Top Advice on Travelling in Croatia

In the last couple of years Croatia has frequently been given the label of ‘Europe’s best kept secret’, so this year I decided to take advantage of an early uni finish and hotfoot it over there before the big summer crowds turn it into one of the worst kept secrets. Hoping for sun, sea and a bit swimming, I grabbed my best flip flops and the cheapest flight I could find and I was off! So here’s my guide to some of the places you might want to take in on a typical Croatian route.

My route: London - Venice (plane) - Padova (train) - Trieste (train) - Rovinj (coach) - Pula (coach) - Dubrovnik (coach) - Split (coach) - Hvar (boat) - Split (boat) - Zagreb (train) - Ljubljana (train) - London (plane).

Rovinj

Basics

Rovinj is a small town right in the north of Croatia (in the region called Istria). There are frequent bus connections with the rest of Croatia and also Italy via Trieste, which makes it an ideal starting point to a Croatian tour because of the good availability of cheap flights to Italy. The bus station is right in the centre and everything is within easy walking distance.

Beds

I used the agency straight across from the bus station to find a room and definitely landed on my feet. I got a fantastic double with a great view over the harbour for about £10 a night; also included were amusing mime conversations with my landlady who couldn’t speak a word of anything but Croatian, which is obviously fair enough, seeing as we were in Croatia. Best bet is to try that agency (if you want some similar miming fun I think the lady’s name was Zlaovic) as like a lot of Croatia there aren’t any hostels.

Alternatively just look lost and wait for a gaggle of landladies with unlicensed rooms to come and find you. (Note: I don’t actually know what the group term for landladies should be, but gaggle sounds good, although perhaps a swarm defines the Split and Dubrovnik varieties better).

Eating and drinking

The harbour area covers pretty much everything you could want, most places specialising in fish, pizza or meat dishes. Main meals are usually between about 30-60 kuna (11 kuna = £1) while a beer sets you back about 15 kuna. Explore a bit there are some nice places with big sofas outside and others that set up cushions on the rocks near the sea by candlelight. (Very romantic if you like that kind of thing).

Things to do

The old town is a fantastic hill of quiet, winding alleyways topped by St. Euphemia’s church; the harbour by comparison is buzzing and boisterous with plenty of the usual boat trips to keep you occupied. You can hire a bike and head along the coast to the south for some nicer swimming areas or just grab a space on the rocks down below the church to catch some summer rays. Watch out for the guy in the harbour with his huge telescope in the evenings.

 Rovinj

Split

Basics

Split is Croatia’s second city, beautiful but in some places pretty dirty. The locals are passionate about their local football team (Hadjuk Split) and their country (just take a moment to count the flags). Split is well connected to pretty much everywhere and the bus, train and ferry ports are all right next to each other. It’s a popular stopping-off point before heading out to the islands and also has ferries to Italy.

Beds

You’ll be offered plenty of private rooms wherever you arrive, so you can afford to be a bit picky so that you don’t get stuck far from the centre. I ended up grabbing a room from a guy who saw me walking about the centre; he just gave me a key and left me to it. Very trusting of him, although after much deliberation I decided not to trash the place and disappear with his TV.

Eating and drinking

It’s not hard to find places: there are lots of cafés and restaurants along by the harbour, and also a big selection of cheap takeaways by the bus and train stations. Try one of the hamburgers loaded with paprika sauce (a Croatian favourite).

Things to do

I didn’t get time to see much apart from the centre around Diocletian’s Palace which is supposed to be the main sight of interest. It’s quite a cool area to just wander around and you can go into the underground bit of the palace - although there’s not much to see it gives you an idea of the huge scale of the place.

Split

Hvar Town

Basics

Hvar is just one hour by catamaran from Split, but boat connections on to other islands are poor. This is perhaps one of Croatia’s more touristy islands and sometimes it’s quite hard to escape the big package holiday hotels. It's still quite a nice small place though, and the streets don’t even have names (pity the postman... and lost tourists).

Beds

I stayed at the Green Lizard hostel; it’s a cool, friendly place and reasonably cheap as well as having a good location. The two sisters who run it are very kind too which always helps. For private rooms you will be mobbed at the ferry port with plenty of offers.

Eating and drinking

Sea food is an obvious speciality. There's also a decent supermarket if you head through the main square from the port and then up the stairs to the left. For night life there is a huge disco on top of small hill just around from the port. It’s a fantastic outdoor venue but it was pretty dead while I was there because it had only just opened for the summer.

Things to do

Grab a towel and claim your space on the rocks. Apart from that there are loads of boat trips or you can explore the rest of the island. I went on a day trip to the islands of Vis and Bisjevo, which has a crazy blue cave where the light enters through the water at the right time of day, turning everything inside dark blue. It’s a good trip but you spend a lot of time on the boat so take some good company.

Hvar Town

Dubrovnik

Basics

Dubrovnik is Croatia’s top tourist draw and well worth it despite having to battle your way through the crowds. Being right in the south it takes a while to get to but the bus ride is so absolutely stunning that it won’t feel like it. Just make sure you grab a seat on the sea side of the bus for the best views. Buses and ferries arrive a long way from the old town, so if that's where you're heading get on a bus.

Beds

Can you hear that rumbling sound? It’s that swarm of landladies and suddenly you’re their new best friend. In the end you’ll probably end up taking a room just to escape the madness. Watch out though: landladies will tell you Dubrovnik is small, which is true; they will also say everywhere (i.e. their house) is an easy walk, which isn’t true due to one big problem. Hills. Be picky if you can and stay as close to the old town as possible or like me you will spend your evenings debating with waitresses who has to climb more hundreds of stairs to get home in the evening. If you want a youth hostel there is an official HI one, but book well ahead in the summer.

Eating and drinking

There are loads of options. A place being busy is always a good sign - just don’t get overcharged somewhere too touristy. There is a huge supermarket between the port and bus station if you want to stock up on cheap food.

Things to do

The old town rocks. Walking the walls is essential but will give you a deep loathing of tour groups. It’s an amazing sight, looking out over the red-roofed town, especially when you consider a good chunk of it was destroyed after the city was under siege only just over 10 years ago. There are loads of buildings to explore as well; the Dominican monastery’s cloisters are beautiful. To escape the madness try the island of Lokrum just 10 minutes away by boat where it’s quite possible to find a little cove of rocky beach to yourself. There’s even a nudist beach if that’s your type of thing.

Dubrovnik

Zagreb

Basics

Zagreb is the capital and home to a good chunk of the population. It has a very different feel to the coast and tourists seem to blend more into the background. Buses and trains arrive south of the main square; trams are the local transport of choice and you’ll need them to avoid a long walk to anywhere out of the centre.

Beds

Not as many private rooms about and you’ll probably have to go to an agency to get one. I stayed at the Ravnice hostel, which is a nice place a short tram ride from the centre. It’s good if you want to meet other travellers and is located right next to a chocolate factory which gives you a nice smell to wake up to in the morning. There is another official HI hotel nearer the centre but it’s supposed to be a bit grottier.

Things to do

Zagreb has a real glut of museums, churches and parks. Make sure you see the crazy mosaic style roof of St. Mark’s church; the whole area around it is also really good for just aimless wandering.

Zagreb

Moving on

So you’ve finished your Croatia odyssey; where to now? Well from Zagreb Europe is your oyster. I moved on to Slovenia for a cheap easyJet flight back to London but there are regular links to Hungary, Austria and Germany to name but a few.


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