Until recently, Croatia’s tourist season ran from July through August, and belonged almost exclusively to Europeans, who clogged border crossings in their annual migration to the country’s endless coastline and clear blue sea. Finally, however, the rest of the world has discovered Croatia’s charms: its wealth of Roman ruins, medieval hilltop castles, and staggering cache of natural wonders. Even though the summer season now runs longer and the crowds are larger and more diverse, it is still possible to find a secluded pebble cove, or a family-run winery where time seems to have stood still. Every town and village has at least one restaurant where the locals hang out and where the slice of life you get with your meal is the best dessert there is. When all the big modern hotels are filled, there is always a room waiting in a private home where the landlord welcomes you like a long-lost friend.
Meander through the streets of Zagreb's medieval Gornji Grad (Upper Town) to the Lotrscak Tower to see the daily cannon fire and a sweeping view of the city. Get up early to watch the fishermen bring in the catch in Rovinj, one of the Mediterranean's last fishing ports. Listen to the gushing waterfalls as you explore the 16 terraced turquoise lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park. Witness the enthusiastic Moreska Sword Dance at the southern gate of Korcula Town.
Eating and Drinking
Every Croatian town has at least one restaurant where locals hang out and where people watching is de rigueur. In the capital, Zagreb, seek hearty dishes like steak a la Zagreb-- veal stuffed with cheese and ham. Coastal Dalmatian dishes are Mediterranean-inspired, and rich in seafood and risotto. In Istria, wild truffles are the highlight of local menus. On the island of Pag, head to a family-run konoba for paski sir, a pungent sheep's milk cheese served with olives.
Hvar Island, known for its lavender fields, produces sachets and oil worthy of bringing home. The intricate lace from Pag Island is a centuries-old tradition: designs are handed down through generations. Conjure up a region's scent with a local brandy, made with fruit, honey, or herbs. Truffle products from Istria will ensure a rich cooking experience long after your vacation ends. Neckties, descendants of the "cravat" originated in Croatia, abound in specialty shops throughout the country.
Roam through the ruins of the ancient city of Solin (formerly known as Salona), once the administrative center of the Roman Dalmatian province during five centuries of Roman rule. In nearby Split, more than 200 buildings from Diocletian's Palace are still home to people, shops and cafes. Festivals and concerts are held at Pula's Roman amphitheatre, built from local limestone in the 1st century. Stroll atop the walls ringing the Renaissance architecture of Dubrovnik, overlooking the sparkling Adriatic Sea.
The Croatian national currency is the kuna (kn), which comes in notes of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000. One kuna equals 100 lipa, and coins with values of 5, 10, 20, and 50 lipa and 1, 2, and 5 kuna are in circulation. To convert prices in kunas to current prices in U.S. dollars, go to www.xe.com/ucc.
Following Croatia’s E.U. membership, some Croatian businesses, most notably hotels and tourist agencies, began to express their prices in euros and kuna, though euros are not officially accepted. Foreign currency can be exchanged at post offices, banks, and exchange offices. Numerous hotels and travel agencies also will exchange currency, but beware of the service charges, which can be as high as 3 percent.
Warning: Kunas and euros are very similar in look but dissimilar in value: One euro is worth seven times as much as one kuna. Be sure you separate the two and keep the currencies in separate compartments of your wallet.
The easiest and best way to get cash in Croatia is from an ATM (automated teller machine, aka Bankomat in Croatia). The Cirrus (www.mastercard.com) and PLUS(www.visa.com) networks span the globe; look on the back of your bank card to see which network you’re on, then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) before you leave home, and be sure to find out your daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Also keep in mind that many banks impose a fee every time a card is used at another bank’s ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions ($5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they’re rarely more than $3). On top of this, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. To compare banks’ ATM fees within the U.S., use www.bankrate.com. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
Credit cards are a safe way to carry money: They provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. In Croatia, credit cards are accepted by most hotels and restaurants in larger cities, but they generally are not accepted for private accommodations or in rural areas. In addition, some establishments that accept credit cards will offer a discount if you pay in cash.
You can get cash advances on your credit card at banks or ATMs, provided you know your PIN. If you’ve forgotten your PIN, or didn’t even know you had one, call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank to send it to you. It usually takes 5 to 7 business days, though some banks will provide the number over the phone if you tell them your mother’s maiden name or some other personal information. Warning: Credit card companies tend to charge rather large (some might even say exorbitant) fees for providing cash advances.
Keep in mind that when you use your credit card abroad, most banks assess a 2 percent fee above the 1 percent fee charged by Visa or MasterCard or American Express for currency conversion on credit charges. There is also often a service charge on foreign transactions. Even so, credit cards still may be the smart way to go when you factor in things like hefty ATM fees and higher traveler’s check exchange rates (and service fees).
Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, and American Express credit cards are accepted in most Croatian establishments that accept plastic. The Maestro debit card is also widely accepted.
Croatia is an affordable country compared to other European nations, though Dubrovnik stands out as far more expensive than other Croatian destinations. Hotel rooms and rental cars will be your highest expenditures, but in general, food, entertainment, and public transportation costs are a little below those of nearby E.U. countries, such as Austria and Italy.
What Things cost in Croatia
Airport taxi 150kn–250kn
Half-liter beer 20kn
Ice-cream cone 7kn per scoop
Pasta dish 50kn–80kn
3-course dinner 150kn
Prices outside metropolitan areas in general will be 20 to 40 percent lower.
Passports & Visas
E.U. member country nationals can now enter Croatia with just a personal ID. However, all other foreign nationals (anyone from outside the E.U.) need a valid passport for entrance to Croatia. Citizens of the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, and Singapore do not need visas for tourist/business trips of fewer than 90 days within a 6-month period. A visa is required and should be obtained in advance for stays over 90 days. South Africans do require visas, even for short stays. As of April 2013, in preparation for E.U. membership, Croatia changed its law regarding Russians, who now need visas, too.
For more information on visas, visit the Republic of Croatia Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs website, www.crovisa.mvep.hr. Here you will find an online visa application form (available in various languages), and if you’ve already applied, you can check your application status.
U.S. citizens can visit the U.S. State Department website (www.travel.state.gov) and go to the “Foreign Entry Requirement” for an up-to-date country-by-country listing of passport requirements around the world.
What You Can Bring into Croatia
Visitors can bring 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 1 liter of spirits, 2 liters of wine, and 2 liters of liqueur duty-free. Foreign visitors can bring in boats without duty or taxes if the vessels are for private use while in Croatia and if they take them home when they leave.
What You Can Take Home from Croatia
U.S. citizens who have been away from the U.S. for at least 48 hours are allowed to bring back, once every 30 days, $800 worth of merchandise duty-free. A flat duty rate is charged on the next $1,000 worth of purchases. Citizens returning to the U.S. should have their receipts or purchases handy to expedite the declaration process. Note:Anyone who owes duty is required to pay upon arrival in the United States, either by cash, personal check, government or traveler’s check, or money order; in some locations Visa and MasterCard are also accepted.
To avoid paying duty on foreign-made personal items owned before leaving the U.S., bring along a bill of sale, insurance policy, jeweler’s appraisal, or receipts of purchase.
With few exceptions, fresh fruits and vegetables cannot be brought into the United States from another country. For specifics on what is and is not allowed, visit the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) website (www.cbp.gov) and go to “Travel” and click on “Know Before You Go.”
For a clear summary of Canadian rules, visit the Canada Border Services Agencywebsite at www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca.
U.K. citizens should refer to the HM Customs & Excise website (www.hmce.gov.uk).
Australian nationals should visit the Australian Customs & Border Protection Service website (www.customs.gov.au).
Those from New Zealand should check out the New Zealand Customs Servicewebsite (www.customs.govt.nz).
For information on medical requirements and recommendations, see “Health”.
Area Codes -- Croatia’s country code is 385.
Business Hours -- Banks are generally open Monday to Friday 8am to 7pm and Saturday 8am to noon. The bigger post offices work Monday to Friday 7am to 8pm, and Saturday 7am to 1pm. The smaller ones, for example on the islands, might only operate Monday to Friday 7 to 11am. Public offices are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm. Shops and department stores stay open from 8am to 8pm and to 2 or 3pm Saturday without a break. Increasingly, stores in malls are open on Sunday, usually from 10am to 6pm. Most supermarkets remain closed on Sunday, as do butchers and bakeries, though in popular resorts along the coast there will often be a few small general stores open for Sunday shopping in summer.
Drinking Laws -- The minimum age for purchasing liquor in Croatia is 18, but there is no minimum age for consuming it. Croatia has strict laws regarding drinking and driving; the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05 percent. In 2003, the country briefly implemented zero tolerance, but found it to be unworkable and amended the law in 2008. Package liquor (wine, beer, spirits) can be purchased in markets, wine stores, and some souvenir shops. Wine can also be bought directly from producers in some rural wine-making areas.
Driving Rules -- See “Getting There & Getting Around”.
Drugstores -- Ljekarne are open from 8am to 7pm weekdays and from 8am to 2pm on Saturday. In larger cities, one pharmacy in town will be open 24 hours on a rotating basis.
Electricity -- Croatian electricity is 220v, 50Hz; the two-prong European plug is standard.
Embassies & Consulates -- U.S.: Ulica Thomasa Jeffersona 2, Zagreb (www.zagreb.usembassy.gov; tel. 01/661-22-000. Australia: Centar Kaptol, Nova Ves 11, Zagreb (www.croatia.embassy.gov.au; tel. 01/489-12-00). Canada: Prilaz Gjure Dezelica 4, Zagreb (www.canadainternational.gc.ca; tel. 01/488-12-00). Ireland: Trg N.Š. Zrinskog 7-8, Zagreb (www.ie.mvep.hr; tel. 01/456-99-64). U.K.: Ivana Lučića 4, Zagreb, and Obala Hrvatskog Narodnog Preporoda 10/III, Split (www.gov.uk/government/world/croatia; tel. 01/600-91-00).
Emergencies -- tel. 112. Calls to this number are free of charge. This is the number to call if you need assistance from police, firefighters, mountain rescue, or an ambulance. Roadside assistance is tel. 1987. (When calling from abroad or by cellphone, call tel. 385-1-987.) The national headquarters for Search and Rescue at Sea is tel. 9155. Weather forecasts are www.meteo.hr and road conditions are www.hak.hr/en.
Etiquette & Customs -- Appropriate attire: Croatians, especially Croatian women, take pride in their appearance. In cities, both men and women usually dress in business casual. On the coast and countryside, the “dress code” is more relaxed. You never will see Croatians wearing immodest or sloppy clothes in public places. If you visit museums or churches anywhere, plan to wear tops with sleeves and pants that go to at least the knee.
Gestures:Dobar dan (good day) is the way Croatians generally greet each other. Handshakes are appropriate for first meetings and between business associates. Good friends will kiss on both cheeks in the European style.
Avoiding offense: Religion and politics are topics to avoid universally. In Croatia, stay away from discussing Croat-Serb relations or anything related to the War for Independence unless you know who you’re talking to, what you’re talking about, and have lots of time for debate.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- Gasoline and diesel are readily available all over Croatia and almost all stations take credit cards. In the summer of 2014, gas was running about 11.08kn per liter including taxes. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons. That translates to 42kn or $7.37 per U.S. gallon of gas.
Holidays -- Croatian shops and banks are closed on public holidays, which are: January 1, New Year; January 6, Epiphany; March or April, Easter Monday; May 1, Labor Day; May (Thurs after Trinity Sun), Corpus Christi; June 22, Anti-Fascist Day; June 25, Croatian Statehood; August 5, Thanksgiving; August 15, Assumption; October 8, Independence Day; November 1, All Saints Day; December 25 and 26, Christmas.
Hospitals -- Zagreb: Klinička Bolnica “Sestre Milosrdnice” (Vinogradska cesta 29; tel. 01/378-71-11). Split: Klinička Bolnica Split (Spinčićeva 1; tel. 021/556-111). Dubrovnik: Opča Bolnica Dubrovnik (Toka Mišetića bb; tel. 020/431-777).
Insurance -- Information on traveler’s insurance, trip-cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling is at www.frommers.com/planning.
Language -- Most residents of major Croatian cities speak English. Most movie houses and programs on Croatian TV are in English with Croatian subtitles. For more specific vocabulary, see the “Langenscheidt Universal Croatian Dictionary.”
Legal Aid -- Consult your embassy if you get into legal trouble in Croatia.
Mail -- It costs 4.60kn to send a postcard to the U.S., and 7.60kn to send a letter weighing up to 50 grams ( 1.76 oz.). The post office is fairly reliable, but very slow. It takes about 10 days to 2 weeks for postcards to arrive in the U.S. from Croatia and up to a month for regular mail and packages. Other carriers are available (DHL, FedEx, UPS) in major population centers, but the cost is prohibitive.
Newspapers & Magazines -- English-language newspapers and magazines are a rarity at Croatian newsstands, even in Zagreb. Some of the better hotels supply select U.S. and U.K. publications. Algoritam bookstores in Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik are the only common outlets for English-language publications. Look for the “International Herald Tribune” and “The Guardian” if you crave English-language news.
Passports -- Allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a passport; processing normally takes three weeks but can take longer during busy periods (especially spring). Keep in mind that if you need a passport in a hurry, you’ll pay a higher processing fee.
For residents of the United States: Whether you’re applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. State Department website at www.travel.state.gov. To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center toll-free number (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.
For residents of Australia: Applications are available at local post offices or at any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.
For residents of Canada: Passport applications can be made online (www.passport.gc.ca); by post (Passport Canada Program,
Gatineau QC K1A 0G3,
Canada); or directly at a Passport Canada Office.
For residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport by referring to www.dfa.ie/passports-citizenship. If you are traveling on short notice (3–10 days) and need a passport urgently, go to www.passportappointments.ie. Once your passport has been processed, you will be able to collect it directly from either the Dublin or Cork Passport Office.
For residents of New Zealand: Pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from the website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/463-93-60, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.
For residents of the United Kingdom: To obtain an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit the nearest passport office, major post office, or contact the United Kingdom Passport Office at tel. 0300/222-00-00 or refer to www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-passport-office.
For more information, see www.frommers.com/planning for information on how to obtain a passport.
Police -- Call tel. 192.
Smoking -- In May 2009, Croatia passed a law banning smoking in all public buildings. However, that was modified four months later to give small bars and cafes the option of allowing or not allowing on-premises smoking. The ban still applies to restaurants and larger bars and cafes. However, it is normal for people sitting at outdoor tables to smoke, especially if they are drinking or have just finished their meal.
Taxes -- Croatia’s PDV (VAT) was raised to 25 percent from 23 percent in March 2012. Refunds of VAT are made to non-E.U. citizens (when they leave the country) for goods purchased in Croatia for amounts over 740kn with a tax check form. Salespeople will provide this form when you make a qualifying purchase. For further information, go to www.carina.hr.
Time -- Croatia is 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, 6 hours ahead of New York (Eastern Standard Time), and 9 hours ahead of Los Angeles (Pacific Standard Time). Daylight saving time is observed from late-March to late-October, when clocks are advanced 1 hour.
Tipping -- A 10 percent to 15 percent gratuity is expected in upscale restaurants. Otherwise, it is considered polite to leave any coins from your change on the table in cafes and restaurants. A 10 percent tip for other service providers (taxi drivers, hotel personnel, and others) is the norm, as is a tip for anyone who helps you carry your luggage or conducts a tour.
Toilets -- There are no freestanding public restrooms in Croatia, but most restaurants and public buildings have them and will let you use them if you make a purchase.
Water -- Tap water is potable throughout Croatia.
Croatia Airlines flies routes between Croatia and Europe’s major hubs, among them Amsterdam, Athens, Belgrade, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, London, Munich, Paris, Prague, Rome, Sarajevo, Vienna, and Zurich. Zagreb (ZAG) and Dubrovnik (DUB) are Croatia’s biggest gateways and Lufthansa is the largest international carrier that serves them. Both Lufthansa and Croatia Airlines are members of the Star Alliance, which includes United Airlines. At press time, no U.S. carriers were flying directly into Croatian airports.
Tip: It’s wise to book your flight to Croatia on United or other Star Alliance member airline (Austrian, Swiss, SAS, and so on) if only to smooth luggage handling. If your initial carrier is a Star Alliance member, bags will be checked through to your destination, a boon when catching connecting flights. (If you start your trip on a nonmember carrier, you might have to pick up your bag, go through customs, carry your bags through the airport to the connecting gate, and recheck them with Croatia Airlines or other connecting airlines.)
In 2003, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) phased out gate check-in at all U.S. airports. E-tickets have made paper tickets nearly obsolete. Passengers with e-tickets can beat the ticket counter lines by using airport electronic kiosks or online check-in from their home computers. Online check-in involves logging on to your airline’s website, accessing your reservation, and printing out your boarding pass—the airline may even offer you bonus miles to do so! If you’re using a kiosk at the airport, bring the credit card with which you booked the ticket, or bring your frequent-flier card. Print out your boarding pass from the kiosk and proceed to the security checkpoint with your pass and a photo ID. If you’re checking bags or looking to snag an exit-row seat, you will be able to do so using most airline kiosks. Even the smaller airlines are employing the kiosk system, but always call your airline to make sure these alternatives are available. Security checkpoint lines vary in length from country to country and from airport to airport. If you have trouble standing for long periods of time, tell an airline employee; the airline will provide a wheelchair.
If you have metallic body parts, a note from your doctor can prevent a long chat with the security screeners. Keep in mind that only ticketed passengers are allowed past security, except for folks escorting children or passengers with disabilities.
In terms of what you can and can’t carry on, the rules keep changing, but in general sharp things such as knives are out, nail clippers are okay, and beverages must be purchased after you clear security. Liquids are limited to 3-ounce containers that fit in one, 1-quart plastic bag. Keep this bag outside your suitcase to show screeners as you pass through security.
Note: On Croatia Airlines and most European airlines travelers are allowed only one carry-on bag. Check size and weight requirements for each of the airlines you book with. Limits on carry-on weight and dimensions set by Croatia Airlines and most European airlines are lower than limits on U.S. airlines.
Airport screeners may decide that your checked luggage needs to be searched by hand. You can purchase luggage locks that allow screeners to open and relock a checked bag if hand searching is necessary. Look for Travel Sentry–certified locks at luggage or travel shops and Brookstone stores. These locks, approved by the U.S.’s TSA, can be opened by luggage inspectors with a special code or key. For more information on the locks, visit www.travelsentry.org. If you use something other than TSA-approved locks, your lock will be cut off your suitcase if a TSA agent needs to hand-search your luggage.
The TSA has issued a list of prohibited items; check its website for details.
The highways that connect Croatia to its neighbors (Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro) are good and getting better as miles of new pavement are poured. This is especially true of the span between Ljubljana and Zagreb, a route that now takes just 2 hours to complete. The route from Budapest to Zagreb runs across Croatia’s northern border and is also popular. It takes about 5 hours to reach Zagreb (362km/225 miles) from the Hungarian capital.
Visitors coming from Italy and Austria must pass through Slovenia to get to Croatia’s border, but Slovenia’s roads are excellent, too.
Note: If you choose the route through Slovenia, be aware that Slovenia requires tariff stickers for cars using Slovenian roads. In 2014, prices for weekly stickers for motorcycles were 7.50€ and cars were 15€. Even if you are just passing through, you’ll have to buy the sticker.
In December 2007, neighboring E.U. countries Slovenia and Hungary joined the Schengen Area, a group of 26 European countries that have abolished passport requirements and other forms of border control at their common borders. Croatia is not yet a Schengen member, but is working to apply to join the group in July 2015. Once it becomes a member, crossing national lines to and from Croatia should be seamless.
Even as European Union border checks disappear, travelers should be sure to carry passports, insurance cards, and any rental car papers (including the car’s registration). This is especially true if you are going through Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, or Montenegro, countries that are not yet fully in the E.U. membership pipeline.
Car rental -- Car rental in Croatia is expensive, and it can be tricky. Even if you use a global agency like Hertz or Avis, it is best to reserve a car by contacting a local agency in the city where you plan to rent, rather than through the agency’s parent company or online. It’s also a good idea to take the “full insurance” package offered with your car rental, even though it can add considerable cost. Warning: In most cases, liability coverage from your domestic auto insurance policy will not cover you on vehicles rented outside the U.S. That is also true of the auto coverage that comes with most major bank cards. Check with your insurance agent and credit card company to be sure.
You will be given a chance to inspect your vehicle with your car rental rep, and you should be certain the rep documents any existing scratches or other damage before you take the keys. Any dings incurred thereafter, not to mention major damage, will be charged to you at full rate.
Note: Most cars rented in Croatia are stick shift. Vehicles with automatic transmissions are scarce and you will pay extra if you need this feature.
Trains connect most major Croatian cities north of Split, but there is no train service to cities between Split and Dubrovnik in southern Dalmatia.
Zagreb does have convenient railway links with Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland, but the links to and from other European countries can be extremely time-consuming. The train ride from Paris to Zagreb, for example, takes 18-plus hours, while a rail trip from Frankfurt to Split will take almost 24 hours.
There is a year-round regular overnight ferry service from Ancona in Italy to Split in Dalmatia. Other less frequent lines include Bari in Italy to Dubrovnik, and Venice in Italy to several coastal towns in Istria. In the Ancona–Split case, you hop aboard the ferry around 9pm and arrive in Dalmatia just as the sun is rising. Routes, fares, schedules, and booking information are available from the respective companies listed. Note: Fares and schedules are subject to frequent change.
Blue Line International — From April through October, this ferry line has daily overnight service between Ancona and Split. Round-trip deck passage for two without a vehicle starts at 76€ in low season. A deluxe cabin for two with a vehicle runs from 338€ round-trip in low season.
Jadrolinija — Croatia’s national ferry line has three international routes, which run year-round, though the frequency of service is downscaled in winter. In peak season (Jul–Aug), Jadrolinija ships travel almost every night between Ancona and Zadar, Ancona and Split, and Bari and Dubrovnik. Round-trip deck passage for two adults without a vehicle is approximately 144€ for the overnight trip between Bari and Dubrovnik; the fare on the same route for two and a vehicle plus an external cabin with a toilet is 452€. Note that these are low-season prices. Prices are the same for Ancona–Split and slightly less for Ancona–Zadar.
SNAV — In addition to the options above, from late April through early October, the Italian company SNAV operates a car ferry between Ancona and Split. A fast “Jet” catamaran used to run as well, but this service was discontinued in 2013. Prices and schedule information are available on the website.
Venezia Lines — This Maltese company runs fast catamarans (foot passengers only) from mid-April through early October between Venice and Rovinj, Poreč, and Pula on Istria’s western coast. Current schedule and fare information is available on the website.