Croatia Road Trip: Planning made easy!

Organising a road trip in Croatia

  • Jens headshot 2:6:23
  • The Travel Mum
Croatia is a beautiful country full of history and natural wonders. Whether you like exploring historical sights, relaxing on the beach, mooching around medieval streets or island hopping – there is really something for everyone. If you’re looking for a romantic break, a family holiday, a lively holiday with your mates or a solo adventure, a Croatia road trip will not disappoint.
 
We visited in September when prices are low and the season is gradually grinding to a steady halt. We prefer travelling at the end of season to make the most of low prices and less crowds. Our group included myself, my partner Joao and our three year old son Leo – as well as my adventurous mum and dad (in their early 60s). We love travelling as a family, but naturally it involves catering to a wide age range!
 

Organising car hire in Croatia

We wanted to see as much of Croatia as possible during our short trip, and so for this reason decided to hire a car. We used a local hire company called ‘Active’ and the price for 12 nights with pick up in Zadar and drop off in Split was £340, this was split between two couples (us and my mum/dad) so cost us £170. We used a comparison website to compare the different hire companies and Active was the cheapest one with half decent reviews (I say this lightly as most car hire companies have terrible reviews).
 
Picking the car up and dropping it off at different locations does add onto the cost, but is worth it if you plan to do a linear route like we did. Make sure you take a credit card with you (but not American express as they don’t accept this) as it will be needed to hold the deposit. This price included the extra insurance to cover the deposit should anything happen to the car. Also remember that the card has to be in the name of the driver.
 
When planning a road trip, aside from organising the car hire, you have two main things to initially consider. Where will you fly into, and where will you fly home from.


Deciding where to fly in to and depart home from.

 
You will want to use Skyscanner to search your preferred departing airports to “Croatia”, and work out which city will be the cheapest to fly in to. For us, it was Zadar. Zadar is a city on the northern part of Croatias west coast with an historic old town and lots of pebble beaches. Flights here are often really cheap and it makes a perfect start to a coastal road trip. A linear trip is obviously ideal, flying into one city, driving down the coast, and departing from the final city. But this may not always be the cheapest option. For example, our trip ended in Dubrovnik but flying home from Dubrovnik was an extra £150 per person compared to flying home from Split, so it was worth driving the few hours from Dubrovnik back up to Split for our flight home. It is all about trial and error to find the absolute best value route. If you need help with this check out our Travel Max membership, we love to assist our members with planning trips just like this.


Where to visit on your Croatia road trip

Now that you have a start and finish point and you’ve booked your flights, you can start to consider where you would like to visit in between. This is the fun bit! Our trip consisted of:

 

3 nights in Zadar
1 night in Plitvice (to visit the national park early the following morning)
5 nights in Split
3 nights in Dubrovnik
 
I would highly recommend recreating this route if you aren’t sure on where to go. We got to see a variety of historic sights, natural wonders, amazing beaches and many of Croatia’s highlights. If you can find cheap flights home from Dubrovnik even better! But it wasn’t too much of a hassle to return to Split for our flight home given we had a car, so check prices for both airports.
 

3 nights in Zadar

 
Zadar is made up of two main areas that will be of interest to most. The historic old town plus an area our hosts referred to as the “Touristic area”, the area around the sandy Borik beach. By hiring a car you have the luxury of being able to choose cheaper more peripheral accommodation, knowing you can easily drive to points of interest. This is exactly what we did staying at Villa Jelena – a highly rated two bedroom apartment with great hosts . It was walking distance to ‘Borik beach’ and the “Touristic area” and we were able to easily drive to the Old Town. Our two bedroom apartment was £300 for 3 nights, dividing the price between the two couples we paid just £150 for our family of 3.
 
 Most of the beaches in Croatia are pebble beaches or concrete slabs next to the sea with ladders to easily get in and out. For this reason many people have thick mats to lay underneath their towels, to make relaxing on the beach more comfortable. Sea shoes are also an essential if you plan to spend a lot of time getting in and out of the water. Both the mats and the shoes are readily available in many shops around Croatia’s coastal towns and cities. Our hosts provided the mats for us.
 
We arrived in Zadar late at night, so essentially only had two full days to spend there but it was enough. We spent our first day exploring the “Touristic area” and the second day exploring the old town and near by beaches. We were blown away by the old town as we had done very minimal research before visiting and so had no expectations. We parked our car right by the bridge that leads to the old town, I have tagged the location here. It was a short walk across the bridge and into the old town. I can’t remember the exact price of parking but it wasn’t too expensive, I do remember you had to pay using coins. The walled town is pristine with shiny stone slabs paving the alleyways and impressive stone buildings creating narrow Romanesque streets. Interesting points you should look out for include:
 
– Anastasia tower – great views from the top of here.
– Church of St Donatus
– Roman Forum
– Peoples square
– Sea Organ – really unmissable unique experience and free.
– Salute to the Sun – don’t miss this one after sunset.
– The Land Gate – best viewed from Queen Jelena Madijevka Park
 

The whole of the old town is beautiful and you can just mooch around whipping out your camera at every turn.

 

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 Where to eat in Zadar

 We were lucky to have fantastic local hosts who knew Croatia like the back of their hand. They gave us some excellent restaurant recommendations but here are our favourites in both the Touristic area and the Old town.
 

Rafaelo’s – This traditional restaurant is by Borik Marina, a delicious option with huge meaty portions. Our hosts recommend we get the Rafaelo plate which has 2 beef steaks, 2 steaks, 2 pork fillets, chips, a delicious mushroom sauce and grilled veg. They recommended we share one plate between two people – I am not exaggerating when I say one plate would have easily fed the 4 adults and our son! It wasn’t the cheapest option with this plate of food costing around £32, but if we’d had shared one between the family it would have been much more affordable. There are lots of cheaper grilled options if you aren’t that hungry!

 

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Bruschetta – A lovely restaurant located close to the sea in the old town, this is a more upmarket restaurant with some great traditional options. We didn’t make a reservation but managed to get a table. The man at the door said we were lucky to get one as usually you need a reservation, so consider booking a table before you visit. We all ordered something traditional and different, and each dish was delicious.
 

1 night in Plitvice via Rastoke

 Plitvice national park was one of the places we were most excited to see and a must visit on your Croatia road trip. It is best to arrive as early as possible, in order to beat the tours who will arrive in mass around 10/11am. Because of this we decided to spend the night near Plitvice, it meant we could leisurely drive there from Zadar and then explore some of the surrounding areas in the afternoon. We could then wake up early to be some of the first people into the national park in the morning.
 
On arriving in the area we drove to Rastoke, a beautiful little village with waterfalls and streams. We parked here and then only had to walk across the road and down a hill to get to the village and waterfalls. There is a circular route you can take passing the waterfalls and some nice cafes. After exploring the area and having a coffee, we drove up to Restoran Ambar, a nice restaurant with great views. The food was ok, the atmosphere was great and the prices were on the higher side but with cheaper options if you just want a light lunch.
 
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 We stayed close to the national park in a 3 bedroom apartment with amazing views for just £76 for the night, divided between the two couples that was just £38 for our family of 3. It was called Apartment Rosandic and you can learn more about it here. The hosts daughter works at Plitvice National Park and so gave us some tips on the route to take and what to look out for. I would highly recommend staying here, the hosts are lovely and it is incredibly peaceful. There are lots of fruit trees and great views over fields, perfect at sunset.
 
The park opens at 7am but it was around 8am once we were all ready to check out of our apartment. It is pricey at €40pp (around £36) to enter, and you also need to pay for the car park on top of this. Children under the age of 7 are free. Lots of tour companies arrange day trips here from different parts of Croatia, so bus loads of people start to arrive from around 10am. Staying near Plitvice makes it a lot easier to get there in the morning and beat the crowds.
 
There are a variety of routes you can take around the park, it can be a little overwhelming if you arrive before making the decision. We chose route C at the recommendation of our hosts. It meant we got to see the whole of the park, but cut out a lot of the long walks by using the boat and bus that are included in your ticket price. I would recommend this route if traveling with children. We took our pram, despite lots of advice not to do this, just so our son could nap. It meant a lot of carrying the pram up and down stairs, but we will literally do anything for a quiet life (and our son napping for an hour really improved our day!) There are a few places to buy food, drinks and coffee within the park, but it is a little pricey. Sandwiches were around £5 and a coffee around £2.50 – so consider taking a packed lunch with you. There are lots of picnic benches to stop to eat at. We did exactly this and it definitely saved us a fair amount of money.
 
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We spent around 5 hours exploring the whole park and then set off to Split. We had Krka national park and its impressive waterfalls on our ‘must see’ list, and realised we would pass it on our drive to Split. As it was still only early afternoon when we left Plitvice, we decided to visit Krka to break up the two and a half hour drive to Split.
 

Krka National Park

 It was around 3.15pm when we pulled up in the car park. Ticket prices reduce after 4pm, so in true Travel Mum tight mama style, we hung around before purchasing tickets to make the most of the discount! There is a bus that stops near the ticket counter and drives you down the hill to where the walk to the waterfalls begins. There are toilets and places to eat and drink by the car park, and more by the large waterfall at the bottom of the hill. There is a toilet block by the cafes and car park that charges you a fee to use them, then bizarrely a free toilet block by the ticket counter a 2 minute walk away – So don’t get caught out and make sure you use the free toilets if you need to go.
 
Once you get off of the bus at the bottom of the hill, you can head straight towards the huge waterfall, or take the scenic walk on a board walk along the top of the waterfalls. If you have the time definitely do this, it’s a lovely walk and only takes around an hour to do the whole route.
 
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After completing the walk and taking some pictures by the waterfalls, we got the bus back to the top of the hill and set off to Split. It was after 7pm when we checked in to our apartment but by fitting two national parks into one day, we had really made the most of our time and it genuinely didn’t feel rushed.
 

5 nights in Split

 Split is a great place to visit as it has something for everyone. Relax by the beach, explore near by islands, take a day trip to some really cool towns or explore the fascinating historic old town. The old town is a fantastic place to walk around and enjoy some great food and drinks. The town is built around Roman Ruins so everywhere you turn there is something interesting to see.
 
If you are visiting for a short stay and don’t have a car, the old town is a great place to base yourself. You will be surrounded by lots of restaurants and bars and have the harbour to take day trips to near by islands like Hvar, Brac, Bisevo and Korcula. From the old town you can walk up to Marjan view point for some amazing views of the town. Alternatively you can take an uber to some lovely beaches. We love having a mix of slow and fast paced days within a trip like this, so decided to book 5 nights in Split. This meant we weren’t rushing to see everything, we could have some lay ins, lazy days by the beach and just enjoy being in Croatia as our trip to this point has been very full on. We decided to stay in Zjnan and booked a 3 bedroom apartment with amazing views called ‘Beach apartment Lux view‘. We were a short walk to a variety of beaches, or a short drive to the old town and other highlights. The apartment was £466, so just £233 per couple for the 5 night stay.
 

First day in Split – Old Town.

On our first full day in Split we explored the old town. We parked here after a bit of driving around and everywhere being full, it ended up being a great spot as we were only a short walk to the Old Town. We started our day walking along the harbour area and investigating boat tour prices to the different islands (All really expensive so we decided to get the passenger ferry to Hvar later in our stay.) From here we got ice cream and then walked towards Diocletians Palace. The palace is a UNESCO world heritage site and probably the most famous attraction here. The central square by the palace is really beautiful but can get really crowded. From here you can visit the cathedral and climb the bell tower for some great views. The whole area within the walled town is breathtaking and it is easy to spend a few hours exploring the intricate streets. Look out for the Golden Gate, the temple of Jupiter, republic square and the vestibule of the Palace. We had lunch at an amazing place called Villa Spiza , somebody on instagram recommended it to us and when we got there people were already queueing for a table – always a good sign! The menus are hand written each day and the food is delicious.
 
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Second day in Split – Beaches!

 On our second day we decided to explore the beaches along the coast. This is really easy to do when you have a car and there are lots of beautiful beaches and coast to explore. Our favourites were Stobrec, Žnjan City Beach, Ježinac beach and Kasjuni beach. Bacvice beach is the closest to the Old Town but our least favourite beach in Split. There was a lot of litter and cigarette butts lying around, it seems to be the place people go to get over their hangover (which is obviously a very essential place to have!)

Third Day – Historic town of Trogir

A half an hour drive takes you to this fascinating little town which is a UNESCO world heritage site. This walled medieval city is said to be one of the best preserved in the whole of central Europe. Explore the walls and city gate whilst looking out for the city loggia, the Cipiko palaces and the Kamerlengo Fortress. There are lots of places to stop and get a bite to eat or a drink, the more expensive options being out by the promenade with lots of cheaper options dotted amongst the streets. From Trogir we went to near by Okrug Gornji Beach, also known as Copacabana beach. Leo had a little splash in the sea and then we got a lovely dinner at a place called Konoba Pizzeria. The prices are reasonable and the traditional dishes were delicious.
 
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Fourth Day – Hvar island

 This was our last full day in Split and we decided to visit Hvar island. The boat trips were all costing over £100 per person so we decided to get the passenger ferry to Hvar which worked out at £30pp for the return trip. We used the Jadrolinija ferry which took just over an hour to get there. We turned up at the ferry port in the morning and bought the tickets, and bought the return ticket once we arrived in Hvar.
 
On arrival in Hvar we heading towards Pokinji Dol beach – take the coastal route which takes around 25/30 minutes but is a lovely walk. Being the tight family that we are, we had googled “cheapest place to get a drink” and luckily passed the apparent cheapest place en route. The bar was called “Da Vinci Hvar” and a glass of wine was just £3 – you can sit outside overlooking a beach and it was a really great stop.
 
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 Pokinji Dol is a beautiful beach, a pebble beach like most of Croatia, but the water is an intense aquamarine colour. There are a few places to get food there. We had lunch at Mustaco which is also a guest house. A great location right by the beach.
 
After lunch we walked back towards the main town and explored there. It is honestly such a beautiful place but very expensive. We made the error of taking Leo into a whippy ice cream shop which charged per weight.. By the time he filled his tub and added the toppings, it was around £10 for an ice cream. We walked to Hvar park and played on the playground there, then round to Bonj beach which has some expensive looking beach clubs and some nice luxury hotels.

3 nights in Dubrovnik

The drive from Split to Dubrovnik takes around 3 hours. We stopped midway at a lovely stop called “Deaks wines”, a winery with great views. A great place to get a coffee, enjoy some views and take a break. I really enjoyed the drive, there are some great views along the way and the majority of the route is motorways, so it was quick and easy driving.
 
We booked this 3 bedroom apartment in Lapad. It was £280 for the 3 nights, so £140 per couple. I would recommend looking for accommodation around here as it is a lot cheaper than places closer to the Old Town, and you are close to some great beaches which are good for relaxing or occupying children. If you like to walk you can walk to the Old Town from here in around 30 minutes, or alternatively hop on the bus. We did both, the bus was cheap and they seemed to pass regularly. It drops you off right at the entrance to the Old Town.
 

Day one in Dubrovnik – Exploring the old town.

 Dubrovniks Old Town is famous for being one of the best preserved medieval towns in the whole world. It was made even more famous when it became ‘Kings Landing’ in the Game of Thrones series. This vibrant, bustling town is immaculate and the perfect place to stroll around and admire. The sturdy stone walls that encircle the town can be walked along, a highlight of any trip to Dubrovnik. The city walls can be accessed between 8am and 6pm and costs 250kn (around £29) for adults and 100kn (around £12) for children. As it was such an expensive activity, we weren’t 100% sure we would do it, but in the end we went with the YOLO vibe and splashed out. We are really glad we did as the views from the walls are magnificent and it was definitely a highlight of our trip to Dubrovnik.
 
 From the Old Town we went for lunch at Tabasco Pizzeria. The pizzas are huge and delicious. Myself, my partner Joao and our son Leo shared a jumbo pizza that was around £20, so not bad for lunch for 3.
 
After lunch we walked to Banje Beach – a beautiful little beach with views of the Old Town. There is a place to arrange water sports and a nightclub and restaurant by the beach. We went swimming and even though it was September, the water temperature was still enjoyable. A really unique experience to be floating in the sea, enjoying views of the Old Town.
 
On our walk back to Lapad we stopped at another amazing beach, Bellvue Beach. There are a lot of steps to climb down to access this beach running down the side of Hotel Rixos Libertas. A great beach for swimming and perfect if you want to avoid strong sun, as the surrounding cliffs create shade in the afternoon. If you prefer the strong intense sun, you are best visiting in the morning.
 

Day two – Enjoying Lapad

 This was the last day of our trip before flying home the following evening so we decided to have a lazy one. We walked to Uvala Lapad beach and bought a few beers at the supermarket to enjoy by the sea. We went swimming, our son enjoyed plopping pebbles into the sea and playing in the playground there. There is a nice area close to the beach with lots of bars and restaurants. We had lunch at a place called Trinity Oriental Fusion Lounge – it sold a variety of Asian dishes and sushi. A six piece sushi roll was around £4 and noodle dishes were around £12.
 
After lunch we mooched through Lapad towards one of the most popular beaches in Dubrovnik, Copacabana beach. There is a cafe to sit and enjoy a coffee by the sea, water sports and views of Franjo Tudman bridge. It is an accessible beach with wheel chair access. A great place for relaxing and enjoying some great views.
 
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Visiting Ston between Dubrovnik and Split

 Our flight home from Split wasn’t until 10pm, so we were able to have a leisurely morning in Dubrovnik. We had passed an interesting looking place called ‘Ston‘ on our drive from Split to Dubrovnik and had decided to visit on our way to the airport. Ston is well known for it’s impressive stone walls, built on a steep hill that you really can’t miss as you drive through the town. Also for its saltworks and its mussels! Mali Ston bay is said to produce some of the best oysters in the world so you must try some whilst visiting if Oysters are your thing! We parked up and had lunch here, sampling the famous mussels. It is a very small town but a great place to stop en route. We found a playground too which made Leo very happy!
 

Price overview:

 (Airport parking, Flights, Hotels, Car hire and Petrol for our family of 3)
 
Airport parking in Manchester £110 (£55 per couple)
£140 for our family of 3’s flights Manchester to Zadar
£300 3 nights in Zadar – two bedroom apartment. (£150 per couple)
£76 one night in Plitvice (£38 per couple)
£466 for 5 nights Split – three bedroom apartment (£233 per couple)
£280 for 3 bedroom apartment in Dubrovnik (£140 per couple)
£340 for car hire (£170 per couple)
£100 petrol (£50 per couple)
Split to Manchester £200 for the 3 of us

Total Spent: £1176 for a family of 3 – 12 nights road trip in Croatia.

 

I haven’t included food and activities in the above price as it will vary massively how much people choose to spend on food, drink and things to do. There are lots of expensive restaurants as well as budget friendly options too, with some conscious choices you can keep your costs low by not falling into the trap of spending £100 on dinner each evening. Look out for street food venders, cafes, local eateries away from the most touristic areas and consider doing a supermarket shop and preparing some of your own meals. All of the places we stayed had a kitchen, so we were able to keep our food spend low by preparing some meals and eating breakfast at the apartment each morning.
 

Got any questions about organising your Croatia road trip? Let us know!

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