With more than 3,600 miles of coastline, Croatia is a waterfront paradise. The southernmost Dalmatian Coast is home to Dubrovnik, a city often referred to as “The Pearl of the Adriatic.” A thriving city during the Middle Ages, Dubrovnik’s history is preserved in much of its architecture including town squares, churches, alleyways, and fortresses. Vineyard-clad hillsides, coastal mountains, and golden strands of beaches line colorful European coastline, dotted with hidden coves and charming cities to be explored.
Swim, snorkel, and paddle through the glimmering azure water of the Adriatic Sea on the vacation of a lifetime. In addition to active exploration, Adventures Unbound believes that one cannot truly experience Croatia without tasting the fresh, authentic local cuisine and fine wine! Enjoy the slow pace, savor each sip of wine, recharge, and unwind on this Mediterranean vacation of a lifetime.
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We got some insight into Croatia’s prehistory in 1899, when the remains of of “Krapina Man”—an early cave dwelling Neanderthal—were discovered in Krapina, north of Zagreb. Krapina Man’s remains place humans in Croatia around the middle of the Stone Age. Though remains of other prehistoric cultures have been discovered in eastern Croatia’s Vukovar, Krapina Man remains Croatia’s most significant anthropological find.
Around 1000 B.C., an Indo-European people migrated to Croatia and formed an alliance of tribes known as the Illyrians. The Illyrians stretched over a region now covering Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, and Croatia, and though they shared similar architectural and burial customs, there’s little to suggest the tribes were assimilated.
The Greeks began setting up colonies and trading posts along the Adriatic coast in the 6th century B.C., trading for oil, wine, metals, salt, and more from the Illyrians. The warlike Illyrians were able to impede the Greek’s colonization efforts, though they also faced Celtic invasions from the north.
The Greeks, hoping for a greater Illyrian foothold, were aided by the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire, who similarly felt threatened by the pirate forces of Illyrian Queen Teuta, sent messengers. Teuta responded with their execution—a catalyst for Rome declaring war on Illyria. The series of wars lasted over 60 years and ended only with the defeat of the Illyrian King Gentius and the creation of the Roman province of Illyricum.
ROMAN EMPIRE MOVES IN
The Roman province of Illyricum continued to expand until A.D. 9, at which point the Roman Empire encompassed Pannonia (Hungary), Dalmatia (Adriatic seacoast and previous Illyria), and Noricum (Austria and the northern territories).
The Romans ruled the region for 5 centuries, creating a network of roads that facilitated trade, troop movements, the further expansion of the Roman Empire, and the introduction of Christianity.
The most famous Roman Christian of the time was Emperor Diocletian. Diocletian’s lavish “retirement home”—now known as Diocletian’s Palace—in Split remains one of Croatia’s most-beloved, and best-preserved, remnants from the Roman era. Diocletian and his Roman legacy live on in the “home” that now serves as a city.
The Roman Capital of Salona (now known as Solin) is also studded with Roman ruins evocative of their former imperial glory, and the Ampitheatre of Pula crowns the impression.
The Roman Empire showed its first signs of cracking in the late 3rd century A.D., an internal fracture that struggled to fend off the northern Visigoths. The Roman Empire divided itself into Eastern and Western realms in A.D. 395, with Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia/Hercegovina taken up by the Western Roman Empire.
Visigoth, Lombard, and Hun incursions into the Western Roman Empire continued and wore down the empire until its collapse in the 5th century.
CROATS IN CROATIA
Exactly how the Croats began their migration into Croatia remains under dispute. While 10th century Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Croats were asked to enter Croatia to help Rome conquer the invading Avars. Others claim that while the Roman Empire was imploding, Croats and other Slavis tribes were living in modern Ukraine, Poland, and Belarus until they began to migrate South across the Danube.
In that account, Croats sometimes joined up with the Avars and other Eurasian nomads in their assaults on the Roman Empire and sometimes joined up with the empire to attack the Avars. Either way, Croats continued their southward migration with the first group settling in in the Pannonian plains and later Dalmatia.
The Croats forming two distinct communities throughout the 7th and 8th centuries: the Dalmatian Bijela Hrvatska and Pannonian Hrvrat. Croats continued to live under different foreign rulers until A.D. 924, when Tomislav I, the first king of Croatia, united the two Croatian duchies. You can learn more about Croatian history on our Journey Through the Colors of Croatia Tour.
Caught Between Empires
CROATIA GOES MEDIEVAL AND GETS SOME KINGS
Tomislav, recognized by the pope as king, ruled over a territory that encompassed most of modern Croatia as well as the coast of Montenegro and portions of Bosnia. Though Croatian monarchs ruled for the next two centuries, their rules held together an only fragile unity.
The transition between kings generally led to moments of anarchy and vulnerability—opportunities Venice took advantage of as early as the mid-10th century. Soon after, Venice launched an invasion and established their first foothold into Dalmatia.
HUNGARY AND VENICE FACEOFF
The death of Croatian King Zvonimir marked the end of Croatia’s independence. Both Hungary and Venice began to exert more effort into conquering Croatia. Though Hungary initially attempted to overpower Dalmatia, it remained under Byzantine control until Hungarian King Coloman convinced the Dalmatian nobility to accept him as the King of Croatia and Dalmatia in exchange for limited self-governance.
Venice continued to exert control over Croatia’s ports and shortly after Coloman’s death invested in a long-term campaign to overtake Croatia. Throughout the 13th century, Venetian influence continued to expand along the coast, and the significant occupations of Zadar (after a 10-year siege) and Dubrovnik further consolidated Venetian rule.
For over 700 years, Venetians controlled the Croatian coast. Northern Rab and Robinj to the southern Hvar and Korčula remain redolent of their Venetian heritage to this day.
Political upheavals continued wherein Hungary attempted to re-establish control and persuade Venice to withdraw from Dalmatia. At once point Croatian nobility marshalled their forces and crowned Ladislaus of Naples King of Zadar only for Ladislaus to then sell Zadar to Venice for a mere 100,000 ducats.
By the early 15th century, Venice had a firm grip on Dalmatia, remaining in control of the region until Napoleon cast his imperial eye on it in the 18th century.
OTTOMANS & HAPSBURGS MOVE IN
Croatia once again found itself caught in the wake of imperial designs with the rise of the Ottoman Empire. The fall of Bosnia in the 15th century left the doors to Croatia open, an opportunity they quickly took advantage of and claimed much of southern Croatia.
At that time, Hungarian King Louis II fell in battle against the Turks, leaving his throne to his Hapsburg successor, Ferdinand I. Thus, Croatia entered into the Hapsburg Empire.
The Hapsburgs attempted to defend Croatia against the Ottoman onslaught, but their efforts proved ineffectual. During this time, the Ottoman Empire controlled around 75% of Croatia, and the Hapsburgs buffered their remaining territory with the Vojna Krajina (Military Frontier).
The Hapsburgs were able to push out the Ottomans by the mid-17th century with a final victory at the Siege of Vienna in 1683. However, the internal turmoil once again allowed the Venetians to reassert control over Dalmatia.
During this conflict, Orthodox Serbs known as Vlachs were settling in under the direction of the Hapsburgs. By the 18th century, Slavonia saw a further influx of Croat, Serb, Hungarian, Albanian, and Slovak immigrants as well. The influx and tensions that began to arise at this time sowed seeds for many 20th century conflicts including WW1.
Croatia found itself in a sociopolitical tug-of-war between Venice, Hungary, and Austria throughout the 18th century. It was a perpetual pushing of cultures and languages on all sides, an internal tension somewhat put to rest by the entrance of Napoleon.
By 1808, Napoleon had captured towns along Croatia’s coasts, once again united Dalmatia with Slovenia and inner Croatia. The combined territories were dubbed the Illyrian Provinces, giving the Illyrian heritage a renaissance period. Napoleon’s defeat in 1815 cut the renaissance short, however, leaving Dalmatia in control of the Hapsburgs who crushed the reawakening Croatian nationalism consciousness.
RISE OF ILLYRIANISM
Croatians began to nurture their growing sense of national identity in a backlash against the cultural heavy-handedness of the Hapsburgs and Hungarians. The Illyrian movement centered largely around the reestablishment of the Croatian language, with Croatian nobles beginning to address the Sabor in the Croatian language and an ongoing refusal to accept correspondence written in Hungarian. The Sabor even voted Illyrian as the national language in 1847, despite Hungarian protest.
CROATS CAUGHT BETWEEN AUSTRIA AND HUNGARY
The rise of Illyrianism and the desire for Croatian autonomy eventually led the Croats to side with Austria during the Hungarian revolutionary movement spreading across Europe. Unfortunately, Russian-backed Hungary subdued the revolution and Austria rejected the demands of self-determination from its Croatian subjects.
The subsequent birth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1866 placed Croatia under a new dual monarchy, with Croatia and Slavonia governed by Hungarian administration and Dalmatia governed by Austrian administration.
Croatians continued to be politically discontent, however, and two political movements began to take form: a movement favoring a South Slav Union in which a Yugoslav entity would exist within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a movement favoring an independent, Greater Croatia.
Despite the growing movement for unity between the Serbs and the Croats, animosity between the two factions continued—nurtured, in part, by the empire who believed in the old adage of “divide and conquer.” Nonetheless, the Croat-Serb Coalition was formed in 1906—a shift that greatly threatened the Austrian-Hungarian power structure. You can learn more on our Croatia walking tour.
WWI MAKES WAY FOR THE KINGDOM OF SERBS, CROATS, AND SLOVENES
Croatia’s future was once again uncertain with the commencement of WW1. After the Austro-Hungarian Empire faced defeat in 1918 after the end of the war, a National Council of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs (a parliamentary monarchy formed shortly after the war) was formed—an organization quickly reorganized as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.
Croats were hesitant about the new, unifying regime, but they found the threat of Italian invasion (which began in 1918) a greater concern. The diverse populations, thrown so suddenly and poorly together, did not meld well.
Stjepan Radic led the opposition of the new regime, wishing to the transform the concept into a Yugoslavia based on a federal democracy. Radic, th eleader of the Croatian Peasant’s Party, allied with Serbian Svetozar Pribicevic of the Independent Democratic Party. They proved such a threat that Radic and two members of the Peasant’s Party were assassinated in 1928.
In the face of further ethnic violence and civil war, King Aleksander declared a royal dictatorship, dissolved the parliament, put an end to the concept of democratic liberty, and declared the state to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
WWII MAKES WAY FOR THE USTAŠE
In response to Aleksander’s dictatorship—which essentially instituted a police state—Croat Ante Pavelič founded the Ustaše Croatian Liberation Movement. The Ustaše aimed to establish an independent Croatian state and overthrow Aleksander. Pavelič fled to Italy where he trained his Ustaše troops under the guidance of Mussolini. In 1934, the Ustaše, aided by the benevolent Italian government, assassinated Aleksander in Marseilles.
While the assassination left Yugoslavia vulnerable to growing Nazi influence, Pavelič found himself and his followers imprisoned by Italy.
Yugoslavia’s Prince Pavle eventually aligned with the Axis powers in 1941. However, Pavle was overthrown a mere two days later in the hopes of nullifying the pact. Germany didn’t accept Yugoslavia’s nullification attempts and instead bombed Belgrade on April 6, 1941, invaded Yugoslavia, and installed the Ustaše as the governing power with the support of Italy.
Pavelič, leading the new Independent State of Croatia (NDH), quickly instituted a range of laws meant to persecute any of the regime’s enemies—a long list that included Serbs, Roma, Jews, and political prisoners. Concentration camps were set up, most notoriously at Jasenovac south of Zagreb. It’s unclear how many people died at the concentration camps or throughout Croatia at this time, though it remains clear the Ustaše’s program was carried out with a marked brutality. That being said, it remains a controversial time in Croatian history, and Croats did not unanimously support the Ustaše regime.
TITO AND THE PARTISANS RESIST
Many Croats did not support the Ustaše, and a resistance movement formed almost immediately after German’s 1941 invasion. However, the resistance found itself divided between the pro-Communist Partisans led by Josip Broz ‘Tito’ and pro-Serbian Četniks led by General Draža" Mihailović.
Though the two causes were opposed to the Ustaše, they were equally opposed to one another and found themselves fighting over control for post-war Croatia.
Despite that, Yugoslavia remained Europe’s most effective anti-Axis resistance movement during WWII, and even the internal conflicts kept Axis troops focused on Yugoslavia rather than the Allies.
Tito’s Partisans gained more Allied support over the course of the war, and by 1943 the Partisans controlled much of Croatia with local governments installed. By the end of the war, Tito entered Belgrade while Pavelič fled and the Ustaše fled. You can learn more about Croatia's history on a family-friendly tour.
1945 and Beyond
COMMUNIST YUGOLSAVIA AFTER THE WAR
After WWII, Yugoslavia became known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Tito, the President, modeled the government after the Soviet Union, though he shortly thereafter branched away from Stalin and fashioned his own form of socialism. Tito attempted to create a state with no dominant ethnic groups, and Croatia entered into a federation with 5 other republics: Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia/Hercegovina, Slovenia, and Macedonia.
Tito’s communist dream continued, and in 1962 Tito founded the Non-Aligned Movement with India, Burma, Egypt, Ghana, and Indonesia in the hopes of finding finding non-aligned ground in the wake of the Cold War.
While Tito maintained peace, Croatia still saw a nationalist movement known as the “Croatian Spring,” further efforts for autonomy, and unrest over the distribution of power across the 6 republics of Yugoslavia. Tito firmly quelled the ‘Croatian Spring’ movement, but the stage was set for war after Tito’s death.
CROATIA AT WAR
After Tito’s death in 1980, the Yugoslav state was left with crippling debt, the lack of a strong successor, lost foreign credit sources, and residual mistrust amongst diverse ethnic groups. Initially, internal angst centered around Kosovo, where the Muslim Albanians and Serbs found themselves fearing hegemony. Similarly, Croats and Serbs found themselves at odds with Croatia longing for autonomy.
1987 saw the rise of Serb Slobodan Milošević, a politician hoping to install a communist government within Yugoslavia. However, Croatia and other Yugoslav republics leaned more toward democracy.
The Croatian elections of 1990 saw the election of Franjo Tudjam with the Croatian Democratic Union. While Tudjman immediately declared Croatian statehood as the first steps for independence, the new constitution also changed the status of Croatian Serbs from that of a “constituent nation” to that of a “national minority”—a classification that quickly raised Serbian outrage and initiated calls for Serbian autonomy.
Milošević, then Prime Minister, rallied Serbs to support the creation of a Greater Serbia and the ethnic cleansing of Croats living in eastern Croatia. Civil war erupted in 1991, with many Croatian cities suffering heavy damage and many Yugoslavian republics (largely Bosnia) drawn into the conflict.
In 1995, Operation Storm effectually brought an end to the fighting in Croatia and resulted in around 200,000 Croatian-Serbs deserting the country and leaving much of the occupied territories abandoned. The Dayton Agreement, signed in December 1995, ceased hostilities in Bosnia/Herzegovina, recognized Croatia’s traditional borders, and issued for the return of eastern Slavonia.
CROATIA AT PEACE
A sense of hostility and suspicion remained between the Croats and Serbs after the fighting ceased. Though the country found political stability, further associations and political integration between the two groups has been an ongoing process. The Croatian government has gradually begun fulfilling their promise to facilitate the return and resettlement of Serbian refugees, though many obstacles impede the process.
In December 11, Croatians elected the Social Democratic Party to lead their country, unseating the Social Democratic Party and truly initiating a new chapter for Croatia. Experience life in Croatia for yourself on our Croatia tour.
Animals of Croatia
Croatia lies on the confluence of several biogeographic regions, and with its additional climatic, ecological, and geomophologic conditions, Croatia stands as one of Europe’s most biologically rich and diverse countries. In fact, Croatia ranks in Europe’s top half dozen country in terms of biodiversity despite its relatively small size.
101 mammal species live within Croatia’s borders, placing Croatia among 8 other European countries with the highest counts of mammal diversity. However, Croatia has a relatively small number of mammal endemics, as few populations are genetically isolated. According to current research, there are about 23,876 species and subspecies of fauna within Croatia, and about 2.4% are endemic while 6.8% are protected.
While Croatia may not have the largest percentages of endemic fauna, Croatia does have some significant endemic fauna—particularly those relics of the Tertiara era. Croatia’s underground habitats, islands, and karst rivers of the Adriatic basin remain Croatia’s primary endemic centers. Cave invertebrates and olm are generally the endemic species of Croatia’s underground habitats, while snails and lizards generally makeup the islands’ endemic populations. Minnows and gobies are primarily the Adriatic basin’s endemic fauna.
CROATIAN FAUNA CONSERVATION THREATS
As is often the case, Croatia’s wildlife and marine life are most significantly threatened by habitat loss and degradation. Many natural habitats continue to be transformed into urban or agricultural land, and road construction prompts habitat fragmentation. Further, the introduction of alien species—some which are invasive—also present a threat to Croatia’s fauna. Lastly, the exploitation and commercial collection of fauna (as well as plants and fungi) threaten wildlife populations.
Among Croatia’s most threatened mammal species are the bottlenose dolphin, 6 of its 34 bat species, and the last remaining island population of European mole.
On a positive note, however, Croatia also holds notable populations of species threatened across Europe such as bear, lynx, wolf, white-tailed eagle, lesser spotted eagle, and black stork populations.
Birds of Croatia
Croatia has some of Europe’s richest ornythofauna, housing 375 bird species total. 234 species breed in Croatia, and 78 of these are threatened throughout Europe. Croatia’s coastline, rivers, and wetlands provide diverse habitats for its incredible diverse bird population.
Some of the birds on your Croatian birding checklist should be: Eurasian spoonbill, Peregrine falcon, Corncrake, Croatian carp, White throated dipper, Griffon vultures, White storks, Dalmatian pelican, Imperial eagle, Golden and Serpent eagles, Little grebe, Great bittern, Purple heron, Glossy ibis.
The region between the Danube and Drava in northern Croatia has an abundance of waterfowl and marsh bird populations such as the Glossy Ibis, Herons, Cormorants, and Coots. Many of Croatia’s birds of prey can be found in the protected mountain regions that stretch across Central Croatia, though the birds also populate sparsely populated coastal regions in Dalmatia and Istria such as Velebit National Park.
If birdwatching appeals to you, then consider embarking on our Croatia kayak tour, full of birds inhabiting Croatias coastlines.
Fish of Croatia
Croatia’s geographic position, encompassing two draining basins for the Black Sea and Adriatic, as well as its unique karst habitats make it an incredible home for a vast array of freshwater fish. The Adriatic’s karst habitats also result in a high degree of endemism.
151 freshwater fish species, with 18 Croatian karst endemics, can be found in Croatia’s waters. While the Black Sea basin covers 62% of Croatia’s territory to the Adriatic basin’s 38%, they are about even in terms of fish species representation: 81 fish species inhabit the Black Sea whereas 88 species inhabit the Adriatic—at least as far as have been identified.
The Adriatic Sea boasts of over 65% of the Mediterranean Sea’s known fish taxa, though of course this number is constantly fluctuating. Only 6 of the 433 fish taxa recorded are endemic, with two gobies (Didogobius schlieweni and Gobius kolombatovici) relatively new to the world of science. Tuna, swordfish, oily fish, stargazer, and poisonous weever also populate the Croatian Adriatic.
Catch a glimpse of the unique species that occupy Croatian waters on our Three Country Kayak Adventure.
Mammals of Croatia
In total, 101 mammal species inhabit Croatia’s lands and waters, though only a small number of the regional mammals are endemic.
Though many mammals call Croatia home, three of its large beasts (AKA large European carnivores) usually steal the spotlight: the gray wolf, brown bear, and Eurasian lynx. Croatia boasts of some of the highest populations of the Eurasian brown bear and wolf in Europe, and the Eurasian lynx populations have grown remarkably after being reintroduced in Croatia after extinction.
Other landlocked mammals you may encounter on your Croatian vacation: Golden jackal, red fox, moose, chamois, red and roe deer, pine marten, mouflon, edible dormouse.
Scope Croatian landscapes for a look at these animals on our Family Adventure tour.
Reptiles and Amphibians of Croatia
38 species of reptiles can be found in Croatia, with 9 endemic species. Dalmatia is the most diversified part of Croatia in terms of reptiles found there.
Lizards comprise the largest percentage of endemic species, with the majority of them being found on Croatia’s islands. Unfortunately, the isolation of these island populations make them vulnerable to introduced predators and competitive species and, as such, they are amongst the most threatened species.
Croatia’s arid, rocky karst landscape serves as an ideal habitat for reptiles such as the venomous nose-horned viper (poskok in Croatian), the Balkan green lizard, the Balkan whip snake, the Caspian terrapin, and Hermann’s tortoise. The Caspian terrapin is one of Croatia’s most endangered reptiles.
Croatia has 20 amphibian species, with 8 endemic species. The Pannonian lowlands has the richest biodiversity in terms of amphibians. The fire salamander can be found in Krka National Park, and the blind subterranean olm lives in Croatia’s calm caves waters that we sometimes see on our Croatia kayak tours.
Cuisine in Croatia
As the Dalmatians say: “Fish must swim three times—once in the sea, once in olive oil, and once in wine!”
Olives and Olive Oil
CROATIAN OLIVE OIL’S DELICIOUS HISTORY
The tradition of olive growing in Croatia is ancient, and lush olive groves grow from Istria to Konavle, on Brač and Solta—everywhere.
Olive oil: we use it every day, but it has a pretty illustrious history. The goddess Athena was said to have created the olive tree. Homer—that one dude who wrote the Odyssey and the Illiad—dubbed olive oil “liquid gold,” while Hippocrates called it “the great healer.” Spartans and Greece’s first athletes rubbed it all over their bodies. The Roman emperors veni, vidi, vici (came, saw, conquered)—and then planted a plethora of olive trees.
Croatia’s history has been literally steeped in olive oil—an attribute UNESCO recognized when it designated the Mediterranean diet, with its foundation in olive oil, an intangible heritage for Croatia in 2013.
CROATIAN OLIVE OIL PRODUCTION
While other commercial olive oil producers have turned to mechanical harvesting techniques or mix oils from several countries, the greater part of Croatian olive oil producers have retained their roots as small family businesses. This means they produce less, but the majority still hand-pick and press their olives—a well-proven formula for producing olive oil of incredible quality. Overall, Croatian olive oil has a distinct fruity aroma tinged with slight bitterness, with a nice green color.
In places like Krk, olives grow among the natural grass and herd that grow in the region rather than being produced in isolation. This means that many of these olives are constantly evolving with the region.
The Island of Brač, with its some 500,000 olive trees, produces the most olive oil in Croatia. Though olive oil production was already underway by the time Croats showed up on Brač, it wasn’t until the 16th-19th centuries that Brač really became an olive oil powerhouse.
CROATIAN OLIVE OIL IN THE NEWS
Though Croatia has been growing olives for centuries, it has only recently gained recognition as a notable—if small—producer of high-quality extra virgin olive oil. In fact, the 2016 New York International Olive Oil Competition (you know, the NYIOOC), nine Croatian EVOO’s won Silver and Gold awards. Six of these came from Istria, whereas the other NYIOOC winners were produced on the Adriatic islands of Brač, Krk, and southern Dalmatia’s Pelješac peninsula.
Click here to read about Croatia’s recent winnings at the NYIOO.
FUN FACT: Istria’s oldest olive tree, planted in the 4th century, grows in Brijuni National Park
TOP FIVE DOMESTIC VARIETIES OF OLIVES
Oblica, Croatia’s most widely crown variety, was cultivated in Croatia for over 2,000 years and is therefore considered a native variety though it was possibly brought over from the Middle East initially. Approximately 90% of Hvar’s olive trees are of the Oblica variety.
The tree resembles an umbrella with a rounded crown, and its fruit is roundish rather than oblong. When ripening, its color transforms from green, to yellow, to red, and finally black. The oil maintains the smell and taste of the ripe olive fruit, with a pronounce sweetness sitting alongside slight spice and bitter notes.
Lastovka variety olives can be found on Korčula (where it’s the predominate variety), Brač, Šolta, Hvar, and thoroughout central and southern Dalmatia. Much like the Olblica trees, Lastovka trees have a rounded crown resembling an open umbrella sitting atop a low, forked trunk. In fact, its fruitful branches resemble the wings of a bird—a resemblance that gave name to its name as Lastovka is Croatian for “swallow.”
Lastovka olives are ovals with a flat bottom and a rounded tip. As the olives ripen, they turn from green to dark purple before becoming black when fully ripe. The high-quality oil has a pronounced bitterness due to the oil’s high levels of polyphenols.
Levantinka has been cultivated on the island of Šolta since the 19th century, and Šolta remains the only place to produce a single varietal oil. However, Levantinka is grown throughout south and central Dalmatia and continues to gain interest as a crop as it's a self-pollinating crop that has the potential for higher yields.
Levantinka trees have a spherical crown abundant with leaves. Unlike Oblica and Lastova, Levantinka prefers better soil and regular watering, though it can be drought resistant. The Levantinka olive grows into an elongated oval in clusters of 3-5. As it matures, the fruit turns from green to a reddish-purple until it becomes black.
Drobnika is an old, authentically Croatian variety of olive found along the coast as well as on several islands alongside Oblica. You’re most likely to see Drobnica in the region of Zadar, by the Makarska Riviera, Istria, and the islands of Krk and Korčula. On Korčula, Drobnica is considered to be the region’s oldest olive variety.
Drobnica trees grow quit tall and upright, their large trunk topped with sparse foliage. The olives are small and a rounded oval. As they ripen, the light green becomes a wine-red and purple. The oil Drobnica produces is thought of as piquant, with a light bitterness and less pronounced sweetness.
Mastrinka is not widely grown and is considered a native wild olive. It’s mainly used to pollinate domesticated olives. The olives themselves are on the small side.
CROATIA OLIVE OIL ROADS
Never mind the yellow brick road. It’s the olive oil roads you should be following in Croatia.
Throughout Istria’s numerous olive groves lies various “olive oil roads”—all marked with signposts—that can be traveled by any food connoisseur or gourmet wanting to see a great variety of cultivators, the methods of production, and bottles and bottles of liquid gold. Walk through olive groves, check out the cool cellars where the goods are kept, and sample the Istrian olive oil known for its more bitter and spicy notes. If you’re hoping to get an authentic look at Croatia’s olive oil heritage, this is the way to do it!
Back in the day on Brač, when Venetian law ruled, if a young man hoped to be married, he first had to plant 100 olive trees to ensure a future rooted in tradition for his family. You can check out the variety of cuisine that Croatia has to offer on our Dalmation Differences tour.
EXPLORING CROATIA BY COURSES
Continental Croatia, which incorporates Bilogora, Zagreb, Zagorje, Podravina, and MeĐimurje along the Hungarian and Slovenian borders, is known for its hearty, robust dishes that pull from its agricultural foundation—a base that means dishes vary with the seasons.
For breakfast, you are likely to see Žganci, a form of grits usually topped with sour cream, yogurt, bacon, or cheese (prgica). Common main dishes included preserved meats, turkey, and duck served with baked noodles (mlinci). Ground meat served in cabbage leaves (sarma), and blood sausage served with sauerkraut (krvavice) are also popular menu items.
Desserts are often phyllo (štrukle) or crepes (palačinke) stuffed with fresh fruit, cheese, nuts, honey, or jam. Most menus also list potato dumplings stuffed with plums (knedle sa šljivama). If you visit Međimurje, the pièce de résistance is the prekmurska gibanica, a yeast cake layered with fresh goodies such as raisins, poppy seeds, walnuts, apples, and cheese.
Dalmatian cuisine is most aptly characterized by its simplicity and freshness.
Main meals most often begin with pršut—a dry-cured ham similar to Italian proscuitto—and Paški sir—a hard, tangy sheep’s cheese made on Pag Island. Pršut and Paški sir are often served topped with a variety of olives.
Dalmatians also prize seafood dishes due to their coastal position. Oysters (kamenice) from Pelješac Peninsula’s Ston are considered a specialty, and many Dalmatians order salata od hobotnice—a salad made of octopus, onions, and potatoes soaked in olive oil and splashed in vinegar—as an appetizer or light lunch.
Many appetizers were passed down by the Venetians to the Dalmatians, often taking the form of seafood risottos: crnirižot (risotto blackened with squid ink), rižot sa škampima (shrimp risotto), and rižot frutti di mare (seafood risotto, prepared with mussels, prawns, clams, octopus, or squid). And of course, the Adriatic catch of the day is always worth checking out.
Main courses often include blitva (a dish of potatoes and boiled Swiss chard), školjke i škampi na buzaru (a stew made of shrimp and shellfish), ribana žaru (a dish of grilled fish with olive oil), and pašticada (a stewed beef dish in red wine with prunes).
Good Dalmatian wines to pair with your meals:
Reds: Plavac and Babić
Whites: Bogdanuša, Pošip, Grk and Vugava
ISTRIA & KVARNER
North of Dalmatia lies Istria and Kvarner, where coastal and inland cuisine merge—making them the regions with the widest range of Croatian cuisine. Neighboring Italy also lent many of its culinary accents to Istria. In particular, Istria’s love of pasta. Njaki (gnocchi), quill-shaped tubes of fuži pasta, hearty minestrone-esque bean and vegetable soup known as maneštra, and mare e monte—which translates to ‘sea and mountains’—which serves up mushrooms with shellfish.
Istria is known for having some of Croatia’s most sophisticated cuisine, with renowned dishes including: kuhane kozice (boiled prawns), riblji složenac (fish stew), riblja juha (fish soup), and crni rižoto sa plodovima mora (black and white seafood risotto).
Istrians are also well known for their use of truffles (tartufi) in dishes, so Istrian fuzi with truffles (Istarski fuži sa tartufima) is a worthwhile dish to try.
Good Istrian wines to pair with your meals:
Whites: Vrbnička žlahtina, Malvazija
GORSKI KOTAR & LIKA
The Lika and Gorski Kotar regions lie southwest of central Croatia and include the Plitvice Lakes National Park. While the cuisine offered in this region is similar to that found in central Croatia, homemade cheeses, spit-roasted pork and lamb, and fruit brandies are frequently offered by roadside stalls.
Many dishes are baked under a metal, bell-shaped lid known as a peka, and lamb (janjetina) prepared this way is a regional specialty. Sauerkraut prepared in the Lika style, consisting of smoked sausage and potatoes along with the marinated cabbage, is a regional delicacy. Cabbage makes another appearance in a dish known as the Licki pot, or lički lonac—a stew made of cabbage, root vegetables, potatoes, and meat. Drunken trout (pijane pastrve), fish prepared in wine sauce and accompanied with vegetables and potatoes, is another dish commonly served here.
SLAVONIA & BARANJA
Slavonia and Baranja lie in continental Croatia’s eastern region, and its Hungarian heritage is very much evidence in its food, especially as paprika makes a regular appearance in dishes. Popular dishes include: punjene paprike (paprika-spiced peppers stuffed with minced bacon, rice, and pork), ribli paprikaš (a fish-based stew heavily spiced with paprika), kulen (a spicy paprika sausice), and čobanac (a meat goulash seasoned with bay leaves, garlic, and yup, you guessed it, paprika). Rezanc (egg noodles served with sweetened poppy seeds or walnuts) and grilled fish are also favored regional dishes, and you will often spot ajvar, a savory red-pepper tapenade, served alongside meat dishes.
Popular Slavonian Wine:
FISH TIPS FOR ORDERING IN CROATIA
How Do You Want Your Fish Prepared?
- Grilled over wood with olive oil (na žaru)
- Baked (u pećnici)
- Boiled (lešo)
CROATIAN WINE: UNDERRATED, UNDERSTATED…AND UNSURPASSED
First thing’s first: how do you order wine in Croatia?
Croatian restaurants classify wine in ascending order of quality, so you can decide where your taste buds (and vacation budget) are leading you on your Croatian vacation.
- "stolno" (table wine)
- "kvalitetno" (quality wine)
- "vrhunsko" (premium wine).
CROATIA’S TIPSY WINE HISTORY
Wine production, like olive oil, has played a critical role in Croatia’s cultural heritage and history. In fact, Croatia endures as one of the oldest wine regions in the world.
Croatia can easily claim over 2,500-years worth of wine production, with records showing Greek settlers began cultivating grape vineyards on the islands of Vis, Hvar, and Korčula around 390 BC. That being said, recent discovers indicate that Illyrians living in Dalmatia were cultivating grapes in the Bronze Age.
A DELICIOUS, AWARD-WINNING LEGACY
Croatia cultivates 62 indigenous grape varieties, producing an incredibly wide range of wine styles both beloved and obscure.
Perhaps Croatia’s most well-known grape is the zinfandel grape, which had previously been California’s most mysterious “orphan.” In Croatia, however, the zinfandel grape produces a wine known as primitivo, produced from the grape crljenak kastelanski (three cheers to anyone who can pronounce the name).
Many of Croatia’s wines are gaining in popularity in their own right, however, including varietals of orange wine. Orange wine has been making its introductions in the U.S. over the last several years, with many reigning it as the “new rosé.” A bit more substantial that the traditional white or rosé, orange wine provides the refreshing chill of lighter wines with the depth of reds.
Croatian wines hit the top of the wine lists in New York for a reason: they are absolutely delicious. In fact, readers and experts of USA Today ranked Croatia in the top 5 wine regions in the world—beating out powerhouses such as Napa Valley and Tuscany.
FUN FACT: Anthony Bourdain visited Croatia during the filming of his show No Reservations and was beyond impressed, exclaiming, “Why, oh why, is there so much amazing wine in this country?”
CROATIA’S WINE REGIONS
Croatia is in many ways a land of vineyards, with more than 300 geographically determined wine districts enclosed within an area smaller than the state of West Virginia.
Croatia has two primary wine regions: Primorska Hrvatska (coastal Croatia) and Kontinentalna Hrvatska (continental Croatia). These two regions are divided into 12 subregions, which are then further carved up into more manageable vinogorje (or, literally, “wine hills”). Croatia’s vinogorje unfurl from the Dalmatian coast up to the north in Slavonia.
With so many vinorgorje stretched across Croatia, it’s hard to know what to look for! Here’s a list of some wine favorites by Croatian region:
- On Krk Island, look for Žlahtina
- In Poreč, look for Cabernet
- In Istria’s Buzet, look for Sauvignon, Merlot, and Terrano
- On the Pelješac Peninulsa, look for Postup and Dingač
- In Primošten, look for Babić
- In Vis, look for Vugava
- In Bol, look for Plavac Mali (or really, throughout Dalmatia)
- In Dubvronik, look for Malmsey/Malvasia
- In Korčula, look for Pošip and Grk
As our list is no means comprehensive, check out Chasing the Donkey’s well researched list: 20 of Croatia’s top wineries.
KEY THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CROATIAN WINE
Croatia’s wine region of Plešivica—sometimes known as Croatia’s Champagne—is renowned for its international grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling. As its moniker might tell you, Plešivica is best known for its sparkling wines.
Plešivica lies about an hour drive from capital Zagreb, and the region is definitely a hotspot on the Croatian wine map. In fact, the Plešivica Wine Road truly can be found on maps. The Plešivica Wine Road opened up in 2001; on it, about 40 wineries are there for the tasting. Some of Plešivica’s most prominent producers are Korak, Tomac, and Šember.
Golden Valley (Vallis Aurea)
The wine region Vallis Aurea, otherwise known as Slavonia’s “Golden Valley,” has been central to Croatian winemaking since the Illyrians appearance. Visitors can find the distinguished vineyards of Cotes du Rhone, Bordeaux, Piedmont, and Oregon there.
You might recognize Croatia’s Tribidrag red grape variety as Italy’s Primitivo or California’s Zinfandel—and it hails from Dalmatia. In Dalmatia, you might hear it referred to as Crljenak Kaštelanski or Pribidrag if not Tribidrag. If you’re big on zin, check out these great Dalmatian producers: Mimica from Omiš, Rizman from Komarna, Bedalov and Vuina from Kašela, and Stina from Brač.
Likely Croatia’s most famous wine region, Dingač can be found on the Pelješac peninsula. Some of Croatia’s best red wines are produced here on the sprawling karst landscape from Plavac Mali grapes.
Experiencing bottleshock from perusing lists upon lists of Croatian wines? Or, perhaps, seen the movie Bottleshock—with the fantastically-voiced Alan Rickman—in which Chateau Montelena’s Californian Chardonnay defeated French white Burgundies in a blind taste testing? Bottleshock’s real-life events have gone down in history as the Judgment of Paris, and Mike Grgich (aka Miljenko Grgić), the winemaker of Napa’s Chateau Montelena’s winning 1973 blend, comes from Dalmatia and owns wineries in Croatia as well as California.
Try out Gemišt, a popular Croatian drink made by mixing white wine (yum… Graševina) with sparkling water. You’ll find Gemišt more commonly in northern Croatia. It’s usually prepared to taste, with differing ratios of wine to water. So sip on some samples of find your perfect blend! You can sample all these and more on our Taste of Croatia Tour.
Geography of Croatia
Though not incredibly large in terms of mainland surface area, Croatia packs in a high variety of geographic relief. You can find 3 main types of geographic relief in Croatia: mountainous Dinaric, coastal Adriatic, and lowland Pannonian.
53% of Croatia is considered “lowlands,” as it falls under 200m, while 26% of Croatia has hills and peaks that fall between 200-500m. 21% of Croatia rises above 500m above sea level.
Don't miss out on any of Croatia's variety by joining us on our Croatia Tour.
Croatia’s coastal region extends from the mountains. To the north, the coastal region encompasses the Istrian peninsula, and the coastal belt becomes narrow—bounded by the high Velebit mountains and islands—south of Rijeka. Croatia’s southern coastal expanse was once historically considered Dalmatia, with its predominant karst relief.
The lowland Pannonian and para-Pannonian plains form the breadbasket of Croatia thanks to the alluvial soil from the Sava, Drava, and Danube that the crops. The Pannonian region runs along Croatia’s northeastern arm, and is also known as Croatia-Slavonia or just Slavonia.
The western edge of the Pannonian plains begins to transition into the hilly highlands of the para-Pannonian marked by the limestone plateaus of Kordun and Pokuplje. The Dinaric mountain region lies NW-SE, with Gorski Kotar and Lika comprising significant portions of the Dinaric highlands. Karst plateaus, primarily consisting of limestone, make up the much of the central mountain belt.
Croatia divides into three climatic regions: Central Croatia, and the Adriatic Coast.
Central Continental Croatia
Continental Croatia is separated from the coastal region by the Dinaric mountain range and has its own colder climate. During the winter, average temperatures are around 0°C/32°F. Summers range between mid-high 30s °C/high 80s or low 90s°F. July tends to have more frequent heat waves.
Croatia’s mountain ranges offer cooler temperatures and more precipitation. In the winter, average temperatures can go from -2°C to -4°C with regular snowfall. In the summer, the mountains are a more temperate 10°C to 18°C, and visitors often escape the coastal heat by traveling into the cooler mountain ranges.
The coastal region has a pleasant Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot, dry, and sunny, while winters are relatively mild and wet. During the summer, temperatures range between mid 70s-low 90s, with average temperatures lying around mid-to-high 20s°C/77-86°F. During the winter, temperatures rarely get below 5°C/41ºF.
FUN FACT: Hvar is Croatia’s sunniest island, boasting over 2,7000 hours of sun per year. Korčula’s Vela Luka, Split, and Dubrovnik are the followers-up for Croatia’s
CROATIA’S RIVERS AND LAKES
The majority of Croatia’s rivers (62%) belong to the Black Sea catchment basin, with the remaining rivers (38%) belonging to the Adriatic.
The two longest Croatian rivers, the River Drava (505km) and the River Sava (562km) both flow into the Black Sea basin after they meet up with the Danube.
River Sava’s main tributaries include:
- Kupa (the longest river whose entirety lies within Croatia)
River Drava’s main tributaries include:
Lakes pop up across Croatia, though few are sizable. Lake Vransko, near Biograd, stands as Croatia’s largest lake at 30.7 square kilometers, and many consider Lika’s Plitvice Lakes the most picturesque.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Major Ethnic Groups
Several ethnic groups live in the Croatian republic, with Croats being the largest. Serbs comprise the largest minority ethnic group, though that number has fallen dramatically since the war of independence in the 1990s.
Bosniaks, Italians, Slovenes, Hungarians, Albanians, Austrians, Bulgarians, Czechs, Germans, Roma, and other ethnic groups also can be found in Croatia in smaller numbers.
Croatian 96.1%, Serbian 1%, other and undesignated 2.9% (including Italian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, and German).
Roman Catholic 87.8%, Orthodox 4.4%, other Christian 0.4%, Muslim 1.3%, other and unspecified 0.9%, none 5.2%.
Croatians have mythologized the sea winds that wail against their country since ancient times, and they are now known fondly by name. Bura, the affable north wind, blows bad weather away. Jugo, the more sinister south wind, rouses your own inner demons.
The cool, dry Bura wind blows down from Croatia’s northeastern mountains. It usually brings clear, sunny days to Croatia’s shores, but it’s known for its mercurial temperament and its tempestuous strength. Croatia’s fishermen respect the Bura as well as fear it, for as a Croatian saying goes, the Bura likes to be alone on the sea.
The southeasterly Jugo wind (pronounced “you-go”), often brings along stormy weather and low pressure. Without barrier to shield from the Jugo, these winds rise in strength and speak before breaking after a couple of days. According to Croatian folk wisdom, the Jugo brings about stormy weather as well as mood swings. This wisdom is so ingrained that when the Dubrovnik Republic was in power, its Senate put on a pause on decisions when the Jugo gale was at full strength.
The Maestral, a summerly northwestern wind, is the cornerstone of Dalmatia’s summer and typically blows during the late morning until the early afternoon. Croatians appreciate the Maestral’s relatively fixed, unvarying presence and behavior. In the past, Croatian’s considered the Maestral in their city building plans, crafting streets that open toward the Maestral so that a natural form of air conditioning is effecting. You’ll appreciate the Maestral’s cooling effect on hot summer days.
Flora of Croatia
Much like Croatia’s climate, the country’s vegetation is highly diverse and categorized into regions. See them all on our Journey Through the Colors of Croatia tour.
Croatia has four biogeographical regions:
- Mediterranean along coast
- Alpine in Gorski Kotar and Lika
- Pannonian alone Danube and Drava
- Continental in remaining regions
In contrast, Croatia has only three ecoregions:
- Pannonian mixed forests
- Dinaric mountains mixed forests
- Illyrian deciduous forests
VEGETATION FOUND WITHIN CROATIA'S VEGETATIVE ECOREGIONS
Pannonian Mixed Forests
Dinaric Mixed Forests
Siberian Leopard Plant
Amethyst Blue Star
Illyrian Deciduous Forests
Cypress (cypresses sempervirens)
Salt Cedar Trees
Conservation in Croatia
Croatia’s dedication to conservation and the legal protection of its natural goods goes back to the 13th century, when the previously rampant deforestation of Dubrovnik, Korčula, and Trogir was first restricted. By the 19th century, conservation efforts were assisted by experts and systematically researched.
Though Croatia has a relatively small land surface, the country has a large amount of protected land. With 444 protected areas, 9.1% of Croatia is protected. Croatia’s main protected areas include national parks, natural parks, strict reserves, and world heritage sites. Ecologically, Croatia has made great efforts to preserve its biodiversity.
Learn more on our Croatian Family Adventure.
CROATIA PROTECTED AREAS
Eight National Parks
- Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Krka National Park
- Kornati National Park
- Brijuni National Park
- Mljet National Park
- Northern Velebit National Park
- Paklenica National Park
- Risnjak National Park
Eleven Natural Parks
- Kopački Rit
- Lonjsko Polje
- Žumberak-Samoborsko Gorje
- Vrana Lake
- Lastovsko otočje
Two Strict Reserves
- Bijele and Samarske stijene
- Hajdučki and Rožanski kukovi
Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Poreč
- Historic city of Trogir
- Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian
- Old City of Dubrovnik
- Stari Grad Plain, Hvar
- The Cathedral of St James of Šibenik
CRES-LOŠINJ MARINE PROTECTED AREA
Lošinj Dolphin Reserve
The Lošinj Dolphin Reserve, first protected area for dolphins in the Mediterranean, encompasses the eastern waters and coasts of the Lošinj and Cres archipelago and was created to protect the declining bottlenose dolphin population. Moreover, the reserve represents the first marine park reserve created and dedicated to conserving a single Mediterranean dolphin population.
While the region’s bottlenose dolphins headline the protected area, the Lošinj Dolphin Reserve also preserves the habitat of other endangered or vulnerable species in the area such as the Mediterranean loggerhead turtle, sea grass, and coral biocenoses. Furthermore, recent research identified 112 species of fish (19 of which are endangered in Croatia), 303 species of marine invertebrates (9 protected, 7 strictly protected), and 152 species of marine flora.
CONSERVING GEOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
Croatia’s conservation efforts and protection of nature extend to its geological and landscape diversity—a diversity of rock, minerals, fossils, soil, relief forms, underground structures, and the natural processes through which they were and continue to be created.
Croatia has a long history of geodiversity protection, with the Cave Protection Act ratified as early as 1900. Currently, Croatia protects 50 geological formations and/or localities, with 49 considered “nature monuments.” Further, the Karst Ecosystem Conservation Project—put forth to protect the biodiversity of Croatia’s karst ecosystems—developed sustainable tourism practices and strengthened protected area management.
CROATIA CONSERVATION CONCERNS
Croatian conservation efforts are vulnerable to the widespread conservation threats of invasive species, climate change, and habitat fragmentation.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection considers Croatia’s most vulnerable regions to be the following:
- the Dinaric Alps region, with pre-Alpine, Alpine, and circumpolar vegetation most endangered
- Mediterranean Croatia, with the karst river basin estuaries most endangered
- the south Adriatic Islands, whose endemic flora and fauna have limited migration potential
Fun Fact: In Croatia, the term “conservation” is often applied to the conservation of cultural goods rather than natural resources. If that’s right up your alley, check out the Croatian Conservation Institute’s webpage to see how Croatia’s protecting its cultural heritage.
Geology of Croatia
Croatia’s unique geology has made the country famous over the centuries, largely due to its dominant karst topography. Croatia’s karst landscapes are unique partially because of the formation’s sheer size, as karst topography takes up about half of Croatia. See them for yourself on our Croatia Tour.
The word “karst” comes from the former Kras/Karst region defined by its limestone plateau, and it means “rocky mountain.” The term “karst” applies to a distinct geological landscape and morphology created with the dissolution and fragmentation of soluble rocks—primarily limestone and dolomite. As limestone and dolomite are highly porous and permeable to hydrology and geomophology, these karst rock formations are often characterized by chasms, caves, underground waterways, and sinkholes.
The majority of Croatia’s karst landscapes can be found in the Dinaric Alps, though Krka National Park displays Croatian karst landscapes at its best with its scaffolded series of waterfalls made possible by karst’s collapsible nature.
Not all limestone can be claimed by karst, however. Famously, Istrian Stone, a metamorphosed limestone that resembles marble in building quality and appearance, is known for its strength, pliability, and water-resistance. You can see an example of Istrian Stone on your Croatian vacation if you walk along the famous Placa or Stradun Street in Dubrovnik, with which the street was paved.
Plitvice Lakes National Park lies in the Dinaric karst region, and it remains one of the world’s most impressive karst formations. Plitvice’s visually stunning landscape comprised of tufa barriers and placid, terraced lakes is possible due to the hydrologic properties of the region’s dolomite and limestone deposits, and it’s impossible to visit and not be amazed at what geology can create.
The waters in Plitvice, supersaturated as they are with dissolved calcium carbonate in the form of calcium bicarbonate, are indispensable to the creation of the tufa barriers. As the waters disperse through existing tufa barriers, they mineralize and attach themselves to the surface of the tufa with the aid of the mosses, algae, and bacteria growing there as well. Over time, the resulting tufa grows and evolves, with layers upon layers of tufa barriers creating lakes or altering the flow of water.
Istrian stone, a metamorphosed limestone which resembles marble, can be seen throughout Venice as it was regularly used as building stones.
Money in Croatia
Croatian currency is the kuna—not the Euro—which can be abbreviated to kn with a plural of kune (pronounced ‘koo-neh’), although many pluralize it to kunas.
The Kuna is divided into 100 lipas. Notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, and 25. Lipa come in coins with denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50.
Current exchange rate: 1USD-6.73HRK
ATMS AND CREDIT CARDS
ATMs are widely available throughout Croatia; just look for a Bankomat sign.
Most large restaurants and hotels accept credit cards. However, smaller businesses or private accommodations often only take cash, so it’s wise to have some on you.
Large businesses widely accept Visa, Mastercard, and Diners, though they less frequently accept American Express.
Before you leave home, check your bank network, find out your daily withdrawal limit, and keep in mind that banks may charge fees for a card used at another bank’s ATM—a fee that may be higher for international transactions. Also, a 4-digit PIN is required to withdraw money in Croatia.
Tips (napojnice) are not considered obligatory in Croatia. If you wish to tip after a large meal or multiple drinks, it’s considered polite to tip 10% of round up to the nearest convenience figure.
Health & Safety in Croatia
Travelers do not require inoculations to visit Croatia, though those who plan to spend time hiking in the mountains should consider being inoculated against tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), which you can learn more about here by visiting the CDC’s website.
Taking out an insurance policy before traveling protects against illness, injury, theft, and loss. While a travel insurance policy covers for loss of tickets, baggage, cancellations, etc., many exclude activities listed as “dangerous sports” unless an additional premium is paid.
In Croatia, these activities can include whitewater rafting, trekking, scuba-diving, and windsurfing. Kayaking, however, is usually not considered a potential “dangerous sport.”
As always, keep receipts for medical treatment and/or medicines and obtain a statement from the police if you find yourself needing to make a claim.
Public toilets remain rather rare in Croatia, and many charge a modest fee.
Much of the Adriatic coast embraces naturism, and you’ll see it locally denoted by the Germany acronym “FKK.” You’ll find isolated beaches or coves throughout Croatia where nudity is acceptable (distanced from the more family-oriented regions), and some designated naturist beaches as well. Istria is home to some naturist holiday villages, and naturist campsites can be found on Krk and Istria.
Entry Requirements in Croatia
U.S. citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond planned departure date to visit Croatia. A visa is not required if you hold a valid U.S. passport and travel for business or tourist trips that last less than 90 days within each 180-day period.
Croatia is a Member of the European Union (EU), but it is not yet a member of the Schengen area. As such, travelers need a passport to travel between Croatia and other EU member states.
Foreign citizens must register with the local police within 24hrs of arrival in Croatia to inform then of any change of address. If you are staying in a hotel, a place rented through an accommodation company, hostel, or campsite, the company or hotelier will automatically register you.
Internet & Phone Service in Croatia
If you plan to use your mobile phone while in Croatia, be aware of and look into international data roaming charges as well as any likely call costs. Croatia operates on a GSM 900/1800 frequency, so it’s also important to ascertain if your phone is equipped for this frequency before travelling.
Travelers often buy kits with a simple phone equipped with a prepaid SIM card.
Or, alternatively, if your phone is unlocked and compatible, it is possible to purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card in Croatia through a start-up package offered by Croatia’s mobile phone operators.
A growing number of hotels, cafés, and hostels offer customers free wi-fi access, and internet cafés can be seen in many Croatian cities and resorts across the Adriatic.
Power in Croatia
Croatia’s wall sockets operate at 230/50hz and accept round, two-pin plugs.
Getting to Croatia
FLYING TO CROATIA
Direct flights to Croatia are available from a variety of European cities throughout the year, as well as additional charters and seasonal routes available in the summer’s peak season.
Croatia has seven airports that accept international flights, but only the airports in Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik (Croatia’s three largest airports) accept international flights year-round. Croatia’s national carrier is Croatia Airlines.
Brač Airport: Brač Airport operates from late May-September, with charter flights being the only international services available.
Dubrovnik Airport: British Airways and Croatia Airlines fly to Dubrovnik Airport year-round, with many other airlines flying there during peak season.
Pula Airport: International flights available to Pula Airport during summer only.
Rijeka Airport: Rijeka Airport, on the island of Krk, is only open for seasonal flights from April-October.
Split Airport: Croatia Airlines, Germanwings, and Luftshansa Cityline fly to Split Airport year-round, with many other airlines flying there during peak season. Split Airport’s considered one of Croatia’s major international airports.
Zadar Airport: International flights available to Zadar Airport during summer’s tourist season only.
Zagreb Airport: Zagreb Airport serves as Croatia’s primary air hub, with various airlines flying here year-round from a variety of destinations in Europe as well as the Middle East.
Departure tax for Croatian flights are included in the ticket’s price.
GETTING TO CROATIA BY LAND
Croatian border crossings with Bosnia, Hercegovina, Hungary, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Many bus connections join Croatia to its neighboring countries.
Handy websites for travelers considering Croatian bus travel include:
Croatia’s main train hub lies in Zagreb, but direct international train services also land in Rijeka, Osijek, and (in the tourist season), Split.
Handy websites for travelers considering Croatian train travel include:
Fairies regularly run between Croatia and Italy, with the main ferry hub being in Split. Overnight services run from Split to Ancona, Italy with occasional stops in Hvar’s Stari Grad. Seasonal services also run between Bari and Dubrovnik, Ancona and Zadar, and Pescara and Hvar Town. Venice also runs boating services to Poreč, Pula, Rovinj, and Umag with potential stops at Slovenia’s Piran.
Handy websites for travelers considering Croatian boat travel include:
Meet Our Guides
There are no required vaccinations for visiting Croatia. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that travelers should be up-to-date on their routine vaccinations, including measles, chickenpox, diptheria, tetanus, and polio. It’s also recommended that you are protected against hepatitis A and hepatitis B, as well as rabies if you plan on being in close contact with animals.
Yes, it is safe to drink tap water in Croatia or you can easily find bottled water at local shops and supermarkets. The country has generally high hygiene standards when it comes to food preparation, so eating salads and peeled fruit at restaurants shouldn’t be an issue.
The Croatian currency is the kuna (kn), which is subdivided into 100 lipa. The current exchange rate is around $1 USD to 6 kn. Frequently used banknotes include 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, and 10 kuna while coins include 5, 2, and 1 kuna, as well as 50, 20, and 10 lipa.
US dollars are not accepted in Croatia but there are plenty of exchange houses and banks in most towns and at the airports where you can easily change money. Banks are generally open from 8 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday. Most hotels and restaurants in the cities and major tourist destinations will accept credit cards. However, in more rural areas, it’s a good idea to carry some cash for payment. Mastercard and Visa are the most accepted credit cards, with American Express and Diners Club accepted in some establishments.
Croatia is in Central European Standard Time (GMT+1) and observes daylight savings time from around the end of March to the end of October.
Croatian is the official language of Croatia and is spoken by 95% of the population. It’s based on the most widespread dialect of Serbo-Croatian, Shtokavian, with the other two major dialects spoken in the country being Chakavian and Kajkavian.
Due to immigration over the years, Croatia is also home to minority communities of Slovaks, Serbs, Bosnians, Hungarians, Czechs, and Italians, all of whom speak their native languages. In tourist areas, you will find many people who speak English and restaurant menus are often provided in English, although this might not necessarily be the case in more rural areas.
A passport with at least three months validity is required for entry into Croatia and you should have at least two free pages for entry and exit stamps. Although Croatia is a member of the European Union, it is not a member of the Schengen area, and a passport is required for travel between the country and other European Union member states.
If you’re staying less than 90 days for tourist purposes, a visa is not required to enter Croatia for citizens of most European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
It’s not compulsory to have travel insurance when visiting Croatia but it is highly recommended. It will protect you against any financial loss from injury, illness, or theft, as well as covering the costs of any transport cancellations or delays. Before purchasing any travel insurance policy, you should carefully check what is covered and what is not, so you aren’t left with any surprises later on.
Croatia Airlines offers domestic flights from its main hub in Zagreb to tourist hotspots such as Dubrovnik, Split, and Zadar. A limited number of destinations are also connected to the Croatian capital by train, although bus is your best option if you’re traveling along the coast. Buses in Croatia are efficient and relatively inexpensive, with a number of different companies creating healthy competition. It’s important to note that buses traveling between Split and Dubrovnik will pass through Bosnian territory, so be sure to have your passport handy.
Numerous ferries connect Croatia’s coastal cities to its offshore islands, with Split, Dubrovnik, Šibenik, Zadar, and Rijeka all major hubs. They operate throughout the year but with more frequent services in the busy summer months.
Car hire is available in all major towns and cities throughout Croatia, as well as at its airports. While the international chains are represented, it’s often cheaper to go with one of the independent local companies. To rent a car, you must be at least 18 years of age and have a valid driver’s license, as well as a credit card to secure the insurance excess. In Croatia, they drive on the right-hand side of the road and seatbelts are compulsory. From October to March, you must drive with your headlights on, even if you’re driving in broad daylight. When using motorways, be aware that there may be tolls, so keep some kuna handy to pay.
Cycling is a popular way of exploring Croatia’s flatter islands, such as Pag and Mali Lošinj. However, caution should be taken if cycling between the coastal cities, most of which are connected by busy highways.
Croatia’s peak travel season is July and August during the height of summer when much of Europe is on its annual holiday. The days are hot and ideal for being at the beach, although you will have to compete with large crowds for a spot on the sand. The shoulder months of May/June and September/October are a good alternative, with fewer visitors and milder temperatures that are perfect for exploring the national parks and cities.
From October through to March, Croatia becomes much quieter and many of the hotels, restaurants, and attractions in major tourist areas will be closed altogether. If you’re planning on traveling inland, the temperatures can be chilly over the winter months and snow is often encountered at higher altitudes. The rainiest month along the coast is December while inland it is August.
Croatia uses standard European sockets with round, two-pronged plugs and the voltage is 230V. Citizens of the United States and Canada will need a power plug adapter and voltage converter to use their appliances in Croatia, but these are easy to find locally if you forget.
Tipping in Croatia is not mandatory but is always welcomed by those in the service industry. At restaurants, they usually don’t have a space to tip on the bill but offering 10% or rounding up is appreciated. If you want to leave a tip for cleaning staff or porters, it’s best to do so in kuna, so always carry some change with you. Guides in tourist hotspots will be more accustomed to receiving tips in foreign currency, provided they are easily exchanged at local bureaus.
Generally speaking, Croatia is a very safe country to visit, with crime levels (including violent crime) relatively low. That being said, you should always exercise normal precautions when traveling, particularly in popular tourist destinations where pickpocketing and petty theft occasionally occur. Always keep your wallet or purse somewhere safe and avoid flashing expensive jewelry or camera gear around. If you are concerned about safety, we recommend traveling with a reputable tour company and check any current travel warnings issued by the U.S. Department of State prior to leaving home.
Croatia is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, so dressing modestly is the norm. People tend to care about their appearance and will rarely duck out of the house to do something unless they are wearing appropriate attire.
Things often run late in Croatia, so don’t be offended if someone is slightly late to meet you. What is considered rude, however, is only meeting up with someone briefly or being in a rush to leave.
When it comes to greetings, men usually shake hands and making eye contact is important. Women will often greet their friends with a kiss on each check but will shake hands with men or new acquaintances. If you’re not sure what to do, just put your hand out to shake and follow along if they initiate the double cheek kiss!
Croatian cuisine has been heavily influenced by the tastes and dishes from neighboring countries, as well as the nation’s diverse regions. From the mountains of the Dinaric Alps to the Dalmatian Coast, you’ll find touches of Italian and Mediterranean gastronomy, as well as Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish culinary traditions.
Not to miss dishes include black risotto (known locally as crni rižot), which features cuttlefish with olive oil, garlic, red wine, and squid ink. Also popular along the coast is brudet, a seafood stew that hails from Italy’s Marche region, and buzara - mussels cooked in a garlicky wine broth.
On Istrian menus, look out for boškarin, long-horned oxen that’s often served as carpaccio, salami, or steak. It also appears regularly in fuži, a quill-shaped pasta dish that may also be served with beef, chicken and wild game sauce. Other Istrian specialties include pršut (ham), which often accompanies cheese platters, and truffles from the Motovun forests.
Desserts in Croatia range from baklava to strudel and crepes, as well as knedle dumplings filled with plums. When it comes to wine, Malvazija is one of the country’s signature white wines while Teran is a robust red that makes an ideal accompaniment to meat dishes. Rakija is widely popular, as is coffee, with traditional coffee houses found throughout the country where you can mingle with the locals.