I feel like exploring Croatia by car is one of the most underrated destinations for an extended trip. When I started doing research for our trip, almost every post I found was what to do in one day. I purchased a few books to use for research, and it felt as if everything suggested being somewhere else. While I can appreciate a good day trip from time to time, that’s not the way I prefer to travel. Thus, I am really excited to share this Croatia road trip itinerary with anyone who is looking to go beyond the day trip. Croatia is and should be so much more than a cruise port.
We spent 12 nights / 13 days in Croatia, not including our travel days, which was an incredible amount of time to spend in this beautiful country. I would do another road trip through Croatia in a heartbeat. There is still so much to see and do.
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Planning Your Croatia Trip
One of the best things to do when planning a Croatia road trip is to consider an open jaw ticket. If you aren’t familiar with this term, it means flying into one city and out of second city. We chose to fly into Dubrovnik and out of Zagreb. This saved us valuable time because we weren’t trying to get back to where we started to catch our flight home. You could also do the reverse and make a Zagreb to Dubrovnik road trip. There are also smaller airports in Split, Pula, Zadar and Rijeka. All of those are more centrally located if you are looking for a shorter trip, but you’ll have to leave a few destinations off in either direction.
We flew DFW-MAD-DBV on American Airlines and Iberia Airlines and ZAG-FRA-IAH-DFW on Lufthansa and United. Both trips were relatively seamless, though our layover in Madrid felt pretty long. When we got to Dubrovnik, however, I was energized by the beautiful views and the coastal breezes.
We picked up our rental car on our last day in Dubrovnik and kept it until we arrived in Zagreb. You don’t need (or want) a car in either of those cities. In this case, we found that Enterprise had the best deals on a one-way car rental. (I always use Priceline to book one-way rentals.) Our Clio served the two of us (and our luggage) very well.
Driving in Croatia
Overall, we found driving in Croatia to be very easy. The roads are very nice, very smooth, and easy to navigate. We’ve taken a number of road trips in Italy and throughout Central Europe. It was far easier than driving in Ireland, though, at times, some of the roads reminded us of those narrow roads. I think Croatia was one of the smoothest trips, especially since it was our first time visiting the country.
The Croatian coastline is extensive. When I first looked at the distance between Dubrovnik and Istria, it was more than eight hours. When planning your road trip in Croatia, I encourage you to find places to break up the longer distances. It will allow you to experience and enjoy more of the country.
There is a small stretch of the highway that crosses through Bosnia. You will want to have your passport and rental car paperwork available. We also had a piece of paper that showed we were just passing through, not detouring into Bosnia. It was neat because they stamped our passport on either side of the border and it showed that we crossed by car – a distinction I never noticed when we’ve crossed borders by air.
Croatian drivers are not aggressive. They know where they are trying to go and won’t hesitate to pass you, but it doesn’t feel unsafe. People don’t drive at excessive speeds and there are few speed cameras on the highways. (Watch for speed cameras in small towns.) Our rental car included a GPS that let us know when we were exceeding the speed limit. Overall, as long as you pay attention to what is going on around you, you will be able to get around just fine.
Our Croatia Itinerary
Our Croatian road trip started in Dubrovnik. We arrived at 6:50pm on the first day, so I decided to add an extra night in Dubrovnik. If your flight arrives earlier, you could cut it down to three nights. If you do your research and Zadar doesn’t interest you, you might consider staying in Split. We thought about doing both, but there was a lot we wanted to see in Istria. Another thing I considered doing was staying three nights on the Istria peninsula and heading to Plitvice Lakes National Park for two nights.
Again, you’ll want to inventory what you are interested in seeing and choose the cities, towns, or islands that make sense for your personal interests.
Week One in Croatia
4 nights – Dubrovnik
2 nights – Zadar
Week Two in Croatia
5 nights – Istria
2 nights – Zagreb
My best advice for visiting Dubrovnik is to stay in the old town, especially if you are coming in the shoulder season. I had looked at some of the bigger resorts just outside of the Old Town, but there is something captivating about staying within the ancient walls. It was nice to be able to take breaks when we got too tired, and it was easy to get back out when we were ready to explore again.
Since we decided to stay in the city center of Dubrovnik, we did not pick up a car until the end of our stay. We booked a private transfer from the Dubrovnik airport to the Pile Gate. Since our flight was arriving late on a Sunday, I thought this would be easier than navigating a cab or trying to find an Uber. It ended up being the best option. He was incredibly hospitable, telling us more about the history of Dubrovnik, his experiences in tourism, and even pulled off to show us one of the best views of the old city – after asking if we were interested, of course. It took about 35 minutes to drive from the airport to the Pile Gate. (Our driver offers a number of excursions around Dubrovnik, too.)
Is there a more magical time than blue hour to arrive in Dubrovnik? I don’t think so.
Where to Stay in Dubrovnik
I cannot sing the praises of Hotel Stari Grad enough. Their entire team – from the front desk manager to the waiter at Above 5 – is committed to ensuring you have a lovely visit to Dubrovnik. This is one of two luxury boutique hotels located within the old city walls. It’s very easy to get to, offers the only rooftop restaurant in Dubrovnik, has an “on-site” spa (just across the street!), and is an incredibly comfortable place to stay.
We stayed in a deluxe double room (202). It was very well laid out with beautiful accents and impeccable styling that made the room feel very spacious. Can they design our bedrooms at home? This room was beautiful, functional, and very cozy. Our room offered a mini-bar, a tea kettle and service, a safe, and plenty of storage space. The bathroom was small, but offered a large spa-quality shower with piping hot water (perfect for washing away jet lag) and the best water pressure. Amenities were L’Occitane and the scents were incredibly refreshing.
We found the location to be very quiet. So quiet that we didn’t mind sleeping with our windows open with the shutters pulled. This helped to keep the room cool while also allowing us to soak up the incredibly fresh air of Dubrovnik.
Above 5 Restaurant
We did not book a room with breakfast included, but we did have two of our dinners at Above 5. This tiny Michelin restaurant offers the best views of Dubrovnik, and I do regret that we didn’t make it up there for an early morning breakfast view. Moad was happy to make recommendations for wine (trust him, especially on the reds), and was happy to chat with us about any and everything.
The presentation of our meals was flawless and the flavors were incredible. (Another regret? Not trying every single one of their desserts.) The menu changes with the season, but if the coffee and chocolate dessert is on the menu, try it! I don’t know that I’ve ever had salted caramel that is as delicious as this. The entire experience – from the views to the food to the wine – is a series of “pinch me” moments. How can life be this good?
Icona Thai Spa
I booked a traditional Thai massage at Icona, the Stari Grad’s spa. The hotel staff let me know that massage was intended more for serious athletes, so I might enjoy the aromatherapy massage more. They were right, and I did. This massage was a combination of both reflexology and massage, and it felt far longer than an hour because it was so relaxing. I liked it so much that I booked another one. After the massage, I was provided with lemongrass tea and had to opportunity to chat with the staff a bit.
The Stari Grad had everything that you would expect at a five star hotel, but honestly, the staff makes this hotel a place that I would return to again and again. Personality and warmth can be difficult to capture, especially in a town that sees so many tourists, but the Stari Grad team does an amazing job at making their guests feel appreciated and valued.
What to Do in Dubrovnik
t’s interesting to note that many guidebooks don’t talk about what to do in Dubrovnik. All of the guidebooks tell you to leave Dubrovnik. I must respectfully disagree. Why come to Dubrovnik if not to see Dubrovnik? That said, people come for different reasons, but here are three things that you must do in Dubrovnik:
Old Town Dubrovnik Walking Tour
Elvis provided us an incredible walking tour of Dubrovnik. He comes from a family of tour guides. One of his daughters offers a Game of Thrones tour if you need that. This is not a Game of Thrones tour. It is a tour of the history of Dubrovnik to present day and it covers a lot of ground. I found Elvis to be incredibly knowledgable, engaging, and very candid. Our tour lasted almost three hours, but the way Elvis tells the stories is riveting.
One theme that became increasingly more evident on our road trip through Croatia is how the position (and wealth) of the country made it a rival for Venice. Dubrovnik had the most wealth, so it was most successful in holding off the Venetian Republic, and this tour gave me a better understanding of that history, which would come up time and time again on our road trip through Croatia.
As Americans, most of us have very little understanding of the conflict in this region and how the present-day countries were formed. As I listened to Elvis, I realized how little we talk about how parts of Europe were divided and settled after World War II, and especially the Balkans. My understanding of world history is so limited and far from complete.
Another thing that struck me most about this tour was gaining a better understanding of some of the challenges that come from being a country that was only able to obtain its independence in recent years. Elvis, and many of the people we encountered in Croatia, have a living memory of the Homeland War in the early 1990s. It is incredibly enlightening to hear first-hand knowledge about life in the former Yugoslavia and the switch over to an independent nation. Elvis also shared a number of ways in which the republic of Dubrovnik was very progressive, even as early as the 1400s, with an anti-slavery stance that was unheard of at the time.
Dubrovnik City Walls Tour
With rain projected for most of our time in Dubrovnik, I booked a sunset tour of the Dubrovnik city walls. Yes, you can walk around the walls on your own. No, you will not understand the significance of what you are seeing.
Ivo was an incredible guide for the impressive city walls. Through this tour, he was able to point out numerous of interest around the city of Dubrovnik and making local recommendations. However, he also taught us more about the history of the city from founding to present. Ivo is a very engaging guide who encourages questions, and is very thoughtful in his commentary about Dubrovnik and Croatia.
This tour does cover the city walls in their entirety and Ivo’s commentary helped us see how the unique positioning of Dubrovnik benefitted it immensely. This helped us better understand some of the significance behind local history, the why behind specific policies, as well as understand what helped to make Dubrovnik popular over the centuries. Ivo also provided some insights that helped us understand some of the more unique aspects of life in present-day Dubrovnik.
Visiting the city walls was number one on my husband’s list of things to do in Dubrovnik. Ivo is a tremendous guide to book to navigate them. You should be ready for stairs if you book this tour. It’s far easier than some of the hiking we’ve done in Cinque Terre, but it does require some physical stamina.
Visit the Churches of Dubrovnik
We created our own self-guided tour of the churches of Dubrovnik. Most surprisingly, St. Ignatius was not in our guidebooks, which makes it the most underrated church in Dubrovnik. The altar is an absolutely stunning splash of color that I did not expect. I thought St. Blaise had the most beautiful stained glass, especially if you can see it lit up at night. We also visited the Church of the Holy Annunciation, which is the Serbian Orthodox church, which has one of the most beautiful altarpieces in Dubrovnik. The only place that I’m sorry that we missed was the Synagogue, which is the second oldest in Europe, after the New-Old Synagogue in Prague.
Most Dubrovnik churches do not allow photos, so you’ll have to visit them on your own.
Wine Tasting in Dubrovnik
After our first night, we were very excited to try more Croatian wines. We headed to D’Vino Wine Bar, grabbed a hightop table outside on a slow afternoon, and decided to give their wine flights a try. We started with the Dubrovnik red wines, and our waiter provided us with an in-depth explanation of the different types of grapes and wines produced around Dubrovnik. There was also an information card to guide our tasting.
We enjoyed the red wines so much that we decided to give the Croatian white wine flight a try. The white wine flight included wines from Dubrovnik, Istria, and northeastern Croatia. All of the white wines were very light and smooth – perfect for a hot summer’s day, I imagine.
To complement our wine tasting, we ordered the meat and cheese platte, which included a selection of goat and sheep cheeses (including one with herbs that I still think about), a wild boar and pork sausage from Slavonia, a smoked prsut (Croatian prosciutto), and some delicious olives. It was all delicious and I would have gone back again and again.
As I mentioned above, we were between Zadar and Split for our first destination after leaving Dubrovnik. Ultimately I choose Zadar because it seemed to have a very interesting city center with both Roman and Venetian influences, beautiful sunsets (and the unique Sea Organ), and it seemed a bit smaller than Split. I found Zadar to feel very lived in and vibrant. The bustling market and the outdoor cafe culture felt very local. The sunsets did not disappoint either. Overall, I was incredibly happy with our choice to visit Zadar on this trip. I would definitely consider Trogir and Split for future Croatia itineraries though. If you’re looking for nature, Krka National Park, near Sibnenik, came vey highly recommended by many people.
Where to Stay in Zadar
One of the draws of Zadar (for me) was Hotel Bastion, a Relais & Chateaux hotel. I first discovered Relais & Chateaux on one of our spontaneous trips to Tuscany, and they have yet to let me down. (I love their digital experience passport, too.)
Hotel Bastion is located in the heart of the old town of Zadar. Though we had an adventure getting there when our car’s GPS lead us through the newly-opened pedestrian promenade, the very kind hotel staff (shout out to Ivan) helped direct us and get us settled. When Tom asked about possible city charges, Ivan shrugged and said we all make mistakes. (What a kind human moment in a potentially embarrassing situation.)
We stayed in a standard double room (206), and it was absolutely stunning. We had a view of the marina, which made the room feel extra airy. The decor was the perfect mix of classic and modern, with exposed stone walls and comfortable furnishings. It was the largest room we had on our stay in Croatia.
The all-white stone bathroom had a window that allowed the entire place to be engulfed with light all day long. (It was truly the best way to wake up.) Similar to the Stari Grad, we had a huge walk-in shower and good water pressure.
Our rate did include breakfast, but we did not make it down for it, which is one of my greatest regrets. Several people did recommend the hotel restaurant to us, so I wish we had been able to take advantage of it. The hotel offers on-site parking for 10 euro / per day, so you won’t have to worry about figuring out what to do with your car in Zadar.
On the bottom floor of the hotel is an incredible spa. We were able to make a 2-hour reservation in the aura world and it was glorious. We were able to go from the sauna to the heated recliners to the jacuzzi. This part of the spa offers incredible ambiance with relaxing music, cold water, and soft lighting. (I was completely enamored with the stars above the jacuzzi.)
What to Do in Zadar
What I love about Zadar is that there is a good mix of things to do and see and plenty of time to slow down and enjoy the views. I can’t write you an entire paragraph about the Sea Organ. It’s just something you have to see and hear for yourself. The Sun Salutation is a modern art installation that contrasts against the ancient city in unexpected ways. It’s worth slowing down to appreciate both, and I didn’t expect Croatian sunsets to be completely breathtaking until I saw them for myself in Zadar.
Zadar City Walk
One of the most challenging things to do in an ancient city is envision it as it was. With history dating from both the Roman times and the Venetian Republic, Zadar is no exception. It can feel like a living museum that is missing its context unless you book this walking tour of Zadar.
Dorja was an incredible guide to better understand both Roman and Venetian influences over present-day Zadar. What surprised me the most? Through her descriptions and deep knowledge of Zadar, I could picture ancient Zadar. That has not been something that I have been able to do easily, but it was as if the city took on a completely different personality when Dorja talked about it.
There is a lot of ground to cover in Zadar, despite its relatively small size. Dorja covers all of it (and then some). She has a very direct way of speaking about the history of Zadar and how it has influenced the present. I found her candor very refreshing, and I appreciate all of the recommendations that she was willing to make for our trip.
Try Croatian BBQ
After wandering the old town and feeling fairly uninspired by the restaurants we found, we crossed the harbor and sought out Gricko Grill. With an outdoor patio, a menu filled with Croatian meats, and local pivo (beer), I knew my husband would love it.
This was an incredible meal. The owner came out to ask us a few questions about what we liked and didn’t like, and shortly, a huge platter arrived with an array of meats and fresh pita bread. I still have no idea what we ate, but I loved every part of it. The flavors are fresh. Everything is exceptional. It’s not a fancy meal; it’s a delicious, traditional meal.
For what it’s worth, we did not find a lot of restaurants like this during our time in Croatia, which makes this one extra special. We had many great meals during our Croatia road trip, but this one stands out as an exceptional meal. We liked it so much we went back twice, so you’ll want to make sure to check it out.
Honestly, Istria could be its own 7 day Croatia road trip. This peninsula is packed with places to see, things to do, and food to eat. While I had originally only planned a short visit to Croatia (3 nights at the Meneghetti), I quickly realized that this was the place to extend our time. I’m so glad I did. To be honest, I didn’t want to leave.
Where to Stay in Istria
I booked a Black Friday deal for the Meneghetti Wine Hotel after reading about it on Stacie’s blog. It did not disappoint in any possible way. This winery and estate is set between vineyards and olive trees making it a very peaceful place to slow down on your Croatia road trip. It is also a very conveniently located home base for exploring the Istrian peninsula. It’s only a short drive from Rovinj and Pula. You can be in Motovun and truffle country in less than an hour. And, it’s a short drive away from Croatia’s olive oil road. What else could you possibly be looking for?
When we announced ourselves at the gate, the staff met us at the parking area to help with luggage and lead us to reception. (The Meneghetti offers free parking, which is really nice.) From there, we were escorted to reception and provided with a refreshing beverage (one of my favorite R&C perks). Before heading to our room, we were given a brief tour and history of the property, information on breakfast (included in our rate), and updated spa information. The personal touch at the Meneghetti was really lovely.
We stayed in a superior room (104) in the main building, and I found it to be very comfortable. It offered a streamlined designed, plenty of natural light, and design elements that contrasted beautifully against the traditional rustic design of the hotel. Our room had a The bathroom was very large with another walk-in shower, branded Meneghetti amenities, and beautiful design. There was a fresh fruit basket in our room when we arrived, and I looked forward to the turndown treats each evening. The best one was the praline truffle (the pastry chef is incredible), but I also appreciated the lavender, body balm, and fresh juice.
We took full advantage of the spa at the Meneghetti and enjoyed going between the sauna and the pool. I booked the Islands in the Stream body treatment, which is the most refreshing spa treatment I’ve had in awhile. It offers a body scrub and a massage and alternates between warm and cold compresses for maximum circulation effect. I felt so refreshed after my treatment.
The hotel functions as a winery, so you can book a wine tasting of the properties wines. They produce red, white, and sparkling, so there is something for everyone. Five wines are served with a meat and cheese platter. While there is an online ordering option for wine, I recommend ordering the wines while you are on property. This list is more extensive, and the online system shows to be sold out on of many varietals now.
We enjoyed a late afternoon snack at the terrace restaurant. We opted for wine and a meat, cheese and olive platter so we could try the local olive oils. It was delicious, but I recommend the wine tasting experience more. I managed to sneak in breakfast on our last morning in Istria. The breakfast was a’la carte, and I loved my eggs with Istrian sausage. Breakfast is served with a fresh bread basket, and I enjoyed sampling all the pastries.
Our entire stay at the Meneghetti was perfect and feel certain we will be back.
What to Do in Istria
Olive Oil Tasting
Istria is home to some of the best olive oil in the world. We spent quite a bit of time visiting these small producers to learn more about Croatian olive oil, since it doesn’t hit our radar in the United States. Why is that? Part of it is can be attributed to the fact that Croatia harvests its olives earlier in the season than other countries. This means they get less volume but better oil. What does that mean? It means for 10kg of olives, you might get 1L of oil. By comparison, larger producers that harvest later are able to get 3 liters of oil out of the same 10kg of grapes.
Along the olive oil route, we found a number of producers who spent quite a bit of time with us. They were happy to show us their facilities and explain how the oil is made, teach us how to properly taste oil, and help us better understand the differences between what we were tasting and what we were purchasing in the supermarket. We ended up bringing a lot of olive oil home.
Truffle Hunting in Croatia
We didn’t end up booking a truffle hunt, but one of our guides recommended heading to Motovun to try various truffle specialties. He sent us to Pietro & Pietro, which we stumbled upon on our way to Konobo Mondo (delicious, by the way). We were able to try chopped truffles, truffle oils, truffle creams, truffle chips, and truffle cheese. Further, we tried Croatian cherry liquor and brought that home, too.
Rovinj Walking Tour
Rovinj is lovely. With its beautiful harbor, tiny streets, and beautiful colors, you could be in a smaller Venice. I highly recommend booking a walking tour of Rovinj to go beyond the superficial and learn more about this beautiful coastal city though. Goran, a local who has traveled extensively, can wind through Rovinj effortlessly while providing commentary about both the history and the present-day challenges. One of the discussions I particularly appreciated was the necessity to rent out the rooms in the city center because the locals don’t want to deal with the challenges of living in the center city. It was a perspective that counters a popular narrative, and I appreciated his honestly and candor about why it would be good for Rovinj.
We took this tour on a Sunday morning, which was nice, because it felt like we had the town to ourselves. I appreciated the honesty of the guide when we asked for recommendations on where to purchase Istrian products. He made many of the recommendations above, as well as a few restaurants around the peninsula, all of which were outstanding.
Pula Walking Tour
While Rovinj preserves its Venetian influences, Pula has preserved its Roman influences. And when you arrive in Pula, you might ask yourself if you’re in Rome or Croatia. The Colosseum in Pula is absolutely incredible. Given it’s location, you can walk right up to the arcades and see what it looks like on the inside, too. It’s absolutely breathtaking. Grab this walking tour of Pula to further explore the Roman influence over the city.
Our guide took us up to the fortress to better understand how Pula’s position was able to protect it. We wandered through the streets of the ancient Roman city with our guide pointing out both Byzantine and Roman artifacts. The mosaics, particularly those off the beaten path and not in the guidebooks, were truly incredible to see. When we crossed over into the “new” town, we were able to see more to Austro-Hungarian influences on Pula and stroll through the bustling market.
This tour makes an easy loop through Pula, and our guide offered plenty of restaurant suggestions and advice of how to spend the rest of our time.
Porec Euphrasian Basilica
Go to Porec and see the basilica. This 4th century complex is an incredible sight to behold. Personally, I found the basilica even more breathtaking than Venice’s, perhaps because I wasn’t expecting it. You don’t need a guide. Your entrance ticket will provide you a guided visit through the entire complex. Make the trek up the bell tower (but check the schedule to protect your ear drums). See the Bishop’s Palace and his unparalleled view of the Adriatic Sea. Walk through the footprint of the original church and look at the mosaics. And, be prepared to sit in the Euphrasian Basilica in stare in awe at the stunning mosaics.
While I know I saw more of Porec while we were there, everything else was overshadowed by those moments.
Finally we get to the last stop our on our Croatia road trip: Zagreb. Zagreb is an underrated central European capital as far as I’m concerned. While it was on my list because of its famous Christmas market, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. I loved the large amounts of green space, which makes it feel less like bustling capital. The old town and the new town is very walkable, though the tram and uber are both easily available to cover longer distances.
Where to Stay in Zagreb
We stayed at the Esplanade in Zagreb. This historic five-star hotel was a stop on the Orient Express and offers a beautiful and rich interior to match this history. The beautiful chandeliers, the dark wood, and the elegant design all contribute to an old world luxury feel.
We booked a superior room, which was decently sized and offered a bathtub and hand shower. (This is the only hotel that offered a bathtub during our road trip through Croatia.) The room was well-furnished and offered a mini-fridge, a desk, and a very comfortable chair. The windows opened, and though we were right above the tram line, the noise didn’t bother us at all.
My only regret is not seeing if the hotel had a room with a more comfortable bed. This bed was FIRM. Thankfully, the hotel provides plenty of pillows, so I was able to sleep on the pillows for a bit more padding. It was pretty uncomfortable though. I recommend asking to switch rooms if it’s too firm for you. I’m sure there are better options. As far as the bathroom goes, the water pressure was good. Bath amenities were L’Occtaine.
The hotel offers a very modern and well appointed health club and spa. We made a reservation for the sauna and enjoyed taking advantage of it on our last days in Croatia. (Why don’t more US hotels offer saunas?) We did miss out on the incredible hotel restaurant or taking advantage of cocktails on the beautiful terrace of the hotel, mainly because we were trying to see as much as possible in our final days.
The hotel offers PCR and antigen testing on-site. You’ll want to schedule in advance, but if you take the test by 12:00pm, you’ll have your results on the same day. This is a huge benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked when traveling now. It saves you valuable time and allows you to make the most of your vacation.
Zagreb Walking Tour
Even if you only have a day or two on either side of your Croatia road trip, book this walking tour of Zagreb. Petra was an incredibly knowledgable guide and took great pride in helping us understand the layout of Zagreb, its history, and all of its beautiful corners. We had taken a couple of self-guided tours of Zagreb in the prior days, but Petra took us to many places we had not seen and explained so much more than was in the guidebooks. I don’t want to spoil the tour by giving too many details, but book this on your first day in Zagreb!
Zagreb’s Outdoor Cafe Culture
Perhaps one of the things I enjoyed most was the outdoor cafe culture. Rather than plan our meals. Tom and I meandered around the city and stopped to enjoy the outdoor bars. In one case, that meant pizza and beer at Mali Medo on Tkalčića street – a picturesque and popular street with many bars and restaurants. In another case, that was dessert at The Cookie Factory on the same street.
By far my favorite, however, was Princess Slastičarnica which, conveniently, was on the walk back to our hotel. This delightful cafe had the most friendly staff and the most delicious handmade desserts. It’s tough to choose a favorite. I recommend trying the triple layer chocolate cake though.
In the old town, there are three main markets. Depending on how you arrive in the old town (walking or tram), the first one you are likely to encounter is the flower market. This was absolutely stunning and is the first indication that these markets are local markets. Some of the flowers are grown outside of Zagreb and brought in. Others are flown into Croatia. Regardless, the resulting products are gorgeous.
From there, you have two options: the main market or the indoor market. Visit both. If you head up the stairs, you’ll find the market square with a VAST array of stalls selling everything from fresh produce to olive oil to some dairy products. We learned that this market was largely run by women in the past – they would bring their products into the city every day to sell and head back to their villages. Some of the stalls are still run by those same families.
Just below this market is an indoor market where you can purchase meats, cheeses, and breads. You’ll want to get there early because it seems to close a little bit earlier than the market above. We ended up buying some delicious kula (one of the most delicious cold cuts in Croatia) and a cheese with olives and peppercino, which made the most delicious sandwiches. It’s worth heading down there for snacks and picnic supplies.
Wrapping Up our Croatia Road Trip in Zagreb
Our flight back to the US was from ZAG-FRA-IAH-DFW on Lufthansa for the first two legs with the final leg on United. I booked a private airport transfer to Zagreb since our flight was leaving at 7:10am. Our driver was on time and it took about 25 minutes to get to the airport with no traffic. The biggest challenge we had was that we arrived well before LH started checking our flight in, so we just had to wait for it to open.
The Zagreb airport is very modern and offers beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. We boarded the plane from the tarmac and everything went very smoothly.
The Zagreb airport offers on-site PCR testing, in the event that your hotel doesn’t or you don’t want to deal with finding a test locally, but you’ll need to arrive even earlier than usual. Check their site for more details.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Croatia
Go. Just go. Croatia is a fascinating country filled with unexpected surprises. There is no shortage of things to do, things to see, and it’s very easy to be outside and social distance. Their economy is heavily dependent on tourism, so book local hotels and guides, and enjoy every minute of your stay. The food is incredible. I will be the first to admit that I went to Croatia with no preconceived notions of what I wanted to see or do. It blew me away in every single respect, but especially with the warmth of the people. They were so candid, kind, warm, and eager to share everything they could about their beautiful country.
Skip the cruises. Skip the one-day ports in Croatia. Slow down and enjoy the entire country. We’re already planning our next trip back because there is still so much to see.
Need an itinerary? Let me know how I can help!