Looking to plan the BEST Croatia road trip? Whether you’re just starting to plan your Croatia road trip itinerary or you’ve done lots in the past, our guide to Croatia has it all mapped out for you. From popular cities and towns to hidden gems, we’ll help you explore Croatia’s picturesque sights from the comfort of your car!
We spent six glorious weeks one summer driving from the UK all the way down to Dubrovnik. Our aim for this article is to help you start creating your own amazing Croatian holidays. Whether that is a Croatia 1 week itinerary or a 6 week adventure, this comprehensive guide to Croatia will map out all the different stops we made to help you decide if you should stop there too!
Why Visit Croatia?
Croatia is the country that trickles down the the Adriatic sea. Islands such as Krk, Cres, Hvar and Brač playfully split off and sprinkle themselves down the sketchy and messy coastline all the way to Dubrovnik. On the map, Croatia looks like a roughly drawn picture in comparison to it’s neater neighbours of Italy, Montenegro and Albania. But in truth, it doesn’t matter what it looks like on a map. Croatia is a splendid creation.
Croatia has experienced so much in its modern and ancient history. You only have to speak to the locals to see and hear how these experiences have shaped who and what Croatia and its people have become. Croatia is a country that literally sparkles through the scars that past wars and hardships have left behind. There is so much beauty to explore, hidden gems to find and crystal clear sea to swim in, you’ll find a trip to Croatia totally intoxicating and utterly amazing!
Driving from the UK to Croatia Road Trip.
Our Croatian road trip started in the UK. We caught the ferry from Dover to Calais and then drove all the way down to Dubrovnik and back again in 6 weeks.
We decided to drive down to our first stop, Privlaka near Zadar, in three days. On our Croatian road trip we drove through France, Belgium, Luxembourg (for cheap fuel), Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. If you would like to know more on what it’s like driving abroad, we have some essential information and tips on the article linked here.
On the way down we also created a little pit stop at Lake Bled in Slovenia (which you can read about here) for 4 days. I highly recommend doing this and creating yourself a road trip through Slovenia and Croatia!
Croatia’s main roads are tolled, meaning you will have to pay to use them. However, the prices were not extortionate as I feel they can be in places like France.
Motorway stops were mostly barren of any sort of shade on hot days, but they do have quite nice facilities on the whole, which we were more than grateful for.
Take Cash to Croatia
At the time of our visit cash was very much king. Lots of places were not set up for card payments, so make sure you have some money in your pocket. Since swapping to the Euro this may have changed. However, it’s better to err in the side of caution.
If you are looking to get cash out whilst in Croatia it will be cheaper for you to go into the bank and draw it out rather than using an ATM. Although using an ATM is obviously more convenient, we found ATMs charged much more.
Camping in Croatia
A big part of our road trip to Croatia was our decision to do it whilst camping. We camp on all our big summer holiday trips because it helps us save money. This is a really important factor for us. Camping allows us to spend less money and travel for longer periods of time. Plus, we love the freedom, ease and outside space camping as a family of five gives us.
Our very roughly planned itinerary focused around being by the coast as much as possible. As a family, the coast is where we love to be the most.
Some campsites we booked in advance and some we did not. This approach gives us the freedom to move around and to stay in some places longer or to leave earlier. We prefer to travel like this rather than be defined by a strict itinerary of dates and times.
So, because of this, the places we went and things we saw sometimes took us off the tourist-trodden and well-beaten path. However, this is when we found some of the best hidden gems and most seductive corners of Croatia that we loved the most!
Packing Essentials in Croatia
When travelling to Croatia, here’s a small list of essentials to take with you:
1. Rock shoes – most of the beaches in Croatia are rocky. Rock shoes are an absolute must!
2. Sun cream – The summers in Croatia are hot! Cover up and look after yourself.
3. Paddle board – If you have one, take it and any other sea inflatables! Lots of Croatia’s beaches are situated in small bays and there is little coastal wind. So, playing on the water couldn’t be easier!
4. Snorkel gear – Snorkelling in Croatia is AMAZING! You can buy something cheap and cheerful out there, but I would invest in something good from somewhere like Decathlon. You won’t be disappointed in the investment!
Croatia Road Trip Destinations
Our first stop on our 6 week road trip through Croatia was an area called Privlaka near Zadar. The campsite we stayed at was on the water’s edge and perfect for paddle boarding. (Information on all campsites we stayed at are at the bottom of this article.) The water was incredibly shallow so it was also great for splashing around with the kids!
Privlaka is not on the tourist trail so the other people we met here were mostly other Croats. We spent a lot of our time in the water paddle boarding. The sea was shallow and protected creating the perfect conditions to get the board out every day!
In the salty, balmy and peaceful summer evenings, we walked the coastal paths. Quite often we, and other evening strollers, stood by the waters edge totally transfixed by some of the most colourful sunsets we had ever seen. Until this trip, we had no idea that Croatia offers up some of the best sunsets in Europe!
The great thing about staying here is that Zadar is only a 30 minute drive away.
If i’m being completely honest, this area of Croatia was one of my favourite. The region around Zadar was where we got the best value for our money in terms of accommodation, services and food.
The landscapes and scenery are ridiculously diverse and the city of Zadar is really really cool. To find out more about what you can do in Zadar, Croatia’s ‘capital of cool’, see the article linked here! It’s a must see!
We loved the area around Zadar so much we actually stayed in here again as we made our way north at the end of our trip. This time we stayed in the small town of Ražanac. When I think about our summer in Croatia, I always think about this little village. It was tiny, secluded, unknown and utter perfection!
On arrival it looked as though we had stumbled upon a tiny and seemingly deserted ghost town. For every three houses lived in there was on falling in on itself. There seemed to be a distinct lack of people, which confused me and, on the surface of it all, a complete lack of services.
I actually suggested to my husband that we not stay here! Well, all I can say is thank goodness no one listened to me! Leaving would definitely have been the biggest mistake of our Croatia road trip.
Why you should go?
Ražanac was actually the place that I fell in love with the most. By the end of my visit I was more than willing to buy one of those decrepit old houses just so I would have the excuse to come back!
It was incredibly quaint – collapsing houses included. There was a sense of local nostalgia which the town seemed to be protecting, which I really enjoyed. It was old, and a little rundown, but that was how it was meant to look; that is how it had always looked.
The town square was flanked by two restaurants that everyone ate in, so at dinner time that’s where everyone went! There was also an ice-cream-come-beach-shop which was a novelty to all involved. There was a small market on market days offering fresh produce including fresh fish and a lovely playground next to a very chic looking bar that looked out to sea.
The small harbour that seemed to be untouched by time became the best backdrop to watch Croatia’s famed sunsets from and the snorkelling was amazing! We spent most of our time here on the beach, snorkelling and paddle boarding.
Although Ražanac is on the other side of the peninsular, it is still only a 30 minute drive to Zadar. It’s the perfect place to recharge and make the main thing the main thing – whatever you want that to be.
A great day out when staying in Zadar area is the island of Pag. Pag is connected to the mainland via the Paški Most (bridge).
Once over the bridge it’s like you have magically driven to the moon! It’s hard to describe the contrast from the mainland to the island and do it justice. The mainland is green and alive. The island is grey, full of rocks and completely barren.
However, the deep blue hues from the water around the Paški Most transforms this moon-like terrain, where you feel like you have entered the end of the world, into a place where you start to think maybe living on the moon wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all!
It’s beyond anything you have probably experience before!
The town of Pag is actually very popular. It’s small and very cute, but a complete tourist trap. In the summer Pag is bustling and the beach in town in bursting at the seams. I enjoyed my visit here, but I was glad I wasn’t staying here and could escape back to my oasis at Ražanac.
The drive up through the island was just as enjoyable as Pag and we managed to find various little stretches of beach along the road that were just as nice and much quieter.
Zadar County Round-up
Overall, the area around Zadar is beautiful and diverse. It will keep you on your toes and give you lots to explore. The beaches around Zadar are warm and shallow, but this can mean you get a few more mosquitoes. But the most important discovery we made here? Ice cream is really really cheap!
Šibenik – Kinn County
Krka National Park
Krka National Park is an absolute must when creating the best Croatia road trip itinerary. No Croatia trip would be complete without a visit to these lush and undisputedly stunning waterfalls.
For full disclosure, Krka National Park is incredibly popular. I can pretty much guarantee your visit will be busy, the waterfalls will be packed and you’ll be jostling for just about every position there is available. However, I think a visit here is still worth it.
For starters, there is so much more to enjoy than just the falls. As you first enter the park, the walk through the reserve is beautiful and really enjoyable for everyone. It is easy to do as the walking paths are well maintained and access is good for all ages and abilities. This is especially good if you are planning your Croatia road trip with kids. There are ruins to visit and wildlife to explore, so there really isn’t a moment you aren’t completely drawn into Krka.
I would recommend taking your swimmers and rock shoes so you can get in the water and play in some of the smaller waterfalls nearby. However, there is a strong current once you are in the water from the force of the falls, so be aware of this when going in with little children.
I would also recommend taking a wet bag to put all your stuff in. Possessions will certainly get wet and lots of people plonk their belongings on the rocks so they can keep an eye on it when they are in the water.
Split – Dalmatia County
This is the city of two halves. The look and feel of the old town and the harbour are worlds apart! I promise you, your first impressions of this historic Croatian city will blow you away!
The harbour is a wide, palm tree lined boulevard accentuated with food and souvenir stalls and restaurants on either side. Send your gaze past all this and you can then enjoy the views out over the water. In Split Harbour you will find a myriad of boats and cruise ships and all the hustle and bustle of modern day tourism in one of Croatia’s most diverse coastal cities.
In complete contrast the old town is an abundance of history and fascinating stories. Slip into the old town from the harbour via one of the streets or alleyways and you are instantly transported into another world in another time! The streets are narrow and full of churches, restaurants, houses and anything else they are able to squeeze into these tiny spaces.
Green Market is easily one of the must-see venues in Split. It is massive and sells practically everything. If you enjoy a market and a bit of shopping, this is not to be missed. One culinary treat you must try is the spinach and garlic pie called Soparnik.
If you are looking for something unique to do, get yourself along to the Silver Gate. Take along some lunch, find yourself a seat on the steps and listen to some live classical music whilst in one of the prettiest corners of the city. I can think of worse things to do and it’s not far from Green Market.
Split is jam-packed full of relics to find, stories to unwind and history to discover. I guarantee you’ll have no problem finding something to do. Start your search by digging out the story of the Sphinx outside the baptistery and then discover what’s so special about Jupiter’s Temple!
Parking in Split
If you are driving into the city as part of your Croatia road trip, it is worth remembering parking is free after 2pm on a Saturday. Tidbits like this are easy to miss, however, if you’re not sure, just ask one of the locals. They are always happy to help out.
From our own experiences of parking in any city, I would also recommend parking away from the city centre as much as you are able to. This will give you better parking options and the cost is usually cheaper if not free.
The Makarska coastline has a different feel to the rough and readiness of the north. This part of Croatia feels a little more polished, a little more refined, a little more expensive.
The fact that word ‘riviera’ has been adopted for this region of Croatia is no mistake. The Makarska coastline is keen to cater to a slightly different demographic of tourist. The playful messiness of Zadar County has been smoothed out in favour of extremely cute shorefront villages, charming restaurants, dramatic and wonderfully exciting scenic coastal drives and views that will take your breath away in the day and the night.
We stayed in a little town called Zaostrog which is near the southern end of the Split – Dalmatia County and around a 30 minute drive from Makarska.
Even though I make no bones about Zadar being one of my favourite places in Croatia, this was undoubtedly a stunning place to spend a week.
The beaches were long and narrow, and while that proved to look very good in a photo, it did mean the beaches got extremely busy in the day. There was little room to spread your things out and this can be limiting when travelling with kids. However, if you can put up with the squeeze on the beach, the incredible views and the crystal-clear waters will more than make up for it.
Zaostrog is a great place to ditch the car and explore by foot. This is really the only way you can appreciate a small and intimate beach town such as this. Most of what you’ll want to see is right by the beach and, if i’m honest, some of these roads are a tight squeeze for the car anyway.
Day Trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Makarska Riviera is the best place to organise a day trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina with the view to visit Mostar while on your Croatia road trip.
Originally we thought we would be able to drive over the border and do it ourselves. However, while planning the trip we discovered we were not insured to drive in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Therefore, we had no choice but to organise a day trip.
We did this through our campsite, Camping Viter which was extremely easy. We could have shopped around for a better price, but we only had a couple of days to play around with and I just wanted to get it booked in! This was something I did not want to miss out on. Day trips to Mostar from this area are very common, so you’ll have no problems finding a provider.
Details of our Day trip to Mostar
Our day trip to Mostar was brilliant. The coach journey took about two hours and we were given about three hours to explore the town. It doesn’t sound like a long time and believe me, once your there it’s not! The time flew by. We could have stayed for much much longer. However, I’ll always be grateful we got to spend time here at all.
The coach dropped us off at a car park a little way from the centre of old town. We were told the time we needed to be back for and where the bus would be. Then we were left to it. The old town was easy to find and I always download offline Google Maps on my phone just in case I need it.
The one thing that stood out to me above all else when we were in Mostar was how friendly the people were and how great they were with the kids! The cobbled streets were filled with shopping and traditional tea rooms, glasswear, bowls, toys made from bullets (yes, you read that right) ice-cream, restaurants and so much more.
We stopped at Stari Most to watch the bridge divers. They draw large crowds as they jump the 24 metres down into the river below. These are people that do it all the time and usually for tips. DO NOT do it yourself!
Don’t take a buggy to Mostar
The one thing I regret taking to Mostar was the buggy.
The cobble streets were too much for it and we ended up carrying it a lot of the time. And when the temperature topped 40 degrees this was a burden we could have done without. It would have been much better to take a baby carrier and a backpack for the day. That would have saved a lot of sweat and my achy arms!
On the way back we stopped off at Kravica Waterfall. This was a wonderful way to end the day, especially in the heat!
The water was cold as the spring supplying the waterfall is only 30 km away. This means the water doesn’t get a chance to warm up. But once you become acclimatised it’s a good way to wash off the heat. And have I mentioned yet that it’s beautiful!
Crossing the Neum Corridor by Car on Croatian Road Trip
To get to Dubrovnik we needed to drive across the Neum Corridor which is part of Bosnia. As I said earlier, our car insurance did not cover us to drive in Bosnia. So how do we cross?
We spent hours researching this and in the end the answer was a simple one: if you are crossing and not stopping you do not need anything to drive across the Neum Corridor. It’s really as simple as that.
If you are stopping or driving around Bosnia you would need to get cover or book a hire car. However, if you are simply crossing to get back into Croatia, you don’t need to do anything.
Best Views and Parking
The best views of Dubrovnik were from above. Arriving at Dubrovnik along the main road called Jadranska Cesta is one of the best ways to get a great view of this city and the surrounding islands.
It is also a good option for parking if you are interested in saving a little bit of money. The walk down takes around 20 minutes. It is all downhill and there are a lot of stairs. We managed to do it with a pushchair and two small children, although to this day I’m still not sure how we did that. So if you are able bodied and don’t mind the climb back up, this is a good option to save a little money on parking when visiting Dubrovnik on your Croatian road trip.
It’s also worth mentioning that much like Mostar, I would leave the buggy behind and take a baby carrier. Dubrovnik is the city of a million steps, even when you get into the old town. Save yourself the back ache and jettison the buggy from the start!
Old Town Dubrovnik
I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account of Dubrovnik because you should discover this city for yourself. There is too much to do and too much to see and I don’t want to ruin the wonder of visiting this ancient walled city. Some places are best explored with your own eyes.
However, I do appreciate that some will appreciate some points of reference to start the journey, so here are our favourite parts:
– Sitting in the shade along from Stara Luka watching the boats come in and out
– Watching people dive into the water around the other side of the old port
– Walking Stradun at sunset and watching the sky turn the most amazing colours
– Church of St. Ignatius and the stairs up
– Buza Bar for the best laid back bar with incredible views and and best entrance through the city wall in Dubrovnik
– Pile Gate for the best views of the West Harbour
– Ploče Gate for some great architecture and entrance in to the city
– Ul. od Kaštela to explore some of the best residential streets in the city and get a feel for what Dubrovnik is really like.
Day Trip to Montenegro
While in the area around Dubrovnik I would highly recommend organising a day trip to Montenegro to add on to your Croatia road trip. Montenegro is fast becoming one of the ‘coolest’ places to go on holiday and I can see why. Leaving from a place called Srebreno (location of our campsite when visiting Dubrovnik) we spent the day exploring Perast and Kotor which are both located on the beautiful Bay of Kotor.
The arranged day trip only gave us a taster of what Montenegro has to offer but it was enough to statisfy the curiosity and questions around if the trip was worth it. Incase you’re still not sure, it’s 100% worth it!
The first stop was Perast. Once we had arrived we took a little boat trip out to visit Our Lady of the Rocks which is a man-made island just off the coast.
Legend has it a fishermen once saw the face of the Virgin Mary on a rock in the water and then for centuries lots of different fishermen laid rocks on that point to create an islet. In time huge ships were filled with rocks and sunk to help create the island that you can see and visit today.
The church of Our Lady of the Rocks is the largest building on the island, but that’s not really what you visit the island for. It’s to experience the folklore around the story of the island, enjoy the surrounding mountains and beautiful blue seas and take in the majesty of your surroundings. It is truly a stunning place to visit.
Walking around the cobbled streets of Kotor was nothing short of an absolute treat! However, it was also so so HOT. Apparently the name Kotor comes from the old Greek word katareo which means ‘hot’. I can now see the link. We were easily walking around in 40+ degree heat. So if you visit Kotor in the summer bear in mind it will probably be hot hot!
Kotor has a really diverse history as they were ruled over by a long list of conquerors which include the Venetians (where did they not go in the area) Turks, and the French. With so many layers of culture interwoven into the Kotor you see today, this small town simply hums with the sheer amount of stories to be told. And the locals are as keen as mustard to grab hold of your ear to start telling you them!
Istria in the North
You may get the feeling that there is an awful lot to pull you south in Croatia, but the region of Istria is packed with some amazing places to see too!
Istria is a great position to use as stop off on the return leg of a Croatian road trip; especially if you are keen to capitalise on your time in Croatia until the very last moment!
Mountain Roads on Croatia Road Trip
However, a word of warning. The route we chose to get from Zadar to Umag which bends over the top of Rijeka is very very mountainous. We had to deal with a lot of backseat car sickness on the journey over which is not something we expected or particularly enjoyed. Be sure to check your route carefully if this is something that any of your travelling party suffer with.
This also means the route that looks the shortest on the map is not going to be in real time.
Umag is Croatia’s first major coastal town on the drive down from Slovenia. Like many other places in Croatia the coastline around Umag is beautiful and is often referred to as the Istrian Riviera. And in true Croatian style it offers some truly amazing sunsets.
The beaches in the area are, in true Croatian style, rocky and stoney. However, they offer some of the most wonderful snorkelling. Croatia is full of wonderful snorkelling opportunities, but the seas here were different again.
The fish are different and the coastline is a little shallower further out which means you can see just that little bit more. Plus there are loads of crabs! And I mean massive crabs. The kind you would see in a really expensive seafood restaurant type crabs!
Back on dryland Umag offers big broad harbour walks and sea views, historic plazas and squares and some really quaint alleys full of trinket shops and seafood restaurants. It has a bit of everything and none of it is very showy.
It’s the kind of place you slowly take in as you wander around. Then after a while you turn to your other half and say, ‘it’s really quite nice here isn’t it?’ Umag is low-key lovely and a great place to end a Croatian road trip.
Pula is on the bottom tip of Istria County and is often frequented by cheap budget-friendly airlines which makes visiting really handy if it gets missed off of a road trip around Croatia.
The town is complete with Roman Amphitheatre, Roman temples and historic city gates. Pula is a real gem. We first visited Croatia in 2010 when Croatia wasn’t so cool and Pula is where we came and first fell in love with Croatia. I still think it is one of the loveliest places to visit.
Another great thing about Pula is its proximity to Rovinj. In recent years Rovinj has become one of THE places to visit in Croatia. I get it. Rovinj is genuinely lovely. Old narrow streets, once full of fishermen and their wives, wind around the old town as it climbs to meet the iconic church which becomes the focal point of most pictures of Rovinj. The harbour is lovely as are the views out to the islands that lay to the southwest of the town.
However, Rovinj doesn’t epitomise Croatia. It is not the best part, nor is it a part that I would suggest is overrated. Rather it’s just one part of many that makes Croatia a truly wonderful country to visit and explore.
Hospitals Visits on a Croatian Road Trip
While in Croatia we had to visit the hospital to see a doctor three times. Yes, you heard, three times. When on holiday or travelling through another country the last thing you want to do get embroiled with doctors visits, but when needs must, you simply have to navigate your way through it.
Even though visiting a hospital in another country can seem daunting our experiences of getting seen and issues addressed where fairly easy.
Firstly, do not go to a private clinic. Although it may look like the easier option it is costly and simply unnecessary. Go to the normal state hospitals. This will cost a fraction of the price and sometimes there is no cost at all.
Waiting times to be seen will vary as that will depend on how busy each facility is. Doctors and hospital staff speak English and are helpful and considerate, especially when it comes to children. The one thing you need to make sure you have with you while you are away is your GHIC card.
Be aware, prescriptions will always need paying for, although you can claim these back on your travel insurance.
Croatia Road Trip Conclusion
Croatia is a destination that has grown in popularity in recent years and it’s clear why. The place is stunning. Croatia offers so much for those willing to drive those long hours through Europe to get there. My advice would be to plan your Croatian road trip according to your own agenda and not someone else’s. Or don’t plan at all!
Croatia’s gems are hidden away for the freer traveller to find. Not those looking for the perfect Instagram picture or those following an ‘influenced’ crowd. Croatia is a place you can make your own memories.
Discover places that tell an actual story or places that speak to you, excite you or have been recommended to you when you’re there.
You won’t be disappointed on a Croatian road trip.
Places to stay on Croatia Road Trip
Puntica Ražanac – Ražanac
Camping Park Umag – Umag
Camp Dalmacija – Privlaka
Camping Viter – Zaostrog
Auto Camp Kupari – Srebreno, Dubrovnik