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Trip Report Croatia Roadtrip: Plitvice -> Dubrovnik in August

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We just got back from a wonderful 10-day stay in Croatia. The weather was great, the people were friendly, driving in Croatia was easy, and despite going during the busy August season the crowds were surprisingly easy to avoid. We spent 1 night near Plitvice, 2 nights in Zadar, 3 nights in Split, 1 night in Mostar, and the final 3 nights in Dubrovnik. Since this site was so helpful in my planning, I want to share some of the details of our trip.

First, a couple overall thoughts:

Driving in Croatia was incredibly easy. Throughout the trip we relied almost exclusively on Google Maps for our directions and navigation and found time estimates to be fairly accurate. Most roads we drove on appeared very new, and we found most things we wanted to see to be well-marked. The only slightly more stressful driving was when we visited Klis Fortress and Salona outside Split (because neither site was well-marked and Google Maps kept directing us down narrow one-way alleys) and the drive from Mostar to Neum (windy, hair-pin turns with the paved part of the road frequently only slightly wider than the car). Even parking was generally easy to find.

Crowds were also not a problem. I had been nervous about this, since we were visiting mostly coastal towns in the middle of high season. However, we found that as long as we wandered 5-10 minutes from the main square/church or attraction in a town, the amount of people significantly decreased and the town became very pleasant. It became a running joke that, if you looked through our pictures, you might think we were the only people in Croatia!

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    Rastoke & Plitvice

    Our flight landed in Zagreb around 13:30 to start off our trip. We quickly picked up our car (only 1 or 2 people ahead of us in line) and started our drive towards Plitvice. The road to Plitvice once you get off the toll way is a well-paved and well-marked windy 2 lane road. Even though the road had wide curves (not hair pin turns), we still got stuck in a chain of cars behind the occasional nervous driver a few times. Fortunately, most drivers have the courtesy and awareness to pull over and let the chain pass them when it gets too long (and I’d be lying if I said we were never the car that needed to pull over)

    Since there was no point in going straight to our hotel, we stopped in Rastoke on our way. It’s a small, scenic watermill village about 30 min north of Plitvice and was very pleasant to walk around and stretch our legs. The village has 2 exits … the best view of the whole area is on the way down the hill after the first exit. Most of the parking is parallel parking on a steep hill, but there is a free gravel parking area at the bottom of the hill that we were able to use. Would recommend this stop if it is on the way, we enjoyed a couple hours here.

    We then drove ~15 minutes to our hotel for the night – Rooms Villa Ruja located ~10 minutes outside the park in Grabovic. As we expected, there was nothing to do there, but that was fine because we were tired!

    The next morning we visited Plitvice, arriving shortly after opening (park opens at 7am). Especially if you are driving, I highly recommend getting there early. By the time we were leaving, parking looked miserable and people had to parallel parking all along the road. For us, there were plenty of spots in the parking lot and only a ~15 minute line to get into the park. While the park certainly wasn’t empty, it was easy to get pictures without other visitors in them, and we felt we could set our own walking pace. As others have noted, if you are planning to walk around both lakes, use Entrance 1 so you are facing the falls as you walk. We spent 5-6 hours in the park. Simply stunning!

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    Zadar may have been my favorite town in Croatia. We spent 2 nights at Apartment Fifi located within the city walls of the old town. We drove to Zadar from Plitvice, and Fifi met us and our car at one of the gates to lead us to our private parking spot. Some of the reasons I loved Zadar:

    The blend of old, older, and new! The old Roman forum is just part of the city, not separated off as an exhibit. The foundation, or bottom 2 ft of the church of St. Donatus is visibly rubble from the older Roman forum. On the other hand, the sea wall, sea organ, and sun salutation are modern architectural creations and blend seamlessly with the old.

    The old town is like a free open air museum. Informational signs have been discretely posted throughout providing a background on some of the history nearby. Shortly after entering the main city gate and back to the right was an especially interesting description of the city walls, and where they were erected during the different civilizations that have occupied the area over time. You can then view remnants of the walls from each era.

    Zadar’s actual museums were also well-done. We visited both the museum of ancient glass and the archeological museum.

    The sea wall and sea organ truly are spectacular. I didn’t really “get it” before we went, and audio recordings didn’t really capture it. I think it’s just something you have to experience yourself. We spent a couple hours on the sea wall steps reading, listening to the sea organ and the buzz of people, and jumping into the water to cool off. And of course watched the sunset both nights! It had such a relaxing, unique vibe that we kept talking about the rest of our trip!

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