Cycling in Croatia is hugging the white line with no shoulder, sweat dripping down your nose, climbing hills and getting cramps in your fingers from grabbing the breaks. It also has an incredible landscape, rocky and mountainous, with tiny bays, fishing villages, and gorgeous beaches one after the other filled with restaurants serving freshly grilled seafood.
We cycled from Zagreb to Dubrovnik during May-June mostly using Highway A1 and No. 8 (the D8 State road).
Inland from Zagreb to Zadar there is plenty of climbing but also plenty of descents. It’s incredibly hot and there’s a lot of uninhabited land so carry plenty of water. We felt from north to south the climbs were actually quite short, 1-3km up, compared to the descents, one which was 12km down.
Along the coast from Zadar to Dubrovnik it’s pretty much flat for about 80%. The main highway (D8) follows the coastline and hugs along the sides of the mountains. You exit off the highway down into the towns, which means every day ends with a descent and every morning starts with a hill back up to the highway. But at least there’s a very welcome sea breeze.
Zagreb is a quite a ride-able city except in the city centre. There the roads are covered in tram lines and the pedestrian paths are narrow and covered with people. Elsewhere the city is quite flat and easy. From central station and then out south following the Ljubljanska avenija there is a wide bike path on the pavement completely separated from the traffic. There is a bit of mountain bike tracks to avoid the main crush of the highway but you join it eventually. We took the Ljubljanska avenija due to our AirBnB being on that side of the city. Otherwise you would join on the A1 sooner.
Coming from the north you will go over the Franjo Tuđman Bridge. Straight after the bridge you’ll see a sign with a cruise ship symbol to your left. This is the exit to the lower harbour with a wide and flat road. Take it. The highway, which we took along with every single tour bus, continues above Dubrovnik with a long way to a city exit. It’s very cramped and very scary.
Dubrovnik is built along a hillside with stairs, stairs, traffic and stairs. In fact one of our guesthouse hosts took one look at our bikes and laughed, saying that no one owns a bike in Dubrovnik. As to her word, we didn’t see a single bike during our stay.
For apartments or rooms in big tourist cities we used a mixture of Bookings.com and AirBnB. A lot of Croatian accommodation are guesthouses where you have a private room with ensuite or shared bathroom. The family lives on one of the floors and usually have been renting rooms for years. In some tourist towns rooms would be the same price as the campsites (Markaska and Dubrovnik) so we would pick rooms instead.
For camping the majority of the coastline is covered in campsites, with signs all along the road. Sometimes we checked a few before deciding on one. Being on bikes it was a pretty quick operation. We used Maps.Me only when we couldn’t see any camping signs and we also used the Croatian national camping website. This website is extremely user-friendly and campsites are organised into major and mini ones so you can save all the family run ones and avoid the massive fancy camper van ones that come with a fancy price as well.
Wild camping is illegal in Croatia due to the dry brush and the risk of bushfires. There are ‘no camping’ signs and ‘no open fires’ signs in quite a few places. That being said the bike tourers we met were wild camping for the majority of their trip due to budget restraints. Although our budget was a little more lax, we were well under for most of our stay so we didn’t feel the need to wild camp.
Our Favorite Accommodation:
Camp Slapic, Duga Resa:
Great location next to the aqua blue Mrežnica river with diving platforms and lots of well maintained grass to laze on. A little grocery store is just over the bridge and a town with a bigger grocery store is 5km away. Amenities are free, constantly being cleaned and although you have to pay for the washing machine, big sinks specifically for hand washing are available. WiFi is strongest nearest the reception.
Camping Lisicina, Omis:
Perfect location as the campsite is located in town rather than 7km like most ‘city’ campsites. Beaches and lots of grocery stores are five minutes away. It has a massive common kitchen/dining with fridges, chairs and tables. WiFi is strong but sometimes drops out. Great hike up the mountain behind the site.
Studio Nina, Seget Donji:
A tiny studio apartment in an old fishing village. Basic with no frills but with a great view out the window and a tiny table and chairs. A five-minute walk to the main street with local groceries. We loved the slow-paced days and spent a lot of time writing at the table and walking through the streets of the village.
Good Energy Camp, Opuzen:
Great location halfway between Makarska and Dubrovnik. The owner has a citrus orchard and people would ask if they could camp under the trees. Little by little he has created, from scratch and mostly by hand, a very basic oasis but so attractive for bike tourers, we met more there than any other camp! A long line of market stalls is across the road selling fruit, veggies, homemade jam, liquor and sauces. WiFi is strong.
Bike Touring in Croatia is stunningly beautiful with just the right mixture of intermediate riding with hills and plenty of road practise. Highways and trucks can be a little scary but plan your day for early morning rides and you’ll miss most of the heat and traffic before it gets too crazy. We also planned our big km days on a Sunday as we found the roads to be empty. Croatian drivers are very thoughtful with most of them giving us as much room as possible or beeping the horn to let us know they were going past.
Enjoy riding in such a beautiful country. And plan for lots of coast and beach time!