Croatia is an amazing country with beautiful coastlines and islands, rich culture and history, delicious food, and incredible yet inexpensive wines.
Even though Croatia is a small country, you can spend easily a few weeks there without getting bored. There are so many islands to explore. But, in this itinerary, I will give first-time visitors a 7-day itinerary to experience the highlights of Croatia from its northern capital city Zagreb to the famous southern historic town, Dubrovnik.
Day 1: Arrive into Zagreb
Zagreb and Dubrovnik are the two major airports in Croatia for international arrivals and departures. To optimize your itinerary, I recommend booking your flight into Zagreb and out of Dubrovnik to avoid backtracking. You can also do it reversely.
The capital of Croatia, Zagreb, is a beautiful vibrant city. If you arrive in Zagreb early, you can explore the city and spend the evening in the old city center. If you have an extra day, I definitely recommend spending a full day exploring Zagreb.
If you flight arrives late in the day, spend the evening near the airport.
Day 2: Plitvice Lake National Park
In the morning, drive around 2 hours (140km) from Zagreb to Plitvice Lake National Park.
Plitvice Lake National Park has a well built boardwalk system navigating through the park. Take a boat ride over the pristine lake and feed fish along the way.
In the mid afternoon, drive 1.5 hours further southwest to Zadar, where you will be spending the night. After checking into the hotel, head to the waterfront in the old town to wait for a beautiful sunset by the underwater organ. It’s such a romantic and peaceful setting watching people swimming and boats passing by.
Stay at Palazzo Venezia or Classy Design Accommodation in the old town of Zadar to take full advantage of Zadar’s evening beauty and dining experience. Pay attention to parking situations. Most hotels don’t have parking nearby.
Day 3: Zadar
In the morning, explore Zadar before tourists arrive. Get on the tower
After lunch, start heading toward Split where you will spend the evening. The drive to Split for around 1.5 hours (160km). Split is a much bigger city than Zadar and the traffic can be hectic especially as you approach the old town and the port.
If you are staying in the heart of the old town hotel like Hotel Vestibul Palace, you probably want to contact the hotel ahead of time to get their advice on where to park your car. The old town is pedestrian only. I recommend staying in the old town because most of the hotels are built on the old palace itself. It’s worth to drag your luggage and walk into the old town in my opinion. The Diocletian’s Palace is alive and more enjoyable at night.
Or, you can find a hotel like the Bajamonti 5 in Split rarely, for a great location with parking and a fantastic view of the Diocletian’s Palace. It’s also close to many restaurants and bars and nightlife.
For dinner, besides all the delicious fish, clams, and scallops most Split restaurants offer, give the fish fries a try. It’s addictive!
Day 4: Split
After breakfast, head to the Diocletian’s Palace before tour buses arrive. Hire a local guide to explore the amazing old town morphed from Roman emperor, Diocletian’s retirement palace. Our guide was a history professor at the University of Croatia. He is a wealth of knowledge and interesting history lessons. Check out this Walking Tour of Split with a “Magister” of History.
I will give you two options to choose from for tomorrow:
Option 1: visit Mjlet National Park through a car ferry from Ston
Option 2: take a day tour for the Blue Cave and Hvar from Split
Under option 1, you will pick up your luggage from the hotel in Split and drive an hour to spend the night in a much quieter and quint coastal town, Ston.
Stay at the beautiful Bed & Breakfast Sorgo Palace in Ston. Enjoy your dinner at one of the local seafood restaurant for fresh oysters and fish.
Under option 2, simply spend another night in Split and take a day tour the next morning: Five Island Speedboat Tour Featuring the Blue Cave and Hvar from Split.
Day 5: Mjlet National Park, or, Hvar and More Island Hopping
Option 1 for today:
After checking out of your hotel in Ston, head to the ferry station for the car ferry to Mjlet Island. We visited Mjlet on a cloudy day so the colors are less vibrant. But you can see how beautiful the water still is in the photo.
After returning to the mainland, drive 1.5 hours from Ston to Dubrovnik airport to return your rental car. Parking in Dubrovnik is quite challenging. You can easily explore Dubrovnik and relax for one day and two nights without a car. We got a very expensive parking ticket during our visit. Signs are pitiful even if they exist.
If you got to Dubrovnik before dark, get on the city walk to catch the sunset and watch people diving off the cliffs below the old city wall.
Hotels in old town Dubrovnik are limited. You may have to stay a few miles outside toward the airport. The Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera Hotel is only 15 minutes drive away. You can also stay at Villas and Apartments Mlini to relax at the Mlini Beach after exploring Dubrovnik on a day trip.
Option 2 for today:
If you want to visit the Blue Cave and five islands including Hvar, a more famous island, you will be picked up in the morning for the Five Island Speedboat Tour Featuring the Blue Cave and Hvar from Split.
Depending on the length of the tour, you may not be back in Split until early evening. You may have to spend another night in Split and travel to Dubrovnik early the next morning.
Day 6: Dubrovnik
Your hotel may be able to arrange transportation to Dubrovnik in the morning. Or you can take a Discover the Old Town Dubrovnik Walking Tour. For the Game of Thrones fans, take the Game of Thrones Walking Tour of Dubrovnik.
If you took option 2 yesterday, you may drive from Split directly toward Dubrovnik. The drive takes about 3 hours (235km).
After the tours, walk around the old city wall. Stop at a restaurant or bar along the way. Watch how residents live their daily lives peacefully while tourists admire and enjoy this amazing old town with excitement.
Day 7: Depart from Dubrovnik
Sadly, it’s time to leave Croatia. I hope your first visit make you want to return to Croatia as we did.
If you have any questions or want to share your experience in Croatia, leave a message below.