The Adriatic Sea is the narrow sea that lies in between the Italian east coast and the Balkans. It’s essentially a sidearm of the Mediterranean Sea, which is basically made up of several smaller seas. Other examples of ‘Mediterranean Sea seas’ are the Ionian Sea, Aegean Sea and Tyrrhenian Sea. The Adriatic Sea is almost completely enclosed, except for a narrow entrance between the heel of the boot that is Italy and Albania – it’s kind of like a marine peninsula.
Road Tripping Along the Adriatic Sea Coast
This makes it a potentially fabulous destination for a loop road trip. The entire Mediterranean Sea is crisscrossed by ferry routes, making it possible to easily hop across to another country. The Adriatic Sea coast is divided between no less than six countries.
Let’s take a look at those specific countries and at one to three major highlights that should be visited in each country. (Obviously, there are more highlights, but I’m assuming that you don’t have months to spend. Therefore, I’m limiting the selection to a realistic number, a number that can be done in a two-week vacation.)
About half the Adriatic Sea coast lies in Italy, including some gorgeous stretches and destinations. Let’s start in, say, Florence, a city that’s not situated on the coast by any means, but – because you’re in Italy already anyway – would be an absolute shame to miss. There’s no city like Florence anywhere else in the world. Let’s keep it at that. After exploring Florence for a couple of days, rent a Vespa – what else? – and head northeast.
The first major stop on the way is Venice, another Italian city that’s known around the world. Again, two days are mandatory to see this jewel of a city. Then, you can choose to either continue in a clockwise direction or counterclockwise direction. Let’s head south down the Italian east coast in a counterclockwise direction.
Other great places to visit along the Italian Adriatic Sea coast are Ravenna and Bari. From Bari, you can take a ferry to Durrës in Albania.
Albania is one of the lesser known countries in Europe, yet it’s filled with beautiful natural scenery and ancient villages. Highlights in this off-the-beaten-track country are the old city of Berat and the downright gorgeous sandy beaches that line that coast. The capital city of Tirana is absolutely worth visiting as well.
Next up is Montenegro, another relatively unknown – and new, for that matter – country in the Balkans. This one’s coast is lined with spectacular sights. There are at least three that are definitely worth visiting: the historic town of Stari Bar, the almost surreal beauty of the seaside town of Budva and, the most famous one, the breathtaking Bay of Kotor.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Although Bosnia and Herzegovina only has a tiny, tiny piece of coastline, there is one sight that’s worth a small detour. The medieval town of Mostar is famous for its picturesque bridge. It’s recommended to spend an afternoon or a full day exploring this fascinating town.
Croatia’s coastline is so long and filled with attractions that choices will have to be made. The UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Dubrovnik should be the first place you visit. Other interesting coastal cities are Split and Zadar. A little more inland lies Plitvice National Park, famous for its gorgeous waterfalls.
Most of Slovenia’s highlights are located away from the coast, but because it’s such a small country, they can be conveniently visited by taking short detours. Two major highlights are Lake Bled and the Skocjan Caves, one of the largest cave systems in the world.
Bonus: San Marino
The little nation of San Marino lies in the east of Italy, not really on the coast, but close enough to justify a visit on your Adriatic Sea coast road trip.
If you don’t want to rent a Vespa, you can, of course, always rent a car as well!