Absolutely the best way to explore Croatia is by car. The country is small, roads are generally in good condition, and you can simply see so much even in a short period of time.
Contents For Driving in Croatia
Roads in Croatia
A1 motorway, popularly called Dalmatina, connects Zagreb with Ploce since 2011 when construction of this motorway was finally done. This means that you can easily reach entire Dalmatia via nice, modern, multiple-lane highway.
From Ploce, you still have about 100 km to Dubrovnik, on a coastal state road D8. This road is in a good condition, but it is mostly a two-lane road. At few places you have a double-lane on one side of the road (the ascending side), while a single-lane remains on the other side (three lanes in total). This helps a lot when you are stuck behind trucks and other slow-moving vehicles. However, coastal road winds a lot, skirts along high cliff edges at some places, and passes through many villages, where you are highly advised to respect speed limits. This makes a trip a bit long and tiring.
There are other few roads that you can take to reach Dalmatia from north.
D1 road passes inland, through Plitvice Lake, and Knin, and then down to the coast where it joins the D8 road.
D8 (former E65), also called Jadranska magistrala (Adritic coastal road), is a coastal road from Rijeka to Dubrovnik. This is perhaps the most scenic road in all Croatia, especially popular among motocyclists. A part of the road from Rijeka to Zadar is the most difficult to pass, but also the less frequented.
Which road you'll take depends on your budget and time. For A1 motorway you'll need to pay tolls to run on it, but it's also the safest and fastest way to reach south. Road tolls from Zagreb to Split amounts to 175 kn one way.
D1 and especially D8 are both good roads, and a viable option to reach Dalmatia from the north. And while you'll save on tolls, you'll spend more time driving (although not so much more). Since the motorway has opened, less people use state roads. This makes them less busy, and faster too.
A6 motorway connects Zagreb and Rijeka. The distance between the two is around 150 km, and highway costs 70 kn each direction.
Multi-lane highway ends in Rijeka and further west to Istria, you drive on a two-lane road. To get to Istria, you'll pass through the Ucka Tunnel. After the tunnel you continue driving through Istria on the main Istrian road called Istarski Y due to its shape. This is partly two-lane road (until Pazin), and partly multi-lane road (from Pazin on). Istarski Y have tolls, and they amount to 44 kn from the tunnel Ucka to Rovinj (exit Kanfanar), and to 54 kn from the tunnel to Porec (exit Baderna).
You can also reach Rijeka and Istria from Zagreb using toll-free two-lane state roads. They first pass through Gorski Kotar, over Jelenje to Rijeka. Then further west you can take a coastal road D66. This road has been improved a couple of years ago. And while it's curvey, it also offers some wonderful scenic views. It's popular among motocyclists.
Driving in cities and towns
Driving in towns and cities during the summer is absolutely crazy. In coastal towns, on a rainy summer day (yes, that happens sometimes) everybody seems to be heading downtown … with a car. Please don't be one of those people 🙂
Big cities like Zagreb, Rijeka, and Split are loaded with traffic at all times, especially Zagreb. While real rush hour is normally from 7.30 am-9.30 am, and from 4.30 pm-6.30 pm, the rest of the day, traffic-wise, isn't much better. Zagreb is lovely to drive around in August as town gets devoid of people. However, in big towns you mostly won't need a car except to get in and out of town. All big towns have very good public transport. We advise you to use it.
Driving in countryside
Village roads are really good everywhere you go in Croatia. And while they do get busier during the tourist season, they are still nice to drive on.
Roads off the beaten path are narrow, twisty, unlit, and don't have a white line in the middle, but they are also devoid of traffic.
When driving in countryside pay attention to small and big wild animals (rabbits, deers, phasans, porte-pick, foxes) you are likely to encounter. On these minor roads you can also have tractors, and other farm vehicles.
Drivers in Croatia
In Croatia you've got two types of drivers: locals, and tourists. Although in a totally different way, they are both equally dangerous on a road.
Croatians, especially in Dalmatia, tend to be fast, impatiant drivers, who aren't shy to cut, overtake (sometimes even on blind corners), horn and swear at you if they feel you are slowing them down. Croatians also use a horn to greet friends and aquitances the encounter on the road (although this is getting out of fashion in last years).
Tourists, on the other hand, are often lost, and tend to take a sudden turns as soon as they see something interesting along the road.
But, things are not that bad as they might sound. Most of the time you'll have a pleasant time on Croatian roads. Just pay attention (and skip that sudden sharp turn when you see honey stand along the road).
Tips for driving in Croatia
- Observe speed limits. Inner city speed limit is 30 to 50 km/h; on open roads speed limit is up to 90 km/h (but with lots of slower limits in curves, and other road conditions); on all major toll roads speed limit is up to 130 km/h.
- Like in the rest of Europe, Croatians drive on the right side.
- If possible, avoid travelling on weekends in summer. Traffic congestion on the roads is common.
- Your country driver's licence will be sufficient to drive in Croatia. However, International Driving Permit, while not mandatory, is recomended.
- Road rules are similar if not the same like everywhere else: observe a speed limits, don't use your phone while driving, and wear a seatbelt at all times.
- Dipped headlights are mandatory at daytime during the winter (October through March).
- Alcohol rule is somewhat complicated: permited blood alcohol limit for driving is 0.05%, as long as you don't have any road accident. Involvment in any accident stipulates immediate zero alcohol tolerance (a mandatory breathalyzer is required for any accident).
- Croatian Auto Club (HAK) provides a road assistance, should you need it. They have English speaking operators. Telephone number is: 987
- Stop signs are mandatory, and right turn is only allowed if a traffic light is green.
- Traffic conditions are transmitted in Croatian, English and German via HRT 2 (98,5 MHz), and they also have news in these languages.
- The price of fuel is 9 kn/L for diesel, and 10 kn/L for gasoline.
Useful resources about roads and driving in Croatia
- Croatian Auto Club (HAK) has a useful smartphone application with detailed traffic information and condition, weather info, live web cam images, and more. It's free to download. Get it here.
- Plan your routes in Croatia with ViaMichelin and Google Maps.
- For more info about motorway and pay-tolls, visit Croatian Roads (HAC), Motorway Zagreb Rijeka, and BINA Istra.
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We hope you've got a good idea what to expect on Croatian roads, and what a driving in Croatia is all about. As always, if you've got any question, please leave it in the comments below.