Croatia (credit: Thinkstock)
Bordering central Europe, the Balkan Peninsula and the Mediterranean Sea, Croatia is a crescent-shaped country rich in history, culture and natural beauty. Americans thinking of making a trip to the country known as Hrvatska (HR) might be surprised just how affordable it can be, where even some of the finest luxury hotels can be reserved for well under $200. This getaway guide introduces potential visitors to ways to reach the country, in addition to what to see in the most popular cities, as well as recommended spots for dining and lodging.
How To Get To Croatia
Many American travelers flying into Croatia will arrive at Zagreb Airport (ZAG), the primary international airport in the country located outside Zagreb, the capital and largest city. Because there are no direct flights available from the U.S., American travelers must take a connecting flight from another European city, including Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris and London. Among the major international carriers with flights into Zagreb are Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, British Airways and Air France. The second and third busiest airports in Croatia are Split Airport (SPU) and Dubrovnik Airport (DBV). As with Zagreb, America travelers must take a connecting flight, typically from another European city.
At Zagreb Airport, arriving visitors can pick up a rental car, take a taxi, hotel shuttle or bus service provided by Pleso Transport into the city. Bus, taxi and hotel shuttle services can be found on the ground level in front of the terminal. Bus service runs daily from the airport to the main bus station in Zagreb from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. From the bus station, visitors can transfer to the ZET tram to the central train station. A number of rental car agencies operate out of the airport, including familiar American companies like Avis, Enterprise, Dollar, National and Hertz.
Because Dubrovnik is Croatia’s most popular tourist destination, American travelers may opt to fly into Dubronik Airport from a connecting city. Among the major airline carriers with service to Dubrovnik are Alitalia, British Airways, Iberia, Lufthansa and Scandinavian. Ground transportation services at Dubrovnik Airport include Atlas buses, taxi service, car rentals, hotel shuttle services and public bus transportation through Libertas.
Like other European countries, Croatia is easily accessible by passenger rail. U.S. visitors can purchase a variety of train passes including single trips or round trips, from country to country, between Croatian cities or unlimited travel for a specified amount of time from reputable companies serving Americans, such as Eurail or Rail Europe. Train tickets are also available through the Croatian railroad company HZPP.
Direct train service from other European cities is available from Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Slovenia and Switzerland.
By Cruise Ship
A trip on board a cruise ship is an excellent way to see both Split and Dubronik. Royal Caribbean offers several cruise trips that include both major Croatian ports of call, along with other fascinating cities like Athens, Venice, Santorini and Ephesus. Additionally, Norwegian, Carnival, MSC and Princess cruise lines offer similar packages to both Split and Dubrovnik, as well as luxury cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas and SeaDream, with Seabourn offering Dubronik as its only Croatian port of call. Smaller cruise ship might be even better, able to access other Croatian ports of call that the larger cruise liners cannot reach, such as Katarina Line, the leading small cruise ship provider in the country.
All U.S citizens arriving into Croatia must possess a U.S. passport, with at least one blank passport page for the entry stamp. Additionally, the U.S. passport must be valid at least six months. No vaccinations are required to enter Croatia from the United States. Additional information may be obtained from the U.S. Passports and International Travel website.
The official currency of Croatia is the Croatian kuna. 100 lipas equals one Croatian kuna. Denominations of coins are 1,2, 5,10, 20 and 50 lipa, although 1 and 2 lipa coins are rarely used. Additionally, coins are minted for 1, 2 and 5 kuna. Banknotes for kuna are available as 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 bills.
Currently, one Croatian kuna is equivalent to $.15 U.S. dollars, or 15 cents. Conversely, one U.S. dollar is equivalent to 6.79 Croatian kuna.
The official language is Croatian, which is also spoken in parts of other neighboring countries, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania and Slovenia. U.S. visitors are encouraged to speak basic Croatian terms, but English is spoken at most hotels, restaurants and stores in major tourist destinations.
The easiest and most affordable way to travel between cities is with the Croatian national railroad (HZPP). However, there is no train service into Dubrovnik, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Instead, visitors would have to take a train to Split, then transfer to a bus for a four-hour ride to Dubrovnik, making a flight into the popular coastal city far more appealing.
Renting a car in Croatia allows visitors far more freedom and a much faster mode of transportation. On the other hand, those who do rent a car must be familiar with basic road signs, obey all traffic laws and be aware that road conditions may differ significantly from conditions in the U.S. In order to rent a car in Croatia, the driver must be at least 23 years old and possess a valid driver’s license. Additionally, an International Driver Permit is required to operate a motor vehicle in Croatia, as well as car insurance. An International Driver Permit may be obtained from AAA or the National Automobile Club. Lastly, motorists must be aware that there is a zero tolerance law in effect for driving under the influence of alcohol. More specifically, a driver may operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of up to .05. However, anyone under the age of 24 cannot drive with a blood alcohol content greater than 0 percent. Any person under the age of 24 with a blood alcohol content greater than 0 percent is subject to arrest. More information can be obtained through the U.S. Passports and International Travel website for Croatia, the Croatian Motorways website and the Croatian National Tourist Office.
Recommended Accommodations In Croatia
10 recommendations for overnight lodging from the three top destinations in Croatia:
- Best Western Premier Hotel Astoria (Zagreb)
- Esplanade Zagreb Hotel (Zagreb)
- Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik (Dubrovnik)
- Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik (Dubrovnik)
- Hotel Jagerhorn (Zagreb)
- Hotel Luxe (Split)
- Palace Judita Heritage Hotel (Split)
- Piazza Heritage Hotel (Split)
- Royal Princess Hotel (Dubrovnik)
- Villa Dubrovnik (Dubrovnik)
Visitors have what seems like an endless collection of outstanding places to dine. Here are 10 of the most popular restaurants from the three major tourist destinations in Croatia.
Located along the Adriatic Sea near the southernmost portion of Croatia, Dubrovnik is widely considered as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Also one of the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean Sea, this fascinating seaport city has a history that can be traced to the 7th century, and the Old City of Dubrovnik, also known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Much of the collection of defensive stone walls built during the 14th and 15th centuries still remain around the Old City, as well as medieval fortresses, including the largest and most prominent — Falcon Fortress (Soko Grad), Lovrijenac, now used as a theater and Minceta Tower, located at the highest point of the city. Other notable attractions include the Stradun (Placa – main pedestrian street), Dubrovnik Cathedral and Lokrum, a island in the Adriatic just 656 yards from the city. Dubrovnik is also well known for its world-class beaches, such as Banje, Sunji Lapad Bay and its own Copacabana Beach.
Like Dubrovnik, Split is located on the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea with stunning vistas and an extensive history. With a history stretching back to the 4th century BCE, Split is the second largest city in Croatia and has the largest passenger seaport, the third largest in the Mediterranean. There are several notable landmarks throughout the city, but visitors should take time to visit the Diocletian’s Palace, Parco Nazionale Krka, Saint Dominius Cathedral and Brela Beach. The Diocletian’s Palace is an ancient Roman palace built in the 4th century AD for the Roman emperor by the same name and is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, largest city and the primary cultural and political center of the country. Located in the northwestern section of Croatia near the border of Slovenia, the city is home to several leading museums, the Croatian National Theatre and a multitude of significant landmarks including Ben Jelacic Square, the primary center of activity in Zagreb; the towering Zagreb Cathedral; Saint Marks Church and the 13th century Lotrscak Tower, where the famous Gric cannon is still fired daily at noon after nearly 150 years. Of the many leading museums in the city of nearly 800,000 inhabitants are places like the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art, the celebrated Museum of Broken Relationships, Mimara Museum for world-class European painting, Zagreb City Museum, the Archeological Museum featuring the Vucedol Dove and arguably the city’s most famous museum, Klovicevi Dvori Gallery. While in Zagreb, visitors can enjoy the many choices for dining, from tasty street food to fabulous, high-end restaurants offering traditional Croatian cuisine like pasticada (Dalmatian beef stew), crni rizoto (black risotto), brodet (seafood stew), gnocchi and zganci (pasta). While most of the city sleeps, some visitors may enjoy the exciting nightlife in Zagreb at places like Gallery Club, Green Gold Club, Route 66 and Club Mocvara.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com