Croatia is one of the most popular places to visit in Southern Europe, with millions of tourists flocking to this diverse country every year. And though the country is quite well-connected by an extensive intercity bus network, sometimes the best way to see the highlights of Croatia is by embarking on a Zagreb to Dubrovnik drive.
There are so many places to stop and see between Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb and the incredibly popular coastal city of Dubrovnik.
While the drive between these two cities can take just over six hours on the motorway, it is worth taking your time and spending several days making your way between the two cities.
If you’re planning a road trip and want to know about the best places to visit between these major Croatian cities, follow this guide to make your trip to this beautiful Balkan nation a great one.
Table of Contents
Planning a Zagreb to Dubrovnik Road Trip
First and foremost, you’re going to need to have a car when embarking on your trip to Croatia. When it comes to hiring a vehicle, we recommend using RentalCars.com. This platform aggregates prices from available car hire companies to ensure that you get a great deal on your rental car.
Many visitors also wonder as to what kind of car they should hire — for instance, do you need to rent a 4×4 or are you fine with sticking to an affordable sedan or compact option?
Well, all of these stops on the drive are accessible on well-paved roads and require no off-roading. Therefore, there is really no need to rent anything but the most basic option while on a Croatian road trip.
The other thing that you need to consider when renting a car — especially if you want to make any of the stops on the Split to Dubrovnik drive part of this road trip — is to make sure that you can take your car across international borders and, especially, outside of the EU.
Your rental company will be able to tell you if you’re permitted to do this with the insurance provided in your rental terms. Make sure that you have everything in order before you plan any side trips into Bosnia & Herzegovina or risk getting turned away at the border.
It is also worth noting that once you have your car and you take to the road, many of the main motorways in Croatia have tolls, so it is something to be aware of.
If you take a toll road, you will get a ticket upon entering that you hand to the attendant when you exit the toll road. This will tell the attendant how long you were driving on the toll road and accurately calculate your fare, which will then be displayed on the screen.
Best Zagreb to Dubrovnik Drive Stops
Listed from north to south, these are the best places to see and visit if you’re driving from Zagreb to Dubrovnik (or vice versa).
Some of these stops you can get the gist of in an hour or less and some deserve to have a couple of days devoted to them. No matter how long you have allotted for your Croatia itinerary, these are all unmissable additions sure to make your trip a great one!
1. Plitvice Lakes National Park
Located about a two-hour drive south of Zagreb lies the incredible Plitvice Lakes National Park, and unmissable attraction on any drive from Zagreb to Dubrovnik.
One of the most popular places to visit in Croatia (in fact, it sees the most tourists out of anywhere else in the country, after Dubrovnik), there is no denying that this is an incredibly natural site that is very much worth visiting.
While many people opt to visit the park as a day trip, if you want to get the most out of it and avoid the inevitable crowds (no matter what season you visit in), then we recommend spending a night near the park.
This will allow you to arrive as soon as it opens (which is 7 AM in the summer season and 8 AM in the winter season) and get to enjoy the gorgeous lakes and waterfalls before the hordes of tour groups arrive.
Even if you are only able to make a stop in Plitvice and can’t budget a night to spend here, plan to spend at least three or four hours to truly get to see the best of the park and be able to wander through both the upper and lower lakes, enjoy the boat ride included in your ticket, and just take in the incredible scenery.
A more off-beat stop on this drive is the island of Pag, which is located on the Dalmatian coast about 50 kilometres north of Zadar, this is an excellent place to visit if on the way from Zagreb to Split.
Pag is famous for its delicious cheeses. Though it is most well known for the eponymous Pag Sir — which is a sheep’s milk cheese that is similar to a Parmigiano-Reggiano — there are numerous different cheeses from sheep, cows, and goats made on the island that are all delicious.
You can easily reach the island by car via a bridge meaning there aren’t even any ferries to contend with. If you’re visiting in the warmer months, you will also love the ample coastline available for sunbathing and you can even get the opportunity to tour one of the dairies on the island!
One of the most popular (and most beautiful!) stops is going to the lovely and historic town of Zadar.
Though this small gem on the Adriatic sees only a fraction of the tourists that Split or Dubrovnik do, it is still growing in popularity and it isn’t hard to see why.
The Old Town boasts ancient ruins including a Roman Forum and old Venetian walls and the seaside promenade is one of the most inviting places to stroll no matter what season it is.
Though small, you can easily get lost in the picturesque Old Town and you also certainly wouldn’t be alone if you felt like you could lose yourself listening to the waves lap against the iconic Sea Organ.
Zadar is also one of the best places to stop for the night while you’re on your road trip as there are numerous accommodation options and also some really delicious restaurants to try!
And if you have a bit more time, consider heading out to explore some of the islands in the Zadar archipelago, such as tranquil Ugljan which is only about 30 minutes via ferry from the city.
4. Krka National Park
If you didn’t get enough views of beautiful lakes and waterfalls while visiting Plitvice Lakes or you were just a bit sore that it’s against the rules to swim in the inviting waters, then you’re sure to enjoy a stop at the lovely Krka National Park.
Located about 75 kilometres southeast of Zadar and about 85 kilometres north of Split, this park makes an excellent stop on the Zagreb to Split drive.
Krka is essentially a smaller version of Plitvice Lakes, where there are some beautiful waterfalls and lakes that you can wander around via wooden pathways and you can even swim in the crystal clear waters — something that is expressly forbidden at Plitvice Lakes!
Entry prices vary seasonally with costs being higher in the summer months. No matter which season you choose to visit, you are sure to enjoy your time at Krka National Park.
Another of the best places to spend a few hours if you’re driving between Zagreb and Dubrovnik is the charming town of Šibenik.
Located on the coast just south of Zadar and just north of Split, this beautiful and historic town is the perfect place to stop for a couple of hours.
You can easily get lost in the beautiful winding streets of its old town, marvel at its gorgeous cathedral, or enjoy a seaside stroll along the promenade. Šibenik is also home to a lot of great restaurants, so it’s the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat.
Trogir, located only about 30 kilometres north of Split, is one of the most popular day trips from Croatia’s second-largest city and an absolutely excellent stop on the trip from Zagreb to Dubrovnik.
This lovely little town is situated on a small island that is connected to the mainland via a bridge. This is a great place to stop off for an hour or two to enjoy a leisurely stroll around the island on the picturesque promenade and to wander through the beautiful side streets in the historic old town.
It is also a great place to stop for a drink (if you’re not the designated driver!) or a coffee at a streetside cafe and watch the world go by.
I would recommend finding a place to park before crossing the bridge as it will be almost 50% less expensive and you will likely only have to walk about 200 metres extra. However, no matter where you end up parking, you are sure to enjoy this beautiful and compact little island town.
Split is an incredibly popular tourist destination and for good reason — its historic Old Town is absolutely beautiful and its main sites are well situated near each other, making sightseeing in this city easy to swallow.
Split is also a well-located base to explore a lot of other areas in the vicinity (especially the islands that are accessible by ferry from Split’s terminal).
Highlights of Split, of course, include the incredible, UNESCO-listed Diocletian’s Palace complex, its lovely seaside promenade, and the wonderful views from Marjan Park.
Split also has a fantastic restaurant scene where you can sample some of the freshest seafood and other Dalmatian specialities cooked to their best.
You can see the main sites of Split in the span of an entire day, however, if you want to relax and enjoy yourself I would recommend spending at least two in this coastal city.
This is one of the stops on the Zagreb to Dubrovnik drive that I would suggest spending the longest in, especially if you want to visit some of the southern islands in the Adriatic Sea on your way to Dubrovnik.
An easy car ferry from Split and a good place to visit if you’ve got some time on your on the Split to Dubrovnik drive is the island of Brač.
A fairly large island located only about 20 kilometres off the coast of Split, Brač is gaining popularity as a tourist attraction and is a great place to experience some laid back Croatian island vibes.
Brač is most famous for its beaches, especially the picturesque Zlatni Rat beach — where the stunningly white sand juts dramatically in a conical shape into the water. There are also numerous other beaches to visit that aren’t going to be swarmed by tourists.
You can also spend your time driving around the island and exploring the lovely scenery, beautiful views, and charming towns.
Arguably the most popular Croatian island to visit and accessible by a car-ferry from Split is the island of Hvar. Hvar is known for its hard-partying dynamic and you can find exactly what you’re looking for on this beautiful island.
Take the time to explore the charming Stari Grad, the main port town on the island. Get lost in the beautiful lavender fields that dot the island — Hvar’s most famous export.
Hvar also has countless wineries that are worth visiting, beautiful beaches, and some fantastic restaurants. You can visit this island as a day trip while driving from Split to Dubrovnik or for a little bit longer — it all depends on your preferences.
Back on the Croatian mainland, one of the best and most picturesque stops on the Split to Dubrovnik portion of this road trip is the charming small town of Omiš.
This seaside town is very small and can be seen in an hour or less, however, it is well worth the stop off to stretch your legs and enjoy the lovely scenery.
Omiš is famous for its beautiful cliffs that just directly into the harbour and its expansive beaches that are perfect for swimming. There are lots of streetside and beachside cafes where you can enjoy a coffee or a drink, as well, and it is very much worth it to stop over in this lovely town.
11. Southwestern Bosnia & Herzegovina
If you want to be a bit more adventurous and venture outside of Croatia, then you can’t go wrong with exploring some of the beautiful sites located in the south of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Some of these popular places to visit include the lovely Kravice Waterfalls, the fortress town of Počitelj overlooking the Neretva river, or the historic and incredibly beautiful Dervish monastery at Blagaj.
You will notice a distinct difference in the feel and history between Croatia and Bosnia and it is worth stopping over and exploring a bit of this lovely country when on the way from Zagreb to Dubrovnik.
12. Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
If you want to venture slightly further north into Bosnia & Herzegovina and see one of the most beautiful, historic, and heartbreaking cities in the country, you really cannot go wrong with making the town of Mostar your last stop before arriving in Dubrovnik.
Mostar is most famous for its iconic Stari Most, the beautiful arched bridge that slopes over the deep blue Neretva River, however, the city has a lot more to offer than just that.
Because of its proximity to both Split and Dubrovnik, many people opt to visit the city just as a day trip, however, you could easily spend a full day and night here to get the most out of the city.
Regardless of how long you choose to spend, there is no denying that Mostar is one of the absolute best stops and makes for a fantastic finale of this Zagreb to Dubrovnik road trip!
Where to Stay on Trip From Zagreb to Dubrovnik
Obviously, on any Croatia trip, you are going to want to find a place to stay in Zagreb, Split, or Dubrovnik.
On top of that, however, if you have more time to dedicate to this road trip, I would recommend resting your head overnight near Plitvice Lakes (so you can get there as early in the day as possible!) and in Zadar.
If you would rather find yourself a whole apartment or a private room in a local’s home, then a private rental is a good option for you.
Casablanca Boutique B&B — A cosy boutique bed and breakfast that is great for couples or those looking for a bit of comfort and luxury. They have several rooms available, a central location, and a hearty breakfast included in the nightly rate.
Hostel Mali Mrak — A small hostel that is perfect for solo and budget travellers. They have both dorm and private rooms available, clean facilities, friendly staff, and great common areas to meet other travellers.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Zagreb
House Turkalj — Located about 10 minutes drive from the national park entrance, this small family-run guest house is a great affordable option. They have a handful of private, ensuite rooms available with shared kitchen facilities as well as complimentary beer and rakija.
Falling Lakes Hostel — A good option for backpackers and budget travellers near Plitvice Lakes, this hostel offers both dorm and private rooms and also organise a shuttle to the national park entrance. There is also a great common area making meeting other travellers easy.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options near Plitvice Lakes!
Rooms Tisa Old Town — This lovely hotel located in the centre of Zadar is the perfect mid-range option for travellers. They have a range of comfortable and clean rooms available and a location in Zadar that cannot be beaten.
Downtown Boutique Hostel — A small and chic hostel centrally located in the old town. They offer both dorm beds and private rooms, have a friendly staff and great common areas to meet other travellers.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Zadar
Il Giardino Luxury Rooms & Suites — A great option if you’re after more luxury, this boutique hotel has several spacious, clean, and comfortable rooms available. It is located within easy walking distance of all of Split’s main attractions and there is a great breakfast included.
Tchaikovsky Hostel — A perfect backpacker, budget, or solo traveller option. This centrally-located hostel offers both dorm and private rooms, clean facilities, and great common areas for meeting fellow travellers in Split.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Split
Boutique Hotel Porto — Centrally located in the middle of the old town, this boutique hotel is the perfect romantic option for couples looking for a more luxurious getaway in Dubrovnik. They have a range of comfortable and stylish rooms available and is one of the highest-rated places in the city.
Old Town Hostel — A hostel situated, you guessed it, in the old town, this highly-rated accommodation is great for budget and solo travellers. Offering both dorm and private rooms, they have a helpful staff, a common kitchen, and great areas to meet others.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Dubrovnik
There are so many great stops to make when driving from Zagreb to Dubrovnik that the only thing you’re going to wish you had is more time in order to experience each incredible place to the max.
Are you planning to drive between Zagreb and Dubrovnik ? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!