Croatia is a wonderful country with many beautiful towns, a long coastline, and a rich history. This makes finding the best places to visit for a road trip in Croatia very exciting.
And we have to admit, anywhere you intend to visit in Croatia will not disappoint. This amazing country caters for everyone.
With hiking trails, mountain climbing, pristine beaches, historic towns, and wonderful food at an affordable price. It’s no surprise Croatia is high on people’s bucket lists.
It certainly was for us.
We found the best places to visit for a road trip in Croatia is the exciting part of planning.
For us, we have been lucky enough to spend two extended periods in Croatia:
- Our first Croatian road trip took us from Trieste, Italy, through Croatia to Albania.
- Our second Croatian road trip included the Istria Peninsula.
This is why we have put together a guide to Croatia for you to plan your perfect Croatian holiday.
With lots of “must-see things to do in Croatia” to help take the guesswork out of your itinerary planning.
Why Choose a Road Trip to Croatia?
A road trip through Croatia is one of the best ways to see this wonderful country.
With a fantastic roading system and a beautiful coastline, you have lots of opportunities to stop and take in the panoramic views.
You can relax on the Istria Peninsula or stay in one of its many cities.
Our first road trip to Croatia was between two Italian house-sitting assignments.
We spent our time making a three-week road trip through Croatia to Albania.
Driving ourselves allowed us to take some detours to visit Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Both are easily accessible from Croatia.
How to get to Croatia for a road trip
To begin your road trip to Croatia, you have several options:
- Hire a car on arrival in Croatia.
- Airports for Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik have services to many European cities.
- Take the Bus from Venice.
- Book the Ferry from Venice.
Venice to Pula Ferry has up to three sailings per week and takes 3.5 hours. There are two ferry services – Kompass and Venezia Lines.
If you hire a car from Italy, remember to ask about the one-way fee unless returning the rental car to the same place.
A Guide to Planning Your Itinerary for Croatia
Where to start your road trip will always depend on the time you have available and what type of road trip experience is suited to you.
We often say to ourselves, “you can’t see everything,” which is why we tend to pick and choose fewer places for a more rewarding experience.
And, we have to say, our Croatia road trip proved to be one of our best slow travel trips.
Remember your Travel Insurance
Make sure before you leave home to organize your Travel Insurance.
We have been using CoverMore since 2016 for our worldwide travel insurance. CoverMore is very easy to set up online and makes it easy to liaise with them when organizing our online claims (we have had two trouble-free claims).
If you need a quote, click on the advertisement above.
Five Tips for Driving in Croatia
While we use our own car in Croatia, we also use Europcar. We love the selection from this top-branded car rental.
When booking a rental car, remember to ask if there is a one-way fee. And remember to check if your home country requires an international driver’s license when booking.
1. Conditions of roads in Croatia
When not taking the motorway, the condition of the secondary roads was reasonable. Even the rural and mountainous areas could be travelled at the designated speed.
Croatia has one of the most beautiful coastal roads you can drive. The scenery is stunning.
2. Why choose the motorway and not the secondary roads?
The first answer is always time. If you want to reach a destination quicker, then the motorway system is the best planning option.
The other benefit is for the driver, not having to constantly change speed for the many, many villages you can pass through.
3. Croatia Road Tolls
Croatia has one of the best motorway systems we have driven. The roads and tunnels through the mountainous landscape are the quickest routes to your destination. And overall the cost of tolls is reasonable compared to Italy and France.
There are exceptions, like the stretch of motorway inland to Vodopad Gubavica.
4. Parking in Croatia
We use MapsMe rather than Google to find parking close to the old towns we want to explore.
Parking prices are reasonable, especially outside the peak season when it is free to park.
5. Be Aware of the Quickest Route
Using MapsMe or Google may want to take you the quickest route. At times, these routes are country lanes, and you end up taking longer. It’s better to remain on the main roadway.
When is the Best Season to Travel to Croatia
Croatia’s weather ensures it is an easy country to visit all year round, but to improve your travel experience, we suggest going off-peak.
If you want to avoid a large number of tour groups, then choose the shoulder season.
The number of tourists we saw in the major cities of Dubrovnik and Split in late September (pre-Covid) gave us an appreciation of the numbers in peak season.
We chose early October for our first road trip to Croatia. It was still warm during the day, the water temperature was swimmable, and fewer tour groups.
Our second road trip was from late May to early June. We swam, encountered fewer tourists and loved the mid-20s temperatures.
And the best place to visit for a road trip in Croatia is to take the coastal road.
Best Places to Visit for a Road Trip in Croatia
Depending on the time you have to visit Croatia, here are five suggestions to help with planning your road trip itinerary.
We have travelled the popular Croatia coastline, but also travelled inland to see canyons and idyllic villages. And we have spent time exploring the Pula Peninsula.
But whatever road trip to Croatia you plan, you won’t be disappointed with the beauty and history of this country.
1. Drive the beautiful Croatia coastline
Travelling the coast of Croatia was the highlight of our Croatia road trip.
With the stony mountain range on the left (heading southwards) and the turquoise sea on the right, we had many stops for photos.
While it may be tempting to travel inland via the motorway, the coastline of Croatia was top of our list.
Often the top speed is 80km, with plenty of places to pull in and admire the views. Although, at times, speed is restricted to 70km or less if you get stuck behind campervans.
But hey, it’s all part of the experience.
Just remember to factor this in when calculating the time google may suggest for your self-drive road trip.
And next on our best places to visit for a road trip in Croatia is its National Parks.
2. Stop at least one of Croatia’s National Parks
Depending on the time you have allowed yourself to see Croatia, it is worthwhile to visit one or more of the must-see National Parks of Croatia.
- Plitvice Lakes National Park is the highest-rated and is an immensely enjoyable day out, walking and viewing the many lakes and stunning waterfalls.
- Paklenica National Park is recommended if you love hiking or climbing.
- Krka National Park is vast, with the popular Skradinski Buk waterfall.
- Kornati National Park for swimming and snorkelling.
To decide which National Park suits you, click here: Five Day Trips from Zadar.
3. Stay in one of Croatia’s best cities
Many travellers choose Dubrovnik, but we can highly recommend you stop and stay in more than one of Croatia’s cities.
Zadar – to explore the historical old town, visit nearby the four National Parks, and enjoy a cruise of its archipelago of islands.
Split – to explore the nearby islands of Hvar, Trogir, and Brac. Take a boat ride to the famous Blue Cave. Or take a trip inland to the Gubavica Waterfall in the impressive gorge near Zadvarje.
Zagreb – easy to navigate, a great old town market, and a street of restaurants.
Dubrovnik – walked the famous walled old town, cruise the islands of Lokrum, Mljet, or Lopud. Take a ferry ride to Cavtat.
4. Enjoy the beaches of the Istria Peninsula
The region of Istria on the Adriatic Sea gave us the feeling of the Mediterranean. With delicious seafood, olives, and wine, at times, we felt we were perhaps still in Italy.
The Charming Towns of the Istria peninsula of Pula, Rovinj, and Porec are along the coastline with amazing beaches to relax and unwind.
And if you travel inland, choose a small village stay, surrounded by nature and fields of produce grown for the local markets.
To learn more about the region, check out this website on Istria.
5. Drive Inland to Experience more of Croatia
Travelling inland from Split took us back in time as we passed through some small stone-house villages on our way to Sinj and Vodopad Gubavica.
Sinj was once a fortress held by the Ottomans during the 16th-17th century. Many pilgrims visit Sinj to visit The Church of Our Lady of Sinj. Her statue is visible as you ascend the hilltop.
Vodopad Gubavica is a worthwhile deviation to view the canyon on the River Cetina.
Vodopad Gubavica has two waterfalls, the larger at 50m, one of the biggest in Croatia. The closest town is Zadvarje to book an organized, professional tour of the canyon.
Where to Stay In Croatia – Airbnb or Hotels
We had both discussed what our general Croatia road trip itinerary plan would look like, making the decision we would book some of the accommodation while on the road.
It meant we could stay longer in places we found interesting to explore more of the area.
We had very good experiences with Airbnb in Croatia. The hosts were great with suggestions of what to see and where to eat.
Our wonderful host Diana in Split was an amazing host.
Please check out her apartment in Split: Apartment Carpe Diem, Ulica Miljenka Smoje 1.
Try Some Local Foods in Croatia
Burek – is either filled with cheese or meat, encased in layers of pastry. Very cheap, easy to share and great with a salad.
Gilled Calamari – we love seafood, and staying along the coast meant we could eat lots of fresh grilled calamari. So delicious.
Cherry Strudel – Filo dough filled with cherries. Just perfect with coffee.
Supermarkets – can be found in even the smallest of towns, with roadside stalls of honey and fruit when in season.
Often the supermarkets will have small bakeries for bread. (Make sure to try the cornbread.)
Places to Stop along Croatia’s Coastal Drive
We totally fell in love with the beauty of Croatia on our coastal drive from Rijeka to Zadar.
With stunning crystal-clear water on one side and the mountains looming on the other side. This part of our road trip to Croatia was one of the best experiences.
There are many places to stop along the way for a coffee or a longer stay.
Selce is only 3 km from Crikvenica and is another option to break your journey.
With a shoreline of beaches and a vibrant shopping and restaurant area on the promenade, we loved our stop here in late May.
Airbnb suggestion: AP Aphrodita
Wherever you are along Croatia’s coastal highway, there are always opportunities to swim. The crystal clear waters and warm waters mean you sometimes find you are still enjoying the beach rather than getting to your planned destination.
Seeing the beach at Karlobag with crystal clear water had us stopping for a break in our journey.
Deciding on a swim first, we were down to the beach, where the cafes were already closed in late September. With only three couples taking a swim, the beach was practically deserted.
But what happened next was really weird.
All of us couples did a double-take at each other as we entered the water.
With no common language between us, we all knew there was something strange about this beautiful bay.
It was the water temperature.
The water underneath the surface was a mild temperature, but the top layer felt like ice. We later learned the bay had a freshwater spring of cold water.
3. Starigrad Paklenica
Taking a mini-break from house-sitting, we secured a month-long Airbnb apartment in the small town of Starigrad Paklenica.
Starigrad Paklenica’s beautiful crystal clear sea attracted us to stay, and with its proximity to Zadar, a city we love, and Paklenica National Park nearby, we decided to stay.
The town has a busy small seaside promenade and a history as an early Roman settlement. Oh, and the sunsets were amazing.
Airbnb suggestion: Buco Apartments
Zadar is the northern city of the Dalmatian coast, with National Parks to the east and an archipelago of islands to the west.
The city has Roman ruins you can wander through. St Anastasia’s Cathedral tower to climb for a view of the city. Walkable old city walls that prevented capture from the Turks and the promenade for a harbour view.
A favourite for visitors to the city would be The Riva – waterfront promenade. Whether you are up for a stroll, need a swim to cool off, or just want to sit and take in the view, this is the place to be.
To experience more of Zadar, click to read more here Eight Must-See Sights of Zadar.
Sibenik can often be overlooked when leaving Zadar for Split.
We loved the labyrinth of steep back streets to find a hidden garden on our way to the fortress.
Unlike other Croatian towns, Sibenik was founded by the Croatian King Petar Kresimir IV.
Primosten was a coffee break for us to visit what was once a republic of Venice. One of the main attractions is the Church of St George in the old town and the maritime cemetery.
We found a cafe in the small inlet harbour before walking up to the church.
Trogir was once under Venetian rule, which is why the architecture is stunning. Make sure to visit the Cathedral of St Lawrence, a UNESCO site.
We spent the day at Trogir, taking the ferry from Split. Trogir is a popular day trip for lunch in one of its many cafes.
Split, for us, was one of the cities in Croatia we enjoyed the most. This 1700-year-old city of winding streets to hidden squares made each day exploring a new experience.
Of course, the highlight was the Diocletian Palace.
Who would imagine that you could sit here for an evening, sipping on a glass of wine, listening to music, on the steps laid here in 305 AD? How special is that?
9. Island Day Trips from Split
Take a boat excursion or ferry to the nearby islands of Hvar and Brac.
Hvar is one of the sunniest islands to visit from Split. Its medieval charm will have you captivated by exploring the many narrow streets, shops, and restaurants. A walk up to the fortress is well worth the climb, especially for the views.
Brac is closer to Split for beaches and restaurants.
And to get an idea of day trips available, you can search and book online with Viator.
A popular day trip from Dubrovnik, the salt-producing town of Ston.
Here you will see one of the longest fortifications in Europe, a 5.5km wall protecting a medieval town.
If you are travelling from Split to Dubrovnik, it’s definitely worth a stop.
There is no other view so spectacular as arriving into Dubrovnik from the hillside. Seeing the picturesque seaside old town is an amazing view.
Dubrovnik is a well-known destination for Game of Thrones fans wanting to see the locations where the action was filmed. For us, it was to walk yet another medieval city wall.
Dubrovnik’s city wall is best walked early when the ticket office opens at 8 am so as to avoid the crowds.
While we waited, we wandered the cobblestoned streets in the old city visiting the various famous buildings. You can also take the cable car up to Srd Hill for views over Dubrovnik, or if the queue is too long, there is a pathway to walk.
Here is the website for prices and times ⇒ Dubrovnik Cable Car.
12. Day Trips from DubroVisvnik to nearby Islands
From Dubrovnik, you can take a ferry to one or more of the islands close by.
Visit the medieval island of Lokrum, or visit the three islands of Kolocep, Lopud, and Sipan on a day tour.
Mljet National Park on the island of Mljet offers tranquillity with forest walks and saltwater lakes.
Korcula Island is the sixth-largest island in the Adriatic, with beautiful beaches and stunning architecture.
A small idyllic port with cafes and restaurants away from tourist crowds is the small town of Cavtat.
Founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC, this sheltered harbour makes for a great day trip by ferry from Dubrovnik.
We loved learning more about Cavtat from Map Made Memories. You can read more here: Why You Should Visit Cavtat
Only a 15-20 minute drive southeast of Dubrovnik’s old town is Konavle.
Often referred to as the “Golden Valley” for its waterfalls and watermills, we had lunch in a tranquil setting at Konoba Vinica Monkovic.
The Best Places to Visit for a Road Trip in Croatia
We hope these insights have helped you discover why Croatia is a popular destination.
If you are visiting for the first time, we recommend hiring a car or a driver for a coastal drive.
Our preference of where to stay would be Zadar and Split. You have many options for visiting National Parks and some of Croatia’s islands as day trips.
But what is important for your ultimate road trip to Croatia is to plan to stay for at least two weeks.
You won’t get to see it all, but you will want to return to this amazing country.