly landscaped grounds. There are also centuries-old vineyards on the outskirts of town to discover and wines to sample.

Driving time (Belgrade to Kruševac): 2 hours
Driving time (Kruševac to Ljubostinja): 45 minutes
Driving time (Ljubostinja to Vrnjačka Banja): 20 minutes

Day 9: Vrnjačka Banja to Skopje, Visit Žiča & Studenica Monasteries

Alexander the Great monument in the Skopje city center
Alexander the Great monument in the Skopje city center

Begin the day early to make the drive south into North Macedonia, stopping first to visit the 13th-century colorful Žiča Monastery and the UNESCO-protected 12th-century Studenica Monastery, the former political, cultural, and spiritual center of Medieval Serbia. From here, you'll carry on your way south through the Ibar river valley and the infamous Kosovo Polje (a large karst plain mostly known as the battlefield of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo) to Skopje.

Skopje is Macedonia's quirky capital city and the country's political, economic, and cultural center. With so much on offer from Ottoman and Byzantine-era sights and historic attractions to towering statues and enormous monuments and buildings to an excellent food and bar scene, Skopje will certainly leave you charmed. Find your way to the tree-lined Bohemian neighborhood of Debar Maalo and to Rade Končar street for a hot traditional Macedonian meal.

Driving time (Vrnjačka Banja to Žiča): 40 minutes
Driving time (Žiča to Studenica): 1 hour
Driving time (Studenica to Skopje): 5 hours

Day 10: Explore Skopje, Onward to Ohrid

 Empy street in the old quarter and Samuel's Fortress in the background
Empty street in the old quarter and Samuel's Fortress in the background

A wealth of monuments to discover, spend some time this morning visiting some of the city's top sites. One smart way to do this is to join a free walking tour of Centar (the commercial and political hub that houses the Parliament and Government, museums and Macedonia Square) and Old Town. Cross over the Vardar river on the 15th-century Stone Bridge to Stara Čaršija (Old Town). Here you'll want to visit the Skopje Fortress for great views over the city, Isa Bey and Mustafa Paša mosques, and the Daut Pašin Hamam (Turkish Baths), to name but a few.

You'll continue west toward Tetova before turning your attention south to the small resort city of Ohrid. Ohrid rests on the hilly shores of serene Lake Ohrid. It is complete with medieval fresco-decorated churches, monasteries, and ruins as well as red-tiled homes strewn throughout. Meander the cobblestone lanes of the historic old quarter, visit the medieval Samuel's Fortress, find a lakeside restaurant for a bite to eat, and cap off the day with a refreshing dip and a walk along the boardwalk.

Driving time (Skopje to Ohrid): 3 hours

Day 11: Explore Ohrid, Onward to Tirana

Tirana's Skanderbeg Square
Tirana's Skanderbeg Square

If you haven't already, dedicate the morning to exploring the imposing Samuel's Fortress and the nearby Roman amphitheater. Both offer stunning panoramic vistas over Ohrid and its glassy lake and provide insight into Ohrid's Roman-occupied and 10th-century Tsar-ruled past. Meanwhile, if you've had your fill of churches and monasteries (Saint Sophia, Plaoshnik, and Kaneo are three of the most noteworthy), there's the Icon Gallery to consider. It houses an impressive collection of religious artworks from the 13th to the 18th century.

From Ohrid, you'll journey west around the lake, into Albania and to the country's lively capital, Tirana.

Known for its colorful Ottoman-, Fascist-, and Soviet-era architecture, Tirana has undergone a makeover in recent history to brighten up its grey and grim past. Head to Skanderbeg Square, Tirana's center, for the nation's museums, including The National Historic Museum, and the 18th-century Et'hem Bey Mosque. A short walk from here is the Piramida, a less-than-attractive remnant of Albania's Stalinist past. After people watching from one of the city's many cafés or sipping rakija (plum brandy) with a friendly local,  visit the concrete housing blocks to marvel at the colorful transformation.

Driving time (Ohrid to Tirana): 2.5

Day 12: Explore Tirana, Onward to Cetinje

Cetinje's King Nikola Museum
Cetinje's King Nikola Museum

Take the morning to explore more of Tirana at your own pace. A great way to start the day is to partake in the café culture and one option is to find your way to Blloku ("The Block"). Once the neighborhood of the members of the Communist party, including Albanian's infamous, Enver Hoxha, Blloku today is now Tirana's trendiest district. Besides cafés, you'll find your choice of expensive hotels, designer restaurants, and shops and then there's Sky Club—a 360-degree revolving bar that offers sweeping views over the capital.

In the early afternoon, you'll turn your attention north to Cetinje, Montenegro's Old Royal Capital, the historic and secondary capital of the country. Surrounded by the rugged Lovćen mountains, Cetinje sits in a green valley and is small enough to explore on foot. As Cetinje is likely Montenegro's most architecturally interesting city, you'll want to take in the historic buildings, like that of the late 19th-century King Nikola Museum, a former royal residence.

And for some traditional regional cuisine, try Gradska Kafana or TavèRna.

Driving time (Tirana to Cetinje): 3 hours, 15 minutes

Day 13: Cetinje to Dubrovnik, Stopping at Budva & Kotor

Bay of Kotor
Bay of Kotor

Following breakfast, spend a few hours getting to know the Old Royal Capital with a visit to the country's best museums. Just one ticket for the National Museum of Montenegro gets you into a collection of museums housed in historically important buildings around the city. There's also the white-stone Cetinje Monastery, the city's most significant building and first former residence to Prince-Bishop Petar II Petrović-Njegoš. Meanwhile, next door sits the castle-esque Biljarda, Petrović-Njegoš' next early 19th-century home.

When you're ready, make your way south toward the Adriatic Sea and to the popular summer resort town of Budva, the "Montenegrin Miami." Known for its sandy beaches and lively nightlife, Budva's medieval Stari Grad (Old Town) is also recognized for its rich cultural heritage, squares, churches, and Venetian stone walls that outline its romantic laneways. Enjoy a stroll along the Budva Riviera and take a quick dip if the mood should strike or tour the marbled streets of Stari Grad to the Citadela for striking views and the entry to the town walls.

You'll want to leave time for the scenic drive to Dubrovnik as well as a stop to visit another medieval coastal village, Kotor. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is built on a sloping mountain and abounds with Venetian palaces and Romanesque churches where you'll want to check out the Cathedral of St. Tryphon (Sveti Tripun)—a monument of Roman culture and one of the most recognizable symbols of the city. From here, you'll venture around the picturesque Bay of Kotor before crossing the border back into Croatia and to your accommodation in Dubrovnik, the "Pearl of the Adriatic."

Driving time (Cetinje to Budva): 40 minutes
Driving time (Budva to Kotor): 30 minutes
Driving time (Kotor to Dubrovnik): 2 hours

Day 14: Walking City Tour of Dubrovnik & Day Trip to Cavtat

Church of St. Blaise
Church of St. Blaise

Start your day early to avoid the crowds and to embark on a tour of Dubrovnik. Meet your expert guide outside the entrance to the medieval city at the 16th-century Pile Gate. Entering Old Town, you'll uncover centuries of the city's rich history as you listen to stories of local life and legends and of the importance Dubrovnik once held in the era of the Republic. Highlights include Onofrio's  Fountain, the 15th century Rector's Palace, Luza Square, the Church of St. Blaise (St. Vlaho), and the café-lined streets of Brsalje Street

After touring the streets and alleys, you'll head for Lovrijenac Fortress as well as the city's impressive defensive walls, the second-largest set of city walls in the world. At certain places the wall rises 75 feet high, offering excellent vantage points for photos of the coastline. 

For the rest of the afternoon, explore Dubrovnik and its surroundings on your own, like the small town of Cavtat just 30 minutes southeast. This gorgeous harbor village enjoys a postcard-perfect location nestled in a peninsular cove on the Adriatic. Enjoyable activities here include strolling the waterfront promenade, lazing on pebbly beaches, and whiling away the hours in cafés and restaurants. There's also the House of Vlaho Bukovac to consider, the birthplace of Croatia's most esteemed 19th-century painter. 

Upon your late afternoon return to the "Adriatic Pearl," you might like to take the cable car up to Srđ Mountain for stunning panoramic views over the city and Adriatic while the sun sets before descending back down for dinner at one of Dubrovnik's great restaurants.

Driving time (Dubrovnik to Cavtat): 30 minutes

Day 15: Depart Dubrovnik

Rector's Palace
Rector's Palace

Depending on when you depart, you may have time to visit one of Dubrovnik's museums, like the Franciscan Monastery and Museum. This large complex houses many treasures, including the world's third oldest pharmacy dating from 1317.

Alternatively, for a collection of 15,000 pieces of interesting works, visit the Rector's Palace and Cultural Historical Museum. Wander this well-preserved palace-turned-museum and explore its exhibits, some detailing life in the Republic of Ragusa during medieval times.

The drive to the airport from Dubrovnik takes around 45 minutes with normal traffic.