A Croatia Itinerary and General Travel Advice

My sister and I very much enjoyed our trip to Croatia, and since many friends have asked for suggestions and advice for traveling through the country I thought I would share our itinerary and appraisals. This plan works for a trip lasting eight days, of which the first and last are devoted to travel--it could also be extended and modified. We recommend flying directly to Venice unless you can find convenient connections into a more local airport. We rented a car at Marco Polo Airport in Venice and highly recommend the flexibility that came with having a car. 

Travel Day: Arrive in Venice 

I was already in Venice for my workshop, but my sister arrived from Marco Polo Airport around 8:00 PM. This worked well for her, because she got dinner and a few drinks and was able to get a good night's sleep.

If you sleep well on flights, a red-eye could work for this itinerary. Depending on your arrival time, spend the day in Venice or stay in Mestre and try to get a good night's sleep.

Trip Day 1: Pick up rental car, Ikea, Zadar

Advice and Accolades:

1. Renting a car at Marco Polo worked very well. Is it fully legal according to Hertz’ rental policy to cross the borders of Slovenia and Croatia with the car and the price was extremely affordable if you know how to drive a manual transmission (there is a $35/day upcharge for an automatic). It was a bit busy, and you should plan to wait for a while, but once you receive your car and manage to navigate out of the hellish parking garage, it’s very very easy to get on the highway towards Trieste/Slovenia/Croatia. We used Google Maps on our GPS the entire time and had no problems. Create your itinerary while on wifi, and it will still work when you turn off your roaming cellular data.

2. You must buy a vignette to pass through Slovenia—it’s a tax to use their highway. It costs 15 Euro and must be purchased with cash. Every rest stop on the highway towards Trieste sells them.

3. There is an Ikea and a lovely mall at the Gorizia exit of Highway E70. It's a perfect place to stop and pee in a nice clean bathroom and buy some beach towels!

4. The area of Zadar right by the pedestrian bridge to the historic old city--where we stayed for three nights in an AirBnB--looks like a Soviet wasteland. Although it is not charming, it is very safe and comfortable. There is a small but very well stocked supermarket facing the water about 100 meters from the bridge, between a café and a fishing supply store. We bought our lunch there every day, and were thrilled with their selection of meats, cheeses, breads, fruit, and candy. The staff speaks perfunctory English and they were very kind. Hint: Bring your own bag, and try to pay with smaller bills.

Trip Day 2: Petrćane, wine tasting, Nin, Pag, Šimuni

Advice and Accolades:

1. For a quick beach trip from Zadar, try Petrćane. It’s a stone beach, so wear Chacos or Tevas. Just off the road to the beach is a vineyard. The wines are good and worth tasting, but the view is the real draw.

2. Lavender grows throughout Croatia. If you see a plant, break of a few sprigs and leave them on your dashboard. It will make the car smell wonderful.

3. Skip the beach in Nin. It’s a sand beach, which means it gets very, very hot in the afternoons. 

4. From Zadar, spend an afternoon on the island of Pag. The beach in the city of Pag offers a truly spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. This is also a rock beach, so bring water shoes. Hint: Have coins to pay for parking, the meters do not take bills.

5. If Pag is too crowded, or you’re looking for an ocean-facing beach rather than a cove beach, Šimuni is a stunning option. Also a rock beach. Make sure to eat a meal at Ribarska Koliba Šimuni. Get grilled fish, and the Fisherman’s Delight for dessert. 

6. Croatian sunsets are impressively red-pink, and Pag is a great place from which to view the setting sun.

Trip Day 3: Krka National Park, Skradin, Šibenik, Sea Organ

Advice and Accolades:

1. Krka is worth visiting once in your lifetime, although it’s pretty limited for hiking. Try and arrive by 9 AM, and go via the Skradin entrance. You will pay something like 40 kuna to park at the edge of the small town, and then walk about 5 minutes to the waterfront. Boats leave every half hour, and from the upper level of the boat you get a nice breeze and a great view of the blue-green water. Begin with a swim at the waterfall (water shoes highly recommended, it’s very rocky) and then dry off as you walk the 40-ish minute loop to the upper waterfalls. There are many places to take photos, and it’s one of the few places I’ve ever been where I genuinely wished I had a selfie stick. Hint: There’s a student discount for the park entry. Plan to stay in the park around 2 hours (not including boat rides). 

2. There’s a lovely jewelry store in Skradin with affordable pieces made by local artists. Great place to pick up gifts! It's located on Ul. dr. Franje Tuđmana very near the church square. 

3. It’s a beautiful drive to Šibenik, and not very far. The beach there is rocky, and the view wont blow you away like in Pag or Šimuni, but it’s a lot less crowded and after Krka, you may just want to sit back and chill. 

4. The sea organ in Zadar is not to be missed. Even if you do not stay in Zadar, make an effort to stop and see it. A truly unique piece of art, which makes enchanting if not harmonious sounds. There are also a few vendors along the water offering wares that are not painfully touristy.

Trip Day 4: Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary, Pula

Advice and Accolades:

1. The bear sanctuary in Kuterevo is NOT to be missed. In addition to viewing the bears, on the drive from the highway you get to see Croatian farming villages and to get a sense of the country’s agricultural production. Hint: Try to arrive before noon, when it gets very hot and the bears move into the wooded shade of their habitats to rest. It is free, but you may bring a donation of fruit for the bears, or buy some postcards or bear-related products sold by the volunteers staffing the sanctuary.

2. Pula is lovely for an evening, but I wouldn’t stay for more than a day. The beach is nice, but many are better. We did have an excellent meal at Pizzeria Barkun

Day 5: Rovinij, Motovun, Grozjnan, Trieste

Rovinij (Photo Credit: Maya Oren)

Advice and Accolades:

1. Stay in Rovinij! We wish we had stayed there instead of in Pula or Trieste. The Lone Bay Beach/Mulini Beach Resort (a Blue Flag beach) is stunning—truly the nicest beach we have ever visited, both in the quality of the water and swimming and because it’s a platform (cemented) beach rather than a sand/rocky beach. Arrive in late morning, swim and tan, and then eat lunch and have drinks or coffee at the Mulini Beach Bar and Café

2. Motovun requires parking and taking a shuttle bus up to the city. From a distance, we observed the bus winding up the hill—it didn’t convince us to visit. We instead tried wines at Vinarija Tomaz and very much enjoyed the rosé, white wine, and teran (red). 

3. Grozjnan is easier to access than Motovun and is also a great example of a medieval hilltop fort town. The cobbled streets are a bit treacherous, but it’s exciting to wander the streets and visit artists studios. Hint: Don’t plan to stay and eat/drink—the mosquitos are vicious. 

4. Don’t go to Trieste in summertime. It’s hot, there are mosquitos, and the views of the water in Croatia are better. Hint: If you do go to Trieste, don’t plan to go on a Sunday because most everything is closed in the morning. Also, spend the money and stay in the Savoia Excelsior Hotel. After a few days of beach slumming, take a long bath or shower, wrap yourself in a robe, and watch the enormous TV while you dry off. Get drinks at the bar in the lobby, and pass out in the incredibly comfortable bed. In the morning, work out in their very nice gym, and don’t miss the included breakfast—it’s decadent, delicious, and serves American coffee.

Day 6: Porec*, Venice

Advice and Accolades:

1. Because we were not enjoying the heat in Trieste, we drove back to Croatia for the day. The beaches in Poreč are not as nice as Rovinij, but they are also Blue Flag beaches and the water is a very clear green-blue. There are a mix of rock and cement platform (our preference) areas to choose from. 

2. If you have an early-morning flight from the Venice airport, the Venice Resort Hotel is not fancy but is very clean and a good value. It’s a 5-minute drive from the airport (if even that long). Have dinner nearby at Colors, a pizzeria. Nothing fancy, but then again, nothing by an airport ever is particularly nice. Hint: they have free, strong wifi!

* I apologize for the anglicized spelling. SquareSpace will not let me insert symbols. 

Travel Day: Depart from Venice