Land or Water: Which is the Best Way to Explore Croatia

Aerial view of town with red roofs overlooking the blue sea with white sailing boats and small green islands in the distance

Whether it is explored by land or boat, hiking or sailing, the breath taking Adriatic Coast will reward you with endless treasures of Balkan beauty. Whilst cruising the coastal towns and islands may reveal many a splendid World Heritage site, the culture of Croatia can only really be experienced by hikes through mountain hamlets, boat rides on the Plitvice Lakes and visiting the numerous vineyards where pastoral life is still prevailing.

To make matters simple, we have explained in detail how best to visit this beautiful country, both by land and sea, to make your Croatia holiday a memorable one.

Benefits of Seeing Croatia By Sea

Croatia is an extremely popular summer destination as a lot of people are interested in exploring its many stunning islands. The best way to see the famous coastline is by taking a cruise along the Adriatic Sea. Over 60 categories of cruise ship are available to choose from, with most staring from Dubrovnik, Split, Omis or Opatija to give guests an opportunity to enjoy some leisurely island hopping amongst these beautiful Mediterranean islands.

Dubrovnik in Croatia

The old town walls of Dubrovnik

These exclusive cruises operate one way, two way and multi day trips in fully equipped vessels with all imaginable creature comforts included. Guests can relax as the Captain and the crew leave no stone unturned to pamper and please everyone on board. An ideal cruise itinerary includes warm onboard hospitality, an introduction to the culture and history of Croatia through shore excursions that include delectable wine tasting tours and heritage site visits, and a sample of the vibrant small town nightlife that has been attracting travellers in the know to this country for decades.

Two of the most popular cruise ports in Croatia are Dubrovnik and Split, as these cities are easily accessible, and are loved by visitors because of their historic past. Moreover, the shore excursions through these two towns are themselves enough to appreciate the stunning Old Town architecture and the incredible food and wine found here.

Split in Croatia

The pretty coastal city of Split

Opting for a Croatian cruise vacation means that all the planning and hassle of logistics is taken care of for you, so all you need to do is choose the right itinerary and vessel, and let the crew handle the rest. Travelling with a family is a struggle when luggage is involved, especially in an unknown country. With a cruise vacation these problems are taken care of.

Benefits of Seeing Croatia By Land

A trip by road across the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic Coast’ is what dreams are made of. With over a thousand islands, ten UNESCO World Heritage sites and eight national parks associated with Croatia, you can easily imagine how overwhelming but equally fascinating an overland journey to Croatia could be. The best time to do this would be between June and September, when the weather is still warm, there are no traffic jams and the sea is warm enough to swim in.

Driving through an olive grove on Hvar, Croatia

Driving through an olive grove in Hvar

The most popular way to travel around Croatia is by car as this will allow you to be independent and flexible with your itinerary, as well as getting off the beaten track if you want to. The country is not very big, roads are excellent, and it’s a great way to see a lot in a short space of time if your vacation days are limited. All you need is a valid driving licence, and there are frequent gas stations and rest stops along all the motorways to make journeys comfortable. Cities and large towns have good public transport systems which makes exploring on a local scale easy and enjoyable.

As stated earlier, Croatia is a small country, but to explore the best sights you’ll probably cover around 700 km on highways as well as the slower state roads. Make sure to book your car rental in Croatia in advance, as the earlier you book, the better the rate you will get. Croatia is full of gems like Zagreb, Split, Plitvice, Hvar and Dubrovnik. Where you go depends entirely on the time and budget, so do your research beforehand so you can plan your route accordingly.

Plitvice Lakes in Croatia

The Plitvice Lakes are one of the most popular sights in Croatia

The Verdict

Of course there’s no right way to visit Croatia, and whichever option you choose will guarantee an incredible trip. For a stress-free relaxing holiday that incorporates some of the best sights and experiences, then a coastal cruise ticks all the boxes. And if you’re craving a little adventure and want to get off the beaten track into the heartland of the country, then hiring a car and exploring inland is highly recommended.


  • Sunita Yashavant says:

    Hello Heather,

    I’m planning a trip to Croatia next summer with my daughter. I’m debating between a Danube river cruise with a glimpse of Croatia or flying straight to Croatia and staying for a month exploring the culture and cuisine leisurely. Not yet sure what town or city should be my base.
    Helpful tips! Thanks.

    • Heather Cole says:

      Hi Sunita, I think Croatia is such a diverse country that you could easily spend a month there and feel like you’re having heaps of different experiences, just like if you were visiting multiple countries on a cruise. I guess with a cruise you’ll have a tiny snapshot of a lot of places, whilst if you explore Croatia in more depth you’ll really get to know the culture. If it were me, I’d do the latter because it will mean you can schedule your own itinerary, and be a bit spontaneous (i.e. if you love somewhere, you can stay longer rather than having to move on). If you have a month, why not have several bases (like Dubrovnik and Zadar on the coast, then Zagreb for inland adventures). If you can, do a trip into Sarajevo to visit Mostar! Have a wonderful time whatever you decide to do!

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