In this week's Croatia travel tips we are sharing our tips for first-time travel to Croatia. Readers of our blog, often send us emails with questions regarding their upcoming, and often first-time, visit to Croatia. So we've decided to publish a post with some of the most common concerns, misconceptions, and general tips.
Even if you've been to Croatia before, we hope you'll find some useful tips for your next vacation in Croatia.
First-time travel to Croatia: all you need to know if you travel to Croatia for the first time
Stay somewhere central
You can't visit the entire country in a week's stay. No matter how small Croatia might seem, the country is long, and from Umag to the northwest to Dubrovnik to the southeast you'll need to cover 700 km. Besides, there are so many places to visit in Croatia, that you simply can't do it all in a week or two.
If you still like to visit more than one place, stay somewhere central. And then do day trips from your base location.
Split can be a good base to visit Dalmatia (and Split is an awesome town to see!). From Split, you can easily reach the islands of Brac, Hvar, Korcula, and Vis, Trogir, Omis, Krka Waterfalls, and even Dubrovnik.
Take a road trip
If you don't travel by car already, then rent one at least for a day when in Croatia. Croatia is a perfect destination for a road trip. Roads are in great condition, and the scenery is breath-taking.
Our favorite road trips are along Adriatic coastal road from Split to Dubrovnik, along the Peljesac peninsula, and around Istria. Here is our full post on Driving in Croatia, and Car Rental in Croatia.
I would say that travelers to Croatia, after visiting a country for a brief time, leave it with the biggest misconception about food.
No, along the coast, locals don't eat roasted pork. We'll all always rather have a roasted lamb. But hey, if Germans, our most numerous guests, love their roasted pork, then we are happy to prepare it for them.
Many restaurants are also very touristy, and not particularly exciting. You know those places offering pasta, pizza, risotto, grilled meat, and a fish plate for two?! Advertised, for better understanding, with photos of the plates you'll get.
Please, try to eat at least once at restaurants that locals love.
Island hopping on your own isn't that easy
Many readers of our blog, as well as our friends, when planning to visit Croatia for the first time, imagine themselves hopping from one island to another and visiting half dozen of them in less than a week.
It's not going to happen. While islands are not far one from another geographically, they are far enough when it comes to ease of transport. More often than not you'll need to choose a port city on the mainland for your base if you would like to visit more than one island during your short stay in Croatia.
Sorry to disappoint you, but the only way to do it is by renting a yacht, or hopping on those charter boats that sail along Adriatic.
Zagreb is for many visitors to Croatia, their entry point to Croatia, yet the majority of travelers either visit it for just a couple of hours or skip it altogether. Mistake! Zagreb is wonderful, and even more so in summer, when many locals leave town for the coast, traffic gets light, and lots of street performances take place all over the town.
Shop at a local green market
Croatians love shopping for fresh produce at the open-air green and fish markets. You'll find these markets in every town in Croatia.
Feel the pulse of the town, and watch the locals go about their everyday life, as you explore local green markets. We've written about Dolac, Zagreb's main green market, and Pazar, Split's green market.
Plitvice aren't the only national park
Plitvice is one of the most visited places in all Croatia, and the single most visited national park in Croatia. But, indeed, it's not the only beautiful national park in Croatia.
Croatia's got them eight. If you don't like crowds, consider visiting Risnjak, North Velebit, or Paklenica National Parks.
If you like to stick to waterfalls, try Krka Waterfalls instead. If you are curious about the Croatian islands, why wouldn't you visit Kornati, Mljet, or Brijuni, all three national parks themselves?
Istria is the most visited region in Croatia. Yet it remains very little visited by overseas guests, like Australians, Americans, or Japanese.
It sometimes seems to be Europe's best-kept secret. Lots of Europeans, particularly Germans, Austrians, and Italians, spend their holidays in Istria.
If it's your first-time travel to Croatia, consider visiting Istria. The region is gorgeous, full of history, culture, and a dream destination for any foodie.
Forget trains, use buses instead
Unlike the rest of Europe, the Croatian train network is really poor, and not really a viable way to explore the country. However, the bus network is extensive, awesome, and reliable. Forget trains, and look for buses instead.
GetByBus does a great job of aggregating lots of bus lines within Croatia, and between Croatian towns and major European destinations. Even more, they offer online tickets for all those bus lines.
Croatia isn't off the beaten path destination
Hell, no! Croatia has always been popular among European travelers.
When you visit, especially during high season (July, August), and especially popular destinations like Plitvice, Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, Istria, expect crowds, queues, traffic jams, and few (if any) solo moments for a selfie.
Taxis are expensive
Uber just started operating in Croatia a few years ago, and so far it operates only in Zagreb and Split a year around. In other coastal towns, like Dubrovnik, Zadar, and Rovinj, Uber operates seasonally.
Zagreb also has the most competitive and cheapest taxi scene in all Croatia. So, yes, if visiting Zagreb, go ahead and take a cab everywhere.
As for the rest of Croatia, use it if it's your only transport option, or if you are two or more and can split a cost. Taxis are super expensive, and the drivers aren't always polite.
English is widely spoken
No need to worry about not speaking Croatian. It's a difficult language to learn and Croatians know it.
Almost everybody speaks at least a little English, and many people also speak at least another foreign language (German and/ or Italian being the most widely spoken languages after English).
Excellent tourist infrastructure
Tourism, as we know it today, started mass developing in Croatia in the '60s. And today tourism is the main industry in Croatia (for better or worse).
That said, expect to find an excellent tourist infrastructure all along with coastal Croatia: from amazing all-inclusive resorts, luxury & boutique hotels, budget hostels, to an abundance of vacation rentals, villas, and campsites.
Read more: Croatia Accommodation Guide
Don't be afraid to rent with locals
Croatians have a long tradition of hosting vacationers from all over the world. Almost every family along the coast rent apartments to tourists. Vacation rentals are a great alternative to hotels, offer better value for money (especially for families, or large parties), come with a fully-equipped kitchen, and offer more space.
It's not cheap, but it doesn't need to be expensive
People sometimes falsely assume that Croatia is cheap. Well, it's not. In fact many things, particularly groceries, are more expensive than in the US or any Western European country.
The only things I find cheap(er) in Croatia are wine, spirits, cigarettes, pastry shops, and dining out.
For the rest, expect to spend as much as back home.
Read more: Cost of travel in Croatia
Wine here is awesome, and so is olive oil
Croatia is a small country, and whatever people here produce, they produce it in small quantities. All produce is also mostly sold to the Croatian market.
This is the reason you've perhaps never heard of Croatian wine or olive oil. But let me reassure you, they are of excellent quality, and must try when in Croatia. In fact, we highly recommend you to go wine tasting or olive oil tasting.
As for olive oil, I am absolutely crazy about this Croatian stuff. So much that now we even make our own olive oil. We recommend visiting Chiavalon Olive Oil Estate in Vodnjan.
Croatian currency is Kuna
Yep, it's true! Croatia is a member of the EU, but not a member of the Euro Zone (countries using Euro as a common currency).
Croatian currency is Kuna, and the exchange rate (as per May 2020) is 7,6 Kn per 1 €, 6,9 Kn per 1 US$, and 8,5 Kn per 1 £.
Pack light, but don't forget these items
We strongly believe that one should always travel light, and bring as little things as possible when traveling.
Read more: Packing list for a vacation in Croatia
Recommended travel guides
- Fodor's Croatia Travel Guide (we are co-authors!).
- Lonely Planet Croatia Travel Guide
- Rick Steves' Croatia & Slovenia
Further reading: more Croatia travel tips
We've got lots of good stuff here at our Croatia Travel Guide and Blog, stick around, read further, and let us know if we can help with anything regarding your travel to Croatia.
- A Complete Travel Guide To Croatia: 26 Things To Know Before Travelling To Croatia
- Car Rental In Croatia
- Ultimate Packing List For Vacation In Croatia
- Things To Do In Croatia
- Croatia Travel Budget: How Much Money You'll Need In Croatia
- Croatia Travel Budget Tips
- Where To Have Local, Cheap And Delicious Meals In Croatia
- How To Choose Your Destination In Croatia
- Where To Go In Croatia: Best Places To Visit In Croatia
- A Complete Guide To Accommodation In Croatia
- Best hotels in Croatia
- Best all-inclusive hotels in Croatia
- Driving in Croatia
We hope you've enjoyed our tips for first time travel to Croatia. Still, have a question? Please leave them in the comments below.
Featured photo credit: MacPepper via Flickr