10 days in Croatia – the ultimate Croatia itinerary

Sharing a lengthy border with the Adriatic Sea, Croatia is Eastern Europe’s answer to the Mediterranean, with a wide choice of calm island getaways just off its main coast. Besides a ludicrous number of beautiful beaches, Croatia also comes well-rounded with tranquil national parks, bustling cities and history strewn all over. Its terrain is defined by the Dinaric Alps which protect the eastern border, with medieval fortifications mimicking nature in the capital of Zagreb and coastal city of Dubrovnik. To get the most of your time in the nation, see our Croatia itinerary 10 days below.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia | Photo: Spencer Davis

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Dubrovnik is the most cosmopolitan and therefore the most inviting for gay travellers, particularly on its naturist beaches

Gay travel Croatia

Split from the more liberal stances held across Western Europe, Croatia is a place where it’s advisable to be discreet about your sexuality, especially in rural areas. Though homosexuality is certainly legal, same-sex marriage is not yet written into law and socially conservative attitudes prevail. Nevertheless, same-sex couples have been granted certain civil rights such as child adoption and, among regular people, you’ll find tolerance if not full acceptance. Zagreb in particular is a hub of inclusion, hosting the nation’s only openly gay clubs as well as an annual Gay Pride Day celebration. Of its coastal offerings, Dubrovnik is the most cosmopolitan and therefore the most inviting for gay travellers, particularly on its naturist beaches where the community frequently takes over, particularly at those on Lokrum Island.

Other gay-friendly places to visit in Croatia include the big towns such as Rovinj, Hvar and Split, where – similar to other big cities – you’ll likely find Croatians to be both accommodating and open-minded.

Photo: Vincent Rivaud

Photo: Oliver Sjostrom

Why visit Croatia?

With all of those Mediterranean blues and less of that sticky summer heat, Croatia is an ideal choice for city breaks and beach getaways alike. The islands are popular all year round with their clear waters and pebble shores, while inland a mish-mash of cultural adventures await by way of roman ruins, Slavic churches and Venetian palaces, as well as a fine selection of history museums, outlining the country’s tumultuous history from the prehistoric to the post-communist era.

Best time to visit Croatia

The weather in Croatia is variable depending on both the season and the region. Along the Adriatic Coast, you’ll experience hot summers and mild winters, with the shoulder months of May-June and September-October winning out for their pleasant temperatures and clear skies. Peak summer between July and August is also a popular time for locals and tourists, but the sun can get a little scorching especially in the afternoon. The winter period between October to March isn’t ideal for beach vacations and many resorts shut up shop during this time. Nor is winter ideal for inland trips due to freezing temperatures at higher ground and the chance of snow. Spring, in contrast, is the best time for mountain getaways, when hiking and cycling become the activities of choice. Winter is good for one thing however and that is for city breaks, when glittering lights and cosy bars have all the more appeal, even in the wetter weather around December time.

Trogir | Photo: Sergii Gulenok

Getting Around Croatia

Sure, you can get around Croatia with public transportation but there’s really no better way to tour in Croatia than renting your own vehicle. Having a car or motorbike gives you the added freedom to stop wherever you like, allowing you to go to lesser-explored spots and discover deserted beaches. For island-hopping, however, you’ll have to ditch the car in favour of a ferry or catamaran.

The ultimate Croatia Itinerary

Our Croatia itinerary aims to take you from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, fitting in a number of the top attractions and destinations along the way. With 10 days in Croatia, you can get your fill of sea views, cultural pursuits and outdoor adventure, with time to spare for a leisurely cruise along the rugged Dalmatian Coast.

Hvar, Croatia | Photo: Marcus Lofvenberg

Day 1: Zagreb

Croatia’s tasty capital, Zagreb has a name for itself in both gastronomy and ancient architecture, a combination that will set your stomach and your heart aquiver. Choose your comfiest shoes to best navigate the quaint cobblestone centre, musing at medieval builds, the Romanesque design of St. Marks Church and the grandeur of Zagreb Cathedral, stopping by the Museum of Broken Relationships for a darkly humorous reprieve. While the Upper Town boasts most of the touristy stuff, the Lower Town is also worthy of some time spent at evermore cafés, boutiques and museums, including the Mimara art museum. Finishing out day one is easily done on Tkalčićeva Street, where the bars and restaurants all vie for attention with a classy selection of cocktails and slap-up meals.

Zagreb | Photo: Marko Tomic

Day 2: Plitvice Lakes

Once you can pull yourself away from the old town delights of Zagreb, nature awaits in the Plitvice Lakes National Park, known as one of the most beautiful spots in the country. Those with a car rental will have an easy time starting their Croatia road trip from Zagreb, though organised day tours from Zadar or Split are alternative options for non-drivers. The Plitvice Lakes come as the pride of the wider UNESCO World Heritage Site, encircled by nature trails and waterfalls all kept in pristine condition. Such is the area’s beauty that it gets crowded towards the afternoon, meaning early morning trips will be the most rewarding, allowing you to take your pick of the 16 interconnected lakes, walking, swimming and boating to your heart’s content.

The Plitvice Lakes are around two hours from Zagreb, though you can stop off in the village of Rastoke to enjoy a lunch in earshot of more waterfalls.

Plitvice Lakes National Park | Photo: Marla Prusik

Plitvice Lakes | Photo: Peter Jan Rijpkema

Day 3: Zadar

Next on our Croatia itinerary is Zadar, centred on the Dalmatian Coast and home to some of the country’s most magnificent Roman and Venetian ruins. A stroll through Zadar’s Old Town will take you back through the centuries, passing the Roman Forum, Cathedral of St. Anastasia and Church of St. Donatus, with further artifacts on display at the Archaeological Museum. As well as a much-deserved al fresco coffee break, the afternoon calls for a dip just off the Riva promenade, followed by peachy sunsets and an infamous Sun Salutation around the Sea Organ (Morske orgulje).

Day 4: Krka National Park

One more national park is in store on our itinerary for Croatia perfectly positioned on the way to Split, the following stop. Krka National Park certainly lives up to the merits of day 2, offering more in the way of waterfalls and nature trails which extend the 73-kilometre length of the Krka River. Spanning the area from the Adriatic near Šibenik to the interior mountains, Krka is geologically breath-taking, featuring a 200-metre karstic canyon and multiple gorges through which the river passes in dramatic fashion. Of its man-made attractions, Krka is also home to remote monasteries and 5 car-accessible entrances with great facilities. If looking for a place to stay for the night, Šibenik has what you need, as well as medieval architecture and lively, bohemian locals.

Krka National Park | Photo: Simon Infanger

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Nestled along the Adriatic Coast, Split is both a historic city and beach resort paradise, with a compact Old Town centred on the 4th century Roman emperor’s palace

Day 5: Split

On day 5 of our itinerary Croatia, we make like a banana and head to Split. Nestled along the Adriatic Coast, Split is both a historic city and beach resort paradise, with a compact Old Town centred on the 4th century Roman emperor’s palace. Action in Split is divided between the palm-lined waterfront and the town, though most come back to the walled centre at dusk to explore the maze of bars, Mediterranean restaurants and shops. Be sure to wander into the palace to find the main square, people-watching from any number of cafés along the edges. Getting away from the crowds is also a possibility with a short hike up Marjan Hill, known as ‘the lungs of Split’ where dense forest meets gorgeous ocean views.

One possible day trip from Split is to the Blue Lagoon Croatia, a shallow bay formed by coral reefs northwest of Solta Island, accessible via speedboat or ferry direct to Drvenik Veli.

Split, Croatia | Photo: Spencer Davis

Days 6 - 9: Dalmatian Coast Cruise 

It’s now time for our Croatia cruise, taking us on open water for a total of 4 days and 3 nights in luxury. As part of a Dalmatian Coast cruise, you’ll sail the turquoise waters of the Adriatic, following the rugged coast as you go. Most cruises Croatia will allow stop-offs along the way at various seaside cities, starting at Split and heading for the UNESCO-listed walled city of Dubrovnik. Additional stops at outlying islands such as Brac allow for windswept beach days, as well as a close-up of Croatia’s most photographed beach, Zlatni Rat (AKA the Golden Cape).

For utmost opulence, try a Gulet cruise Croatia that sails via Hvar Island. As well as being gay-friendly, Hvar is also a top spot for royalty and celebrities looking for yachting opportunities and VIP beach parties. Besides mingling with the rich and famous in Hvar Town, the island as a whole offers much in the way of nature, including vineyards, lavender fields and deserted coves overlooking other nearby islets. After a full day in the wild, return to town for specials on St Stephen’s Square, strolling the area from the cathedral to the Hvar public theatre. Alternatively, you can climb the Spanish fortress (Tvrdava Fortica) at sunset for an unrivalled view over the town and far-off Pakleni Islands.

Hvar | Photo: Content Pixie

Photo: Alex Block R

Day 10: Dubrovnik 

Last but not least on our trip Croatia is the jewel city of Dubrovnik. As well as serving as the set for HBO’s Game of Thrones, this walled city has more than enough drama to keep you amused offscreen, much of which comes compacted within the Old Town. Explore the medieval architecture of the centre, winding down alleyways to find churches, monuments and more, ticking off eras and empires that stretch back to the 7th century. Greek, Venetian, Byzantine, Hungarian, Napoleonic and even Communist histories are writ large across the city, making it an easy addition on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1979.

Besides wandering the fortress grounds on foot, another top attraction is the cable car to Mount Srdj, where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular coastline views. Back in town come nightfall you’ll see King’s Landing transform into the perfect place for wining and dining, as many small cafés, bars and restaurants flow out onto the cobblestone streets. For more of the beauties of this coastal city, read our in-depth Dubrovnik travel guide.

Dubrovnik | Photo: Stuart Claggett

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Dubrovnik, Croatia | Photo: Geio Tischler

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