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Go on a road trip holiday to Croatia

Croatia has slowly but surely become a very popular holiday destination. How might that be? Well, for one thing, it's wonderfully warm. But it's especially the country's long coastline along the Adriatic Sea, which – with a little help from the Romans, among others – has created unique and charming urban environments around the naturally perfect conditions for a beach holiday. At the same time, Croatia is packed with beautiful islands and national parks that showcase its impressive nature.

If you pack the car at home and drive all the way through Europe to the Croatian holiday paradise, it's a bit longer of a drive than if your road trip was to France or Italy. Therefore, you can be certain that you and your fellow travelers needs to find a nice place to stay overnight along the way in Germany or Austria.

There are few places where the clichés about crystal clear water and a divine, sunny nature paradise are brought to life as comprehensively as in Croatia. So it's just about getting the swimming shoes, snorkel, diving goggles, and maybe a pair of good hiking shoes ready... We'll help along the way with good advice and exciting destinations for your road trip to Croatia.

NOTE: this article assumes your road trip/vacation begins in Scandinavia


A perfect peninsula

First on the list is the large peninsula, Istria. With its location in northwestern Croatia, the peninsula is among the closest possible destinations to reach on a road trip to Croatia. However, that's not why it tops the list. Istria is at the top because it encompasses all the best of the Southern European experience. Long white coasts, crystal clear water, charming harbor towns, truffles, and not least nature that invites exploration and adventure.

The cultural history of Istria goes back far and has been influenced by many different population groups. The name "Istria" dates back to the Histri – the tribe that lived in the area before it was finally conquered by the Romans around 200 BC. In the region, you'll find remnants from various time periods, both in the form of ancient artifacts, ruins, and the architecture that still marks some of the towns today. During the Middle Ages, Istria was part of the Republic of Venice. It is largely the legacy from there that appears in artworks, churches, and the cityscape in the coastal towns.

And it is especially the coastal towns that provide the cultural highlights of the otherwise idyllic beach holiday. Istria's largest city is the ancient port city of Pula, dating back to 177 BC. This is also reflected in the architecture, which is greatly influenced by the Roman past. Especially the old, beautiful amphitheater, which in Roman times hosted gladiator fights, wild animal battles, and whatever else they had the imagination for at the time. Nowadays, you can experience concerts and events in the historical setting, right next to the Adriatic Sea. Another one of the region's exciting towns is the colorful city of Rovinj, which is situated in a beautiful, rocky terrain by the water. At the city center on a hilltop lies the Saint Euphemia Cathedral, towering above the town. From the church tower, you can get a lavish panoramic view over the green islands, the sea, and the rest of the colorful town.

The biggest attraction of Istria, however, remains its warm, hilly, and blue-green natural settings, and thankfully, there are many ways to experience them. Here are three of them:

  1. Boat Trips: Whether you want to adventure to the surrounding islands, go on a dolphin safari in the open sea, or something entirely different, you can take all kinds of boat trips from the coastal towns to suit your needs.

    Nature and National Parks: In Brijuni National Park, an archipelago off Pula's coast, you can explore the lush nature and search for over 200 dinosaur footprints preserved for more than 100 million years. In the park, you'll also find Roman ruins and, mysteriously enough, a safari park. The safari park itself is a relic from when the Brijuni islands were the private residence of the former Yugoslav President Tito, who regularly received rare animals as gifts from world leaders from across the globe. Brijuni is therefore a rather atypical national park, but nonetheless a wild mix of nature, history, and animal and dinosaur safaris. In the eastern part of Istria, you'll find Ucka Nature Park, where hiking trails lead you past beautiful valleys, waterfalls, and offer the chance to experience the region's unique fauna and flora as well as views over the Kvarner Bay.

    Caves and Stalactite Caverns: In Istria, there are tons of caves and some of them are even open for visits. The most popular is the Baredine Cave, where stalactites have created a landscape that looks like something from another planet. More caves can be found, both on land and water, so remember your snorkel and swimming shoes… and only choose the safe ones!

In Istria, you get fantastic swimming opportunities, hiking, exciting coastal towns, wild nature, and much more within a close range. The towns are not too big and overcrowded with museums, so you don't feel locked into having to see everything. Just enjoy it!

Istria is perfect for: Swimmers, hikers, sunbathers, nature explorers, foodies, and history buffs

Major attractions in Istria: Brijuni National Park, Mramornica Cave, Baredine Cave, Nesactium, Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape Forest Park),

Great day trips in/from Istria: Pula, Rovinj, Moscenice, Umag, Poreč, Trieste, Plitvice Lakes National Park

Distance from Gedser: 1400-1500 km (16-17 hours by car)


into the Middle Ages

The grass isn't always greener the further south you go, but there might be some truth to it when it comes to Dubrovnik. Although the city has no more than 42,000 inhabitants, it manages to be one of Europe's most visited destinations, with around one and a half million tourists annually. In addition to the pleasant temperatures and luxurious coastal location by the Adriatic Sea, it's especially the overwhelmingly charming old town and city walls, featuring buildings in Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles, that attract millions of tourists every year.

You might think it sounds like something out of a movie, and often, it is. The city's unique scenery regularly attracts big films and series. Especially the TV series Game of Thrones has frequently used the city as a backdrop, which has only increased Dubrovnik's popularity. If you'd like to explore the filming locations from the series, you can easily find various tours that also give you all the fun details.

However, there's even more to explain Dubrovnik's popularity. The city is also surrounded by lovely beaches and exciting islands – easily accessible by taxi boat, ferry, or other means. Here you'll find beaches for every taste – from shallow and child-friendly to deeper ones that invite diving adventures. A couple of hours away is the island of Mljet, which is also a national park. Inside the island are two unique saltwater lakes, whose turquoise shimmer lights up the island. Perfect for a day trip.

Dubrovnik's old, bright streets are brimming with life and history, creating a special atmosphere as you pass through the narrow alleys, up the ancient stairs, past the beautiful fountains, and out onto the large squares. On a city walk, you'll also find museums, churches, and palaces, which could easily take several days to explore.

Dubrovnik is an ideal destination for your road trip, but it's a journey too tough to tackle in one go. So make sure to find some good pit stops along the way.

Dubrovnik is perfect for: Swimmers, sunbathers, photographers, foodies, and history buffs

Major attractions in Dubrovnik: Fort Lovrijenac, Dubrovnik's city walls, Church of St. Blaise, War Photo Limited (museum), Sponza Palace, Red History Museum, Lokrum (island), Lopud (island)

Great day trips from Dubrovnik: Hvar, Mljet, Lokrum, Podgorica, Mostar

Distance from Gedser: 1900-2000 km (20-22 hours by car)


A diamond of Dalmatia

A bit further up the Dalmatian coast lies the port city of Trogir – a small town with loads of charisma. The town is centered around a small island, making it easy to explore on foot. Among the winding, medieval streets, you'll find a lovely promenade, an old castle, and a beautiful cathedral.

Exploring Trogir can easily be done in a few days, which leaves room to explore more of the region. And fortunately, Trogir is almost like the butter in the sandwich of one of Croatia's coolest areas. The big city, shopping, and excellent infrastructure are very close in the form of Croatia's second-largest city, Split, which Trogir is right next to. From Split, it's also easy to embark on any island excursion in the area. Within an hour's drive from Trogir, you'll find the historical towns of Šibenik, Skradin, and Primošten, all of which are at least worth a city walk. In the beautiful surroundings of Skradin lies Krka National Park, among the country's most popular. In the national park, you can experience 7 different waterfalls and swim in the emerald green river... And speaking of national parks; Croatia's biggest must-see attraction is Plitvice Lakes National Park. The national park consists of 16 interconnected lakes that almost cascade into each other through numerous waterfalls. Together, they create a spectacular and divine sight. The national park offers many different routes and trails for experiencing the park. The Plitvice Lakes are just over a 2-hour drive from Trogir.

When you visit Trogir and Dalmatia, don't worry about not having enough to do or enough cities to visit. It's almost as though every coastal tip along the Dalmatian coast through history has been seen as a perfect opportunity to build a charming town – made for you to stop by and enjoy "another" day along the Adriatic Sea.

Trogir is perfect for: Nature explorers, swimmers, sunbathers, history buffs, foodies, and photographers

Major attractions in Trogir: Kamerlengo Castle, Cathedral of St. Lawrence, Diocletian's Palace, Forest Park Marjan, The Cathedral of St. James in Šibenik, Sea Organ and Sun Salutation in Zadar

Great day trips from Trogir: Split, Zadar, Šibenik, Primošten, Skradin, Krka National Park, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Hvar, Korcula, Paklenica National Park

Distance from Gedser: 1600-1700 km (18-19 hours by car)



Capital with style

It's primarily the Adriatic coast and everything associated with it that captures the attention of the millions of tourists flocking to Croatia each year. However, it's not along the coast where the majority of the Croatian population resides. Far into the landscape lies Croatia's capital, Zagreb, home to about 800,000 of the country's 3.9 million inhabitants. That's many more than in the country's second-largest city, Split, which has only about 160,000.

Zagreb is situated on the slopes of the Medvenica mountain, along the Sava River. In Zagreb, you'll find a beautiful cityscape filled with churches, stunning buildings, lovely parks, and cozy corners. In the city center lies the old town of Kaptol, where you'll also find one of the coziest and liveliest streets, Tkalčićeva Street. Moreover, you should visit some of the city's biggest and most important buildings, including Zagreb Cathedral, the state archives, and the grand, beautiful national theater, all located in the middle of the city. You can be sure that Zagreb is great for a city walk that takes you past exciting museums and several beautiful parks and cemeteries.

If you need some fresh air, and lots of it, you can head off on a hiking trip up the Medvenica mountain. On the way, you can find routes that lead you past lovely green nature, waterfalls, and even a ski resort if you go all the way to the 1000 meter high summit. You shouldn't expect snow on the slopes in all seasons, but regardless, you're guaranteed a lovely panoramic perspective over the capital.

From Zagreb, it's a two-hour drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park, so it's also ideal for spending a day trip on.

All in all, visiting the capital Zagreb offers a different experience than visiting the Adriatic coast. It's a different landscape, a different culture, and the average temperature is a bit lower. But Zagreb has a lot to offer and might be a somewhat overlooked gem, as it's often the coast that steals the spotlight. If you want to experience both, the sea is only a couple of hours away!

Zagreb is perfect for: Urban explorers, hikers, history buffs, art lovers, party people

Major attractions in Zagreb: Cathedral of Zagreb, Maksimir Park, Museum of Broken Relationships, Tkalčićeva Street, Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, Zagreb City Museum, Mirogoj Cemetery, Lotrščak Tower, Zagreb Cable Car

Great day trips from Zagreb: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Rijeka, the Plesivica wine region, Ljubljana

Distance from Gedser: 1300-1400 km (15-16 hours by car)

Hvar Island

A pearl in the Adriatic

Croatia is known as "the land of a thousand islands." Not particularly impressive if you're from Scandinavia (where there are an unusual amount of islands). Nonetheless, it's a "big deal" in Southern Europe, especially because many of the islands are divinely beautiful. Therefore, this list would almost not be complete without at least one of the holiday islands being represented.

The choice fell on Hvar: a larger island just off the Dalmatian coast, between Dubrovnik in the south and Split in the center. Hvar is rich in history, culture, good food, and of course packed with exciting nature and lovely beaches. The architecture and culture are especially marked by its time under the Republic of Venice in the Middle Ages when the island was an important naval base.

The hilly landscape is filled with lavender fields, olive groves, vineyards, and rocky bays with the clearest water. Together, they provide the foundation for some truly fantastic hikes. With a trip to the island's highest point, St. Nikola (626 m), you can be rewarded with an expansive view of Hvar and the nearby islands.

Most of the culture and city life can be found on the island's western side. This is also where you'll find the town of Hvar, sharing its name with the island. In many ways, the town of Hvar is "where it happens." The town is known for its ancient palaces, fortresses, and churches wrapped in city life with fantastic restaurants, cafes, and shops. Evenings and nights are also filled with life, especially at the town's promenade, filled with cafes, bars, and clubs. From the town of Hvar, it's also ideal to explore the Pakleni Islands, a chain of islands just off the town's coast.

If you're thinking of experiencing as many islands as possible, there are usually also good, flexible options for traveling between Hvar and the nearby islands. An obvious island visit from Hvar would be the nearby island of Korčula, which is also one of Croatia's most exciting islands.

If you're driving all the way to Hvar, you'll need an overnight stay or two along the way. To get to the island, you'll need to take a ferry, for example from Split, so the journey can't be done on four wheels alone. With the fantastic nature, beaches, and vibrant city life, it's easy to spend an entire holiday on Hvar. Otherwise, it's also ideal for an overnight stay or two, as part of a larger tour along the Dalmatian coasts and islands.

Hvar is perfect for: Sunbathers, hikers, foodies, swimmers, party people, and history buffs

Major attractions in Hvar: Pakleni Islands, Hvar Cathedral (in the town), Hvar Public Theatre, Fortica Fortress, Mlini Beach

Great day trips from Hvar: Hvar, Stari Grad, Split, Korčula, Trogir, Brač (island), Vis (island)

Distance from Gedser: 1700-1800 km (19-21 hours by car)

Pick the perfect pit stops

Kør Selv Ferie - Pause

If you pack the car at home and drive all the way to Croatia, a long drive awaits you. But also a rather adventurous one, if the right destinations and breaks are included along the way. Depending on your final destination, your road trip will cross the countries of Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and maybe the Czech Republic, if you wish. Regardless, you'll need breaks along the way, both short and long.

Taking the ferry to Germany, you'll already get the first break onboard. Here, you'll have the opportunity to fill your stomach, shop, or just lean back and enjoy the view of the Baltic Sea. And possibly, the children can burn off some energy. When heading to Croatia, it would typically be the Gedser-Rostock crossing that makes the most sense time-wise – and the break onboard is a bit longer.

If you'd like to spend a day or two in one of Europe's major cities, you'll come close to Berlin, Munich, Prague, Vienna, Leipzig, and Dresden on the way. But you can also make an exciting stop at some of the slightly smaller, but no less charming cities, such as Bamberg, Meißen, Graz, and Ljubljana.

If the drive should just be quick and the breaks practical, you'll also find plenty of hotels and dining options along the German highways.

Tips for the road trip to Croatia

To conclude, we have a series of tips for before, during, and after you're in the car on your way south. Here are 9 tips for your road trip to Croatia:

  1. Plan good pit stops: The first tip has already been given. Find some good pit stops so the journey doesn't become uncomfortable and exhausting – especially if you're traveling with children.
  2. Preparation and car check: Before setting off, it's a really good idea to have your car checked, make a checklist, and get familiar with the driving rules in Europe. You can get help with all of this on our site, but also make your own checklist.
  3. Tickets for national parks: Croatia's national parks are popular – and busy! Especially in high seasons, it can be a good idea to have booked tickets to the national parks in advance, so you don't show up to long lines.
  4. Planning vs. spontaneity: Decide with your fellow travelers how much you need to have planned. Some need the trip planned down to the smallest detail, while others prefer to get in the car and be surprised.
  5. Drive on Sundays in Germany: If possible, plan one of your driving days in Germany to be a Sunday. There are (almost) no trucks on the highways due to the German ban – and therefore less traffic.
  6. Entertainment: It's a really good idea to have entertainment ready for the drive. Music quiz, playlists, bingo… We've already provided some inspiration.
  7. Environmental zones and tolls: Be aware of environmental zones in Germany and other transit countries. On some of Croatia's highways, there are tolls where you pay "at the gate."
  8. BorderShop on the return trip: If you have space in the car, it's a great idea to stop by the BorderShop on the way home. Then you can find something nice for the backseat and possibly stock up for the upcoming summer party!
  9. Enjoy the drive: Consider the drive to Croatia as part of the experience. The journey through Europe is something quite special – and for some, it becomes the most memorable part of the holiday. So remember to enjoy the journey!


NB: We reserve the right to changes in facilities and attractions for the various cities and areas.