Framed by the turquoise waters of the Adriatic, Croatia is a country with rich history, medieval towns, and incredible natural landscapes. Many travelers flock to the country’s coastal areas, and yet, there’s plenty of things to do away from the coast.
In this article, I will share my experience of planning a perfect Croatia itinerary and tell you how to make the most out of your time while skipping the worst tourist mistakes in this country.
Where to begin your Croatia itinerary
Most people begin their Croatia itinerary either in Dubrovnik, the largest tourist hub in the country, Split, or Zagreb, the country’s capital. Although Croatia is a small country, it has many incredible places, so you can easily spend a couple of weeks exploring them.
Since most travelers have limited time, this article will help you plan the 7 day Croatia itinerary – a perfect amount of time for getting to know this country.
How to get around Croatia
If you are a budget traveler, one of the best ways to get around Dubrovnik is by bus. Buses serve Dubrovnik daily and connect the city with Split, Zagreb, and neighboring countries Bosnia and Montenegro. You can get a ticket on getbybus.com ahead of your trip or right on the spot.
Renting a car for your Croatia itinerary
Another option is to rent a car in Croatia, but remember to book it in advance, especially if you are traveling in summer, when prices are high. I recommend DiscoverCars, my favorite platform for renting cars in Croatia in other countries that can help you find the right vehicle at the east rate.
Day 1: Dubrovnik
Visiting Dubrovnik has become one of the most popular things to do in Croatia, thanks to the Games of Thrones series that were filmed here.
Dubrovnik is a definite must-stop on your Croatia itinerary. Although it is touristy, it’s still gorgeous and has one of the most beautiful old towns in the while country!
To get familiar with the city book this popular walking tour of Dubrovnik.
Most popular tours of Dubrovnik
You can even get a Game of Thrones tour that will guide you through all filming locations around the city. Most tourists spend their time in Old Town Dubrovnik, dubbed “the pearl of Adriatic,” and it’s not hard to see why. When you need a break from exploring the Old Town, go on a kayaking tour around Dubrovnik accompanied with a guide which is a lot of fun.
Best tours of Dubrovnik
This private day trip of Montenegro from Dubrovnik is one of the most popular options with travelers 😉
Best things to do in Dubrovnik
How many days should I spend in Dubrovnik?
It is probably one of the most common questions that travelers ask when they plan their trip.
Some of the most popular places to visit in Old Town Dubrovnik are Dubrovnik Cathedral, Lovrijenac Fortress, Rector’s Palace, and Onofrio Fountain. You will need a few days to explore the city, so plan about two days.
This will allow you to see the Old Town, relax at one of the beaches in Dubrovnik, and take a day trip. Dubrovnik is just a few hours away from some of the beautiful places in the region like Kotor Bay in Montenegro and Mostar in Bosnia that can be visited on a day trip from Dubrovnik.
Day 2: Take a day trip from Dubrovnik
As an option for day 2 on your Croatia itinerary, you could also take a day trip to Mljet National Park, Elaphiti Islands, or Lokrum, the closest island to Dubrovnik that is less than 10 minutes away by boat.
Best day trips from Dubrovnik
Take a popular private tour of Montenegro from Dubrovnik that includes some of the best stops!
Head to Srd Mountain for the sunset views in the evening. You can catch a cable car right across from the Old Town, but if you can, take a hike. This will save you money and allow enjoy incredible views without running into too many people. This is a strenuous trail that goes up the hill, so put on good shoes and bring plenty of water.
PRO TIP: Buy a Dubrovnik card if you are going to stay here for a couple of days. At this time, the price of the Dubrovnik card is 200 kuna which covers the price of the Dubrovnik City Wall and other popular things to do in Dubrovnik.
Where to stay in Dubrovnik
The city has several areas that can be accessed by bus (or by walking) from Old Town and offer great alternatives. Many accommodations in Dubrovnik come in Air-Bnb style with private room and bathroom, and a shared kitchen that allows you to cook meals instead of dining out all the time.
Dubrovnik Old Town
Old Town Dubrovnik is one of the best areas of the city, where you can find some of the best hotels. Bota Palace is one of the most popular hotels in Old Town Dubrovnik and Live Laugh Love Dubrovnik is a gorgeous home-stye hotel in the heart of the city with gorgeous rooms.
Gruz is an area that can be reached from Old Town Dubrovnik by foot. It’s also a convenient place to stay as it’s just a short walk away from the main bus station in Dubrovnik. Gruz has a nice local vibe and good variety of bars and restaurants with prices much cheaper than in Old Town Dubrovnik.
Boutique Hotels Kazbek is one of the best hotels in Gruz that is very popular with travelers.
For a great social atmosphere, head to Stjepana Radica Street or toward the cruise ship port.
A coastal area of Dubrovnik, Lapad is a quiet place where you can find numerous hotels and access to pebble beaches. You will be a bit more away from the crowds of Dubrovnik here. Hotel Lapad is just 5 minutes away from the beach and offers spectacular views of the Gruz Harbor.
If you are looking to discover a different side of Dubrovnik with a tranquil atmosphere, beautiful architecture, and superb views, consider staying in Babin Kuk, a perfect getaway from the city. Royal Blue Hotel is a one of the most popular stays in the area.
Best time to visit Dubrovnik
As with the rest of Croatia, I do not recommend visiting Dubrovnik during the peak season from June through early September. I visited Dubrovnik in mid-September and had a great experience as crowds were thinner, and the weather was still mild to swim and enjoy time outside.
Day 3: Split
The second-largest city in Croatia, Split is up the coast a few hours north of Dubrovnik. Many travelers use Split as a starting point for island hopping in Croatia, but the city also offers a lot to do, so don’t forget to spend a couple of days here.
Best things to do in Split
For starters, take a walking tour of Split to get familiar with its history before deciding what to do next. Alternatively, you can spend time exploring the city on your own. Head to the Diocletian Palace, the main feature of the Old Town Split.
Check out Pjaca Square with its marbles tiles and cute outdoor cafes before visiting Duje Cathedral and Peristil Square, the well-preserved Roman Court. One of the best things about Split is its architecture, which dates to different time periods.
Best walking tours of Split
One of my favorite places in Split is Marjan, a steep hill above the city that provides great exercise and superb 360-degree views of the area. Also on the hill, you will find two historic churches and a Renaissance altarpiece.
And, if you have extra time, take a bus to Klis Fortress, that is perched on the steep bluff just outside of Split. This historic landmark was a residence of the Croatian Kings and during the Ottoman Wars served as an important strategic spot.
Best tours of Split
Best day trips from Split
Thanks to its bigger size, Split doesn’t feel as busy as Dubrovnik. Also, from here, you can take multiple day trips starting with nearby islands and small towns such as Trogir, Salona, Krka, or Plitvice Lakes National Park.
How many days to spend in Split
Plan no less than three days for Split and surrounding areas for your Croatia itinerary, because there’s too much to do here. In summer, island hopping from Split is a popular activity, and you should spare a few times for it.
Many visitors spend a few days in Hvar, one of the most popular islands in Croatia that is about 1 hour away from Dubrovnik by boat. The Jadrolinia ferry runs from Split to Hvar every couple of hours during summer.
Where to stay in Split
As a hub of all things culture and a great modern city, Split has many accommodations from simple hostels and motels to Air-Bnb style options and luxury stays.
I suggest staying near Old Town Split, as it will save you time and money and put you close to the port, when you take a ferry to one of the islands. You can also stay in areas like Lucac, or Veli Varos, a neighborhood just to the west of Old Town Split that has a lot of well-preserved architecture.
If you are looking for more privacy, stay in Meje, a luxury neighborhood, also known as “The Beverly Hills of Split” with stunning coastal views. Although you will be further from Old Town Split, you will have an entirely different experience.
Best hotels in Split
- Briig Boutique Hotel – One of the best boutique hotels in Split located in the city’s center, Briig offers continental breakfast, a rooftop pool and an on-site restaurant.
- Villa Scalaria – This is one of the best hotels in Meje with spectacular views, quiet atmosphere and friendly hosts. Villa Scalaria gets consistently great reviews from many travelers.
- Balatura Split – If you are looking for a home-like atmosphere, this is the place. Located a quick walk from the Diocletian Palace, this bed and breakfast offers a continental breakfast and gorgeous garden views.
Best time to visit Split
Similar to Dubrovnik, Split is the busiest during summer. What makes Split different from Dubrovnik, and other coastal towns in the region is that it’s one of the main ports in the Adriatic, with cruise ships regularly coming here. May and mid-to-late September are the best times to visit if you want to avoid big crowds.
Day 4: Plitvice Lakes National Park
The turquoise Plitvice Lakes is one of the classic stops on any Croatia itinerary that is typically visited on a day trip from Split.
Famous for its waterfalls and incredible colors, Plitvice Lakes is a popular destination, and crowds in summer when you can see the waterfalls in their full glory can be downright bad.
Best Plitvice tours from Split
How to avoid crowds at Plitvice Lakes
If you want to visit Plitvice but don’t feel like standing in lines of gawking tourists, visit Plitvice early morning before 9 a.m. or consider traveling during the off-season that begins in mid-September. Mid-to-late spring is also a good time to enjoy the park before it gets busy in summer.
Purchase skip-the-line ticket to Plitvice to avoid waiting in line at the entrance.
Tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes
Begin your trip sooner rather than later, and you will be rewarded with a quiet atmosphere and avoid being stuck in huge traffic jams.
There are 7 hiking routes in this national park, and you can do them a certain way for a better experience. Start on the H route with Lower Falls, followed by the Great Waterfall, and later continue on the same route but in the opposite direction.
This little trick was shared with me by my travel guide who comes to this national park numerous times a year and knows some of the tips for visiting it.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes on a day trip
You can visit Plitvice Lakes on guided tour from Split, by taking a public bus, or by driving a car. Plitvice makes for a great stop if traveling between the coastal part of Croatia and Zagreb.
PRO TIP: If you have all your belongings with you, you can leave them in a free storage room before entering the park. Make sure to lock your valuables, as the room is not secure. Put a lock on your suitcase before leaving for the day.
Prices at Plitvice Lakes National Park
Admission prices at Plitvice Lakes National Park vary by season, with the high season being the most expensive time and the low winter season being the cheapest time. Check the prices on the website ahead of your trip to Plitvice National Park.
Hotels near Plitvice Lakes
Although there are no hotels inside Plitvice Lakes National Park, there are some accommodations in the area, that are very popular with travelers who are taking a road trip through the country.
Plitvicka Kuca is one of the most popular hotels about 4 kilometers away from the entrance to Plitvice Lakes. Free breakfast, friendly hosts and amazing spacious accommodations.
Day 4: Another option: Krka National Park
Another popular day trip from Split, Krka National Park, is similar to Plitvice, except it is closer to Split and smaller in size. In summer, thousands of tourists come here to take a dip in its refreshing waters and enjoy lush scenery amid the waterfalls.
As one of the most popular destinations in Central Dalmatia, Krka National Park gets very busy during summer. Mid-to-late September or May are the best times if you want to avoid the crowds at Krka.
You can visit Krka by an organized tour from Split, public transportation, or car.
Best tours of Krka National Park
Some of the highlights of Krka include Skradinski Buk, the longest waterfall, which is also the main attraction of the park, Roski Waterfall, Visovac Island, and Manojlovac Waterfall.
Entrance costs from 30 Kuna to 200 Kuna and can be bought on-site or booked online ahead of your visit. Krka National Park is open year-round except for Dec. 25 and 26.
Day 5: Hvar
Did you know that Croatia has more than 1,000 islands, only 48 of which are inhabited?
With so much to choose from, it could be tough to zero in on just a few, let alone one island, so let’s start with some of the most well-known staples.
The most popular island in Croatia, Hvar is a destination in itself, so spare at least a day. Visiting Hvar is considered one of the best things to do in Croatia for party-goers thanks to its many bars, cafes, and clubs, oriented toward young travelers and backpackers.
PRO TIP: With island hopping being one of the most popular things to do in Croatia, don’t forget visit other islands such as Vis or Bol. While Hvar is can feel a bit too touristy, Vis and Bol have a more quiet feel and are perfect alternatives for your Croatia itinerary.
Best things to do in Hvar
- Explore Stari Grad – Translated as Old Town, Stari Grad is the oldest town in Croatia!
- Take a trip to the beach – the entire coastline of Hvar is dotted with beaches and hidden coves with waters. While many of them are located near old town Hvar, I recommend taking a road trip (or renting a scooter) for a day to explore the coast. Pokonji Dol is one of the most spectacular beaches in Hvar.
- Venture out to Pakelni Islands – one of the most popular activities in Hvar is renting a boat for half a day (or full day) to the neighboring Pakelni Islands where you can enjoy the untouched beauty of this undeveloped archipelago.
- Climb the Spanish Fortress – nestled above Hvar Town, this fortress is the best place to see panoramic views of the city and surrounding islands. The fortress also has a museum that requires a fee. However, if you just want to enjoy the views, you can grab a spot outside the entrance and take in the magnificent views.
- Enjoy local wine – Hvar is known for its wine production, and if you like this drink, you can try it at one of the restaurants in Hvar. Book this wine tasting tour to enjoy Hvar wine with some delicious lunch.
Best tours of Hvar
Where to stay in Hvar
One of the best things about Hvar is that it offers many types of accommodations. Here you can find luxury hotels and sprawling villas, modest motels and hostels geared toward backpackers and budget travelers.
Hvar Town has the largest number of accommodations, but you can also stay further away if you are looking for more privacy and a quiet atmosphere.
- Hvar Top View Apartments – Located within a 6-minute walk of Franciscan Monastery Beach and 2,100 feet of Beach Križna Luka, Hvar Top View Apartments offers accommodations with a garden, free WiFi and free private parking for guests.
- Hotel Fortuna – Located at the beach in the village of Milna, 3.1 mi from the center of Hvar. This hotel boasts well-lit and colorfully furnished rooms with free wi-fi. A bar and a restaurant are available on site.
- Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel – Overlooking Hvar City, this hotel offers panoramic views from the rooftop terrace, the rooftop bar and the brand new rooftop swimming pool. Walking to distance to best things to do in Hvar and many restaurants.
How to get from Split to Hvar
To get from Split to Hvar, take a Jadrolinia ferry that runs several times a day and takes about 1 hour each way. The ticket costs 110 kunas per person.
Day 6-7: Istria Peninsula or Zagreb
To finish your 7 day Croatia itinerary you can head either to Istria Peninsula, or Zagreb, the country’s capital. These are two very different parts of the country, both of which are worth your time.
FUN FACT: Istria is Croatia’s northernmost peninsula that will remind you more of Italy with its candy-colored houses and architecture similar to Venice. Istria Peninsula was part of Italy before WWII and later became part of Yugoslavia before it was Croatia.
Thanks to its location away from the major tourist route, Istria Peninsula is not as busy as other coastal parts of the country. If you are looking for cool, under-radar things to do in Croatia, visit this region.
Things to do in Istria Peninsula
- Pula – located on the southern tip of the peninsula, Pula is the largest town in the Istria Peninsula known for its Roman ruins such as Pula Arena that is very similar to Colosseum in Rome.
- Rovinj – another hidden gem of this region, Rovinj is a coastal town that is located on the west side of the peninsula. The landscape of Rovinj is dominated by the church and many streets and alleys in the town lead directly to it.
To see a different side of Croatia, head to Zagreb, the country’s inland capital which will remind you more of places like Vienna and Prague.
Many travelers skip Zagreb on their Croatia itinerary since it’s located away from the popular Dalmatian Coast – and yet Zagreb is one of those underrated European capitals that is totally worth a stop.
Zagreb has many cool places from historic St. Mark’s Church to the big Dolac Market, where you can buy some local produce and cute cafes with some coffee and pastries.
To get familiar with Zagreb, take a free walking tour of the city that will show you all of the highlights. It is a perfect option before you decide to go out and explore the city on your own.
Best tours of Zagreb
How much time to spend in Zagreb
Zagreb is a compact city, and you can see most of its highlights in a day. Take your time and you will be able to enjoy this city that is now starting to become more popular with travelers from around the world.
Where to stay in Zagreb
When it comes to accommodations, Zagreb is considerably cheaper than Croatia’s coast, and you can find plenty of decent accommodations near the city without breaking your bank.
- Esplanade Zagreb – Located in Zagreb city center next to the Zagreb Main Railway Station, Esplanade Zagreb Hotel offers a fitness center and sauna. Zagreb main square Trg Bana Jelačića is 2,950 feet from Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, and many cafes and restaurants within walking distance. The Adriatic Sea is 2 hours away by car.
- Livris Hotel – Only 2,300 feet from the Main Bus Station, Livris Hotel offers modern-style rooms and walking distance to some of the best things to do in Zagreb.
- Sundial Boutique Hotel – one of the best hotels in Zagreb for a romantic retreat, Sundial is 1.8 mi from the Contemporary Art Museum and 2.3 mi from Technical Museum. Botanical Garden Zagreb is 2.7 miles away.
Best day trips from Zagreb
Other ways to plan your Croatia itinerary
There are many ways to plan your Croatia itinerary. A popular way to spend 7 days in Croatia is around the coast visiting Dubrovnik, Split and the Istria Peninsula and take a day trip to Krka or Plitvice from there. You can also start your Croatia itinerary in Zagreb and spend more time inland visiting Krka, Plitvice and taking a day or two to explore the country’s Adriatic Coast in Split or the Istria Peninsula.
Best time to visit Croatia
If you are looking for a chill getaway with fewer crowds and lower prices, skip the summer because it’s the busiest time in Croatia (especially around Dalmatia – the coastal region). From May through September, this part of the country is visited by thousands of tourists from all over the world.
Plan your Croatia itinerary for September or May when the weather is mild enough to spend time outside but the peak season is not here yet. This will help you to save money on accommodations, tours and have a better experience.
During my time in Croatia, several guides have told me that crowds tend to be humongous during summer and take away from the special experience in places like Plitvice National Park or Krka, as thousands of people clog walkways and create traffic gems which makes it very difficult to enjoy these places.
I visited Croatia in mid-September and had a great time everywhere I went as the weather was nice and sunny, and the crowds were thin.
How to budget for your Croatia itinerary
Croatia has become one of the most popular destinations in the Adriatic. While some parts of the country are less pricey than others (for example, Istria Peninsula and Zagreb are cheaper than Dubrovnik), overall, Croatia is more expensive than its neighbors Montenegro and Bosnia.
If you are coming to Croatia and are looking to travel on a budget, book your hotels ahead of time. Platforms like hostelworld.com and hotels.com are great for that as they offer many inexpensive accommodations. Likewise, eating in places like Old Town Dubrovnik will cost you a pretty penny and will add up over time, so try to go to more local restaurants instead.
To save money on food, buy groceries in stores, and cook meals at home. Croatia has many Air-Bnb style accommodations in places like Split and Dubrovnik that come with kitchens where you can cook your food.
Many stores, restaurants, and shopping areas catering to tourists in Old Towns have premium prices, so if you want to shop, my biggest advice is to get away from the tourist hot spots and shop where locals shop.
Is Croatia safe to visit?
Croatia is a safe country, and you can visit it whether you are a backpacker or solo traveler. The crime rate is generally low throughout the country, and even petty crime is considered serious. Still, remember to use caution and exercise common sense when traveling in Croatia.
Keep your belongings in sight and pay close attention to your surroundings whether you are on a busy street, at a restaurant, or on a beach.
I recommend purchasing WorldNomads travel insurance that will protect you in the event of lost or stolen luggage, flight cancellations and other unforeseen events that could cost you time and money.
How many days do I need for my Croatia itinerary?
If you are traveling to Croatia for the first time, plan between 7-10 days to see some of the biggest highlights of the country, relax at the beach, and explore Krka and Plitvice national parks.
If time allows, spend more days in this country, because you will never run out of cool things to do in Croatia, whether you decide to stay on the coast or spend more time inland.
What to bring on your Croatia itinerary
Depending on the timing of your trip, bring different things for your Croatia itinerary.
If you are planning your visit for summer, make sure to bring plenty of sunscreens, a hat, and water shoes. Beaches around Croatia don’t have sand, but instead have rocks and pebbles, so sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable to walk while you get into the water.
The weather in winter is much cooler, and you will need more layers to keep you warm. Make sure to bring a jacket and a hat, especially if you are headed inland toward Zagreb.
Planning your Croatia itinerary: final world
Croatia is a gorgeous country with plenty of history, culture and gorgeous landscapes.
Exploring Croatia is a lot of fun, and with so much diversity from the Adriatic coast to the inland, there’s not one way to plan your Croatia itinerary. Whether you want to spend time around the coast or get to know Zagreb and nearby national parks, Croatia is full of surprises.
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