Everything You Need to Know Before Your Croatia Road Trip

At the end of this September / beginning of October, my friend Nadja and I went on a fun and adventure filled road trip in Croatia (we had to steal toilet paper, but more about that later on). Anyway – to help you make your upcoming Croatia trip awesome, here’s what you need to know before you go: 7-10 day itinerary, expectations versus reality, useful tips, city descriptions, and who would love Croatia and who may not.

Cat on steps

 

Expectations versus reality:

We expected a normal tourist crowd – like in a German city that is not Berlin

Boiiiii, were we wrong! Already in Croatia’s capital Zagreb there were a lot of tourists even though, in my humble opinion, there’s not THAT much to see and do. The crowds seemed to scale up: When we arrived at the Plitvice lakes in the very early morning in freezing cold, there were few people but towards the afternoon, it was impossible to walk the ways without being surrounded by people, having to squeeze besides the slow ones and having to wait in line for pictures of the largest waterfall in the park.

Jennifer Schlueter standing in front of waterfall at Plitvice Lakes in Croatia

When you’re just a little thirty… Not too much, eh! Had to wait in line to get this shot!

 

The crowds became even larger when we were lucky enough to be in Split on a “cruise day” where three or more cruise ships dock, letting out thousands of mainly Asian, German, and American tourists to flock the streets with their selfie sticks, strollers, and socks in sandals (#truth).

Split Croatia promenade

Split in the early morning hours of cruise days – and this crowd was nothing yet!

 

But the worst was Dubrovnik. Its Old Town was so crowded that I don’t think I actually spotted locals other than people selling stuff and street artists. For me, it killed the whole vibe of the beautiful town (next to charging about $23 for walking around the city walls – come on!).

Dubrovnik inner city crowds

How’s this for a crowd? It looks emptier than it was!

We expected Croatia to be cheap

Croatia has the reputation for being a cheap holiday destination in Europe for Germans. That was maybe 20 years ago or before the whole Game of Thrones craze.

The only cheap things here are street food, some veggies and fruits at the super market, baked goods, and very few attractions. Gas is at a moderate price range. If you want to go out for dinner, prices will be the same as in cheaper L.A. or moderate German establishments, for example.

Nadja expected sandy beaches

Because I had read up a lot on Croatia before, I knew that there were VERY few sandy beaches in the country, but Nadja was surprised. Most of them are pebble stone beaches and already in shoulder season, when we went, all of them were as empty as ever even when the thermometer climbed to 27°C (80°F). Another tip: Online articles may tell you that there are beautiful beaches around Zadar, but in reality I have to say, they were pretty disappointing (no clear water, no sand, plastic chairs everywhere and NOBODY around).

Pebble beach in Croatia. No people

Do not expect sandy beaches in Croatia! During shoulder season, the pebble beaches are already empty, even on a warm day!

We expected that temperatures would still be higher than 20°C in September/October

While we had about 17°C (62°F) in Zagreb at the end of September, we experienced warmer temperatures for the most part in all cities we visited south of Plitvice, but definitely NOT in the Plitvice National Park itself! We had about 4°C (40°F) in the morning. As we crossed a lake on a boat, the winds were so cold that we had to cover our heads with whatever light fall clothes we had brought. Two jackets were not enough for me, a warm weather gal.

Plitvice waterfall with Jennifer Schlueter and her friend

Plitvice was super cold by the end of September!

We didn’t expect Croatia to be run by German companies

SOOOO many products in supermarkets and pharmacies are from Germany! You only know that you’re in Croatia because it’s required to put a Croatian label over the German description/ingredients of the product.

 

More useful tips & info:

  1. Croatia uses Croatian Kuna as form of payment. Most businesses and tourist attractions do accept credit cards, but carrying 300 Kuna in cash (a bit less than $50 at the time of this article) is advised for emergencies.
  2. Croatia’s official language is Croatian (duh, surprise), but everyone’s level of English is pretty amazing – even older people’s. As usual, I’d advise you to learn the basics such as Hello, Thank You, Please, a few numbers, etc. because people EVERYWHERE in the world are always happy if you make an effort to learn their language.
  3. If you’re an EU citizen, you will definitely need your passport to get in and out, especially also if you have to drive the 15 minutes through Bosnia-Herzegovina; however, unfortunately, your passport will neither collect another stamp in Croatia nor Bosnia-Herzegovina – maybe if you ask.
Obligatory selfie in Bosnia Herzegovina

This selfie proves we were in Bosnia! For 10 minutes :p

4. Tap water is drinkable.
5. Internet is fast and free Wifi is available in a lot of public places.

 

Useful road trip knowledge:

Companies make it seem cheap to rent a car, but you’ll end up paying more

Our original research initially showed us a price shortly below 60 USD; however, our price turned out to be 340 USD including a one-way fee (because we didn’t return our car in the same city) and insurance.

Automatic cars will be more expensive

That’s simply because a lot more Europeans drive manuals rather than automatic cars (have fun with a manual on the hills of Dubrovnik, by the way!). Fun fact: I hadn’t been driving manual cars around for eight years really (after passing my license in a manual car as per usual in Germany), but I managed!

Roads are in excellent conditions.

‘Nuff said!

Didn’t see or hear of any radar check points.

Not to say they don’t exist, but I (and apparently all other Croatian drivers) love to break the law and disregard the speed limit, but only when there’s no police who can catch me. Other drivers will flash their headlights if they have seen a cop, which only happened ONCE on our 8 day road trip. Not encouraging you to break the law here, but just describing the situation 😉

NO traffic!

During the time we were there we were never stuck in severe traffic other than city rush hour traffic. The highways were fairly empty and sometimes there was not a soul on the streets.

 

What the cities are like, things they have to offer, must-do’s, and a guesstimate of how much time you should spend there – 7 to 10 day itinerary:

 

Zagreb, Croatia’s capital

How much time should you spend here: 1 day, perhaps 2

We stayed here.

What to do:

Zagreb has a cute old town with beautiful churches, a market and great eateries and cafes.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a must-do here!

Museum of Broken Relationships excerpt

From the Museum of Broken Relationships.

 

Close by and just around the corner is a great viewpoint:

View over Zagreb

Isn’t it prettay?

Zagreb viewpoint

 

The market and city center are also worth checking out:

Market square in Zagreb

 

Drive to Plitvice: 130 km, 2 hours

 

Plitvice National Park, gorgeous waterfalls

How much time should you spend here: 1 day, perhaps 2

We stayed here.

What to do: That’s an obvious one: Go look at the waterfalls, mate! DUH! And hike.

Tip: Our Airbnb host (shoutout to Anamarija) gave us the best tip for Plitvice to go against most crowds and to get the most out of the park: Walk to the bus stop #1 from the entrance and take the bus to station #3. From here, walk down to Point 2, take the boat to Point 1 and walk back to the entrance. The park opens at 8 a.m., so my best advice is to get there as early as possible to be without much of a crowd. You can definitely spend two full days in the park to do all the hikes and what not, but one is enough. If you take the route our Airbnb host suggested, it will take you about 5-6 hours including lunch.

Check the park’s official website for prices (varying during seasons) plus parking.

Plitvice waterfalls

 

Drive to Zadar: 118 km, 1.5 hours

 

Zadar – my favorite!

How much time should you spend here: 1 day, perhaps 2

We stayed here.

Zadar was my favorite city because it wasn’t as crowded as Split or Dubrovnik, had a chill vibe, a stellar waterfront with options to visit islands or the Kornati National Park (wish my budget had allowed me to see it!), and great, reasonably priced food.

What to do:

Check out the sea organ and hear it play.

Zadar close to sea organ

 

Walk through the old town.

Explore the ruins.

 

Take a walk by the water.

Eat sea food.

 

Drive to Sibenik: 84 km, 1.25 hours

 

Sibenik – my favorite old town

How much time should you spend here: 1 day

We stayed here.

Sibenik has the prettiest old town to me. Exploring its alleys and staying in a tiny, but well-equipped Airbnb in an old town building were definitely a highlight for me! The parking situation there however is terrible.

What to do:

Walk through old town.

 

Walk along the water.

 

Drive to Split: 88 km, 1.25 hours

 

Split – much nicer on off-cruise days

How much time should you spend here: 1 day (unless you’re into the music/party scene here  or go to Hvar)

We stayed here. (Would NOT recommend)

Split is a lively city with an actual city-feel to it because its outskirts are quite big. We spent two days there and thus had a direct comparison of a cruise ship day vs. a non cruise ship day – and let me tell you – it’s like night and day! The latter was so much nicer and more relaxed and we were actually able to walk through the city without bumping into people left and right!

What to do:

Hike up the Marjan hill to have a view over the city and the ocean.

View from Marjan hill in Split, Croatia

 

Climb up the clock tower.

View from the clock tower in Split, Croatia

 

Check out the market.

Join locals at the Suma Marjan Park (northeast side) for a hike, run, or sunset by the water.

View from Marjan Suma park in Split, Croatia

This view reminded me of Cape Town – you too?

 

Drive to Dubrovnik: 229 km, 3 hours (crossing through Bosnia-Herzegovina for 15 minutes -> passport control)

 

Dubrovnik – overpriced, but stunning town absolutely ruined by crowds

How much time should you spend here: 1 day

We stayed here.

What to do:

To escape the crowds, find café … and its little rocky terrace where you can sunbathe along locals, watch people and boats in the Adriatic sea and simply enjoy yourself.

Cliffs in Dubrovnik

This place is pretty hidden and you’ll find more locals than tourists here. Jump off the cliffs and refresh 🙂

 

Why we skipped Krka: Krka is another national park with waterfalls where you’re allowed to swim. 1. It was too cold to do that and 2. We had enough waterfalls after Plitvice – so, it’s up to you whether or not you want to add it.

 

Why we had to steal toilet paper:

We had arrived at our Airbnb in Dubrovnik, we had 1.5 rolls of toilet paper left (yes, we counted because I “eat” toilet paper – as my roommate in Hamburg loved to call it) for three people (another German dude shared the apartment with us). We thought that was going to be enough, so, after dinner and a bottle of wine, we realized that there was NO toilet paper whatsoever left, SO we had to get some from somewhere because also, our Airbnb host was not on site and stores were closed already. These were the next few minutes:

Nadja: “We need to get toilet paper. I’m going to steal some from the pizzeria down the street.”

Jenny: “You can’t just steal toilet paper. Offer them money at least.”

Nadja: “Really, Jenny? So, Ima go in there and say: ‘Hey y’all, can I please pay you for some toilet paper?'”

Jenny: “Ok ok. Stupid idea. Come on, let’s get going.”

We walked down the hill and stopped at the corner of the pizzeria and a bakery, which was still open.

Jenny: “I feel terrible going into the pizzeria and stealing toilet paper. You go.”

Nadja: “Why me?”

Jenny: “You brought your bag. I didn’t even bring money. I forgot.” I really did.

Nadja: “I dare you to go into the bakery and ask for napkins.”

I went inside, asked for some, and got some from the baker without him even thinking twice about it.

Jenny: “I got some. Now you go into the pizzeria.”

Nadja walked in there like she owned the place and came out with what felt like half a toilet paper roll (one of the big ones, though!).

End of story.

Moral: Always make sure you have enough toilet paper in your Airbnb! 1.5 rolls may not be enough :p

 

Kitten on steps in Dubrovnik

Cute kitten which has nothing to do with the story, but I still wanted to feature it 🙂

 

Last notes: Our Croatia road trip was amazing, but in all honesty, Croatia is a country I was happy to be once, but one can only see so many cute old towns and not get a bit bored. Just an honest opinion – not necessarily yours :p ! Maybe I would have liked it more if I were into the electronic music scene and yachts.

 

What do you think? Is Croatia worth a visit? If so – why or why not?
Have you ever had to steal toilet paper :p Share it here! Haha 😀

 

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2 comments

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  • Very interesting post, I always like to read what others think about my country. 🙂 Love your observations.

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thank you!
      Glad to hear 🙂

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