The following Croatia 7 day itinerary will unravel you some of the best places to see in Croatia – from mountains and the seaside to cities and the countryside. Croatia road trip according to this itinerary will take you to two Croatian national parks, one island, several UNESCO World Heritage Sites and engage you in a journey from the Dinosaur era to present times.
I wouldn’t recommend doing this itinerary by public transport, however it is not impossible. The best way to explore Croatia is with a car. This way you will have the freedom to dictate your own tempo and visit places off the beaten path.
DAY 1: ZAGREB SIGHTSEEING
Many say Zagreb is Croatia’s most underrated destination. Most visitors see Zagreb as a transit or day trip destination, however this lively city has much to offer – from historic neighborhoods, a wide variety of amazing restaurants, thriving cafe culture to impressive museum collections.
Inviting public spaces of Zagreb are perfect for a sightseeing stroll through streets marked by Austro-Hungarian architecture in the Lower Town (Donji grad) and cobbled medieval streets of the Upper Town (Gornji grad).
Top attractions to see in Zagreb include neo-gothic Zagreb Cathedral, St. Mark’s Church, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb City Museum, Dolac Market, Meštrović Atelier, Tkalčićeva Street, Ban Jelačić Square, Croatian National Theatre, Museum of Arts and Crafts and Museum of Broken Relationships.
If you want to go off the beaten path you should definitely visit impressive Mirogoj Cemetery designed by architect Herman Bolle in the second half of 19th century and Maksimir Park – English-style park opened back in 1794.
DAY 2: ZAGREB TO PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK
Second day of your Croatia travel itinerary is reserved for what probably is the most touristy spot in the entire country – visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice Lakes, UNESCO World Heritage Site of exceptional natural beauty, is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia.
Before you leave Zagreb visit official website of the Park and decide which tour program will you take. There are eight different tour programs varying both in length (from 2-3 hours to 8-6 hours) and difficulty level. Based on the program you can choose to spend or not to spend morning in Zagreb. TIP: If you decide to go on a shorter route through the national park, coming there in the afternoon is great for avoiding the crowds.
Plitvice Lakes are situated two hours drive south from Zagreb in the mountainous region Lika in central Croatia. Along the way you can visit an open air museum of army collections from the Croatian Homeland War near Karlovac and historical village Rastoke with amazing waterfalls of Slunjčica River.
Once you arrive to your destination your can book a guided tour of Plitvice Lakes which will take you to the highlights. However, area of the Park is very well organized and marked so you can just take the map and explore the lakes on your own.
Finish the day in one of the local family owned restaurants to try typical Croatian dish authentic for the region of Lika – roasted lamb (janjetina).
DAY 3: PLITVICE LAKES TO ISTRIA VIA RIJEKA AND OPATIJA
In the early morning head north west towards Kvarner and Istrian peninsula. Make a stop in the city of Rijeka, Croatia’s third biggest city.
Even more than Zagreb, Rijeka is considered a transit city and is usually overlooked by tourists. The reason behind this is the fact that Rijeka is a port town and not a beach destination, however in the field of culture and history it has much to offer.
For long time Rijeka served as Habsburg Empire’s outlet to the Adriatic what left a remarkable note on city’s architecture. Stroll down the pedestrian zone Korzo to soak up city vibes, visit St. Vitu’s Cathedral unique in the area for it’s central ground plan and enjoy a stunning view from fortress of Trsat.
Around 15 kilometers west of Rijeka lies Opatija, a completely different Croatian coastal town. In the late 19th century Opatija transformed into fashionable resort for wealthy elite from the Central and Eastern Europe.
This small, one-street town evokes „belle époque“ with it’s Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Nouveau villas and chic cafés and hotels.
Finish the day in your Pula accommodation (a bit more than 3 hours drive from Plitvice Lakes), the biggest city in Istria situated on the southern tip of the peninsula.
DAY 4: PULA SIGHTSEEING
Spend your forth day exploring Pula to discover more than 2000-year old history tangled with Roman ruins, Austro-Hungarian architecture and socialist realism of communist era.
The most famous landmark of Pula is Arena (Roman Amphitheater), the sixt largest building of this type in the world and one of the best preserved. Built over a several decades of the 1st century and completed about the same time as Colosseum in Rome, Arena of Pula is designed to accommodate 23,000 spectators. Today it is used to stage concerts by famous musicians including Elton John, Sting, Jose Carreras and James Brown and the oldest Croatian film festival.
Besides magnificent Arena, Pula’s ringlike streets have much more to offer. Visit ancient Roman forum ringed with charming cafés, Roman Temple of Augustus and medieval Town Hall.
Other top attractions in Pula, Croatia include St.Mary’s Cathedral with the oldest parts dating from the 5th century, triumphal Arch of Sergius from 1st century B.C., remains of Basilica of St. Mary Formosa from Bizantine Empire, Roman 3rd-century floor mosaic and much more.
Walking though the lively historic streets of the city you will probably encounter the bronze statue of the most famous resident of Pula – Irish writer James Joyce who worked and lived here for a short period of his life.
DAY 5: DAY TRIP TO BRIJUNI NATIONAL PARK
Leave Pula behind and drive northwest towards Fažana where you will take a 15-minute boat to Veli Brijun, the largest island of Brijuni archipelago. Brijuni National Park consists of two main islands (Veli Brijun and Mali Brijun) and 12 islets off the coast of Istria, across the 3 km-wide Fažana Channel.
Inhabited since the neolitic era, in 19th century Brijuni arose as European high society summer destination. After the WWII Brijuni became even more popular as the official summer residence of Yugoslavia’s president Marshal Josip Broz Tito who welcomed world leaders, famous actors (Sofia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton) and writers to the island.
You can visit the Brijuni National Park through the whole year and enjoy in many interesting geological-paleontological (dinosaurs footprints) and archaeological sites, exhibitions, Safari park, ethno park and the oldest golf course in Croatia.
Tour through breathtaking landscapes and unspoiled picturesque nature of Brijuni is perfect for families with kids and anyone wanting to relax in nature.
After you have visited Brijuni drive a short distance to Rovinj for the night.
DAY 6: ROVINJ SIGHTSEEING AND DAY TRIP TO POREČ
Venetian-style coastal town of Rovinj with the soul of a fisherman’s village makes you want to spend days wandering it’s colorful narrow streets.
Atmospheric setting of Rovinj attracts more and more tourists every year so we might say, besides Plitvice Lakes, this is the place where you will probably encounter the most crowds. However, it is worth it!
Spend the morning exploring cobbled streets of small peninsula what in the Middle Ages used to be an island surrounded by a double wall.
Best things to see in Rovinj, except the old town itself, include Baroque Church of St. Euphemia with accompanying 190-foot-tall bell tower resembling the one on St.Mark’s Square in Venice, one of the oldest Aquariums in Europe, House of Batana dedicated to the traditional wooden boat, Rovinj Heritage Museum, Town Hall, Balbi’s Arch and old harbor.
In Rovinj, you will find some of the best restaurants to experience genuine taste of Istria. Try fuži pasta, which is the local pasta variety, truffles or seafood.
For the second half of the day you have many options. If you would like to spend a relaxing afternoon on the beach you should know that most beaches in Rovinj are rocky or cemented. However, you can find nice sandy/pebble beaches on Red Island (Crveni otok) which is 15-minute boat trip from Rovinj old town and Lone Bay (uvala Lone) situated 15 minutes walking distance from the centre of the town.
Another afternoon option includes one of the best places to visit near Rovinj – 35 km distant bustling little city of Poreč.
In Poreč you will see UNESCO-listed 6th-century Euphrasian Basilica complex which is one of the major artistic showpieces of Croatia.
On your way there you will pass the only Norwegian-style fjord in Croatia – 13 km long karst canyon called Limski kanal.
DAY 7: ROVINJ TO ZAGREB VIA CENTRAL ISTRIA (MOTOVUN)
While most tourist in Croatia focus on the coast, on the last day of your Croatia trip, you will head inland for a dash of variety.
Following rural roads through vineyards, olive-oil farms and truffle-filled forests and passing by picturesque medieval hill towns you will reach Motovun.
Motovun is a colorful medieval hill town with a double ring of defensive walls from where you will have the most amazing panoramic views of Istria and Mirna River Valley. One of the most valuable buildings in the old town is St.Stephen’s church built according to plans by the famous Venetian architect Andrea Palladio.
During a scenic drive through Central Istria it is a good idea to stop for wine tasting in one of the local wineries, visit an olive-oil farm to buy some homemade olive oil.
For those interested in an active holiday Istrian interior is a true gem – there is great infrastructure for cycling, hiking or you could even venture into truffle hunting.
Once you are ready to leave Istria behind, head northeast towards Zagreb and the end of your Croatia 7 day itinerary.
PHOTO: Pixabay, Instagram