What’s the best way to travel in Croatia? Well, that depends a good bit on your budget and also what kind of trip you want to have. The good news is, you can do it without your own car or fancy yacht fairly easily. Seeing Croatia without a car may mean you give up a few stop-offs or you need to book a tour to reach some remote areas, but for the most part, you can get to where you want to go without the expense or hassle of your own wheels. It’s easy to see Croatia by bus and in parts of it anyway, by train.
This gorgeous nation on the Adriatic Sea has a similar climate to Italy but unlike Italy, has actually been open to visitors in much of 2021. So it’s a good place to get your Europe fix in now or a place to start and then branch outward. Part of the former Yugoslavia, it’s south of Slovenia, north of Montenegro, and to the west of bordering Bosnia. By train or overnight bus, you can leave Croatia in the evening and be in central Europe the next morning.
For the most part, the distances and times to travel are long enough to present a scenic adventure, but not long enough to feel like an ordeal. If you’re going from Dubrovnik to Split, for instance, the bus ride is around 4 hours 15 minutes and it’ll be worth looking out the window part of that time to take in the Croatian countryside. The cost is around $22.
For some routes, you can travel on the water instead, including that one. You will spend more than twice as much–around $50–but you’ll be able to watch the Croatian coast go by, see some islands, and get pictures of both cities from the water. There will be a nice breeze on deck, but you can go inside where it’s air-conditioned and get some refreshments too. This option is only 10 minutes longer than the bus: 4 hours, 25 minutes. There’s only one departure a day though in each direction.
Traveling Croatia by Bus
The easiest way to get around this country is on the Croatia bus system. That won’t get you out to the islands unless they’re connected by a bridge, but from top to bottom, you can get nearly anywhere on the mainland on a bus. On busy routes between major population centers, these will be modern, air-conditioned (or heated) buses with a bathroom and a WiFi connection. Some have outlets where you can keep your gadgets charged.
Croatia by bus won’t hit your budget very hard unless you’re going really long distances. Despite having nice seats and decent legroom, the best buses will generally only cost around $3.50 to $5 per hour of travel. So a Zagreb to Rijeka trip of two hours is around $7, a Zagreb to Split trip of four hours is around $20. Zagreb to Plitvice is $13 for 2.5 hours.
With most of the routes, you can buy your ticket in advance online with a credit card and not have to scramble or risk not getting a seat the day of departure. Unfortunately, the ticket fee does not include checked luggage going underneath, so you’ll have to cough up some coins for that.
You can also catch buses heading out of the country too. When I was in Croatia and heading to Montenegro, I got a bus to Ulsinj there that was stopping in several other places along the way. By the time it did the last stretch to my destination, I was the only passenger! I also caught a bus from Mostar, in Bosnia, to Dubrovnik and that was no sweat. Just a stop to show passports at the border.
Croatia Train Travel
Seeing Croatia by train can enhance your vacation in the country and be a pleasant way to get around. The main problem is, the train system only covers part of the geography, mostly in the northern part except for a line extending down to the port city of Split. You can’t find info online about a Zagreb to Dubrovnik train, for example, because there’s no rail line going to Dubrovnik.
You can go between Zagreb and Split by train, however, and that leaves two or three times per day depending on the season. There’s a first and second-class option on air-conditioned trains. Figure on $34 to $50 at full price, but there are discounts for different kinds of passengers (like retirees and children) and for buying in advance. If you take advantage of those, the prices can get close to traveling Croatia by bus, with the option to walk around and hit the dining car.
Zagreb has the most connections to other places by train and you can actually go all the way to the eastern towns of Dalj and Vukovar, or north to Varazdin.
From the northern cities of Croatia, you can travel by train to the rest of Europe (and they are part of the Eurail system if you have a pass). From Zagreb you can travel all year round by train to Budapest, Vienna, or Prague. In the summer months, there’s an overnight train three times per week from Split on RegioJet that will take you to Budapest, Bratislava, or Prague.
Traveling Around Croatia by Boat
If you really want to see the coast and islands of this country in style, then spend the big bucks and charter a yacht that goes sailing or motoring from place to place. There are some 1,000 islands to explore, so you could go for weeks and only see a fraction of them.
For travelers who aren’t in that league financially, however, you travel around Croatia by boat by utilizing the public ferries. Jadrolinija is the main public company service, running all the car ferries, but there are plenty of others that do passenger-only trips to the islands and between them.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a daily ferry trip (unless the seas are too rough) between the country’s two most popular tourist stops: Dubrovnik and Split. It takes less than five hours and is around 50 bucks. One of the other popular routes is from Zadar to Italian-feeling Pula, which is closer to Venice than it is to much of Croatia. The trip takes around 6.5 hours. If you’re coming from Italy or Slovenia overland and stop at Pula first, know that there’s no Pula to Dubrovnik ferry. That’s a long route of close to 700 kilometers by road, so you’ll have to break it up by heading to Zadar first.
Zadar is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the country and it’s also the busiest ferry port at times. With its location halfway down the coast, it’s able to service a lot of different islands in the Dalmatian region. If you look at a map of Croatia and find Zadar, you’ll see that the country’s highest concentration of islands is off this coast. (Oddly though, you won’t find a Zadar to Split ferry or Zadar to Dubrovnik one. You’ll have to go by road or island hop.)
From Split you can travel by ferry to the country’s most popular island, Hvar. There are also trips to Brac, Ciovo, Korcula, and others.
Dubrovnik doesn’t have as many ferry options since it’s close to the bottom of the country, but you can get to Brac and Korcula from there, as well as several other islands.
These are just the start, however. You could easily spend a two- or three-week vacation on just Croatia island hopping, using the ferries to go from place to place.
You can also travel to ports in Italy from Croatia, including Venice. If you want to connect with the Italian train system, sail from Dubrovnik to Bari or Split to Ancona.
And hey, one last option. You can also travel around Croatia by bike. There are some great stretches without much traffic and if you want to do what I did, you can do a multi-country trip that involves biking across the Balkans to three countries. Or just take a bike on the ferries and ride around the islands.
There aren’t as many tourists in Dubrovnik these days (but still lots of cats). How long that will last will probably depend on two things: 1) When all Europeans can travel freely across borders again and 2) when cruise ships start sailing again. One way this city finally fought back against overtourism was by limiting the number of ships that could dock on any given day, so hopefully they’ll keep that policy in place and the historic center won’t get as packed with people as it did before the restrictions went into place.
We hope you found this post on how to travel around Croatia to be useful. In some respects, this is the best Balkan country to visit if you’re not on a shoestring budget: it’s got historic cities, islands, nice beaches, and adventures. Plus they make the best wine in the region. I plan to get back there sometime in the next year to see more of the country and drink some good wine. If you’ve been there recently, how did it go getting from Point A to Point B?