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A Perfect 10 days in Croatia - the ultimate itinerary


Dubrovnik old town

Croatia has everything you could want for the perfect vacation - beautiful scenery, interesting history, great beaches, quaint towns, outdoor adventures, Roman ruins and more. I promise you will fall in love with this gorgeous country and wonder why you didn't come sooner. This 10-day itinerary is going to be a general overall itinerary for Croatia. Each leg of this itinerary will be broken down in to future posts where I will give you all the details about what to see and do as well as the logistics for those specific areas. This post will cover the general flow, how much time you need in each stop and other practical information such as foods to try, getting around, currency, language etc. I will quickly touch on a few things to see and do in each stop but, again, I will cover each stop in great detail in future posts. 


town in Croatia

I want to start by talking about some of the reasons why Croatia should be at the top of your European travel bucket list. Although Croatia is certainly becoming more popular, it is still lesser known than the European heavy hitters like France, Spain and Italy, especially among Americans. I’m sure in the future this will change as more and more people realize all that Croatia has to offer. The 1000 miles of coast, hundreds of beautiful islands, enchanting hill towns, absolutely stunning national parks, roman ruins, beautiful beaches, many historical sites and a fascinating history are only some of the reasons I love this country so much. 


boats in Croatia

A little history

Croatia sits on the Adriatic directly across from Italy. It has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The Greeks had settlements here but by the late 1st century Romans controlled the area, followed by the Byzantines.  Croats from southern Poland and Western Ukraine began migrating to the area in the late 6th century. Since the 1100s parts of Croatia have  been under the rule of Hungary, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, and Italy. 


Croatia, of course, made up part of Yugoslavia until the brutal war in the 1990s where it gained its independence. All of these influences mixed together to make a beautiful and interesting culture.


Sibenik Cathedral

Croatia 10 day Itinerary

Ten days is not much time to visit this country, but for your first time you can get a good overview. Each section of this itinerary could be a trip on its own. This 10-day Croatia itinerary is for the first-time visitor to give you a general taste of the country, seeing as much as you can in a short amount of time.  


houses in rovinj

Croatia is a long, skinny country with the top widening out. Because of this shape, it is awkward to do a loop of the whole country, starting and ending in the same airport. There are a couple of ways to handle this. You could only do a section of the country. For instance, on one trip you could do just the north and then on another trip, you could do the south. The other way to handle it is to fly into one airport and out the other. That is what I am going to suggest for this itinerary so you can see more of the country. I would suggest flying into Zagreb and then out of Dubrovnik or Split in the south or vice versa. Another good option would be to fly into Ljubjliana, Slovenia and then out of Dubrovnik or Split. Of course, you could do it the other way around and go from the South to the North but for this itinerary I am going to go from the North to the South. 


Zagreb


Zagreb

The Croatian capital of Zagreb is a great place to begin your adventure. You will need two nights here, recovering from jet lag and seeing the sites . Zagreb is split into upper town and lower town which  are connected by a short funicular, taking less than a minute to ride. Spend some time in the city center seeing the main square (Ban Jelacic square) and St. Mark’s church, with its iconic tiled roof.  Climb Lotrščak Tower for some great views and wander through the red umbrellas of Dolac market tasting local delicacies and fresh produce. There are numerous museums worth a visit in Zagreb. The Nicholas Tesla Technical museum features a 1000 foot underground recreation of a coal mine, a recreation of Tesla's laboratory and a planetarium. The art pavilion is Southeast Europe's oldest art gallery and hosts various exhibits and the Minara museum holds one of the largest private art collections in the world featuring art spanning 3000 years. For a more unique museum try the Museum of Broken Relationships which collects stories and memorabilia from lost love and failed relationships. The Zagreb city museum and archaeological museum are other options. 


Ljubljana


Ljubljana

If you come into Ljubljana, you will also want to take two nights to see the sites and get your bearings. The old town is extremely charming and photogenic. The dragon is the symbol of the city and you will find them all over the town decorating buildings and railings. Everything you will want to see in the town is in a compact area so it is very walk-able. The Ljubljiana river winds through the town with quaint bridges such as the triple bridge, dragon bridge or lover's bridge making for great photo spots. Preseren square, which the bright pink Church of the Annunciation is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the ambiance. Many of the streets such as Mestni trg, Stari trg, Gornji trg, Cankarjevo Nabrezje  are pedestrianized and are full of delightful cafes and shops.  You can climb up to Ljubljiana castle for panoramic views of the surrounding area.  You can tour the castle with or without an audio guide. There is also a unique "escape room adventure" in the castle that is great for kids where you have to figure out how to save the dragon. The central market is a great place to grab lunch or other tasty treats. Take your yummy finds over to Tivoli park, the city's largest green space for a picnic. The Cathedral of St. Nicholas is another must see with its beautiful frescos and bronze doors. The skyscraper Neboticnik offers great views of the town. While the views from the castle are amazing, the views from the skyscraper allow you to view the town and the castle. If you have extra time, consider a day trip to the stunningly beautiful lake Bled or the Postojna caves. 


Ljubljana Slovenia

Istria

The following day head to the Istrian peninsula. This is the triangular shaped piece of land in the northwest part of the country. This area of Croatia has a diverse landscape with rugged coastline, rolling hills, and olive groves. It also has many beautiful villages to explore. If you are coming from Ljubljiana stop at Piran for lunch along the way. Piran is a charming town on a small peninsula jutting out into the sea. It has a strong Venician influence in its architecture and you can climb the tower for beautiful views of the square below. 


Piran Slovenia

You will want to spend at least 2 nights in Istria. If you love Roman ruins, head to Pula to see the beautifully preserved amphitheater. Built in the 1st century, it is the only Roman amphitheater to have 4 side towers completely preserved. Today the arena hosts many concerts and sporting events. Other Roman ruins in Pula include the Temple of the Emporer Agustus, a Roman theater, the door of Hurcules, the Porta Aurea and more.


Pula arena

Rovijn is a must see in this area and a great place for a home base but you could really stay anywhere in this area.  It is a picturesque medieval town located on a small peninsula surrounded by gorgeous blue water. It is absolutely delightful to wander and explore. A tangle of cobbled streets leads up the hill to the church of St. Euphemia where you can climb the bell tower for spectacular views. There is a lovely farmer's market at the bottom of the town which is a great place to pick up some snacks or souvenirs. One full day is plenty for Rovijn. You can do it in less if you are strapped for time. While Rovinj is a popular place during peak season, it doesn't get as mobbed as the Dalmatian coast. 


Rovijn Croatia

The Istrian peninsula also has many charming small towns perched on hilltops with beautiful panoramic views. Motovun and the artsy Groznan are two of my favorites. Hum is one of the smallest towns in the world with around 20 residents and only two streets. While these don’t have any big sights, exploring the narrow alleyways and pretty lanes is the perfect way to spend a day.


Motovun

Plitvice lakes national park


Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice lakes national park is the next stop on the itinerary. Although I hate only spending one night somewhere when traveling, that is what I would do here for this itinerary. Plitvice is known for its 16 cascading waterfalls, gorgeous lakes and spectacularly crystal clear blue water. There are boardwalks and paths throughout the park. Take a boat trip to view more of the park from the lakes. This park is truly one of the most beautiful places I have seen and a do not miss destination. If it works out for your schedule, try to arrive here when the park opens to avoid crowds and the heat. It is hard to imagine but this gorgeous and serene place was where the first shots of the Croatian war of independence were shot. You can still find signs warning of land mines. Just stay on the paths and you will be fine. 


Plitvice National Park


On the way down the coast

Next we head to the historic city of Split stopping in Sibenik or Zadar along the way for a half day. Located on the Adriatic coast, the Sibinik cathedral, St. Michael’s fortress, the old town and the promenade are all worth exploring.


Sibenik

Zadar is famous for its sea organ. A set of pipes are located under a large marble staircase. As the waves flow in and out through the pipes the organ is "played". 


Just before reaching Split make a stop in Trogir for a couple of hours. The old town of Trogir is located on a small island which is connected to the mainland by bridges. It is very picturesque. For great views, climb to the top of Kamerlengo castle.


Trogir


Split

You will need two or three nights in Split (depending on your day trips). Split is home to one of the world’s most impressive Roman monuments. Located on the dalmatian coast, the old town is a UNESCO world heritage site and is literally built in the ruins of the Roman emperor Diocletian’s palace. You will need a day to explore all the alleyways, churches and squares of the palace as well as the riverfront promedade. A hidden gem in Split is the chapel of St. Martin which is a tiny chapel located in the walls of the palace watched over by nuns. In the evenings there is usually some live music played in the perestyle (the square next to the temple) which is the perfect way to end your day. Under the perestyle is an underground market called the Podrum. In Diocletian's day it was a storehouse and prison. Now it is a labyrinth of arched stone hallways selling all sorts of souvenirs.


Split Croatia

The second day, visit an island. We love Hvar but islands like Brac, with its sandy beaches or the relaxing Vis are other great options. It is easy to find ferries, including car ferries, out to the islands. Hvar island, (spelled hvar but pronounced var) is a fabulous day trip. The old town (Hvar town) in the harbor is lovely to walk around and there is a 13th century Venetian hilltop fortress with gorgeous views. There are smaller towns on Hvar worth visiting as well as lavender fields. We like to rent electric scooters and explore the island, finding hidden gems and off the beaten path places. 


Hvar fortress

Another option is a day trip from Split to Krka national park.This park has two well known stunning waterfalls as well as a boat ride to an island with a beautiful monastery. This is an easy day trip from Split with public transportation available. If you want to compare the Krka to Plitvice national park to see which one will be your best option, check here for an article comparing the two so you can decide which one would be best for you.


Dubrovnik


Dubrovnik rooftops

The last stop on the itinerary is the gorgeous Dubrovnik. You will need 2 or 3 nights here as well depending on day trips. Dubrovnik is known as the pearl of the Adriatic, and for good reason. It is absolutely gorgeous. Lying right on the coast it has beautiful views of the Adriatic sea. Walking on the old town walls which almost completely encircle the town is an absolute must, as is wandering its old town (Stari Grad) visiting churches, palaces and exploring the cobblestone streets and medieval architecture. Dubrovnik is famous as a shooting location for Game of Thrones so if you are a fan make sure to visit the shooting locations. The rector's palace often hosts concerts and other cultural events. We were lucky enough to be able to attend a Gypsy Jazz concert held in this historic building.  

The Lovrijenac Fortress, dubbed the Gibralter of Croatia played an important role in protecting the city against the venetians and now is used as a theater and host cliff jumping competitions. 


walls of Dubrovnik

You can also take a cable car ride up to Srd hill for spectacular views. At the top is also Fort Imperial which now houses a museum commemorating the siege of Dubrovnik, one of the fiercest battles in the war of independence. 


There are many options for day trips from Dubrovnik depending on how much time you have. Mostar Bosnia, with its arched bridge and Turkish Bazaar type shopping streets is just over a two hour drive from Dubrovnik.  Kotor Montenegro, located in the stunning bay of Kotor, is another wonderful option. Keep in mind, if you go to Kotor or Mostar you are leaving Croatia and entering a different country so you will have to go through border crossings. There are also many islands to choose from as a day trip from Dubrovnik. Korcula island, Lokrum, Mljet and Lopud are examples.  


Mostar Bosnia

Outdoor adventures

Croatia has many options for those that love outdoor adventures. It is a nature lovers paradise. There is hiking, biking, rock climbing, and paragliding. If you love the water there is kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, cliff jumping, paddle boarding and scuba diving. If you love the outdoors and adventure, you will not be disappointed when traveling Croatia


sailboats in Croatia

When to go/weather

Croatia, especially Dubrovnik, can get extremely busy and hot during high season which is in the summer months. Dubrovnik has over a million visitors annually with most of those arriving in July and August. The best time to go is during shoulder season. This would be from March to early June and from September to October. The average temperature in April is in the 60s, in May the 70s, September is 70s and October 60s.  Of course, sometimes you need to travel in the summer. If you are there in July or August, try to get up a bit earlier and explore before the day trippers and other tourists arrive. When headed to Dubrovnik it is a good idea to check the schedule for the cruise ships and try to time your Dubrovnik days when there aren't many ships in port. 


view of Sibenik

Getting there

Zagreb, Ljubljana, Split and Dubrovnik are the main airports in the area. They will all have numerous flights within Europe. From north america you can get a direct flight from Toronto Zagreb. The only direct flight from the United States is one from Newark to Dubrovnik. 


Square in Croatia

Getting around

We always rent a car when in Europe. We love the flexibility and freedom having a rental car gives us to be able to reach out of the way places and to be on our schedule. Croatia was an easy place to rent a car. The highways were well maintained and the traffic wasn’t bad. We just park the car when in busy cities or in small, crowded old towns. Here are some travel times for this itinerary. From Ljubjliana to Rovinj is 2 hours. If you are starting in Zagreb it is more like 3. Then from Rovinj to Plitvice is 3. From Plitvice to Split is 2.5 and then from Split to Dubrovnik is another 2.5.


Of course, I understand many people prefer public transportation. While Croatia has a railway system, it is not as extensive as other European countries. Dubrovnik, for example, doesn’t have a train station. While you can use trains to get to some cities, buses will need to be used to reach other destinations. The bus system is reliable and affordable. Even with buses though, there are some more remote villages and towns that may be hard to reach. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can hire a private driver for the day or book an organized guided tour. 


Brac croatia

Language

Croatian is the official language of the country. It is a Slavic language and closely resembles Bosnian and Serbian. You will have no problem not knowing Croatian though. Most restaurants, hotels and shopkeepers know enough English to help you out. 


coast of Croatia

Currency

Croatia just switched to the Euro in 2023. The euro is usually worth a little more than the US dollar (somewhere around 1 Euro equals 1.06 US dollars). You should always have a little cash on hand for emergencies or for places that don’t take card, such as roadside stands or small shops but for the most part, credit cards are widely accepted.


church in Croatia

Klapa music

Klapa music originated in the Dalmation region. It is traditionally sung a capella and by men, although there are now women Klapa choirs in the country as well as instruments being added. The word Klapa means group of friends. The songs usually talk about country, the sea, and, of course, love. If you are lucky, you will run into a Klapa choirs singing on the streets. If not, consider going to a concert.


Klapa choir

Food to try

The influence of Croatia’s many different regions and foreign rulers can be seen in their gastronomy. There is a lot of Italian influence with an assortment of pasta dishes available. Its location on the sea also influences local dishes. Seafood is everywhere in every variety. Try Brodetto, or fishermen’s stew, which is a seafood stew with a tomato base. Black risotto, made with cuttlefish or squid is also popular. Truffles, which are hunted in Istria, are found on almost every menu. They have a very distinct flavor. They are not my favorite but you need to try them when you are in Croatia. Who knows, you may love them. Fritule are more my style. These are fried dough balls usually with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Ask a local where their favorite Konobas is. These are taverns that usually prepare authentic dishes and asking a local is the best way to find a delicious dinner. 


Croatian food

Is it safe? 

I was a late teenager and in my early twenties when the brutal war in Croatia was happening. All of my knowledge of this country was one of destruction, tragedy, and danger. Even before the war, as part of Yugoslavia, Croatia was behind the iron curtain, which made it seem isolated, dark and dull. So I was a little skeptical heading there. That was all I had known. The Croatia you see today is none of those things. It is vibrant, clean and safe. Of course, you always need to be aware of your surroundings and watch your belongings, especially in heavily touristed areas, but no more so in Croatia than any other European destinations. We felt safe walking around at any hour. 


Hvar fort

Remnants of the war

Although Croatia has rebuilt since the war you can still see remnants of this painful time. The land mine signs I mentioned in Plitvice National parks is one. Another one is in Dubrovnik. As you walk the ancient city walls, notice all the roofs that seem to be a brighter red. These were replaced after the city was heavily shelled. There is also a sign with a map which shows where the damage occurred in Dubrovnik. The people of Croatia, of course, still have many painful memories. Our AirBnB owner in Plitvice had her husband fight in the war and our local guide in Dubrovnik remembers as a child hiding in the back room of his house while the front of the house was being shelled. Learning their stories adds to the experience of travel as it helps you gain a greater understanding for the people, their history, and their resilience. It also help you appreciate how beautifully and painstakingly they rebuilt their beautiful country. 


You will never have enough time in the remarkable country of Croatia but this 10-day adventure exploring the cities, islands, villages and national parks will just give you a taste of all it has to offer. It will just whet your appetite and leave you excited to return again. 


Town in Croatia

Ready to travel to Croatia? Contact us at eurotravelsbydesign@gmail.com and we will custom design the perfect itinerary for you. 











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