I spent 2 weeks in the summer of 2017 exploring Croatia with my family. There is enough to experience and explore in this not-so-hidden-gem for a month. Limited time off and other realities for most of us demand a two-week itinerary. The itinerary we followed, gave us an opportunity to visit UNESCO Heritage sites like Plitvice national park and Ston walls, relax in beautiful islands of Hvar and Vis, explore medieval cities of Split and Dubrovnik. This itinerary is suitable for family travel, also for travellers who desire to balance the top attractions and city sightseeing with island relaxation and adventure activities. Croatia offers several adventure activities – cycling, kayaking, diving, and we grabbed them with both hands.
2 days in Slovenia was a last-minute addition to our itinerary. We had extra time in Zagreb and decided to use it to visit the lovely city of Ljubljana and stay at the scenic Lake Bled area.
Two week itinerary overview –
Zagreb (1 night) – Lake Bled, Slovenia (1 night) – Zagreb (1 night) – Plitvice national park (1 night) – Split (2 nights) – Hvar (3 nights) – Vis (3 nights) – Dubrovnik (3 nights)
Day 1: We landed in Zagreb via a connect through Frankfurt one late afternoon. By the time we checked into our hotel and settled in, it was already evening. Thankfully, Zagreb gets at least 15 hours of sunlight. We started with the main square, Ban Josip Jelacic square and took in the drama – the views, the people thronging about, and the energy. My husband and daughter settled into having ice-cream at the swanky Millenium, while I visited the unusual-to-say-the-least Museum of Broken Relationships.
More on the Zagreb experience here.
Day 2 – 3: We had decided to limit our time in Zagreb, and while couple of days are hardly enough to explore the neighbouring Slovenia, we did get a delightful whiff and hopefully, would be back someday. The next morning, we picked up our rental car and drove down to Ljubljana. A beautiful city! I cannot recommend it enough. We did an entertaining food walk in this city.
The Ljubljana castle in the backdrop
Read more on the foodwalk in Ljubljana here. After spending few hours in the city, we drove to our charming B & B in Lake Bled.
We hadn’t planned any activity around Lake Bled. I do recommend renting cycles and exploring the area, for couples with older kids (or without kids). We wanted to reach Zagreb by early evening and thought a visit to Postojna caves (a subterranean cave, one of the key tourist attractions, about 1.5 hour drive away) would eat up the whole day. We decided on taking a hike in the Vintgar gorge which was just a 15-minute drive away. It turned out to be a great idea.
The 1.6-km-long Vintgar Gorge – you feel one with nature even with other people around.
Perhaps because it was a Friday, the drive back to Zagreb had a lot more traffic than what we got coming to Ljubljana.
Day 4 – 5: We drove to the most visited attraction in Croatia – Plitvice national park. We reached there by evening and before going to our hotel, parked opposite Entrance 2 and explored the upper lakes area. As luck would have it, we had this area mostly to ourselves in the evening.
Even if you do minimalist research on Croatia, you will be warned about the crazy crowds that visit Plitvice park during summer. To beat the crowds, we woke up early the next day, had a big breakfast and went to Entrance 1 of the park. We managed to reach Entrance 1 by 8 am and the lower lakes area was already crowded. Here is what we did to stay away from the crowds in the park.
The lower lakes area within Plitvice national park
After having lunch at a restaurant near Entrance 1, we drove down to Split, returned the rental car and checked into our hotel in the old town. The buzz in the old town during summer is marvellous, and I loved our decision to stay within the old town.
Day 6: We woke up to some Dalmatian singing – we were staying at the Vestibul Palace – by a group that was performing nearby for tourists. We spent the day roaming around the old town in Split – we explored the underground caves, bought ferry tickets for next day, had long lazy meals, climbed the bell tower and soaked in the atmosphere. Do read my guest post on what to do in Split for a day.
The square within Diocletian Palace. You can spend hours here just sipping on wine / beer and watching people go away.
Day 7 – 9: Morning (Jadrolinjia) ferry to Hvar. The tag of “one of the 10 most beautiful islands in the world” sits well on Hvar. This being June, there is breathing space. We were transferred to our resort – Little Green Bay, a new luxury property set within a secluded bay.
This secluded property made our stay in Hvar for 3 days memorable.
We like to indulge in some activities during our travel – sometimes individually and at times, together as a family where possible. Hvar offered some opportunities – a cycling tour on offbeat trails that my husband loved and my first time diving experience in the Adriatic sea.
Visit the Fortica for grand views of Hvar town and Pakleni islands.
Day 10 – 11: We planned to spend the next 2 days in Vis, one of the furthest inhabited islands in Croatia. Direct ferry plies only once a week from Hvar to Vis, so a trip to this island needs some advance planning. Instead of taking 2 ferries at different times – morning ferry from Hvar to Split, and the evening ferry from Split to Vis – we found a boat taxi. There are several you would find docked in Hvar town, and it is a matter of negotiating the price for a private transfer to Vis.
Room with a view. From our apartment on the top floor of Hotel San Giorgio.
Cycling is popular in Vis, my husband did another off-road cycling trip with a local. And then the day went in an interesting Military tour. Tourists were not allowed on the island of Vis prior to 1989 and it was the military base for the Yugoslav National Army. This makes for some unique spots on this island.
The 920 feet long bunker, built to protect Tito from nuclear attack.
The next morning, with increasing winds and choppy sea, our kayaking tour was cancelled. We rented cycles to explore the village of Kut and Vis town in an easy way.
Do read – Vis: an interesting history to boot
Day 13: Early morning ferry via Krilo to Split. We cancelled our plan of taking a ferry to Dubrovnik and opted to drive there instead. We rented a car just for the day (Last minute rental) and drove towards Makarska. What a wonderful drive!
The panoramic views while driving around the Makarska Riviera. It reminded me of the Amalfi coast in Italy.
En route, we stopped at Mali Ston for lunch and climbed the Ston walls thereafter. And then we dropped off the car in Lapad, before taking a taxi to old town of Dubrovnik.
Day 14 – 15: Dubrovnik is touristy and yet charming. We loved staying within the old town. We woke up early to walk the old town walls; the stunning views of the Adriatic Sea and the entire old town dont disappoint. We had booked the sunset kayaking tour, and that turned out to be a good, albeit a tiring experience.
The cable car ride to the top of Srd hill, just behind the walled city, was the highlight of the next day. The Imperial fortress on top of Srd hill, hosts the Museum of the Patriotic War, with an extensive collection.
You can view the walled city of Dubrovnik, Lokrum island, the mountains surrounding the area from the top of Srd hill.
Day 16: Morning flight back home.
A last glimpse before we head to the airport. Placa street is never this empty.
For additional information for planning your trip to Croatia, visit the Croatia Tourist Board.