Forget boats, here’s how to do the ultimate Croatia road trip!

It occurred to me, as I scrolled through the internet feeling a buzz of excitement, that I had never actually driven a boat. I didn’t even know if that was the correct term. Driven. Do you drive a boat? Do you ride it? Do you cower at the waves and just hope that the tide takes you vaguely near your destination? That last one sounded the most likely for me.

But oh, the excitement. The adrenaline that you must feel to be free on the water, with the islands of Croatia glittering in the sunlight. You can go anywhere you want. And you can do it in the most stylish way possible. So what if I couldn’t drive/ride/sail/flail a boat? A Croatia road trip was still an option! I’ve flown to fifteen countries, traveled to mysterious lands, and traversed harsh landscapes. If there’s one thing I’m good at doing, it’s putting myself into new situations and coping well with them. Plus, after all those trips, I have the finances under control.

All the queries, like how much travel insurance costs, or how much I should allow for daily expenditures, were all things I’d worked out before. In other words, I knew I could do it.

An unfortunate discovery

That summer I traveled to the Florida Keys, and I got invited onto a friend of mine’s boat for an afternoon fishing trip. He gave me a go at the wheel, and just as I thought it would be, everything went perfectly. In fact, I was a natural. With the wind in my hair and the waves at my calling, I felt like a rejuvenated Blackbeard, only without the beard. If it wasn’t for the frequent breaks, the whole thing would have been a great success, and I would have booked my Croatia trip that very evening. Only there were frequent breaks, as I had to keep going below deck to throw up.

That’s right, although I was actually pretty good at working the water, it turns out I suffer from a healthy dose of seasickness. It’s a cruel universe. But ah well, all was not lost! I told myself that what I really wanted to experience was Croatia, and the vehicle which led me to that experience was not the be-all and end-all. I could ride around Croatia on a unicycle if it could get me there.

So that was that. I refuted all those blogs telling me how great a sailing trip around the Croatian islands can be, and I decided to do the trip my way. With a sleeping bag and a van, and a few hundred bottles of insect spray. And this is how it went!

split croatia road trip itinerary
Croatia road trip itinerary: Split

A trek through Split

This may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but the first thing I did when I touched down in Croatia was parking my rented van near the city of Split and then go to the nearest restaurant. Listen, for one, I was hungry. The flight was a fair few hours and peanuts can only sustain you for so long. For two, I had never read anything about the city of Croatia.

When you scroll through all the travel blogs, it’s normally a heap of information about the islands, the national parks, Southern Dalmatia, and Hvar – but there’s not a whole lot of information on the cities. Well, Split is the first city I came across, and I am not mad in the slightest that the visit to the restaurant turned into a two-day stay. Lying on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, you would never know that this city was built upon ancient Roman ruins, such is the life and people who bustle through the streets.

A detour to Hvar

The nightlife of Split is incredible, with a number of bars and clubs to get lost in. The landmarks are also superb, with personal highlights including Diocletian’s Palace and the Saint Domnius Cathedral. On my second day, I took a ferry from Split to Hvar Island, just to see what the island had to offer for a few hours. I quickly found out that Hvar was way bigger than I thought it was, and I’d have to spend a bit longer than a few hours to really take it all in – darn my inability to create an itinerary! But once there, I found another restaurant that appeased my foodie soul.

This one was called Hvar Brewing Co. and it sat right on the harbor, with a gorgeous view of the sea to drink in while you drink a few local beers. The beers themselves were excellent, but the company was even better. I was sitting next to a family of tourists who were staying on Hvar for a two-week vacation in Croatia. They told me about all the things they had seen, and everything they had learned about the ancient Hvar culture. I wish I could remember some of it, but hey, the beer was really good.

plitvice croatia road trip itinerary
Best Croatia road trip itinerary: Plitvice Lakes National Park

A stop at Plitvice Lakes National Park

I got my van in gear on the third day. Even though a large part of me didn’t want to leave Split, I knew that the rest of Croatia was waiting for me, and there wasn’t an awful lot of time to experience it all. From the city, I traveled up north through Sibenik, Zadar, and then took a rain check at Plitvice Lakes National Park – no seriously, it was raining. But the rain didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the scenery as I parked my van near this gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage site.

With 8 hiking trails and around 90 waterfalls to take a look at, I made sure to keep aside at least one day to see as much as I could. Yeah, I know. An itinerary would have been good because you’re right, one day wasn’t enough. But what I did see will certainly be printed on my memory forever. If you want to feel like you’re walking through Jurassic Park, surrounded by greenery, nature, waterfalls, and caves, then look no further than Plitvice Lakes National Park. The caves, especially, were an unforgettable experience.

They take you on a 60-minute walk down an illuminated path, deeper and deeper into the caves – which were formed thousands of years ago – until you’re surrounded by a huge vista of stone monuments. I couldn’t help being so thankful that I didn’t go on the sailing trip I was planning on doing. Sure, being on the water and traversing the islands would have been fun, but this really felt like I was seeing Croatia, every part of it, up close. When I climbed back into my van the morning after, I had a huge smile on my face.

castles in croatia road trip route
Croatia road trip itinerary: beautiful Castle Country

Arriving in Castle Country

I finished off my trip with another long drive into Castle Country – stopping off briefly at Slunj, Glina, and Sisak, which were all as beautiful as I expected them to be. This trip took me along the northern edge of Croatia which, before it had me in my scraggly clothes and sweating van, was once a stomping ground for all the most noble of families. I’m a big lover of castles. There’s just something so magical about them, to the point where I get tingles whenever I see one as if I’m some eight-year-old child seeing Disneyland Paris for the first time.

This typical response was no different when I reached Senj, where the Nehaj Castle stands tall and magnificent over the sparkling sea. Built in the 16th century, this is one of the older castles in the area, but it is no less beautiful, especially if you see it from the bottom of the hill rather than standing at face level. After this, I went exploring the northwest, where I saw the castle known as Ozalj. Near here was also Trakoscan Castle, famous for its Gothic architecture, and the incredible Renaissance city of Varazdin.

I was also tempted to visit the country’s capital Zagreb, but I wanted to stay in the countryside as much as possible after my time in Split, so I resisted and told myself that I would visit another time. Because that’s the thing: I’ll definitely be doing Croatia again. Although I had missed out on my boating experience, I had the best time possible, and probably saw so much more than I ever would have done if I had spent the majority of the time on the sea. And with a lot less throwing up, too. You can’t say that’s not a win!

Who recommends this Croatia road trip

cristina popescu guest post writer on the travel bunny blog

Cristina Popescu from Romania stands as a beacon of travel expertise with over a decade of globetrotting experience under her belt. Having set foot in over 100 countries spanning every continent, she boasts an unparalleled depth of firsthand knowledge about the world’s most enchanting destinations.

When it comes to planning the ultimate Croatia road trip, Cristina is the undisputed authority. Her adventurous spirit ensures she leaves no stone unturned, making her insights invaluable for those seeking the best travel advice. Cristina’s passion is not just to explore but to inspire others to embark on their own journeys, making her the go-to guide for anyone eager to discover the wonders of Croatia and beyond.

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