Croatia holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
Croatian is the official language of Croatia, with 96 per cent of people in the country using it. Almost 50 per cent of the nation speaks English, which is widely used in commerce, throughout the tourism industry and in the coastal areas of the country. German is spoken by 34 per cent of Croats and 14 per cent speak Italian, largely because of the influx of German and Italian visitors during peak seasons.
The local currency is the kuna (Kn). While euros are accepted for some items, this is completely at the discretion of the service provider. The euro is not official currency so it is best to keep a cash supply of kuna or use debit cards, travellers’ cheques or credit cards to withdraw the appropriate currency. ATMs are readily available in Croatian cities, towns, resorts, banks, supermarkets and airports. Money can be easily exchanged at post offices, travel agencies, banks and exchange bureaux. Try to stay away from changing money at hotels, which are notorious for offering bad exchange rates.
A 90-day visa free exemption can be obtained on arrival for EU, EEA and Schengen region citizens. Nationals of other countries that do not qualify for this exemption will need to apply for a short-stay visa from the Croatian embassy in their home country before travelling. The fee for this short-stay visa is generally €35.
Weather in Croatia differs vastly from inland to the coast, with inland areas experiencing more of a continental climate and the coast more of a Mediterranean one. During summer (July to September), temperatures reach up to 39°C in coastal areas like Dubrovnik. Tourists are everywhere and prices are sure to skyrocket. During winter (December to February) inland cities like Zagreb are best avoided if you’re looking for an outdoor vacation as temperatures drop to -10°C.
The main international airport is in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb. Sometimes referred to as Pleso Airport, Zagreb Airport is well-equipped to handle international traffic. Other international gateways in use are located in Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik and Rijeka. Pula Airport is used for regional travel, while Osijek Airport in Slavonia is popular with low-cost airlines and can be handy for travel into Croatia.
National carrier Croatia Airlines flies direct from London to the capital, Zagreb. British Airways has direct flights from London Gatwick to the coastal city of Dubrovnik. Alternatively, travellers could choose a cheaper airline like easyJet, which flies between London Gatwick and Split, or FlyBe, which flies from Exeter and Birmingham to Dubrovnik. The travel time between London and Zagreb is approximately 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Highest prices for airfares are between May and September, and over the Christmas and Easter holidays, so book early or consider moving your trip outside of peak season. It is not possible to fly directly into Croatia from outside of Europe, so visitors coming from elsewhere will need to catch a connecting flight from a major European hub. Hailing a taxi at the airport on arrival is convenient but expensive as operators try to get more money from tourists than necessary. It is best to pre-order a taxi, even if there are several waiting on site.
Travelling from London to Zagreb with a rail ticket is possible but the journey will cost as much as, if not more than, a direct flight. For European residents, a better option is an inter-rail ticket which will get travellers into Croatia at a reduced price via a more scenic route. Prices vary according to age and duration of travel so make sure to double check before booking. For non-European residents, the Eurail global pass is an option, but needs to be purchased before the traveller leaves home.
The Croatian train service is constantly being improved, with more trains and routes added all the time. However, bus is still the fastest and most popular form of travel in the country. If you’re looking to get to the coast, taking a ferry may be your best bet.
Croatia Airlines, the national carrier, handles all domestic flights in the country. All flights connect through Zagreb and go to Split, Dubrovnik, Pula and Zadar. Distances between most cities are short, which makes air travel a bit of a hassle and, when compared to overland travel, expensive. It is mostly used for cross-country flights.
Croatia boasts a comprehensive bus network with several operators and routes. The country is actually known for its buses, which are efficient and generally faster than trains. Most carriers are comfortable, with air-conditioning and reclining seats. The largest bus companies are Autotrans, Brioni Pula and Contus, but there are several smaller and cheaper ones on offer as well.
The main ferry operator is the state-owned Jadrolinija, which is aided by a handful of other private operators. Ferries connect Croatia’s coast with its islands. Shuttles are used for short distances and leave every 30 minutes. Longer journeys can be made from the large ports of Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik. Prices for ferry rides are reasonable but those planning to take a motorbike or car onboard will be charged extra.
The main railway station is in Zagreb, with routes to Pula, Split and Rijeka. The rail routes are not nearly as extensive as the bus routes, with no lines going all the way to the coast. Travelling overland to places like Dubrovnik has to be done by bus or ferry. Putnicki trains stop at each station while the more expensive Intercity trains only stop at main points. The only train with a sleeper option is the one that makes the nine-hour journey on the Zagreb-Split route.
There are several international and local car rental companies in Croatia but during peak season, it can be difficult to find a vehicle. It is best to book in advance, online. Exploring the islands with a car is a possibility if you hop on a car ferry and pay the relatively small vehicle fee. The main road routes to Zagreb, Zadar and Split are generally in good condition but quality tends to deteriorate the further from the city centres you travel, and roads can be slippery during the wet season.
Dubrovnik is by far Croatia’s most popular holiday destination. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the town is nestled on the southwest coast. Between the historic city walls lie marble streets lined with quaint coffee shops, architectural gems from the Baroque era and historical churches and museums showcasing the city’s lively, and often turbulent, history.
Hvar, the most fashionable island off Croatia’s coast, boasts not only the trendiest of spots but also breathtaking natural beauty. From rolling hills and bursting vineyards to boutique fashion outlets and first class nightclubs, this island has it all. Because of its popularity, it is becoming one of pricier islands but if you’re willing to look hard enough, you could find accommodation and activities that won’t break the bank.
Those who are looking for a part of Croatia that is relatively untouched by tourism and development should consider the islands of Cres and Losinj in the westernmost point of the Kvarner Gulf. Spend lazy days in the rustic fishing village in Losinj and explore in the lush vegetation and deciduous forest of Cres.
Don’t get caught up on the islands for too long because Zagreb, the centrally located capital of Croatia, has just as much to offer. The largest city in Croatia, Zagreb is the perfect combination of history, culture and nightlife. Visit the uptown, with its narrow cobbled streets and 18th century architecture, for a reminder of what once was, and downtown for a taste of 21st century comforts.
Just north of Zagreb is Varaždin, Croatia’s old Baroque capital. Home to ancient pastel-coloured palaces, ornate churches and a famous graveyard which is now an historical monument, the town is well worth a visit.
In Split, explore the veritable city within a city that is Diocletian’s Palace. This UNESCO World Heritage site is located in the eastern half of Split’s old town and is one of the best-preserved Roman palaces in the world. Wander around the ancient streets of what has now become the city’s heart to soak up the Renaissance and Gothic architecture.
The Roman amphitheatre, or the arena as it’s called by locals, is a must-see when visiting the city of Pula. A towering coliseum in the city centre, this majestic structure is the sixth-largest Roman-style arena in the world. Shows and concerts are still held here from time to time, and with its capacity of 20,000, attending is no doubt a spectacular experience.
Comprised of 16 stunning turquoise lakes, billowing into frothing waterfalls and surrounded by luscious forested hills, Plitvice Lakes National Park is a feast for the eyes of any nature-lover. While swimming is prohibited here, hiking is a great way to see the magnificent fauna and flora.
If you’re in the pedestrian-only city of Trogir, make sure to stop at the Trogir Cathedral. This somewhat spooky cathedral is ornately decorated with coffer ceilings displaying legendary images and religiously significant bas reliefs. The cathedral’s highlight is on the western portal where visitors can see the most superb human and animal stone carvings.
Close to the city walls in Dubrovnik is the Dominican Monastery. The monastery is special not only because of its 15th century architectural design but because of its significance in the history and cultural heritage of Dubrovnik. The attached museum houses an outstanding collection of Renaissance art which should not be missed.
Croatia’s entertainment and nightlife is on the up, with bars, clubs, theatres and cinemas all over the country. Nightlife in Croatia tends to be seasonal, with the large cities of Zagreb, Zadar and Split heating up during winter, while the island towns of Hvar and Pag take pole position in the summer months.
From bars and Café to pubs and discos, Zagreb has the nightlife scene down to a tee. If you’re in the Upper Town, visit Tkalciceva Street, a toned-down version of Bangkok’s Khao San Road. If you’re in the Lower Town, try the walking streets of Bogoviceva and Trg Preradovica, home to Bulldog Café and Saloon, the oldest club in Zagreb.
Another city alive during the winter months is Zadar. The great thing about Zadar’s entertainment is that it is mostly located in the historic city centre. Home to some famous spots like The Garden, which was established by former UB40 band members, Zadar offers a quantity of quality bars, clubs and pubs.
In the summertime, follow the Croats and head to the islands. Hvar Town is famous for its top-notch entertainment, boasting five-star clubs akin to those in Las Vegas. Make sure you wear your Sunday best as you walk the red carpet to establishments like Carpe Diem, Hvar’s premier waterfront cocktail bar, and Veneranda, a Venetian fortress complete with dance floor, food lounge and swimming pool.
For a change from the club scene, check out the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb. Opened in 1895, the theatre still puts on stellar ballet and opera performances. The Moreška Sword Dance on KorÄula Island is also worth seeing. Performed since the 15th century, the Sword Dance offers visitors a great chance to experience Croatian traditions first-hand.
Generally, traditional sit-down breakfast is not a Croatian practice, with most restaurants and Café not serving morning meals. You’ll have to settle for your hotel’s breakfast buffet or at best, try burek, an apple, meat or cheese pastry which is probably the closest thing to breakfast you’ll find here.
As with the climate, the flavours of Croatia change from inland to the coast. Central Croatia is known for štrukli (a cheese filled pasta) and purica s mlicima (turkey baked in pastry). On the coast you’ll find such delicacies as pag-cheese (strong sheep’s cheese served with olives) and maneštra od bobić (minestrone). Of course, the coast has a range of fish dishes to offer like bakalar na bijelo (salted cod with potatoes) and brodet (a traditional fish stew).
Some Croatian staples which can be found all over the country and should definitely be sampled are ćevapÄići, Croatia’s hamburger (pork or beef meatballs served with bread and topped with onions), and the delicious side dish called blitva (Swiss chard topped with garlic and potatoes). If you’re looking for something a little less exotic, you’re bound to find delicious, thick crust, home-made pizza.
Croatia’s desserts are probably the highlight of the country’s cuisine. With specialities like kremšnite (a cream-filled cake topped with chocolate), paprenjaci (an unusual but delicious pepper and honey biscuit) and rapska torta (moist cake made with almonds and local Maraschino liquor), you really are spoilt for choice.
Croatia is well-known for its wine, with some 700 varieties on offer. Interestingly, Croatians prefer mixing their wine with mineral water into a drink called bevanda or gemist. On the coast you’ll find Maraschino (a traditional liquor made with cherries) but while travelling inland, you could try the refreshing sok od bazge (elderflower juice).
While beaches are aplenty, most are not sandy but rather covered with big rocks between which sunbathers need to find a prime spot. Nevertheless, there are still some gems. Brela Beach, just south of Split, is an exception to the rule with white sand, clear waters and shady palm trees. For those who need peace and quiet, Cres Island’s Valun Beach is the perfect place. A small strip of sandy beach protected by green, forested hills, Valun Beach is generally overlooked, making it a great spot for tranquil bathing.
What could be more romantic than a stroll on the seaside promenade (lungomare) from Opatjia to Lovran with your loved one? Stopping at all the beaches along the way to really absorb the beauty of the Kvarner coastline and sharing meals at the cutest Croatian bistros and cafés, this could turn into quite a special experience. Or hit Dubrovnik, the one-time romantic getaway of choice of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Just a short distance from Pula, the islands of Brijuni offer activities that can be enjoyed by everyone, including children. Brijuni National Park is especially popular with children, mainly because of the opportunity to go on a safari and see real-life zebras and elephants. There are no cars on the island, making it a safe environment for your little ones. Of course, there are also lovely sandy beaches where the whole family can spend sunny days building sand castles.
Tackle the limestone rock on the Croatian coast by rock climbing across the Mosor Mountains in Spilt. With several routes and levels of difficulty, every type of adventurer is catered for. It is also possible to take a kayak and navigate the waters around Dubrovnik and surrounding islands. Hiking in the Paklenica Canyon in Zadar may be strenuous at times, but is a spectacular way to take in the sights.