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10-Day Road Trip in Croatia: From Dubrovnik to Zagreb (via Split & Pula)

10-Day Road Trip in Croatia: From Dubrovnik to Zagreb (via Split & Pula)
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In this article, I’ll share our 10-day itinerary for Croatia by car, starting in Dubrovnik and finishing in Zagreb. This itinerary is perfect for someone who wants to get to know Croatia and visit some of the most beautiful cities, towns and villages. This road trip itinerary for Croatia, unfortunately, doesn’t include any islands; however, feel free to modify it and swap some destinations for the islands if you really want to visit Hvar, Korčula or some other islands in Croatia!

We made this trip in August, and the weather was nice; hence, this itinerary also includes some time spent on the beach. If you want to do this trip off-season, most probably, you won’t be able to swim at all. In this case, you’ll have even more time to spend in the cities! 

Without further ado, let’s get started! 

Frequently asked questions about travelling to Croatia

How to get to Croatia?

We bought multi-city flights that arrived in Dubrovnik and left from Zagreb for this trip. It’s straightforward to get flights like that, just use multi-city flights when you search for flights on Skyscanner!

What’s the best time to go to Croatia

You can go to Croatia all year long, however, you will only be able to swim from late June to mid-September. In summer, Croatia can be very hot. In early September, the weather can be a bit unpredictable and temperatures can fluctuate a lot in different parts of Croatia. For example, it can be sunny and hot in Dubrovnik and chilly and rainy in Umag. 

The best time to go to Croatia really depends on what you’re looking for! In summer, the country is generally overcrowded. Also, accommodation costs way more during the high season as well. Interestingly enough, different attractions also charge more in summer (sometimes even twice more). Even parking can be more expensive in summer, so keep that in mind. 

If you want to swim, you need to go to Croatia in the summer. If you don’t want to swim and you would like to do some sightseeing, consider coming late September to mid-October or late April – mid-May.

Do you need a car to see the main highlights of Croatia?

Croatia has great public transport and a lot of intercity bus connections, so you can explore Croatia just using buses. However, some places on this itinerary won’t be doable without having a car, so you can skip them if you want to explore Croatia using buses only. You can check the prices and availability of buses in Croatia here >>>

If you decide to rent a car in Croatia like we did, I recommend using either Rentalcars.com or Expedia

We hired a car in Dubrovnik airport and returned it to Zagreb airport. However, keep in mind that returning a car to a different location incurs an extra fee. It would be £200 cheaper to return it in Dubrovnik; however, as it is quite far from our last stop, Zagreb, we decided to drop the car in Zagreb instead. 

Is Croatia expensive? Budget to plan for 10 days in Croatia 

During the high season, Croatia is generally pretty expensive. Of course, there are also ways to save money in Croatia; however, hotels, car rental and eating out are generally the main spending categories. We spent circa £700 on car rental (nothing fancy, we booked the cheapest car category), £1000 on hotels and £600 on food and eating out. We also spent circa £80 on entrance tickets to Krka and Plitvice Lakes National Parks and around £100 on gas. 

We could have spent less if we stayed in cheaper hotels without parking or hostels (all our hotels had at least 3*) and if we bought food in supermarkets and ate more fast food (we ate in restaurants 90% of our time). 

However, by no means was our trip luxurious. If you want to stay in impressive hotels, have a much better car and have amazing meals, you would need to multiply the total budget by at least 2. 

Itinerary for 10 days in Croatia: road-tripping Croatia from Dubrovnik to Zagreb 

Here’s the short overview of our Croatia road trip itinerary: 

Days 1 & 2: Dubrovnik and Makarska; night at Hotel Adria Dubrovnik

Days 3 & 4 – Split, 2 nights at Hotel Luxe, Krka National Park

Day 5: Zadar, night at Villa Maggie, long drive to Pula with a stop in Rijeka 

Day 6: Pula and Rovinj, night at Hotel Scaletta

Day 7: Poreč and Novigrad, night at Melia Coral 

Days 8 & 9 – Motovun, Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes, night at Imperial Apartments Zagreb

Day 10: Final hours in Zagreb and flying back

Days 1 and 2: Exploring Dubrovnik and Makarska

Where to stay in Dubrovnik? Hotels with parking in Dubrovnik

On our first day, we arrived to Dubrovnik. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we found convenient multi-city flights through Skyscanner. That way, we didn’t need to drive all the way back to Dubrovnik and departed from Zagreb instead.

Dubrovnik is probably the most expensive city in Croatia and the most crowded one, too. If you have a car in Dubrovnik, it’s rather a massive disadvantage because, during the peak season, the prices for parking are insane in Dubrovnik! You can easily pay €40 per day if you park your car in a garage near the Old Town.

That’s why we actually stayed outside the Old Town at a hotel called Adria, a nice 4* hotel with a swimming pool, located circa 40 minutes walking from the old town. The only downside is that when you return back to the hotel, you need to climb all the way up, as it’s located quite far above the Old Town. For this reason, we always took an Uber back (it was circa €10 one-way). 

If your budget permits, I recommend staying at Hilton Imperial instead – it also has a parking lot, but it’s located much closer to the Old Town and overall, it’s a stunning hotel. 

How to travel the Balkans by bus and train? Backpacking in the Balkans

What to do in Dubrovnik for 1.5 days?

Dubrovnik is the gem of Croatia and there are so many things you can do there. If you only have 1.5 days there (depending on your arrival time), I recommend doing the following things there:

  • Go up the Old Town Walls and enjoy Dubrovnik from above (paid activity)
  • Take the ultimate Game of Thrones tour (you check the availability of the tour and book it here)
  • Listen to the classical music performances in the city centre (only during selected dates in summer, you can find the schedule here)
  • Take a cable car and enjoy the view over the Old Town.
  • Spend some hours at the Plaža Banje – the closest beach to Dubrovnik Old Town with the amazing views over the city
  • Try local Dalmatian wine in one of the wine bars of Dubrovnik

Crossing the border with Bosnia & Herzegovina to drive to Makarska and Split

Once we felt like we spent enough time in Dubrovnik and it was time to continue our road trip around Croatia, we started driving to Split with a stop in Makarska Riviera. In order to get to Makarska and Split from Dubrovnik, you actually need to cross a tiny stretch of Bosnia & Herzegovina and go through passport control. As someone from outside the EU, I even got my passport stamped. 

If you have time and your rental agreement allows you to drive in Bosnia & Herzegovina, I recommend you to visit Mostar, the most beautiful town in the country! We stayed in Mostar back in 2016 during our backpacking trip in the Balkans and it was stunning! You can read more about Mostar here >

We decided to take a free road, not a highway, as it’s more scenic and it’s easier to visit Makarska Riviera from the free coastal road. Overall, considering the traffic (August is generally very busy), border crossing and a short stop to buy water, it took us around 3.5 hours to get to Makarska from Dubrovnik. 

10 day road trip around Croatia: from Dubrovnik to Zagreb (via Split & Pula)

Visiting Makarska Riviera

In my opinion, Makarska was the most scenic place to swim in continental Croatia (we haven’t visited any islands there). Makarska town was surrounded by beautiful mountains, just a few km away from Biokovo National Park.

Makarska town is the main town of Makarska Rivera – a wonderful stretch of lovely beaches and nice seaside towns. Makarska town is tiny, however, it has a nice marina, a compact historical town centre and a very nice pebble beach. The only downside of Makarska beach is how crowded it is. It was even hard to find a spot to sit there – it was absolutely packed! However, I’m not surprised, as beaches in Makarska are way better than beaches in Istria, for example (Pula, Umag etc.). 

After spending a couple of hours swimming in Makarska, we headed to Split, our destination in Croatia for the next 2 days. 

Days 3 and 4: Exploring Split and Krka National Park 

Where to stay in Split 

In Split, we stayed at Luxe Boutique Hotel located just 5 minutes away from the Old Town. The reason we picked this hotel is that it had an excellent review rating and also had parking, which is super rare for a hotel located that close to the city centre. Luxe Boutique Hotel was probably the best hotel we stayed at in Croatia – it was modern, we got a complimentary room upgrade (to a stunning room with the sea view and a terrace), all the staff members were very friendly! We stayed there for 2 nights. 

Best things to do in Split

Despite its small size, Split has plenty of things to do (surprisingly)! Here are some of the best things you can do in Split in just one or two days:

  • Explore the Old Town (don’t forget to see the Diocletian Palace – you can purchase the tickets to get inside the museum as well)
  • Spend a few hours on one of the best beaches in Split (my favourite beach is where the Taboo Beach Bar is located – it’s the biggest, nicest and cleanest beach in Split that is walking distance from the Old Town)
  • Visit beautiful Trogir 
  • Take a ferry and go on a day trip to Bol (Brac) or Hvar island

We really wanted to visit Hvar, however, we weren’t that lucky with the weather. While our day 1 in Split was terrific and we were able to see the Old Town in its prime and spend half a day on the beach, the next way was rainy and a bit cold, which wasn’t ideal for visiting Hvar. Moreover, the ferry to Hvar goes only about 3 times a day and takes around 2 hours one way (it’s a bit easier to visit Hvar from a place near Makarska which has a much more frequent and much faster ferry connection to Hvar). There are more ferries to Brac, however, Brac is a perfect place for swimming and has some of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia, however, it would be just sad to visit them on a cold and rainy day.

Hence, we decided to spend this day in Krka National Park!

Visiting Krka National Park

I’ve heard about Krka National Park before, however, I always dreamed of visiting Plitvice Lakes and didn’t think much of Krka. However, as it turned out, I actually liked Krka more than Plitvice Lakes (surprise, surprise). Visiting Krka from Split is very easy, especially if you’re heading north next. Our next stop was Zadar, so Krka was perfectly on the way! 

If we didn’t have issues with weather, we would have probably ended up skipping Krka, however, I’m so happy that we didn’t! Krka National Park is stunning. Yes, it’s super crowded (to the point when it feels like you’re walking in a massive queue), however, if you arrive early, you’ll [almost] have it entirely for yourself. 

The entrance fee isn’t low (expect to pay circa 20 EUR per person during the high season) and make sure to bring some change (in kunas) to pay for the bathrooms (if you happen to need to use it at some point). 

Here are some nice shots of Krka National Park to convince you to visit it (in case you’re still reluctant). 

Day 5: Zadar, heading to Pula with a stop in Rijeka 

Zadar – our slightly underwhelming experience

After visiting Krka, we went to our next destination, Zadar, where we stayed overnight at Villa Maggie. I wouldn’t, however, recommend this hotel to anyone, as we didn’t have a good night there (and I can imagine that many people wouldn’t as well due to the noise and lack of fresh air). Instead, these hotels seem to have much better reviews: Magic View Apartments and Art Hotel Kalelarga.

Overall, we weren’t overwhelmed by Zadar and compared to the other cities (Dubrovnik, Split, Rovinj, Pula), Zadar isn’t that impressive. If you think that this itinerary might be too tiring or you’d like to spend more time in Split to explore the islands (Hvar and Brac) or spend more time in Pula or Rovinj, feel free to skip Zadar (or just stop there for a couple of hours when heading to your next destination). It’s a lovely city, but we just didn’t find it worth staying overnight. 

Driving from Zadar to Pula with a stop in Rijeka

Our next destination in Croatia was Istria. Istria is one of the most popular destinations in Croatia due to its beautiful cities, nice weather and proximity to major European countries that account for most of the international tourists coming to Croatia (e.g. Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy). Driving from Zadar to Pula usually takes over 4 hours, however, if you’re a bit unlucky with the traffic like we were, it could be closer to 5.5 hours.

Hence, we decided to split our journey into two parts and stop in Rijeka for a walk around the city and a quick lunch. Rijeka was selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2020. Rijeka is a non-touristy city – you’ll mostly see the locals and the shops on the main street mainly target locals. Finding a place to eat in Rijeka was actually much harder than we expected. A lot of restaurants didn’t work all day and closed after 3pm, so finding somewhere to eat around 2:45 pm was a bit challenging. In the end, we managed to find a burger spot called Submarine burgers for a quick meal, but instead of it taking 15 minutes, it took around 1.5 hours. 

We arrived to Pula around 6 pm, checked in at our hotel called Scaletta located just about 3 minutes away from the Pula arena and headed to explore the city centre just in time for the sunset. 

Day 6: Pula and Rovinj, night in Umag

Exploring Pula

We explored Pula mainly in the evening and in the morning. In the evenings, there is usually classical music in the Old Town. You can buy a glass of wine or get an Aperol Spritz (they cost just about 3.5 EUR there) and enjoy the music in the evenings in July, August and beginning of September. 

Pula is famous because of its arena – the arena in Pula is almost as impressive as Colosseum. Moreover, you can perfectly see it from all angles without needing to buy the ticket. You only need to buy a ticket if you want to go inside the arena and visit the museum as well. 

The Old Town in Pula is pretty unique as its main commercial and touristic street makes almost a full circle! You can walk around and make sure that you won’t get lost. Also, Pula had a lot of amazing and unique shops right in the city centre, more than any other city we previously visited in Croatia.

If you’re looking for a nice place to eat in Pula and you like seafood, head to Hook & Cook – a really nice and unique fast-food seafood restaurant in the heart of the Old Town! 

Visiting Rovinj

Another city that is a must in Istria is Rovinj. It takes about 45 minutes to drive to Rovinj from Pula. Rovinj is such a popular city that it has issues with parking spots – there are not enough parking spots for everyone. Hence, you might spend some time driving around and looking for a parking spot. 

Nonetheless, all the parking struggles are worth it because Rovinj is wonderful. After Split, it was the town we liked the most. Rovinj doesn’t feel like a Croatian town at all. It looks and feels like Italy. Moreover, there are so many people that still speak Italian, especially in cafes and restaurants. We thought that Rovinj is quite small, however, it turned out to be much larger than expected! We spent over 3.5 hours in Rovinj and that doesn’t include lunch. If you want to have lunch there, you will probably spend more time.

Overall, I wish we stayed in Rovinj rather than Umag, as Rovinj is truly a wonderful place! 

Driving to Umag, checking in at the resort

We decided to stay near Umag and not in Rovinj because we wanted to swim for a few more days. Hence, we decided to book a resort called Melia Coral, located just about 7 minutes driving from Umag (you can actually walk there in about 45-50 minutes). Melia Coral wasn’t a great hotel and it was actually pretty disappointing, hence, I wouldn’t recommend staying there. Instead, consider staying in other places, perhaps, even in Novigrad, a town located 20 minutes away from Umag, which we found a bit more impressive and interesting than Umag. Another lovely town to consider in Istria is Poreč – it’s bigger and prettier than Umag and Novigrad and there are plenty of places to swim nearby.

If you decide to stay in Poreč, here are some nice hotels: Hotel Flores, Hotel Melissa.

Exploring Umag in the evening

In the evening, we went to explore Umag. As I mentioned previously, Umag is really small and there isn’t that much to see and do. Even the restaurant options are limited there. In total, we spent about 40 minutes walking around Umag & the promenade. If we didn’t bring a car, we could have walked all the way back to Melia Coral, which would have been lovely!

Day 7: Poreč and Novigrad 

On the day 7, we decided to take it easy and explore two towns, Poreč and Novigrad. Poreč is located about 45 minutes driving from Melia Coral, however, it’s definitely worth it. Poreč is a lovely town with beautiful architecture and a beach (again, another concrete slab) right in the heart of it. It’s slightly different from other towns in Istria, as the architecture definitely had some Eastern influence (it looked way more Byzantine than the rest of Istria). 

In total, we spent about 3-4 hours in Poreč, including a lunch.

Novigrad

Novigrad is another town that I have previously mentioned and we decided to pay it a proper visit in the afternoon of our day 7 in Croatia. Novigrad is quite small (however, nowhere as small as Umag), bright and colourful. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and gelaterias. The signature street of Novigrad has a lot of colourful umbrellas hanging in the air. Novigrad also looked very Italian, just like Rovinj! 

We spent the evening back at our hotel Melia Coral and went to sleep early to prepare for a long drive the next day.  

Day 8: Motovun and Zagreb

Motovun

In the morning, we had breakfast and started our long drive to Zagreb. On the way to Zagreb, we decided to stop in the most beautiful village in Croatia – Motovun. I’ve seen Motovun mentioned in a lot of different articles and referred to as the most beautiful village in Croatia away from the sea. Despite having a large parking lot at the start of the narrow road to the city, finding a spot was challenging, as Motovun gets a lot of visitors. The walk up to the Old Town takes about 10-15 minutes and the views are stunning! 

To our surprise, there were also plenty of places to eat and drink in Motovun and if you want to visit some of the popular ones, you actually need to book in advance! There are also a few souvenir shops and local delis where you can find some signature products of Istria such as Olive oil and truffles. 

If you’re interested in going on a proper truffle hunt, you can also do it in Motovun! You can learn more about it on the Truffle & Trek website.

Zagreb

After spending a few hours in Motovun, we headed to Zagreb. If you take a paid highway, it takes about 3 hours to reach Zagreb from Motovun. I don’t remember the exact money we paid for the road, however, it wasn’t that cheap, perhaps around 20 EUR! 

In Zagreb, we stayed at the place called Imperial Apartments. As we needed to work remotely for a couple of days, renting an apartment was very useful, as it had good internet, plenty of seating space and even a small kitchen to prepare breakfast / lunch. However, as you probably won’t be working from Zagreb, I recommend looking at these places to stay, which would be amazing:

Canopy by Hilton

Jägerhorn

Hotel Capital

We spent the evening walking around Zagreb and visiting its oldest part, Gornji Grad (Upper Town) for the sunset to see some of the most beautiful views of the city! The Upper town of Zagreb reminded me of Prague as it has similar architecture! Prague is one of my favourite cities in Europe so that’s a big deal, as you can imagine!

There are plenty of food and drink options in Zagreb, some of the restaurants are even features in the Michelin guide. We tried out two restaurants from the Michelin guide over the course of 3 days in Zagreb and liked them all. The restaurants I would recommend in Zagreb are: Dubravkin Put, Takenoko and Vinodel. 

Best tours to take in Zagreb

There are also plenty of tours to take in Zagreb that would help you know a bit more about the city’s history and get to know some locals. Some of the best tours in Zagreb include:

4-hour food tour “Taste Zagreb”

3-hour classic bike tour of Zagreb

2.5 hour walking tour with a funicular ride

2.5 hour Croatian homeland war tour

Day 9 – Exploring Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb

On our 9th day in Croatia, we finally had a chance to visit the famous Plitvice Lakes. Plitvice Lakes are Croatia’s most famous National Park. Plitvice Lakes are located just about 2 hours away from Zagreb and you can either drive there, buy a tour or take a bus. Driving is by far the most affordable and convenient option, as buses don’t go that often and tours are also very restrictive in terms of departure time and time spent inside the National Park.

The entrance to the park costs just over £25 per person (which is quite pricy), but it’s worth it! There are multiple routes to follow inside the NP and it’s best to pick one and just stick to it. We picked route C as it seemed like the one that required a lot of walking (we wanted that) and also had the coach ride and a boat ride included in it. There is another route that requires even more walking, but it takes circa 10 hours to complete it and we just didn’t have enough time! 

Visiting Plitvice lakes – was it worth it?

Overall, it’s very easy to follow the route and the indicated timings include the waiting time for the boat and the coach. For us, the waiting time for the boat was over 30 minutes which was definitely a low light, but we didn’t need to wait for the bus (which looked like a train but it’s still a bus) at all as it arrived almost immediately and was empty! 

I must admit that I actually enjoyed visiting Krka National Park a bit more – I just found the waterfalls in Krka a bit more impressive, but don’t get me wrong, Plitvice Lakes is great as well, especially if you like lakes and forests a lot!

The infrastructure in the Plitvice Lakes National Park is great as well – there are plenty of various facilities as well as places to eat and buy snacks. 

Day 10: Final day in Zagreb

Finally, on your last day in Croatia, I recommend properly enjoying Zagreb and visiting some of the quirky museums (Zagreb is famous for them). Some of the most quirky museums in Zagreb include the Museum of broken relationships and the Zagreb 80’s museum. 

You can take some of the tours I mentioned previously and just walk around the city and enjoy the good weather (hopefully) and amazing atmosphere of Zagreb. I also liked Zagreb a lot because of its unique coffee shops – there are plenty of them. My favourites were Korica (they also have heavenly pastries), Cogito Coffee Shop & In the yard coffee (located in a lovely yard in the heart of Zagreb – a perfect place to finish some freelance work or any other work-related tasks). Also, we found Monocycle speciality coffee really good. 

Summary of our 10-day road trip in Croatia: from Dubrovnik to Zagreb

Alright, I hope you enjoyed this itinerary for 10 days in Croatia, driving from Dubrovnik to Zagreb and visiting some of the most popular (and beautiful) cities and towns in Croatia. You can also inverse this itinerary for Croatia and drive from Zagreb to Split and Dubrovnik, visiting the same places or perhaps adding other spots to the road trip. We had a chance to visit (besides Dubrovnik and Zagreb) Split, Makarska, Krka National Park, Plitvice Lakes, Zadar, Rijeka, Rovinj, Pula, Porec, Umag, Novigrad and Motovun. 

Out of them all, my favourite places were Split and Rovinj. Split because of its combination of a stunning Old Town and amazing beaches (it was also not as expensive and full as Dubrovnik) and Rovinj because of its beauty and stunning atmosphere!

Some other articles you might like:

Italy road trip from Milan to Rome

7-day Scotland road trip itinerary

Moscow and St. Petersburg in one trip

Our Balkan backpacking trip: from Athens to Belgrade 

5 days Zakynthos, Greece: the best itinerary

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Monic Kalra

Monday 28th of February 2022

Hi, Planning a 7 day road trip in Croatia in July. We will not the round trip. Either we will start from Zagreb or Dubrovnik. Could u pls advice which way we will be directly over looking the water? Thanks Monica

Liza

Monday 7th of March 2022

Hi! You would need to take one of the smaller roads, not the main highway, as the highway is pretty far from water!

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