You know what will make your trip to Europe glorious this year? A scenic drive between Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia. Hard to believe the country caught up in a war two decades ago is now beckoning travelers with its Mediterranean streets, Adriatic coast, orange-clad homes, and surreal countryside.
Driving along the Dalmatian coast tops the list of “things to do” in Croatia. And what better cities to start and end a road trip than Split and Dubrovnik, two fabulous travel spots.
Let’s get the geography out of our way before we jump on road tripping.
Where is Croatia?
Croatia (or Hrvatska in local language) lies along the sultry Adriatic Sea, sharing a border with Hungary, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The local currency is Kuna (HRK), a less cool cousin of Euro. PS: 1 Kuna = 0.13 Euro.
Where are Split and Dubrovnik located?
Split and Dubrovnik are in Dalmatia, one of the four historical regions in Southern Croatia. Dubrovnik is King’s Landing from Game of Thrones, for the uninitiated. Split is the second largest city (after the capital, Zagreb) and the busiest port in Croatia. They both draw in a flock of migrating tourists in the high season of July and August.
Split is a Venetian wonder, sprinkled with Croatian and Roman civilizations. Dubrovnik is the peak of the Adriatic essence. It’d need another post to cover what are the top things to do in Dubrovnik and Split. We’ll leave that out for now.
But know both cities are worth your time (and money) as you see an ancient civilization borne out of romance between nature and mankind.
There are two routes to travel by car between Split and Dubrovnik: Either via E65 then getting onto D8 (the Adriatic Coastal Road) or sticking with E65 which goes through the inland. The first route is 229 km (140 miles) long and the second one 257 km (158 miles). The first is an exhilarating ride and the second a safe one.
TIP: Both routes have tolls and require you to cross a 20 km (12 miles) stretch in Bosnia and Herzegovina (another country) before re-entering Croatia. So, carry your passport irrespective of your nationality.
Croatia road trip guide
Croatia’s Adriatic coastline reflects sapphire blue water, teasing your wanderlust wherever you look. The best way to get the front row seat is a road trip.
You’ll see humongous mountain ranges, gorgeous Croatian islands, impressive landscapes, and a ton of tunnels (gotta love them!).
And to make sure you come out of this budget road trip happy (I prefer ecstatic), follow these simple tips:
- Book a rental car online to get cheaper deals and discounts. (We recommend booking from this website which allows you to compare the best prices from multiple car rental companies.) Keep the pickup and drop-off location same to avoid hefty charges. PS: I went with Avis because they offered full coverage for the trip and good customer service.
- Bring the required rental paperwork and documentation for border crossings.
- Many places along the route don’t accept Euro or give back change in Kuna. Keep a few hundred Kuna on-person.
- Your native driver’s license should be enough but having an International Driving Permit will make renting the car, and ultimately, your trip through Croatia easier.
- Prepare well ahead if you’re doing a road trip in Croatian summers. They’re fierce! Bring water and your swimsuit!
- There’s a 5-hour distance between Split and Dubrovnik. But, the scenic drive will compel you to stop at every possible vista point and quintessential villages along those cliff-side roads. So, add in extra hours to arrive at your destination in a safe and calm manner. Or, stay the night in one of the many towns such as Makarska (AirBnB’s / Hostels) or Medjugorje (AirBnB’s / Hostels).
- Croatia driving is on the right side, like other mainland European countries.
- The highway network, road signs, and directions are impeccable. You can drive with no problems.
- You can get roadside assistance if needed by dialing 987, the support line of Croatian Auto Club. They offer telephonic help in English.
- Traffic in Croatian cities is chaotic, and drivers aren’t afraid to cut/tailgate you within a blink. Don’t get overwhelmed and drive at your own pace.
- Dubrovnik is a maze of one-ways and almost always packed. You may have to circle many times before you find a parking spot (I had to circle thrice).
- Speed limits within a city are 30 – 50 km/hr, on open roads 90 km/hr and on main highways up to 130 km/hr.
- Get accommodation by booking online with car parking to avoid expensive rentals in the Old Town or the immediate neighborhoods of Split and Dubrovnik. If you want to save more, book a stay in neighboring towns instead. (Dubrovnik AirBnB’s here.)
- When you can’t find a home with parking, use public parking to cut your expenses and ensure the car stays safe overnight and. Parking is expensive in these cities.
- Avoid peak (July-August) and winter (October-March) seasons.
Where should you stop between Dubrovnik and Split?
Plenty of options are available if you’re looking to stop along the way in this amazing country full of beautiful coastline, small towns, and old architecture. Perhaps you’re interested in a beach scene or a relaxing hike in the mountains? Or, perhaps you’re interested in visiting one of Croatia’s many festivals? Either way, you can’t go wrong. Here are some of my recommendations for the towns that you absolutely can’t miss.
Ston: Home to the oldest (still operating) traditional saltworks and one of Europe longest fortification walls, Ston is known for its unique, delicious white meat oysters (bred in oyster marine farms) and mussels.
Makarska Riviera: Stop by this famous mainland coastal region to unwind and relax on beautiful stretches of turquoise beach. The picturesque villages of Veliko Brdo, Puharići, Kotišina, and Makar nestled at the foot of the Biokovo mountain offer plenty of leisure and fun activities. (AirBnB’s here.)
Omis: 40 mins away from Split, Omis was a pirate hideout (for real) for centuries enclosed between Cetina River and the sea. Get your imaginary hat on at the pirate fort and Cetina Canyon. Arrrrrrr!
Ploče: This port located in Dubrovnik-Neretva County is nearly equidistant from Split and Dubrovnik. The small town sits on the old natural route of Neretva River valley, which connects Bosnia and Herzegovina with the Adriatic Sea.
Neum (Bosnia): You pass through Neum in Bosnia to re-enter Croatia. This quiet resort town’s coastline (second shortest in the world) is the only entry point for Bosnians to see the Adriatic. Neum’s narrow promenade grows on you.
Mostar (Bosnia): This medieval town is a pleasantly surprising side trip, located about 140 km from Dubrovnik. Notable attractions include Stari Most bridge, abandoned ruins, diverse natural landscape and beautiful architecture. (AirBnB’s here.)
We all want to feel a deeper connection to the places we visit, especially when we travel on a budget. Maybe to make up for the luxuries of hotels, tastes of culinary fine dining or comforts of convenience we forgo.
For us budget travelers – Croatia is one of the most enthralling countries to travel in Europe. And a road trip around Croatia makes your journey electrifying. It’s my guarantee you’ll experience your heart fill with what your eyes see throughout the drive.
What are you waiting for? Start planning the best Croatia road trip, and let us know how it goes in the comments below.