Are you planning a vacation in Croatia? You are not alone. The country is no longer a hidden gem of Europe. It attracts more and more international visitors each year, to the points of being overrun by tourists, especially in Dubrovnik and Plitvice Lakes. Located on the Adriatic Sea, just across from Italy, it lures its visitor with stunning coastline, idyllic islands, diverse natural landscapes, and several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It also temps with charming hilltop and seaside towns, excellent cuisine and wine, and warm, hospitable people. Add to it a constant wave of fans of HBO’s show Game of Thrones, and you can easily see why Croatia became such a hot destination. But do not let the crowds scare you away. It is still a fantastic destination if you know how to visit. Follow these essential tips for planning a trip to Croatia to create long-lasting memories.
TIPS FOR VACATION IN CROATIA – KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
My trip to Croatia happened so fast, I did not have a lot of time to get myself educated about the country before leaving the US to meet my sister and her husband in Poland. This is where we started our 3-week road trip to Hungary and Croatia. They visited many times before, so I let them lead me in everyday operations. Still, I had my eyes open and made my own observations that I am sure will be helpful for future visitors.
Basic Facts About Croatia
All travelers need to go through passport control upon arrival.
Croatia is a member of the European Union since July 2013, but it is not a part of the border-free Schengen Area.
Croatia has its own national currency called the Kuna.
Euros are not officially accepted since Croatia is not a part of the eurozone. Do not get confused by seeing Euros on restaurant menus or price tags in Croatian stores. This is for reference only. On occasion, you can pay for some items like private accommodation, taxis, some small restaurants in Euros, but do not count on it.
Credit cards are accepted but not everywhere. Have cash!
Here is an essential tip for Croatia, carry cash! As a devoted credit card worshipper (learn how I travel for free), I was shocked by how much cash we had to spend in Croatia. Even some expensive restaurants refused to take credit. Always ask before you order! I could not believe that In Dubrovnik that lives from tourism, I had to pay in cash in a small grocery store, a bar, and for a boat excursion. On the bright side, foreign currency can be easily exchanged at banks and exchange counters for local currency, and ATMs are easy to find.
Croatia is a moderately urbanized country. Almost 60% of the population lives in towns, and 25% of the population lives in the four largest cities (Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, and Osijek). Keep it in mind when traveling. Some areas of the country may not have facilities you are looking for.
Croatia is a particularly homogenous country with Croats making up 90.4% of the population. The largest national minority is the Serbian minority, representing 4.4% of the population.
The economy in Croatia. Tourism is one of the main pillars of the Croatian economy, comprising 19.6% of Croatia’s GDP. The yearly number of visitors is approaching 20 million. That is a considerable number when taken under consideration that the whole country’s population is around 4 million. Other significant industries in Croatia include manufacturing and agriculture.
Safety in Croatia
It is quite safe to travel all over Croatia, and mugging and thefts are not a big problem. You can safely walk in any town at night, but use your common sense.
Emergencies in Croatia
Dial 112 for any kind of emergency in Croatia, regardless of whether you need an ambulance, the police or the fire brigade. Your call will be dealt with as appropriate. This number works from both landlines and mobile phones.
Do not be afraid of a language barrier
A lot of Croatians speak good English, especially around major tourist attractions. In case they don’t, from my experience, they will try to find someone that could help.
Croatia is not a bargain country anymore
Since Croatia joined the European Union and the most popular TV shows of all time, Game of Thrones was filmed there, the country became widely popular and as a result, the prices increased. The most expensive areas are Dubrovnik, Hvar, at Split. Still, it is possible to visit the country on the budget. In general, the farther away you move from the coast, the better the bargains you can find.
How to get to Croatia
Croatia can be reached from other European countries by plane, train, bus, or ferry. If you are traveling from the USA, keep in mind that there are no direct flights between the US and Croatia. You will have to fly into another city in Europe before flying into Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Split, or Pula. Another possibility is to fly to Venice since it can be reached by direct flights from the USA and start your Croatia road trip from there. There are direct train lines from Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, and Slovenia.
Getting around during your Croatia vacation
Taking a road trip is the best way to explore Croatia
This is my top Croatia tip, take a road trip! Without a doubt, the best way to enjoy your Croatia vacation is by car. While the bus network is extensive, if you want to get off the beaten path, driving is the way to go. You will save on time and get to explore at your own pace. Croatian roads are generally well maintained. The introduction of a national motorway network in recent years has dramatically improved connectivity and reduced travel times. Croatia’s highways are mostly new and extensive.
The tolls are payable in Kuna or by credit cards, and Euros
When entering the highway, you take a ticket, travel to your destination, and pay at the booth as you exit. You can pay in Kunas, Euros or major credit cards. At some locations, there are lanes for credit cards only. The only lane for not paying is for cars equipped with electronic payment systems referred to as ENC. Signs are in English as well as Croatian.
Gas stations can be few and far between in the countryside.
Make sure to keep an eye on your gas tank as you drive in Croatia.
Hight winds often create a road hazard in Croatia
Croatia is known for hight dangerous winds, especially in the coastal area.s. Do not be surprised when you find yourself in front of a closed road. If that happens on a particularly windy day, dangerous winds may be causing the closure. You are practically on your own when it happens. You will not get any information about why the road is closed and will have to find your own detour. Believe me, these winds are vicious!
If you need road assistance, the Croatian Auto Club Emergency Service call 987.
Croatia Bus Transportation
Bus service is the most used form of public transport in Croatia. The country has an extensive network of long-distance, intercity, and international buses. All routes are operated by private bus companies. The main bus hubs in Croatia are Zagreb, Rijeka, Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik. From those cities, you can reach most other towns in Croatia. Bus travel is relatively comfortable as companies must compete for customers on popular routes. Seats recline, and air-conditioning is standard. Many bus companies are now offering free WiFi.
Trains in Croatia – do not count on exploring Croatia by train
Croatia’s train network is limited. It connects all major Croatian cities, except Dubrovnik. If you want to visit Dubrovnik, you will have to travel by train to Split, and then go on the bus for Dubrovnik. Trains are much less frequent than buses. Delays are also a regular occurrence. No trains run along the coast, and only a few coastal cities are connected with Zagreb, the central hub of the train network. The two most popular seaside destinations connected to Zagreb by train are Rijeka and Split.
Croatia enjoys plenty of sunshine. However, even though the Mediterranean climate is usually hot, dry, and sunny during the summer, there are occasional rainstorms and windstorms when the temperatures can drop significantly. Remember to pack a sweater or a light jacket, not just light clothes and swimwear. While you can expect a sunny climate on the Adriatic coast, temperatures in the continental and mountain regions of the country are a lot lower. Winter temperatures in the interior of Croatia often drop below freezing, and snow is likely and can be substantial.
Best time to visit Croatia
Another important Croatia tip, two factors must be taken into consideration when taking Croatia vacations, weather and crowds. I do not recommend visiting in the summer. During that time, you will be dealing with thousands of people, temperatures often too high for comfort, and the highest prices.
The offseason is also tricky if you wish to discover the country beyond its highlights. From October to March, the coast can be very quiet, and many hotels and tourist attractions could be closed. However, mild winters are good for sightseeing in the historic centers of Dubrovnik, Split, and Zadar that are still open to visitors. Inland part of Croatia is not as mild as the coast. If you are planning on visiting Plitvice Lake National Park, check its website. Park closes on occasion due to snowfall.
For the reasons above, the best time to take Croatia holidays is the end of September. Crowds are already thinner, and prices are down, but you will still enjoy pleasant weather. Water will still be warm for swimming and most businesses will be open. May and early June is also an excellent time to visit, but swimming may not be comfortable yet.
Beaches in Croatia – bring your aqua shoes!
Is the beach what you are looking for during your Croatia vacations? The country certainly has a lot to offer for beachgoers. The coast of Croatia has one of the most amazing shorelines in Europe, but it is also generally rocky, making it difficult to enjoy the water with bare feet. Do not forget your agua shoes.
Types of accommodation in Croatia
Despite being a trendy tourist destination, Croatia offers relatively low key accommodation. Most visitors stay in small family hotels, pensions, motels, hostels, and campgrounds. You will also find a large selection of private apartments, rooms, and houses for rent. Such accommodation can be found in every town and village, especially on the Croatian coast. Prices in such accommodation are quite lower than in hotels.
How to avoid crowds in Croatia
Crowds can undoubtedly put a damper on your Croatia trip. The best way to avoid crowds at any location is to start your day early. Wake up at sunrise and start exploring before other tourists put themselves together to venture out. The country’s major attractions get really crowded around 9 AM when tour buses and crouse ships arrive. Schedule your activities away from these locations in the midday and return in the late afternoon when tours and cruise ships crowds are gone. Stay for the sunset!
Make tasting the local food a part of your Croatia vacations
Despite having a similar climate to Spain or Italy, Croatian cuisine doesn’t have the same reputation, but it will not disappoint. Try to find restaurants away from the main tourist attractions to taste local food. Here are traditional Croatian dishes to look for. Croatia produces amazing wines, olive oils, and truffles in the northern region of the country. Along the coast, you will find many restaurants with amazing seafood. If you are following a vegan diet, you may have a hard time to enjoy local cuisine, since most of the traditional dishes are animal-based.
Tipping in Croatia
Tipping is not really part of the local culture, and service is generally included in the cost of the bill. Though it’s not expected, it’s good practice to round off your bill in cafes and restaurants. If you want to leave a tip and are paying by credit card, leave cash.
There are attractions which you must see during your Croatia vacations
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park National Geographic listed Plitvice Lakes National Park among “17 of the World’s Most Wild and Beautiful Places”. This most popular Croatia’s tourist attraction was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979. The park is famous for its unique sixteen turquoise lakes, carved into deep woodland, and cascading to each other by a series of waterfalls, 90 of them! Learn all you need to know about visiting Plitvice Lakes.
Yes, it is crowded, but you cannot miss Dubrovnik during your Croatia trip. It is one of the world’s most fascinating walled cities. Situated on the southern Adriatic Sea coast, it is widely regarded as the most picturesque city on the Dalmatian coast and is referred to as the “Pearl of the Adriatic.” The Old Town, with its many interesting sights, is the top attraction of Dubrovnik. It is also a mecca for the top-rated TV show’s Game of Throne fans. Follow these essential tips on how to visit Dubrovnik.
Croatia beyond must-sees
Here is another essential tip for Croatia, extend your stay beyond major attractions.] to see this incredibly diverse country. There are plenty of regions to explore. You could easily spend two or three weeks here and not run out of things to do. This is my two-week relaxing itinerary for your Croatia vacations.
People of Croatia
My final tip for Croatia vacations, meet the locals! Croatians are friendly and helpful. I have a real story to tell about that. I decided to discover off the beaten path of Croatia, so I made an Airbnb reservation in Sveti Juraj, right on the coast, but far from any major attractions. And off the beaten path, it was! The drive there was not easy. We had to face awful winds and many winding roads for 5 hours straight. When we finally arrived at our destination, it was already dark and it felt like a hurricane was trying to blow us from the cliff.
To make things even worse, our GPS could not pick up the exact location. Out of desperation, I knocked on the strangers’ door. I tried to use English to communicate but it quickly turned out that I was better off using my native Polish. When we cleared what our problem was, these friendly people invited us in and helped to locate the owner of our rental. (Not that difficult with the population of 300.) They offered us chocolate and Slivovica vodka while we were waiting. We did not refuse!
Eventually, the owner of the Airbnb came to show us the way. To ease our frustration, he welcomed us with a few beers and engaged in a very interesting conversation. The next morning we woke up to an incredible view. Off the beaten path, Croatia delivered! It is inexpensive, absolutely gorgeous! This area was a highlight of our Croatia trip.
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