Although it is tempting to book a package holiday to Croatia, I would encourage anyone contemplating a visit to Croatia to consider a DIY trip. That way, you can follow in our footsteps and visit six incredible places on an awesome driving tour of Croatia. This Balkan country provides a smorgasbord of delights. From stunning beaches to sublime lakes, majestic mountains and quaint Bavarian-style villages. This is a country that warrants exploration. It has good quality roads and reasonable car hire costs and driving is fun and flexible.
Flights and car hire
Book your flights to Zagreb with Skypicker. Both British Airways and Croatian airlines fly to the city but sadly all flights depart from London airports.
Upon arrival, pick up your car rental which you can book with Holiday Extras. This company searches for the best deals from multiple rental firms and offers online booking. Alternatively, you can pick up a car in the city when you are ready to move on. You may find prices a little higher as there is less competition but avoid Avantcar at all costs. Due to an issue with our car hire booking, we hired a last minute car with them. Their service was thoroughly appalling. (Note, The issue with our car hire was resolved upon our return and Holiday Extras went above and beyond to ensure we were happy with their service).
Here is the route for our itinerary. Click the image to access the interactive map.
Day one: Zagreb
In your rush to explore, you may be tempted to bypass Zagreb but I encourage you to spend at least one night in the city. The city is colourful and compact and the major sights are within walking distance. The city offers pulsing nightlife, spectacular restaurants, and some delightful architecture to admire. This 24 hour Zagreb itinerary will allow you to get the most from your short stay.
Day two/three: Plitvice Lakes
If you plan to travel directly from Zagreb to Plitvice you will need to set your alarm for the crack of dawn. It pays to get there early to avoid the crowds, and although you may turn up bleary eyed, you will soon be wide awake when you glimpse the mesmerising turquoise lakes of the national park.
To make the most of your trip, you will need to allow four to six hours which will give you plenty of time to explore the main trails and return to the city.
Our guide to Plitvice Lakes provides tons more information but suffice to say, if Plitvice Lakes isn’t on your bucket list, you need to add it now. Stunning waterfalls, beautiful scenery, incredible boardwalks meandering through dense forest and shimmering lakes are just some of the reasons to visit.
If you want to enjoy a more leisurely journey, you could travel instead to Rastoke on day two and stay overnight near the lakes. Rastoke is a delightful little town straddling a deep ravine and is worth a small detour. Hard as it may be to imagine, the tiny wooden bridge will hold the weight of a car!
We selected this option and stayed in the small village of Ostarski Stankvi which is around 15 minutes from Plitvice Lakes. This also means you avoid spending hours in the car as you will only need to drive 1hr 45 to your next stop of Zadar. We stayed at Tourist Center Marko which offers reasonable rooms in a scenic location.
Day four: Zadar town
I recommend that you book a hotel or Airbnb in Zadar for three to four nights as this delightful town is a great base to explore some of the surrounding villages and natural scenery. The old town sits on a small peninsula and is a hotchpotch of crooked alleys, sun-drenched squares and Roman ruins. Ice cream parlours and fast food outlets nestle between restaurants and bars and tourists throng the narrow cobbles and smooth worn stones.
For such a tiny old town Zadar is crammed with beautiful architecture, Venetian ruins, medieval walls, fortresses and parks. One marvellous way to admire the town is to follow the promenade around the city walls where you can admire the Kopnena Vrata (Land Gate), St Anastasia’s Cathedral, the Greeting to the Sun and the Sea Organ. It is less than two miles to walk the entire waterfront from Luka Marina to Fosa port and back to Luka Marina via Kopnena Vrata.
If you are feeling lazy you can take the tourist train instead which leaves from the stop by the gate to the old town at the end of the Gradski Most bridge.
Day five: Nin lagoon and Queens Beach
Head north for 14km to Nin, a charming little village with a tiny archway, small orthodox style church, and a quaint central square offering a selection of restaurants and bars.
The highlight of the town is the large lagoon which is almost entirely encircled by the long sandy Zridjac beach. Turquoise waters lap the shores and if you go for a paddle you may mistake the water for a bath. In the distance, you can see forest and beyond Rocky Mountain escarpments. Kite surfers and windsurfers dance across the waves whilst children frolic in the shallow waters. You can hire sunbeds and a parasol for 100kn for the day (around £3 a person as each parasol hosts four beds). Come mid-afternoon as we did and you will probably get them for free (and you might be able to cope with the insufferable heat! It was 40c when we visited at the beginning of July)
There is also a restaurant and bar and a few shacks selling, crepes fruit juices and other drinks. Showers and toilets are onsite.
On Queens Beach (on the south side of town) you can smoother yourself in dark healing mud meant to offer relief from a range of rheumatic disorders, sciatica, arthritis, and also for many skin diseases. Soak in the warm lagoon waters to wash it off and you will leave with skin as soft as a baby’s bum!
Eat in Nin
While you are in Nin be sure to eat at Sentimenti Konoba. The food was absolutely delicious!
Day six: Dugi Otok island
Jump on the ferry from Zadar Port and head out to this island around 75 minutes away. It is utterly stunning with pristine wilderness, uncommercial beaches and the opportunity to join a sea kayaking tour which will give you access to some remote shoreline and potential wildlife sightings.
For more information on this tour read our Zadar Kayak Adventure post. We had a brilliant time on this tour and I would highly recommend it.
We stayed in a fabulous Airbnb overlooking the old town of Zadar and Luka Port and paid £736.81 for four nights for a two bedroom apartment. If you have yet to sign up for Airbnb, use this Airbnb link to register and you will receive up to £34 credit towards your first booking.
I use Airbnb frequently as it allows for greater interaction with locals and more flexibility. Many traditional holiday rentals insist on a minimum booking of a week. With Airbnb, you can book for as little as one night (although some owners impose a minimum stay).
Day seven: Return to Zagreb
The return journey to Zagreb will take around 3 – 4 hours and introduce you to more dramatic sea views from the towering hillsides above the town. As you head into the mountains, you will be able to glimpse the coastline and islands beyond before you descend into dense forests en route to Zagreb. You will spot quaint Bavarian style villages, lush farmland and the occasional lake before you reach the city suburbs.
If you leave Zadar early enough (beware it may be difficult to tear yourself away) you can be in Zagreb for lunch time. You can then spend the afternoon visiting any sights you didn’t have time to enjoy thoroughly on your first day.
Why you should take a self-drive tour of Croatia
This is only my second visit to Croatia. On both trips I have been captivated by stunning scenery, incredible medieval towns and quaint seaside villages. This tour will introduce you to some of the scenic delights of the company but is by no means intended to be a comprehensive tour of the country. Sign up to our newsletter here as next month we have a real bumper post planned for lovers of Croatia. It will showcase the top 15 places to visit in the country if you can spare a whole month.