Zagreb & Beyond in 1 Week
If you are flying to Croatia directly from North America, chances are you will land in Zagreb. That means that even if your plan is to move on to somewhere else, you will have at least half a day to explore the Croatian capital—just enough time to scratch the surface. You may want to consider giving yourself more time to explore. A full week will let you get familiar with the city while also providing time to get to know the surrounding area.
Day 1: Zagreb
Pick up your rental car or catch the shuttle to town at the Zagreb airport. Settle into your hotel, then catch the tram to Jelačić Trg, the central square at the foot of the old town. Explore Zagreb’s historic center and discover trendy bars, a tiny gastro-eatery, a museum dedicated to broken relationships, and an atelier filled with 20th-century sculpture.
Days 2 & 3: Rijeka & Pula
Take the fast autocesta (highway) from Zagreb to Rijeka and you’ll arrive on the coast in approximately 2 hours. On your way, be sure to make a stop at Trsat just outside town, to explore the castle and Marian shrine there. From Rijeka, you’ll cross into Istria. Follow the road that goes south along Istria’s eastern coast to Pula.
If you want to be based right in the center of town, arrange to stay at family-run Hotel Scaletta, just a few blocks from Pula’s 2nd-century amphitheater and the sea. Alternatively, reserve a room at Vela Nera, a boutique hotel with a highly regarded restaurant, in the village of Šišan, 5km (3 miles) east of Pula.
On Day 3, spend the morning exploring the amphitheater and the rest of Pula’s cache of Roman ruins. Then head toward Rovinj around 2pm. That should give you plenty of time to stop in Vodnjan to see its mummies and still get to Rovinj for dinner. Arrange to stay the night at either the design-conscious Hotel Lone, complete with its own beach, or at Casa Garzotto, furnished with antiques, in the Old Town. Spend the evening having dinner at Monte at the foot of the hill leading to St. Euphemia Church. Then walk off the calories by strolling down Grisia Street, peeping in the ateliers and souvenir shops as you go. Round off the evening with a drink at romantic waterside Valentino’s on the Old Town peninsula.
Days 4 & 5: Poreč
Take a morning walk to Rovinj’s market near the dock and stop at any cafe for coffee and a roll. Be sure to photograph this part of town in the morning light. Collect your things and head north to Poreč. Once you settle into the Grand Hotel Palazzoat the harbor or in the private accommodations that you booked on the way into town, head for the city’s walled Old Town, which is laid out in a geometric design popular with the Romans. Poreč is very attuned to tourists’ needs; there are multilingual signs and captions in front of every important building. Trg Marafor used to be the site of the Poreč’s Forum and a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. You still can see the ruins of that ancient house of worship. You’ll want to reserve a full hour to view the Basilica of Euphrasius, its art, and its fabulous mosaics. Once you’re finished, take a pre-dinner promenade through Old Town, which probably has more jewelry shops per capita (followed closely by the number of gelaterias) than any other place in Croatia. You’ll have to resist their siren songs if you want to see anything historic.
Plan to spend Day 5 out of town. Poreč is an excellent jumping-off point for a trip to Pazin and its castle-museum and chasm. From there, you can meet up with the local woman who guides visitors to the frescoes at St. Mary’s in Beram as well as the Church of St. Nicholas. If you didn’t catch the Vodnjan mummies on the way into Poreč, now is the time. Spend the night in Poreč.
Days 6 & 7: Motovun & Opatija
Leave Poreč after breakfast for Istria’s medieval hilltop towns. These are fairly close together, but the roads are narrow, steep, and winding, so the trip through this part of Istria takes longer than you might think. You’ll start by going toward Pazin, but about halfway there you’ll veer north to Motovun,which is about 16km (10 miles) northwest of Pazin. As you approach Motovun you’ll see two parking lots, one at the top of the hill just outside the old town, and one lower down (not that the upper one is often full). Wear decent shoes, as the cobbled alleys can be hard on your feet. The effort to walk will be worth it, as the views of the valley are stunning. From Motovun, continue north through seemingly endless vineyards to Livade, stopping for lunch at Zigante, one of Croatia’s best restaurants. The meal may be pricey, but you’ll get an education on truffles. From Livade, head a few more miles north to Grožnjan and take time to soak up its heady atmosphere. If you’re lucky, there will be music in the air. Finally, start back to Zagreb via Glagolitic Alley and its sculpture garden displaying ancient Croatian symbols; Roč and its very low fortification wall; and Hum,supposedly the world’s smallest town. Get back on the main road and drive through the Učka Tunnel toward Opatija and spend the night at Bevanda, an upmarket seafood restaurant with an adjoining boutique hotel overlooking the Kvarner Gulf.
Start Day 7 with a swim off one of Opatija’s concrete beaches and then drive to Lovran to inspect the countryside and Mount Učka. Return to Opatija for a 2.4km (1 1/2-mile) walk along the waterfront promenade (you can drive there, too) to Volosko, where Plavi Podrum restaurant serves a fabulous lunch. You’ll know at this point that you haven’t had enough time in Opatija, but to keep to your schedule, you must now head toward Zagreb. You should be back in time for dinner.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.