Croatia has one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline anywhere on the Mediterranean, with glittering islands, wonderfully well-preserved medieval towns, pristine national parks and fabulous cuisine.
Starting in Zagreb and ending in Dubrovnik, this seven-day itinerary is perfect for first-time visitors. You’ll explore the Croatian capital as well as Unesco World Heritage-listed old towns on the Dalmatian coast, hopping on a catamaran or ferry between exquisite islands along the way. We’ve included some gorgeous beaches, breathtaking architecture, delicious food and wine, some outstanding museums and sunsets to die for. What are you waiting for?
Day 1: start your week in Zagreb
Many Croatian itineraries just stick to the coast and islands – but in missing the Croatian capital, you’re really only seeing half the country. Zagreb has a number of excellent museums and galleries to visit, fabulous bars, cafes and restaurants, and a beautifully preserved old city center filled with Secessionist-style architecture.
Start with a walking tour of the Upper Town (Gornji grad), which centers on the iconic St Mark’s Church. Don’t miss the excellent (and unique!) Museum of Broken Relationships. Then head downhill and visit the big open market and the beautiful Gothic cathedral. From bustling Ban Jelačić Square, wander through the parks and squares that run down towards the main railway station. When you feel like a coffee or a drink head along Tkalčićeva, a narrow, pedestrianized street teeming with vibrant cafes.
Day 2: watch the sunset from the waterfront in Zadar
Zadar’s old town is a beautiful cluster of narrow streets and medieval churches, all arranged along a narrow peninsula with jaw-dropping sunsets from its waterfront. Visit the Cathedral of St Anastasia and the distinctive Church of St Donatus, beside the Roman Forum. Stop for an ice cream, or sit on the seafront by the remarkable Sea Organ (a quayside stone “instrument” that makes haunting noises powered by the tide), as you admire the view over to the islands. In the evening, watch the sunset from the Greetings to the Sun installation on the waterfront. For a standout dinner, head to Foša, which serves top-notch seafood and has a lovely waterside terrace (bookings advised).
Day 3: soak up the atmosphere in Split
In the morning, it’s around 2.5 hours by bus to your base base for the next couple of nights: Split, a coastal city with incredible architecture and popping nightlife. Enjoy a day trip to Bol on the island of Brač sandwiched in between.
The lively heart of Split is Diocletian’s Palace. This Unesco World Heritage Site was built in the 4th century as a truly magnificent retirement palace for the Roman emperor Diocletian. The complex is packed with hundreds of buildings that have been added throughout the ages and today is home to around 3000 people. Start your sightseeing here and don’t worry about getting lost – that’s half the fun.
Find your way to the center of the palace to admire the well-preserved colonnaded Roman Peristil (courtyard), and the octagonal Cathedral of St Domnius, which was originally Diocletian’s mausoleum. Below ground, the palace’s substructures are a wonderfully atmospheric place to explore. Don’t be surprised if you get the feeling dragons might be lurking: when filming Game of Thrones, these substructures stood in for the home of Daenerys’s...er...children.
Among many more things to do, you’ll find plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars in the old city for when you start to feel peckish. In the evening, take a stroll and grab a drink on the city’s Riva waterfront promenade.
Day 4: relax on the iconic Zlatni Rat beach near Bol
Take a fast catamaran from Split to Bol on Brač Island. This pretty little town is most famous for Zlatni Rat beach, a glorious spur of smooth white pebbles and shingle that extends 500m (1640ft) straight out into the Adriatic, reached by a mile-long stroll along a pine-shaded waterfront promenade. The beach is hugely popular, and is also a great spot for windsurfing thanks to its steady winds. For astounding views across to Hvar and beyond, take a two-hour hike up to Vidova Gora. At 778m (2552ft), this is the highest point in the Adriatic Islands. Don’t forget to take water, sunscreen and a sun hat, as there’s virtually no shade on the trail up.
If you're traveling outside of high season, you won’t make it to Bol via direct catamaran as they only run from June to September. But no worries: you can take the regular ferry from Split to Supetar and then the bus across the island to Bol – just allow enough time on the way back, as the bus sometimes gets stuck in traffic waiting for the ferry outside Supetar.
Day 5: chill out in Hvar Town, and explore Korčula’s old town
In high season (June to September) you have several choices of catamaran when traveling from Split to Korčula Town, and it’s easy enough to stop off at Hvar Town for some chill-out time on the way. (Note that catamarans between Split, Hvar, Korčula and Dubrovnik in the summer do get fully booked up, so make sure you buy your tickets in advance. )
The glittering capital of Hvar Island, Hvar Town is one of the most glamorous spots in Croatia, famous for a vibrant nightlife scene combined with historic architecture in a stunning setting. Wander the narrow streets of the old town past pretty churches and squares; if you fancy a swim, take a boat ride out to the Pakleni Islands. Then, take an afternoon catamaran to Korčula – or if you fall in love with Hvar and can’t bear to leave, count on taking a catamaran direct to Dubrovnik tomorrow.
Korčula Town is a picture-perfect walled settlement on a boat-shaped peninsula jutting into the Adriatic. Tightly clustered within a ring of walls and towers, the old town centers on the 15th-century St Mark’s Cathedral, which houses artworks by Tintoretto and Ivan Meštrović. The island is known for its wine; sample some at one of the wine bars in the lanes near the harbor.
Catamarans run from Korčula Town to Dubrovnik in high season (June to September), but at other times of year you should catch a car ferry from Dominče to Orebić (on the Pelješac Peninsula) and continue on to Dubrovnik by bus.
Day 6: prepare to be wowed by Dubrovnik’s old town
Your first glimpse of Dubrovnik’s Unesco-listed old town – its magnificent white limestone walls standing proud above the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea – will take your breath away. You’ll want to spend at least two days exploring this remarkable city and its surroundings.
Wander the marble streets within the walls, stopping by the city’s various palaces, churches and museums. It’s best to walk the walls first thing in the morning, so keep them for tomorrow if you’ve just arrived from Korčula. The War Photo Limited gallery is a particularly powerful experience, with a permanent collection of images from the war in former Yugoslavia, as well as temporary exhibits on other worldwide conflicts.
Finish your day off with a cable car ride up Mt Srđ, which rises directly behind the old town, to watch the sunset glint off the rooftops, then dip into the Adriatic sea.
Day 7: walk the city walls of Dubrovnik, and head to Lokrum for a swim
Start your second day in Dubrovnik with a walk around the top of the old city walls; it’s best to go as soon as they open to avoid the crowds. This is the classic Dubrovnik experience and it will take you at least a couple of hours to check out all the various towers, taking in views of the old town rooftops and glittering Adriatic on the way.
In the afternoon you should have time to head out of town for a refreshing swim, either on Lokrum Island, a 10-minute ferry ride away, or at one of the local beaches. Bring your journey to a close with a sunset drink at one of the tiny bars on the rocks outside Dubrovnik’s city walls.