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Getting Around Croatia: Transportation Tips

Croatia’s small size means that air travel rarely saves you time here. Most driving distances are a matter of hours, and city or island hopping is a relatively quick ordeal. If you seek diverse experiences, you can either move around the country or base yourself in one of the larger cities, such as Split or Zadar, that allow for lots of day trips.

Many of your travel choices in Croatia will be influenced by the season you choose for your visit, especially in terms of availability and waiting times. Summers are the busiest time of the year, calling for careful planning, far-in-advance bookings and, often, waiting in lines at train stations or ferry terminals. Spring and fall are generally more laid-back, although in popular destinations like Dubrovnik it’s still a busy time. While many smaller towns, particularly on the islands, may run at slower speeds this time of year, thus reducing your options, visiting during off-peak season will provide you with a more intimate opportunity to really get to know Croatia.

Flying to and Around Croatia

Unless you are coming from one of the neighboring countries, such as Austria, Italy, Slovenia or Montenegro, you are most likely to arrive by air via one of the major European hubs. In Croatia, five international airports operate commercial flights: Zagreb, Split, Zadar, Dubrovnik and Pula. The main hub is the country’s capital, Zagreb, while other airports are typically only busy during the summer tourist season.

Major companies like British Airways, Air France, KLM and Lufthansa, as well as low-cost carriers such as Vueling, Ryanair and EasyJet, fly to Croatian airports between May and October. Booking well in advance is a must in the peak season.

Croatia Airlines, the national carrier, runs regular flights within the country year-round. Given its relatively high airfares and the number of experiences between major destinations in Croatia, do consider alternative transportation. For example, driving between Zagreb and Split or Zadar is an ideal chance to visit Plitvice Lakes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Croatia Air Travel Resources:

Croatia by Hydroplane

European Coastal Airlines revolutionized Croatia’s coastal travel network. Its 16-seater hydroplanes — taking off and landing on water — combine scenic experiences with noteworthy time savings at reasonable cost. Instead of spending two hours on a ferry, you can get from Split downtown to Jelsa on Brac Island in precisely 11 minutes of airtime! Currently, EAC planes operate along the central and northern Dalmatian coast, between frequented harbors such as Split and Pula, and between less common ones like Lastovo and Mali Losinj.

Book online thorough the EAC website (below); for last-minute options, check with EAC offices at their departure terminals in city harbors.

The recommended time of arrival is 30 minutes prior to the flight, and simple check-in requires a picture ID. Baggage is limited to 15 kg (about 33 pounds) plus hand luggage.

Because they fly lower than commercial airplanes, hydroplanes offer fantastic bird’s-eye views of the Croatian coast.

Croatia Hydroplane Resources:

Croatia by Train

Croatia’s train network primarily serves the country’s northern parts, with several connections to the main coastal centers like Split and Rijeka. Direct connections exist with neighboring countries. Croatia is also a part of the Eurail network.

However, unless you hop onto one of the fast-speed trains going at 100 mph (available from Zagreb to major cities like Osijek and Split), train travel in Croatia tends to be quite time-consuming, as well as susceptible to delays.

Reservations are required for fast trains, and during peak season recommended for all trains.

Croatia Train Resources:

Croatia Ferries, Catamarans and Island Hopping

Boat travel is the best way to get to know the most indented coast of the Mediterranean. Public ferries (operated by Jadrolinija) connect the mainland with inhabited islands. Public boats operate between mainland destinations and islands in their immediate proximity (such as between Dubrovnik and the Elaphites).

In the summer season ferries get very busy, so claim your place in line at least 30 – 40 minutes prior to departure. In slower season, 10 – 20 minutes will suffice to purchase tickets.

Jadrolinija ferry tickets can only be purchased through the company’s website (below) or at its local offices, usually located in or immediately by the harbor.

The privately owned Krilo catamaran line connects popular coastal destinations with shorter travel times than ferries. Get tickets in advance, or come at least an hour before departure. Tickets are sold via the Krilo website or at sales points close to the point of departure.

Be on the lookout for various local boat transfer options such as shuttles and speedboats. Local tourist offices can help you find them.

Croatia Ferry and Catamaran Resources:

Renting a Car in Croatia

Croatia’s practically brand-new highway network connects all the major cities and tourist destinations (Zagreb – Osijek – Rijeka – Zadar – Split). Modern, well lit and surprisingly scenic, it ends some 62 miles before Dubrovnik — so if you’re headed for the Pearl of the Adriatic, allow some extra time to travel the local roads and to cross the border a few times into and out of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dubrovnik is separate from the rest of Croatia). Another option is to hop on a ferry in the town of Ploce and cross to Trpanj on the Peljesac Peninsula to enjoy a borderless ride through Dubrovnik’s wine country.

Constructed back in the Yugoslav times between the 1950s and 1970s, the Adriatic Motorway runs between Croatia’s largest peninsula, Istria, and the next country over to the east, Montenegro. Following the natural course of the coast translates to slow cruising along a two-lane road filled with sharp bends and low speed limits, as well as breathtaking panoramas. Be on the lookout for scenic detours!

Keep your focus while driving down the Adriatic coast; the roads are a lively ride, police checks frequent and penalties harsh. Not wearing the seatbelt can set you back approximately $70, and speeding in inhabited areas at least $300.

The speed limit on open highways is 130 kph (approximately 81 mph). On open motorways it’s 80 kph (50 mph) and in inhabited areas 50 kph (31 mph). Your travel schedule should account for significant differences in driving times on highways vs. motorways vs. local roads.

Cars must drive with headlights on in the winter; in summertime headlights aren’t required but recommended.

Parking is challenging and often expensive in most Croatian town centers. If possible, opt for taxis, local transportation (buses or trams) or walking.

Most international car rental companies operate in Croatia, including Europcar and Hertz, but you can also rent through smaller local operators, such as Oryx, and through travel agencies.

Car rentals are most commonly booked just with a valid credit card and a valid driver’s license from your home country. However, some companies have a minimum age of 21, and some charge an additional fee for young drivers under 25.

Returning your car to a different drop-off point or in a different country will incur a surcharge. As a general rule, the larger the rental company, the farther away you can return the car.

Inquire about insurance: partial (standard) or full insurance, and validity when crossing the borders. A Green Card (an insurance document for border crossings) may cost extra if you rent from a larger operator, but is often included in smaller companies’ rates.

Booking in advance and looking for special deals may significantly reduce your costs. In the high season, demand often exceeds supply, so advance booking is a necessity.

If you’d rather hire a driver instead, you can do so through a travel agency or your hotel front desk. While costly, this allows you to enjoy Croatia’s wine country regions without worrying about impaired driving. You’ll also have a local person at your disposal for recommendations.

Croatia Rental Car Resources:

Croatia by Bus

The bus network is well developed in Croatia, from inter-city rides to local, short-distance bus lines. Almost every town in Croatia has an autobusni kolodvor (bus station), usually quite close to the city center.

Bus tickets for both local rides and inter-city connections can be purchased in the station or on the bus. Most long-distance buses are modern and air-conditioned, but if you are keen on comfort, make sure to double-check.

When traveling inter-city, inquire about the departure and arrival times of different companies, as they take alternate routes that could influence your travel time. For the best rides, try to book with Samoborcek or Autotrans. Imotski Trans and Croatia Bus are in the second tier.

With tickets purchased at terminals, make sure you are getting on the right bus, as several companies may run between the same destinations.

Croatia Bus Resources:

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–written by Anja Mutic

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