Our family recently road-tripped our way through Croatia and we just can’t stop thinking about it. We began our journey in the center of the Dalmatian coast and work our way down to Dubrovnik and all the way up to the Istria Region in Northern Croatia. Definitely put Croatia on your list of places to visit if you haven’t already. Less popular than Italy, Spain, or Greece among Americans, this destination is growing in popularity as a family vacation destination and for good reason — it is tourist friendly and inexpensive compared to other European destinations. Today I’m sharing the details of our road trip through Croatia.
Our goal for this trip was to see as much of the country as possible in seven days and get a flavor for all the regions. We could easily make another trip and spend more time in each of these places. If you desire a more in-depth visit and a slower-pace, choose one or two regions to visit in one week.
Quick Planning Tips
:: Getting There. While Croatia is a favorite summertime destination for many Europeans for most Americans it is underrated and flights from the U.S. can be very expensive. One way to avoid paying exorbitant airfare is to fly into another European city with more daily routes from the U.S. like Vienna, Budapest, or Rome. Spend a few days exploring one of those cities and then hop on a low cost European carrier like Ryan Air or Easy Jet to your Croatian destination.
:: Currency. The currency in Croatia is the Croatian Kuna so leave your Euros at home until January 2023 when Croatia officially adopts the Euro.
:: Language. English is widely spoken in Croatia.
:: Transportation. Driving is very easy and speeds on the Croatian autobahn top 85 mph which makes it very fast and easy to travel large distances between cities.
Central Dalmatian Coast
We arrived in Zadar, Croatia via a Ryanair flight from Budapest. We rented an SUV for the week and made the one and a half hour trek to Split. While we didn’t spend any time in Zadar the Roman and Venetian ruins in the old city are worth a visit if you have time.
Our first stop was the city of Split — the second largest city in Croatia and centrally located along the Adriatic Coast. We stayed a few days in a VRBO outside the city with sweeping views of the sea below. You could easily make it your home base for a week and plan several day trips to explore nearby cities, islands, and Krka Waterfalls.
A walking tour of Split can be done in one full day. Split is the home of the UNESCO world heritage sight of Diocletian’s Palace. Diocletian’s Palace is the palace of a former Roman emperor. The palace was built at the end of the 3rd Century AD. Diocletian wanted a palace by the water because he wanted his ships to be able to enter it so it has a water entrance which can be visited as part of the basement.
Trogir is a 45 minute drive from Split with a preserved old town known for its mix of Renaissance, Baroque, and Romanesque buildings. Parts of the city’s medieval city walls remain in tact. We didn’t spend much time in the town of Trogir but we were able to charter a boat to take us to the blue lagoon and we explored the island of Maslinica.
Krka waterfalls is a nature-lovers retreat in the Croatian countryside about an hour and a half north of Split. Visit the many waterfalls that pour into emerald green water. Swimming is no longer allowed in the emerald pools but we observed many visitors in bathing suits taking showers in the waterfalls.
To be perfectly truthful, we stumbled upon the village of Mali Ston in our drive from Split to Dubrovnik. As we passed the town, you can’t help but notice the giant walls and fortress system across the hillside. We continued on to our destination but something told me we should turn back and we were so happy we did. We learned that Mali Ston is the home of Europe’s “Great Wall”. We headed into the village and made our way to the wall. It is 5 kilometers long so we only walked a small portion of it but it was definitely a highlight of our trip.
The drive from Split to Dubrovnik is roughly three hours. Dubrovnik is super crowded and touristy during the summer months. It is worth a visit, especially if you are a Game of Thrones fan, but I wouldn’t stay here too long. The old city is not to be missed–especially the wall walk.
While Mostar is not in Croatia — it is worth mentioning because of its proximity to Split and Dubrovnik. Mostar is home to various ethnicities and religions — churches, synagogues, and minarets dot the landscape. The Stari Most (old bridge) is an iconic landmark in the city center over the Neretva River. Bazaars line a cobblestone street across the Stari Most on the east bank of the river.
The Istria Region
In the Northwest corner of Croatia is the Istrian Peninsula. It is a food and wine-lover’s delight.
We exited the Croatian autobahn at Zadar and followed the switchbacks and tunnels through the mountains to the shore. We spent a night in Crikvenica — a seaside village on the Croatian Riviera. Istria is a blend of Italian and Slavic culture which is best experienced by indulging in the gourmet delights.
Pula is the largest city in the Istria region and site of the world’s best preserved Roman amphitheater. After paying a brief admission fee you are free to embark on a self-guided tour of the arena. We spent a half day here visiting the ancient ruins before heading on to Rovinj.
Our last stop was the village of Rovinj. It is a popular destination for honeymooners. The heavy Italian influences in the cuisine make it a memorable town to visit and enjoy sunsets on the seaside promenade. If you have time, take a ferry from Rovinj for a day trip to Venice or continue your journey as we did!
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