In the last year or so, we started taking advantage of the fact that we finally moved to Europe mainland and we can use our car for fun road trips in Europe. We wanted to visit Croatia for a long time, and we couldn't be more excited that we finally made it happen. Our Croatia road trip started in Dubrovnik, continued up North towards Split and ended in Plitvice Lakes.
We spent just over a week in Croatia and we couldn't have loved our time more. In this article, we are going to talk to you about the poetry and practicalities of our Croatia road trip including some essential tips and tricks we wish we knew before hitting the road.
Croatia Road Trip: Tips for first time visitors to Croatia - Contents
Croatia Road Trip Itinerary
The first thing you need to know is that you can take the plane to Croatia and rent a car there. Since we own a car, we decided to take a break from Budapest and enjoy a long trip around the Balkans first. So our full itinerary was through Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and the Bay of Kotor and then Croatia. Even if you rent a car directly in Croatia, we still recommend at least one day trip to Kotor, as it really is an incredibly beautiful place.
Here is the itinerary we recommend:
- 3 nights in Dubrovnik
- 3 nights in Split
- 2 nights in Plitvice Lakes
Croatian motorways have toll gates, so you don't have to worry about buying a vignette in advance. Most of the prices are reasonable and the quality of the roads is very good. We were surprised to see so little cars driving on the motorways, especially between Split and Plitvice Lakes. We like to cruise on the motorway anyway, so we can admire the views, hence really enjoyed the quiet on the roads.
The road signage is very clear although we recommend a sat nav for your convenience. We use a TomTom. What you need to know is that Croatians drive on the right and overtaking is on the left. Wearing seatbelts is compulsory for everyone in the vehicle, including any passengers on the back seats. Do not use your phone whilst driving as it is illegal to do so. However, you can use a hand free device.
When you are about to exit the motorway and you need to pay the toll, pay attention to the signs displayed on top of the gates. Only go to the gates with a clear green arrow indicated on the display. Do not go to any gate which displays a wireless sign as you won't be able to pay there. At the gate, you can pay in Euro or Kuna or you can simply pay by debit/credit card. You will pay for the distance you travelled only. Make sure to always keep your ticket safe as if you lose it, you will pay the fee in double.
If you need road assistance, call the Croatian Auto Club Emergency on 987.
Croatia Road Trip - Dubrovnik
We stayed 2 nights in Dubrovnik. The reason why we recommended 3 nights for this itinerary, is because we strongly believe one day should be allocated for a day trip to Kotor. The roads are very well marked and it only takes 2 hours to drive between the two locations. There are so many things to do in Kotor, I wouldn't miss it for the world.
In Dubrovnik, we stayed in an apartment located about 15 minutes away from the old town. One of the most interesting things to do in Dubrovnik is to visit the city walls and admire all the Game of Thrones filming locations.
We noticed that Dubrovnik was unexpectantly expensive. Bars and restaurants in the old town were pretty much always full and the prices were quite high in comparison to say, Split, for example. Nevertheless, the food was glorious in Dubrovnik and the views offered by some of the bars were simply outstanding.
Dubrovnik is also a great place for beach lovers. Banje Beach is literally minutes away from the old town, but note that it gets pretty packed on sunny days. The shores of Dubrovnik are quite rocky, so we recommend buying some water shoes if you plan on entering the sea.
If you like a long walk, make your way towards Sveti Jakov beach, a much quieter and secluded beach. But be aware that it takes about one hour walk from the old town to Sveti Jakov beach. Bring plenty of water with you as the walk towards the beach is not protected from direct sunlight. On the plus side, you will see some amazing views on your way.
Whilst in Dubrovnik, you might want to consider taking the cable car up to the mountain so you can capture a postcard-perfect panorama view of the city and its walls. It sure makes sense why this city was chosen as one of the main filming locations for Game of Thrones.
Croatia Road Trip - Split
In all honesty, Split was our favourite place in Croatia. We simply loved the way the old town looks like, the promenade by the sea, the marina and the sheer amount of green spaces for walks. It had the right vibe for us and we couldn't resist falling in love with it. We stayed in an apartment not far from the old town and only ten minutes walk to the beach. Split's old town seemed somewhat trapped in time with its magnificent Diocletian Palace. We had a tour guide for half a day in order to learn about the history of Split and we were absolutely blown away. We also got to ask a few questions about some of the Game of Thrones filming locations which made our trip even cooler.
Have an evening promenade by the sea and admire the perfectly aligned row of palms, which complement the old facade of the Diocletian's Palace. You can sit down at one of the many bars and restaurants where you can indulge in locally crafted food and drinks. Visit the dungeons and learn about epic filming locations where Daenerys Targaryen held her dragons.
With so many islands around, it's easy to see why so many travellers take day trips to admire the various green and rocky gems around Split. We recommend spending an afternoon exploring the Marjan Forest Park, with perfect vistas and inviting beaches.
For evenings, sit down for a drink by the Bačvice beach at the Fjaka cocktail lounge. Make sure you arrive just before sunset to admire the fiery sun leave only pastel traces and vanilla skies behind.
We believe that no trip to Split is complete without a Game of Thrones souvenir, so head to the Game of Thrones Split Fan Shop (Bosanska ul. 10, 21000, Split, Croatia) and grab your memorabilia. We got a mug and got to take a picture on the iron throne.
Croatia Road Trip - Plitvice Lakes
You can't imagine how much we looked forward to visiting the famed Plitvice Lakes. Well, we weren't disappointed. We decided to stay for 2 nights around the Plitvice Lakes because we wanted to enjoy a full day worth of hiking. We bought a 2 days pass and visited the lakes twice, in order to enjoy different trails.
What you need to be aware of is that Plitvice Lakes get incredibly busy. We mean it! It was very tedious and difficult to walk around. Luckily, we arrived just before closing time for the first day, so we got to see some parts completely tourist-free. That also meant we could take beautiful sunset pictures.
The second morning, we arrived as early as possible, before any tourist buses. Sadly, by the time we finished, it was still incredibly packed. Don't let this put you off though. It's such a stunning place, it's worth seeing at least once in a lifetime. For nature lovers, Plitvice Lakes are incredible. We loved that our tickets included a cute little electric boat ride.
Many people try to stay as close to the Plitvice Lakes as possible. Due to the limited number of restaurants, we actually recommend that you stay close to Korenica which has a couple of supermarkets and it's just minutes away from a good restaurant, called Babić.
Note that parking costs extra at Plitvice Lakes and it is charged per hour.
Overall, our Croatia road trip was incredible. Unlike some of the rumours you might have heard, Croatia is not a cheap destination. In fact, we believe in the last few years, the increased number of tourists as well as being the chosen location for GOT, made Croatia quite expensive.
Good planning and an excellent budget plan can make Croatia affordable, though. Especially because most places offer apartments with cooking facilities. Of course, there are plenty of options in Croatia for luxury travellers with some hotels offering incredible views over the Adriatic Sea.
Are you ready to take a road trip around Croatia? Tell us about your plans in the comments section below.