From Zagreb to Dubrovnik: A Road Trip Through Croatia

Walls of Dubrovnik Croatia

With gorgeous sea views, tasty wines, lush national parks, and castles featured in Game of Thrones there is no shortage of reasons to visit Croatia.  To experience everything Croatia has to offer we highly recommend taking a good old-fashioned road trip.

Croatia is a small country with really well-paved roads which makes this type of trip super easy.  In fact, you could drive the coast in a day if you wanted, but that’s no fun.  So, below we have laid out the spots we hit on our own Croatian Coast adventure.

Zagreb

The capital city of Croatia is an easy place to start your trip, especially if you are flying because Zagreb has an international airport.  We used rentalcars.com to book our car, but check the fine print as each rental company has different fees for one-way trips, ranging from 20 euros a day to a $180 one-time fee.

We did not stay more than a day in Zagreb as we were eager to hit the road, but there are a few cool things to check out if you have time. One such place is St. Mark’s Church with its colorful tile roof.  There are also some lively restaurants on Tkaliceva street where you can grab a beer and sample the local fare.  Mike recommends the Cevapi, which is a grilled plate of minced meat sausages served with onion or potato.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice National Park from afarPlitvice National Park wooden pathPlitvice scenic beauty

A two-hour drive from Zagreb, this place is a must.  Made up of 16 lakes connected by multiple waterfalls, it is a UNESCO site that seems straight out of a postcard.  Fair warning, however, as this place does get packed with tourists.  After leaving Zagreb, we stayed a night in a guesthouse close to the park so that we could get up early and beat the day-trip crowds coming from neighboring cities.

Check the park website for detailed information on hours and pricing as it varies depending on the time of year.  But don’t worry, there is plenty of parking right by the entrances so you will be fine to bring your car.

The park has multiple walking trails, varying in length. Expect to spend about 4-5 hours to really immerse yourself.  If you go in the summer, make sure to bring a water bottle to combat the heat, but leave your bathing suit behind because there is no swimming in these lakes.

Lastly, we recommend packing yourself a lunch. There are a few restaurants scattered throughout the park, but nothing beats a picnic under the shade of a tree with views of a waterfall, right?

Zadar

Port of ZadarThe seafront steps of Zadar CroatiaChurch of Zadar

According to Alfred Hitchcock, Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, so who are we to argue?  We awaited the sunset by relaxing on the steps of the Sea Organ, which creates music from the sea waves and wind.  A stone’s throw from the Sea Organ is the Sun Salutation, another creation by Croatian artist Nikola Bašić.  A 22m-wide circle set at the far edge of Zadar’s old town, from sunset to sunrise it uses solar and waves energy collected throughout the day to create a light show meant to simulate the solar system. Incredible!

We found the prices in Old Town expensive, and after high season, many restaurants close down.  However, we managed to have an enjoyable meal at Taverna Bonaca.  Bonaca is solid, homestyle cooking, but the real star is its high-energy owner who brings a flair for life that is infectious. 

Sibenik

Harbor of SibenikSibenik Game of Thrones Iron BankSibenik Old Town alley way

We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Šibenik. We selected it primarily due to its proximity to Krka National Park. However, we ended up enjoying our day in the sleepy old town.

A hilly and small old town, Šibenik has some amazing historic forts with great panoramic views. St. Michael’s Fortress, at the top of old town, is now an outdoor theater for summer concerts. From the top of St. Michael’s, you can see Barone Fortress on an opposite hilltop, overlooking the city. If you turn your gaze to the entrance to the Šibenik Channel, fans of Game of Thrones may recognize a familiar scene. Šibenik’s skyline and Old Town were exterior shots in season 5, and the channel entrance is where the Titan of Braavos was placed. 

We only spent one night in Šibenik, but if you want to see Krka and Kornati National Park, you will need at least two nights. We, unfortunately, didn’t have time to visit Kornati, but it came highly recommended by our Airbnb host. Kornati is a dense archipelago of 140 islands that are only navigable by small boats, making Šibenik one of the best towns to reach it.

Krka National Park

Krka National Park Skradisnki BukIf you were not able to stop off at Plitvice, or you just need another dose of nature, then add Krka National Park to your list.  The main attraction is the great waterfall Skradisnki Buk. During the summer months, visitors can even jump in the water at the base of the waterfall to cool off.

You can enter Krka from two locations, one in Lozovac and one in Skradin.  Lozovac is located 10 km from Šibenik.  It is the more common entrance, but you will need to park your car and take a bus to the park.  If you continue driving a bit further, you can visit the small, picturesque village of Skradin, 20 km from Šibenik. From Skradin, you can take a boat to the park, or walk a 3 km path along the river.

Entrance to the park is dependent on the month, but expect it to run anywhere from 110.00 – 180.00 kn.

Split

Harbor of Split

Split is the 2nd largest city in Croatia and the largest in Dalmatia. Its history is complex and varied. Founded as a Greek settlement, it gained historical significance when Roman Emperor Diocletian built his palace in the city. It has since spent time under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, the Hapsburgs, and the Republic of Venice. This diverse history may have been the reason Split felt unique compared to all our stops on this road trip. 

Our favorite bar was Marcvs Marvlvs Spalatensis Library Bar, a perfect representation of this cities modern life and ancient history. The building is the birthplace of Marko Marulić, the revered father of Croatian Literature, and located within Diocletian’s palace. The renovation was overseen by conservationists, so much of the interior architecture dates back to the 15th century. And while the building is ancient, the mood inside is definitely not.

If you want to get away from the crowds, head over to Park Marjan. A little hillside forest with amazing views, it is a great area to spend a morning walking around. There are jogging trails and a few beaches you can walk down to as well. We’d recommend bringing water, as there weren’t any shops in the park, and was quite warm, even in October.

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik King's Landing Shame StepsDubrovnik Beach

No trip to Croatia is complete without a jaunt to King’s Landing.  We were so excited to see where Game of Thrones was filmed that we even went on a Game of Thrones tour throughout the city.  But even if you are not a GoT buff, like we are, the city has an undeniable magic with so much to offer.

A walk around the ancient walls is a must.  Best to do it early in the morning not only to beat the heat but also to avoid the crowds of tourists coming from the cruise ships.  And for the best view of the city, take the cable car ride up to the top of Mount Srd. We went during the day but we heard that the sunset from up there is pure magic.

We also attempted to avoid the throngs of incoming cruisers by taking a day trip to Lokrum Island. It is an easy 15-minute ferry ride just off the coast of Dubrovnik.  The island has walking trails, a botanical garden, and rock beaches to enjoy.  Not to mention, there are wild peacocks and rabbits everywhere! Believe us, you will want to take one with you.

And for those that want to do something active, we had an amazing time kayaking in the Adriatic Sea.  You can find many tour groups to go with and most will supply a lunch.  This was one of the highlights of our trip so we would highly recommend it!

This is where our road trip in Croatia ended, but you could easily continue to Montenegro from Dubrovnik. Kotor, Montenegro is another UNESCO world heritage site and is only a scenic two-hour drive south from Dubrovnik.

 

Considering the French Riviera? Check out: How to Spend 3 Days in Nice

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