Combine cobbled city streets with isolated natural wonders in an epic Croatia roadtrip along the Dalmatian Coast.

Croatia is firmly on most traveller’s bucket lists (thanks, Game of Thrones!). But outside of Dubrovnik, this petite country is still home to some of Europe’s most underrated destinations.

When you see photos of Croatia, you might wonder how that came to be the case. But thanks to the less accessible nature of some of Croatia’s most beautiful nooks – and the fact that there are so many! – Croatia is bursting with charming places that feel largely undiscovered.

While there are plenty of well-known spots along and around both Zagreb and the Dalmatian Coast, there are countless lesser known spots dotted in-between.

It’s a unique combination that’s sure to whet the appetite of both adventurous travellers and those who prefer the tried and tested sights. It’s also means Croatia is an incredible country for travel photography – especially if you have your own set of wheels.


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Why take a Croatia Roadtrip?

Whether you’re an avid road-tripper or usually stick to places you can reach by public transport, hitting the road is the only way to see many parts of Croatia. And that means it’s a perfect roadtrip destination!

Croatia was the first place I ever road-tripped – and it’s still one of my favourites to this day. Here’s why it’s a great place to roadtrip!

It’s easy to get around

Croatia’s road system is pretty easy to navigate. The roads are also relatively quiet, meaning it’s fairly easy and fast to get almost anywhere.

Add to that the country’s compact size and you have the perfect roadtrip destination.


You can visit the hard to get to spots

Central Europe may be better known for its city breaks, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook the countryside.

In fact, with everybody doing just that, there’s even more reason to get out into Croatia’s more isolated areas. And there’s only one way to do that – by car.


The Skradinski Buk waterfall, Croatia

The weather won’t get in the way

While Croatia can enjoy warm, sunny weather all year round, there’s no guarantee of clear skies. This is Europe, after all!

However, with your own set of wheels, your Croatia travels won’t be too affected by bad weather or unexpected showers.


It’s the best way to travel in Croatia

Croatia does have pretty good public transport, but it just doesn’t compare to having your own vehicle.

If you want to see more of Croatia in the shortest amount of time, you’ll fit a whole lot more in if you drive.


Old Town Split Croatia

Can you see Croatia in 7 days?

Like most places, you could easily extend Croatia roadtrip to fill two or more months. However, 7 days in Croatia is a good amount of time to make amazing memories of both the culture and the landscapes.

If you have a little more time to spare, I’d recommend allowing yourself 10 days for this Croatia roadtrip. That way, you can spend a little more time in your favourite places or venture to some of the more remote areas.

If you have more than 10 days in Croatia, I’ve included some bonus ideas after the recommended Croatia roadtrip itinerary below.


Preparing to travel from Zagreb to Split by car

Croatia is a fairly straightforward country to roadtrip, but you’ll still want to arrive prepared.

Here are some things to keep in mind when planning a roadtrip in Croatia.

Renting a car in Croatia

Car rental in Croatia isn’t particularly expensive – but it isn’t particularly cheap either. Like most places, prices vary a lot from one season to the next.

One thing is for sure: if you’re under the age of 30, you will likely pay a surcharge. And, while the minimum age to rent a car in Croatia is 18, some rental companies will only rent cars to drivers aged 22+. If they do rent to drivers under the age of 22, there will almost definitely be a surcharge.

Almost all of the most common car rental companies have offices in Croatia, so there are plenty of places to look for a rental. If you’re not loyal to a particular company, RentalCars.com is the best place to compare cars and prices.


Driving in Croatia

Croatia’s roads are pretty easy to navigate (and frequently come with amazing views!).

However, I did find that Google Maps wasn’t always up to date. On a couple of occasions during my own Croatia roadtrip, I ended up down country back roads, on building sites and, on one occasion, in a field full of chickens. So, use a little common sense too!

You’ll also need to account for the (budget-friendly) toll roads, which can be paid in Euros, Kuna or by credit card. If you want to get the best rate, I recommend taking a travel credit card with you.

Other than that, driving in Croatia shouldn’t come with too many surprises.


Panoramic views of the croatian coast, Primosten near Sibenik, Croatia

Packing for a Croatia roadtrip

Croatia is a fairly easy country to pack for. The weather is fairly predictable, and you don’t need any specialist gear or clothing.

As long as you pack layers, some good walking shoes and swimwear, you should have everything you need. If you plan to swim in sea or lakes, you may also want to take a pair of water shoes because it can be stony!

I’d also recommend packing a portable charger (or one that plugs into your car!) and downloading an offline version of Google Maps before you head off. And, as always when travelling, I’d recommend using a VPN.


Where to stay on your Croatia roadtrip

One of the beautiful things about driving is that it means you can stay almost anywhere. And when you’re not restricted to towns or public transport hubs, you can venture a little further off the beaten track.

If you’re a fan of ecotourism and nature-packed escapes, Croatia has plenty of unique cabins, glamping tents, off-grid homes and eco-friendly accommodation options to enjoy.

There are currently over 300 such places in Croatia listed on Nature.House, which makes finding and booking a sustainable escape that is situated in nature easy. A go-to for eco-conscious travellers, Nature.House has planted 1 million trees in Africa and invests in local nature projects, so you’ll also be supporting a great cause.

If you want to stay in the heart of nature and see a different side of Croatia, I recommend booking a nature house. I’ve included some nature house options in the Croatia roadtrip itinerary below, but there are plenty more to choose from. And, if you’re extending your trip, there are some amazing accommodation options in all parts of the country.


Zagreb city in Croatia

Zagreb to Split: The ultimate Croatia roadtrip itinerary

This Croatia roadtrip itinerary has been designed to include some of my favourite places in Croatia. You can fit this into a 7 day trip to Croatia; however, you could easily make this itinerary last 10 days or more.

If you have more than 10 days in Croatia, I recommend spending a little longer in both Zadar and Split. There’s plenty to see in do in both cities.

This Croatia roadtrip itinerary can also be enjoyed in reverse. If you’re flying into Split – or coming from somewhere further East, like Dubrovnik – then simply follow it in the reverse order.

Similarly, if you’re flying into and out of one city, you can easily finish your trip where you started. The less scenic – but much faster – drive from Zagreb to Split takes just over 5 hours with stops if stick to the highways.


Day 1: Begin your Croatia trip in Zagreb

Croatia is an unusual European city in that its capital city isn’t its most popular destination. In fact, many visitors skip the capital altogether!

If you have time, I recommend spending at least one day in Zagreb before hitting the road for your roadtrip.

As well as having some of the quirkiest museums in Europe, Zagreb has an amazing coffee scene and some incredible restaurants. There are even plenty of vegan restaurants and dishes to enjoy!

Its small size means you can see a lot of the city in one day, so it’s a great starting point for a Croatian roadtrip.

Where to stay

There are plenty of great places to stay in Zagreb, but my favourite is the Esplanade Hotel. Luxurious yet affordable, they serve up an elaborate breakfast buffet that will set you up for the roadtrip ahead.


Le Bistro in the Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb

Day 2: Enjoy nature at Žumberak – Samoborsko gorje Nature Park

If you stay at The Esplanade, make sure you leave enough time to enjoy the breakfast buffet. Seriously, it’s one you won’t want to miss.

If you prefer a more local stay in one of the city’s many cute Airbnb’s, grab a quick breakfast snack at one of the many coffee shops in town. I recommend Botaničar for great coffee and fresh juices, or Velvet for delicious baked goods.

And then it’s time to hit the road!

Renting a car in Croatia is fairly easy (see above). And renting a car from Zagreb should give you plenty of options. There are car rental offices all over town, plus many of them offer hotel drop off.

Once you’ve picked up your car, it’s time to head to one of Croatia’s lesser visited and least inhabited regions: Žumberak – Samoborsko gorje Nature Park.

This ecologically preserved and biologically diverse park is rich in history and a must-visit for nature lovers. Whether you’re into hiking or history, there’s plenty to enjoy in this lesser known side of Croatia. Click here to see what events are taking place during your visit and to book activities.

To get to Žumberak – Samoborsko gorje Nature Park from Zagreb, head out of the south side of the city, onto the E70 towards Samobor. This cute town is worth a stop for its cute little streets and colourful houses.

Once you leave the town and head towards the park, the landscape rapidly changing into one of lush mountains and sparkling rivers. There are several roads you can take into the park, so take your time to explore and enjoy the views.

Where to stay

There’s no need to leave nature behind to sleep. This rural cottage will make you feel right at home in the heart of the Croatian countryside but still has all the amenities you need for a cosy night.


RELATED READ: The village of Kamanje is just across the river from Big Berry, one of my favourite glamping spots in the world!


Picturesque landscape of Samobor hills, northern Croatia

Day 3: Visit the famous Plitvice Lakes

Our destination for today is one of the most famous spots in Croatia – but for good reason!

Plitvice Lakes National Park was the first park to be declared a National Park in Croatia and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List 30 years later in 1979.

Depending on what time of year you visit, there’s plenty to see and do at Plitvice Lakes. From hiking trails and cycling routes to lake tours and even skiing, this park has something for every type of traveller.

Whatever your interests, you won’t want to miss the famous Sastavci waterfalls. And, if you’re a photographer, make sure you pack a camera!

To get to Plitvice Lakes National Park, you have two options. If you like exploring cute towns (or need to get supplies!), you can take the D1 directly from Kamanje to Plitvice Lakes. Towns along the way include Ozalj, Karlovac and Slunj.

If you prefer a more scenic drive, you can also take the D6 onto the E65 and then the E71. This route takes about the same amount of time but has more viewpoints and cute little villages.

Whichever route you choose, try to leave as early as possible so you can maximise your time in the park because it closes at 3pm.

Where to stay

Since you’ll be leaving the park fairly early, I recommend driving on to the coastal town of Zadar today.

Check out the Art Hotel for a luxurious hotel stay. Or, if you prefer to have kitchen facilities, the Central Apartments Integrated Hotel combines the best of both worlds.


Plitvice lakes in Croatia

Day 4: Zadar

Zadar is one of my favourite places in Croatia. If you have more than 7 days in Croatia, take a break from driving and spend a couple nights here.

If you’re sticking to this Croatia roadtrip itinerary exactly, though, don’t worry. You can still get a great feel for this cute coastal town in one day. You’ll just need to prioritise what you want to see.

The Historic Centre of Zadar is a great starting point. As well as having some incredible restaurants, it’s bubbling with both Roman history, Venetian ruins and modern culture.

If the weather a good, it’s fun to explore by bike or kayak (or both!). In the evening, head down to the wall’s edge to hear the sound organ, watch the solar panel powered light show and enjoy a beautiful sunset.


Zadar Sea Organ Croatia

Day 5: Sibenik

If you love beautiful drives, today may well be your favourite part of this Croatia roadtrip. The coastal roads from Zadar to Šibenik are some of the most stunning in the world.

Enjoy a good breakfast and stock up on snacks in Zadar because, while beautiful, there won’t be loads of places to stop today. And while the drive time is around two hours, you’re going to at least double that once you account for all the stops you’ll want to make.

Expect a constant stream of cute beachfront cafés, epic cliff tops and picnic-worthy countryside.

If you arrive in Šibenik in time, head to the Fortress of St. Nicholas, a UNESCO World Heritage List site that is now only accessible by boat. At dinner time, head to Bistro Luce & Birgita for some tasty Croatian dishes.

Where to stay

For a quintessential European hotel stay, check into the Heritage Hotel Life Palace. This quirky hotel combines little luxuries with nostalgic décor, making for a comfortable night’s sleep.

Alternatively, book into Pearl Stone Apartments for a cosy night’s stay in a central apartment. Equipped with everything you need for the night, you can enjoy free parking too.


Cathedral of St James in Sibenik, Croatia.

Day 6: Krka

Home to Croatia’s other most popular waterfall spot, Krka National Park is only a short drive from Šibenik. That means you can take some time to enjoy the local market or fill up with a hearty breakfast before you leave.

When you leave the city, head up the D33 directly to the Lozovac entrance.

Having a car will mean you can take your time to enjoy the waterfalls, go hiking or even take a refreshing swim in the lakes.

As well as driving between spots, it’s also possible (and recommended!) to take a boat trip during the summer season. Click here to check times and book.

Where to stay

Nature lovers will probably want to stay in the park as long as they can – and it’s possible to do so! This nature house inside the park is a tiny home that also has its own vegetable garden and free parking.

If you want to maximise your city time, you can also drive on to Split for the night. Simply head back out the Lozovac entrance and drive along the E65.

Dosud House Studios are right in the heart of Split’s UNESCO-protected Old Town, so you can wake up in the middle of the action on your final day.


Amazing waterfalls at Krka National Park in Croatia

Day 7: Split

Wheher you’re driving to Split this morning or waking up ready to explore, there’s no shortage of things to do in this charming city.

Once again, I recommend extending your stay here if you have more than 7 days in Croatia. If you only have one week, though, it’s still the perfect city to end your Croatia roadtrip.

Split is one of those cities where you can spend days walking around, getting lost and seeing what you stumble across. With limited time, make sure you start with the Old Town and head up to Marjan Hill as early as possible.

Although touristy, the waterfront is undeniably the best place to enjoy a sundown drink before or after dinner.


Split in Croatia with the Dioclean palace and the dome from the sea

Extend your Croatia roadtrip

If you have more time to enjoy Croatia, there’s still plenty left to see! This Croatia roadtrip covers my favourite spots, but it won’t be hard to fill a few more days (or weeks) if you have the time.

If you want to continue your roadtrip, there are a number of directions you could take. Dubrovnik is just a few hours’ drive along the coast and a great way to see another side of Croatia. If you plan to drive there, make sure you tell the rental company because they will need to issue the necessary papers for driving through Bosnia.

If you’re ready to take a break from driving, Split is the perfect starting point for a Croatian island hopping trip. Many ferry routes depart from here, making it easy to visit islands such as Hvar, Brač and Vis.

Alternatively, you could easily extend your stay in any of the destinations along this Croatia roadtrip and spread out the driving a little more.

From its lush mountains and vivid blue seas, to the many waterfalls and historical towns, Croatia has a whole lot to offer every type of traveller.