When you want to set your own pace, take in the sights, and have extra space for picking up souvenirs, a road trip (preferably in the comfort of an air-conditioned car) is a great way to explore. From the Adriatic Highway, which serpentines above shimmering seas, to routes dotted with Roman sites that transport you back through time, road trips in Croatia have something to entice every traveller. Whether you’re hiring a car for a few days, or embarking on a more ambitious automotive adventure, our round-up of Croatian road trips will point you in the right direction.
- Navigating the National Parks
- Split to Dubrovnik via the Adriatic Highway
- The D32 Through Gorski Kotar
- Island-Hopping from Rijeka to Jablanac
- Zadar to Split for History Lovers
- Route 66
The lure of the great outdoors is hard to resist in Croatia, so why not plan a trip that ticks off a few national parks at once? With turquoise lakes connected by cascading waterfalls, set amid lush forest, Plitvice Lakes National Park is perhaps the country’s most popular attraction. From here, drive west to Northern Velebit National Park, a craggy wilderness that’s home to the Velebit mountains, the largest range in Croatia. A few more hours of driving brings you to the gorges and canyons of Paklenica National Park, ready to rub shoulders with rock climbers and hikers. Next, head to Murter; leave the car here and hop on a boat to Kornati National Park. There are 89 islands, islets and reefs to discover, including secluded bays where you can recharge your batteries after a long drive.
The Jadranska Magistrala, or Adriatic Highway, runs from Rijeka in the north to Dubrovnik in the south. Officially known as the D8, this road follows the twists and turns of the coast (complete with steep inclines and hairpin bends), with the ocean views more than making up for any white-knuckle moments. A popular stretch runs from Split to Dubrovnik along the Dalmatian coast, a 144-mile journey that might have you feeling like the driver in a glamorous car commercial. Glittering seas spotted with sailboats; a ribbon of road clinging to the cliffs; and charming towns where you can take a break from the wheel all make this one of the best road trips in Croatia.
Image by Ana Kutija
Just 30 miles long, the D32 passes through the Gorski Kotar region, which is often likened to the Swiss Alps. From mountain peaks to rolling meadows, the scenery is stunning on one of the shorter road trips in Croatia, which also passes through the beech and fir forests of Risnjak (that’s another national park ticked off your list). Driving from north to south, the road ends near the town of Delnice; a picturesque place to escape the heat in summer.
If you’ve set your sights on the seaside, this island-hopping road trip should satisfy the demand for sand. Beginning in Rijeka – a vibrant city that’s a former European Capital of Culture – drive until you cross the toll bridge to the island of Krk. Take your pick of the island’s beaches, including the Blue Flag Vela Plaža beach in Baška (crowded during the high season) or Oprna Bay beach (a quiet spot reached by a five-minute hike from the main road). When you can tear yourself from the shore, take the car ferry to Rab island. Designated a geopark in 2008, the island is home to 30 sandy beaches; perhaps that’s why the Romans called it Felix Arba (Happy Island). Happiness follows as you drive back to the mainland at Stinica before heading to your final stop of Jablanac, where the secluded cove of Zavratnica can be found at the end of an easy half-hour’s walk. Be warned: the croatian islands can be a little frenzied during the peak summer months, so plan your trip for the shoulder season to avoid the busiest beach days.
Croatia is a country of compelling history, as you can discover during a road trip from Zadar to Split. The Roman Forum in Zadar features well-preserved ruins just steps from the seafront, while the city walls are UNESCO-listed. An hour’s drive away is the seaside city of Šibenik, where St James’s Cathedral is one of the star attractions – another UNESCO World Heritage site. If you need more globally significant spots to explore, the old town of Trogir is (you guessed it) a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to its Venetian architecture. And as you reach Split, the second-largest city in Croatia, Diocletian's Palace awaits; one of the most impressive ancient Roman landmarks and the perfect grand finale for your tour.
Image by Ana Kutija
Even amateur automobile adventurers are familiar with Route 66, which crosses the USA from Chicago to California. But how about Croatia’s Route 66? State Road D66 traverses the pretty peninsula of Istria; pick it up close to Pula airport and drive east to Raša. The mining town was built as part of Mussolini’s colonisation of Istria in the late 1930s, as seen in its Rationalist architecture. Hilltop Labin is a prettier pitstop nearby, before the road cuts back to the north-east coastline, which you can follow all the way to Rijeka. En route to Rijeka, we recommend the sweet seaside village of Medveja, as well as the coastal town of Opatija which is dotted with Habsburg-era villas from its time as a fashionable 19th-century resort.
Header image by Alice Kao