Croatia’s a hard place to not love. On my first trip to Southeastern Europe, I attacked Croatia with full gusto. I swept down the coast, weaving between islands and the inland. Croatia hasn’t left me since.
When planning a trip to Croatia, you’re not only discovering one of the best places to visit in Europe, you’re signing up for your next travel obsession. The hard part is not figuring out what to do in Croatia, it’s what to leave out.
Not sure where to start? Follow along with this 10-day Croatia itinerary for a taste of this incredible country that will keep you aching to come back for more.
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Planning out what to do in Croatia? Get movin’ quicker with this 10-day Croatia itinerary.
Croatia might not look like much on a map, especially in the shadow of Italy’s big boot across the Adriatic, but Croatia isn’t exactly small. At least not conveniently so. With only 10 days in Croatia, you can’t expect to see it all.
I’ve optimized this Croatia itinerary to give you a cross-section of the best places to visit in Croatia. It zips through the breadth of the country starting with the classic Central European grace of Zagreb and ending on the coast with the Venetian charms of Dubrovnik. Of course, there’s quite a bit in between, too. (Let’s leave that as a surprise for later!)
Seduced by seaside delights along the Adriatic coast, most travellers leave Zagreb out of their first Croatia itinerary. Zagreb might not rival Vienna or Prague, but don’t leave Croatia without digging into this underrated Central European capital!
At the surface, there’s a lot going on. Zagreb’s an odd melange of elegant Austro-Hungarian architecture and unsightly leftovers from the Yugoslavian communist era. In between all the confusion, you’ll discover a buzzing and walkable city jammed with culture.
What to Do in Zagreb
Don’t listen to all the advice to ignore Croatia’s capital; there are plenty of things to do in Zagreb to occupy yourself for a couple days! Besides, how can one come to know Croatia better without spending at least some time in Zagreb?
Explore Gornji grad (Upper Town)
Begin your love affair with Zagreb in Gornji grad (Upper Town). Gornji grad, Zagreb’s medieval core, dates back to the 12th century. Walking along the cobblestoned streets of Gornji grad, dipping into cafés and admiring Zagreb’s finest architectural moments is the best way to spend your first 24 hours in Zagreb.
The main square, Trg Jelačić, is the best rendezvous point for starting to explore Gornji grad. Set your sights on Zagreb’s main attractions here including the monumental Zagreb Cathedral overlooking Upper Town, the 13th-century St. Mark’s Church, and possibly the oddest museum you’ll ever enter, the Museum of Broken Relationships.
Go museum hopping
Zagreb, quite surprisingly, contains more museums per square foot than any other city in the world. Why not see what all the fuss is about?
Besides the Museum of Broken Relationships in Gornji grad, the best museums in Zagreb range from the Mimara Museum (mostly European art) and Archeological Museum (antiquities) to the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art and the Modern Gallery (19th- and 20th-century fine art).
Like in many European cities, most museums in Zagreb are closed on Mondays.
Breathe in some fresh air at Lake Jarun
Leave behind the stuffy city air and make the quick trip to Lake Jarun, Zagreb’s most popular recreational escape. Cool off with a quick dip in the lake or pursue more adventurous activities like kayaking and windsurfing to unwind from city sightseeing.
Even if you’re not into watersports, the pathways around Lake Jarun offer opportunities for walking or cycling.
Zagreb Travel Essentials
Where to stay
For finding accommodations in Zagreb, especially in the city centre, apartments are often a better choice than hotels. Try out the Zagreb Old Town Apartments or Apartment Square. Both are centrally located close to Zagreb’s best attractions and offer excellent value.
Flight deals to Zagreb, unfortunately, aren’t as plentiful as other European destinations. From Canada, prices start at about C$800 while from the United States you can find flights as low as $550. Search for cheap flights to Zagreb on Kiwi.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Bask in European nature at its most glorious by sliding down from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park. This national park, featuring a series of 16 interconnected cascading lakes painted with ever-changing greens and blues, is one of best places to visit in Croatia; it simply can’t be missed!
What to Do in Plitvice Lakes National Park
Enjoying yourself at Plitvice Lakes National Park is as easy as following the wooden footbridges and pathways through crystalline lakes, waterfalls, caves and karst landscapes. The two major sections of Plitvice Lakes—the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes—are connected by a 18.3-kilometre route.
Some travellers only choose one or the other, especially on day trips from Zagreb or Zadar. To get the full Plitvice experience, I’d recommend taking in both.
At normal speed, the full walking route will take the better part of a day. Other routes, mixing walking with scenic train and boat rides, can be completed in a half day. For full details on all the different sightseeing programmes available at the park, click here.
Plitvice Lakes Travel Essentials
Where to stay
The general rule around Plitvice Lakes is the closer you get, the more you’ll pay! A good compromise is the House Biba & Leona in Rastovača. It’s only a 10-minute walk from Entrance 1, and much cheaper than the hotels and guesthouses further into the park.
If you’re only planning one day (and one night) in Plitvice, you’ll need to leave Zagreb as early as possible. Early morning departures include 5:45am (85 HRK) and 7:30am (92 HRK). The bus takes about two and a half hours.
Few cities surprised me more than Split. As the bus drew in, views polluted with some of the worst (or, best?) socialist blocks ever constructed, I second-guessed my decision to include Croatia’s second largest city on my itinerary.
Luckily, first impressions were far removed from the reality. Split is shockingly awesome. And, unfortunately, like its glitzier compatriot to the south, Dubrovnik, the secret’s out. Even with the crowds, there’s still magic in the air. Don’t take my word for it. Add a little Dalmatian spice to your Croatian itinerary by sprinkling a little Split atop.
What to Do in Split
A dramatic setting lends an air of sophistication to Split. Wedged between mountains and the sparkling Adriatic and etched with ancient flair, Split impresses even the pickiest of travellers. It’s rare to find a city whose town centre rivals its seaviews. If there’s any I’d vouch for, it’s Split.
Explore Old Town and Diocletian’s Palace
If you’re weary of Roman sites that are nothing more than pillars whose main structures toppled centuries ago, you’re in luck. Entering into Old Town and Diocletian’s Palace in Split is truly like stepping into a fantasy world. No stretch of the imagination is needed to envision its grandeur; it’s still there.
Hemmed into the remains of Diocletian’s Palace, Split’s Old Town is unlike any other in Europe. Marbled streets criss-cross the old town. weaving through ancient buildings that’ve found new life as bars, restaurants, shops, and guesthouses. Wandering around aimlessly, leisurely stopping for a bite or drink, is one of the best things to do in Split.
Most impressive in Old Town is Peristil Square (Peristylium), the heart of Diocletian’s Palace. The Roman architecture here is among the best preserved in the world, instantly transporting you back to ancient times (if you can ignore the horde of tourists). Also on the square is the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Domnius rooted as far back as the 7th century. Head up the cathedral’s famous (and picturesque) bell tower for sweeping views over Split.
Cool down in the Adriatic Sea
Sure, Split isn’t Hvar, Krk or Korcula. That doesn’t mean there’s nowhere to dip your toes into the Adriatic!
Split’s Bacvice Beach might not strike you as one of the best beaches in Croatia, but when visiting Split, there’s no closer place to relax and cool down in the Adriatic than here. Be forewarned: On warm summer days, Bacvice Beach gets jammed with locals. Use this as a chance to practice your Croatian and make some new friends. (It’s surprisingly easy in these parts!)
Even better (and quieter) are the beaches around Marjan Hill, especially Kasjuni Beach and Bene Beach. Expect about a 40- to 50-minute walk to get to either from Diocletian’s Palace.
Hop on a day trip to Trogir
Besides exploring the city, there’s a ton of great day trips from Split. If you’ve only got one extra day, none is better than a half-day or full-day trip to Trogir.
A short 40-minute bus ride from Split transports you to this striking UNESCO-listed medieval town. Corralled by 15th-century walls, Trogir’s Old Town is a mishmash of Renaissance and Romanesque architecture. The snaking marble alleyways, not unlike those in Split or Zadar, hide restaurants, cafés and guesthouses deep its their recesses.
Walking along the delightful seaside promenade of Trogir, shunning the modern-riviera-tinged glitziness of Split’s with its more traditional look, is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Stick around Trogir for dinner and beer or coffee for a delicious seafood meal with a view.
Split Travel Essentials
Where to stay
The price of accommodations in Split has increased significantly over the past years. Staying within Diocletian’s Palace is lovely, but prepare to get off your wallet for most properties.
One exception is Apartment Venus of the Palace. With many of its neighbours pushing over $200-300 per night, this clean sub-$100 gem is quite a rare find in central Split!
The long ride between Zagreb and Split takes between 5-7 hours. Some of these buses stop en route at Plitvice Lakes National Park. The earliest departures from Plitvice leave at 9:30am at arrive in Split at 1:30pm ($15-22).
What’s a trip to Croatia without a little island hopping? While 10 days in Croatia won’t give you much time to explore the Adriatic to its fullest, don’t leave the magical island of Hvar off of your Croatia itinerary.
Hvar’s developed a reputation as Croatia’s glitziest destination. It’s not completely unfounded. Prices across Croatia have climbed in recent years, perhaps nowhere more than in Hvar. Although Hvar won’t be among the most budget-friendly places to visit in Croatia, you don’t have to be a carry-carrying celebrity to afford it either. (Don’t be surprised if you run into a few though!)
What to Do in Hvar
Old medieval towns aren’t exactly at a premium in Croatia. Somehow, this one seems special. Maybe its swiping sweeping seaviews from atop the town centre, wandering back in time on the marble medieval alleyways, or feeling the gentle breeze caress the promenade. Either way, digging into all of the things to do Hvar will steal away at least a couple days, more if you want to experience some day trips from Hvar.
Digging into Hvar Town
Get started on St. Stephen’s Square (Trg sv. Stjepan), flanking the port. St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with its distinctive Romanesque 17th-century bell tower, is one of the main landmarks of Hvar Town. Hardly a postcard of Hvar isn’t framed by it. From St. Stephen’s Square, explore the ageless streets of Hvar Town at leisure including the Late Renaissance style Loggia and 15th-century Franciscan Monastery to the south of town.
While in Hvar Town also don’t miss out on a trip up to Tvrđava Španjola (Spanish Fort) or Fortica. This 16th-century fortress serves up fantastic views over Hvar Town and the Adriatic. The entrance fee is 25 HRK.
Traverse the sands of time in Stari Grad
Prepare for confusion. Besides Hvar Town, there’s another port on the northern shores of the island: Stari Grad (Old Town). Your eyes haven’t deceived you: Hvar Town is old. (Thirteenth-century qualifies as old, no?) But Stari Grad keeps true to its name.
The foundations of the Stari Grad stretch back to 384 BC. Once known at the ancient Greek city of Pharos, Stari Grad now functions as a subdued alternative to the tourist-laden and hedonistic Hvar Town.
Stari Grad’s most impressive site is Tvrdalj Castle, the summer house of Croatian poet Petar Hektorović. Since Hektorović’s time, the Tvrdalj’s design has changed drastically. The one feature that remains—and the most compelling—is the seawater fish pond set amidst a beautiful Renaissance garden.
When visiting Stari Grad, make time to check out the Stari Grad Plain. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Europe’s most important historical sites, dating back to the ancient Greeks. The layout of the agricultural plots maintains the original configuration of the Greeks. Crops grown here—including grapes and olives—follow many of the same traditions that sprouted up in antiquity.
Relax on the secluded beaches of the Pakleni Islands
Every trip to Hvar deserves a stop in the Pakleni Islands. At some point, you’ll want to diverge from the huge crowds of Hvar and other mainstream Croatian destinations. Escaping to the Pakleni Islands is your chance.
Several islands form the chain including Galesnik, Jerolim, Marinkovac, and Sveti Klement. If you only have time for one destination in the Pakleni Islands though, make it the small village of Palmizana on Sveti Klement. The crystalline waters around Palmizana, fringed by lush pine forests, are some of the best in the area of scuba diving or snorkeling.
Ferries between Hvar and Palmizana leave daily. Otherwise you’ll need consider a tour. For a cheaper and more active alternative to private boat tours, book a small-group sea kayaking in the Pakleni Islands.
Hvar Travel Essentials
Where to stay
If Croatia’s popularity were ever in question, just watching the rising prices of accommodations in Hvar! Private accommodations and apartments like Apartments Ivanka or Apartments Julija offer better value than most hotels in Hvar.
There are fast Jadrolinija ferries between Split and Hvar every day at 9:15am and 9:45am (100 HRK). The journey takes just over an hour.
The first time I spotted Dubrovnik, I was stunned. I felt as if I’d stepped onto a movie set or into a theme park. I couldn’t imagine that a city like this—where people grew up, lived, raised families, and worked—actually existed.
Even with tourism hordes approaching critical mass, Dubrovnik still lives up to its moniker, “The Pearl of the Adriatic.” No single city put Croatia more firmly on the traveller’s radar than Dubrovnik. As much as every Croatian city I’ve visited possesses the power to enthrall, Dubrovnik does it a little more forcefully. Trust me, you’re not going to want to skip out on this one.
What to Do in Dubrovnik
First impressions are etched quickly when you first lay eyes upon Dubrovnik’s magical Old Town. Hemmed in by the ancient city walls that shielded this former independent republic, Old Town is as graceful as any of the best medieval European towns.
Dazzle yourself in Dubrovnik Old Town
Many of the best things to do in Dubrovnik are accessible with a walk through Old Town. Start your first 24 hours in Dubrovnik with a stroll along the City Walls. Atop the 2-kilometre walkway you’ll be face-to-face with spectacular views over Dubrovnik and the Adriatic. You’d best head tout as early as possible when the crowds are at their smallest and the midday heat has yet to set upon the stones. The walls open to the public at 8am. Expect to pay about 120 kuna.
Elsewhere, Dubrovnik Old Town is ablaze with more architectural brilliance. Every major European style from the last 500 years—whether Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque—graces the streets of Dubrovnik. Nearly every corner in Old Town hides a palace or a church that will stop you dead in your tracks—far too many to list here! A few of the more eye-catching include the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Dubrovnik Cathedral), the Franciscan Monastery, Rector’s Palace and Sponza Palace. Take your time and soak it all in.
Dip into the Adriatic
Like in all great coastal Croatian cities, the beach is never far away in Dubrovnik. The closest to town, Banje Beach, isn’t necessarily the best choice. Although there’s a quieter private area for a fee, the public section of the beach can get a little rowdy.
Better yet is to find a beach further afoot. Hop on a ferry to Lokrum Island (80HRK return) from Dubrovnik’s Old Town port to relax on beaches with smaller crowds.
Spot Dubrovnik from above on Mount Srđ
If you love epic panoramas as much as I do, you’ll want set aside time for a trip up Mount Srđ. Although there’s a cable car to the top of Mount Srđ from Old Town, strap on a solid pair of hiking shoes and tough out a 90-minute walk for the best views.
Dubrovnik Travel Essentials
Where to stay
Finding accommodations in Dubrovnik gets more difficult year after year. Not only do the prices now border on the ridiculous, but you’ll often need to book months ahead to find anything worthwhile. Fortunately, private accommodations fill the gap between overpriced hotels and hostels. For a reasonably priced room with some excellent sea views, book into the Old City Apartments.
Jadrolinija ferries between Hvar and Dubrovnik depart daily at the inconvenient time of 5:45pm arriving at 9:00pm (190 HRK). The Kapetan Luka ferries are faster and leave daily during high season at 8:45am (190 HRK).
Need more ideas? Apply these 10-day Croatia itinerary tweaks.
- Want to experience more of Dalmatia? Fit in the delightful cities of Zadar and Sibenik.
- Need more relaxation on the beach? Zip over to the incredible Croatian islands of Krk, Korcula or Brac.
- Looking for more Roman flair? Visit the cities of Rovinj or Pula on the Istrian Peninsula.
Finished your 10 days in Croatia? Here’s where to go next…
- Bosnia & Herzegovina: Dive into this underrated country through the beautiful city of Mostar, just a couple hours from Dubrovnik, continuing onto the gutsy capital of Sarajevo.
- Montenegro: More beach-bumming lies just south of Dubrovnik in Montenegro. Dig into the country starting with the fjord-side town of Kotor. The nearby walled town of Budva is a mini-Dubrovnik in the making.
- Slovenia: End your trip in Zagreb instead to zip over to one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, Ljubljana. Follow along with this 10-day Slovenia itinerary to get the most out of your trip.