The Most Epic Croatia Road Trip
Last updated on December 12th, 2022 at 04:06 pm
This is not your average Croatia road trip itinerary. This itinerary was made for those who want to get off the beaten tourist path and uncover some of the most incredible places Croatia has to offer.
If you want to experience the best destinations in Croatia (not necessarily the most popular ones) then this Croatia road trip is exactly for you.
Jam-packed with adventure, breathtaking landscapes, dazzling beaches, and hidden towns, this Adriatic road trip is bound to be the most epic drive you ever take. Beginning in Pula, Istria, and ending in Dubrovnik, this Croatia travel route takes you all the way down the Dalmatian coast in just ten days.
When planning a trip to Croatia, it can be difficult to decide which destinations are worth seeing, and which ones are worth skipping out on. That’s why each stop along this road trip through Croatia has been carefully chosen under the guidance of locals to ensure you get the most out of your Croatia holiday.
The Most Epic Croatia Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Pula
To kick off your Croatia road trip, you will arrive in Pula (preferably before day one of this itinerary). At the airport, you’ll pick up your rental car and head into town. Getting from the airport to the center of Pula is fairly easy, and pretty much a straight, fifteen-minute drive.
Spend the first morning of your Croatia road trip exploring the ancient Roman city of Pula, the largest town in Istria. Once an important administrative center for the Romans, Pula is a town that is bursting with ancient history.
While Pula is less touristy than other popular Istrian towns, it is home to some pretty spectacular historical sites as well as pristine beaches at its southern tip.
An absolute must-see site is the famous Pula Arena. This Roman amphitheater was constructed in 27 BC, and is one of the best-preserved amphitheaters outside of Italy. It is also the only Roman amphitheater in the world to have 4 entirely preserved side towers!
Other historic sites worth checking out are the Temple of Augustus and the Arch of the Sergii. Located near the Temple of Augustus is Art Cafe Cvajner, a unique cafe bar right on Pula’s main square. This cafe provides a lovely view of the temple, perfect for sipping on a cup of coffee while watching the world go by.
The afternoon of your first day is all about soaking up the sun! Be sure to grab some fresh fruit at the market before heading to the beach. Here you’ll find vendors selling fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, locally pressed olive oil, lavender products, truffles, etc. The market is also a great place to pick up locally made (and non-perishable souvenirs) to take back home for friends and family (or for yourself).
After stocking up at the market, make your way south to the village of Premantura. Just a twenty-minute drive away from Pula, Premantura is located at the southernmost tip of the Istrian peninsula. A short distance from the village lies Cape Kamenjak, a tiny peninsula consisting of over 30km of coastline.
This stunning area is surrounded by crystal clear waters, lined with spectacular beaches, and dotted with hidden coves – it was even named one of Croatia’s 10 best beaches by Lonely Planet! This is the place where you will be spending the entire afternoon. Choose from sunbathing, cliff jumping, or simply relaxing at the super chill Safari Bar.
Extend your trip: There are plenty of amazing options for extending your trip to the Istrian peninsula. You might consider a visit to Brijuni National Park or the gorgeous town of Rovinj, explore the fairytale towns in Istria, sample world-class wine at Kozlović Winery, or go truffle hunting with Karlić Tartufi.
Day 2: Opatija to Pag
On the morning of day two, make the hour and forty-five-minute scenic coastal drive from Pula to Opatija. Along the way, you’ll drive past some beautiful seaside towns and villages, as well as spectacular views of the Adriatic Sea.
Opatija is a darling town encrusted with immaculate gardens and Habsburg-era villas. Spend the morning strolling through town and enjoying the scenery before stopping for breakfast or a cup of coffee on the Opatija Hotel terrace.
Afterward, continue your journey to Kanjon Zrmanje (a picturesque canyon with breathtaking views overlooking the Zrmanja River). The drive from Optaija to Kanjon Zrmanje is super scenic and takes about three hours.
The best way to reach Kanjon Zrmanje is to enter the destination “Pariževačka glavica” into Google Maps. The route will lead you through the village of Jasenice. After passing through Jasenice, you will turn right onto the gravel road that leads to a small plateau along the edge of the canyon. The plateau offers a stunning view looking out over the canyon and the sparkling Zrmanja River.
Spend some time here enjoying the seaside breeze and fresh air, or stay for the sunset and even more dazzling views. If you’re brave enough, you can even try to climb your way to the rock that has become the most famous photo spot for an Insta-worthy shot!
After taking in the views, continue your journey toward the island of Pag, about an hour’s drive away. This island is especially well-known for its cheese and salt.
On the island of Pag, it is best to stay around the town of Novalja. If you want the party vibes, book your accommodation at Noa Glamping Resort located right on Zrće Beach. For a more relaxing stay, I’d recommend Hotel Boškinac. Located on a hilltop and surrounded by olive trees, Hotel Boškinac offers peace, relaxation, and panoramic views of Novalja.
Day 3: Pag Island
Pag is a popular destination for party-goers, but many parts of the island still remain untouched. The island of Pag offers an incredible moon-like landscape, jaw-dropping natural beauty, and delicious food!
There are some pretty cool beaches to be discovered too, and that’s what day three on your Croatia road trip itinerary is all about!
One beach that should definitely be on your radar is Beritnica Beach. The closest village to this beach is Metanja, about 12 kilometers away from Novalja, which can very easily be reached by car. You’ll want to park your car in the spacious parking lot near Rucice Beach, from where you’ll begin the hike to Beritnica.
The hike itself is fairly easy, taking roughly thirty minutes to reach Beritnica. To begin the hike, just follow the path from the parking lot leading up a small hill. The trail itself is not very well-marked but is still easy to follow, and the landscapes along the way are truly breathtaking.
Near the end of the hike, the canyon will open up to a grand view of the beach as the sparkling Adriatic Sea beckons you to jump in. Beritnica Beach is a true wonder. Its pebbly shore is perfect for families with children, and the three giant rocks that broke away from the shore years ago remain one of the main attractions.
Once you’ve had your fill of the beach, it’s time to fill your belly with some of Pag’s famous delicacies. These include paška janjetina (Pag lamb), a spit-roasted pleasure accompanied by potatoes, and Pag cheese. This traditional island cheese comes from a local small breed of sheep and is best accompanied by olive oil and a glass of wine.
Souvenir idea: The island of Pag is very famous for its intricate lace, with the first records of this handicraft dating all the way back to the 15th century. Pag lace is recognized by UNESCO on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list and makes a truly special souvenir.
Day 4: Skradin and Šibenik
On day four of your Croatia road trip, you’ll continue your drive down the coast to the small town of Skradin. Nestled in an inlet between Krka National Park and the Krka River, Skradin is a picturesque village surrounded by lush forests and vineyards. It’s the perfect place to take it easy and simply enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.
Start off your visit by roaming the town streets and admiring the pastel-colored homes before sitting down at a waterfront patio with a good view. While in Skradin, you won’t want to pass up trying the town’s famous dish – Skradinski rizoto (Skradin Risotto). Traditionally, this savory risotto is cooked in a large pot over an open fire and takes ten to twelve hours to make!
Be sure to polish off this delectable meal with the local dessert, Skradinska torta (Skradin Cake). This delicious chocolately cake spiced with cinnamon and sometimes orange zest is definitely worth seeking out.
After a delicious meal, it’s now time to head to Šibenik, just a short twenty-five minute drive away. This small Dalmatian town is not on most travelers’ radar, and that’s a good thing. Šibenik is full of charm, and its Old Town is not overly developed, giving you the perfect taste of Dalmatian life.
One afternoon is the ideal amount of time for getting to know this beautiful seaside destination. As always, I recommend taking some time to stroll the winding streets through the Old Town. Start from the waterfront and head uphill, and simply let your feet lead the way! You’ll discover quaint shops, local homes, and plenty of photo ops along the way.
Other notable things to do in Šibenik include walking along the promenade, marveling at the 15th century Renaissance cathedral, catching the view from St. Michael’s Fortress, and watching the sunset from Barone Fortress. If you prefer spending your afternoon on the water, you’ll be happy to know that there are a number of activities that will satisfy your craving.
Bask in the sun at the beautiful pebbled Banj Beach, or rent a kayak and paddle out to admire St. Nicholas Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and check out a shooting location for Game of Thrones.
Extend your trip: Krka National Park is perfect for extending your visit to Šibenik, as is soaking up the sun at the nearby Solaris Beach Resort. Wine lovers might consider a visit to Bibich Winery, located near Skradin.
Day 5: Primošten and Trogir
On day five of your Croatia road trip, you’ll begin your journey to southern Dalmatia. The first stop along the way will be the town of Primošten, located just thirty-five minutes away from Šibenik.
This easygoing seaside town is loaded with hilltop restaurants and pretty beaches, while the scent of fresh pine permeates the entire area. Its pedestrian-only core is situated on a tiny island that was linked to the mainland in the 16th century. A former fishing village, Primošten delights with its enchanting streets and a picturesque waterfront. Spend some time strolling along the thirty-minute loop around the Old Town, taking a dip at Garbina Beach, or visit the most romantic spot in town – the Chuch of St. George.
Before continuing your drive to Trogir, grab a bite to eat at Konoba Toni. The restaurant has a beautiful canopied seating area right next to the water and serves some pretty incredible local seafood.
If you love breathtaking views, be sure to stop at the Our Lady of Loretto Statue on your way out. It takes only about a ten-minute drive from the town of Primošten to reach this incredible viewpoint, and the views are simply spectacular.
Trogir is quite a charming destination, with the town’s historic core situated on a tiny, pedestrian-only island. Once the cultural center of Dalmatia, Trogir’s cobblestone streets are lined with Renaissance palaces, gothic and baroque architecture, darling boutiques, and gourmet restaurants.
There are many things to do in Trogir, but some of the highlights include visiting the Cathedral of St. Lawrence, catching the sunset from the top of Fortress Kamerlengo, strolling along the promenade, and grabbing homemade ice cream from Gelato Bar Bella.
Extend your trip: The nearby island of Čiovo, connected to Trogir by a bridge, is a wonderful place for extending your holiday. The south side of the island, in particular, boasts some pretty spectacular beaches located off the beaten tourist path. The beaches Duga Uvala and Duboka Uvala can be found near Camping Labadusa (this is the destination you will want to enter into Google Maps).
Day 6: Split to Korčula
On day six of your Croatia road trip, you will be finally heading to one of Croatia’s most beautiful islands! Depending on what you would like to do or see, you can choose to head directly to Korčula, or spend a few hours exploring Split before catching the ferry.
If you choose to explore Split, be sure to check out the heart of Split’s everyday life – Diocletian’s Palace. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in the 4th century and serves as home to the city’s cafes, boutiques, and restaurants. While entrance to the palace is free, I would recommend getting there early to enjoy coffee on the steps of the peristyle before it starts to get crowded.
Some other noteworthy sites in Split include the Cathedral of St. Domnius and the “Let me pass” Street (the narrowest street in Split and apparently the world). It’s also worth stopping by Kava, a local coffee roaster serving up some of the most delicious coffee in town.
The earliest ferry for Korčula leaves at 6:15 AM, and the last one of the day leaves at 1:00 AM. Depending on the time of the year you visit, the schedule might change, so be sure to stay up to date with departure times on the official Jadrolinija website.
Once you arrive in Korčula, check into your accommodation and relax for the rest of the day.
Day 7: Korčula
Day seven marks your first official day on a Croatian island! This is where the fun really begins. As the famous birthplace of Marco Polo, Korčula has a lot to offer including history, beauty, culture, and of course, charm.
One of the finest fortified towns in Croatia, Korčula is made up of impressive stone walls and thick towers that still dominate the island today. Thanks to its monumental medieval architecture, Korčula has been lovingly nicknamed “Little Dubrovnik.”
Dominating the small square at the heart of the Old Town is an attraction that cannot be missed – St. Mark’s Cathedral. Constructed in the 15th century, this stunning Gothic-Renaissance style church is the most famous building on the island.
While in Korčula, a visit to Marco Polo’s Home is a must, as is catching the traditional sword dance known as Moreska (performed on Monday and Thursday evenings during the summer).
Other activities worth considering are hiring a scooter to explore the island, visiting a local olive oil producer, taking a pasta-making class, renting a kayak or bike, and windsurfing.
Day 8: Korčula
Day eight is all about exploring the beautiful Korčula beaches that the island has to offer. There are a number of beaches that are popular with both tourists and locals alike, and we’ll dive into them below.
Banje Beach is the oldest beach in Korčula and is the most easily accessible thanks to its close proximity to the center of the Old Town. The beach is great for families and children who want the convenience of having their accommodation close by, however, it can get quite crowded.
Vaja Beach is everything you imagine when you dream of a Mediterranean escape. This dazzling beach is located just a short 15-minute walk away from the small village of Račišće. Getting to the beach itself requires a little bit of a hike and a climb down a steep slope, but those who are up for the challenge will be blessed with breathtaking views.
Pupnasta Luka Beach
Pupnasta Luka Beach is considered to be the most beautiful beach in Korčula by many. The surrounding lush green forest and crystal clear waters combine to create a picturesque scene of blue and green. Although slightly secluded, Pupnasta Luka Beach offers a number of amenities including restaurants, deck chairs, and kayak rentals, as well as a parking lot.
With incredibly clear turquoise waters and dense pine forest framing the bay, it’s no wonder Proizd Beach was once named the best beach on Croatia’s Adriatic Coast. Located just a short boat ride away from Vela Luka on Proizd Island, this beach is ideal for those wanting to experience the untouched natural beauty Croatia has to offer.
Bilin Žal, Lumbarda
For those who prefer sandy beaches, Bilin Žal is a great choice! This is one of the rare sandy beaches in Croatia and is perfect for families with children. Bilin Žal is also nice for spending an entire day on the beach thanks to the nearby cafe, supermarket, and restaurant.
Just off the coast between Lumbarda and Korčula, are twenty islands known as the Skoji Islets. Bursting with untouched beauty, these tiny islands offer plenty of snorkeling opportunities, pebbled beaches, and shaded hideouts. To reach the archipelago, simply hire a water taxi to transport you to your Mediterranean island getaway.
Day 9: Dubrovnik
End your Croatia road trip in Croatia’s pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik! Although most of this Croatia road trip has been pretty off the beaten tourist path, Dubrovnik is simply a must-see for any first-time visitor to Croatia. The town, although swarming with tourists in the high season, is truly magnificent.
Famous for its stunning medieval town and impressive architecture, the one attraction you simply cannot miss when visiting Dubrovnik are the city walls. Originally constructed to ward off invaders, the city walls are now open for tourists to explore. An adult ticket costs 200 HRK per person and also includes entrance to the Lovrijenac Fortress.
If visiting in the summer, the best time to visit the city walls is early in the morning. This is to avoid the crowds and the summer heat. If you can, try to schedule your visit to the walls around the cruise ship schedule as well. This beautiful walk lasts about two hours and has several locations where you can stop to buy refreshments or use the restroom.
Some other activities worth checking out in Dubrovnik are roaming the streets of the Old Town, going on a Game of Thrones Walking Tour, taking a cable car up to Mount Srđ, going on a kayak sunset tour, tasting local wines, or going cliff jumping. It is nearly impossible to run out of things to do in Dubrovnik!
If you want to enjoy the Pearl of the Adriatic sans the crowds, read up on why you should visit Dubrovnik in the winter.
Day 10: Dubrovnik and Lokrum Island
Lokrum is a small island located just 600 meters away from Dubrovnik, and it is the very place where you will be spending your final day of this Croatia road trip itinerary.
This beautiful island holds a dark and unexpected secret, and that is that it is supposedly cursed for anyone that spends the night on the island. For this reason, only plan to stay on Lokrum for the day.
Getting to Lokrum Island is easy. There is a ferry service that leaves regularly from Dubrovnik, or you can opt for an organized tour. Once you arrive on the island, you’ll immediately become enchanted by the lush flora and abundance of peacocks freely roaming around.
There are plenty of things to do on the island such as swimming in the “Dead Sea”. This small saltwater lake is one of the more popular attractions because it is so salty, you can float in it just like the Dead Sea! Some other things worth checking out are Fort Royal, the Monastery, botanical gardens, Charlotte’s Well, and the rocky beach known as “Stones”.
Definitely opt for tennis shoes when visiting Lokrum Island. The island is very rocky and you’ll be thankful to have comfortable shoes.
From Dubrovnik, you can continue your journey back home, or extend your trip! If you have time, consider checking out some of the places below.
Extend your trip: From Dubrovnik, the nearby towns of Cavtat and Ston are great choices for a day trip. Mostar is also nearby and is worth crossing the border between Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina to visit.
Driving in Croatia Tips
The best way to get around Croatia is definitely by hiring a rental car. The country is small, and a Croatia road trip is the ultimate way to explore. You’ll also quickly discover that the roads are in good condition and that driving in Croatia is easy.
However, there are some tips you should keep in mind when getting around Croatia by car.
Before hitting the road in Croatia, you will need a valid driver’s license from your home country along with your passport. There is no need for an international license as long as your license is written in the Latin alphabet.
In Croatia, drivers drive on the right side of the road and for the most part, follow the same common driving rules you would find in western countries. If you are coming from the United States, it is important to keep in mind that turning right on red is illegal in Croatia, and you could face a $300 ticket for doing so.
Croatia road tolls can be found on all multi-lane highways which are marked with the letter “A”. Upon entrance, you will simply take a ticket from the toll booth and pay when you exit. The tolls can be paid in Croatian Kuna, Euro, as well as credit or debit cards. Bear in mind that if you pay in Euro, you will get change back in Kuna.
While driving in Croatia is relatively carefree on highways, cities and towns along the coast can get particularly crowded in the summertime. Extra patience and alertness are required, especially when navigating the narrow roads of many small towns.
Other Articles You Might Like:
- Must-Have Road Trip Essentials
- 10 of the Most Unique Things to Do in Croatia
- The Only Hvar Island Travel Guide You Need
- The Best Beaches in Hvar, Croatia
- Why You Should Visit Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
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