There’s no doubt that Croatia is no longer the off-the-beaten-path destination it once was. Croatia is firmly established on standard backpacking Europe routes as well as being a hot spot for mid-range and luxury travellers. Nevertheless, visiting Croatia can be a different experience to travelling in other Western and Central European countries.
Planning a trip to Croatia soon? These 10 tips will ensure that you’re well prepared for visiting this incredible country!
10 Tips for Planning a Trip to Croatia
1. Try to visit in shoulder season
If you have flexibility when planning a trip to Croatia, then you should definitely try and visit in the shoulder seasons of May to June or September to October. Not only is the weather still incredibly pleasant and warm during those months throughout most of the country but the crowds are significantly smaller particularly in popular tourist destinations such as Split or Dubrovnik. There are also a number of great festivals that occur in shoulder seasons such as the Truffle Festival in Istria and Split Film Festival in October.
If you’re happy to forgo swimming in the Adriatic then visiting in the off-season can also be a good option, particularly if trying you want to visit Croatia on a budget as prices are significantly discounted compared to peak season. In fact, some cities like Dubrovnik are actively encouraging travellers to visit in off season by offering free walking tours in order to reduce the crowds in peak season.
If you do decide to visit in peak season, then it is crucial you book your accommodation in advance. This is true regardless of whether you are looking for a budget hostel or a private room in a hotel as demand is incredibly high!
2. The bus network is extensive
Unlike many other popular destinations in Europe where train travel is most common, when planning a trip to Croatia expect to make significant use of the extensive bus network that exists in the country.
Buses in Croatia are comfortable, reliable and connect all the major points of interest making this a great option for travellers to get around, particularly those on a budget. Get By Bus is a great resource if you want to see the most up to date timetables and book tickets.
It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that the time it takes to get from one place to another can be longer than it might otherwise seem on the map. This is particularly relevant when travelling away from the coast as roads can be windy!
3. Rent a car if you want to get off the beaten path
While the bus network might be extensive in Croatia, if you want to really get off the beaten path then renting a car is a great option. This gives you the additional flexibility of being able to stop in small coastal cities or explore incredible hill towns that can be difficult without a car.
It’s worth keeping in mind that you’re unlikely to need a car for your entire Croatia itinerary as there is little need for a car in the main cities. Therefore, it likely makes the most sense to only rent a car for a few days when you want to get more off the beaten path. For example, on a recent trip to Istria, we rented a car only for a couple of days to explore the hill towns of Buje, Groznjan & Motovun.
When renting a car abroad, we recommend searching on Rentalcars.com to find the best deal as they aggregate all car hire companies available in the region.
4. Croatia is no longer a budget destination
I first visited Croatia in 2010 where, aside from Old Town in Dubrovnik, prices in Croatia were significantly cheaper than other popular European destinations. In recent years, however, Croatia has joined the European Union and Game of Thrones hysteria has gone from a niche book series to one of the most popular TV shows of all time, resulting in prices increasing throughout the country.
Some of the best ways to reduce costs in Croatia include avoiding expensive places like Dubrovnik and Hvar, cutting back on the amount of times you eat and drink out and pre-booking accommodation in advance.
5. Don’t skip Zagreb
It can be incredibly tempting to make a dash straight for Croatia’s Adriatic Coast and overlook the capital of Zagreb on your trip through Croatia. Don’t make this mistake!
Zagreb has garnered a reputation as a cool and up and coming destination with plenty of great things to do. Spend a few days here exploring the street art scene, visiting some unique museums such as the Museum of Broken Relationships, indulging in the fabulous restaurant scene which features great Croatian and international options and enjoying the fantastic nightlife that the city has to offer.
When planning a trip to Croatia, make sure to at least add two or three days so you have time to explore Zagreb properly!
6. Take your time when visiting
It can be tempting to add a few days in Croatia onto a longer trip throughout Europe. And while this might allow you to see one or two of the most popular destinations or possibly spend a few days lazing around on one of the islands, you’ll be able to experience a lot more of the country if you take your time when visiting.
Croatia is an incredibly diverse country and there are plenty of regions to explore, meaning that one could easily spend two or three weeks here and not run out of things to do. We recently spent 10 days just exploring the northern region of Istria and still felt there was more to see in that small pocket of Croatia after we were done!
7. Be conscious of your impact
Croatia’s booming popularity means that once less-trodden cities and national parks are now getting a lot more visitors than they once used to. That means that when planning a trip to Croatia, you should be extremely conscious about the impact you are having when travelling to a particular place and minimise it.
When visiting Dubrovnik, take the time to purchase a meal from a local restaurant. When visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park, keep to the marked paths and don’t leave any trash behind when you leave. Try and avoid visiting popular places in peak season so you lessen the burden on the destination.
Doing these things will ensure that Croatia remains a fantastic place to visit for years to come and locals benefit from the surge in tourism.
8. Learn a few basic phrases
While this is true for visiting any place around the world, it feels like there is a particular genuine delight from locals in Croatia when you speak a few phrases in their native language.
This might be due to a huge amount of tourists not bothering with this when visiting or simply because locals have a deep pride in their country and culture. Either way, learning a few basic words like hvala (thank you), molim (please), dobar dan (good day) and živjeli (cheers) will put you in good stead with the locals!
9. Make sure to sample the local cuisine
Despite having a similar climate to other gastronomical regions such as Spain & Italy, Croatian cuisine doesn’t have the same reputation which is undoubtedly a great shame!
Not only can you sample Balkan staples like burek and cevapi throughout the country but there is also a plethora of amazing dishes that are more akin to traditional Italian cuisine. Croatia produces amazing wines, olive oils, truffles in the northern region of the country and you can also indulge in amazing seafood all along the coast.
While Croatian cuisine might not be the main reason you want to visit this country, it will undoubtedly be one of the reasons why you keep coming back!
10. Read up on the history
When planning a trip to Croatia, it’s crucial that you take the time to learn about the recent history so you are aware and respectful when travelling here or anywhere in the Balkans!
While locals undoubtedly want to put the past behind them and move on with their lives, it’s important to educate yourself about the recent events in order to be a more conscious and well-rounded traveller.
There are some incredible works of fiction and non-fiction as well as a plethora of online resources that will undoubtedly add another dimension to your knowledge and experiences while travelling in Croatia.
Croatia is an incredible country to visit that is undoubtedly increasing in popularity. These ten tips for planning a trip to Croatia will hopefully ensure that you are as prepared as possible for visiting this beautiful destination.
Are you planning a trip to Croatia? Or have you visited before? Let us know in the comments below!