How big is Croatia?
When compared to major European destinations like France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, Croatia can seem small. The country itself is a bit over 20,000 square miles, but its borders contain multitudes. That is thanks to its varied terrain and multiple overlapping cultures and histories, which means hopping from town to town and region to region can feel like visiting multiple countries in a day.
How do I get to Croatia?
Air travel is the quickest and easiest way to arrive in Croatia, and there are direct flights from many cities in the world to major Croatian cities like the capital Zagreb, its two other major cities Split and Dubrovnik, and Zadar and Pula on the Istrian peninsula.
Up until now, there have been no direct flights from the United States, although that’s about to change in summer 2019, with the first American Airlines flights directly from Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) to Dubrovnik. If you’re flying out of other US cities on the east coast, you can expect to make a transfer in a major European city like Munich, Frankfurt, Vienna, or Madrid.
Unlike other European destinations, there is no major travel hub from which you can see every corner of Croatia. So once you’re on Croatian soil, you may want to book local flights with Croatian Airlines to travel from one base of operations to the next (for example, from Zagreb to Split, or Split to Dubrovnik). You may find it’s well worth it to travel overland, though, as the journeys are scenic and the distances manageable.
What is the food like?
Croatia was part of so many different empires, kingdoms, and countries over the years, it has a bit of everything. In the north, you’ll find food that skews closest to what you might call Eastern European, focusing heavily on meat and potatoes, with root veggies and cabbage on the side. In Istria, which used to be under Venetian rule, you’ll find dishes that remind you of Italy, such as pastas and rich soups, but they’ll have their very own twists and turns.
Down the coast, it’s all about the fresh daily catch, and in Dalmatia, you'll find grilled whole fish, seafood, and greens made simply with garlic, herbs, and olive oil in a typically Mediterranean way.
For some typical Croatian specialties, try Crni Rizot, a rich black seafood risotto made with squid ink, or Strukli, a pasty filled with cheese curds and cream that will be familiar to anyone who loves Russian food. Skampi na Buzaru is a dish of shrimp prepared in a simple, typically Croatian way: in a rich sauce of tomato, garlic, and wine. Finally, Istarski fuzu is a type of folded, arrow-shaped pasta typical of the Istrian peninsula. Even if you’ve been to Italy and fancy yourself a pasta connoisseur, you should try this as you can't get it anywhere else.
Much like in Italy and Spain, Croatians used to take a long break for lunch as the main meal of the day. This custom is slowly dying out as more and more locals take 9-5 jobs, but on weekends you can still see families gather around a massive table laden with delicacies to celebrate the fruit of the land and their togetherness. If you befriend a local and you’re lucky, you might even get invited back home for a feast.
Do I need a visa?
Croatia is a member of the E.U., so citizens of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are entitled to stay in the country for up to 90 days with a valid passport.
Is Croatia a safe place for travelers?
Croatia is a very safe country, and there are no restrictions on travel, beyond the requirement that passport holders have at least three months’ validity left on their passports.
The most pressing concern is the million or so mines that were laid during the Balkan Wars, many of which have not been discovered and deactivated in remote locations. If you’re deep in the countryside, don’t stray from marked paths or go too deep into rough terrain; all the areas where tourists might go have been de-mined.
Can I bring my children?
Croatia is a friendly, laid-back country, full of plenty of places for a family to enjoy activities together. To keep inquisitive, enthusiastic kids intrigued and occupied, steer clear of museums, and instead head to where they can roam free. That may mean a trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park (if the little ones are old enough to navigate the walkways by themselves), or a boat ride along the Dalmatian Coast, stopping at islands for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and general beach-going. Walking the walls surrounding Dubrovnik's old town is a particularly memorable experience for children.
As tourism has increased in Croatia, there are more and more options available for family stays, including the old-fashioned room and board provided by locals in their very own homes (a great immersion experience for older children), as well as guesthouses and apartment hotels that offer kitchens and living spaces.
You can find a sample Dalmatian Coast itinerary for families here.
How many days should I spend in Croatia?
That depends entirely on you, your goals, and your free time. Even if you have only a long weekend to spend in Croatia, it’s worth booking a trip, if only to dip in, find out what you like, and plan a longer trip later (and trust us; you’ll want to). If you have one week, pick a specific region, such as Dalmatia, Istria, or Slavonia, and make one or two cities or towns your home base as you explore the surrounding natural wonders. If you have more than one week, you can book bus or train travel between regions, or rent a car and explore at your leisure. Dubrovnik, Pula or Zadar on the Istrian peninsula or Plitvice Lakes National Park are all great examples of single destinations to visit within the country when you have limited time.
Here's more on the top regions in Croatia.
I don't speak Croatian. Can I travel independently?
Of course. Because Croatian is spoken by so few people in the world, and tourism is increasingly Croatia's main industry, around 80% of Croatians are now multilingual. That means in addition to Croatian and English, they may also speak Italian, German, and Spanish. Almost all hotel websites in Croatia will have an English language version available, and most restaurants have English menus.
What currency is used?
Although now part of the E.U., Croatia is still on its own currency, the Kuna. At the time of this writing, the exchange rate is 6.5 HRK or Hrvatska Kuna to the dollar.
Is Croatia expensive?
Croatia has long been known as one of Europe’s cheaper destinations, but that’s led to an increase in popularity which precipitates – you guessed it – an increase in prices. That being said, in comparison to Western Europe, it’s still a bargain. For hotel rooms at mid-range accommodations, you can expect to pay up to $70-130 per night. To eat out in a mid-range restaurant you can expect to pay around $15-$20.
Of course, you can always save money by shopping like a local at the weekly markets, and even if you’re not staying somewhere with a kitchen, you can cobble together a delicious meal of breads, cheeses, and fresh fruits and vegetables that travel well – perfect for hikes and boat excursions.
One other tip to save money on accommodations is to travel outside of Croatia’s high season when there are fewer tourists and the ports aren’t flooded with cruise ship passengers. Even in May, the weather is already balmy (although the sea may still be cold) and you can find yourself with your pick of hotels and guest rooms at lower prices.
Are credit cards widely accepted?
You’ll find that credit cards are accepted widely in hotels and most restaurants, but you may run into trouble the farther from the big cities you get, or if you plan on accepting private accommodation in a local home. Keep cash on hand and if possible, carry more than one credit card, since some restaurants will have a preference for one over the others. If you are offered a choice when paying with a credit card in Croatia, make sure you are billed in Croatian kuna (not your home currency) to avoid extra fees.
Is there a tipping culture in Croatia?
Comparatively low wages mean that tips are welcome in Croatia. Hotel staff should be tipped as is customary elsewhere, with tips left for the daily maid, and concierge if he or she performed a special service for you, like booking tours or hard-to-get dinner reservations. Tips of around 10% are expected in restaurants, with more for outstanding service.
For tours guides, a 10-15 HRK tip for day tours is appreciated, with more expected if the guide spends multiple days with you or also acts as your driver. Taxi drivers in Croatia will not expect a tip, although it is always a nice gesture to round up by a couple of Kuna if the driver gives you recommendations or locals-only advice. Shuttle and bus drivers will not expect tips.
What should I pack?
Unless you’re already booked at deluxe restaurants, going to an upscale conference or event, or have a special night out on the town planned, there is little reason to pack fancy clothing, as most of your exploration will involve walking around cities, traipsing across the countryside, or enjoying the view from a boat.
Pack breathable clothing, comfortable shoes or sandals, and swimwear, assuming you’re going in the warmer months. Croatians are big on color, so now is the time to leave your winter greys and blacks at home and break out all the pieces you bought with exactly this type of vacation in mind. Pack sunglasses and sunblock. The colder months in Croatia’s interior can reach freezing temperatures, but along the coast, it’s unlikely to get below 5°C/41°F. Simply put, pack layers for winter on the coast, and snow-appropriate outerwear for inland winters.
Do I need to bring an electrical adapter/converter?
Croatia uses 230V 50Hz and the standard two-pronged European plug that is everywhere on the continent. If you’ve been elsewhere in Europe and have the correct adapter, you won’t need to buy a new one.
What inoculations do I need?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. You won’t require anything beyond these.