When people decide to travel to Europe, they often go for the big bucket list items like London, Barcelona and Rome. While I would never tell someone NOT to travel, I would argue that most of our favorite European gems don’t come from the over-hyped big cities like Paris. Granted, that is due more to the fact that I love seeing the culture and atmosphere of places and can be hard to do in big cities. Instead, some of our favorite places that we have been to in Europe have been the more overlooked destinations, such as Croatia. Not sure where to go in Croatia? Here are our favorite spots.
Croatia is Western Europe meets Eastern with a nice dosage of the Mediterranean. In some places, you feel like you are in any other European city with the people watching cafes and gelato shops. In other towns you feel like you are still in the old, extremely poor Yugolslavic state. Then you hit a beautiful coastal town and you swear you could be in Italy or Greece. Croatia comes together in all of the things that make travel magnificent; wonderful people, mouth watering food, geologically stunning natural wonders, variant scenery and a page in history that reminds us of a recent tumultuous past.
Before pulling out your map and picking what beautiful Croatian cities to see, consider the following tips:
In 2013 Croatia joined the European Union. But don’t go stocking up in Euros before heading to Croatia. In fact, it may not be before 2019 that they even start using the Euro. They are still using their own Croatian Kuna instead. But, this is actually great news for travelers and tourists as the Kuna is not nearly as strong as the Euro or Dollar, meaning things will be much, much cheaper in Croatia. (Hello beer for less than $1!)
Croatia will soon be entering into one of the Schengen Agreement countries as well. Part of this agreement is that, just like most of the EU countries, you no longer will find border and passport control when leaving and entering the country. This is highly disappointing for us passport stampers, but is great when you don’t have to wait hours in line just to get into the country. With this being said, Croatia still is seeming to have random border checks as they are not fully integrated into the Schengen yet , so don’t go throwing your passport out the window quite yet. In fact, once while leaving Croatia at the Slovenia border, we waited over an hour and half in the 90 degree heat at border control. This is hit or miss, but knowing it MAY happen makes it not so bad when it does.
As an American, Canadian or EU member, you don’t need a specific visa to enter into Croatia. In fact, your current, valid passport counts as your “Schengen Visa” as long as you have been traveling within the EU for less than 90 days.
Getting to and around Croatia:
There are no direct flights from North America to Croatia, and even flights within Europe to Zagreb or Dubrovnik can potentially put you back a few hundred Euro. Even if you can get a decent flight into Croatia, you are then limited to the city that you flew into unless renting a car. (Note: RyanAir seems to be the cheapest option to get to Croatia if they are running a current deal). The country is surprisingly long and therefore driving or public transport can take hours to get to your next destination and will cost you in both time and gas. You can take trains, but even rail transport in Eastern European countries is nothing compared to its Western neighbors and it won’t get you to the smaller, often times better, locations. Therefore, there is no “secret sauce” when it comes to figuring out transportation options. Honestly, I think the best way to really see Croatia is by car. This way, you will be able to see the smaller, more enjoyable towns and get to the destinations simply not possible by other transport options.
Tolls in Croatia:
Unlike most of it’s neighboring countries, Croatia does not need a Vignette to drive on it’s freeways. However, be prepared for tolls. You can be looking at 80+ dollars round trip just for tolls alone. Depending on your destination, use this calculator to figure out how much the tolls may be when planning your trip. You can pay by credit card or Croatian Kuna at the tolls.
Staying in Croatia:
For us as travel hackers, Croatia was a travel hacking delight. We were able to stay at some amazing resorts along the coasts and great bargain rooms in the cities for very little points.
- (Radison Blu, Split; Park Plaza; Medulin; Radison Blu, Dubrovnik)
For budget travelers, Croatia is still a steal. Use all your normal trip planning services (booking.com, trip advisor, AirB&B, etc to find great stays). If you are planning at hunkering down in one location near a beach, consider doing a vacation rental, where it just may be a heck of a lot cheaper than a hotel.
In Croatia, they speak, well…Croatian! However, in all tourist cities, English is not an issue at all. As with any other country, do your best to learn the key phrases such as Hello (zdravo), Please (molim) and Thank You (hvala). Of course for me, knowing how to ask for a bathroom (kupaonica) is vital in every language!
Note that in many touristy cities (Not just in Croatia), some restaurants or even hotels will try to charge you more if you are not a local/ know the language. If you think you are being overcharged, ask for the menu in Croatian and do your best to compare.
Depending on what region in Croatia you go to, food will vary greatly. If you stay more in-land or near the Slavic neighboring countries, you’ll find delicious meats, stews and heavier foods. Head to the coasts and fresh seafood is on every menu. Continue south and you’ll find wonderful Italian and Greek influences of pasta, cheese and wines.
For the meat lovers, Croatia sure knows how to grill great and unique dishes. Don’t skip ćevapčići, a sausage-like fast food, sometimes that comes with delicious pita-type bread. If you can dip it in some ajvar, a roasted red pepper and eggplant relish, you’ll be in heaven. Splurge on the local delicacy of Dalmatian prosciutto with local wine or if on the coast, enjoy fresh oysters or mussels.
Why go to Croatia when it seems like such a hassle just to even get there? Because so many people go to Europe and wonder where the “old Europe” charm is. The romantic atmosphere left when the souvenir shops set up on the corners and the charm vanished when the cafes were replaced by Starbucks. However, Croatia still has a mediterranean charm that hasn’t yet been over-developed and overrun by tourists, giving you that perfect atmosphere that you want in your European vacation.
You get beautiful nature and stunning walled, medieval towns still intact. You receive great value for your money and you get an “atmosphere” that can’t quite be put into words and instead just simply needs to be felt.
Have you been to Croatia? What did you enjoy most about the country or wish you would have known before planning your trip?f
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