Go before they are on the €uro, or members in the EU and the prices skyrocket. Go while they have not burned out on tourists - who despite our best behavior, can wear down the most hospitable of hosts. To me, it has the best of Italy and Greece combined. Go, Go , Go.
Croatia has got so many things going for it, I can't even begin to list them all.
You can rent charter boats and sail/motor for a day or week, there are over 1,000 islands off the coast. You can swim in the crystal clear waters of Dubrovnik, bike the countryside and numerous national parks - or hunt for truffles and visit vineyards in Istria. It's really got something for everyone.
So now that I've convinced you, here is an itinerary to help you. Honestly a week was too short and you have to be selective, so sadly you can't do it all. But this might help you determine what is possible.
Getting to Croatia
Click on any photos below for larger images
This is the easiest part. You can ferry boat from Venice across the Adriatic if you have time. You can fly in from almost any major city in Europe. So my advice is to find the cheapest ticket to anywhere on the continent and then puddle jump on one of the many "discount airlines" to a starting Croatian City. Check flights from Croatian Air, German Wings, Easy Jet. When I went in 2015, these flights were $79 - 102 each way. We flew to Croatia after a few days in Paris, and from Zagreb to Stuggart on our departure. But really, you could combine any European gateway and extend your trip as you please.
Where to start in Croatia
We started in Dubrovnik and worked our way North staying mainly to the Coastline until we flew from Pula in the North to Zagreb. But you could start from anywhere. There are inexpensive flights from most EU countries daily to several of the coastal Cities, and flights within Croatia are quick and easy. In fact, there is no 1 hr advance rule at the small airports and no seat assignments. Croatia Air in Pula didn't even announce the gate until 15 minutes before departure. So even that was easy.
Croatia Itinerary - 8 Amazing Days
We started in Dubrovnik and departed from Zagreb. This itinerary assumes you have a car once you leave DBV.
Paris to Dubrovnik
FLY: 12:05 pm – 2:20 pm
Paris (CDG) – Dubrovnik (DBV) Croatia
We shuttled from the airport by bus. It is very easy, with operators meeting you at the exit. No reservations. We exited at the Pile Gate to meet our host. Note: We chose to rent a car on departure from Dubrovnik, as we didn't want to hassle with parking in Old Town.
CHECK-IN Apartment Franka, $130 per nt Bandureva 2, Old Town, Dubrovnik, 20000, Tel +385918936855. We were met at the Pile Gate by Marija who escorted us to our Apartment. Amazing location by the wharf, but minutes to everything. Quiet, clean and very comfortable...and only a few stairs to our door (Yes! Very important to note in Old Town). The restaurant right below us serves what is reputably the best pizza in town, and they brought it right up to our patio. A little nosh after walking the wall of the city. Debated about staying outside Old Town in a fancy resort. Glad we didn't. We were only there for 2 days and the atmosphere and nightly song and festivities made staying in the gates all worth it. More on Dubrovnik soon
Wandered the City all morning to take in the history and beauty. Then chartered a small motor boat to see the islands for @ $300 USD inclusive. By about 11am the Old Town is overrun with tourists and Cruise Ship folk. It's a walled City, I thought we'd leave it to them, and come back in the evening. It was a great idea! Would have been even better if we found another couple to split the tab. There was plenty of room on the boat. Who did we use? I don't remember and that's bad, but we simply went to the harbor and negotiated. A young former Coast Guard met us, asked us what we were interested in doing - and off we went. I should note - I was interested in free diving and discovering caves, but we hit some islands too. Igor knew all the spots.
Dubrovnik to Split/Trogir
Get Rental Car at Airport (we took the bus back. Very fast and easy)
Car DBV to PULA Midsize Class - Unlimited Miles $138
We left Dubrovnik around noon for 3 hour drive to Split. Split is a major port with loads of ferry traffic and the easiest spot to venture off to some of the inhabited islands. We will save those for another trip. Have your passport ready - you pass through the sea access of Bosnia-Herzagovina as you travel one of the most beautiful coastal highways in the world. Plan on a lot of photo stops. Really. A lot. It was a spectacular drive. Up the coast is Trogir, a smaller walled city than Dubrovnik. Stop if you wish to visit.
CHECK-IN Riva Royal View Luxury Apartments **** $157 /€ 140 Luxury 1 brd balcony/Sea @ 3 pm +385992222899. WOW WOW WOW. If you can get this apartment - get it. Great location a two-step to the Diocletian Palace and on the Riva (waterfront). A great place to relax after exploring marvelous Split. We only stayed here one night, but it could easily have accommodated us for longer!
Split to Sibenek/Krka Nat’l Park
Split to Sibenek is 1 hour and 5 minute drive. You are now heading to a fun day of hiking and enjoying nature in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I live in Tahoe, so I don't bandy that about lightly. Good walking shoes are a must. Leave Split as early as possible to avoid the tour groups at Krka. Note: In Split, visit on of the wonderful food shops. You’ll want to pick up a picnic for Krka ahead of time. The food inside the park is limited.
In Sibenek you can take a ferry to Krka Nat’l Lakes (See the post on waterfalls if you want to view what's there). Or, you can drive to the Lozovac entrance, north of Sibenik, not far from the highway. From there you reach the Skradinski Buk waterfalls either by shuttle bus (every 15 min) or less than 750 m on foot. We did the latter and took the bus into the park. More on Split, and Krka soon.
When you’ve bathed and played enough at Krka, hit the road for another 50 minutes to Zadar.
We left Krka @ 2pm feeling we had seen plenty, and certainly more than the tour groups.
CHECK-IN a hotel or apartment @ 3pm - I am not recommending our place.
Parking: you park outside the walls. There are several zones - zone one is 6 kuna per hour, zone two is 4 kuna per hour. Parking is from 8 am to 10 pm and by the way the machines only take COINS. No paper money, so be prepared. All in all, it is very cheap parking.
Zadar. Loved it. Don't miss this City. And don't go to sleep early. The place is hopping at night. From pop-up clubs in the park with laser light shows, to the seawall which has an amazing sea organ - that should be experienced at night and the Sun Salutation. There are pre-Roman ruins all over the old town to see during the day. The food is fabulous. More on Zadar soon.
Zadar to Plitvice Lakes National Park
Drive 1 hour and 45 minutes to PLNP. Yes we saw Krka, but Plitvice was a must stop.
CHECK IN Rooms Villa Nena $88 inside park on river inlet. Funky local B&B. Any B&B in this area of Plitvica Selo is highly recommended for scenery and great access to the Park using the less crowded entrances. Arrive @ 2pm. The Large Waterfall, one of the attractions of the National Park, is only down the street, while the Kozjak Lake boat tours of the national park depart about 10-minute walk from the property. Here were our exact directions to the House "15 minutes from Entrance 3. Take D1. Pass Entrance 2 in Plitvice and then Entrance . After a few kilometers you will pass a bridge of Korana. Go forward after few kilometers you will come to a sign Plaski and Saborsko and here you need to turn left and than straight to Plitvica Selo and than again the wooden bridge and after you pass a wooden bridge first street right you need to turn and you will find the property." Ok, so it requires some "hide and seek skills", but this area has many B&B's run by locals. It is in a lovely area. FYI Nena will make dinner if you ask in advance.
NOTE: Buy PLNP tickets before heading to house at any entrance along the way. You can't buy them at Entrance 3 when you get to the house. We explored the Park in the late afternoon.
Plitvice Lakes National Park to Rovinj
Spent the morning in the park after a lovely breakfast with Nena. More on Plitvice soon.
Leave PLNP @ 11 am.
Ready for some more driving? Drive 3 hours from Plitvice Lakes National Park to the Istrian Peninsula - Rovinj. Stop for food along the way and be spontaneous, you really never know what amazing tiny town will have the best food. Or drive straight through past lovely hill towns, you’ll be in Rovinj by 2 pm.
CHECK IN Hotel Adriatic $144 view of sea Rovinj @ 2 pm. OMG this place was awesome! On the waterfront with windows that opened to the square. Can't say enough good things about this place. Wish we had stayed longer!
Rovinj to Pula to
Leave Rovinj by 2:30 pm ( Drive to airport is 40 minutes). Just get to the airport and turn in car by 3:30 pm. We visited Pula on the way to the airport.
FLY: 16:30 - 17:10 Pula to Zagreb (ZAG) Croatia Airlines
CHECK IN Palace Hotel Zagreb $125 per nt. Overlooking one of Zagreb's most beautiful parks, the hotel is only a 5-minute walk from the main city square and the historical core of the city. It's a bit tattered and worn, with small rooms, but a nice old hotel for a great price.
Loved Zagreb. We stayed 2 nights. If you can work it into your itinerary it is worth it! A vibrant city... and no shortage of coffee bars.
More on Zagreb soon