5 Croatia Road Trips Packed with Scenery, Food and Wine

By | Travel & Wine Writer, Co-Founder
Last Updated: June 18, 2023
Aerial view of coastal Croatia

Croatia is a country known for its breathtaking natural beauty, fascinating history, and delicious wine. A Croatia road trip is the perfect way to experience all of these elements in one unforgettable journey. The scenery across the landscape is nothing short of breathtaking. Rolling hills covered in vineyards, quaint villages with red-tiled roofs, and stunning coastal views are just some of the picturesque sights to be seen along the way. The countryside is filled with lush greenery, wildflowers, and sparkling rivers, providing the perfect backdrop for a romantic and adventurous journey.

Map of Croatia and where it stands out in Europe

A Note on the Croatian Language: Croatian is a Slavic language that shares similarities with other Slavic languages such as Serbian and Slovenian. In this guide, we include references to a number of wine regions and grape varieties that include letters such as č, ž, and š, which may look unfamiliar to English speakers. When speaking Croatian, it is important to note that the accent falls on the first syllable of a word, and that some sounds are pronounced differently than in English. For example, the letter “j” is pronounced like the English “y” sound, and the letter “c” is pronounced like “ts.”

Croatian people are generally proficient in English, especially in the tourism industry. However, in more rural areas, you may encounter locals who are not fluent in English, so it is useful to learn some basic Croatian phrases to help you communicate effectively.

Some common conversational words and phrases to know for travelers include:

  • Dobar dan: Good day
  • Hvala: Thank you
  • Molim: Please
  • Govorite li engleski?: Do you speak English?
  • Koliko košta?: How much does it cost?
  • Gdje je WC?: Where is the bathroom?
  • Kako se zoveš?: What is your name?
  • Moje ime je…: My name is…
  • Kako ste?: How are you?
  • Lijepo je vidjeti vas: Nice to see you

Croatia’s Main Wine Regions

Croatia is home to a few wine regions, and our suggested road trip routes offer the opportunity to sample each of them in different ways. Each region has its own unique varieties and styles. While many of the wines are not yet well-known to international travelers, there is a strong focus on quality and great local appreciation and passion for wine production. Many of Croatia’s wineries are family-owned, and visitors are often happily surprised to spend time with the winemakers themselves during a visit.

Perhaps the best-known wine-producing region is Dalmatia, a coastal region in southern Croatia, famous for its full-bodied red wines made from Plavac Mali, the local variety related to California’s Zinfandel, and white wines made from Pošip and Grk, which have a range of floral and fruity characteristics.

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Istria is another wine region located in the northwest portion of the country, known for its crisp and aromatic white wines made from Malvasia, and fresh, juicy red wines made from the native red grape variety Teran. Orange wine is also a popular and common style found in the region, but it’s not uncommon to find it across the country either. 

In the east, you’ll find the Slavonia wine region, recognized for its rich, full-bodied red wines made from Frankovka and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as white wines made from Graševina, which is the most widely planted grape in the country.

Kvarner, which is located on the Adriatic coast, is known for its crisp, dry white wines made from the native varieties Žlahtina and Škrlet, which have a fresh and citrusy flavor, as well as red wines made from the local variety Traminac.

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The central region of Croatia produces a wide range of wine styles, including fresh, aromatic whites made from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, as well as full-bodied reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. One of the most notable wine subregions in Central Croatia is Plešivica, which is known for its sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

In addition to wine tasting, a road trip through the country offers a wide range of cultural and historical experiences. Travelers can explore ancient Roman ruins, medieval castles, and charming coastal towns. Local cuisine is always a highlight, and classically includes fresh seafood, hearty stews, and homemade pastries.

Traditional festivals and celebrations are also common, such as the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. The festival’s main program features a variety of performances in music, dance, theater, and other arts, staged in some of the city’s most spectacular locations, including the Rector’s Palace, the open-air Lovrjenac Fortress, and the ancient city walls. These performances often showcase both local and international talent, and include everything from classical concerts and opera to contemporary dance and experimental theater.

For the more adventurous traveler, a Croatia road trip also provides opportunities for outdoor activities. Hiking and biking trails wind through the countryside, offering stunning views and a chance to get some exercise. Kayaking and sailing are also popular activities along the coast, allowing travelers to see Croatia’s stunning coastline from a unique perspective.

Now, if you’re sold on taking a trip to this magnificent destination. Let’s dive into our recommended Croatia road trip routes.

Coastal Croatian landscape with mountains in the background
Croatia’s landscapes are nothing short of other-worldly. Get lost with any of our suggested road trips below.

Croatia Road Trips

Istrian Wine Route

Istrian Wine Route road trip
The Istrian Wine Route road trip will take you through the northwestern portion of one of Croatia’s most well-known wine regions.

The Istrian Wine Route is a popular route that winds through the scenic Istrian Peninsula in western Croatia. This route is known for its exceptional white wines and stunning coastal views. Start your journey in the historic city of Pula, known for its ancient Roman architecture, including the impressive Pula Arena, an ancient amphitheater that still hosts concerts and events today. From there, head north to the charming hilltop town of Motovun, which is famous for its truffles and has some of the best views in the region. In the surrounding area, you can visit many boutique wineries. Be on special look out for white Malvasia and red Teran, but don’t be afraid to sample other local offerings. Finish your journey in the coastal town of Rovinj, with its picturesque Old Town and vibrant food and wine scene.

Total distance: approximately 130 kilometers (80 miles)

Recommended time: 2-3 days

Dalmatian Coastline Route

Dalmatia road trip recommended route
Drive along the Adriatic Coastline while stopping in Split, Makarska and Zadar, in addition to any number of quaint villages and wineries along your path.

The Dalmatian Coastline Route is a stunning journey along the breathtaking Adriatic coast. Begin in the historic city of Split, which is home to the UNESCO-listed Diocletian’s Palace and a bustling food and wine scene. From there, drive south along the coast, stopping at charming seaside towns such as Makarska, which has a stunning beach and great seafood restaurants, and of course Dubrovnik, known for its ancient city walls and dramatic coastal views. Taste the traditional Dalmatian wines (often Plavac Mali) of the Peljesac Peninsula on your way down, renowned for their complexity and depth. Finish your journey in the coastal city of Zadar, which is known for its picturesque Old Town and sea organ, an architectural installation that creates music from the waves of the sea.

Total distance: approximately 300 kilometers (186 miles)

Recommended time: 5-7 days

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Inland Route

Inland road trip route through Croatia
Our recommended inland road trip includes a stop at one of the most beautiful national parks in Europe, the Plitvice Lakes National Park.

The Inland Route is a journey through the heart of Croatia, offering a unique perspective on the country’s natural beauty, history, and culture. Begin in the capital city of Zagreb, with its lively food and wine scene and historic architecture, including the charming Old Town and the impressive St. Mark’s Church. From there, head east to the stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park, a natural wonder with crystal-clear lakes and cascading waterfalls. Next, head south to the historic town of Karlovac, which is known for its impressive fortress. If you’re tasting wine in this region, be sure to sample white Graševina and red Frankovka. Finish your journey in the charming town of Samobor, known for its beautiful medieval architecture and delicious traditional pastries and cakes.

Total distance: approximately 270 kilometers (168 miles)

Recommended time: 3-4 days

Zagorje and Varaždin Route

Zagorje and Varaždin Road Trip Route
The Zagorje and Varaždin road trip takes you a bit off the beaten path and into the northern portion of the country, where the scenery is serene, peaceful and the wines boutique.

The Zagorje and Varaždin Route takes you through the scenic countryside of northern Croatia, dotted with rolling hills, historic castles, and charming towns. Begin in the capital city of Zagreb, and head north to the picturesque town of Kumrovec. This charming village is nestled in the green hills of Croatia, known for its stunning natural beauty and quaint architecture. It’s also famous for being the birthplace of Josip Broz Tito (or just “Tito”), the former president of Yugoslavia. The village has largely preserved the traditional way of life of its rural inhabitants, with houses made of wood and stone and cobbled streets. Visitors can explore the open-air museum of the Kumrovec Ethnological Museum, which showcases the traditional clothing, tools, and crafts of the region, and savor the local cuisine and wine in the town’s cozy restaurants and cafes. Kumrovec is a perfect destination for travelers seeking an authentic and tranquil retreat in the heart of Croatia’s idyllic countryside.

From there, drive to the town of Varaždin, which has a well-preserved Baroque Old Town and a rich cultural heritage. Many of the wineries in the surrounding area are truly boutique and family-operated. It’s fun to compare and contrast the local versions of some well-known varieties grow here, like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Finish your journey in the charming town of Krapina, known for its Neanderthal Museum and traditional local cuisine.

Total distance: approximately 250 km (155 miles)

Recommended time: 3-4 days

Pelješac and Korčula Island Route

Pelješac and Korčula Island Croatia Road Trip
Our suggested Pelješac and Korčula road trip takes you south, and provides a truly coastal and island experience, ideal for summertime getaways yet beautiful regardless of season.

The Pelješac and Korčula Island Route takes you through the stunning Dalmatian coast and islands, known for their rugged coastline, crystal-clear waters, and world-renowned seafood. Begin in the historic city of Dubrovnik, and head north to the Pelješac Peninsula, which just happens to be home to some of the country’s best wineries and vineyards. Stop at the town of Ston, known for its impressive walls and delicious oysters. Be sure to pair them with local Pošip wines, and taste some of the bolder red Plavac Mali wines alongside local dishes like pasticada, black risotto and local Dalmatian prosciutto. Next, take a ferry to the beautiful island of Korčula, which is known for its stunning Old Town, picturesque beaches, and delicious local cuisine. Korčula provides an idyllic tasting opportunity for the seafaring wine lover, with no shortage of unique island wine offerings, made from the light and fruity Grk grape variety and the bold and spicy Dingač.

Total distance: approximately 220 km (137 miles)

Recommended time: 4-5 days

These Croatia road trips offer a diverse range of experiences, from stunning natural beauty and history to exceptional wine and food. Whether you’re a nature lover, a history buff, or a wine enthusiast, there’s something for everyone along these scenic routes.

Have you traveled through Croatia before? Please share your favorite wineries, viewpoints, restaurants and experiences with our readers.

Frequently Asked Questions about Croatia Road Trips

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