Croatia travel guide: Everything you need to know before you go


The allure of Croatia’s glittering Adriatic coast and its 1,200-plus islands is irresistible. Sometimes it’s hard to take in the extraordinary beauty of the Venetian towns along the Istrian and Dalmatian coast, with a few elegant Habsburg resorts to add to the visual display. Countless beaches are squeezed into tiny coves and sweeping bays, while Croatia’s hinterland is sheer drama, its karst mountain ranges cut through with canyons, waterfalls and sparkling rivers.

Current travel restrictions and entry requirements

Croatia dropped all its entry requirements, so there is no need to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. It’s no longer mandatory to wear a face mask in an indoor or outdoor setting, apart from a healthcare facility, although it’s still recommended for large gatherings.

Best time to go

Croatia kicks off its season early with February carnivals in Rijeka and Dubrovnik, before picking up speed at Easter. By spring the weather is already pleasant – an excellent time for relaxed city breaks and hiking in national parks surrounded by spring blossom. July and August bring out the major dance and cultural festivals, as well as big crowds and soaring temperatures. September is one of the loveliest times to visit, when the events calendar is still going strong and summer weather lingers. October is beautifully mellow, with astonishing leaf colours and a still-warm Adriatic Sea. Come at Christmas for Zagreb’s superb Advent market.

Top regions and cities

Dubrovnik and islands

Dubrovnik usually tops everyone’s wish list, and with good reason. Its beauty is otherworldly, with medieval and Renaissance walls circling shiny marble streets of creamy Dalmatian stone houses and baroque palaces. But when high-season crowds make it difficult to explore the Old Town’s car-free lanes, hop on the 10-minute boat shuttle to the tiny island of Lokrum for a picnic and a swim. Or take a boat trip to the Elaphiti islands of Koločep, Lopud and Šipan, wonderfully lazy places of sleepy villages and beaches.

Split and islands

It’s hard not to feel a sense of wonder when you’re sitting in a café in Split’s Old Town and realising you’re surrounded by ruins of the 2nd-century Diocletian’s Palace, colonised by shops, cafés and apartments centuries ago. After strolling along the Riva waterfront and checking out the beaches, many visitors use Split as the jumping-off point for central Dalmatia’s enticing islands: laid-back Šolta, beautiful Brač with its distinctive V-shaped Zlatni Rat beach, exquisite little Vis, far-flung Lastovo, compelling Korčula and, the most popular, Hvar, whose chic Hvar Town has become party central.


This heart-shaped peninsula dangling over the northern Adriatic is one of Croatia’s big hitters. Istria has enough variety to leave you wanting more even after a couple of weeks. You’ll instantly fall for the enchanting Venetian beauty that is Rovinj, sitting regally on its own headland. Nip north to the Lim Fjord and historic Poreč before heading south to Pula and its preserved Roman amphitheatre. Stop in the fishing village of Fažana where you can take a boat to Tito’s old hangout in the Brijuni Islands. Then enter the interior’s hilltop villages – Motovun, Buzet, Grožnjan – past truffle forests, vineyards and olive groves that produce award-winning liquid gold.


Croatia’s capital is often overlooked in the rush to reach the coast. But this city that shows Vienna a thing or two about café culture has a gorgeous medieval Upper Town, which, if you like, you can access via a dinky little 66m funicular. Check out the bars and restaurants along Tkalčića between visits to the Zagreb City Museum and the Museum of Broken Relationships. Stroll along Strossmayer Promenade before zigzagging down to the Lower Town and its shops and restaurants. Carry on to the trio of landscaped parks nicknamed the Green Horseshoe before cooling off in Lake Jarun south of the city.

Kvarner Gulf

Istria’s neighbour to the east has Croatia’s two largest islands – Krk and Cres – to go with the 2020 European Capital of Culture, the buzzing port of Rijeka and its Habsburg architecture. Chill out on Krk’s pebbly beaches after exploring Venetian Krk Town, then take the ferry to peaceful and relatively empty Cres. Carry on to the bridge that takes you to fragrant Lošinj – a favourite Habsburg haunt – before going to compact Rab and its two dozen or so sandy beaches. For the full Habsburg experience, Opatija offers wedding-cake 19th-century townhouses and a lovely 12km Lungomare.

Best under-the-radar destinations

Neretva Delta

This wondrous watery world 90 minutes’ north of Dubrovnik is the place to unwind completely. Follow the course of the River Neretva as it flows through some of Croatia’s most fertile valleys, whose produce you’ll pass in roadside stalls. At its delta is a vast sandy beach that was made for kitesurfing. The best way to explore is by boat, usually in a kayak or on a boat safari offered by some of the waterside restaurants that are otherwise inaccessible. From late July, you’ll be able to reach it more easily when the Pelješac Bridge finally opens and allows you to bypass Bosnia’s narrow slice of coastline and its customs queues.

Zadar archipelago

Croatia’s oldest city is firmly on the tourist radar, some of its islands less so. The two closest, Ugljan and Pašman, are almost like Zadar’s suburbs: joined by a bridge, they offer relaxed days of cycling through olive groves and towards pebbly beaches. Further south, sinuous Dugi Otok lives up to its name (meaning long island) and has the marvellous collection of bays and beaches that make up TelašÄ‡ica Nature Park. Take the ferry to car-free Silba, or join a boat excursion through the spellbindingly stark and mainly uninhabited islands of Kornati National Park.

Pelješac peninsula

Jutting out into the Adriatic is the long finger-like Pelješac peninsula, already known to Game of Thrones fans thanks to the defensive Ston walls that rise above the village. Neighbouring Mali Ston is also the home of the delicious Ston oysters cultivated there. Much of the peninsula is draped with vineyards producing some of Croatia’s top plavac mali and dingač red wines. When you’re not taking a leisurely tour among the wineries, you’re discovering the hidden beaches squeezed within the indented coastline.

Best things to do

Exploring Plitvice Lakes

Croatia’s first national park is one of the most dazzling, its collection of 16 lakes and countless waterfalls and rivers creating one of nature’s great displays. Follow the raised wooden walkways past the waterfalls before taking the electric boat across glassy Kozjak Lake.

Hiking and climbing in the Velebit mountains

The largest mountain range in Croatia looms over the Adriatic Sea and offers superlative and, at times, challenging hiking. Velebit also covers Paklenica National Park, one of Europe’s most exciting places to go rock climbing.

Get into the festival spirit

Croatian summer nights thrum to the sound of dance music festivals all along the Dalmatian coast. Pag island, where sheep normally outnumber humans, has some of the country’s hottest dance festivals on Zrće beach at Novalja – Hideout, Selected, Sonus – plus the massive Ultra Festival in Split and SunćeBeat, Outlook Origins, Defected Croatia and Dimensions in otherwise sleepy Tisno.

Ride the rivers

Croatia’s rivers and canyons are ripe for exploring by kayak, or, if you want some white-knuckle adventure, by rafting. The Cetina River Canyon that empties into the Adriatic in Omiš is one of the most breathtaking journeys, as is the lesser-known Zrmanja Canyon in inland northern Dalmatia.

Getting around

Public transport – rail, coaches and city buses – is very affordable in Croatia. The rail network, HŽPP, has good connections between Zagreb and other main cities, but doesn’t extend south beyond Split. The bus network is much more extensive, and very cheap. The ferry service between the mainland and the islands, Jadrolinija, runs car ferries as well as fast catamarans, both at very reasonable prices. If you want to explore some of the inland regions, then a hire car is your best bet. Internal flights are frequent but not cheap.

How to get there

The quickest and cheapest way to get to Croatia is to fly to one of its seven international airports: Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, Rijeka, Pula, Zadar and Osijek. If you’re travelling via Italy, you can take an overnight Jadrolinija ferry from Ancona to Zadar, Split or Hvar. Train options are lengthy but beautiful, with trains from London via Paris and Munich or Vienna to Zagreb, or via Ljubljana to Rijeka or Pula. Alternatively, take the Harwich ferry to the Hook of Holland and pick up the train in Amsterdam to get to Zagreb via Munich.

Money-saving tip

July and August are peak season, and that means peak prices. May, June and September have warm weather but prices for flights, accommodation and attractions will be considerably lower.

Bank machines (ATMs) in yellow will charge a higher commission, so try to find an ATM associated with a bank.


What’s the weather like?

Croatia has long, hot summers, especially along the coast, while the interior regions have short, cold and snowy winters. Summer temperatures are regularly in the 30Cs.

What time zone is it in?


What currency do I need?

Croatia uses the kuna, but will be joining the eurozone from 1 January 2023. From this September, both currencies will be in use, but in the meantime if you pay in euros you’ll receive change in kuna.

What language is spoken?

Croatians don’t expect you to speak their language, although a few niceties will be very appreciated. Most people in tourism speak English, and many also speak German and Italian.

Mary Novakovich’s new travelogue, My Family and Other Enemies: Life and Travels in Croatia’s Hinterland, is published by Bradt in August and can be pre-ordered now.