Exploring Croatia by Bike: David’s Top Tips

Cycling writer David Lavery shares his love of cycling in his adopted second home of Croatia

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reviewed by Rory McAllister

Croatia is still something of an uncut gem when it comes to cycling.

What it lacks in cycling history and tradition, it more than compensates with epic untouched routes and, equally important for the discerning cyclist, unbeatable coffee.

I try to carve out some time during trips to my family in Croatia to get on my bike and see what the country has to offer.

In this article, I will share some of my favorite routes and regions to cycle to give you a flavor of cycling in the Balkans.

A word of warning though; Croatia does not (yet) have the cycling culture of some of the more popular cycling havens in Europe, making high-quality rentals difficult. So, if you want to ride a decent road bike, then you will probably have to pack your own (along with your spare parts).

Views from Motovun, Croatia.
Views from Motovun, Croatia. © David Lavery/BikeTips

Top Tips For Cycling In Croatia

It would be fair to say that cycling, especially road cycling, is still something of a novelty in Croatia.

You will see plenty of people on bikes in the cities, especially in summer, and in more rural locations it is still the utilitarian vehicle of choice – but you will cycle for miles without seeing deep-section wheels, shaved legs, and lycra.

This also means that drivers are less aware of cyclists on the road and are not as primed to look out for them. I have never had any major issues, certainly nothing worse than I have experienced in the United Kingdom, but it’s worth being extra cautious.

Another issue I have found when cycling in Croatia is dogs, stray and otherwise. If you stick to the main roads then this will not be an issue, but I have found myself being chased on a few occasions when I have taken the path less traveled.

If my sprint didn’t work then usually a well-aimed squirt from my bidon did the trick.

When To Cycle In Croatia

Unlike my home in Scotland, Croatia has proper seasons.

The best time to cycle in Croatia is late spring and early autumn. Winters are far too cold in the north, and the coastal towns that are full to bursting point with tourists in summer are eerily deserted.

Summer is too warm to sit in the saddle for any length of time, and the roads are noticeably busier with hordes of tourists coming from continental Europe. So, the spring and autumn are the perfect middle ground in between.

My 3 Favorite Cycling Routes In Croatia

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of cycling in Croatia but represents my favourite routes when I get a chance to escape for a few hours on the bike. I hope to take in more of the rugged Dalmatian coast on my next trips but it can be hard to drag myself away from the ice cream and food.

Croatia is almost custom-built for an epic bikepacking adventure; untouched routes, great campsites, and cheap food. And since the regular cycling infrastructure has not matured, bikepacking might just be the best way to take in all of this amazing country.

The Best Of Istria

Istria is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the road cycling scene in Croatia. This might be down to its distinctly Italian influences.

It is also the only part of Croatia where you might see other lycra-clad road cyclists and the roads certainly feel more welcoming and safer as a result.

The whole region is filled with charming towns perched on top of rolling hills, so you will need your climbing legs if you want to explore it in all its Truffle-infused glory. There is even a bit of gravel thrown in to drive home those Tuscan vibes.

The harbour at Rovinj.
The harbor of Rovinj. © David Lavery/BikeTips

My favorite route begins and ends in Rovinj, an utterly charming town that juts out into the bay on a small peninsula crammed with pastel facades, cobbled streets, and great food and wine to revive the lethargic cyclist.

From Rovijn the route heads inland and north towards Porec. You could also take the coastal road but it is usually a lot busier and less pleasant to cycle. The route doesn’t take you into the center of Porec but it is worth a detour to check it out.

Like all towns in this part of the world, it is utterly charming and full of places to grab a coffee and watch the world go by.

A coffee stop in Motovun.
A coffee stop in Motovun. © David Lavery/BikeTips

The high point of the route, literally and metaphorically, is the village of Motovun. The climb to reach this fortified town is a lung buster but, after catching your breath, you will be rewarded with stunning views that seem to take in the whole of Istria.

Zagreb And Beyond

Zagreb is criminally overlooked by the tourist hordes that come to Croatia and head straight down to the Dalmatian coast.

It has everything you would want in a small European capital and its history of overlapping empires and monarchs gives the architecture a patchwork feel.

If you think road cyclists like their caffeine fix just head down to the cafes off the main square on a Saturday morning when the great and good of Zagreb come to show off over a small coffee.

Close-up of a coffee cup in Zagreb's main square.
Starting the ride with coffee in Zagreb. © David Lavery/BikeTips

Over the years there has been a clear improvement in the cycling infrastructure in and around Zagreb but the real gem is the mountains that stand proudly over the city. Grab a coffee before getting in the saddle for this one as you will need that caffeine boost straight away.

Without much of a warmup, the road starts to head straight up the side of Sljeme, 1035 m above the city. The climb is 9.8 km with plenty of hairpins to give you that alpine feeling.

Sljeme, photographed from the air with Zagreb in the background.
Sljeme, just outside Zagreb.

A beautiful, fast 18 km descent is the reward for the slog up Sljeme and the rest of this anti-clockwise route back to Zagreb is fairly flat punctuated with some shorter climbs that most cyclists will eat up.

At the top of one sits Dvorac Januševec, a castle supposedly built for the second wife of Napoleon.

Climbs and all of that are great but what sets this route apart from the rest is the fact that you have to jump on a small boat to cross the Sava river. When I say boat, I mean a couple of planks of wood pulled by an enterprising farmer. I am told it can carry cars, although I have never tested this with a hire car myself.

The main square of Samobor.
The main square of Samobor. © David Lavery/BikeTips

After crossing the river it is another 10 km to the town of Samobor. The main square is a great place for a coffee (noticing a theme here) and the town itself is renowned for its arts and crafts scene.

This route takes you through some of the city sights and into the hills and surrounding countryside. 

Hidden Croatia

This route is my tribute to my favorite Croatian lager; Karlovačko.

This route starts in the city of Karlovac, famous for its brewery and four beautiful rivers. It might be well off the tourist route but it has a slow charm at odds with its imposing Ottoman architecture.

I am also constantly surprised by how good the cycling infrastructure is around the town and how considerate the drivers are to their two-wheeled companions.

The centerpiece of this route is the climb up Petrova Gora where you will encounter the most unexpected monument you’re ever likely to stumble across.

Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija.
Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija.

The climb itself takes place mostly in the shade of the forest and it is only when you are right at the top of the climb that you come face-to-face with the crumbling Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija.

The monument was finally completed in 1981 as a way to commemorate the uprising of the local people during World War Two.

After Croatia gained independence in the ’90s the monument was neglected. This was a new, young country that wanted a clean break from any reminders of its past association with Yugoslavia.

My bike in front of the Monument at Petrova Gora.
© David Lavery/BikeTips

Today the monument simply exists, slowly pillaged for parts and rarely visited. It is an altogether eerie experience, although one time I heard a rave going on at the very top of the monument. I didn’t rate my chances of getting up to check it out in cycling shoes.

If you have the time, and don’t mind a bit of gentle off-road cycling, you can also check out the remnants of the partisan hospital deep in the woods. It is not particularly well signposted but if you do stumble across it you will feel like you have stepped back to 1942.

The remains of a partisan hospital in the forest in Croatia.
The partisan hospital near Petrova Gora. © David Lavery/BikeTips.

The route covers mostly farm roads with some short sections of tree-lined gravel to keep you away from the main roads that snake through this part of Croatia towards Bosnia.

There is also a short detour to visit the Croatian War of Independence Museum that might help to explain why so many of the buildings are still scarred by mortar damage.

Hopefully, you have kept enough energy back for the short but steep climb up to Dubovac Castle on the outskirts of Karlovac. Grab some great food and a Karlovačko beer to toast the end of the route and surviving the farm dogs looking to chase anything that moves.


Hopefully, these routes have given you a flavor of cycling in Croatia. As the Tour of Croatia slowly builds some momentum amongst world tour teams, hopefully cycling as a sport and hobby continues to grow and with it the infrastructure.

I would love to know if you have experienced cycling in this part of the world and if you have any tips for me on my next trip across to visit family.

Terms of Use

This cycling route guide, including any maps, GPS, or other navigational information, is provided for informational purposes only. By using this guide and cycling this route, you accept all responsibility and risk associated with your participation.

Before cycling, you should assess your own fitness level and ability to handle the physical demands of the route. It is your responsibility to review current local weather conditions and road closures, as well as any public or private land use restrictions and rules, and comply with them during your ride, and to ensure you carry proper safety and navigational equipment. Always follow "Leave No Trace" principles to ensure you leave your surroundings as you found them.

The information contained in this guide is not guaranteed to be accurate, and the author makes no representations or warranties about the completeness, reliability, suitability, or availability of the information provided. The author and any contributors to this guide are not liable for any injuries, damages, or losses that may occur during your ride or as a result of using this guide, including but not limited to personal injury, property damage, or other harm.

By using this guide, you acknowledge and agree to release and hold harmless the author, BikeTips, Broadsea Media LTD., and any contributors to this guide from any and all claims or damages arising out of your use of the information provided. This guide is not a substitute for your own due diligence, and you should always exercise caution and make informed decisions when cycling.

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David rediscovered his love of two wheels and Lycra on an epic yet rainy multi-day cycle across Scotland's Western Isles. The experience led him to write a book about the adventure, "The Pull of the Bike", and David hasn't looked back since. Something of an expert in balancing cycling and running with family life, David can usually be found battling the North Sea winds and rolling hills of Aberdeenshire, but sometimes gets to experience cycling without leg warmers in the mountains of Europe. David mistakenly thought that his background in aero-mechanical engineering would give him access to marginal gains. Instead it gave him an inflated and dangerous sense of being able to fix things on the bike.

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