Road trip along the Adriatic Coast, from Zadar (north) to Dubrovnik (south, after a small step in a Bosniac territory). In peak season, the coast is really really touristic, many traffic jams and people in the famous cultural hotspots. However if is always possible to discover other peaceful places without avoiding the unmissable from antic Roman style buildings to Middle-Age traditional churches and cathedral. Mainly Split, Trogir, Dubrovnik.
From Zadar to Split
We leave the Plivice central Croatian region to reach Adriatic coast which begins in Zadar for us. This Dalmatian coast from Zadar to Dubrovnik is actually pretty long so make sure you dedicate enough time to visit it and choose some priorities as many places are far (islands of course). We liked Zadar, a quiet town and we regretted not staying enough according to us. This relatively small place with a beautiful historic centre where you can walk everywhere is full of glorious architectural monuments, like St-Donat Church, the Captain Palace or the St-Anastasia Cathedral without forgetting a nice little archaeological museum in the old town, near a Roman forum where it has been discovered many small objects back from this period. And provided there are not too many people there (which can be a challenge given the touristic success of Croatia in summers…), try to listen the marine orgue which produce musical notes with the impacts of waves on the concrete. It is even more charming late afternoon, at the sunset! Not many beaches in Zadar, we went further south to take a swim.
Famous Disney dogs, dalmatians are from this Dalmate coast! But hard to see one of them…
It is worth mentioning the Kornati islands, north of Zadar. We didn’t go there as we didn’t have enough time but we strongly advise you to go there if you can. Remote and wild, they offer a good break from the crowded coast and tours depart Zadar every day for one or two days trips. Finally walking around the small old streets of Zadar at night time where all the white monuments give a strange feeling of cleanliness and history make you enjoy these special moments. Much less people thank in Split or Dubrovnik where you could also enjoy the sunset from restaurants and bars.
Heading to Split!
After two days in Zadar, we decide to go south, towards Split (a little bit more than two hours to reach the 2nd city of Croatia). Between the two cities, many places require a stop like the island of Murter (Accessible with your car as there is a bridge) and the three main villages (Tisno, Bettina and Murter) which are very typical from the Mediterranean architecture. A good discovery with amazing views on the Adriatic coast and spots to take a swim and fly with my drone!
Split a modern city without any charm and a very crowded old towm
Then, after missing the town of Sibenik on our way to Split (lack of time…), we reach Split at the end of a very full day along the coast. But it was very very difficult to find our airbnb and we had to be in regular contact with our host to reach the place to sleep! I strongly advise you to study carefully Split map before going there. It is a busy modern city and if you don’t sleep in the old town, get prepared to know exactly where you hotel is…Anyway after visiting all the must sees of Split in the morning, under a very hot sun (Diocletien Palace, St-Domnius Cathedral, Riva scenic walkaway…), we decide to leave the busy city to go to Brac island. Only 1 hour from Split downtown with the ferry, Brac is easily accessible. But before leaving Split, remember that the city is also full of live at night time, along the Riva! Restaurants, bars everywhere in summertime, and the holiday mood is particularly cool to enjoy fresh mojitos or caipirinhas!
Facing Split, 1-hour ferry, Brac island here we come! Obviously very touristic as well (but apparently less than Hvar, its neighbour island), we stayed on the northern coast of the island, in Splitska, before heading back to the south part of the island, near the famous beach of Zlatni Rat, which is overcrowded. We loved the small hidden beaches on the north coast, very quiet as the game is to avoid the other tourists, like everywhere in Croatia. As a result, small charming authentic villages like Splitska, Supetar (where the ferry from Split is arriving) or Puciska. The island of Brac is interesting and diverse at the same time.The ferry system is working really well (but a bit expensive according to us, price by persons by vehicle with extra if big luggage like kite-surfing) and the hidden beaches were among the most beautiful ones we found in Croatia. All the nautic sports are accessible, as well as renting quads or motorbikes for instance. Living on the islands is very different from the continent, and allows to see Croatia from a different angle (even if we could see the continent from our hotel at Spltska!). Staying a few days on the islands is a must do according to us.
Next destination: Dubrovnik!
Back to Split to go to Dubrovnik (approx 4-hours driving + possible heavy traffic, take that into account!) In other words, carefully choose the road (inland motorway or small road along the coast) and plan the ferry as well if you leave from an island like Brac or Hvar. Indeed we planned originally to take the ferry from Sumartin (South-east of Brac) to Makarska (south of Split) in order to save 2 hours but this one was completely full, even if we arrived 3 hours before the initial schedule. As a result, we drove back to Supetar (north of the island) to go back to Split, therefore we lost more than three hours, arriving in Dubrovnik around 11.00pm instead of 8.00 pm! But even if not taking into account this unfortunate event, the road is very long and can be exhausting as the roads south of Croatia follow the coast and are very winding sometimes. As a result, we didn’t have the time to stop at the National Park of Krka (where we can swim, unlike Plitivice) or Biovoko mountain where it is possible to do beautiful hikes and walks (north of Makaraska)
Dubrovnik, the “Game of Thrones” effect!
After a very long and winding road, we finally arrived at Dubrovnik. Funny to notice we had to drive on a 15 kms part of Bosnia-Herzegovia between the two sides of Croatia, showing our passport twice (no visa needed for EU residents). At Dubrovnik, “Port-Real” in the famous TV show Game of Throne.
Although Dubrovnik is obviously very touristic (which makes the mayor think about the solution of drastically limiting the number of tourists in order to preserve the old town), we have to admit the old town is absolutely amazing and very well protected. It’s like the Middle Age was yesterday. We imagine visiting the city 200 yrs ago, with locals only a few bunch of travellers…what a pity this place became the place to be in Europe! But let’s not be nostalgic and let’s appreciate all the bars and restaurants (a little bit pricy) walking around the small streets of the old town. Don’t miss the Assumption Cathedral, the dominican monastery, the palace of the rector, the D’Onofrio fountain without forgetting to take the funicular to Mount Srd where you can have a breathtaking panoramic view over the old town and the island of Mljet, which is only paddles away from Dubrovnik. Then, even if Dubrovnik is now only a museum town, victim of its own success and is not authentic nor cheap, the old town cannot be missed according to us. And all the small villages where you can find hidden beaches also worth having a visit, like Mlini or Cavta.
Bonus, if you have time, rush to Bosnia-Herzegovina to see the historic town of Mostar. We didn’t have the time to go there but the UNESCO is recommending it, particularly its iconic medieval bridge. Also, you could be interested by a day trip to island of Korkula.
Dubrovnik is available for all budget, inform yourself!
Where did we sleep?
At the very peak season, finding a last minute accommodation in Dubrovnik is almost impossible as the coast is literally invaded by tourists. As a consequence, we recommend you book your hotels well in advance to benefit for good quality-price hotels (which is very difficult to find in Dubrovnik anyway). We found a good airbnb in Split, and we think this solution is definitely one of the best possible accommodation possible along the Adriatic coast.
- Apartments Blanche: Rooms with balcony but too small according to us. In Zadar, the owner speaks English and French fluently and also gave us good tips about the things to do in the region (like the island of Murter). Location is not particularly great, quite far away from the old town of Zadar.
- Villa Misura: On Brac island, in the town of Splitska, on the north coast. According to us, the north coast is much better and quieter than the south coast, much less touristic and more authentic. So the hotel has a good location, breakfast is included, but rooms are really small. Good for one night or two but no more.
- Puppo Rooms: Here it is everything or nothing! We arrived very late in Dubrovnik the first night to do the checkin, and the owner took the opportunity to give us the worst room! Very noisy, very close to the main road, we couldn’t sleep. After a long argument the next day, he finally gave us an amazing appartment with beautiful view over the harbour and a huge (shared) balcony. Please be informed carefully on the room you will choose/have if you book at this hotel! Good thing, it is very close to bus station to go to the old town (which is 15 mns away by bus), bad thing around 300 steps to get to the hotel, located very high on the hill (if you have heavy suitcase, please keep that in mind).
Bonus, Croatia in video!