The “our” in this headline actually doesn’t refer to me and Alex, but rather, me and two of my very dearest buds, Amy and Sabrina. The girls flew to Budapest to spend a few days here, and then we headed out for a whirlwind Croatian friend-cation. We definitely moved very quickly through the country, but I’m still really pleased with how our itinerary turned out.
What to See in Croatia
Croatia offers such a spectacular combination of natural scenery, centuries-old architecture, and gorgeous weather (in the summer, at least…I can’t speak for other seasons). This also makes it a great spot for a roadtrip. Don’t forget to take advantage of the delicious local produce stands on the side of the road, and the many opportunities for beautiful photos!
We rented our car in Budapest and had to drive it all the way back, but I suggest renting in Zagreb instead. This itinerary is assuming you’d be flying in and out of Zagreb and renting the car there.
- Days 1-2: Zagreb. Whether you’re flying straight into Zagreb or coming from another city, you’ll want at least one full day and one evening for the sights of the city. We arrived late afternoon on day 1 and departed late afternoon on day 2. The most unique sight we visited in Croatia was probably the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, which collects artifacts and stories of people’s breakups.
- Days 2-3: Plitvice Lakes. For the love of God, do not go to the Plitvice Lakes after 10-11am. We stayed near the park on night 2, then arrived when the park opened at 7am on day 3 and had a lovely visit. (Around 10 or 11 it started to rain which sent most of the growing crowd indoors, which even further extended our time practically alone in the park.) When we were leaving around noon, though, the crowds for tickets and the ferry were absolutely insane. Please, don’t do this to yourself.
- Days 3-4: Zadar. We made it to Zadar in time for a brief nap before hitting up sunset at the Sea Organ. It was definitely a cool experience, but there’s not much more to see in Zadar. There is a really cool bar called The Garden Lounge, which has raw food and cocktails in a cool outdoor lounge setting.
- Days 4-5: Hvar. On day 4, we drove to Split, left our car parked at the port, and took the ferry to Hvar. If you wanted to maximize your time on the island, you could book your ferry ticket in advance and get up early, though we did neither and ended up on the island around 4pm. Be warned, the party scene here gets started late. If you’re used to heading out at 9 or 10pm, you may struggle to stay up until things really get started at 1 or 2am. Keep this in mind when you celebrate sunset at Hula Hula or spend the whole day on the beach — you may need a nap before going out. The following day, we took one of the many boat taxis to a neighboring sand beach called Palmizana. We took the last ferry back (be sure to book in the morning or the day before or you may end up spending an unexpected extra night on the island!) to arrive in Split around 9pm.
- Days 5-7: Split. Our first night in Split, we basically went straight to bed, exhausted from our day in Hvar. The following day, consider checking out the amazing, historic Diocletian’s Palace and Split’s beaches, which are walking distance from the old city center. Split has some great fine dining and wine bars, so if you’re looking to class things up between backpacker havens, this is where I’d recommend splurging.
- Days 7-8: Dubrovnik. Driving from Split, you’ll pass through Bosnia and Herzegovina to get to Dubrovnik, but the border is no trouble at all. Once in Dubrovnik, there are a few options other than simply wandering the meandering old city and taking in the views. You may consider walking the city walls, taking a Game of Thrones tour (the city is used for filming in King’s Landing and a few shots in Slaver’s Bay), or doing a day or evening boat cruise. Keep in mind, all of the attractions in Dubrovnik are pricey!
- Days 8-9 or 10: Trogir, Sibenik, and Zagreb. We made one very long day of the drive from Dubrovnik to Zagreb, but if you had the time, either city is a good halfway point to spend an extra night. Like many of the other old cities of Croatia, these are towns to wander and soak in. There’s no “must-see” destination other than the UNESCO-listed cities themselves.
Know Before You Go: Croatia
Here are a few important items to keep in mind when planning a Croatian roadtrip.
- Manual transmission vehicles are the default in Croatia and most of Europe. Be sure to opt for automatic unless you are very comfortable driving stick on narrow, hilly roads.
- Gas is more expensive in Europe than the States. With the conversions, we paid about $5-plus per gallon for gas. Keep this in mind when choosing what size car to rent.
- The scenery is absolutely stunning but the roads are hilly and winding. If you or your passengers are prone to motion sickness, I recommend Sea-Bands or Dramamine (assuming you aren’t driving, as it causes drowsiness) and frequent stops.
- The beaches in Croatia are rarely sand beaches (more like pebbles, rocks, or cliffs). This can be a rude awakening for Americans or Aussies expecting sand beaches. I suggest bringing water shoes.
- Croatia is part of the EU, but it still has its own currency (the kuna) and is not part of the Schengen Zone (meaning that you’ll have to go through passport control when arriving from European countries that are in the Schengen Zone). This also means that Croatia will not count toward your 90-day visa for the Schengen Zone (yay!).
Have you been to Croatia or are you experiencing total travel envy? I will definitely be coming back!