The easiest way to get to Croatia is by air, and during the summer season most parts of the country are accessible by flights from the UK and Ireland. Though there are a few direct flights to Croatia from outside Europe fares can be expensive; a cheaper option may be to fly to a major Western European city and continue by air, train or bus from there.
Airfares always depend on the season. Peak times for flights to Croatia are between May and September, and around the Easter and Christmas holidays; at these times be prepared to book well in advance. Fares drop during the “shoulder” seasons (April and October), and you’ll usually get the best prices during the low season (Nov–March, excluding Easter and Christmas). Many of Croatia’s cities are served by budget airlines, although flights may be limited to the summer tourist season (May–Sept). The best deals are usually to be found by booking through discount travel websites or the websites of the airlines themselves.
You may sometimes find it cheaper to pick up a bargain package deal from a tour operator. The main advantage of package holidays is that hotel accommodation is much cheaper than if you arrange things independently, bringing mid-range hotels well within reach and making stays in even quite snazzy establishments a fraction of the price paid by walk-in guests. The season for Adriatic packages runs from April to October; city breaks in Zagreb and Dubrovnik are available all the year round. Croatia is also the venue for an increasing number of maritime packages – ranging from sailing courses for beginners to boat charter for the experienced (see Travel agents and tour operators).
Flights from the UK and Ireland
Flying from the UK to Croatia takes between two hours fifteen minutes and two hours 45 minutes. Direct scheduled flights are operated by Croatia Airlines, which flies from London Heathrow to Zagreb, and British Airways, who run year-round direct flights from London Gatwick to Dubrovnik and London Heathrow to Zagreb, and twice-weekly seasonal flights from London Heathrow to Split. EasyJet, Wizzair, Jet2 and Ryanair operate seasonal (usually May-Oct) services to Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, Rijeka, Pula and Osijek from a wide range of UK airports. Travelling from Ireland, Aer Lingus fly from Dublin to Pula and Dubrovnik, while Jet2 and easyJet fly to Dubrovnik and Split respectively from Belfast.
Expect to pay around £170 return low season, £250–300 return high season if travelling with Croatia Airlines or British Airways, although bear in mind that prices rise drastically if you don’t book well in advance. Tickets with budget carriers can be significantly cheaper – again, you have to book well in advance to take advantage of the lowest fares.
The widest range of package deals is offered by Croatia specialists, who can put together customized flight-plus-accommodation deals; in high season (June–Sept) expect to pay from around £670 for a week, and from £850 for two weeks. As for city breaks, a three-day stay in Zagreb or Dubrovnik will cost £450–550 per person depending on which grade of hotel you choose. A few specialist operators offer naturist holidays in the self-contained mega-resorts of Istria.
Motorsailer cruises in Dalmatia start at around £650 for seven days. To learn the rudiments of sailing, you can arrange a one-week beginner’s course – prices start at about £680 per person. The cheapest seven-day holiday in an eight-berth yacht is typically around £600–700 per person (rising to £800–900 in a two-berth yacht), depending on the season. Prices rise steeply for fancier yachts. You won’t be able to charter a smallish three- to four-berth bareboat yacht for much under £750 per week, while prices for larger craft can run into thousands; a skipper will cost upwards of £120 a day extra.
Flights from the US and Canada
There are currently no direct flights from North America to Croatia, though most major airlines offer one- or two-stop flights via the bigger European cities, often in conjunction with Croatia Airlines, the national carrier. From the US, a midweek round-trip fare to Zagreb in low season starts at US$750 from New York (US$1200 from US West Coast cities), rising to US$1300 (US$1800 from the West Coast) during high season. From Canada, round-trip fares start at Can$1250 from Toronto and Can$1800 from Vancouver during the low season, rising to Can$1800 and Can$2300 respectively during high season. Note that the above prices are for tickets bought from airlines directly, and the pricing varies hugely depending on the route and the carrier combination; discount agencies usually have lower fares.
Specialist travel agents such as TravelTime offer air-inclusive independent packages. Expect to pay about US$1100 for eight days in Dubrovnik or Dalmatia in low season, $1650 in high season. There are also several North American tour operators offering escorted and independent tours and activity holidays to Croatia – a number of which also include Slovenia in their itinerary.
If you’re planning to visit Croatia as part of a wider trip across Europe, you may want to get the cheapest transatlantic flight you can find, and continue your journey overland – in which case it’s worth considering a Eurail pass for train travel.
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
Flying to Croatia from Australia and New Zealand with major airlines often involves two stops en route and can work out quite expensive – fares hover around the Aus$2750 mark from Australia, NZ$3450 from New Zealand. It probably makes far more sense to aim for a big European city such as London or Frankurt and then travel on to Croatia on a local budget airline. This can work out quite cheaply if booked well in advance. Another option is to fly to Doha or Dubai and pick up one of the regular flights to Zagreb operated by Qatar Airways and flydubai.
A small number of package-tour operators offer holidays in Croatia from Australia and New Zealand, including accommodation, cruises along the Dalmatian coast, sightseeing packages and rail passes.
Flights from South Africa
There are no direct flights to Croatia from South Africa, but plenty of airlines offer one-stop flights via European hubs such as London, Frankfurt or Paris. Flying with an airline such as Lufthansa from Johannesburg to Zagreb via Frankfurt costs around ZAR9200 in low season, ZAR10,700 in high season, and takes around eighteen hours. Flying to Split or Dubrovnik usually involves one more stop and costs ZAR1500–2500 extra.
Travel agents and tour operators
Adriatic Travel US t 1 310 548 1446. Croatian travel specialists offering escorted tours, pilgrimages and activity holidays.
Adventure World Australia t 1300 295 049. Accommodation, sailing, hiking tours and more.
Completely Croatia t 01323 832 538. Upmarket tour company specializing in charming villas and hotels in the less touristy parts of Croatia.
Concorde Ireland t 01 775 9300. Holidays in Dalmatia and charter flights from Dublin and Cork from an operator with long-time Croatian experience. They also deal with accommodation, flights and car rental.
Croatia for Travellers UK t 01825 766 896 20 7226 4460. Tailor-made packages and activity holidays using a wide range of hotel and apartment accommodation along the Adriatic coast and in Zagreb and the Plitvice Lakes.
Croatia Tours Ireland t 01 878 0800. Destinations in Istria, Dalmatia and the Dubrovnik region, plus tailor-made itineraries, from a specialist operator.
Croatia Travel Agency US t 1 800 662 7628. New York-based agency specializing in all things Croatian, including packages, airfare, cruises and car rental.
Croatian Villas UK t 020 8888 6655. Tasteful apartments and holiday houses throughout Dalmatia and the Kvarner region, with a particularly good choice of properties in Lovran and on the island of Veli Brijun.
Discover Croatia Holidays Australia t 1300 660 189. Dedicated specialists offering packages and tailor-made arrangements to pretty much everywhere in the country.
Eastern Eurotours Australia t 1800 242 353. Holidays in Dubrovnik, Split and Zagreb, plus multi-centre Adriatic tours and sea cruises.
Exodus UK t 0845 863 9600. Guided cultural tours, walking trips, mountain biking and cycling expeditions along the Croatian Adriatic.
Explore Worldwide UK t 01252 888 554, US t 1 800 715 1746, Canada t 1 888 216 3401. Cultural tours, cycling, hiking and Adriatic cruises.
Headwater Holidays UK t 01606 828 110. Light walking tours taking in nature and culture in Dalmatia.
Kompas US t 1 954 771 9200. Various packages including city breaks in Dubrovnik, Split and Zagreb, yachting trips and customized tours.
Ramblers Holidays UK t 01707 331133. Cultural tours with a bit of easy walking, centring on Split and Dubrovnik.
Road Scholar US t 1 800 454 5768. Specialists in educational and activity programmes, cruises and homestays for senior travellers, including Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia combo packages.
Skedaddle UK t 0191 265 1110. Biking tours in Istria, staying in rural accommodation.
TravelTime US t 1 800 354 8728. The main Croatian specialist operator in the US, with a wide range of packages including guided tours, city breaks, kayaking, wine-tasting and culinary tours, plus programmes for senior citizens.
Vintage Travel UK t 01954 261431. Apartment holidays with small-town Istria a speciality.
Travelling to Croatia by train from the UK is unlikely to save money compared with flying, but can be a leisurely way of getting to the country if you plan to stop off in other parts of Europe on the way. It’s certainly simpler and more cost-effective to buy a rail pass, invest in an international rail timetable and plan your own itinerary than to try and purchase a rail return ticket to Croatia: most ticket agents deal exclusively with premier express services, and fares often work out more expensive than flying – a London–Zagreb return will set you back something in the region of £210–300. The high cost is at least partly explained by the fact that almost all through-tickets from London to European destinations now use Eurostar trains, rather than the (traditionally cheaper) ferries. It’s still possible to travel by rail from London to the continent via ferry, but (unless you have a rail pass) you’ll probably have to buy individual tickets for each stage of the journey.
There are two main London–Zagreb rail itineraries: the first is via Paris, Lausanne, Milan, Venice and Ljubljana; the second via Brussels, Cologne, Salzburg and Ljubljana. The total journey time on either route is around thirty hours, depending on connections – considerably longer if you cross the Channel by ferry rather than taking the Eurostar. If you’re making a beeline for Dalmatia, consider heading for Ancona in Italy (16hr from Paris), the departure point for ferries to Zadar, Split and Stari Grad.
If you’re planning to visit Croatia as part of a more extensive trip around Europe, it may be worth buying a rail pass. Croatia is covered in the Inter-Rail pass scheme, which is available to European residents.
Inter-Rail passes can be bought through Rail Europe in the UK and come in over-26 and (cheaper) under-26 versions. They cover most European countries, including Croatia and all the countries you need to travel through in order to get there. A pass for five days’ travel in a ten-day period (£205 for adults, £149 for those under 26) will just about suffice to get you to Croatia and back; although a more leisurely approach would require a pass for ten days’ travel within a 22-day period (£291 and £219 respectively) or a pass for one month’s continuous travel (£488 and £359). Inter-Rail passes do not include travel between Britain and the continent, although pass-holders are eligible for discounts on rail travel in the UK and on cross-Channel ferries.
Non-European residents qualify for the Eurail Global pass, which must be purchased before arrival in Europe from selected agents in North America, Australia and New Zealand or from Rail Europe in London. The pass allows unlimited train travel in twenty European countries, including Belgium and Germany. Passes for those aged 26 and over are for first-class travel only. Passes for the under 26s come with a second-class option. There’s an extensive choice of time periods: for example a pass for five days’ travel in a ten-day period costs $522 for those over 26 (first class), $341 for those under 26 (second class); ten days’ travel within a two-mont period costs $784 and $512 respectively; a pass for one month’s continuos travel costs $1054 and $687. Further details of these passes can be found on w raileurope.com.
By car from the UK
Driving to Croatia is straightforward. The most direct route from the UK is to follow motorways from the Belgian coast via Brussels, Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Salzburg and Villach as far as the Slovene capital, Ljubljana, from where you can continue by ordinary road south to Rijeka on the Adriatic coast or southeast to Zagreb. An alternative approach is through France, Switzerland and Italy as far as Ancona on Italy’s Adriatic coast, from where there are ferries to various points on the Dalmatian coast. Farther down towards the heel of Italy there are ferries from Bari to Dubrovnik.
Note that if you’re driving on Austrian motorways you’ll have to buy a vignette (a windscreen sticker available at border crossings and petrol stations; €8 for ten days, €25.30 for two months). In Slovenia you’ll need to buy a vignette to drive on all but minor country roads (€15 for one week, €30 for one month).
By bus from the UK
The bus journey from London to Zagreb (changing in Frankfurt) takes 34–38 hours and is slightly cheaper than the train, with a return costing £200. Contact Eurolines (UK T08717 818 187, Ireland T01 836 6111).
By ferry from Italy
Seasonal ferry services (usually spring to late autumn) run from Ancona to Split, Stari Grad and Zadar; and from Bari to Dubrovnik. Passengers can usually buy tickets on arrival at the relevant ferry port, but if you’re travelling with a vehicle it’s wise to book in advance, especially in July and August. Services to Split and Dubrovnik usually take eight to twelve hours; services to Zadar slightly less.
From northern Italy, passenger-only catamarans operated by Venezia Lines serve Poreč, Pula and Rovinj from Venice.
Simple deck passage from Ancona or Bari to Croatian ports costs about €65–70 in peak season, although booking early online can uncover some cheaper deals. Most crossings are overnight, so consider investing an additional €30 for a bed in a basic cabin. Pushbikes are free, motorcycles cost about €45, cars €85. Return tickets are usually twenty percent cheaper than two singles.