The Travel Darling Newsletter
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Croatia is an absolute gem, and in my opinion, the best way to see the country is to do a road trip up the coast (That is if you’re not lucky enough to own a yacht, of course, but if you do own a yacht…call me). There are buses connecting the main tourist cities, but car rentals are affordable, especially if you have more than one person sharing the cost. I love the schedule flexibility that renting a car provides, so it was an easy choice for us. After spending a week in Dubrovnik, we rented a car from the airport and set off along the coastal highway. If you missed my post on Dubrovnik, you can catch up here.
Word to the wise: If you’re planning a Croatia road trip, remember to tell the rental car company your itinerary. Most people don’t realize you have to drive through two border crossings through a tiny sliver of Bosnia to get to the rest of Croatia. The Bosnian coastline is only 20 kilometers long and is made up of one town, the lonely waterfront outpost of Neum. [I won’t get into the geopolitics of the region, but you can read about the Treaty of Karlowitz of 1699 if you want to know why the map looks like this. #historylesson]
One thing to note is that prices across the border in Neum are much cheaper than in Croatia, so stop here if you need to get snacks or fill up your tank.
One thing we learned from this road trip was not to underestimate the time it will take you to drive. The roads along the coast are winding, and each leg of the trip took longer than Google Maps estimated.
The drive from Dubrovnik to Split took us 3.5-4 hours, and the coastline is stunning. We picked up the car in the morning, took a leisurely drive, stopped for lunch along the way, and made it to Split in time for dinner.
In general, I recommend budgeting extra time for the drive throughout the trip because I venture to guess you will find yourself in a similar situation as us (i.e. pulled over on the side of the road with your mouth agape marveling at the beauty of the Dalmatian coast).
Yes, it looks like this the entire way.
An hour into the trip, we were ready for lunch, so we made a pit stop in Ston, a tiny village known for its mussels and oysters. We highly recommend stopping here, especially if you love seafood. To this day, Tyler still talks about how amazing the food was. They were some of best oysters we’ve ever had — and that’s from two people who grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida. We consider ourselves discerning experts on the topic of seafood and other maritime delicacies.
After lunch, we made our way to Split, which took roughly 2-3 hours. Split is one of the oldest cities in the region; historic artifacts and marble architecture are everywhere. The city was founded as Greek colony 2400 years ago, but for history buffs (and Game of Thrones fans), Split is best known for the Diocletian Palace, built by — you guessed it — Diocletian, the Roman emperor in the 4th century AD. (In other words, this city is OLD.)
The total time to get to our next stop was about 3 hours, so we took a tiny detour to visit Bibich Winery for a quick wine tasting. (Our favorite? The bas de bas blanc.) I’ll admit, I saw this on Anthony Bourdain and had to see it to see it for myself. Next time we will try to make a reservation ahead of time to do the wine and food pairing!
From the winery, we drove to Korenica, a small town located 8 miles outside of Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s the perfect jumping off point to visit the park. We stayed at the rustic, family-run Pension Oreskovic. (If you stay there, definitely sign up for the dinner option! They treated us to home-cooked meal of salted trout, wine, and dessert. It was one of the best of our time in Croatia.)
We woke up early the next morning and visited the lakes before continuing on to Zagreb.
No trip to Croatia is complete without seeing Plitvice Lakes National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to a series of 16 cascading lakes each with varying shades of cerulean blue water. Visitors walk along a wooden promenade that winds around each of the lakes. Prices vary depending on the time of the year, and expect crowds during the summer. We visited in July during the peak season but still had a wonderful time.
I recommend budgeting at least 3-4 hours for Plitvice. The park sells multiple day passes, but I think one day is plenty of time. We had lunch in the rest area in the park next to one of the lakes. Vendors sell food and drinks there, so no need to pack a lunch. We then drove the remaining 2 hours to Zagreb. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend much time in Croatia’s capital because we had an early flight the next morning to Tanzania, but that just means we will have to come back!
A note on our trip: We heard of other travelers driving from Split to Zagreb with a stopover at Plitvice Lakes all in one day, but I highly recommend breaking up the trip into more manageable distances. The total drive time from Split to Zagreb takes 4-5 hours, and visiting the park takes several hours. It was a long day for us to do the park and then drive to Zagreb, even with spending the night in Korenica.