The Perfect Croatia Itinerary for Beginners

If you’re visiting for the first time, this is the perfect Croatia itinerary for beginners.

If you’re here, there’s a good chance that Croatia has caught your eye. Honestly, it’s easy to add this country to your bucket list just by seeing pictures! It’s known for it’s incredible scenery and so much more. The good news is that Croatia totally lives up to the hype and really is as pretty as it looks online, so you won’t be disappointed.

To be honest, I didn’t know much about Croatia before we visited, so there were a lot of things that surprised me about this wonderful country, one of my new favorites in Europe.

Croatia can be a little tricky to plan because, despite being a relatively small country, it’s actually pretty spread out and also has over one thousand islands! There are a lot of questions to research like:

  • Which airport should I fly in to?
  • Should I fly in and out of the same airport?
  • Should I rent a car in Croatia?
  • How many days in Croatia is enough?
  • Which areas should I visit on my Croatia itinerary?

I’ll cover all these questions. We spent a week in Croatia, so I’ll share exactly what we did in one week. You can, of course, spend weeks, months, or years in Croatia and keep finding hidden gems, but this is my suggested Croatia itinerary for beginners.

Which airport should I fly in to?

You’ve actually got several good options when flying into Croatia. If you’re flying from the US, Zagreb will most likely be the most affordable option for you, but Dubrovnik is not much more expensive. I would not recommend starting in Split, as it’s in the middle of Croatia. I recommend picking either Zagreb or Dubrovnik and driving or using transfers.

Should I fly in and out of the same airport?

You can if it works best for you, but for the minimal cost difference, I would recommend flying into either Zagreb or Dubrovnik and flying out of the other.

Should I rent a car in Croatia?

Renting a car in Croatia was really affordable. It cost us around $300 USD for a week long Croatia trip and I definitely loved having our own freedom to move around when we wanted to. Beware that if you are taking a day trip out of the country that you may have to pay an extra fee to your rental car company.

I Will note that parking fees and the amount of parking tickets that I received during the week may have added up to just taking taxis everywhere. I did enjoy not being tied down to a schedule, especially since I was traveling with 2 very jet lagged teenagers, but I honestly think it wouldn’t cost too much more to hire taxis or transfers during your Croatia trip.

How many days in Croatia is enough?

Obviously this is a very subjective question everyone has different travel styles, but I will say that I think one week in Croatia was a good amount of time to see everything we really wanted to would a few extra days be nice? Sure. But this was also a full-ok trip. Some down days in between might have been beneficial. So I think 7-10 days in Croatia is the perfect length.

Which areas should I visit on my Croatia itinerary?

You can cover quite a bit of ground with just one week in Croatia. I would recommend hitting Dubrovnik, Split, Plitvice, and Zagreb, and seeing a few things in between that I’ll go over below.

How many days in Croatia is enough?

Obviously this is a very subjective question everyone has different travel styles, but I will say that I think one week in Croatia was a good amount of time to see everything we really wanted to would a few extra days be nice? Sure. But this was also a full-ok trip. Some down days in between might have been beneficial. So I think 7-10 days in Croatia is the perfect length.

Which areas should I visit on my Croatia itinerary?

You can cover quite a bit of ground with just one week in Croatia. I would recommend hitting Dubrovnik, Split, Plitvice, and Zagreb, and seeing a few things in between that I’ll go over below.

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One Week Croatia Itinerary

Here is what we did with our one week in Croatia. Note, you can easily do this Croatia itinerary backward and start in Zagreb and end in Dubrovnik. This was my original plan, but the flights just worked out better for us this way.

  1. Day 1 – Arrive and Dubrovnik Beach Time
  2. Day 2 – Dubrovnik Old Town, Photoshoot, and drive to Split
  3. Day 3 – Blue Cave, & 5 Island Boat Tour
  4. Day 4 – Cetina River Rafting & Zip Lining
  5. Day 5 – Explore Split Old Town & Drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park
  6. Day 6 – Explore Plitvice Lakes National Park & Drive to Zagreb
  7. Day 7 – Explore Zagreb 

One Week Croatia Itinerary Map

Day 1 – Arrive and Dubrovnik Beach Time

Today is all about relaxing and enjoying the beautiful Adriatic sea along the coastline of Dubrovnik. Old town Dubrovnik is not known for its beaches, but there are a lot of fantastic beaches just a short walk or drive away from the city center. We stayed at Sun Gardens Dubrovnik Resort and they had fantastic beaches. We just took our first day to relax and swim, drink virgin piña coladas, and get a massage. It was honestly the best way to start a trip and I think I’m going to start every vacation like that if I can!

We had a free stay at Sun Gardens Dubrovnik with my Amex Platinum Card.

You can check out all the benefits here, including awesome airport lounges, free UBER credit each month, free TSA Precheck, free Global Entry, free CLEAR, free Hulu and Disney+, free rental car insurance, awesome awards points, and way more benefits that I’m forgetting! It’s well worth the annual fee and I’ve never felt like I didn’t get my moneys worth. You can get 80,000 points right now for signing up. You can find the offer here.

A note about the beaches in Croatia: most of the beaches in Croatia are rocky! The beaches in Croatia are mainly rocky due to the country’s geological makeup and the movement of the Adriatic Sea over millennia. The pebbles are small and smooth. Before you visit Croatia you should absolutely invest in some good water shoes or waterproof sport sandals. It was actually nice not to have to deal with the sand mess after the beach though and it makes the water incredibly clear, so the trade off is worth it, in my opinoin.

Here are some great beaches in Dubrovnik:

  • Banje Beach: This is probably the most famous and iconic beach in Dubrovnik. It lies just outside the ancient city walls. You can see the old city on one side and Lokrum Island on the other. You can rent a beach chair here for around €25 and there is a bar and restaurant on the beach.
  • Copacabana Beach: This pebbly beach is great for families. It’s located on the Lapad Peninsula and has a nice dock to play on.
  • Buža Beach/Bar: This one is a little trickier to get to. It’s located on rocks beneath the city walls. There’s a cafe and bar and some tables and chairs.
  • Sun Gardens Resort: The best beach we went to in Dubrovnik was at the Sun Gardens Resort. You need to be a guest or purchase a day pass to use it, but it’s worth it. It’s about 20 minutes north of the Dubrovnik old town.

Day 2 – Dubrovnik Old Town, Photoshoot, and drive to Split

The second day of our Croatia itinerary involved a little more exploring!

Morning – Photoshoot & Old Town Dubrovnik

Book a Photoshoot

We always love to book a photoshoot when we’re traveling. As a mom, it’s tough to get in the photos since I’m always behind the camera. We love using Flytographer to capture our memories. You can get $25 off your shoot by booking with this link or using code WANDERLUST.

We headed directly to Dubrovnik Old Town to meet our Flytographer, Valentina.

I was so happy we booked a photoshoot here! This old city is incredible and so picturesque. Valentina spent over an hour with us exploring little nooks and crannies of the city that we never would have noticed on our own. She took us to some iconic Dubrovnik locations as well.

After our photoshoot, we grabbed some gelato at A Roma Gelateria. Wow, so good! I got pistachio and chocolate orange with a pistachio cookie cone. So good! The girls got their usual banana and strawberry.

I was so glad that we got to Dubrovnik early in the morning because by the time our photoshoot wrapped up, the cruise ship had come into port and the crowds descended like I’ve never seen them descend before! Hundreds of guests from the cruise ships were taking tours and wandering the streets, so I would definitely recommend that getting to Dubrovnik early in the morning is essential if you want to see it a little quieter. It got crowded around 9:00 am.

Here are some of the sites we explored in the morning:

  • Dubrovnik City Walls
  • Rector’s Palace

Afternon – Dubrovnik Cable Car & Drive to Split

If you want to have an excellent view of Dubrovnik, you can take the Dubrovnik Cable Car up to the top of the mountain and have a look. The view is incredible. You can also drive up for the same views if you have a rental car.

I recommend planning your drive to Split to arrive before sunset in Split. Navigating the old town is tricky in daylight, let alone in the dark. The drive is about 2.5 hours and the roads are really great. Along the way you’ll drive through the agricultural center of Croatia, so be sure to stop and buy some fruit for your drive. You can’t miss all of these fruit stalls. There are probably around 100 along the sides of the road. We loved the figs and the grapes.

Evening – Check into your accommodations, wander the town, and eat dinner

Beware that if you book a hotel or vacation rental in the heart of old town Split and are driving, you’ll need to find parking outside the city center and carry your bags in. There are no roads in the center.

If you’ve been to Venice, it felt a lot like that, with tiny alleyways to get lost in. Really fun and memorable, but a nightmare if you’re hauling bags and trying to find obscure addresses in the dark.

There are several places to park surrounding the center. I recommend the parking area outside of Diocletian’s palace. I did get an 18 Euro parking ticket, but I prefer that to the lot I originally parked on near the harbor that cost me 184 Euros to park in! There are parking payment machines for the street parking. I didn’t quite get it right though, so park at your own risk!

Day 3 – Blue Cave, & 5 Island Boat Tour

Did you know that Croatia has over one thousand islands?! That’s a lot. I asked several Croatians what the one thing we should do was, and several told us that we had to visit some islands. I’m so glad we did. This day was one of our favorites!

Morning & Afternoon – Speed Boat Tour

We booked a full day speed boat ride to 5 different islands. They were not joking when they called it a speed boat. You sit on these seats kind of like sitting in a saddle and hold on for dear life. The girls and I had a blast and I’d highly recommend it for older kids and people who do NOT get seasick. We had some bumpy moments and I think some members of my family would not have handled it well. If you do get seasick and still want to do this, I’d recommend some dramamine or these electric bracelets that are very helpful for my motion sick family members.

We visited the famous Blue Cave on the island of Biševo. It was incredible to see the blue color inside the cave. It’s one of those “Instagram” places that really does live up to the hype.

Then we visited the island of Vis, Brač, and Hvar. We had two opportunities to swim. It was slightly chilly this day, so my girls didn’t swim, but I definitely got in and explored. The boat had snorkels and masks for us to use. Admittedly, the snorkeling was not great (compared to Hawaii or Puerto Rico, where I’m used to snorkeling), so I wouldn’t make it a huge priority during this trip.

We spent several hours on the island of Hvar, which is one of the biggest islands in Croatia. It’s famous for its lavender production. It has a really cute downtown area and we loved exploring. We visited this super cute cafe and had a lavender cheesecake, which was delicious.

Evening – Dinner in Old Town Split

We were all pretty exhausted after our long day in the sun and water. It was an early morning and long day, but so worth it. We grabbed a quick pizza to go and ate it in our apartment.

Day 4 – Cetina River Rafting & Zip Lining

Morning – Drive to Omiš & go river rafting

We had another early morning and headed to the town of Omiš, which is another old city right on the water. It’s a beautiful drive along the coast here. This area is known for its location at the mouth of the Cetina River into the Adriatic Sea, and for its outdoor adventure sports!

We chose to go river rafting in the morning and zip lining in the afternoon. I think if I had it to do over again, I would have chosen to zip line first, and do rafting later in the afternoon when its hot.

The rafting was incredible. I have rafted in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and California. The Cetina river was very calm compared to other rafting I’ve done. There were a few tricky spots that were more difficult to maneuver, but nothing I didn’t feel comfortable taking kids on as long as we were with a guide. We wore helmets and life jackets and it all felt very safe. Our guide, Toni, was awesome.

They also offer canyoneering, which I would have loved to do if we had time. The river was absolutely gorgeous and very diverse in its scenery. We saw ducks, coots, and wild figs. There was a jumping rock that my girls were not keen on, but looked so fun! Rafting took us about 4 hours

Afternoon – Lunch in Omiš & Ziplining

We had about 2 hours between our rafting and ziplining, so we spent about an hour eating lunch and an hour exploring the town of Omiš.

Zip lining was incredible! I’d consider myself an avid zip liner. I’ve zip lined all over the world and I LOVE it! This zip line over the Cetina River is actually the #1 reason I booked this Croatia trip! So I was very excited and it did not disappoint. The zip line course consists of 8 wires that begin at almost 500 feet high and cover almost 7,000 feet in length! It was intense and I probably wouldn’t recommend it for someone’s first zip line experience.You can book the zip line here.

Evening – Back to Split and Dinner

Today was a full day, so we headed back to Split for dinner and bed!

Day 5 – Explore Split Old Town & Drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park

Morning – Explore Old Town Split

Our last morning in Split, we spent a few hours exploring the old part of the city around our apartment. We visited Diocletian’s Palace and climbed the bell tower of St. Domnius Cathedral (who’s bells we heard early every morning). This ancient Roman city was fascinating to explore!

Afternoon – Drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park

We packed up our bags and headed north toward Plitvice Lakes National Park. If you have extra time and are up for adding a few more hours to your drive, you can stop by the city of Zadar, which is another beautiful ancient coastal town. The drive to Plitvice was pretty smooth. As you get closer to the National Park, you’ll notice lots of “Sir & Med” stands, or Cheese and Honey. This area is well known for its great local honey and specialty Croatian cheese. Stop and buy some cheese as a snack and some honey to take home with you.

You also may want to stop by a grocery store and pick up some simple snacks and picnic supplies. There are several cafes in the park, but I don’t think they were great, unless you love hot dogs.

Evening – Plitvice Lakes National Park Small Loop

If you have enough energy after your drive, I recommend seeing part of the park this afternoon, especially if its high season. It’s actually a great time to go because most tourists are getting tired and leaving for dinner. Grab your cheese picnic and head into the park. The hotel concierge will give you a nice map. Let them know that you’re here for 2 half days and they can tell you how best to break up your time and mark it on the map for you.

We stayed at Hotel Plitvice and they will stamp your ticket so that you can use it for two days in the park. This is a great little trick to be able to get 2 days for the price of 1. It makes the stay at this hotel totally worth it. And the location can’t be beat. You can walk right from the hotel into the park entrance in about 2 minutes!

Day 6 – Explore Plitvice Lakes National Park & Drive to Zagreb

Morning – Explore the far side of Plitvice Lakes National Park

Breakfast at Hotel Plitvice

Be sure to get your tickets stamped by the hotel the night before and head into the park this morning. The park opens at 7:00 am. Take the boat ride to explore the far side of the lakes. There are several cafes in the park serving mediocre food, so you may want to bring a picnic again. We had a fridge in our room, so we brought a few groceries.

Afternoon – Drive to Zagreb & Dinner

It’s about a 2-hour drive to Zagreb. The drive is easy and you’ll see the landscape change pretty drastically.

Day 7 – Explore Zagreb 

Today we explore the Croatian capital city of Zagreb. Honestly, a lot of the city center was under construction when we visited Zagreb. The cathedral looked impressive, but was closed for construction and covered in scaffolding. There was a cute market (since we were there on a Saturday), and the town was cute to wander around, but I personally would not dedicate more than a few hours here.

We ate at an adorable cafe called “Amelie” (we had to since that’s my daughter’s name) and we visited the Museum of Broken Relationships, which was much more awesome than I thought it would be. The museum is a collection of artifacts that people have donated. These objects represent a relationship that they have had that has ended, either voluntarily, involuntarily, or by the loss of a life. It was equal parts heartwarming, sad, and really funny. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a museum where I looked at each exhibit and read each plaque. It was really unique and we all loved it. Definitely worth a visit.

We loved our time in Croatia and are ready for a return trip. This Croatia itinerary was perfect for a first trip to get a taste of the country and see some beautiful sites and do some epic activities. I hope this helps you to plan your own Croatia trip!

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