We were supposed to go sailing with a family friend, and right beforehand, the friend broke his leg! Needless to say, the entire trip was off. For them, not us. We continued on with…
No plans. No reservations. No…really 🙂 The trip that almost wasn’t turned into the most epic European road trip there was. My gift to you is this full 10-day itinerary for your wanderlusting and/or planning purposes.
I knew there’d be pros and cons to seeing a country this way. On one hand, it allows for more freedom. On the other hand, I probably spent entirely too much time scrolling Booking.com or Airbnb on my iPhone for places to sleep that night. Must-haves: good reviews, A/C, Wi-Fi, preferred Superhost, location, location, location.
Croatia is a country at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe situated on the Adriatic Sea. With a population of 4.2 million, it borders Slovenia to the northwest, Hungary to the northeast, Serbia to the east, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro to the southeast AND it shares a maritime border with Italy. How’s that for a resume?
If you’re going from Hungary to Croatia, you have a few transportation options:
- Rent a car with a v high one-way drop free (unless you plan on going back to Budapest)
- Hire a car & driver for a high fee
- Take a train (that wasn’t running the day we left because of a public holiday)
- Take a bus 🙂
Note COVID Compliance: Effective June 13, a traveler can present a negative viral test result taken within 72 hours of travel or a certificate of vaccination (the final dose of COVID-19 is more than 14 days before travel). See the detailed rules and regulations here.
We left Budapest at 10:30am on a FlixBus (booked day-of!) for about €20/passenger. Now I’m not a traveler that typically gravitates towards the public bus systems of central Europe, but this one didn’t disappoint mostly because it was half full, clean, and came with a view…and because the bus driver let me off to get a banana because HUNGER PAINS. With a border crossing consisting of 25 minutes, the total drive was ~5 hours. That’s 5 episodes of GoT. All good in my book.
Once at the Zagreb bus station, t’was time to hail a cab to the airport so we could rent a car and be on our way. (So let’s rewind and count: that’s 1 cab to the Budapest bus station, 1 bus ride to Croatia, 1 cab to Zagrab airport just to get to the rental car. PHEW). I wasn’t in the Volkswagen for 5 minutes before I went the wrong way down a one-way while stopping traffic everywhere. Then Google Maps took us the scenic route which was the definition of backroads if I’ve ever seen ’em – tractors, horseback, cyclists, greenery, and loooots of wide-open land. Honestly, it looked a lot like Arkansas. I immediately felt right at home 🙂
After another 2 1/2 hour drive with a pitstop at Cowboy Western Ranch for lunch (if you’re doing this route, you must stop here and get the Texas Burger. Just do it. Not because it’s good, but because it’s a monstrosity and funny when you’re sleep-deprived. Plus, it’s like you’re in Texas but you’re in Croatia. It’s weird).
Around 8pm we finally rolled into Ethno Houses Plitvica Selo. It’s not perfect (rude creaky floors), but I’d stay here again for its location in the heart of Plitvice Lakes National Park and extremely close proximity to Entrance 3. While you can’t purchase entrance tickets to the national park at Entrance 3 (big question mark here), the hotel offers to do it for you – alleviating you of getting back in the car and driving to Entrance 1 or 2. *Raises hand*
- Explore the gems of Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Breakfast at the hotel
- All day exploration of Plitvice Lakes National Park. Note: You walk here, there’s no driving, and you also can’t swim. I’m sure it’s for safety/sustainability reasons, but the waters are crazy inviting. Near the entrances, there’s food/water/ice cream stations. Stock up on water! Beware of the circus during the hours from 10am – 6pm. I honestly can’t come up with too many other nature-derived experiences that have been *this* crowded. Once 6pm hit, it was insanely calm and beautiful.
- Dinner at Ethno Houses Plitvica Selo
Shop my favorite pair of high-waisted pocket leggings (pictured below)
- More Plitvice Lakes National Park + Travel Day
- Breakfast at the hotel
- Morning exploration of Plitvice National Park. Here’s a favorite spot of mine:
- In front of the Big Waterfall is a staircase. Go up the stairs and at the top, walk right. You’ll find a road. Walk for about 2-3 minutes until you see a wooden bridge. Turn right after the bridge onto a path and walk for 1-2 minutes until coming to a lookout point. STUNNING!
- Around noon, head towards Split (or Krka National Park on the way to Split)!
- Dinner in the Old Town Harbor while the best people-watching unfolds before your eyes for some gold nighttime entertainment.
- Marasovica Apartments – highly recommend based on location (5 minute walk to Old Town), communication, price and terrace views!
- Explore Split!
- Wander the many historic alleyways and dig deep. Get lost. Eat at any gelato stand. Twice. Maybe three times. Take too many photos of 4th century Diocletian’s Palace. Head towards Marjan for a 550-ft high hill forested with cypress and Mediterranean pine trees – a perfect spot to hike off the questionable decisions from the day before.
- Fig Split for dinner (or all meals because it’s *that* good)
- Island Day!
- We went back and forth between hiring a private sailboat for the day or taking a small passenger speed boat to neighboring islands. Ultimately, we chose the speed boat because it allowed us to go further, see more AND get dropped off at Hvar that evening. We booked the tour the afternoon before down at the Old Town Harbor where many tours are on offer.
- Komiža on Vis island
- Stiniva Cove
- Budikovac Island for snorkeling (lunch here)
- Blue Cave
- Hvar (we got off the boat and stayed on Hvar, although everyone else went back to Split)
Shop my easy breezy black sarong (pictured below)
DeVecchi Rooms in Hvar – This was one of my favorite hotels from Croatia due to the location, furnishings, and outdoor space/view! We booked a Deluxe Double with a balcony 🙂
- Langonini Beach Club
- But first, coffee. Head right outside the hotel to Kava 37
- Catch a small boat docked at the harbor (you can’t miss them) for the 15 minute journey
- Just typing the name of this beach club makes me exhaleeeee. Laganini means “slowly” in Croatian, and it’s the exact vibe we encountered while there. A relaxing, no worries atmosphere, where water splashes and Balearic music make up the soundtrack. Note that there’s a spending minimum for bungalow use. We enjoyed a few cocktails and sushi mMmMm.
- Leave on the last boat back to Hvar (6pm I believe, the same boat that took you over will pick you up) and wander into somewhere yummy for dinner. I’m not going to lie – we chose a very bad pizza spot so I can’t recommend!
- Travel day
- But first, wake up and hike to the Spanjola Fortress for insanely beautiful views. I low-key feel like Khalessi in the above photo. So many GoT vibes!
- Breakfast at Fig Hvar
- More options: St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Square, Hvar lavender fields, Sveta Nedjelja aka wine region! Red Plavac Mali grapes thrive here.
- 11am ferry back to Split (ferries are every hour and tickets can be bought at a booth near the docking point)
- Find the rental car where you left it at the last hotel 🙂 Drive to Dubrovnik. Realize that the drive from Split to Dubrovnik is insanely pretty. Cancel all plans to swim next to pirate ships and explore Bosnia.
In order to get to the southern portion of Croatia, one must pass into Bosnia and Herzegovina occupying just 12 miles of Adriatic coastline in the city of Neum, the 2nd shortest coastline in the world after Monaco…essentially cutting Croatia in two. There are a few other examples of geographically discontinuous countries, but this is definitely a rarity, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this geography lesson. Due to extremely late booking (around 4pm day-of!), options were minimal, especially good ones. We ended up booking at the Grand Hotel Neum, an extremely large hotel that I’d never recommend. Between feeling like cattle and the horrid buffet, I’ll sleep in my rental car next time… (kidding, sort of).
- Wake up very early to explore Bosnia & Herzegovina. This little country is super underrated. Having only spent 24 hours here, I’m sure there’s SO much we missed, but we made the day count. Read my post on What to do in Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Drive 2ish hours to Dubrovnik
- Eat dinner at Horizont (recommended by host, yummy Mediterranean!)
Airbnb Stella Mia with a Sea View 2 – I highly recommend this Airbnb due to its size, location, price, and host. Fair warning: If you don’t like stairs, don’t stay here. Scratch that. If you don’t like stairs, don’t go to Croatia at all.
- Walk the Old Town, get lost in the alleyways and get your steps in on the steep staircases
- Let the Game of Thrones tour commence – sorry not sorry! Please enjoy the Cersei Walk of Shame remake below (with lots of CGI in post-production obviously), something that is actually recreated by lots of drunk naked tourists. I, however, was very sober at 7am when this was taken. Because so much of the show is filmed in Dubrovnik (and more locations throughout Croatia), the actual tour was fun, informative, interesting and was mixed in with lots of Dubrovnik history. 2-in-1, how good is that?! You can find times inside the Visitor’s Center near the Onofrio Fountain.
- For everyone who said take the cable car: It was closed due to tax evasion. *EmBarRasSing*
- Dinner at Pizzeria Tabasco (recommended by host b/c I had a pizza craving!)
- Walk the City Walls as soon as they open (8am). Note: It’s HOT, even early.
- Hydrate, eat somewhere yummy in Old Town, try to stop sweating
- Take a ferry from the Old Harbor near the east gate (10 minutes) and relax on Lokrum Island for the day
- Find the window cave (near station 5 and 6) and you may want to bring water shoes – lots of sea urchins around Croatia shores!
- Take the 6pm ferry back
- Walk to Buza Bar for sunset drinks (and cliff jumping if you dare). This hole-in-the-wall bar on the side of a cliff was so nice, we went twice!
The next morning, we flew to Slovenia. On my wish list for the following Croatia visit: Pula, Rovinj, Brac, Korcula and the Peljesac Peninsula!
Note: This post was originally published in July 2019 and updated in July 2021.