I first considered visiting Croatia in about 2008, when—at least for Americans—the country was still off Europe’s beaten path. The only problem? The friend I planned to go with could only afford to take a few days off work.
This was a problem, because whether we were shopping vacation packages to Croatia or attempting to hammer out our own itineraries, it quickly became clear that we’d need at least a week in Croatia to cover any ground. We’d probably need more, in fact.
Of course now, having been to the country many times, I realize you can have a fulfilling trip no matter how many days in Croatia you plan to spend. Still, if you’re planning a very short vacation, you may find that this post contains hard truths.
Understanding Croatia’s Size and Geography
Before we dig deeper into how many days in Croatia you should spend, you need to understand something about the country. Namely, that in spite of being relatively small (around the same size as the US state of West Virginia), its layout means that exploring it takes longer than you would think. For example, did you know that it takes over six hours to drive from Zagreb (the Croatian capital) to Dubrovnik?
Croatia’s geography is further complicated by the fact that the Dalmatian Coast (where you find Dubrovnik) is bisected by Bosnia’s short coastline. In the past, this made it cumbersome to drive to Dubrovnik from Split (the coast’s other main city), at least for those travelers who didn’t go by boat, although the just-opened Peljesac Bridge makes that a bit simpler.
Where to Go in Croatia
Croatia’s capital is often overlooked, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there. With a couple of days there, you can explore both the lower town and its colorful Dolac Market, and the upper town, which centers around St. Mark’s Church. You can also visit the unique Museum of Broken Relationships, which is one of my favorite museums I’ve ever visited.
Plitvice Lakes, on the other hand, is a place many travelers plan on visiting, no matter how long they decide to spend in Croatia. In most cases, this is perfectly permissible, since the national park sits along the way from Zagreb to Split. However, if you’re taking a shorter Croatia trip, it’s a good idea to be more intentional about visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Dalmatian Coast
When most people think of “Croatia,” they imagine the Dalmatian Coast. Defined by emerald waters and pristine beaches, historic Dalmatia is flanked by the modern cities of Split on the west and Dubrovnik on the east. Well, relatively modern. From Diocletian’s Palace in Split to the city walls of Dubrovnik (which featured prominently in the series Game of Thrones), both of these Dalmatian cities are like living museums.
Some travelers only see Croatia’s islands, no matter how many days in Croatia they spend. After flying directly to Split or Dubrovnik, they immediately get on a yacht and start sailing. If you have longer, you might instead opt to travel between various islands (namely, to the large and popular Korcula) using public boats—you can actually travel all the way from Dubrovnik to Split (or vice-versa) this way.
Other Croatia destinations
Croatia is more than just Zagreb and the Dalmatian Coast, although many travelers never explore the country off its beaten path. Notably, the northwestern Istria region (centered around the former Roman city of Pula and the coastal idyll of Rijeka) is beautiful and exciting. On your way there (assuming you begin in Split), make sure to stop in gorgeous Zadar and in pristine Krka National Park.
Getting Around in Croatia
The good news? You don’t really need a car in Croatia—and, in fact, I wouldn’t recommend one if you’re not used to driving in the Balkans. The better news? There are all kinds of ways to get around in Croatia, which means that you can tailor your transportation to the kind of trip you want to take. For example, I’ve already mentioned that you can bridge the gap between Split and Dubrovnik with a boat trip through the islands.
Part of this, of course, comes down to how long in Croatia you spend. If you have a week or longer, you might choose to go by land from Zagreb to Split, potentially even on a tour that takes you to Plitvice Lakes en route. If, on the other hand, you simply plan to take a cruise through the islands (but fly to Zagreb), you may opt to save time by taking a domestic flight to Dubrovnik or Split.
Other FAQ About Your Trip to Croatia
Is 5 days enough in Croatia?
With 5 days in Croatia, you can enjoy a quick trip along the Dalmatian Coast, or combine one of the Dalmatian cities (i.e. Split or Dubrovnik) with the capital of Zagreb and potentially even Plitvice Lakes. However, 5 days is definitely not long enough to take a comprehensive Croatia trip.
Is 4 days enough for Croatia?
If I had just 4 days in Croatia, I probably wouldn’t cast my net very wide. For example, I’d likely fly directly to either Dubrovnik or Split, and spend most of my time in that city. A possible exception might be taking a boat trip out into the islands, although this would probably be some kind of day excursion.
Is 7 days enough for Croatia?
In my opinion, 7 days is the minimum amount of time you should spend in Croatia, if you can. This will allow you to take your time in underrated Zagreb, and stop in Plitvice Lakes en route to Split. From here, you can travel by boat to Dubrovnik, where you can end your trip with a bit of time to spare.
The Bottom Line
How many days do you need in Croatia? Ideally, as long as you can spend. If you want to see “all of Croatia,” you could need as long as two weeks, although most travelers aren’t quite this ambitious. If you simply want to see the Dalmatian Coast—Split and Dubrovnik, and maybe some time in the islands between them—a week should be sufficient, and potentially even 4-5 days. Where you’ll need longer is if you plan to head inland to Zagreb or Plitvice Lakes, or up north to Istria. Regardless of how long you end up spending in Croatia, trust me: This country punches far above its weight as a travel destination!