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Two years ago, I visited Croatia for the first time. I spent two weeks in the country in total, the first week on a road trip from Pula to Split, and I was blown away — first by how madly I fell in love with Croatia, and second, by how it had been the easiest road trip of my life.
It’s incredible — Croatia could not be more perfect for a road trip. But while I want to sing this from rooftops, the truth is that nobody has a clue about it.
Croatia is a dream destination for lots of my friends back home in America — so much that each of them might as well have Croatia Pinterest boards for all the dreamy photos of Adriatic coastline that they post!
They love Croatia. They dream about Croatia. They’ve bookmarked Croatia as a “someday” destination.
But when it comes time to actually book a trip to Europe, they don’t choose Croatia. They go to more popular countries for Americans to visit like Italy and France, Ireland and the UK, Spain and Germany and Iceland and the Netherlands.
For the few who do decide to visit Croatia, they usually take a fully organized tour. Or a cruise on a major cruise line departing from Venice, taking in one day in Split and one day in Dubrovnik before heading on to Montenegro and Greece. They never go on their own.
I think Croatia intimidates a lot of people and keeps them from traveling independently. People think of an Eastern European country at war, when in reality Croatia is much more similar to Western Europe than Eastern Europe, is a member of the EU, and there hasn’t been a war for nearly 20 years. The country is incredibly safe, English is widely spoken, and it’s outfitted for all kinds of travelers, from adventurous backpackers to sun-seekers who don’t plan on leaving their resort.
The truth? I think Croatia is a lot easier to travel independently than Italy, France, or Spain.
Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with taking a tour or a cruise if that’s what you want to do. Both tours and cruises have their advantages and can be a ton of fun. I went on a sailing cruise from Split to Dubrovnik two years ago and loved it (though I wouldn’t do it again — I think I’m past backpacker cruises now!).
But I do have a problem with the idea that taking a tour or cruise is the only way to explore Croatia, because it couldn’t be less true.
The Ease of Traveling in Croatia
Even if this is your first time traveling in Europe, Croatia is an easy country to start with. Some of those reasons:
English is widely spoken. You will definitely have an easier time speaking English in Croatia than in Spain, France, or Italy!
It’s easy to get around. I recommend renting a car, but if you decide to go via public transportation, buses go everywhere; there are also some train lines. In Dalmatia you’ll find ferries as well.
The tourism infrastructure is excellent. You’ve got everything from fancy resorts to dirt-cheap hostels, boutique hotels, and a plethora of vacation rentals. Tourism is a major industry here and you won’t have trouble finding anything you need.
The food is great. Many people think Croatian food is similar to Italian, but it definitely has its own twist. Plan on eating a lot of risotto, fresh fish, Croatian prosciutto, cheeses, truffle dishes, fresh pastas, squid ink dishes, and unique sweets and desserts along with outstanding wines from all over the country.
It’s ideal for a road trip. I road-tripped through Croatia both on this trip and my first trip two years ago, and I think it’s the best way to travel the country.
Road Tripping Croatia
What makes Croatia such a great road trip destination? The roads are in excellent condition, the signs are clear, and the driving is, well, normal and considerate for the most part — not the scary driving that you typically associate with the Mediterranean.
Additionally, the scenery is so beautiful that it begs you to stop and take photos along the way. (The photo above was taken on a random bridge in the middle of nowhere!) And the rest stops are so nice — they put American rest stops to shame with their delicious, healthy food. I actually got freshly squeezed blueberry lemonade at one rest stop!
For the most part, you won’t have to worry about parking. When booking your lodging, ask about parking and they’ll let you know where the best place is to park.
The greatest benefit of taking a road trip is having the freedom to do whatever you’d like, whenever you’d like. No waiting around for the twice-daily bus to come; no planning an itinerary solely based on where public transportation goes.
While without a car you could make your way from Istria to the Plitvice Lakes in a single day, you’d be held to a strict bus schedule. I did it on a road trip and I stopped at several adorable towns along the way, including Hum, “the smallest town in the world,” which isn’t exactly a major public transportation hub.
You can stay in places as long as you’d like. You can spend a day exploring five towns recommended by your guidebook — or you can just drive to a beach and lie out until the sun goes down. It’s all up to you.
Road Trip Bases
If you don’t want to be changing hotels or guesthouses every day, base yourself in one place for a few days and do day trips by car. Here are five of my recommended road trip bases:
Pula — the main hub of Istria gives you easy access to the whole region: the gorgeous town of Rovinj, the beaches of Rt Kamenjak, and pretty towns like Labin, Bale, Motovun and more. (Plus, you can eat at Jupiter Pizzeria every night. Their black truffle pizza is one of the best things I have EVER eaten, ANYWHERE.)
Zagreb — Croatia’s capital has a surprising amount surrounding it, including the Plešivica Wine Region, filled with wineries and gorgeous mountains, and Samobor, a town famous for its crafts and desserts. A few hours away are the world-famous Plitvice Lakes.
Zadar — From this gorgeous Dalmatian town, you can easily do day trips to the Plitvice Lakes, the lovely town of Šibenik and nearby waterfall-filled Krka National Park, the lunar-looking island of Pag, rock climbing hotspot Paklenica National Park, Split, and nearby Trogir.
Split — From Split you can go back to Zadar, Paklenica, Krka, Šibenik, and Trogir as well, or head southeast to Makarska. You can also hop on a ferry to the islands of Brač, Hvar, or Vis.
Dubrovnik — In addition to day-tripping by boat to islands like Mljet, Korčula and Hvar, you can also hop across the border to Kotor, Montenegro, or Mostar, Bosnia.
And from there, you can do whatever you want. You can hop from winery to winery in Plešivica or Istria or Dalmatia, sampling the fabulous wines (though make sure you have a designated driver!). You can hug the coast and leap out of your car every few minutes, camera in hand, spellbound at the coastline before you. You can plan to hike in one national park in the morning before climbing in another in the afternoon.
Croatia is one of my favorite countries — it’s held court in the top five since I first visited two years ago. It’s one of the most staggeringly beautiful countries I’ve ever seen, and one that leaves me breathless with wonder.
And honestly, it makes me upset to think of people spending years dreaming of Croatia and then casting it aside because they don’t think they are capable of traveling there.
They are capable. You are, too.
Come to Croatia. Explore this fantastic country on your own terms. You won’t regret it.
Planning a Trip to Croatia:
Croatian Islands and the Dalmatian Coast:
- How to Spend Three Days in Dubrovnik
- Why Korčula, Croatia, is the Coolest Island of All
- Vis, Croatia, is a Quietly Stunning Island
- Dubrovnik Survival Guide
- The Waterfalls of Krka National Park
- A Place Like Zadar
- 30 Fabulous Things To Do in Split, Croatia
- 29 Sunny Things To Do In Hvar, Croatia
Istria and the North:
- Guide to Rovinj, Croatia’s Prettiest City
- Places to Visit in Istria, Croatia’s Italian-Flavored Peninsula
This campaign was created and sponsored by the Croatian National Tourist Board in partnership with iambassador. All opinions, as always, are my own.
103 thoughts on “Don’t Let Croatia Slip Through Your Fingers”
Croatia was never really on my radar, I’ll admit. These days it’s probably moved up to my Tier B travel list – would like to get there but not before the places on my Tier A list. We love road trips so it sounds like a great destination for us! A European road trip would be a real treat.
Thats a shame NZ Muse. I live in Australia where Croatia has become one of the most popular destinations in the world. The Australians are going in droves. Funnily enough nearly every Australian that I meet that has traveled to Europe has done it as part of a European Tour taking in the countries you mention above and I would have to say over 50% of them say that Croatia is their favourite country in Europe. Google image some of these places and you’ll see why Rastoke, Plitvice Lakes, Sibenik, Primosten, Kornati, Varazdin, Rovinj, Motovun. These are the lesser known beauties and that is on top of your Hvar, Dubrovnik, Split, Brac etc
Awesome read Kate and I completely agree. One of the most beautiful countries on earth filled with great people. Could happily spend a year there just going round, seeing sights and chilling out to be honest but I hate the cold so just do the summers ha.
I’d absolutely love to visit Croatia and it’s easily in my top five places to visit in Europe for my next tip over there. It just looks so visually stunning and everyone I know who has been just raves about it. You’ve made some great suggestions and I’ll be taking note for when I do eventually get there.
“Croatia is one of my favorite countries – it’s held court in the top five since I first visited two years ago. It’s one of the most staggeringly beautiful countries I’ve ever seen, and one that leaves me breathless with wonder.”
That is EXACTLY how I feel about it. The only difference was I first went seven years ago – as soon as direct flights from London -> Pula began. I’ve just returned from my third visit (to N and C Dalmatia) and still feel like I’ve barely ‘scratched the surface’.
I was completely blown away with Zadar, in every respect and plan to return as there’s ‘unfinished business’ i.e. Kornati, Dugi Otok, Paklenica, Silba and Olib islands, etc.
Love reading like-minded articles just like this – but hey, let’s not convince everyone to go or it won’t be anywhere near as much fun next time!! 😉
The conundrum of a travel blogger! Do I tell people to come to this place??
Will be planning my trip soon. Is there any time of year best or a time not to go. I also would like to ask if you have a favorite camera as I am searching for one now. Thanks for you blog love it. Oh, and do you do your on tours? Enjoy today
I absolutely agree! Croatia was excellent to travel alone and everything went smoothly for me.. plus it’s gorgeous!!
This year is without doubt the year I WILL make it to Croatia, I have read too many articles raving about it to not go!
Good! Hope you enjoy it!
Croatia is definitely been on the top of my list – fingers crossed I make it there next year! Renting a car sounds amazing – great to know parking isn’t an issue even in the bigger places. We’ve rented a car in several countries and it’s a great way to get around freely!
Love this! The positives that you listed for traveling in Croatia all sound awesome. Beautiful pictures as well. I need to travel here soon! 🙂
This makes me want to visit Croatia even more! And black truffle pizza sounds amazing.
Totally agree with you on Croatia being easier for English-speakers than Italy and France. When we went my husband joked that Croatians know their language is more difficult for English-speakers to pick up, so most people have learned English instead – very different than the expectation in some other parts of Europe that you’ll speak the local language (which is not unreasonable – it is their country after all!).
So true! They know it’s not as easy.
What you wrote about wanting to visit Croatia but then winding up in other European countries is exactly the case for me – I’ve always wanted to go, but for whatever reason just haven’t pulled the trigger yet. I’ve been following your Instagram feed, though, and the Croatia pictures are so gorgeous – I’m realizing more and more that I need to make it a travel priority!
Boat tours are great for partying too if that’s your thing. Hiking is becoming very popular in Croatia as well. Can’t wait to make my way up the coast from Greece!
Hi Kate! I’ll be going to Croatia for the first time this August and I am definitely planning on renting a car. I was a little hesitant about road tripping at first but after reading this post you’ve put my mind at ease. Do you have a recommendation for a local car rental company or should I just stick with a larger company like Budget or Hertz?
Last time, I used a tiny company that I hadn’t heard of and I had no issues. Just make sure you understand the contract up front!
Hi Kate, absolutely agree, Croatia is amazingly beautiful. I’m off on a little jaunt around Europe in a few weeks, hopefully I’ll get to spend lots of time there 🙂
Heading there solo next week!! Can’t wait! It’s hilarious because when I told people I was going to Greece they were all excited, and when I told them I was going to Croatia they all looked at me like I was nuts. I think people are nuts who don’t realize how amazing & beautiful this country is! (plus, there are GoT filming spots and I’m a HUGE nerd.)
If you’re still there, try to do the GOT tour! I did it and it was really cool.
Hey Mandie (and/or Kate, if you know!), I’m planning a Fall-Winter trip to Europe and was really hoping to go to Greece and Croatia in Sept/October but haven’t been able to find any reasonable ways to get from one country to the other. There don’t seem to be any budget flights or convenient train travel. Are you planning on going to Greece and Croatia back-to-back, and if so, how are you doing it? I really don’t want to cut either form my trip, but it seems to add $500 or so just get from one to the other.
Would love any suggestions about this!
Well, you could always go overland via buses if you have the time. I’m dying to get to Albania and Montenegro is FANTASTIC — one of my favorites. Or you could go inland via Macedonia, another of my favorites.
You’re right that people love Croatia, but when it comes to actually traveling in Europe, everyone chooses the same hackneyed destinations – France, Spain and the like. And yes, road tripping does sound easy and fun in Croatia. But yes, I’d like to explore it via a cruise too.
Hi Kate! Wanted to thank you for such a wonderful piece about my home country. It is beautiful indeed. I’m happy to hear about positive experiences from people who visited, Croatia deserves more accolades! And awareness that it’s not just Dubrovnik that is awesome, there’s
so much more to it!!! Thank you!!!
Mainly from your posts, I am really wanting to visit Croatia. But it’s not going to be a ‘someday for me’, I am setting an aim of saving up, researching, and planning, and getting over there in 2016 (2015 is Madeira 🙂 )
Thanks so much for writing such lovely, inspirational posts.
That sounds like a great goal, Rachel!
We stopped in Split on our cruise, and I wish we’d seen more of it! It was July 4, 2010, and we did a backroading jeep tour through the mountains. 2 out of 3 of our jeeps broke down on a tiny dirt road by a river and we were stranded for a couple hours while they were repaired. What we got to see of the tour and the countryside was amazing!
Such a great country — and very kid-friendly, too! 🙂
Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve being thinking about a trip to Europe for some time but rather than do a Contiki or other backpacker tour, I’m keen to make my own itinerary with friends and really explore one or two countries – Croatia is top of the list! This really is just the info I was looking for 😀
DO. Contiki is ridiculous. A Contiki tour passed through our hostel in Ljubljana — they literally arrived at 3 PM and departed for Venice the next morning. That was all their time in Slovenia. o_O
Great blog. You really explored it 🙂 ive been going there almost every summer the past 15 years and its everything you said and more. I would definitely recomend going there, also while you are in Croatia you should definitely visit the neighbour countries such as Bosnia (mostar, sarajevo ect.) and Montenegro (sct stefan where one of the bond movies were made, budva ect) . So much history and beautiful nature.
These places were among top popular destinations before the war in the 80s. And are slowly returning. The war ended after all 20 years ago 😉
Thanks for great text about Croatia!One tip for future travelers, the best way to see and enjoy Croatia is go sailing:-)
This post made me sad because I was in Dubrovnik a few weeks ago and that was the week it was thunderstorming. We were supposed to go to Split and Montenegro but had to fly out of the country after two days because the weather sucked the whole week. I hope I can go back someday 🙁
My heart aches for you, Jennifer! We just escaped the thunderstorms ourselves.
I LOOOOOVE Croatia. I also fell madly and deeply in love with it on my first trip there 3 years ago. I only went to Zagreb, Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik. I can’t wait to go back and explore these other destinations.
I never thought about going to Croatia before (aside from maybe doing a cruise there), but these pictures make it look so wonderland. I may have to add it to my travel bucket list!
I went to Dubrovnik a few years ago and fell totally in love — I’ve been dying to return and see more of the country ever since. Blueberry lemonade sounds divine!
Definitely in my top 2 places to visit in Europe when I finally make it, thanks for another great read and reconfirming that I must go! never thought anywhere in Europe would be good for a road trip.
Oh, Europe is MADE for road trips! I’ve even road tripped through the Faroe Islands!
Well you’ve convinced me! I would never have thought of Croatia to be honest, but it sounds just perfect for a chance to relax and explore in the sun. What more could anybody want?
We did Croatia by bus/train/ferry rather than as a road trip, but that worked out well, and I absolutely fell in love with the country. Gah, I wish I could be back there right now!
I didn’t know that Croatia was so easy to travel in. It sounds like a great place. 🙂
SUCH a helpful post! I really didn’t know much about Croatia, surprise surprise! Definitely bookmarking this. Beautiful pictures, as always. Thanks for sharing!
Happy travels :)N
My problem with Croatia is it’s only been available to me in winter the last few years… I don’t want to miss out on that sunshine! Do you know if it is nice in January or February Kate?
I know people who have been in the winter — Akila and Patrick of TheRoadForks.com went then, and their pics of the snowy Plitvice Lakes were beautiful — but honestly, I’d hold out for summer if you can. It’s just SUCH a great summer destination.
… How is fall weather in Croatia? Thinking late September. first week of October …
Great weather then. But Google it for more accurate numbers.
A friend and I were drooling over your Instagram photos from Croatia a couple of weeks ago–definitely putting this gorgeous destination on my list!
I’ll admit, I really only wanted to ever go to Dubrovnik or elsewhere along the coast. We actually considered doing one of those cruises too, lol.
But knowing that it’s easier to get around independently than some other Mediterranean countries, it’s a little more enticing now.
This makes us so much more eager to visit and spend more time in the country. We are planning a big European trip for next year and seem to be hearing more and more about Croatia. It’s looking like we are going to have to carve out a nice chunk of time for the country when we are there!
We visited Croatia 2-3 years ago, and some parts of it were very friendly while some quite aggressive. Also, we took a cab from zagreb to plitvice, and the cab driver tried to take us in a wrong direction and we had to fight with him.
I’d be intrigued to know which parts of the country were considered “agressive” and why you thought that? Certainly not my experience – I’ve found them the most helpful and friendly people I’ve ever dealt with, in Istria, north Dalmatia and Dubrovnik and further south.
I visited Croatia for the sole reason that it was a really cheap weekend flight from my current home in Germany. What I discovered when we arrived was that Croatia has way more to offer than I ever imagined. I think that Croatia really flies under the radar and isn’t generally a top place to visit for most people. For me it was never somewhere I just ‘had’ to visit. Now, however, I’m trying to find a way to get back because 3 days is nowhere near enough time to explore. While we took the public transportation during our trip, I would probably rent a car next time around.
Croatia is one of those places that have always been on my “list” but not at the top – a someday destination, the kind of place I say I’ll go after I’ve gone to some of the other places that I want to see. That said, your posts have really made me want to go, and I’ve always really wanted to go to Montenegro, so maybe that’ll be my trip to Europe next summer.
Great pictures, as usual!
My girlfriend and I are in the planning stages of a Croatia/Slovenia/Venice trip, and as young people another really enticing thing about Croatia/Slovenia is the cost. It seems like you get a lot more bang for your buck than you do with the typical Italy/France/UK trips, especially with lodging. We were looking at a full day kayak tour for $70, something like that would be twice as expensive or more in the US and other parts of Europe.
And there honestly aren’t trade-offs for that low cost, unlike some of their neighboring countries (like squat toilets and rivers full of trash in Bosnia).
Love this post. I was thinking about doing a road trip from pula to split so was very interested to hear what you had to say. Off to research it now!!
After living in Dubrovnik for awhile, I can whole heatedly say I love Croatia! I loved this post, and the photos really brought me back.
Living in Dubrovnik must be fantastic, Katie! I’d love to look out over the Adriatic every day!
Croatia has been on my bucket list for a few years now! Hope to make it there this fall. Thanks for sharing your travel tips and beautiful photos of Croatia!
I am traveling for the first time to Europe in September. I’ll be flying from London to Croatia and am considering renting a car. Can you tell me more about how to go about doing that?
Love your blog!
Hi, Erin —
Just book online in advance! I usually book cars through Kayak.com/cars.
Thanks for this! I’m one of the ones who’s been dreaming of visiting Croatia and the Balkan region for a long time and it’s good to know that it can be a low stress place to visit. I love the idea of doing a road trip around the region and this post was super helpful!
I’m sitting in the airport in Venice, waiting for a bus to take me to Ljubljana and, from there, a train to Zagreb. Croatia has been at the top of my list for a long time and, like many Americans, I hesitated before booking this trip.
For about three seconds.
I could not be more excited to spend a week and a half exploring Zagreb and Dubrovnik. I only wish I had more time! Thanks for this post — the most common question I get from other Americans is “Why the heck would you pick Croatia?” I think it is severely undervalued when it comes to US tourism, and those Americans who pass it by are missing out!
…of course I won’t know for sure until I get there and can confirm it with my own experiences. 🙂
I’m sitting here at the Venice airport WITH Jessi, and wanted to thank you for this post, too! This is a trip we’ve been daydreaming about for a long time, and it’s so good to know it can happen. It doesn’t have to slip through anyone’s grasp. And it’s good enough to warrant a second (or third…or fourth…) visit! 😀
I hope you have a lot of fun in Slovenia and Croatia, ladies!
You are absolutelly right and thank you for this article. Croatia is really amazing country and it is really big pity that people are not travelling arround this country and comming usually just to the beach, swimming etc. If you want, you can have a look on photos here in this article about one national park in Croatia, but unfortunatelly it is not translated to our english version of our site yet so please translate it by Google Translate etc. if you want: http://www.zivotnacestach.cz/narodni-park-plitvicka-jezera-chorvatsko/
I’ve only spent a brief amount of time in Croatia (Split, Dubrovnik, and Zagreb), but I LOVED it. I would love to do a road trip like you just did – and would also love to see more of the islands!
I never thought of Croatia as being a country to road trip, so thank you for your great advice about buses and driving throughout Croatia. I get tired of tours where you have to be at a certain place at a certain time and cruises only show you so much. Croatia has been at the top of my list for a while since it is part of my heritage and nearby in Bosnia-Herzgovinia there is a Vlasich mountain (my last name). Croatia is an undiscovered gem, I’m told, and I can’t wait to see it!
Is it easy to rent a car in Croatia?
Totally easy. Just rent one online in advance. I usually use Kayak.com/cars.