Getting around Croatia – Lonely Planet

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Getting around Croatia is generally a breeze. The best way to travel? It depends on the type of trip you are planning.

The Croatian bus network connects almost everywhere and is a great option, especially for those on a budget. If you are visiting the coast, you can board ferries to reach mainland towns and islands. The driving is quite simple and allows you to reach destinations that are not well served by public transport. Flights and trains are useful for jumping between Zagreb and the coast.

Transportation varies seasonally. In July and August, it’s worth booking ahead or arriving early for buses and boats, and you might find yourself stuck in traffic entering and exiting the resorts. Between November and March, bus and ferry times are reduced and you may need to plan your route more carefully. Here is everything you need to know to travel to Croatia.

Bus stations are a great option for exploring Croatia on a budget © Vesna Celebic / Lonely Planet

Buses go almost everywhere

Bus services are excellent and relatively inexpensive. You can explore most of Croatia without a car, although Istria (once you’re off the main coastal road) and the islands have more patchy networks. Most bus stations are located fairly centrally (and close to ferry ports) making it easy to get around. An exception is Dubrovnik, where the bus station is about 5 km (3.1 miles) from the old town – hop on a local bus or taxi.

Different companies often operate on the same route, so prices may vary. Luggage stored in the luggage compartment under the bus costs extra (about 10 KN per piece). Buses between Split and Dubrovnik pass through Bosnian territory, so keep your passport or ID handy.

At major stations, bus tickets must be purchased at the office, not from the drivers, and it is worth booking in advance in high season. The main companies are Arriva, FlixBus and Čazmatrans. Getbybus is a useful website with timetables and reservations.

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Boats moored in the port in front of the town of Hvar
Hop aboard a boat or ferry to see the best of the Croatian islands © DaLiu / Shutterstock

Boats can be beautiful

Boats connect the main coastal centers and the surrounding islands all year round, with extensive services during the tourist season. Many visitors find cruising the blue waters and rocky shores of the Adriatic to be one of the highlights of their trip.

The main hubs are Split, Dubrovnik, Šibenik, Zadar and Rijeka. Locals use “ferry” to refer exclusively to car ferries (which can also be used by foot passengers) and “catamaran” for faster, passenger-only services.

The boats are comfortable, with indoor and outdoor seating on deck. The larger ships have restaurants and bars, and almost all have at least one snack counter. Most offer free Wi-Fi, though the signal is variable.

You can usually buy tickets online (Jadrolinija is the main operator), but pre-booking does not guarantee you a place on a particular sailing, so it is always advantageous to arrive at the pier early in high season if you are traveling with a car. Foot passengers pay less, have more flexibility and can usually rent a car, scooter or bicycle upon arrival.

Cars offer the most freedom

Driving is a great option if you are with family or a group, or if you want to visit several destinations in a short trip, such as the towns and seaside resorts of Istria, or the Dalmatian coast and the nearby national parks of Paklenica and Krka .

Croatia drives on the right and the roads are generally excellent, although there are stretches where gas stations are scarce. Still, with most places just hours apart, most journeys are short. At around six hours, Zagreb to Dubrovnik is the longest drive you’re likely to take, and one of the few major routes that isn’t entirely on a multi-lane highway (the last stretch through southern Dalmatia still needs to be improved). The Hrvatski Autoklub has a live roadworks and congestion dashboard.

Car rental is available in all major cities and airports. Local companies are often cheaper, but larger chains offer one-way rentals. You can get a lower rate by booking from abroad or by getting a fly-car package. To rent a car you must be 18 years old and have a valid license and a credit card to cover the insurance excess. Hitching is not recommended, but carpooling is an option – BlaBlaCar has a good local presence.

There are tolls on all highways and a few other roads. The first set of booths you encounter when entering a freeway distribute tickets. Present them at kiosks when leaving the highway to calculate and pay the toll.

Trains and flights are good for crossing the country

The rail network is limited and often slower than the buses. But it’s not a bad bet if you’re exploring Croatia’s interior or heading between Zagreb and coastal towns such as Rijeka, Pula or Split. Croatian railways have timetables and prices.

Flying is the fastest way between Zagreb and the coast, and although connections between coastal towns are less frequent, the connection between the capital of Istria, Pula, and Dubrovnik, for example, can be useful if you pick the right time.

There aren’t many flights to the islands – most visitors just take a boat from the nearest mainland port – although you can reach the island of Brač from Zagreb. The national carrier is Croatia Airlines.

Pag bridge in Croatia
Hire a bike and cycle around the coastline of islands like Pag © PATSTOCK / Getty Images

Bikes are a great way to explore the islands

Bikes are easy to hire along the coast. The relatively flat islands such as Pag and Lošinj offer the most relaxed cycling, but the winding, hilly roads on the other islands offer more spectacular views.

Cycling requires caution: many roads are busy highways with no bike lanes. You’ll see Nextbike rental stations in many cities, especially in Zagreb, which has decent cycling infrastructure – download the app to get started. Some tourist offices, especially in the Kvarner and Istrian regions, have route maps and information on bicycle rental.

Buses and trams provide city transportation

Many towns and resorts are small enough to walk around. Zagreb’s tram network is useful for the train and bus stations, while a short funicular connects the lower and upper towns. Local buses are quite frequent in most towns and usefully connect Lapad Bay to the center of Dubrovnik. Bus tickets usually cost 10KN to 20KN, with a small discount if you buy tickets at a tisak (newsstand), and must be stamped once on board.

The car ferry Jadrolinija docked at the town of Korcula.
You’ll get stunning views of Croatia’s most scenic spots by taking the ferry © Jon Davison / Lonely Planet

Why I love traveling by ferry in Croatia

Traveling by ferry or catamaran in Croatia can be glorious. Sitting on the deck, one has the impression of being in a great tapestry which unfolds. Jagged pines, brightly colored wildflowers, creeks, porpoises and fishing villages parade in the sun. I’ve sailed to verdant islands, wild dance parties, Roman ruins and secluded beaches, but no matter how exciting the destination, I always feel a touch of sadness when I return to shore.

Accessible transport in Croatia

Travelers with limited mobility will find the cobbled streets and endless steps of old Croatian towns challenging. Many beaches are accessible by steps or rocky walkways, with those near hotels and resorts more likely to have ramps.

Public toilets at bus stations, train stations, airports and large public places are usually wheelchair accessible. Bus and train stations in Zagreb, Zadar, Rijeka, Split and Dubrovnik are accessible, but not the ferries. Get more information with Lonely Planet’s free accessible travel guides.

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