Croatia is one of the most photographic countries imaginable. Pristine lakes, fairytale-like waterfalls, medieval architecture, and dreamy islands are common sights. And being a relatively small country, it’s easy to tick off many highlights and hidden gems in just over a week.
On this Ultimate Croatia Itinerary for 2023, you’ll wander the capital city of Zagreb, admire the network of waterfalls in Krka National Park, island hop on the Adriatic Sea, and step back in time in Dubrovnik’s Old City. If you’re ready to discover magnificent landscapes and be welcomed by warm Croatian hospitality, you’ve come to the right place.
Table of Contents
- Day 1: Arrive & Explore Zagreb
- Day 2: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
- Day 3: Zadar
- Day 4: Krka National Park & Split
- Day 5: Split
- Day 6: Hvar, Hvar
- Day 7: Korcula
- What to do and see in Korcula:
- Day 8: Dubrovnik
- Day 9: Morning in Dubrovnik, say your goodbyes
- The Ultimate Croatia Itinerary For 2023: Final Thoughts:
Day 1: Arrive & Explore Zagreb
You’re Croatian adventure is about to begin, and there’s no better place to start than the country’s capital – Zagreb. Hopefully, your flight arrived early, as there is a lot to do and see in this charming historic city. To make the most of your time in Croatia and avoid hectic public transport, we recommend grabbing yourself a rental car for the first five days and returning it in Split.
What to do and see in Zagreb:
The best way to get your bearings in Croatia and discover the beauty of Zagreb is to explore on your own two feet. The city center is split into two main parts, Lower Town and Upper Town. Lower Town is the new part of the city and features lots of shopping, charming cafes, and impressive architecture. Upper Town has a different vibe, with winding, cobbled streets and buildings dating back to the 11th century.
If you arrive into Zagreb early, try to make it to Lotrščak Tower at noon. Every day, a cannon is shot off at exactly 12:00 pm, ensuring all residents have their clocks set correctly. Nearby you’ll also find the world-famous Museum of Broken Relationships, which must be visited to be understood.
What to eat:
As Zagreb has stayed relatively off the tourist map compared to its southern counterparts, you’ll find lots of delicious local cuisine for a very reasonable price. In saying that, it’s hard to pinpoint precisely what Croatian food entails, as it’s a bit of a melting pot between Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish food.
One of the oldest restaurants in town, Stari Puntijar, serves up hearty game meat dishes, with recipes dating back to the 17th century. For something a bit more modern and lighter, head to Pod Zidom and order a mix of tapas and wine. Trilogija Fino & Vino is also a well-loved restaurant, serving a mix of Mediterranean and Croatian food, and their grilled cheese with truffle is an absolute must-try.
Where to stay:
$ – Chillout Hostel Zagreb
$$ – ZigZag Zagreb Apartments
$$$ – Esplanade Zagreb Hotel
Day 2: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Travel time: 2-hour drive
Tucked an easy two-hour drive from Zagreb, you’ll reach arguably the most beautiful part of Croatia – Plitvice Lakes National Park. Here, multiple mountain ranges meet, creating a dramatic yet peaceful landscape with emerald lakes, nearly 100 waterfalls, and sheer-walled cliffs. It’s also the most popular park in Croatia, so planning ahead and getting an early start is important to get the most out of your day here.
What to do and see in Plitvice National Park:
Things to do in Plitvice Lakes National Park all focus on its incredible landscapes. Most visitors head out on one of the eight hiking trails, spanning from three to eight hours long. However, even if you don’t want to lace up the hiking boots, you’ll still find plenty of other ways to take in your surroundings.
Kayaking on the Mreznica River is a favorite for adventure seekers. As you float down the river, you can choose to dive off waterfalls and swim in the beautiful blue waters. Many people don’t know that Plitvice Lakes National Park’s underground world is also fascinating. To see this other side of the park for yourself, book a tour of Grabovača Cave Park.
Where to eat:
Considering Plitvice National Park is in the middle of nowhere, it has a surprising number of restaurants. Around the park’s entrance, you’ll find stalls selling homemade grah (bean stew), sausages, and the local delicacy, cherry strudels. If you’re on the lookout for a sit-down meal, Licka Kuca is a long-standing favorite. The kitchen serves up hearty, traditional food and makes the perfect place to relax after a big day of exploring.
Families and those looking for something less traditional will love Bistro & Caffe Plum. This surprisingly stylish restaurant serves up a bit of everything, with hearty yet healthy dishes. Or, if you want to steer away from the crowds, head slightly further afield to Resotran Degeniji, which serves up authentic Italian pizza.
Where to stay:
$ – Plitvice Holiday Resort
$$ – Plitvice Lakes Etno Garden
$$$ – Plitvice Holiday Lodge
Day 3: Zadar
Travel time: 1.5-hour drive
Enjoy another short but scenic drive this morning to Zadar, and get your first taste of stunning Croatian coastline. Often thought of as the up-and-coming Dubrovnik, you can enjoy the impressive architecture and beautiful beaches without the crowds. Between the Roman, Byzantine, and Venetian influences and scars of past wars, Zadar is truly a unique place to be.
What to see and do in Zadar:
One of the most fantastic things about Zadar is its artsy connections with the land, sky, and sea. A sea organ sits on Zadar’s southwestern quay and gives off deep chords as the waves and sea breezes flow through it. Nearby is the Sun Salutation Light Show, which consists of 10,000 solar panels that collect light during the day and then releases the light in a goose-bump-inducing show after sunset.
You’ll also want to take time to simply wander Zadar’s historic center. As you weave through narrow streets lined with charming shops and restaurants, you cannot help but feel like you’ve stepped back in time. See if you can spot influences of different cultures, all claiming the land at one time or another.
What to eat:
Zadar is all about seafood, and if you’re a fan, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose just one or two places to eat. Kornat is especially known amongst locals for its daily fish and seafood menu, and sits charmingly on the end of a little harbor. Another great option is Restaurant Groppo, serving perfectly cooked gnocchi and seafood bruschettas and baked octopus. If you’re after something other than seafood, Mamma Mia is the place to go. Pizzas and pasta make up most of the menu, and there’s always a lively buzz to go with the great food.
Where to stay:
$ – Downtown Boutique Hotel
$$ – Luxury Rooms Kadena
$$$ – Teatro Verdi Boutique Hotel
Day 4: Krka National Park & Split
Travel time: 2-hour drive
Today you’re continuing your drive south to Split, with a stop off at Krka National Park. If you thought you couldn’t top Plitvice Lakes’ beauty, you’re in for a surprise. A network of waterfalls cascade through the park, with serene landscapes and picturesque historic sites completing the charm. Afterward, you’ll continue to the bustling city of Split, where you’ll stay for the next two nights.
What to do and see in Krka National Park:
You’ll want to allow at least two hours to explore the best of Krka National Park. The most popular option, and for a good reason, is the 1.2-mile (1.9-kilometer) scenic walkway. The trail takes you along a meandering stream with small falls and pools until finally, you reach the park’s most well-known waterfall – Skradinski Buk. If you want to see more of the park, you can also opt to take a boat tour out to the 74 feet (22.5 meters) Roski slap waterfall.
You’ll probably arrive in Split in the late afternoon, so we’ll save our longer list of things to do for tomorrow. Tonight, enjoy a walk along the harbor and find your perfect place to relax and enjoy the beautiful views.
What to eat:
You’ll probably be hungry after your adventure in Krka National Park, so we recommend heading to the nearby town of Skradin for lunch. Set on the shores of Lake Prokljan and surrounded by cliffs, it’s one of those towns you have to see to really grasp its charm. You can’t go wrong with any of the lakefront restaurants, but Evala and Restaurant Marina Skradin are long-standing favorites.
For dinner in Split, you’ll have your work cut out for you deciding where to eat. Places like Dvor and Brasserie On 7 offer stunning sea views and top-notch food. Or, you can choose to head into the historic town center and dine at cozy restaurants serving local cuisine.
Where to stay:
$ – Ciri Biri Bela Boutique Hostel
$$ – Silente Bacvice
$$$ – Heritage Hotel Antique Split
Day 5: Split
Enjoy a relaxing morning after your past four big days of exploring, and get ready to discover the history and seaside beauty of Split. As Split is best explored on foot, we recommend putting on your best pair of walking shoes, packing a bag, and seeing where the day takes you. Oh, and if you haven’t already, return your rental car. You won’t need it for the rest of the trip.
Things to do in Split:
Diocletian’s Palace – A palace built in the 4th century AD for Roman emperor Diocletian, today it’s home to an entire neighborhood with apartments, hotels, small shops, and even a grocery store. Let yourself get lost in its maze of streets and admire the many architectural details throughout the palace.
Explore Old Town Split – Outside Diocletian’s Palace, Old Town sprawls out with numerous historic buildings and charming walkways. The wider streets allow more room to wander and take in the remarkable architecture.
Marjan Hill – It’s hard to believe this massive park is just a stone’s throw from downtown Split. With numerous hiking trails, a few pristine beaches, and plenty of shade, it’s the perfect place to go for an afternoon wander. You can also hike to the top of Marjan Hill, where you’ll be rewarded with superb views over the harbor and city.
Relax on the Riva – When you’ve had enough walking for a little while, one of the best places to relax is along the Riva. Benches are scattered along the promenade, so take your pick and watch the world go by. During summer, it’s also an ideal spot to watch big ferries and small boats make their way in and out of the harbor.
Day 6: Hvar, Hvar
Travel time: 2-hour ferry
So nice they named it twice! Hvar is a town on Hvar Island, and we promise, you’ll love this charming town. To get here, you’ll hop on a ferry in Split and after a scenic two-hour journey, you’ll have traded in the bustling city for a picturesque island steeped in character. Depending on which ferry route you take, you’ll end up in Stari Grad or Hvar. Both routes have their perks, but you will want to base yourself in Hvar town to make it easier to catch the ferry tomorrow.
What to do and see in Hvar:
While it’d be easy to spend an entire week exploring Hvar’s many bays and hidden beaches, you only have an afternoon, so you’ll need to make the most of your time here. If you arrive into Stari Grad, it’s well worth taking the short 20-minute walk to check out this picture-perfect town. Meander the waterfront and admire the contrast of fishing boats and luxury yachts before continuing on to Hvar town.
Once in Hvar town, you have a few different options depending on how active you’d like to be. During the summer months, beachside restaurants are crowded with partygoers, and the atmosphere is perfect to post up and relax with a cocktail in hand. If you’re after something more active, you can take a guided bike tour around the island or hike up to the fortress above Hvar Town for staggering views of the town below and the Pakleni islands.
What to eat:
Hopefully, you’re not sick of seafood yet, as Hvar is renowned for its delicious fare caught fresh from the sea. Giaxa is especially known for its farm and sea-to-table cuisine. It is set in a narrow backstreet and provides the perfect setting to relax and let time slip away. Another local favorite is Konoba Menego, which serves traditional Croatian cuisine with a Dalmatian coast influence. If you want something, well, not so Croatian, 50 Hvar serves American classics, craft beers, and refreshing desserts.
Where to stay:
$ – Youth Hostel Villa Marija
$$ – Maki Apartments
$$$ – Hotel Podstine
Day 7: Korcula
Travel time: 1.5 hours
It’s all about enjoying the Croatian Islands today. You’ll hop back aboard the ferry and weave your way between islands, admiring the brilliant blue waters contrasting the greys and green of the land. Be sure to keep your eye out for dolphins, too! Then, after a 90-minute journey, you’ll arrive at the rather long but narrow Korcula Island. Korcula Town, the main town on the island, is known as “Little Dubrovnik” due to its similarities in architecture, medieval squares, and churches. Get ready for another fabulous day of beaches, history, and endless views.
What to do and see in Korcula:
First on your list, you’ll want to head inside Old Town. It’s the main thing you see as you arrive by ferry, and the walled town complete with medieval architecture just begs to be explored. While it’s much smaller than Dubrovnik, which you’ll explore tomorrow, you can wander the streets without the crowds and get a real feel for life on the island. You’ll also want to stop by St Mark’s Cathedral, located in Old Town, to check out the 15th-century stonework and intricate carvings.
Next, if you haven’t yet had a beach day, this is the place to do it. If you want to spend more time in the water, Pupnatska Luca Beach is great for swimming and snorkeling. Keep in mind it’s a pebble beach, though. So not the best for laying out. Vela Przina Beach, on the other hand, is a sandy beach; while small, you can always find your own slice of paradise.
What to eat:
Given Korcula is one of the quieter islands in terms of visitors, you won’t find as many high-end restaurants and beach bars here as you would in Hvar and Split. However, you will find restaurants with a more intimate setting, focusing on local wines, seafood, and Dalmatian Coast classics.
If you haven’t tried it yet, be sure to scope out Black Risotto. This delicious seafood risotto is colored black with squid ink and will be unlike any risotto you’ve ever had. LD Restaurant, Adio Mare, and Filippi are all on the fancier side of the spectrum but offer up great atmospheres and even better dishes. Or, for something more casual, Arula Ethno Bakery is the perfect place to grab a quick bite or mid-afternoon treat.
Where to stay:
$ – Guest House Korunić
$$ – Aminess Korčula Heritage Hotel
$$$ – Hotel Korsal
Day 8: Dubrovnik
Travel time: 2 – 2.5 hour ferry
It’s your last full day on your ultimate Croatia itinerary, but not to worry. Today you’re visiting one of the most iconic towns in the country, steeped with history and endless Instagram-worthy photo ops. First, though, you’re back on the ferry for a 2.5-hour cruise along the Adriatic sea, once again gliding through picture-perfect islands until you reach the port of Dubrovnik. From here, you can catch a bus or taxi into Old town and begin your day wandering the narrow streets and stunning coastlines Dubrovnik is known for.
What to do and see in Dubrovnik:
If there’s one must-do while in Dubrovnik, it’s walking around Old Town walls. Yes, it’s a bit expensive and busy, but without a doubt, it’s the best way to really grasp the amazing architecture and full expanse of Old Town. The walk lasts around two hours, although depending on how often you stop to take pictures, it can certainly last much longer.
With your ticket to walk the walls of Old Town, you’ll also get access to Fort Lovrijenac. Towering 121 feet (37 meters) above sea level, it’s just as picturesque from the outside as it is from the inside and well worth the visit. Other things to do and see in Dubrovnik include taking a Game of Thrones Tour, heading out for a sea kayaking adventure, and taking a cable car (or hike) up to the top of Mount Srd. Pick a favorite or two and enjoy a day you won’t soon forget!
What to eat:
Hopefully, you’ve saved a bit of room in your budget for today, as there’s one thing everyone can agree on, Dubrovnik is expensive. Nautika, for example, is perched on the city’s wall overlooking the fortresses of Lovrijenac and Bokar and is one of Dubrovnik’s most prestigious restaurants. But if you’re ready to splurge, their five-course set menu will be one you’ll remember for years to come. Other less spendy favorites include the likes of Bura Bistro & Bar, Azur, and Kopun. Or, simply wander the hidden alleys of Old Town until mouth-watering smells draw you in.
Where to stay:
$ – Hostel Villa Garden
$$ – Scalini Palace
$$$ – Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik
Day 9: Morning in Dubrovnik, say your goodbyes
There’s something magical about Dubrovnik bright and early in the morning, before the cruise ships arrive and the masses have woken up. If you’re a morning person, take advantage of this and head out for an exploration and breakfast. After all, today is your last day in Croatia and you’ll want to make the most of it.
Most visitors who end their trip in Dubrovnik will fly out from the town’s small but busy airport. Otherwise, taking a ferry or bus back to Split and flying out from there is also possible. Either way, enjoy your last moments in Croatia!
The Ultimate Croatia Itinerary For 2023: Final Thoughts:
If you haven’t yet, discover the best time to visit Croatia, book your flight to Zagreb, and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime. Until then, tease your wanderlust with these Secret Portuguese Islands and the Best Winter Destinations in Europe.