Croatia: An Insider's Travel Guide to Istria, Pula and Zagreb is written by Veronika Gajsak.
Good tips for your trip to Croatia
Croatia is well known for the summer destinations Split, Dubrovnik og Sibenik as well as national parks such as Plitvice Lakes, Krka and Kornati. It is also the country where the tie was invented and where Tesla was born.
If you look at a map, you will quickly notice that Croatia has a strange shape - and many think it looks like a dragon. Perhaps this is why a large part of the TV series Game of Thrones was filmed here.
It is a small country - a little bit bigger than Denmark – located on Balkans, where about 4 million people live. It borders on Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina og Montenegro with Italy lying on the other side of the Adriatic Sea. In Croatia, you will find pretty much every kind of landscape, from beautiful beaches to high mountains, and the country as a whole has a lot to offer as a tourist destination.
In this insider's guide to the country, you will find answers to, among other things, how to get on a trip to Croatia, what to see, what to eat, where the good shopping opportunities are, and many other tips and tricks for your trip.
Transport to and in Croatia
Croatia is well connected to the rest of the world via air routes, train and bus lines and water transport. Both Zagreb's international airport and the airports in Osijek, Rijeka, Pula, Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik are relatively small. This means you can get through the entire check-in process quickly and there are no long walks to the various gates. There are direct flights from København to Zagreb and very cheap flights from Aarhus to Zadar.
If you prefer to travel by bus, many international bus companies, such as Flixbus to Croatia. Train travel is also possible, but here it depends more on which part of the country you are going to. The northern and eastern parts of the country are well connected by train, while the southern parts have better bus routes. Check with the local tourist office or local station.
You can also drive yourself in your own car. However, you must be aware that you have to pay to drive on the motorways. If you are on a limited budget, it is therefore much cheaper to take the bus. During the summer peak season, prepare for long queues on the roads. A good idea is therefore to take food. drinks and entertainment included for the waiting time.
Parking can be challenging in the big cities, so if you rent a car, we recommend that you find accommodation with private parking to avoid driving around for hours looking for a parking space. Taxis and other ride sharing services such as BlaBlaCar, Uber and Bolt are very cheap in Croatia.
For public transport in major cities with trams and buses, you can buy a day or hourly ticket at any kiosk in the city.
Currency and money – the euro makes its entrance
Croatia's current currency is marten, but from 2023 they will switch to euros. In the first two weeks of 2023, however, you will still be able to pay with kuna. During the first six months, you can exchange your kuna for euros at the exchange offices. Always look for the best daily exchange rates – they can vary greatly from exchange office to exchange office.
Not all places allow you to use your credit card. All supermarkets and kiosks accept credit cards, but bars, smaller restaurants and buses only accept cash. Therefore, always make sure you have cash on you.
The Croatian language and the Croatian population
The official language of Croatia is Croatian, which is a Slavic language. But there are different dialects from region to region and from city to city. It can be difficult for Croats to understand each other if the official dialect is not spoken.
There are expressions that you can use with advantage in Croatia: "Dobar dan", which means "good day", and "kako si?", which means "how are you?". Or "hoćemo na pivo", which means "let's drink a beer". Croatians are very friendly people and if they invite you home, you will be treated like a king. You will not be allowed to leave if you have not eaten and drunk enough. Good music and a talk about life is very normal.
Croatians are often seen enjoying their morning coffee at a local coffee shop or enjoying a beer or a 'gemišt' – a drink consisting of white wine and sparkling water – after work. They are generally open, life-enjoying people, and they respect everyone who respects their city, nature and especially the sea. For those who live along the coast, the sea is much more than just water; it is their lifeblood and their primary resource, so the sea plays a very special role.
This is how you can stay on your trip to Croatia
Since Croatia is a popular tourist destination, finding accommodation should not be a problem. In the big cities there are hotels of all classes and just as many hostels. It is also easy to rent private apartments through Airbnb, for example.
Out by the sea, you can camp or rent a room from the locals, which will give you a more authentic experience. You will see locals sitting in front of their apartments with signs stating that they are renting out rooms. Most families who live along the coast have their own property, which they rent out during the high season. This is a large part of their income, so here there is an opportunity to directly support the locals financially.
Food and drink in Croatian
When visiting Croatia there are several traditional dishes you should try that will give you an authentic dining experience.
'Zagorski strukli' is a real folk dish from the Zagorje region, which can be made in many ways. The main ingredients here are pastry and cheese.
'Pašticada' is a Dalmatian stew that requires 24 hours of preparation.
'Crni rižot' is the name of the black risotto, which has its black color from squid ink.
Anything called something with 'ispod peke', which means 'under the clock', is very classic in the Dalmatian regions. Here, a simmering meal is prepared over a long time under a dome-shaped lid covered with hot ashes. The preparation means that the whole thing just melts in your mouth. Such a meal should be ordered a day in advance.
Istrian truffles are a delicacy made to the highest standard in restaurants with a tartufo vero-feel. In the town of Livade in the region of Istria, there are cooking classes, truffle auctions and awards for the best truffles every year.
From the region of Slavonia, you should try the 'coal'; a delicacy made by hand from special cuts of pork of the highest quality. It takes a total of nine months to cook from scratch. Kulen is a dry sausage, often spicy, which is fantastic in combination with cheese, onion and bread. It is very similar to 'pršut', which is air-dried ham from Dalmatia. Feel free to combine one of these two delicacies with traditional delicious cheese from the island of Pag.
As for drinks, Croatia produces good local beers, wines and rakija, which is a form of brandy made from fruit.
Go for 'konoba' instead of restaurants; then you get the most authentic dining experiences. We wish you “dobar tek” – a good meal – and “živeli”: Cheers!
Zagreb: A journey to Croatia's lively capital
Croatia's capital Zagreb is often used simply as a transit for tourists who want to go to the sea. But it's a bit of a shame. Spend a few days in the city, because Zagreb actually has a lot to offer.
Most of the city's sights are located in the center, which is divided into an upper and a lower part. The town has a cable car that you can take if you are not up for the slightly challenging hills. Due to the city's location, you can experience a fantastic view in many places in the city.
Take a walk on Strossmeyer's Promenade, where there is often entertainment in the form of live music. Here there is also life in the bars all year round. If you want the ultimate view of Zagreb, you can take a trip to the Lotrščak Tower. In the tower there are also exhibitions and souvenir shops. Every day at noon, since 1877, you have been able to hear the Gric cannon firing shots from here.
Right near the Lotrščak Tower, you will find St. Mark's Church – Crkva Svetog Marka – one of the oldest buildings in Zagreb. The church is easy to recognize because of its very colorful roof, which is decorated with coats of arms. Just near the church, on the way you can pass through the Kamenita vrata - 'Stone Gate' - the only preserved city gate of the old defense system from the 13th century.
Take a trip to the Dolac market if you want fresh food and experience a real Balkan market. Close to this you will find a number of parks, fountains and gardens, which together form a U-shape. This area is called 'Zagreb's Green Horseshoe' and is a typical meeting place for the locals.
A little away from the center is the lake Jarun. You can of course take a leisurely dip here, but there is also a lot of other things going on. There are many bars and nightclubs here, and during the day there are many activities such as ice skating and volleyball and various barbecue events. It is very popular with families with children during the day, while in the evening and night hours it is a popular party spot.
Interesting museums in Zagreb include the 'Museum of Broken Relationships', the Museum of Illusions, the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments, the 80s Museum, the Carpenter's Museum and the Technical Museum named after the city boy Nikola Tesla. There's plenty to do, and even if some of it seems a little kitschy, it's worth visiting a few when you're in Zagreb.
During the summer, a number of cultural events are held such as the art festival Cest is d`Best, film evenings in Dubravkin Put and the Light Festival.
The light festival spreads throughout the city and also occupies the Grič tunnel. The tunnel consists of a floor in the middle, which is connected by corridors to the streets Mesnička in the west and Stjepan Radič in the east, and by four corridors to the south.
The tunnel was built during World War II as both a shelter and a place to walk. Now, instead, it forms the framework for cultural events and has become a tourist attraction. And a cool place to go when the summer sun is hot.
During the winter period, you can visit the mountain Medvednica, which is located just north of Zagreb. The highest mountain peak is Sljeme and is a popular destination for skiers. You can take the brand new cable car from the city up to Sljeme, so you don't have to climb the mountain.
In addition, in the month of December, Zagreb has an award-winning Christmas market with lots of stalls with local goods, delicious delicacies such as Fritters – Croatian apple slices – and mulled-like wine with cinnamon and Christmas music.
Hrvatsko Zagorje region – Croatia's hinterland
Hrvatsko Zagorje is separated from Zagreb by the mountain Medvednica. It is a region with many hills, rich culture and history and a happy population. In the town of Krapina you will find a museum for Krapina's Neanderthals, as the area is probably the world's most famous place for Neanderthal man. The area is protected and is the first paleontological natural monument in Croatia.
The region is also home to the museum 'Staro Selo' in Kumrovec – an open-air museum containing the region's architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The village of Kumrovec is also known as the birthplace of Josip Broz Tito, who later became the president of the former Yugoslavia.
Near Kumrovec, surrounded by the Cesargrad castle ruins and the river Sutla, there is a monument in honor of the Croatian national anthem. A relaxing place where you can enjoy the green surroundings and eat traditional Croatian food in the Ventek restaurant.
There are also two well-known castles in this green region, namely Trakošćan near Varaždin and Veliki Tabor in Desinić.
Slavonia – wine, hiking and waders
Slavonia is one of the historical regions of Croatia and consists of the Sava and Drava valleys and the mountains around the Požega valley. Here you can visit the state stud farm Lipik, which is ideal for animal and nature lovers, and among other things you can learn to ride a horse.
If you are a wine lover, you can visit the oldest wine cellar in the Balkans from 1232. There are stories that even the later Emperor Franz Stefan and Empress Maria Theresia spent seven days here in 1741 to taste the delicate wine.
The Graševina wine variety has taken root in Croatia so much that many experts consider it to belong here. You can experience it by traveling through three wine routes Požega-Pleternica, Kutjevo and Pakrac.
Slavonia is also home to the Papuk nature park, which is an obvious destination active holiday with hiking, cycling, paragliding and picnics with the family. If you are up for an adrenaline rush, you can visit the adventure park Duboka. Here there is an opportunity to go on suspension bridges and ziplining, which is also suitable for children.
Finally, take a detour past Lake Sovsko, which is the last part of a body of water from prehistoric times in Croatia. Here you can relax completely in nature, and you will certainly bump into the many wading birds. All in all, Slavonia is full of nature and exciting outdoor activities.
Indie, jungle and salsa – world-class festivals
Besides Cest is d'Best, Croatia is home to many festivals throughout the year. Particularly well-known is Zagreb's rock and indie music festival INmusic in mid-June at Lake Jarun. Popular names such as The Prodigy and Nick Cave have performed here in recent years.
The well-known electronic music festival Ultra festival in Split is the biggest in Croatia with more than 150.000 visitors. In addition, other notable festivals are the Croatian Summer Salsa Festival in Rovinj, the Seasplash Festival near Pula, the Outlook Festival, where you can listen to the genres of jungle, dubstep and hip-hop, and the Hideout festival in Zrće on the island of Pag.
Croatia is a real festival country, and in addition to the music festivals across the country, you will find a number of film and art festivals, which also attract large crowds.
All in all, Croatia has a lot to offer during all four seasons of the year, and the lists of experiences could be much longer. It is worth mentioning that summers can be very hot and winters very cold, while both autumn and spring are mild.
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