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Croatia

Photo by VGonPa

Croatia destinations

Dalmatia and Split

Istria and Kvarner

Zagreb and Continental Croatia

Croatia

When it comes to Croatia, most already know of the spectacular sapphire waters of the Croatian Adriatic coastline, dotted with over 1,000 islands and boasting ancient Venetian seaports. Flanked to the south by that ‘Jewel of the Adriatic’ – Dubrovnik, and to the north by the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’ and Austro-Hungarian masterpiece – Opatija. In recent years the country has come to the fore when it comes to a European travel destination.


Natural beauty and a fascinating cultural heritage

Seductively draped along the Adriatic, Croatia abounds in natural beauty. Mountainous national parks like Northern Velebit and Paklenica meet the waters of the Adriatic teaming with rich diving sites where you might come face to face with a dolphin or sea turtle.  The country’s National and Nature Parks are a hikers, rock-climbers and even island hoppers dream. With glassy, terraced lakes that change colour like those of UNESCO protected Plitvice and Krka, mountains, forest, rivers, meadows or islands like that other UNESCO gem, Kornati National Park made up of 89 wild and untouched islands.

Art and history lovers will no doubt be in awe of Croatia’s rich Roman and Venetian legacy. But it wasn’t just the Romans and Venetians.

Croatia is so rich historically because of all the various hands it’s fallen into over the years. It seems that everyone had a finger in the pie when it came to this tiny country sandwiched between some big European players. The Greeks turned up, the Romans, the Liburnians, the Celts, the Venetians,  the Croatian kings had a turn, the Habsburgs, the Austro-Hungarians, the Italians and the Yugoslavs. Finally, after the Homeland War, when the country came into its own becoming the Republic of Croatia.

Regardless of what these various reigns brought with them, a lot of which wasn’t good for the Croats of the day, the architectural monuments left behind are breathtaking.


Dubrovnik – the Pearl of the Adriatic

Lord Byron named it ‘The Pearl of Adriatic’ and George Bernard Shaw remarked, “Those that seek paradise on earth should seek it in Dubrovnik.” With that said the medieval city of Dubrovnik is one of Croatia’s top highlights. Surrounded by ramparts and fortresses, this ancient town is a treasure trove of cultural masterpieces with examples of Roman, Venetian, Gothic and Baroque architecture.

The mix of Christian monasteries and churches, mosques, palaces, synagogues and market squares interwoven through the labyrinth of narrow marble streets (and stairs, there are hundreds of stairs!) will have you feeling like you’re in a fairy tale, or better yet, like you just stepped off the Game of Thrones set.

Second to Dubrovnik is Split’s Diocletian Palace, the world-heritage listed and UNESCO protected complex of ancient buildings and marble streets. Of course, Istrians – always trying to rival Dalmatia – won’t take that lying down. They will tell you that the Roman Amphitheatre in Pula (better preserved than the Colosseum in Rome) is the place to visit above other monuments.

Venetians left their mark with spectacular (and still very lively) sea ports towns like those of Cres Town, Krk Town and the amazing Rovinj.


Austro Hungarian Grandeur

Each to their own, for me it’s the Austro-Hungarian grandeur and Belle Époque architecture of Opatija that’s a winner.

Famed as a climatic resort town, Opatija has maintained it’s immaculate appearance for over 100 years, when the first Austro-Hungarian royalty started arriving here to heal their weary bones.

Those former pastel-coloured palaces and villas are now 5-star hotels like Bevanda scrubbed and maintained to their former glory, surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens blossoming with colourful posies and unsurpassed sea views.


Zagreb – an urban escape

For an urban escape, the capital Zagreb has gone from a sleepy, forgotten capital city in the former Yugoslavia to a front runner on the European destination scene, offering the traveler all the good things an urban escape should. It comes as no surprise that the number of visitors flooding into the city has risen sharply.

Architecture lovers will be in awe of the mish-mash of styles; from Medieval and Baroque to Art Deco and Art Nouveau. Art lovers will find numerous outdoor monuments and sculpture gardens. along with museums like the Croatian Museum of Naive Art and master sculptor Ivan Mestrovic’s studio and home, Mestrovic Atelier.

And history buffs will no doubt love reading about the witches burnt at the stake at the Zagreb City Museum. Egyptian artifacts can be examined at the Zagreb Archaeological Museum with one the best collections of mummies in the world.

In Zagreb’s Upper Town, you’ll find the Zagreb Cathedral in it’s perpetual state of scaffolding. Also, explore a variety of museums including multi-award winner Museum of Broken Relationships. Moreover, discover wonderful little bistros and eateries tucked away in the leafy streets.

Home of Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture and Lenuci’s Green Horseshoe, Zagreb’s Lower Town runs between the Upper Town and the main train station. This is bustling heart of the City, home to Ban Josip Jelacic Square and Zagreb’s most popular green zone, Zrinjevac. Both are just a short stroll from the 5-star Esplanade Hotel, built for passengers on the Orient Express.


 


When To Go

Croatia can be split into two geographical regions; coastal and continental, and when to go is really up to the individual and what you plan to get up to.

The best time to visit coastal Croatia including the coastal regions of Dalmatia, Kvarner, Istria and their islands is of course when the weather is at its best, which is between April and September.
The high season typically runs from mid-June to the end of August.
Keep in mind that high season means accommodation prices are at their peak. This is really interesting because stay to say the 19th of June and you’ll pay a quarter to half off the high-season price. A day later and you’re paying top dollar.
High season also brings with it thousands of tourists. You might be fighting fellow travelers in queues at ferry terminals and bus stations and on the road. Don’t despair, I’ve always been able to find accommodation and usually if a hotel or private accommodation don’t have room to put you up, they will point you in the right direction, or call up an aunty down the road who has a spare bedroom.

The temperatures start warming up in late April and early May, which most Croatians find too cold for swimming.
Hence, if you like warm weather and cold water, this is a great time to visit.
In September and probably most of October, the weather is still warm but without the heat and humidity of July and August.
For me, these shoulder season months (April/May/beginning of June and September/October) are a great time to visit the coast.
The crowds are scarce, the water is warm, and you can sit in a restaurant peacefully without being hurried out because of the hungry patrons waiting for a table.

Another great thing about visiting in the shoulder seasons is that off-season accommodation prices are available even if the weather is warm. Hence, your holiday accommodation could be half the price.

While accommodation prices fluctuate, costs of transportation generally remain stable despite the tourist crowds, although whenever possible do book ahead. You don’t want to get stuck on an island because there are no more seats available on the last ferry departure for the day. Prior planning is important.

The summer months are when most of the festivals, outdoor concerts and big ticket entertainment acts turn up. If this is what you want then summer is right time to visit.

The main coastal cities like Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, Rijeka and Pula can be visited during winter, but many of the apartments shut down and accommodation options on the islands are scarce. Keep in mind that traveling to the islands in winter is difficult with ferry services sporadic.

The interior of Dalmatia, Kvarner, Istria and Continental Croatia can be visited any time of the year. As can the capital, Zagreb.
It does snow, hence roads can be trickier to navigate but public transport runs come snow, sleet or high water.
Croatian national parks can be a real treat to visit during the winter when it snows, Plitvice in particular is sensational with the waters changing colour and waterfalls freezing into glassy sheets of ice.
Remember to wear appropriate clothing and let someone know where you’re going.

Weather and Climate

Along the coast it’s all about the wind and you’ll hear numerous fishermen and sea-captains along with ordinary folks talking about hot air. Most Dalmatian folk songs also carry references to these invisible beauties with tales of lost loves running off into the wind with another man.

The strongest wind in the country is the Bura, a northerly dry, cold wind.
The Jugo comes in from the south and is more of a mild wind but brings rains with it.
The Maestral is more of a mild breeze that comes in from the sea towards the land.
The Zagorac or Tramontana blows in from the land towards the sea.

Of these the Bura is the most ferocious and can cause small boat trips to be canceled.

Events and Holidays

Entries in italics are public holidays.

January

January 1st: New Year’s Day
January 6th: Feast of the Epiphany

From mid January to Ash Wednesday: Rijeka Carnival
One of the most popular events on the Croatian calendar is the Rijeka Carnival with the city turning into an open-air pageant with street parades and dancers, masked balls and entertainment on every corner.

Easter Sunday
Easter Monday

May

May 1st: Labor Day

May to September: Ljeto na Strosu – Zagreb
A wonderful place to wile away a summer afternoon is at Ljeto na Strosu, along the leafy Strossmayer Promenade in the Upper Town. You’ll find bands, dancing, artists, market stalls and wine tasting.

June

June 4th: Feast of Corpus Christi

June 22nd: Anti-Fascist Resistance Day

20th – 22nd June: INmusic Festival – Zagreb
One of Croatia’s biggest open-air festivals with a line up of international superstars.

June 25: Statehood Day

July

Beginning to mid July: Pula Film Festival, Pula
Croatian and international films are shown at various locations in Pula, including inside the amphitheatre.

Early July: Tabor Film Festival – Veliki Tabor Castle
The festival shows numerous independent short films in various spaces throughout the castle.
When visiting you’ll definitely hear the tale of Veronica of Desinic. The short story is that Veronica fell in love with a young nobleman. The nobleman’s father wasn’t happy about this and had Veronica executed as a witch with her body (according to legend) bricked up in the walls of Veliki Tabor.
In a tribute to Veronica, prize-winning films at the Tabor Film Festival receive an award known as ‘Veronica’s Skull.’

15th – 17th July: Ultra Europe – Split
The biggest festival in Croatia for electronic music lovers.

July: Motovun International Film Festival – Motovun, Istria
This film festival that takes place at the end of July with a host of independent and avant-guard films.

July to August: Osor Musical Evenings – Osor, Losinj island
The musical evenings take place from July to August offering up the best classical music artists from around Croatia.

July: C’est is D’Best street festival – Zagreb
C’est brings in around 200 international performers with stages set up across Zagreb. Not just music, here you’ll find all manner of street performers including jugglers and street theatre.

July: Zagreb Summer Evenings – Zagreb
Concerts in the Upper Town by international violinists, pianists, hornists, quartets and the like.

End of July: Rabska Fjera (Rab island fair) – Rab Island
The Rab Fair has the whole island stepping back in time (for three days) to the Middle Ages. The fair is based on the tradition of knights’ games in the 14th century with the streets turning into a stage for the medieval festival. There’s a knights’ tournament, parades through the city with people donning their best Renaissance costumes, fireworks, competitions, artisans showing off their crafty wares and of course, dancing.

August

August: Lubenice Musical Evenings – Lubenice, Cres Island
Classical outdoor concerts held in the hilltop hamlet every Friday and Saturday.

August 5th: Victory & Homeland Thanksgiving Day

August 15th: Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

End of August: Spancirfest, Varazdin
You’ll find the city squares buzzing with modern street theatre, concerts and markets with a headlining act performing in an open-air arena in the park surrounding Varazdin castle.

25th – 28th August: Dimensions – Pula
The little sister of Outlook, for electro music lovers

September

1st – 4th September: Outlook Festival – Pula
The electro music festival of the Adriatic.

September: Varazdin Baroque Evenings – Varazdin
The Baroque Evenings take place over three to four weeks in September. The performances centre around the National Theatre but there are numerous churches and palaces across the city that host musical evenings during the festival.

Middle to end September: Zagreb World Theatre Festival, Zagreb
Here you’ll find innovative and experimental theatre, it’s definitely a unique offering from performers around the world.

September – November: Truffle Days Festival – Buzet (Istria)
Starting on the second weekend of September, Buzet kicks off festivities with a special attraction – a giant omelette.
Made with over 2,000 eggs, 10 kilograms of truffle and prepared in a huge pan, this omelette officially marks the beginning of Truffle Days in Istria.

October

October 8th: Independence Day

Last Sunday of October: Dan Rakije (Day of Brandy) – Hum, Istria
Join the thousands of visitors that descend on Hum for taste-testing all the different herbal and fruit brandies from the region (personal favourite is Medica made of honey) and relive the old traditions and customs.

November

November 1st: All Saints’ Day

December

From early December: Christmas markets in Zagreb and bigger towns and cities across Croatia.

December 25th: Christmas Day
December 26th: St. Stephen’s Day

Time Zone

Croatia is located in the CET – Central European Time Zone.

To check the local time in Croatia click here.

Daylight Saving Time (DST) happens in the Spring (last Sunday in March at 1AM) when clocks are advanced one hour.
In the Autumn (last Sunday in October at 1AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time to give more daylight in the morning.

What it Costs

Prices in Croatia fluctuate dynamically depending on the seasons and capacity, particularly on the coast.

That said because Croatia (part of the European Union) hasn’t introduced the Euro currency (yet) and still holds onto it’s Kuna currency, you can get a relatively cheap holiday.

With one Euro approximately worth 7.5 Kunas, you can use Euros to pay for accommodation, however you will be charged at the top end of the exchange scale. Speaking from experience, I recommend sticking to Kuna as much as possible to avoid being ripped-off.

I also recommend using private accommodation as an alternative to hotels, which can easily be booked via websites like Booking.com or Airbnb. I have found these two to be the best sites for private accommodation in Croatia, but check the photos and read the reviews. On most of the islands you won’t have much of a choice apart from private accommodation.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals.
We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong.
To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in €.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
€ => Tickets less than €15 per person
€€ => Tickets €15- €30 per person
€€€ => Tickets €30 per person

Sleep — Out of town/rural
€ => Rooms less than €60 for a double
€€ => Rooms €60 – €100 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €100 for a double

Sleep — Large Cities
€ => Rooms less than €100 for a double
€€ => Rooms €100 – €150 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €150 for a double

Eat
€=> Up to €10 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
€€ => €10-25 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
€€€ => €25 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
€ => Tickets less than €25 per person
€€ => Tickets €25 – €30 per person
€€€ => Tickets €30 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings. European operators such as easyJet, Ryanair, Air France-KLM, Jet2,  British Airways, flybe and Lufthansa offer an extensive range of routes in Europe.

Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transport, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about €8/£6 a month; rentals are about €8-13.50/£6-10 per hour; fuel and insurance are included.

Ride-sharing companies, such as Uber, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

All the major car rental companies such as Avis, Sixt, Hertz and Europcar operate throughout Europe.  It is not normally possible to rent in the UK and take the vehicle to mainland Europe or vice versa.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to (or within) Europe goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical — Travellers within Europe from European Union member states should obtain an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) card which entitles them to healthcare on the same terms as citizens from the country they are visiting. This is a reciprocal agreement which means for example that EEA visitors to the UK will receive free care in NHS hospitals in the same way that UK residents do.  Some countries e.g. France make a charge known as a patient contribution for GP visits or stays in hospital for both their own citizens and visitors from the EEA. Even so, travellers are well advised to have additional medical insurance to cover for example the cost of repatriation, mountain rescue in ski resorts and other emergencies.

For travellers from outside the European Union the cost of health services in Europe, while not as high as in the US for example, can be relatively expensive for the uninsured. For this reason it is essential to consider purchasing medical insurance. If you have a Health Care Plan back home it may cover you for most situations which arise abroad but you need to check this out and in any case additional medical travel insurance will cover you for private health care or other expenses.

Some countries outside the European Union have a reciprocal agreement for healthcare with certain European countries.  For example Switzerland has an agreement with all European Union countries and Australia has agreements with the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and others. It pays to check before leaving home.

Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travellers.

Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip is expensive it’s essential and even if it isn’t it’s certainly a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Your English or other European language skills are also crucial because insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

In Europe the largest insurers are Allianz, Axa and Zurich but there are many smaller providers such as insureandgo and Direct Line.

Pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition or charge an additional premium related to the condition.  Some companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Currency

The main currency of Europe is the Euro which is currently used in 25 countries a few of which are not even EU members. Some countries within the European Union have retained their original currency including the UK (Pound), Denmark (Kroner), Poland (Zloty) and Croatia (Kuna).
Most non-EU countries such as Switzerland (Swiss Franc) and Turkey (Lira) continue to use their own currency. All are decimalised and have 100 ‘pennies’ in each main unit.

Euros come in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 notes. They vary in size from 120mm x 62mm (€5) to 160mm x 82mm (500) and colour, so it is easy to differentiate between them. All feature European architecture throughout the ages. (Smaller businesses may not accept the larger notes, so plan to have €20s or smaller notes in hand)

There are eight denominations of euro coin: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent plus a €1 and €2 coin. All have a common side and a national side. Remember to spend all coins before you leave – they can’t be exchanged!

Croatian Kuna (KN) comes in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 as notes bearing images of Croatian national hero’s such as Stjepan Radic and Ban Josip Jelacic.
The word ‘Kuna’ means marten, a weasel-like animal, whose fur Croats used as payment many centuries ago.
The Kuna is divided in 100 Lipa.

There are nine denominations in coin (Lipe): 1, 2 (bronze in colour) 5, 10, 20 and 50 (silver in colour) lipa (cent) coins plus a 1, 2 and 5 Kuna coin.
Again remember to spend all coins before you leave – they can’t be exchanged!

Bear in mind you can pay at certain places in Euros but be aware that the exchange rate is poor.

Many travelers like to have a small amount of local currency when they arrive in a country but this is becoming less and less important as ATMs and Bureaux de Change appear everywhere especially in transport terminals.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

ATMs
If you get money from an ATM machine abroad you will usually incur charges (typically 1.5 or 2% per transaction)

Credit Cards
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout Europe.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.

Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

The good news for travellers in Europe is that you don’t need to get stressed about tipping – you don’t have to do it and when you do it really should reflect good or excellent service rather than be something you are expected to do. On the whole workers in tourism are reasonably well paid and don’t depend upon tips to make up their wages. In some cases over-tipping can be embarrassing for all concerned.

Restaurants
Many restaurants include a ‘service’ charge in the price so check and, if it isn’t mentioned, then a tip of between 5 – 10% is quite enough. Even where it is included but you feel that you’ve had really excellent service then the same amount is adequate but ensure that your server receives this by handing it directly to them.

Other methods are to add a euro/pound for each member of the party or round up the bill to the nearest 5 or 10 euros/pounds.

Taxis
With taxis, just round up to the next euro or pound for a short journey or, for a long ride, to the nearest ten. Again 10% is the maximum you should consider unless of course the driver carries your bags into the hotel or airport when a little more will be appreciated.

Hotels
You may wish to give the porter a euro or pound for each bag he carries but, while it will be appreciated, it is not normally expected. Similarly you may wish to leave a small tip for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have been particularly helpful, but this is completely up to you.

Other costs:
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between €10 (£7.50) and €40 (£30) or local equivalent per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, insect repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery, super/hypermarkets and pharmacies will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

Getting around Croatia seems to be getting easier and easier.

AIRPORTS
All the major cities have an airport. Croatia’s major airport is Franjo Tudman Airport in Zagreb connecting other major cities including Split, Dubrovnik, Rijeka, Pula, Zadar etc, along with numerous international cities.
During the high season there are numerous carriers but your best bet will always be Croatia Airlines for getting you in, out and especially around the country.
There are coach services available at all airports taking you into the city, and usually there is no need to wait as coaches are timed with the arrival of aircraft.

COACH BUS
My favourite way to get around Croatia is by coach.
Gone are the days of rust buckets, today you’ll find numerous coach companies chauffeuring you in air-conditioned luxury with free wi-fi facilities around the country.
Coach buses pretty much connect every major city to every village in Croatia, sure they might not run everyday to the place you want to go, which is rare. Usually there will be atleast two bus services a day. In summer and along the coast there can be upwards of 20 services a day linking, say, Split and Dubrovnik.
You can also jump on international services that link all the major European cities including Paris, Vienna, Berlin with Croatia.
Remember to book ahead and get time value for your trip. That means, if you’re traveling from Dubrovnik to Split get the fast service that will make one or two pit-stops along the way, rather than an all stops service.
Fast services sell out faster than all stop services, so book ahead.
Apart from the ticket, you will need to pay for stowing your luggage in the hold. Usually the cost is around 2USD per piece.
If you’ll be traveling back in the same direction, buy a return ticket as the price is usually only slightly higher than a one way ticket.

TRAIN
Train services connect Zagreb to various cities in continental Croatia, including Varazdin and Osijek.
While services do connect Zagreb to Split in Dalmatia and Pula in Istria, for anything coastal I recommend a coach bus service. It just seems to be faster and a lot easier as major train stations seem to be a bit further out of the city.

LOCAL BUS
While most major towns in Croatia are easily walk-able, you might need to take a local bus to get to some of the outlying places or beaches, or in Dubrovnik’s case, to get to the main bus terminal which is a 15 minute drive from the Old Town.
You can buy bus tickets anywhere you see a kiosk or at a bus station booth.
If you don’t know where to get off, ask the driver. Most speak English, or you can try your best Croatian.
A one way ticket will set you back about 3USD.

TRAM – only in Zagreb
The Zagreb Tram Network is quite extensive winding it’s way around the Lower Town and able to get you to New Zagreb easily.
With trams running every 10 to 15 minutes it’s very convenient. You
will probably need the tram to get from the bus or train station to Ban Jelacic Square (Number 6) or your accommodation.
You can buy tram tickets anywhere you see a kiosk.

FERRY
Croatia’s largest ferry service company is Jadrolinja.
Buy tickets at Jadrolinja offices, as you can not purchase a ticket on board.
Jadrolinija run ferries, car ferries and faster catamaran services to all the islands. All ferries come complete with sun decks, so not a minute of sun shine is wasted.
Another option is Kapetan Luka, that runs a popular high speed catamaran service in Dalmatia and Kvarner.
In high season, the cues at these offices can be extremely long. Even if you book your ticket online, you still need to pick it up at the office, so leave plenty of time.
Remember that you won’t find many ferries going from island to island, rather they travel from mainland to island.
Pick up a timetable at a tourist office.
There are numerous boat rentals available from every city harbour. You can be chauffeured by a captain (for a fee) usually dressed in stripey shirt.

In winter, ferry services are minimal.

CAR
Car rentals are available at all major Croatian cities, however be warned that renting a car within Croatia can be expensive.
With overpriced road tolls and expensive petrol and gas, it can work out to be quite costly and during the high season, traffic can be a nightmare with minimal parking available.

Background

For a background on Croatia, take a look at the side tabs: History, Etiquette, Cuisine, Religion and Language.

History

Croatia = Hrvatska

The first known reference to the Croats can be found on a stone inscription during the reign of Darius the great (522 – 486 BCE). These ancient Croatians were one of the 23 peoples ruled by Darius and known as Harauvat, probably from where the Croatian name (Croat = Hrvat) comes from.

It is said that these ancient Croatians moved from Persia (around Iran) across to Greece and into modern-day Eastern Europe where they established a large state known as White or Great Croatia. White at the time meant western, so these peoples distinguished their home in the East to their new home in the West.

Fast forward to the beginning of the seventh century which saw the Eastern Roman Empire begin to steadily weaken from constant attacks by the Slavs and Avars, and the Persians in the East.

Emperor Heraclius (610-641) saw this a perfect opportunity to enlist help from the White Croatians, enemies of the Avars. The Croats fought the Avars, won, and were granted freedom to settle in present day Croatia.

Not everyone wanted to go to these southern lands, and those who stayed behind became part of present day Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The earliest known peoples that established themselves on the Eastern Adriatic were the Illyrians. Most will tell you that these were ancient ancestors of today’s Albanians. The Greeks, Goths and Celts also appeared in around the fourth century BC.

The Romans turned up in the third century and began their struggle with the Illyrians to take over these eastern Adriatic lands, until 10AD when the Romans finally won.

In 395AD and the Roman Empire was divided into western and eastern territories. The river Drina became the borderline between these territories of the Empire, but in time, it also became the line in the sand between the two cultures and two Christian churches: Latin Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. The Drina also happens to be the natural border between Croatia and Serbia.

Roman control of Croatia ended in the 5th century and while the Croats were autonomous, they found themselves stuck between Byzantium and the Franks.

In the 8th century these Croats expanded from Dalmatia northwards and inland. Two separate Croatian states emerged: coastal and inland.
Due to the death of Charlemagne in 814 which saw the Frankish Empire begin to decline, Croatians were able to strengthen their political position in the region. At the same time, Byzantium was struggling with the rising Bulgarian state. Frankish decline and Byzantium fighting another power, all made it possible for the Croatians to assert themselves and develop a strong kingdom.

Hence, during the 8th and early 9th centuries trade and commerce grew in Croatia with the once Roman towns revived and new towns built.

During the reign of Knez (Duke) Branimir (879-892) Croatia became an independent country, which was recognised by European rulers and (most importantly) by the Pope. But it was Tomislav (910-928) was successfully lead the battle against the Magyar attacks and united the Croatian lands into an even stronger kingdom.

In 925, Tomislav was crowned King. The Croatian royal crown and blessings were sent to Tom by Pope John X with the message: ‘dilecto filio Tomislavo Regi Croatorum’ or ‘To my dear son Tomislav, King of the Croatians.’

As an aside, you’ll find Tomislav’s form and name all over Croatia, from street and square names to statues with King Tom sitting proudly on his horse.

Nothing about the Croats now having their own King pleased Byzantium or Venice, as both kingdoms wanted the Eastern Adriatic. Tomislav’s successors were constantly fighting wars against their neighbours and by the eleventh century, numerous cities along the Adriatic began to fall under Venetian rule.

The kingdom was ruled by native rulers until 1091, when succession problems started to creep in. There were two feuding sides; one lead by Helen, the widow of King Zvonimir and the daughter of a Hungarian King. The other was the ‘national party.’ As Croatia had been an elective kingdom, the Nationals elected a guy called Petar Svacic and a war broke out.

In 1102, this was finally settled with an agreement (the Pacta Conventa) which saw the Croatians recognise the Hungarian King Koloman as the legitimate heir of the Croatian throne. In return, the King agreed to honour and maintain all the rights of the Croat Kingdom.

The beginning of the 15th century saw the Ottoman invasions and whole areas of the country were destroyed. These invasions saw Venice take even more of the coastal regions. Thousands of Croats fled to neighbouring countries, while thousands more were killed and sold into slavery.

Life became intolerable for the Croatian lower classes and many a peasant uprising or revolt took place. These uprisings were an attempt to stop feudalism and establish a more just society. The most famous of these was led by Matija Gubec in Northern Croatia. Gubec was later tortured to death by the Ottomans.

During this time, a number of peace treaties were made between the Hungarian Habsburgs and the Ottomans, regardless of Croatian interests and these oppressive policies created even more dissatisfaction in the country.

The Croatian Ban (viceroy) at the time was Count Nikola Zrinski. Nikola and his bother Petar, along with their brother-in-law Fran Krsto Frankopan were part of two of the oldest Croatian noble families. These three along with some Hungarian noblemen started to organise a movement to limit King Leopold’s (King of Hungary and Croatia and King of Bohemia) power.

Nikola died, and Petar became the viceroy and leader of the movement. Petar could see that stuck between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans, the Croatians were being threatened to extinction and in a bold move, tried to make an alliance with the Ottomans to save what little he could of his homeland.

Hearing this, Leopold sent an army to invade Croatia and asked Zrinski and Frankopan to come to Vienna to explain themselves. He said they two would come to no harm, and hoping to step into talks with their oppressors, they took up the invitation which saw them imprisoned and beheaded in 1671.

You’ll find many monuments erected in honour of the Zrinski and Frankopan’s in Croatia. Leopold also ordered that all their possessions be confiscated and their families imprisoned.

In the late 17th century the Turks were finally pushed back. In 1683, they were driven back from Vienna and in 1716 they were defeated at the Battle of Petrovaradin.
I’d say that the one thing that kept the Croatian peoples going through the medieval times to the nineteenth century was the national culture. The language was sustained, and art and literature kept the people going.

Then it happened. The 1848 revolution in Croatia under the leadership of Ban Josip Jelacic (his is the main square in Zagreb).

This may have been a short lived victory with the Habsburgs taking control again, but it was from this movement that Croatian nationalism and the demand for freedom began to grow again. On the back of  Jelacic came two schools of thought. One the National Party, lead by bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer and the other the Party of the Right lead by Ante Starcevic.

Strossmayer saw Croatia as part of the wider Slav culture while Starcevic believed Croatia would only be whole once it secured its future as an independent country. As an aside, Starcevic based his thought on Croatian historical rights and hence the party was called “the party of the Right.’ He also based much of it on the French Revolution. For this reason, he has become known as ‘the Father of the Homeland.’

While the Austrian monarchy fell in and out of power, in 1867 the Austrian Empire split into two halves, known The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. The Austrian monarch remained the King of both halves but otherwise they were largely independent. Croatia was split. Dalmatia was ruled by Austria while most of Croatia was ruled by Hungary.

After WWI, the allies helped create the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Many believed that this would be the federation of equal nations with equal freedoms, but the state turned into an expanded Serbia, with the non-Serbian regions treated as newly-occupied territories. Istria was given to Italy, which was confirmed in an agreement between Italy and the new South Slavic state in 1920.

It’s not hard to see why it didn’t work, these nations didn’t have much in common except for similarities in their spoken languages. Their cultures, religions, economies, mentalities were all very different.

Between the two world wars, demands for autonomy were led by Stjepan Radic, the spokesman for the Croatia nation. He joined the government with hopes to achieve recognition for human and national rights, but was shot dead in 1928 by a Serb.
In the aftermath, King Alexander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship. The state was renamed Yugoslavia.

World War II came and went.  As a result the Germans attacked Yugoslavia in 1941 and they quickly conquered the country. The hard war-times and foreign interventions were detrimental to the Croats and they found themselves back in Communist Yugoslavia during the post-war period. Tito, the leader of the partisans during WWII  and his devotees officially occupied the region and the fascist authorities were expelled in Istria.

During the late 1960s nationalism re-emerged in Croatia. Some people demanded more autonomy but in 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a lid on all demands for reform. But Croats kept taking up the cause, with the chief movers, students and intellectuals. This time was known as the Croatian Spring. Many of thinkers ended up in jail or murdered. The first president of Croatia, Dr Franjo Tuđman participated in this movement calling for reforms in the country and was imprisoned for his activities in 1972.

Tito died in 1980 and communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989. The same year saw non-Communist organisations were formed in Croatia.

In May 1990 the first Croat elections were held. Following the country’s independence from Yugoslavia, Dr Franjo Tudman with his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Party became the first President of Croatia and served as president from 1990 until his death in 1999. You’ll find his grave at Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb.

The Croatians then sought to leave Yugoslavia but there was a substantial minority of Serbs living in Croatia. On the pretext of protecting these Serbs the Yugoslav army invaded and a five year long war began. The world recognised Croatian independence on 15 January 1992 (this is now a public holiday). The Homeland War ended in 1995.

You’ll still find many signs of the Homeland War in Croatia. Those bright orange terracotta roofs in Dubrovnik’s old town are the ones that had to be replaced after the war (most of them), thousands died and the region of Slavonia is still devastated with many land mines yet to be removed.

Croatia became part of the European Union in 2013.

Etiquette

When it comes to etiquette in Croatia, most of the same rules apply as in other Western countries.
A dobar dan (good day) goes a long way when greeting people in restaurants and stores. When leaving dovidjenja (good bye) is expected.
When having a drink, it’s customary to round up and leave a little tip. After a meal, leave a few kuna and you’ll make the waiters day.

If meeting someone for the first time, start with a handshake but don’t go in for the double kiss (one kiss per cheek) unless the other person initiates this.

I would refrain from calling Croatia part of Eastern Europe. Once a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, part of European Union and using a Latin written alphabet, most Croatians align themselves with Western Europe.

If you’re interested about the Croatian Homeland War of the 1990s, I would ask what the war was like for the person you’re speaking to and let them open up about their experiences. Try to refrain from pointed questions or assumptions.

With all that said, don’t ever make jokes to a Croatian about their sports teams. Sport in Croatia is almost a religion, so keep negative commentary about games and scores to yourself, unless you’re a offering sympathy.

Cuisine

For all that marveling and exploring, you’ll need sustenance and there’s no better place than Croatia.

Istria is a culinary capital. You’ll find some of the world’s best white truffles in Buzet, with the tuber shaved onto everything from pastas, pizzas and even used to make truffle cheese. Other culinary finds include the delicious olive oils and marinated Istrian olives, along with the white wine, Malvasija.

If you like seafood, any coastal city or village will provide you with a rich supply of grilled fish, octopus salads, mussels a buzara, the Dalmatian classic brodet – a fish stew, or head to Ston – the oyster capital of Croatia.

For meat lovers, there are Istrian and continental sausages, cured paper-thin slices of prosciutto (that’s prsut to Croatians), roasted Cres island lamb and the hearty Hungarian-inspired stews of Zagorje and Zagreb.

But if there’s one thing Croatians excel at – confectionery it is. Nothing rivals Croatian Austrian-inspired cakes with layers of chocolate and cream. You can’t leave Samobor without sampling the famous Cream Slice.

Need something to wash it down? Wine lovers rejoice! Try our Dalmatia Wine Touring while driving through the Korcula and Peljesac islands or Zagorje and Medimurje: Castles and Vineyards.

Whatever your flavour, be it exploring or sitting on a beach watching the sun go down over the Adriatic – Croatia has something to tempt even the most jaded traveler. For that famed sunset, try Zadar. Even Alfred Hitchcock remarked, ‘Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, applauded at every evening.’

So pull up a chair with Hitchcock, Lord Byron and Shaw (even Homer’s hero Odysseus stayed for seven years on the island of Mljet). Grab a glass of that local wine, charge your glass and let me be the first to say Welcome to Croatia!

Zivjeli! Cheers and let’s live!

Religion

According to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics with data from November 2011 census 86.28% (3,697,143) of Croatians are Catholic.

Orthodox Christians make up 4.44% (190,143) of the population, Muslims 1.47 % (62,977), and Protestants 0.34% (14,653).

Atheists make up 3.81%, 0.76% are agnostics and 2.17% were undeclared.

Language

In Croatia, the main language is (of course) Croatian. With the written language using a Latin alphabet, as opposed to say Serbian that uses the cyrillic writing system, it’s also quite easy for foreigners to decipher Croatian writing.

The Croatian alphabet has 30 letters, with 25 consonants and 5 vowels – a, e, i, o, u.
Compared to English, Croatian has the additional letters: č, ć, dž, đ, lj, nj, š and ž and doesn’t feature the letters q, w, x or y.

That being said because television programs in the country are subtitled rather than dubbed most of the population below the age of 35 has a pretty good grasp of English. Those under the age of 25 have an excellent grasp English.

Waiters and the like along the coast, can speak (at an average) about three languages.  Menus come in about five to six languages, with a seemingly endless supply of innocent bystanders (I’m sure they get wheeled out during the summer months) that are happy to help you out, or if worse comes to worse, pointing to what someone else has is always a winner.

After Croatian and English, German is the most popular spoken language. In Istria, Italian is the second language and with dual language street signs, it’s much easier for those with Italian skills to get around.

With all that said a thank you (hvala) and good day (dobar dan) never go out of style. However, with drink in hand the first Croatian word you’ll probably learn is zivjeli! (cheers and let’s live).

For those interested in the first Croatian script, Glagolitic (the oldest known Slavic alphabet), don’t forget to stop in at Valun to view the Valun Tablet or Glagolitic Alley in Istria.