Travelled in: June 2016
Here’s an idea for an amazing Summer holiday and something I did myself last June – hire a car and take a road trip around Croatia! Croatia is probably the most beautiful European country I have visited, and a road trip from one end of the country to the other is the perfect way to experience it in all its glory.
There’s so much to see and do in Croatia… If you are into music there’s festivals, if you want to relax there are an array of islands to chose from, if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones you can visit some of the sets!
I loved Croatia so much that I have just booked to go back in May, this time I will be visiting Dubrovnik, (a city I didn’t get to visit last year,) anddd I’ll be ticking off one of my 2017 travel goals with a few days in Montenegro!
Arriving in Croatia…
When I lived in Northern Italy, Croatia was basically my next door neighbour, it almost seemed rude not to do a road trip here… From Venice to Rijeka in the north of Croatia the drive was about 3 hours, then from there another 4 hours down as far as Split.
From most international airports you can fly in to Split, Zagreb or Dubrovnik, but if you were thinking of a road trip flying in to Venice or Trieste and driving from there is also a good option…
One thing to note if you do fly into a neighbouring country then plan to drive into Croatia from there is to make sure you read the terms and conditions of the rental car agreement, as not all car hire companies will allow you to cross borders. I used Sicilybycar booked through rentalcars.com as this particular company does allow inter-country travel.
Another tip – if you are driving through Slovenia make sure you buy a high way vignette from a gas station before you drive over the borders in the the country other wise you could be hit with a hefty fine for not paying the toll fee. You can buy these from most gas stations close to the Slovenian border, it is a sticker you put on your window screen that costs €15 and is valid for a week.
Final tip – have your passport ready! Croatia is not part of the Schengen agreement for European travelers so you have to show your passport at the borders if you are coming in from Slovenia or any of the other neighboring countries. (I learnt the hard way as my passport was packed in the boot of the car…)
Staying in Croatia…
For every city we visited in Croatia we stayed in an Airbnb, accommodation is fairly cheap in Croatia (providing you are not booking in festival season, as that is when they bump up the prices). If you do have a car try to find somewhere with free parking as the city parking can be difficult to find and can get expensive.
My favourite of the places I stayed was in Hvar…
Lucijas house: I booked a room in Lucijas house through airbnb and I was so happy I chose this room! Lucija was super friendly and gave us loads of information about the area, the room was spotless and offered a really nice view out to sea, her house has free parking outside and was an easy walk in to the center of Hvar from here (although the house is located up a very steep hill so you get a good work out in as well, very good for the glutes).
Travelling in Croatia…
For me and the places I wanted to go in Croatia hiring a car was my best option, however if you do not want to drive on the wrong side of the road there are buses that go between the main cities as well as to the key nearby attractions. You can have a look at some of the bus routes to plan your trip here.
The only way to get over to islands such as Hvar or Brac is by ferry! If you have a car you can take these on some services, otherwise you can go over on a passenger catamaran which takes slightly less time. You can check out the timetables and prices of the main ferry operator here.
Something to bear in mind if you do drive in Croatia is that most of the highways are toll roads. The charges are not too expensive, but make sure you have local currency or euros on you to pay the fees. Petrol is also really cheap in Croatia, so if you are driving back to drop your car off in a neighboring country such as Italy, make sure to fill up in Croatia or Slovenia to avoid inflated petrol prices!
Eating in Croatia…
In all honesty I wasn’t blown away by the food in Croatia, there is a lot of good fresh sea food which I did enjoy, and the food is reasonably cheap, but compared to Italy or other European countries I found the food quite unmemorable. Some places I did enjoy were…
Plava Alga, Hvar – One of the nicer places I ate in Hvar, they did my favourite pasta Spaghetti alle Vongole 🙂
Kod Kapetana, Hvar – Lovely spot on Hvar Harbour for a tasty lunch. They did a great Ceasar Salad!
Restaurant Sperun, Split – A great little find down a Split side road. Good food with an Italian influence.
Lovorka Restaurant, Rijeka – A definite must go to if you are in the area, but probably one of the most random places I have ever been. We found this on trip advisor by doing a “restaurants near me” search, it is located in the middle of an industrial estate, but this is definitely the place to go if you want a traditional Croatian meal.
Shopping in Croatia…
If you want shopping in Croatia the streets of Zadar were lined with loads of cute boutiques, gift shops as well as high st and high end retailers… There is also a good market in Split where you can find all sorts of treasures.
5 Days in Croatia: My Itinerary…
Opatija – This is a really cute seaside town we stopped off in for lunch on our way down to Split. Not a lot going on here, but a good rest place if you are doing a long drive.
Split – We used Split mainly just as a base so we could get the early ferry from here over to Hvar. The main attraction here is Diocletian’s Palace which is a must see.
Hvar – Hvar town is SO beautiful. The city center is really cute, full of cobbled streets and some lovely churches. The main square is a really nice place to sit and people watch and the harbour and coast line is great for a long walk. Make sure you take a trip up to the hill to the Fortress, it’s a good place to learn about the history of Hvar and has the best views on the island (I recommend driving here if you do have a car as it is a bit of an uphill trek otherwise). For a fantastic afternoon of sunbathing and drinking you have to check out Hula Hula beach bar, this place comes alive at sunset and turns in to a club after dark. Another club to check out is Carpe Diem, their main site is on the harbour, but they also host parties at their island beach bar in the Summer time.
Pakleni Islands – One of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, the waters are so blue and the beach bar vibes are amazing. To get to the islands you can hire a boat (without any license or experience) from one of the stands along the harbour, our boat was about £70 for a day. If you don’t feel comfortable driving the boat yourself you can get a taxi boat instead, but it means you are a bit more restricted as you have to know where you want to go… It takes about 20 minutes to get over to the islands, we took a picnic and spent the whole day sailing from bay to bay sunbathing and swimming. My favourite bay was Zdrilca as it was so peaceful and chilled, but the best bay for beach bars was Palmizana.
Krka National Park – A must do in Croatia, Krka National Park is such a good day out. There are all sorts of things you can do in the national park, boat trips, hikes, waterfalls. The two most popular are Visovak (a small island along the river) and the Stradinski Buk waterfalls. There are different entrance fees depending on what you want to visit, you can find them here.
Zadar – Zadar is a really nice city, the most popular attraction is the Morske Orgulje (Sea Organ), where you can watch the sunset whilst listening to the waves making music as they wash up on the steps. Right next to this is The Greeting to the Sun where you can see the solar powered light show next to the seafront. The city center itself is a lovely place to walk around, good for shopping with some really lovely places to eat.
Nin – About a half an hour drive away from Zadar is Nin. A really cute walled city with a lovely sandy beach. A great place for a day trip from Zadar.
Other things to note…
Money – Currency exchanges are everywhere when you cross the border from Slovenia, however surprisingly I found that Treviso airport gave me a better rate, so do a bit of research before you buy your currency. Some places didn’t always take card, so make sure to have a bit of cash on you at all times.
Festivals – There are a lot of festivals in Croatia throughout the summer. I visited Croatia at the beginning of June before festival season started so the vibe was pretty chilled, the day I left was the opening party of Hvars main club Carpe Diem, so I can imagine from mid June onwards is when the islands start to get really busy! Check out the festival timetables here. Bare in mind that during festival season the surrounding towns will be a lot busier so if you are looking for a relaxing holiday it’s best to check out if there is a festival going on before you book.
Game of Thrones – For superfans of GOT Croatia is the place to go. Some key scenes from the show were filmed here particularly in and around Dubrovnik and Split. When I go back in May I will definitely be doing a GOT tour, so stay tuned for a post on that this summer.