This is a itinerary of a trip we did two years ago when we were living in Dublin (June, 2015). Honestly we chose Croatia because at that time we were looking for a sunny place in Europe where we could do both things: explore a new country/region and enjoy a few days at the beach. But Croatia has much more to offer than that! And since it has becoming a very popular destination we decided to finally share this amazing road & boat trip.
We started this trip in Dubrovnik where we had our rental car waiting for us at the airport. The goal was to drive until Split but we stopped several times for pictures and to have lunch in a beautiful almost deserted beach somewhere between these two cities. We had the grilled fish which was something we missed a lot (remember: we were living in Ireland in that time!).
Split is the second largest city in Croatia and part of the Dalmatian region. We spent two nights in this city that gave us more than enough time to explore slowly the old town. The most beautiful and visited place in Split is the Diocletian's Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and according to Lonely Planet: "one of the world's most impressive Roman monuments". Inside a completely roman atmosphere rounded by old walls and impressive buildings. It has labyrinthic and narrow streets full of people, shops and restaurants. We spent a whole morning exploring this place, including the town museum, the cathedral, the temple, the ethnographic museum and the synagogue.
Since we had all the afternoon free we decided to walk until the closest beach: Bacvice. The walk is quite nice and although it is a pebble beach, swimming was a great idea!
Split is also a city with great restaurants and the seafront (old Riva) is an awesome place to walk during and after the sunset. It is full of coffees/restaurants and its terraces, shops and a mix of tourists and locals. A delicious place to relax and admire the ocean views.
Next day after lunch we drove until the Plitvice Lakes (240km / 2:30h driving). And since we were just visiting the natural park in the day after we decided to enjoy the driving first part through the coast and then through the mountains.
We took a full day to visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park, proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. And believe me you will need it if you want to walk through the whole park and enjoy its landscapes from different viewpoints. There are 16 lakes and a series of cascades and waterfalls (the tallest waterfall in Croatia, Veliki Slap, is actually located at the park). The color of the water is impressive, and the pathways created above the water give you a sensation of being part of this beautiful nature. We did more than 10 km walking, but we were able to see the upper and lower sections of the park, which we totally recommend. Around 7pm we walked back to our hotel (5km from the park entrance 1).
After visiting this amazing national park we went back to Split. We left our rental car close to the Split port and we caught the ferryboat to Hvar where we stayed for 3 nights.
Hvar is one of the most visited islands in Croatia and probably the most luxurious one full of elegant restaurants, expensive hotels, posh yachties and trendy bars and clubs. We stayed at the upper part of Hvar town, which means 2 things: great views and a lot of steps to get there. The days we spent here were mostly dedicated to the beach and nature.
We spent each day in a different island of the Pakleni Islands, a gorgeous chain of 21 almost deserted islands close to Hvar. All of them (Jerolim, Palmizana and Mlini) are less than 30m by taxi boat (leave regularly from Arsenal, Hvar town). Jerolim is a nudist beach (not mandatory) so it's the most peaceful one to relax and read. Mlini is great, with trees until the sea and more facilities than Jerolim (restaurant/coffee right in the beach), but of course more noisy and full of families (specially during the weekends). Palmizana is also a typical crowded beach (and a very small one), but in June and during the week was fine. The island we liked most was probably Jerolim, although very small it was less crowded and we had the beach and the sea almost for us.
We left Hvar catching a ferryboat to another island: Korkula. Korkula is the 6th largest Adriatic island with 47 km in length. It is different from Hvar, we felt it more authentic and less touristic, more green and historical. We completely felt in love with this island, rounded with old walls, impressive architecture, vineyards, trees and an intensive feeling of local life. We stayed one day in the town that gave us time to slowly explore its old streets, the city walls with its 12 towers, the St Mark's Cathedral and the town museum. We also hired a boat trip of around 2 hours around the island to better appreciate the city walls and towers. It also included taste winning, since Korkula is known to have the best of all Croatian whites. We were the only ones in the boat (plus the boy piloting the boat) and we had lucky to do it during the sunset which was perfect.
Korkula town is also great for dinner, with several restaurants across the city walls, all with amazing views of the ocean and great grilled food.
Next day we took another ferryboat, this time to Dubrovnik where we spent the last 4 nights of this trip. Dubrovnik is beautiful, also surrounded by defensive walls and the ocean, full of old and narrow streets, gates, forts and churches. Unfortunately it is also full of tourists, specially during the day, due to the cruises constantly arriving to the city. We stayed inside the old town and we totally recommend it since you can then enjoy the late afternoons and the evenings environment. After the cruises go, the town is even more perfect and magic.
The town itself has several things to do/see so don't underestimate the time you need to discover it. A top thing to do is to walk around the spectacular city walls (where we spent at least 2h). From the top, the views over the old town and the Adriatic sea are fantastic. We also visited the Franciscan Monastery & Museum, the old Synagogue, the cultural History museum and the War Photo Limited (we really liked this lat museum with pictures and histories about the Balkans war in the 1990s. Save some time to wander the marbled streets (even better after 7/8pm and during the night) and admire the street artists and the city's great restaurants and terraces. We spent a whole day visiting these places inside the old town. Next day we explored the Lovrjenac Fort, very famous for its important role in Game of Thrones series. But even if you are not a fan of this awesome tv series, the fort deserves a visit (and the views of Dubrovnik town are spectacular from here since the fort is outside the walls).
Due to the high temperatures we decided to spend one of the afternoons at the Sveti Jakov, a small beach 1.5km from the city. Even closer to the city you have the Banje beach, only 300m from the Ploce Gate, but it was too crowded and that's why we decided to walk until Sveti Jakov. Although not as good as the beach islands it was fine to swim and relax a bit.
While in Dubrovnik we also visited two other islands: Lopud and Lokrum. Lopud is approximately 5 km northwest from the port of Dubrovnik (40m by boat) and it's part of the Elafiti Islands. The boat leaves you at the village, composed of a few stone houses, gardens, a few churches from the 15th and 16th centuries and the ruins of a palace and a fortress. The best things about this island is that is car-free and it has a beautiful white sandy beach called Sunj (most beaches in Croatia are pebble beaches). The beach is in the other side of the island so we had to walk across the spine of the island (approx. 2km / 30 minutes). After a day at the beach we decided to catch one of the many golf cars to the town where we got the boat to return to Dubrovnik.
We also visited Lokrum, an island only 600m from the city (10m trip from Dubrovnik's Old Habour). It is more touristic than Lopud but it's a good escape from the city too. It's a beautiful forested island where we saw several trees (pines, olive trees, etc.), botanical gardens (planted in the 19th century) and several peacocks (they live here for more than one hundred years). There's also the Benedictine Monastery ruins from the medieval times. After a couple of hours exploring the island's vegetation and animals we went for swim and sunbath at a natural salty pool close to the sea but surrounded with trees.
We spent two weeks in the country and we only had time for the south, a bit of the interior and some islands. We left with a certainty in our minds: we will come back for sure!
- Main costs: Direct return flights from Dublin to Dubrovnik with Aer Lingus (223€/person), renting a car for 5 days pick-up in Dubrovnik and drop-off in Split through Rental Cars (80€), Airbnb in Split (137€/2 nights/2 people), hotel at the Plitvice Lakes (€170/ 2 nights/ 2 people), Airbnb in Hvar (240€/ 3 nights/ 2 people), hotel in Korkula (120€/2 nights/ 2 people) apartment in Dubrovnik (340€/4 nights/2 people)
- Other costs: Plitvice National Park entrance (55kn or approx. 7.5€/person), Boat from Split to Hvar with Jadrolinija (55kn or approx. 7.5€/person), Boats from Hvar to Pakleni islands (40kn/person/return), Boat from Hvar to Korkula with Jadrolinija (70kn or approx. 9.5€/ person), Boat from Korkula to Dubrovnik with Krilo (110kn or approx. 15€/ person), boat trip & wine tasting for 2 people for about 2h during sunset (180kn or approx. 25€/2 people), Golf car at Lopud (15kn or 2€/person), beach bed (50kn or approx. 7€/person/ all day), Boat to Lokrum (56kn or approx. 7.5€/ person/return)
- Useful websites: Booking and Airbnb for accommodation, Ferry Jadrolinija for Split-Hvar and Hvar-Korkula (we booked in advance online), Ferry Krilo for Korkula-Dubrovnik (we also booked online and in advance), Korkyra, the agency we used for the boat trip/ wine tasting in Korkula
- Travel guide we used: Croatia by Lonely Planet (ours is from April 2015)