Croatia Travel Guide: Best First Visit Itinerary
Updated: Aug 19
It's a BIG country--you gotta start somewhere!
by Siri Kay Jostad
When I embarked on planning a girl's trip to Croatia, I had NO idea about anything to do with Croatia except that they had filmed Game of Thrones in Dubrovnik. The geography completely escaped me. I was 100% in the dark regarding what might be of interest to see. It took literally months of deep diving research. The result? An itinerary I feel a bit lucky to have turned out so perfectly. Which is why I want to share it with you.
duration: 16 nights
Depart San Diego and fly to the capital of Croatia, Zagreb
(prior to the trip I didn't even know Zagreb was the capital!
Plitvice National Park-2 nights
Fly home to San Diego from Dubrovnik
Figuring out the routing was the biggest upfront challenge. I couldn't do nearly all of what I wanted on this trip. The missed goodies are definitely on a go-back trip that includes the towns of Zadar and all of the natural beauty of Istria, north of Split. It's so hard for me to leave anything on the table, but what we did see and do was spectacular. Given another 2 weeks, I would have added time on all the islands (Trogir, Hvar, Brac, Vis, Korcula) plus the Istria towns of Porec, Rovinj, Pula, Motovun and others. Up near the northern border, I see they have resorts with hot mineral waters--a weakness of mine.
Landing in Zagreb at dinner time, we hit the ground running. After checking in to our spectacular airbnb apartment, we popped out for dinner at Boban (delicious) then found our way through old town to the Museum of Broken Relationships. Sort of a weird, not necessarily uplifting way to begin a trip, but we were glad we got it out of the way as it was 'interesting' and the views of the Zagreb at night from the plaza nearby, made it worth the walk. (I will do a fuller Guide to Zagreb in a separate post)
Plitvice National Park
While it's near impossible to avoid those 1 million + visitors who stop by Plitvice every year, the turquoise waters of this magnificent park are worth battling crowds on the boardwalk. The nature is breathtaking. The walks are easy. A lot of people do the park in a day, like we but if you're a hiker, there are myriad opportunities for walking in the peace of nature, so you could spend as many days here doing that as you like. There is no shipping and few restaurants. I stayed at Etno Garden Exclusive in Plitvice Selo. From our hotel we walked less than 1 mile to an alternate park entrance, which meant the hotel got the entry tickets for us and we didn't have to wait in any lines. We just walked in and started enjoying the park.
Known as the Croatian Riviera, it lives up to its reputation. A lovely seaside promenade is a jumping off place for boats to nearby islands. The town has much to offer Diocletian's Palace, the Marjan Forest for hiking and views, Ivan Metrovic museum, gardens and chapel (he's a hometown sculptor), great food and wonderful shopping. I stayed 4 nights and could easily have enjoyed more. We were were cosily housed in a suite with a kitchen in to a perfectly charming and home-like boutique hotel called Sleep Split,located just outside the entrance to Diocletian's Palace which meant we were in easy walking distance of everything.
Like most of the hot spots in Croatia, the walled city of Dubrovnik is a tourist zoo. So I took a big chance and booked a house in Cavtat (Villa Residence Luna), the upscale suburb. This decision paid off big time. From Cavtat, you can drive 20 mins to the walled city (and probably not find parking anywhere!) or hop on a nearby ferry...much easier. We visited the city when we wanted, then retreated to the peace of our modern, spacious villa. Cavtat itself is a small seaside town with restaurants and a great spa (Hotel Croatia).
I was blown away by how beautiful Croatia is, how nice the people are and how this gem had someone not been on my radar. Put it on yours now for sure. You will be glad you did. I traveled in September/October. The bumper season was somewhat less daunting. Prices were incredibly affordable compared to other European destinations, and surprisingly, I came home with money in my pocket!
Each city on this itinerary is a treasure in and of itself so in the next few weeks I will work on detailing some hidden gems for you. Please message me when you go and share what you find.
For guides to specific cities in Croatia, click here for Zagreb Travel Guide, Plitvice Travel Guide, Split Travel Guide and Dubrovnik Travel Guide. (if it's not highlighted blue yet, then I'm still writing it...but it is coming soon!)