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Croatia for 8-10 nights in late July/early Aug. Itinerary advice appreciated!

Thank you to Rick Steves and my fellow travelers for such an informative/robust forum! I would greatly appreciate any advice for our first ever trip to Croatia. My spouse/I are going late July from either Porto or Lisbon and plan on spending 8-10 nights in Croatia. Below is an itinerary I created. Please let me know if it's too pie in the sky, or doable.

This will be our 5th trip to Europe, so we know it will be hot, very crowded, and much more expensive. My spouse is a high school teacher, so it's the only time we can go.


1) Has anyone flown from Portugal to Croatia? Was it non-stop to Zagreb or one of the coastal cities? Generally speaking, is it cheaper flying to Zagreb since it's the main airport, or are fares to the coast not much more?

2) It's been noted in the Rick Steves book that many (if not most) Croatian lodging operators require a minimum stay of 3-4 nights in summer, and shorter stays mean a hefty surcharge. Has that been your experience? Or are there several sobes/hotels that don't do that?

3) Seems many folks get stumped on which island(s) to visit, for how long, car vs. no car, and if it's a day trip- from which mainland city. I'd love to see Hvar, but wondering if summer crowds, not wanting to take a car, and costly overnight lodging means we are better off on a long day trip somewhere from Dubrovnik? We are open to any tips/advice on visiting an island or two.

ITINERARY (please let me know the best recommendations if it's better flying straight to Split or Dub instead of Zagreb).

  1. Fly into Zagreb. If early in the day, catch a flight to Dubrovnik on Croatia Airlines (they look to be affordable).

  2. Spend 4 nights in Dubrovnik. Two of the days would be in town- Stradun, Mt. Srd, city walls, beaches. The other two days so that we have a "home base" for a day trip to Mostar, and a day trip to one of the islands- Korcula perhaps?

  3. Get rental car in Dubrovnik and either 1) drive up to Split for the night or 2) if leaving Dub very early just drive straight to Plitvice NP and spend the night at the park. If we stay in Split, see the town for the day and get an early start the next day for Plitvice.

  4. From Plitvice, we wanted to head over to the Istria region and see Motovun, Rovinj, and try to hop over into Slovenia for the Skocjan caves. The "home base" would be Rovinj for 2-3 nights to see the city, and venture into the countryside and up to the caves.

  5. After check out in Rovinj, either drive to Zagreb and drop off the rental car and fly out, or take a quick Croatia Airlines flight from Pula airport to Zagreb and return the car at Pula.

Whew! Any thoughts? Pretty unrealistic? Or doable?

Thank you :o)

Posted by
2625 posts

Air Portugal does have a nonstop flight from Lisbon to Zagreb for < $100. You want window seats from Zagreb to Dubrovnik so you can see the islands which is quite scenic.
Mostar is not a day trip from Dubrovnik taking 2h 30m by car. Furthermore, if you go to Bosnia & Herzegovina you want to include Sarajevo that’s a direct 2h train ride from Mostar which is supposedly another scenic journey.

Posted by
7565 posts

Clearly, everyone's idea of a day trip is different. 2 hours 30 minutes would not keep me from doing that trip if it was important to me. :)

I've been that high school teacher that could only travel in the summer so I understand. When I retired and people asked me what I was looking forward to, I would answer "Taking a trip in September!"

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you MaryPat, Carol and James! Appreciate your replies. :o)

Glad to hear there is a nonstop from Lisbon to Zagreb. When I researched Croatia Airlines flights within the country, one way tickets were pretty affordable- under $60-70 in some cases.

If there is one side trip we are really wanting to do, it's to Mostar. I know a day trip will be pushing it, and usually entails one of those large group bus tours, so we'll have to decide what to do. One option I suppose is to spend the night in Mostar at the very beginning and then 3 nights in Dubrovnik. If it's a day trip, I'm wondering if we are better off hiring a driver/tour guide to Mostar to ensure more flexibility.

Any more tips/advice, keep 'em coming. Thank you!

Posted by
235 posts

In 2017 we had itinerary similar to your proposal, starting in Dubrovnik, then driving to Split, Plitvice Park, and Rovinj. Trip report posted on RS Forum:
A Croatian lodging operator recommended by RS at one of our stops had a 3-day minimum policy, but welcomed our 2-day stay (at same daily rate) when we contacted them.

Posted by
6 posts

GeoffB- thank you for sending over the link on your 2017 trip!

Sounds like you folks had a wonderful time. I'm kinda going back and forth on whether to leave Dubrovnik first thing in the morning once we get the car (whenever they first open for the day) and just go directly to Plitvice- I assume it's a very long drive. Or is it better to break it up and stay in Split for a night? I've read several folks on this forum recommend breaking up Plitvice into upper lakes one day and lower lakes the next- not sure if the admission is one ticket for 24 hrs to allow that? Or if visitors have to purchase admission tix for two days in a row?

My plans are starting to come together and these replies help. :o)

Posted by
5257 posts

This is all familiar turf for me. You are trying to do too much in 8-10 days. Pretty unrealistic.

  1. I don't understand why you wouldn't buy one ticket from Portugal to Dubrovnik. Why buy two separate tickets?
  2. If you want to see islands, then I suggest swapping Hvar or Korčula for Istria/Slovenia. Travel from Dubrovnik to Split via the islands. Stay in Split at least one night, then go to Plitvice, then to Zagreb and you are finished. Save Istria/Slovenia for another trip. Even with 3 nights in Istria, that doesn't give you any time to see anything. You will also have to cross a major border between Slovenia and Croatia, which in the summer can take 2 hours waiting in line each way. The caves are not a day trip from Rovinj, especially in the summer.

Night 1 - Dubrovnik
Night 2 - Dubrovnik
Night 3 - Dubrovnik
Night 4 - Dubrovnik
Night 5 - Korčula
Night 6 - Korčula
Night 7 - Plitvice
Night 8 - Plitvice
Night 9 - Split
Night 10 - Split

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks Emily! I appreciate your frank insight- and that's why newbies to Croatia like me need to get differing ideas. I'm intrigued about the possible option of seeing an island or two on the way from Dubrovnik to Split, so I'll look into that.

The idea to fly from Lisbon directly to Zagreb is because last I checked, there weren't any direct flights (from Porto at least) to Croatia other than TAP Portugal from Lisbon to Zagreb, and it was cheaper. Any other option involved at least one layover (like Munich), added cost, and then onto the Croatian coast. Once in Zagreb, the flights are pretty cheap- and quick, usually less than an hour. I will certainly look again, since maybe there are new routes from Portugal to Croatia that might be opening up directly to the coast.

We really want to spend some time in Istria, so I suppose something will have to give in order to make that happen.

Thanks again!

Posted by
5257 posts

Surely you can buy a ticket from Lisbon to Dubrovnik with a change in Zagreb with one ticket, as opposed to two separate tickets.

If you want to see Istria, you will spend 50% of your trip in a car. Too far if all you have is two nights and one day.

Posted by
6 posts

@Emily- yeah I'm going to have to rethink the Istria part of the itinerary. I like your suggestion of going from Dubrovnik to Split via the islands, so will plan on incorporating that into the trip. Thanks again!

Posted by
235 posts

Hi menshman. Replying to your questions to me.

We found our pace worked well for us. The 2 nights in Split were well worth it. And our one afternoon and night in Plitivice was plenty of time to see both lakes -- we even had time to climb up to a lookout. We wouldn't do it differently if we had the opportunity to do it over again.

I'll also make a comment on Istria Peninsula: we found 3 nights met our needs as we were able to easily visit all the sites we wanted.

Posted by
3403 posts

With only 8-10 days you really can’t visit Dalmatia and Istria. We’ve taken family on 10-14 day trips and it was tight. We didn’t even get to Plitvice at all. It’s just too crowded and hot in the summer for me to even attempt a trip. We have done day trips to Mostar with a private guide. The group trips are not worth the money or my precious time while on vacation. I don’t know what your budget is, but just look into a guide, the price might surprise you. I have a very reliable one, or you could use Dubrovnik Rivera Tours in Rick’s book. The caves are interesting but not a high priority for me, been to Postojna Caves, also in Slovenia. You might want to save them for a future trip to Slovenia. Hvar is popular because it is a party island. If that is your interest, go for it. Otherwise, Korčula is a better choice. Motovun is not what it used to be. I know Rick describes it as an artist colony but most of the artists are either very senior citizens or have moved. We were just there last September. They do have a film festival some time in July, you can check the dates. We prefer Pula, very flat. If you go from Dubrovnik to korčula to split, use catamarans. Fast, nice ride, and inexpensive. Any other questions, just ask.

Posted by
5257 posts

Yes, you drive by Motovun and take a photo. The artists have moved to other hilltops…

Posted by
247 posts

I like your trip plan and find it doable. I was in Croatia for work - only had time to visit Zagreb and Dubrovnik. Also it was December. If I had more time I would totally do an itinerary similar to what you have proposed.

There are many of flights from all over into Zagreb. When I was there there was no direct flight to Dubrovnik only through Zagreb. But since air Portugal may not have a direct flight to Zagreb either you should check out if they offer similar prices to Dubrovnik as well. Croatia Airlines is basic but it has great flights are good prices. Zagreb airport is small and very manageable. Zagreb old town is sweet too, leave a few hours for that.

This plan won’t be a relaxing retreat but it will be fun. I feel 8 to 10 days it’s just long enough to do a “want to see things” trip before exhaustion sets in. I loved Croatia and will go back. Btw, Dubrovnik old town parking situation is pretty bad. Uber is inexpensive and readily available in Zagreb and Dub.

Posted by
6 posts

@GeoffB, @Barbara, @Emily, @Jis Ganga and everyone else-

Thanks again soooo much for all the advice and tips- glad I signed up for this forum!

My spouse and I decided that it's going to be better to save Istria/Slovenia for another trip, and not be as rushed. Plus it will save us a bit more money on car rental, lodging, and other expenses- will save it for another trip.

It will be: Dub, Mostar, a catamaran to Korcula for a night or two, on to Plitvice for a night and then back home....

Happy travels folks- take care!