The mere mention of Croatia conjures up images of crystalline blue waters, orange-roofed historic towns, and languid days spent island hopping. But traversing the country’s coastline by car, especially during shoulder season, can be just as spectacular. A drive along the southern Dalmatian Coast will bring you to delights often overlooked by the masses: family-run wineries on dramatic sloping hills, oyster farms nestled in quiet turquoise bays, centuries-old villages, and protected lakes and rivers that are perfect for paddleboarding, windsurfing, and kayaking.
Now, with a new bridge uniting northern and southern Croatia, it’s possible to see these highlights in one seamless road trip from Dubrovnik to Split. The Pelješac Bridge, which opened in July 2022 as one of the largest European Union-funded projects in history, allows drivers to finally bypass a narrow strip of Bosnian coastline that previously required inconvenient (and sometimes lengthy) border checks. For Croatians, the opening of this new structure marks a historic milestone. And for travelers, it means easier road access to Croatia’s unsung—and often less crowded—rural highlights.
“It’s opening up regions that were previously unknown and kind of hidden from the map,” says Zrinka Marinovic, public relations manager for Adriatic Luxury Hotels, a collection of independent luxury hotels in and near Dubrovnik, where she grew up. “In the past, Neretva Valley wasn’t very accessible because we didn’t have the bridge. You had to cross the Bosnian border to get to it and the rest of Croatia.”
While a straight-shot drive between the two iconic cities will only take you about three hours, you would be remiss not to stop along the way. Below, we share our favorite way to spend four days exploring Croatia’s newest road trip route.
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When to go
Croatia’s roads and beaches are at their busiest in July and August, so it’s best to visit during the shoulder months (September, October, May, and June) when the heat and crowds are less intense but it’s still warm enough to swim and enjoy the outdoors.