Okay, if you travel to Croatia for the first time, then below all you need to know when travel to Croatia that it can be likely to help you so!
1. Take a road trip
If you don’t travel by car already, then rent one at least for a day when in Croatia. Croatia is a perfect destination for a road trip. Roads are in great condition, and scenery is breath-taking.
Our favorite road trips are along Adriatic coastal road from Split to Dubrovnik, along Peljesac peninsula, and around Istria.
2. Stay somewhere central
You can’t visit the entire country in a week stay. No matter how small Croatia might seem, the country is long, and from Umag to the northwest to Dubrovnik to the southeast you’ll need to cover 700 km. Besides, there are so many places to visit in Croatia, that you simply can’t do it all in a week or two.
If you still like to visit more than one place, stay somewhere central. And then do day trips from your base location.
3. Eat local
I would say that travelers to Croatia, after visiting a country for a brief time, leave it with the biggest misconception about food.
No, along the coast, locals don’t eat roasted pork. We’ll all always rather have a roasted lamb. But hey, if Germans, our most numerous guests, love their roasted pork, then we are happy to prepare it for them.
Many restaurants are also very touristy, and not particularly exciting. You know those places offering pasta, pizza, risotto, grilled meat, and a fish plate for two?! Advertised, for better understanding, with photos of the plates you’ll get.
4. Island hopping on your own isn’t that easy
Many readers of our blog, as well as our friends, when planing to visit Croatia for the first time, imagine themselves hopping from one island to another and visiting half dozen of them in less than a week.
It’s not going to happen. While islands are not far one from another geographically, they are far enough when it comes to ease of transport. More often than not you’ll need to choose a port city on the mainland for your base if you would like to visit more than one island during your short stay in Croatia. Sorry to disappoint you, but the only way to do it is renting a yacht, or hopping on those charter boats that sail along Adriatic.
5. Visit Zagreb
Zagreb is for many their entrance point to Croatia, yet majority of travelers either visit it for just a couple of hours, or skip it all together. Mistake! Zagreb is wonderful, and even more so in summer, when many locals leave town for the coast, traffic gets light, and lots of street performances take place all over the town.
6. Shop at a local green market
Croatians love shopping for the fresh produce at the open air green and fish markets. You’ll find these markets in every town in Croatia. Feel the pulse of the town, and watch the locals go with their everyday habits, as you explore local green markets. We’ve written about Dolac, Zagreb’s main green market, and Pazar, Split’s green market.
7. Plitvice aren’t the only national park
Plitvice is one of the most visited places in all Croatia, and the single most visited national park in Croatia. But, indeed, it’s not the only beautiful national park in Croatia.
Croatia’s got them eight. If you don’t like crowds, consider visiting Risnjak, North Velebit, or Paklenica National Parks. If you like to stick to waterfalls, try Krka Waterfalls instead. If you are curious about Croatian islands, why wouldn’t visit Kornati, Mljet, or Brijuni, all three national park themselves.
Istria is the most visited region in Croatia. Yet it remains very little visited by overseas guests, like Australians, Americans, or Japanese. It simetimes seems to be Europe’s best kept secret. Lots of Europeans, particularly Germans, Austrians, and Italians, spend their holidays in Istria.
If it’s your first-time travel to Croatia, consider visiting Istria. The region is gorgeous, full of history, culture, and a dream destination for any foodie.
9. Forget trains, use buses instead
Unlike the rest of Europe, Croatian train network is really poor, and not really a viable way to explore the country. However, bus network is extensive, awesome and reliable. Forget trains, and look for buses instead.
10. Croatia isn’t off the beaten path destination
Hell, no! Croatia has always been popular among European travelers.
When you visit, especially during high season (July, August), and especially popular destinations like Plitvice, Dubrovnik, Split, Zadat, Istria, expect crowds, queues, traffic jams, and few (if any) solo moments for a selfie.
11. Taxis are expensive
As of this writing, Uber just started operating in Croatia, and so far it operates only in Zagreb and Split a year around. In other coastal towns, like Dubrovnik, Zadar, and Rovinj, Uber operates seasonally. Zagreb also has the most competitive and cheapest taxi scene in all Croatia. So, yes, if visiting Zagreb, go ahead and take a cab everywhere.
As for the rest of Croatia, use it if it’s your only transport option, or if you are two or more and can split a cost. Taxis are super expensive, and the drivers aren’t always polite.
12. Excellent tourist infrastructure
Tourism as we know it today started mass developing in Croatia in 60’s. And today tourism is a main industry in Croatia (for better or worse).
That said, expect to find an excellent tourist infrastructure all along the coastal Croatia: from amazing resorts, luxury & boutique hotels, budget hostels, to abundance of vacation rentals and campsites.
13. It’s not cheap, but it doesn’t need to be expensive
People sometimes falsly assume that Croatia is cheap. Well, it’s not. In fact many things, particularly groceries, are more expensive than in US or any Western European country. The only things I find cheap(er) in Croatia are wine, spirits, cigarettes, pastry shops, and dining out. For the rest, expect to spend as much as back home.
14. Wine here is awesome, and so is olive oil
Croatia is a small country, and whatever people here produce, they produce it in small quantities. All produce is also mostly sold to a domestic market.
This is the reason you’ve perhaps never heard of Croatian wine or olive oil. But let me reassure you, they are of an excellent quality, and must try when in Croatia. In fact we highly recommend you to go wine tasting or olive oil tasting.
Our favorite white wine is Malvazija Istarska (check our post on 5 wineries to visit in Istria), and our favorite red is Dingac (especially Saints Hills).
As for olive oil, I am absolutely crazy about this Croatian stuff. So much that from this year we even started making our own olive oil. We recommend visiting Chiavalon Olive Oil Estate in Vodnjan.
15. Croatian currency is Kuna
Yep, it’s true! Croatia is a member of EU, but not a member of Euro Zone (countries using Euro as a common currency).
Croatian currency is Kuna, and the exchange rate (as per October 2015) is 7,6 Kn per 1€, 6,9 kn per 1$, and 10,6 kn per 1£.
16. Pack light, but don’t forget these items
We strongly believe that one should always travel light, and bring as little things as possible when travelling.
However, few things we highly recommend you to bring with you to Croatia are mosquito repellent, adapters, filter coffee (if you drink filter coffee), and water shoes for Croatian rocky beaches.