Balmy days by sapphire waters in the shade of ancient walled towns - this is Croatia. We only managed a short 10 day stay in the Istria Peninsula during our 2018 Europe camper-van trip but we'll be back soon to explore more of this beautiful country.
Croatia has it all - stunning coastlines, magnificent lakes and forests, a fascinating history, fantastic wine, and delicious sea-to-table cuisine. Are you looking for the ultimate sailing getaway? Or perhaps a food and wine escape? A unique adventure in the great outdoors? Croatia got you covered. While excessively crowded in summer, Croatia also hasn’t yet befallen completely to the kind of large-scale development you might see on some other Mediterranean coastlines (such as in Spain). Almost everything remains at a pleasant scale, with accommodation mostly in the form of smaller boutique hotels, private rooms, and backpacker-friendly hostels.
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CROATIA QUICK FACTS
Currency: While Croatia is a part of the European Union, the country still doesn't use the euro as a common currency and the currency in use is the Croatian Kuna. The current conversion rate is available here.
Electricity: 230V AC electricity. Power outlets are round two-prong sockets (type F which also accepts type C and type E). Be sure to carry a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic devices. If you are from a country with 110V as a standard be aware that you will need a voltage converter.
Visa: Traveling to Croatia is easy if you are from the European Union (EU). Citizens of (amongst other countries) the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are also allowed to enter Croatia without a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Although Croatia became part of the EU in 2013, Croatia is not yet part of the "Schengen" zone. Be sure to check online for the latest entry requirements. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your entry and that you have an available completely blank page in your passport.
Safety: The crime rate in Croatia is relatively slow by European standards. Your main defense against petty theft is to exercise common sense and refrain from flaunting any luxury items. Routine police stop with a check on identity documents are common in Croatia and you should always carry your passport or driving license.
Your main health risk is likely to be getting sunburnt or suffer from a hangover after too much Croatian wine! However, tick-borne encephalitis can be a risk for hikers in northern forests. Medical care is generally acceptable in quality but you be prepared to pay in cash for all treatment. It's a good idea to review your insurance coverage before you leave to make sure it's adequate. We would suggest checking out either SafetyWing or World Nomads, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
Language: English is widely spoken, particularly by the younger generation and by those who work in tourism or live in tourist areas. Croatian is, of course, the country's official language and as such is known by everybody. In addition, Italian is not only widely spoken and understood but is also recognized as a co-official language in most of Istria, due to that region's history and the presence of ethnic Italian communities.
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CROATIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 May, May Day
- 22 June, Antifascist Struggle Day
- 25 June, Croatian National Day (Statehood Day)
- 5 August, National Thanksgiving Day/Victory Day
- 15 August, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- 8 October, Independence Day
- 1 November, All Saints Day
- 26 December, St. Stephen’s Day
Business openings and work schedules may be significantly affected by Christian holidays, such as Easter Monday and the Feast of Corpus Christi.
FESTIVALS IN CROATIA
The majority of cultural festivals take place in Zagreb, although Dubrovnik, Split and Rijeka offer plenty in the way of drama and music, and almost every other region of Croatia offers a film festival of one sort or another. Zagreb, however, is very much the centre of Croatia’s highbrow culture for most of the year, with spring and early autumn being the busiest times. In addition, there is no shortage of religious holidays throughout the year, featuring church processions and celebratory feasting.
- International Folklore Festival - Held over a weekend in July and traditionally the best place to see songs and dances from all over the country. Mid- to late July; Zagreb.
- Carnival - The most important event in the early part of the year is the pre-Lenten carnival (Karneval; often known as fašnik in inland Croatia, and pust on the Adriatic), which actually begins before Christmas but does not reach a climax until Shrove Tuesday or the weekend immediately preceding it. Processions and masked revelry appear in towns all over Croatia with many towns organizing float parades with the participants donning disguises which frequently satirize local politicians or comment on the events of the past year.
- All Saints’ Day - One of the most important Catholic feasts of the autumn, when families visit graveyards to pay their respects to the departed. By the evening, many big-city cemeteries are transformed into a sea of candles. (Nov 1).
- Strossmartre (Ljeto na Štrosu) - From May to September an outstandingly varied programme of concerts, art-and-craft stalls, and other outdoor events ranging from music, film, theatre, fine art are on offer in Zagreb’s Gornji grad. June to early Sept.
- Kastav Cultural Summer (Kastafsko kulturno leto) - Concerts in the streets and squares of Kastav, near Rijeka. July/Aug.
- Dubrovnik Summer Festival (Dubrovačke ljetne igre) - Prestigious classical music and theatre event that makes full use of Dubrovnik’s historic buildings and atmospheric open spaces. The festival is held, every year, from mid-July until the third week of August. It is known as one of the greatest cultural events of Croatia.
- Split Summer (Splitsko ljeto) - Opera, orchestral music and a host of other high-cultural delights, with many performances taking place in Split’s ancient piazzas and squares. Mid-July to mid-Aug.
- Zagreb Film Festival - Outstanding documentaries and art movies from around the world generate a genuine festival atmosphere. Free access to the late-night DJ parties is well worth the price of your cinema ticket. Oct or Nov.
- Advent in Zagreb - Food stalls, rakija bars, kooky gift markets, outdoor music stages and gallons of mulled wine; venues throughout the city centre. Dec.
BEST TIME TO VISIT CROATIA
Croatia is hugely seasonal and arguably the best time to visit is September. The weather is mild rather than scorching hot and the sea is still warm enough for swimming but the crazy August crowds have dissipated by now. If you time it well the autumn colours in Plitvice Lakes will be an unforgettable sight.
The second best time to visit is late spring in May or June. Even early spring can be a great time to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park as the lakes and waterfalls will be swollen with melting winter snow and there are far fewer visitors. If you come prepared for some unpredictable weather this is the perfect time to visit most of Croatia's spectacular national parks.
In April and October, it might be too chilly for a beach holiday but it's still perfect for outdoor activities like hiking and cycling. It's also the best time to visit Dubrovnik and Plitvice Lakes as crowds are substantially smaller than during summer. As the days grow warmer and longer during late spring (mid-April to mid-May), this time of the year is the best to visit the Croatian coast and islands. By mid-May southern Dalmatia can be pleasantly warm and although you won't be alone, it won't yet have reached the point where tourists outnumber natives on the Croatian islands! Hotels also haven't yet increased their prices for the peak summer season.
July and August are by far the most exciting times to visit as the weather is beach-perfect and the festival season is in full swing. However, the crush of tourists can make a summertime visit to one of Croatia's more popular places less than pleasant. Croatia is definitely no longer an undiscovered destination and this time of the year the narrow streets of Dubrovnik or Hvar Town can be elbow-to-elbow with visitors licking ice cream cones and snapping pictures. If you plan on taking a vehicle onto a ferry you will have to reserve a ticket well in advance and then still wait in line for hours. For a more relaxing experience during the peak months, consider staying in one of the lesser-known destinations such as Cres Island, Vis Island, Lastovo Island, Orebic or Ston on the Peljesac peninsula.
- May & September - Good weather, fewer tourists, full events calendar, great for hiking.
- June - The best time to visit: beautiful weather, fewer people, lower prices, the festival season kicks off.
- July & August - Lots of sunshine, warm sea and summer festivals; many tourists and highest prices.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN CROATIA
The snow sports season in Croatia is just 3 months long from mid December until mid March. The good news is that Croatia's ski resorts are cheaper than most of Europe.
HIKING & CYCLING IN CROATIA
The best time for outdoor activities in Croatia is from April to October, with the months of May and September possibly the best.
BEACH OPTIONS IN CROATIA
Croatia is packed with over 100 beaches which have blue flag status, so although the best beaches may be hidden on tiny islands, there's no shortage of shoreline to soak up the sun.
SURFING IN CROATIA
Croatia is not a surfing destination, with only about 50 days a year with the surfable swell. If you're desperate, try Camp Kazela (Medulin), Sakarun, and Zlatni Rat.
KITESURF IN CROATIA
There are plenty of windy spots for kitesurfing throughout Croatia, particularly in Istria and between Split and Dubrovnik. Just be warned that most conditions are not really beginner-friendly.
For more details on kite surfing in Croatia expand this section!
CROATIA TRAVEL COSTS
Croatia is by no means any longer a bargain destination, and especially the cost of accommodation is on a par with Western European countries for most of the year; during July and August, it can shoot upwards. Eating and drinking, however, remain reasonably good value.
If you’re staying in hostels or private rooms, self-catering, and travelling by public transport, then plan on spending at least $85 USD per person per day. If you are staying in an apartment, eating out once a day, and enjoying yourselves in the evening, then $120 USD per day seems more reasonable. Staying in a good hotel, eating in nice restaurants, renting a car, and not skimping on the drinks will involve a daily outlay of $220 USD or above.
Naturally, the coast and islands are more expensive than inland destinations (except for Zagreb) and July and August are vastly more expensive than the rest of the year. Accommodation will always be your biggest single expense and you should take advantage of off-season and shoulder-season discounts. Private accommodation options seem to be the most affordable option with prices around $30-40 USD per person. Backpackers will find hostels to cost about $27 - 35 USD per person which is a good deal if you're travelling alone since private accommodation is usually double occupancy only.
CROATIA TRAVEL TIPS
Largely due to Croatia's unusual geography, getting around can be tricky at times and definitely requires careful planning! That said, the quality of the transport infrastructure is generally good - with reliable ferries, comfortable and efficient bus service, and affordable flights. Driving yourself is made easy by the modern and well-maintained road network but you'll need to weigh up the convenience of having a car against the cost of car rental. Trains also connect major towns but the network is designed more for residents than tourists who will rarely find it convenient to use especially as internal flights in Croatia can be cheaper than taking a train or bus outside peak seasons.
Getting around Croatia by bus is highly economical and you will find local ferries to be affordable for passengers. However, taking a vehicle can get really pricey. Ferry prices are also higher in the summer but bus prices tend to stay the same. Your biggest single expense is likely to be renting a car while in Croatia. In addition to the actual rental, there's the cost of fuel and toll fees to consider.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF CROATIA
The old city of Dubrovnik, known as Ragusa during the Middle Ages, was once a maritime city-state with wealth and influence rivaling that of Venice. Today, with its still intact Medieval city walls and its many churches, monasteries, and palaces, it is quite possibly the most picturesque place in Croatia. Dubrovnik’s maze of little side-streets is fun to explore, though don’t expect any grand discoveries here apart from maybe some stray cats and a few more tourist restaurants. The city is used regularly for location shoots for TV shows and movies, most famously starring as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. A cable car can take you up Mount Srđ, from where you’ll have a superb view of the orange-roofed city. Hiking to the top can be pleasant, although the hills are fully exposed so the heat can become intense on a clear summer day.
Hvar is a popular port of call for the rich who come here to see and be seen. The island town is known for its nightlife, some of it expectedly well-heeled. Nevertheless, beautifully unspoiled and pitted with a wealth of bays and coves, the island of Hvar still has what it takes to enchant the seclusion-seeker. Despite the presence of the well to heed in their super-yachts, many restaurants serve great seafood at a still-reasonable price and the nightlife can basically be as high- or as low-brow as you want. Although Hvar can be a little flashy there's a lot to enjoy and appreciate for any traveller. The rich mostly hang out in the luxury resorts and private coves, leaving the town itself to a diverse mix of visitors. Hvar is also a great base from which to take day trips to smaller surrounding islands.
Although only the sixth-largest Adriatic island stretching nearly 47km in length, Korčula is the most populated island in the Adriatic. Rich in vineyards, olive groves, and small villages, and harboring a glorious old town, tradition is alive and kicking on the island which the ancient Greek settlers once called Korkyra Melaina (‘Black Corfu’). Luckily, Korčula has so far managed to avoid the tourist trap tendencies of its original Greek namesake to the south.
Split is Croatia's second-largest city and the perfect place to see Dalmatian life as it’s really lived. Although it might not appeal to all this exuberant city strikes a good balance between tradition and modernity. It's very pretty with its palm-lined boulevard along the harbour and its small historic center built around the remains of a Roman palace. When you stand surrounded by the palace’s remarkably intact Roman arches you will get a real sense of the ancient history of Split. The Diocletian's Palace is more like a walled town and it has served as the center of Split's cultural and political life for centuries - even as conquerors and empires from the Byzantines, the Venetians, the Austrians, and Italians raised their flags over the city. In addition to enclosing a swelter of ancient ruins and medieval churches, the sprawling 700-year-old residence is now bursting with trendy shops and stylish bars.
Šibenik does not feature on many tourist itineraries although it's located right between Split and Zadar. Considered to be the ugly duckling of Adriatic tourism, Šibenik’s had a recent urban makeover which served to cast new light on its remarkable ancient fortresses and its contemporary music festivals. The city itself quaint, not heavily crowded, conveniently located near the Krka National Park, and a great alternative to some of the more famous towns of Croatia. You’ll find a beautiful UNESCO-listed cathedral, some remaining city walls from the Venetian era, as well as two hilltop forts from where you get an amazing view of Šibenik and its bay.
Smaller than Split and Dubrovnik, Zadar is home to a historic town of Roman ruins, a selection of medieval churches, cosmopolitan cafes, and quality museums set on a small peninsula. You’ll find the quaint historic main town on a little peninsula bounded by Venetian city walls, and it’s small enough to cover easily by foot. It’s a favourite among backpackers as Zadar has plenty of charm and isn’t as busy or expensive as Dubrovnik. You can stroll the atmospheric old streets, have a drink on the riverfront, and enjoy some good seafood. Besides a slew of cathedrals and Venetian-era buildings, the sound-and-light spectacle of the Greeting to the Sun and Sea Organ needs to be seen and heard to be believed. Built during 2005, it is basically a set of steps along the seafront where strategically placed holes create a constantly changing melody from the waves flowing into them. Alfred Hitchcock raved about the sunsets in Zadar, and you will be bowled over too, especially now that it's accompanied by the complimentary sound-and-light effects of the famous Greeting to the Sun and Sea Organ art installations.
A bewitching sequence of foaming waterfalls and turquoise lakes, hemmed in by forest-clad hills. Chances are, you’ve already seen Plitvice Lakes National Park. Maybe not in person, but very likely on Pinterest or Facebook. The waterfalls are super photogenic and well-deserving of all the hype. Paths and boardwalks take you along all the moss- and fern-covered cascades and you can also make your way up the hills for some overhead shots of the crystal clear waterfalls. Sadly as it’s a protected area you can’t swim in the inviting azure waters. For that, you need to go to Krka.
The waterfalls at Plitvice are Croatia’s most famous for a reason, but the smaller ones at Krka National Park are equally worth a visit. From the town of Skradin, it’s about an hour’s hike along the river to the waterfalls and as a bonus, you are allowed to take a swim in the lower lake. Once you get to Skradinski Buk, you will find a wide cascade of small lakes and waterfalls, with a number of paths snaking through the area.
In Karlovac, you’ll get to see a different slice of Croatia, as it is a place without a major tourism industry where you can more easily rub shoulders with the locals. Most people go to Croatia to see Instagram-worthy historical towns along the Mediterranean coast, not an unassuming town in the temperate hinterlands and away from the allure of Venetian history, Karlovac places you in a decidedly lumpier Eastern Europe. The city of Karlovac itself is not always the prettiest but it offers great value and is surrounded by some great lesser-known attractions, forest trails, and multiple rivers inviting kayaking and swimming excursions.
Pelješac peninsula - Explore rugged mountain scenery, quiet coves, and unspoiled seaside villages in a region renowned for its robust red wines and fantastic seafood. With no shortage of craggy mountains, sweeping valleys, and fine wines, it’s a wondrous place to visit. The two historic towns of Ston and Orebić borders the peninsula and the winding drive between them is highly recommended. Trpanj on the northern coast is the peninsula's third-largest settlement and is also from where the car ferry leaves for Ploče.
The Elaphites, is an archipelago of 13 small islands stretching northwest of Dubrovnik, into the Adriatic Sea. With a total land area of only 30 square kilometers the easy-to-explore, largely car-free islands offer hiking amongst evergreen vegetation, pristine sandy beaches, and plenty of peace and quiet.
Join a Tour in Croatia
If you prefer travelling with a group tour, we highly recommend G Adventures. They are a super reputable company and have been running tours around the world offering loads of different tour types that cater to all travellers such as well as wellness tours, tours for 18-30-year-olds. If you like the idea of travelling in a group and make new friends, check out the variety of tours that G Adventures has and the details and dates of each trip.
WHAT TO EAT IN CROATIA
Croatia isn’t really a destination that is known for its high-quality cuisine – at least, not yet. However, this Adriatic superstar has a larder-full of fresh produce and a focus on traditional techniques and local sourcing.
- Truffles (tartufi) - You don’t need much truffle in a dish to give it a substantial earthy kick, just a shaving or two of black truffle with your morning scrambled eggs can turn an otherwise standard plate of food into a decadent dish. Istria in northern Croatia is one of the world’s best truffle hunting grounds, and both black and white truffles are found beneath the oak trees of the Motovun forest along the river Mirna – the black in winter and spring, the white in autumn.
- Pršut & Pag Cheese - Home-cured ham pršut, perhaps Croatia’s most famous appetizer, is a must-try. The unique taste and texture are allegedly due to the cold winds sweeping down to the coast used to dry the ham. Paški sir is a hard sheep's cheese from the island of Pag has the taste of fresh sage dusted with crystals of sea salt. It's as tangy as parmesan and as piquant as mature cheddar, and its flavour is the result of the sheep's diet of wild herbs that carpet much of the island.
- Pašticada - Beef stew should be so thick it doesn’t run across the plate, so dark it’s hard to discern meat from sauce and so hearty you need only one bowl for a complete meal. Pašticada is all of these things, a meaty stew that takes hours, if not days, to prepare and is the pride and joy of every Croatian cook. Although pašticada can be found all over the country, it originates in Dalmatia and one of the best places to try it is Split - served with gnocchi and a glass of red wine.
- Peka - Usually, lamb, veal, or octopus is placed with vegetables inside a dish with a metal lid and cooked in an open fireplace by the hot coals and embers placed over the lid. The dish is left to cook slowly in its own juices until the meat is tender. ‘Ispod peke’, or ‘under the bell’, is something you need to try at least once when in Croatia.
- Zagorski Štrukli - A is a popular dish in the north of the country - composed of dough and various types of filling, usually cheese, Štrukli can be either cooked or baked. It's a true traditional Croatian dish, even inducted into the list of Croatia’s intangible cultural heritage, maintained by Croatia’s ministry of culture, and for that reason alone, you should try it!
LGBTQ IN CROATIA
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Croatia have expanded in recent years, but LGBT persons may still face some legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 1977 and the status of same-sex relationships was first formally recognised in 2003 under a law dealing with unregistered cohabitation. Although same-sex marriages are still not recognised, Croatia introduced the Life Partnership act in 2014, which granted same-sex couples many of the same rights and obligations as heterosexual married couples.
While Croatia bans all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, there is still not a vast majority who are accepting of LGBTQ. They do however host annual Gay Pride Events in Zagreb, Split and Osijek amongst other cities. Zagreb is home to the biggest gay scene, including gay clubs and bars, plus many other places frequently advertised as gay-friendly. Other places that host LGBT parties, and are home to gay-friendly places such as bars, clubs, and beaches are Split, Rijeka, Osijek, Hvar, Rab, Rovinj and Dubrovnik.