In our previous post we wrote about how we planned our Croatian trip and the things we did before arriving in Croatia. In this post we will share some tips and answer some questions about Croatia based on our experiences in the country.
Is it worth visiting Croatia?
Oh yes, absolutely! Croatia is a beautiful country. In terms of beaches and coasts, it is second to none in Europe. In terms of natural beauty, Plitvice Lakes National Park is among the best that we have seen. In terms of art and architecture, it might not be right up there with the likes of Italy or France but Croatia has its fair share of charming and impressive structures with the added advantage of no hawkers surrounding those structures; a sight which was far too common in Italy and France. If you are an adventure lover or a food buff then don’t worry, Croatia has a lot for you too.
Is Croatia cheaper than other mainstream European destinations?
It is hard to generalize but yes, average daily cost per person which includes accommodation, food, travel etc., is less in Croatia than in say France, Italy or Spain. But we found that for us, this cost was offset by the airfares which were significantly higher than other mainstream destinations. In fact, we checked the return fares for Italy for the same dates and they were almost 35% cheaper.
Are there any must-visit places in Croatia apart from the Dalmatian Coast?
Do not limit yourself to the Dalmatian Coast – this is probably the best tip that we can give about Croatia. Many people travel only to cities and islands along the famous Dalmatian Coast when visiting Croatia and while the Dalmatian Coast is undoubtedly worth the hype, Croatia has so much more to offer.
Istria, known as Tuscany of Croatia, is the region we loved the most. This small triangular peninsula in the north-west Croatia had some of the most pristine landscapes in the country. The rolling hills, blue sea, Venetian architecture, picturesque coastal towns, rustic hilltop towns, fewer tourists and olive oil, sea food and truffles based gastronomic delights make Istria a must visit destination.
Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is another place which is under-visited in our opinion. For most people, Zagreb is just a port of arrival in Croatia. We actually liked Zagreb. Sure, it is not a Paris or a Rome or a Barcelona but Zagreb is a modern city with its own vibe along with some wonderful attractions. It offers a nice contrast to all the medieval towns in Istria and Dalmatia. We spent one and a half days exploring Zagreb and not for a moment were we bored.
Trivia: In tripadvisor’s list of ‘World’s Top Destinations on the Rise – 2018’, Rovinj, an Istrian coastal town was at 8th spot while Zagreb holds 6th spot in the ‘Europe’s Top Destinations on the Rise – 2018’. Oh, and did I mention that the world’s smallest town is located in Istria?
Where to exchange currency in Croatia?
As we mentioned in our previous post, it is almost impossible to get Croatian kuna in India so we purchased Euros and exchanged them for kuna after reaching Croatia. It is common knowledge that exchanges at airports offer poor rates so we exchanged only a nominal amount at the airport to pay for our Uber. We exchanged most of our money in Zagreb in one of the exchange offices located at European Square (Europski Trg).
Later, when we visited Varazdin, Pula and Split, we found slightly favourable exchange rates there. So our advice is don’t exchange all your money at the same time as you may find better exchange rates somewhere else.
At the end of our trip we exchanged kuna for Euros at an exchange office located right outside the walled city of Dubrovnik. When we reached Dubrovnik airport we were thankful that we had already exchanged our money as the exchange rate offered there was very poor.
How are the people?
Croatians are among the nicest people we have met. Almost all the people we met, be it our apartment hosts or cab drivers or servers at the restaurants or people in stores, were extremely polite, patient and helpful.
There is an incident we would like to recount here. We were facing some problems when we had to fill fuel in our rental car for the first time. We requested a middle aged couple to help us. Instead of just telling us how to do it, they got down from their car and the lady filled our entire tank herself. In the meantime we got to know that they had been to Australia and Thailand while we told them a little of our Croatian trip.
In another incident we started discussing football with our young cab driver in Split who was a diehard fan of the local football club Hajduk Split. He told us about the big football match on the coming Saturday between Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split and seemed really crestfallen when we told him we were leaving Split before Saturday. I was glad to see later that Hajduk Split did not lose that match because he was very worried about his team.
Do people speak English?
An advantage of travelling to Croatia is that English is widely spoken there so we had no communication issues. The menus in most restaurants were also in English along with Croatian.
Which Sim Card to buy?
During international travel we prefer to purchase a local sim card rather than carry an international sim card from India. Our requirements from a sim card were – sufficient data to help us navigate when we were out on the road and for sightseeing and free local minutes to talk to our apartment hosts in case we needed something. After going through the plans offered by multiple providers of Croatia we zeroed in on ‘Cheapest Surf & Call’ plan offered by Tele2. The plan offered us 10 GB data, 200 minutes of free local calls and 10 kuna balance amount for 55 kuna. We purchased two sim cards between 4 people. The network was strong throughout Croatia and the internet was pretty fast.
One point to note is that we reached Zagreb on a Saturday afternoon and all official tele2 stores are closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. None of the local tobacco or Tisak stores had a tele2 sim card. Eventually we purchased the sim cards on Monday morning from a tele2 store located in Ban Jelačić Square.
What are the tips for driving in Croatia?
Driving is Croatia was something which we definitely wanted to do. But at the same time we were apprehensive about it, because for us it meant switching from right-hand driving to left-hand driving. I consulted a couple of friends and they assured me that it hardly takes any time getting used to.
Well, it certainly took me a couple of days getting used to driving on the other side of the road, especially in the cities. Driving in Zagreb on our first day was unnerving with trams running alongside cars. I even got a couple of drivers to honk at me in the first two days but then things eased out.
Driving on highways, with excellent and well signposted roads, was a superb experience. Once I got used to the car, I did not face any problem even while driving in the hilly region of Istria. People followed rules and were generally very patient. Most of the drivers drive over the speed limit but the roads are so good that it is not a problem. The stunning landscape varied from place to place. Sometimes there were thick forests on both sides of road while at other times there were vineyards and vast plantations of corn and olives. Sometimes we were surrounded by hills while other times on coastal roads we had spectacular views of the shimmering sea.
Almost all the highways have tolls. The cities and towns have free parking zones and paid parking zones. The free parking zones were never empty, thus, we usually had to park our car in paid parking zones where the rates varied from 5 kuna to 10 kuna per hour. The odd thing was we had to buy the parking tickets beforehand depending on how long we planned to park our car.
Our tip is, when you are calculating the cost of your car, factor in tolls, parking cost and fuel cost. Viamichelin can provide you with a rough idea of tolls and fuel cost of your journey.
So, this is all that we can think of. If you have some feedback, suggestions, questions or your own experiences and tips about Croatia to share then please do let us know via your comments.