WIth 1244 islands, a wealth of unspoiled National Parks, and world-class wine and food, Croatia is one of Europe’s rising stars. In fact, you voted it one of the most beautiful countries in the world. To make sure you hit the ground running when visiting this diverse nation, wise up with our top ten tips for first-time travellers to Croatia. The Rough Guide to Croatia is also packed with plenty of expert information.
1. Stay focused
Given Croatia's rich offerings, it can be tricky to resist the temptation to cram too much into your first visit. But it really is worth resisting — if your time is limited, focussing on one or two places will be more rewarding.
For example, if you only have a week, consider splitting your time between Zagreb — known as Croatia's capital of cool for plenty of reasons — and the coast. A couple of nights in the city should do it, leaving you time to enjoy the awe-inspiring Adriatic.
Decided on a mini-break? The Mini Rough Guide to Croatia makes a trusty companion.
2. Don’t only go to Dubrovnik
Yes, Games of Thrones star Dubrovnik deserves Lord Byron’s "Pearl of the Adriatic" epithet, which is why our experts hailed it one of the best places on earth for 2022. But it's also why Dubrovnik has a tendency to feel somewhat overcrowded.
So, why not consider visiting Split as an alternative? Croatia's second-largest city has a remarkable UNESCO Heritage Site at its heart. Namely, the spectacular Roman Diocletian’s Palace. Split is also great for eating, drinking, shopping and generally making merry.
Still undecided? Read our thoughts on that tricky question: Split or Dubrovnik — where to visit first?
You might also want to investigate why you need to visit Zadar, and why Pula should be your next Croatian city break. Hint: Pula has a massive UNESCO-designated Roman amphitheatre and incredible Istrian eateries.
Getting off the beaten track beyond Dubrovnik is one of those Croatia travel tips you won't regret following — independent travellers looking for more unusual things to do in Croatia definitely won't be disappointed.
You could consider booking a tailor-made trip to do exactly that — browse suggested Croatia itineraries.
3. Book ahead for the best beds
Pretty obvious, but it really is worth doing your research and booking well in advance to secure your ideal accommodation in Croatia.
Want to stay in style in Spilt? To secure a private apartment in the Diocletian's Palace, you'll defiintely want to get in quick. The same goes if you're planning to visit any of Croatia's most popular islands during the summer season.
Being a hotspot for honeymooners, hedonists, and families — that's quite some range, we know — Hvar accommodation gets booked up early. It's the same story when it comes to booking places to stay on Mljet — a romantic island paradise for nature-lovers.
If you're more interested in back-to-nature options, read up on the best places for beachside camping in Croatia.
4. Embrace island life
From decadent destinations for 24-hour party people to carless oases of calm, Croatia has an island for everyone. More correctly, Croatia has islands for everyone.
If you have time, why limit yourself to just one island? With plenty of reliable, affordable ferry services, you could easily visit a few during a decent-length trip. To help you plan, read our practical guide to island-hopping in Croatia, and explore the best beaches in Croatia.
Alternatively, the Adriatic Sea is the perfect setting for sailing holidays — it's why Croatia is one of Europe’s most popular sailing destinations. Interested in taking the plunge? Read our feature on Croatia sailing holidays for first-timers.
If you'd prefer someone else to take the helm, explore our tailor-made Dalmatia sailing trip — fully customisable, it takes all the hassle out of planning and puts you in expert hands.
For more tips on how to spend your time in Croatia - read our ultimate guide about the best things to do in Croatia.
5. Walk on the wild side
While Croatia is justly celebrated as a sea and sun destination, getting active is the best way to discover its wilder corners, not least if you're into outdoor adventuring. In fact, Croatia featured in our round-up of the world's best adventure holidays.
Paklenica National Park offers superb hiking and climbing, as does Plitvice Lakes National Park — a bona fide paradise of majestic mountains, lakes and waterfalls. With twelve trails to explore, Plitvice Lakes also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
More untouched wilderness awaits in Northern Velebit National Park. Hikers who tackle the Premuzic Trail are rewarded with a mind-blowing mix of craggy cliffs, limestone peaks, wildflower meadows, and pine forests.
If you fancy experiencing a range of exhilarating outdoor activities, look to book a customisable Ultimate Croatian Adventure trip.
6. Uncover culture
Alongside soaking up the sun and enjoying the glorious outdoors, Croatia has plenty for travellers who are keen to discover Croatian history and culture — from mega monuments of the ancient world, to moving 20th-century landmarks.
We've already mentioned Pula and Split's Roman offerings. Moving forward in time, Varazdin is a picture-perfect place for lovers of Baroque beauty, while Dubrovnik is one of the world’s best-preserved medieval cities.
Want to gain insights into more recent history? Vukovar has lots of museums and sites commemorating the 87-day Siege of Vukovar that saw 2000 Croatian civilians defend the town in 1991.
If you're interested in the wider history and culture of the region, take a look at our customisable, four-country Best of the Balkans trip.
7. Eat well
Thanks to its location, Croatia has the best of two culinary worlds — the seafood-dominated cuisine of the Mediterranean, and the hearty fare of Central Europe, as our guide to eating and drinking in Croatia reveals.
Self-catering? Shop in local markets to create mouth-watering picnics from organic produce — one of the best Croatia travel tips for foodies and travellers on a budget.
When it comes to dining out, Croatia has plenty of superb seafood restaurants, with a bounty of fishy delights hauled daily from the Adriatic. Thanks to its seafood, stews, and signature anchovy pasty snacks, we named Vis our top Croatian island getaway for food-lovers.
If eating well figures high in your holiday plans, discover Croatia's top food experiences. One thing's for sure, wherever you are in Croatia, you'll find satisfying food-themed excursions and experiences.
Staying in Split? How about taking a history and gastro treasures tour that includes tastings and a visit to the Green Market? If you like getting hands-on, take a traditional cooking class in the Dalmatian countryside.
You could even go all-out and book a customisable Feel and Taste Dalmatia trip.
8. Drink up
All that fine food demands something pretty special to wash it down with. And, thankfully, Croatia has no shortage of excellent beverages.
While Croatia’s wines are world-class, small production and high domestic demand means you'll be hard pushed to find it on the shelves of your supermarket back home, so enjoy it while you can.
When in Dalmatia, fans of full-bodied reds should try the mighty Dingac, and lovers of dry whites will fall for Pošip. Meanwhile, Istria is renowned for Malvasija — another dry white, great with seafood. When it comes to dessert wines, Malvasia from the Dubrovnik region range comes highly recommended.
As with food, wherever are you in Croatia, you'll be able to book a wine-tasting tour. If you happen to be on Hvar, for example, this three-hour wine-tasting tour features four types of wine.
But it's not all about the wine. While in Croatia, you really should try a shot of rakija — a fiery fruit brandy usually made from grapes.
9. Learn a little lingo
If you've been enjoying eating and drinking like a local, why not give something back by trying to speak some of the language? While English is widely spoken, and speaking Croatian has its challenges, even learning a little will go a long way. Before you invest in a Croatian Phrasebook and Dictionary, learn a few basics:
Good morning — Dobro jutro, pronounced "doh-broh you-troh"
Good day — Dobar dan, pronounced "doh-bahr dahn"
Good evening — Dobra večer, pronounced "doh-brah ve-cher"
Goodbye — Doviđenja, pronounced "doh-vee-jen-yah"
Please — Molim, pronounced "moh-leem"
Thank you — Hvala, pronounced "hva-lah"
Cheers — Živjeli, pronounced "ji-vo-li"
10. Health matters
Even if you're only heading off on a weekend jaunt, it's always wise to take out travel insurance.
If you’re an EU resident, be sure to pack a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). While this entitles you to a basic level of state health care in Croatia, it won’t cover you for repatriation, ongoing medical treatment, or non-urgent treatment, which is where good travel insurance comes in.
Should you need it, dial 112 for all emergency services in Croatia — ambulance, police and fire. 194 will put you through to emergency medical assistance. 195 is the number for the maritme search and rescue service. Dial 1987 for help on the road.
Alternatively, if you like the sound of leaving the hassle of planning to someone else (namely, a local expert), explore our customisable tailor-made Croatia trip itineraries — from sailing trips and island-hopping, to food-focussed tours and adventure breaks. And that's only the half of it.
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Header image: magical Mljet island, Croatia — visit Mljet to walk on the wild side, one of our top tips for first-time travellers to Croatia © Shutterstock