Recently I went on an amazing road trip with my boyfriend to Croatia – Croatia has been a dream destination of mine for years. From the walled city of Dubrovnik (hello, the Red Keep!) to the incredible natural beauty of Plitvice lakes, I was desperate to explore this country. Going to one place just wasn’t enough for me, so we decided to road trip it and explore as much as possible.
Road tripping is a popular way to explore Croatia – it’s really easy to get around and, as mentioned above, there is just so much to see and do. We went for 11 nights. 7 nights didn’t seem long enough and 11 was a great compromise without taking too much annual leave from work. Here’s where we went, and how we did it:
Day 1-3: Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is a magical place, and is a great place to start or end the trip. We were here for 2 full days and 3 nights, which was a perfect amount of time as this is quite a small city.
The main attraction of Dubrovnik is the Old Town – which exists inside the city walls. This is the location of Kings Landing in Game of Thrones, and due to GoT’s worldwide success as a TV Show, Dubrovnik has increased in popularity over the years. It’s also a popular day stop for cruise ships – however the city did have to put a limit recently on how many cruise ships could enter the city per day, due to overcrowding. Dubrovnik also suffered terribly during the Yugoslavian war, yet has been restored to it’s former glory. Despite the fact the city is ancient, everything feels quite glossy and well maintained.
On our first evening in Dubrovnik, we had a wander around the old town before going for dinner and grabbing some drinks, as we did not get to our guesthouse until gone 6pm so didn’t have time for much else.
The next morning we decided to walk the city walls. This was one of my favourite parts of Dubrovnik – the city walls can be a tough walk as there are many steps and it can get very hot. We started at about half 10 in the morning and even by this point the hot July sun was beating down on us. It also felt quite crowded at the beginning – we started at the Pile gate which is probably the busiest place to start the walk. If you aren’t the biggest walker you can walk just part of the walls. It took me and Steve an hour to walk the entire circumference, and there were stunning views the entire way. You do have to pay to climb the city walls – the fee is 150 kuna – about 18 GBP.
In the afternoon, after lunch, we went for a drink at Buza. This cafe is a not so secret secret sitting on a cliff edge within the city walls, overlooking the ocean. This is a popular place to grab a drink and watch the sunset. We didn’t watch the sunset but we did watch some of the brave cliff jumpers dive in to the ocean below.
After this, we went for a more relaxed approach after our exertions that morning, and went to Banjee Beach, which is really close to the city. A lot of people don’t realise Dubrovnik has beaches. Dubrovnik has a few beaches dotted about, however it still isn’t the ideal location if all you want is a purely beach holiday.
On our second full day in Dubrovnik, we started the day by going up in the cable car which offers fantastic views of the city. Whilst this was a lovely experience, if we had been more prepared (and woke up earlier before the sun got too hot), we would have walked up and got the cable car down. For us, as active people, this would have felt more rewarding. Plus, it would have been heaps cheaper. The cable car both ways costs 150 kuna, but one way costs just 80 kuna. If you have a car on you, you can also drive up to the top of the cable car. There is a restaurant at the top, but as expected, it was extortionate. So we just stopped for coffee instead.
After reaching the bottom and grabbing lunch, we went to the Isle of Lokrum. This was another favourite part of Dubrovnik for me. Lokrum is like a little paradise. It is just 15 minutes away from Dubrovnik by boat, and boats leave every 30 minutes in summer. (boats cost 150 kuna).
On the island there is beautiful foliage and nature, and lots of wandering peacocks and bunny rabbits, which we totally didn’t expect! The island also has an old monastery (some of GoT has been filmed here) and gorgeous beaches and swimming spots. One popular swimming spot is the ‘Dead Sea’. Not actually a ‘sea’, but a saltwater lake. Once we got back on to dry land, we went for a drink in a cafe called ‘Art Cafe’ to watch England v. Sweden in the World Cup, before our final dinner in Dubrovnik.
One thing I will mention about Dubrovnik: It is incredibly expensive, especially compared to the rest of the country. If you are doing a road trip or any sort of travel in Croatia, I would always budget more for this part of your trip. If you are ending your trip in Dubrovnik save plenty of money for it, and if you start in Dubrovnik then don’t do what we did and get excited and splash all your cash there. It is best to prioritise a few activities rather than do it all, and due it’s priciness, it’s not the best place to go wild with the drinks.
Where we Stayed: Apartments and Rooms Bilicic.
This gorgeous guesthouse is located in Pile, and is just a ten minute walk into the Old Town. I would strongly recommend staying outside of the old town and travelling in, as staying in the old town is just so expensive. This guesthouse was a great option as it was still budget friendly but still really close to everything. The host, Maria, is wonderful. She picked us up from the bus station after our airport transfer, and gave us lots of tips for exploring the city. The guesthouse has a really amazing garden, and a rustic outdoor kitchen that can be used for breakfast.
Where we Ate:
There are loads of restaurants in Dubrovnik, however most of the restaurants are pretty expensive and most places serve fish, meat, or other meditarrean options. We found more variety in other cities. Our best meal here was a lunch at Oliva – a pizza place. I ended up eating a LOT of pizza on this trip, and Oliva pizza was great.
We also tried Nishta – which is the only vegan restaurant in Dubrovnik. Nishta is really well known for this reason, however I have to admit, I’ve definitely had better vegan meals! Nishta is very much focused on providing vegan food which is ‘raw vegan’ or at the very least, as healthy as possible. That’s great if you are a raw vegan, but for me, I felt that there could be a lot more variety. Having said that, it was good value for money and their no bake vegan berry cheesecake or desert was amazing.
Day 4 – 6: Split
On our fourth day, our lovely host Maria gave us a lift to the Hotel Nixos where we picked our car rental up from the Sixt office. We were a bit nervous as neither of us have driven on the other side of the road before, however after a slow and steady start it wasn’t long before we got our confidence up on the roads.
After we got the car, we began our drive to Split. The drive from Dubrovnik to Split (or vice versa) is a crazy beautiful drive and for many is a major highlight. There are a few ways to get to Split from Dubrovnik – you can either get a boat and stop off on some of the islands along the way; go via Mostar in Bosnia for a day trip; or travel down the coast as we did. If you travel down the coast, you still have to drive through Bosnia for about 15 minutes, so make sure you have your passport to hand.
On the drive, we saw gorgeous blue oceans, the Mount Biokovo Range, and some of Croatias vineyards. We did, however, make the mistake of ignoring the Sat Nav about half way through the drive to join the highway, sacrificing this to continue our drive down the coast. Whilst this sounds like a lovely idea, and indeed the views were pretty nice, in practice it added a lot of time to the journey down the winding roads. A lot of the best views really are between joining the highway and leaving Split.
We finally got to Split at about 3pm, and after checking in to our apartment, we took a stroll along the beach and grabbed a beer at one of the beachside bars before getting ready for dinner and walking down into the Old Town for dinner.
Like Dubrovnik, Split’s old town is also a walled city. Whilst Dubrovnik was beautiful, polished, and expensive; Split had more of a rustic and ancient charm. Whilst the paving stones were still perfectly polished, some of the buildings were showing their age and this definitely added to the feel of the place. it felt more lived in and less like it purely existed for tourists, which I really liked.
On our first full day in Split (after doing a little at home workout) we headed down to the beach for the morning, as we were staying very close to the beach. Split is a perfect place to get the best of both worlds: with both the city to explore, and lots of coastline. After this we headed in to the Old Town for lunch and to explore. We then headed to Marjan Park Forest – which is just to the North of the city, and is often described as the ‘lungs of the city’. It was great to get into nature, and see the city from a different perspective. The forest is very high up and provides wonderful views.
On our second full day, we went on a boat trip with Summer Blues. At some point during our time in Split, I wanted to take a boat over to Hvar. Initially this is something we were going to do alone by getting a passenger ferry. However instead we opted for a boat day trip, so that we could spend more time at sea exploring the islands. The boat trip was definitely a highlight for me and something I would recommend, especially with Summer Blues – we had three swim stops, a 2 hour visit to Hvar with an optional walking tour, unlimited drinks all day, and plenty of yummy food provided – as well as great music and a good atmosphere.
Where we Stayed: Apartment Duje
This was a booking.com find – the apartment was really spacious and comfortable, with a balcony. The kitchen also meant we could cook some meals in. It was a bit further from the Old Town – about a 30 minute walk or short taxi – but it was right by the beach so it meant we got the best of both worlds.
Where we ate:
On our first night we ate at in a small restaurant in the city walls which sadly I have lost the name of. This restaurant was nice, but a little bit pricy and somewhere we went a bit accidentally as we were so hungry. The portion sizes were quite small, and they were sadly lacking in vegetarian options, as many of the options available on the menu weren’t actually available (something that annoyingly was not made clear until after we had ordered drinks).
On the other nights we actually ate in our apartment to save some money. However on the second day for lunch we ate at Marta’s Veggie Fusion, which is a great vegan fast food place. Steve had a beetroot burger and fries, and I had a falafel wrap and homemade ice tea. I was really impressed and would definitely recommend this place for lunch or for a casual dinner.
Day 7: Sibenik and Ziboric
On our seventh Day we left Split in the late morning (after cleaning our apartment and trying to recover from our boat-trip induced hangover with a well needed big breakfast) and headed to Sibenik.
Our plan was initially to stay in Sibenik and use this as a base to go and explore Krka National Park (more on that next). However, we found that accommodation with parking in Sibenik was limited, so instead we decided to stay in one of the neighbouring beachside villages and visit Sibenik during the day.
We headed straight to Sibenik to enjoy a few hours there before heading to our accommodation later on. Despite it being a small city with narrow roads, there are some paid parking options. We parked by the harbour in a secure carpark and paid on our departure. I can’t remember how much parking cost but it wasn’t much at all.
Sibenik is somewhere that I instantly fell in love with and wished I could have stayed longer – it would have been the perfect place to stay for a few nights, and if we hadn’t had the car (or had been willing to splash the cash on parking) then this definitely would have been a wonderful stay.
Sibenik – Like Split and Dubrovnik – has a real medieval feel to it. A lot of people visit Sibenik because it has a lot of what Dubrovnik can offer in terms of architecture, but without the hoards of tourists and extortionate prices. Sibenik had beautiful architecture, winding alleys, and super cute boutiques. It also had plenty of dining options, many of which were vegetarian and vegan friendly. There is a lot of history to this place so it’s great to explore and learn more about, however it also just has a really nice vibe. It was very chilled out and peaceful, and I could have definitely seen myself spending more time there simply soaking up the atmosphere.
We had a wander around seeing some of the sites, before eating lunch at Cafe Bazza. This place had loads of veggie and vegan options and overall struck me as a very healthy menu. They also had lots of fresh juices and smoothies on offer.
After this, we headed to the village of Zaboric – about a 15 minute drive south down the coast – where we would stay for the night. We stayed at a very no thrills apartment listed on Booking.com. Zaboric was really lovely and peaceful – it is a small beach town which seems to attract tourists from more local countries to Croatia. There was not much to do here apart from chill out on the beach, so Zaboric or a similar nearby village is fine for a couple of nights as a base to explore Sibenik and Krka, but not for much longer. In terms of an actual beach holiday, there are probably better places you could visit in Croatia.
Day 8: Krka National Park
One of the main places I wanted to visit in Croatia (aside from Dubrovnik and Plitvice Lakes) was Krka National Park. All the photos I had seen of it looked amazing. Krka was just a 20 minute drive from our accommodation, so we set off at around 10am. Krka is great if you have a car as the parking is free.
We did the Skradinski Buk walk, which is one of the most popular activities to do in the national park for tourists – this hour long scenic walk introduces you to some of the gorgeous nature in Krka, before finishing at the lower waterfall which is a popular swimming spot. This waterfall is seriously beautiful and it was great to cool down in the water after the walk. Whilst I really enjoyed the walk and the swim, the only problem was it was so incredibly busy. Of course, this was to be expected. We were going to a popular destination at a busy time of year. But there were so many people it meant that much of the walking route became congested and it was impossible to really slow down to take it all in or take many pictures.
After we swam and had a spot of lunch (lunch options were, expectedly, quite limited, so I had a cheese sandwich as this was pretty much the only veggie option on offer. If you can, I would recommend taking a packed lunch), we decided to take a boat trip to the Mother of Mercy Franciscan Monastery, which is on a small island about 45 minutes up the river. We wanted to explore a bit more of the national park and get a feel for it, as it is so large. It was really interesting to see this monastery and to take a boat further upriver to get a feel for the expansiveness of Krka.
After visiting the park, we headed back to Zaboric for one more night before heading to Plitvice Lakes the next morning.
Day 9: Plitvice Lakes
I’m just going to throw this out there – Plitvice Lakes was my absolute highlight of my Croatia Trip. It is the most stunning place ever and I most likely will write an entire blog post dedicated to the Lakes. I would urge anyone to try to get here if they can. It’s a bit further away from many of the coastal popular destinations as it’s inland, but if you appreciate nature, it is worth it.
Plitvice is about 2 hours away from Zaboric and the Sibenik area. We set off shortly before 9am, and got there at around 11. The drive to Plitvice, despite largely being on the highway, was also a really lovely drive. You drive past Paklenica National Park (a popular rock climbing destination) and through the mountains which are absolutely stunning. After leaving the highway you drive through some super cute and scenic Croatian countryside for about 50km, making our drive there just as much an awesome part of our day.
Once we got there and got in to the park (after a lot of confusion and agro, which I will explain in my separate Plitvice post!) instead of getting a boat straight to the main waterfalls (which is a popular choice for many, especially those who aren’t able to do much walking or have small children) we decided to take a lakeside walk to the main waterfalls. After this, we took a hike up above the upper waterfalls. The great thing about doing a hiking route is there are a lot less people, so it’s a great way to really take in the nature and not be surrounded by tourists. Despite Plitvice’s popularity, I actually found it a lot less busy than Krka. It was busy in some parts – around the main waterfalls, and outside of the park around the ticket areas – but because there are many different walking routes people tend to disperse and it’s easy to get away from the crowds if you want to.
I also loved Plitvice because I love hiking, and whilst I would not say the hiking route we took was extremely challenging, it was good to get a ‘proper walk’ in, as this wasn’t something we really got from the hour long boardwalk in Krka the day before.
Where we Stayed: Guesthouse Oreskovic
Guesthouse Oreskovic is located in the nearby town of Korenica – about a 10 minute drive away from Plitvice Lakes Entrance B. This also happened to be my fave accommodation we stayed in, even if it was just for one night. It was set in the most quant area, and the room was super comfy and felt like luxury compared to some of the more basic accommodation we’d had before this in Zaboric. The owner was so welcoming and they also had an outdoor area with sun loungers and a hot tub. We added on breakfast for 70 kuna which was buffet style and had an mixture of everything.
Where we Ate:
the only true issue with Plitvice lakes is that eating options are limited. In the actual park, I had yet another cheese sandwich to tide me over! For dinner, we went to a nearby restaurant called Bistro Vila Velebita. As it was a bit more inland, the food on offer was a lot more Eastern European over the mediteranian fare you get nearer the coast. I had a pizza which was absolutely coated in way too much cheese, and Steve had sausage with chips. It was one of those meals that tides you over and is ok, but is nothing to write home about. If you have a selective diet, I would suggest staying in an air b’n’b with a kitchen or a hostel and grabbing some food from the supermarket and cooking for yourself during this part of the trip.
Day 10-11: Zagreb
Our final part of the trip! Zagreb! The capital of Croatia.
Zagreb accidentally stole my heart – this is an awesome capital city which I think will become more and more popular as a city break in it’s own right over the next few years.
We left Plitvice at around 9.30, after breakfast. The drive to Zagreb should have taken 2 hours 20 minutes, but instead it took us 4 hours to get there as the queues were so horrendous for the tollbooth off the highway. If you are driving to Zagreb, maybe consider this, as it is possible to drive in via A Roads. We were driving in on a Saturday (and the day before the world cup final) so this could have had something to do with the traffic.
Due to getting there late, we only had the afternoon of our first day in Zagreb to explore some of the city, after dropping the car off at Sixt, and checking in to our apartment. We got a taxi to the main square, where we had a wander around, grabbed some lunch, and generally got a feel for the city.
In the evening, we went to a street called Tkalciceva, which has tonnes of bars, cafe’s, and restaurants and is popular with tourists and locals alike. After dinner we decided to get a few drinks and did a bit of a bar crawl! One of my favourite bars was a bar called Art, as it was lovely to sit outside with a wine and people watch. We also went to a bar called Booze and Blues, which was fun but much more of a party vibe rather than a chilled out vibe – most likely due to the fact it was right next to a hostel.
On our final full day in Zagreb, we went back to Tkalciceva to nurse our hangovers with some much needed food, before exploring more of the Upper Town. The Upper Town is really pretty and is home to a lot of the cultural and historical buildings within Zagreb, as well as many of the museums. Unfortunately during our last day it was raining, which meant we couldn’t do much outside. We went to the Museum of Broken Relationships, which was one of my highlights.
Our final evening in Zagreb also happened to be the World Cup Final where Croatia was playing France, so as you can imagine the atmosphere was absolutely crazy. It was so amazing to be in Zagreb for this and soak up the vibe with some beers. Despite losing to France, the Croatian people were still celebrating long after the match, happy to be in the final and to just continue the party!
Zagreb was such an awesome city and my only regret is that we could have stayed here a bit longer as there is so much more to this city than meets the eye. Plus, it is so incredibly cheap – probably the cheapest place we went! A tram ride costs about 47p, and we got a full meal with drinks for two for about 13 quid. I would definitely recommend this place to start or end a trip, or just as a mini break in it’s own right. Don’t overlook Zagreb when you look at Croatia!
Where we Stayed: Apartment Jan
Apartment Jan was another Booking.com find. The apartment was great, especially for a shorter stay. It was comfortable, well equipped, and close to the city centre – just a 10 minute tram ride, or a 20 minute walk. Robert, the host, was super helpful and gave us loads of tips when we arrived.
Where we Ate:
We probably had some of the best meals in Zagreb – the food on offer was a lot more varied, and as much as I love pizza, it was great to eat something a bit different! On our first day for lunch we ate at a cafe called Good Food, which was close to the main square. It was very no thrills but was really healthy. I had a tofu tortilla wrap.
For dinner, we ate at a highly recommended Sri Lankan restaurant called Curry Bowl, which is on Tkalciceva. If you like spicy food, don’t expect it to blow your head off, but it was a nice meal and great to have a change.
On our second day, for lunch we ate at Ožujsko Pub Tkalča. We had a burger each (mine was a veggie burger) with some fries, and again it was superb. It was such good value for money and tasted delicious.
For our dinner on the second evening, we ate at an Indian place called Royal India. I was pleasantly surprised at how great this Indian was – the food was really tasty and authentic, and I’d definitely recommend this place for any curry fans in Zagreb.
So, there you have it! That was our ultimate Croatian road trip! I would definitely recommend this itinerary to anyone, as it worked well for us. If I were to do anything differently, I would have either stayed in Sibenik instead of Zaboric (and potentially stayed longer), or I would have only stayed in Zaboric one night and headed straight to Plitvice lakes after Krka National Park, to explore Plitvice earlier on in the day or even for two days as it is so huge. I also wish we had a bit longer in Zagreb as it was such an awesome city. I probably also would have been a bit more selective with what I spent my cash on in Dubrovnik, as this portion of the trip ate up a lot of my money.
I hope you enjoyed this post and it’s given you some insight and inspiration! Let me know, as always, what you think in the comments below.