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Though ravaged by war in the 1990s, in which it sought and gained independence, Croatia has quickly recovered and re-emerged as a popular crowd-drawer. Blessed with a coastal location alongside the Adriatic Sea, Croatia attracts visitors from Europe and the world looking for sun-kissed beaches and historic cities. And luckily, they can enjoy the best of both worlds in Dubrovnik and Split, where history and natural beauty meet with waves of tourists each year.
The forefathers of Croatia's current Slav population settled in the region in the 7th century. Previously, the Illyrians, Celts and Greeks had inhabited the land. The Croats split the land between the Pannonian duchy in the north and the Dalmatian duchy in the south. In 925, Tomislav of the Trpimirovic dynasty became the first King of Croatia and united the two duchies and created a state. However, after a decisive battle between Hungary and Croatia in 1097, in which the last king of Croatia was killed, King Coloman of Hungary became the country's new ruler. It would be over eight centuries before Croatia regained independence.
Over the next centuries, Croatia experienced the rise and fall of empires. The Ottoman Empire encroached from the east; Hungary's rule collapsed after their king was killed in a battle with the Turks; subsequently, the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy gained control in 1526. Strains of nationalism began to appear in the middle of the 19th century. Towards the end of World War I, Croatia parted company with Austria just as the latter faced imminent defeat by the Allies. Together with Slavonia and Serbia, Croatia formed the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, which would become the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. After a four year Axis occupation during World War II, Yugoslavia was re-established as a Communist state under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito.
Under Tito's tight fisted rule, the nationalism of the individual republics was suppressed, but when he died in 1980, the union started to unravel. Tensions between Serbs, Croats and Slovenes grew increasingly sharp, especially after the emergence of Slobodan Milošević, who became the new Yugoslav president in 1986 - to the dismay of Slovenians and Croats. Eventually in 1990, Croatia declared itself independent, sparking a war with Serbia which was eventually won by the Croats in 1995.
Croatia experienced dramatic change after 1999, when Franjo Tudman, the country's first president, died. Since 2000, Croatia has been on a democratic road of development and seeks to become a member of the European Union.
Croatia over 56,000 square kilometres big and has about 4.5 million inhabitants. The country shares international borders with Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, while the Adriatic Sea forms its western border. It boasts nearly 6,000 kilometres of coastline, due in large part to its many islands. Along the Hungarian border, the terrain is fairly flat, but it takes on a more dramatic shapes near Slovenia, where the Dinaric Alps pass through the country. The plains, lakes and rolling hills for much of the north and northeast, there are densely wooded mountains in Lika and Gorski Kotar, part of the Dinaric Alps and rocky coastlines on the Adriatic Sea where over one thousand islands varying in size are located. The largest islands in Croatia are Cres and Krk which are located in the Adriatic Sea. The Danube, Europe's second longest river, runs through the city of Vukovar. Dinara, is the highest peak of Croatia at 1,831 metres above sea level. There are 49 caves deeper than 250 metres, 14 of them are deeper than 500 metres and three even deeper than 1,000 metres. Important characteristic of Croatian landscape are numerous natural lakes. The most famous are the Plitvice lakes, a system of 16 lakes and waterfalls connecting them over the dolomite and limestone cascades. Though the biggest is Vransko lake stretching over 30 square kilometres.
Zagreb is Croatia's capital as well as its cultural, scientific and economic heart. It's a great city to spend a few days, walking around the city's centre and enjoying some good restaurants and nightlife.
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Croatia's major tourist attraction is Dubrovnik, a southern city pushed up against the Adriatic Sea. Boasting a long and proud history, Dubrovnik attracts thousands of visitors each year, who generally have a wonderful time meandering through the cobbled streets of Old Town Dubrovnik.
Medieval cities such as Zagreb retain much of their pre-war architectural heritage, making for picturesque glimpses into the Middle Ages. For those interested in the more recent past, the memory of war is still fresh in the mind of many Croatians and its ruins can still be observed.
Dotted along Croatian's Mediterranean coast lie over a thousand small islands. Some of the best to visit are listed below.
Croatia has 8 national parks.
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The Plitvice Lakes (Croatian: Plitvička Jezera) are one of the natural highlights of Croatia. They are located in the Dinaric Alps in the central part of the country near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Plitvice Lakes National Park is placed on the Unesco World Heritage List and consists of 16 stunning turquoise lakes connected by numerous waterfalls. Fore more information, have a look at the official Plitvice Lakes National Park website.
Croatia has 11 nature parks.
The traditional roots of the Rijeka Carnival go back years, with highlights such as ‘ugly masks’ reputed to chase away demons and evil spirits, street parties, a famous International Parade with participants representing countries around the world, a Children’s Parade, and large-scale eating and drinking. Tens of thousands of visitors come to Croatia for the celebration beginning on January 17, which runs for five weeks.
St Blaise is the patron saint of Dubrovnik, whose birthday has been celebrated on Candlemas for over 800 years. On February 2, white doves are released from St Blaise’s Church, and the day of festivities sees a morning mass, grand parade with reliquaries and images carried by elaborately costumed local people and festivities in the square around the church. The historic event is on UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list.
Celebrated every February in Croatia for the last 600 years in the heart of Dubrovnik, Carnival on Stradun Street is crowded with locals in fabulous costumes or futuristic get-ups, riders in medieval armor carrying lances, street theater performers and bands. The main parade is magnificent and there are jousting competitions, masquerade balls and street parties.
March in Split sees the arrival of the beautiful people and their equally beautiful yachts for a week of racing along Croatia’s southern coast. People-watching and celebrity-spotting are favorites at this time.
The symbols of Easter in Croatia are the gorgeously decorated Pisanica Eggs, dating back to Slavic pagan times and adopted into Christian celebrations in the 9th century. The festival begins on Palm Sunday, with many towns holding parades of religious icons nightly. Coastal townspeople don traditional costumes and sing hymns; reenacting bible stories and blessing the city gates.
Held annually in June, Statehood Day is one of the most important festivals for Croatians as it celebrates the creation of an independent nation rising from the ashes of a war-torn land. Festivities take place all over the country with official and unofficial events; but this is not to be confused with October’s Independence Day.
The Split Summer Festival is an open-air feast of plays, concerts, operas, and ballet performances taking place July and August in Diocletian’s Palace, the Basement Halls and many other venues. Outdoor stages are set up for international and Croatian artists and musicians, and the festival attracts a large number of overseas visitors.
August’s full moon is a time of traditional along the coastline around Zadar’s harbor. All the lights are turned off and the quays and harbor are lit by candles. Singing, dancing, eating and viewing the full moon in all its splendor are favorite occupations during this romantic night.
This unique August event is a must for fans of extreme sports, as is draws international names and talented amateurs in stunt-riding, mountain biking, skateboarding and inline skating to give shows and demonstrations for a huge audience.
Zagreb’s International Puppet Festival kicks off in September and attracts profession and amateur puppeteers from all over the world. Running for over 45 years now, performances take place in many of Croatia’s theaters, streets and squares, drawing huge audiences of locals and visitors. The shows last for five days and are split between children’s and adult themes.
Christmas celebrations all over Croatia kick off December 6 with pretty lights, carols, markets, and concerts. Christmas Day is a family occasion, beginning with midnight mass, traditional foods and folk customs. Djed Mraz is Santa Claus in Croatia, who brings gifts on St Nicholas Day, New Year’s Day or Christmas Day. The New Year is a huge time for celebrations with fireworks, bonfires, local cuisine and parties everywhere.
Croatia in general has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and relatively mild winters when most of the rain falls. Temperatures throughout Croatia are normally around 30 °C in the whole country from June to early September, although temperatures can rise above 40 °C. Usually, it stays dry in this period, with occasional showers. Winters along the coast are normally around 10 °C during the day and around 5 °C at night. Further inland, places like Zagreb have colder winters with temperatures in December and January below 0 °C at night.
The best times to travel around Croatia are from April to early June and late September and October, when temperatures are normally around 20 °C - 25 °C during the day and crowds on the roads and beaches are absent.
The main gateway to the country is Zagreb Airport (IATA: ZAG, ICAO: LDZA), located 10 kilometres from the central station in the capital Zagreb. Croatia Airlines, the national airline, is based there and has destinations to many major cities in Europe.
Trains are regular and well connected with all major European cities, though most routes are indirect, requiring change overs in Austria or Mestre. There are regular eastward services, running through Belgrade onto Bulgaria, Romania, or Greece. Vienna has trains to Zagreb and Rijeka, Budapest with Zagreb. Venice and Ljubljana have trains to Zagreb as well. Rijeka and Ljubljana have connections and also Zagreb to Belgrade is possible.
To enter Croatia, a driver's license, an automobile registration card and vehicle insurance documents (including Green Card) are required. It's easy to cross from Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. Crossings are hassle free and usually quite fast and there are numerous roads to choose from. A decent map or navigation in your car is a good idea.
See Getting Around section for more information about driving in Croatia.
Eurolines has buses between a number of Croatian cities and other countries in Europe. For example, to Vienna there are buses from Zagreb, Rijeka and Zadar.
There are many more companies though with connections. From Dubrovnik, there are connections to Mostar and Sarajevo. Split offers the same destinations and Rijeka and Zagreb buses go to Sarajevo as well.
From Italy, Padua, Venice and Trieste have good connections to many Croatian cities, including Porec, Pula and Rovinj on the Istria Peninsula and onwards to Rijeka, Zadar and Dubrovnik.
Buses travel between Zagreb and Belgrade in Serbia as well. To Slovenia there are quite a few connections as well including buses from Rovinj via Porec to Piran and Koper in Slovenia. Rovinj, Rijeka and Zagreb all have buses to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.
Finally, there are quite a few regular buses travelling from places as far away as Basel or Berlin, connecting to cities like Split.
Although distances aren't that big, some convenient domestic flights are available between Zagreb and the coastal cities of Dubrovnik or Split. Also, Rijeka, Zadar and Pula are served by the national carrier Croatia Airlines.
The most important connection is between Split and Zagreb and takes roughly six hours. Prices are cheap by European standards. Detailed information about time table and fares can be found at Croatian Railways website. The train network in Croatia is not as extensive as the bus network and for many destinations within the country, buses are a faster and more convenient option. Other cities connected by rail include Rijeka and Zadar.
You also have a semi-highway Zagreb - Rijeka, which is now being built to highway profile. Also, there is a highway from Zagreb to Slavonia area (Osijek), and further to the borderline with Serbia. Highway is being constructed to Slovenia, Macelj crossing, in direction of Austria, and also for Dubrovnik region.
Open from 7:00am until 7:00pm or 8:00pm every day; in the summer season, until 10:00pm. On-duty petrol stations in the larger cities and on main international routes are open 24 hours a day. All petrol stations sell Eurosuper 95, Super 95, Super 98, Super plus 98, Normal and Euro Diesel fuel. For information on prices of petrol and on the list of centres selling gas have a look at the ina and hak website.
National Autoclub of Republic of Croatia:
24 hour technical assistance, provision of information regarding travel on Croatia's roads and traffic conditions. Dial 987 for road assistance.
Bus service in Croatia is very frequent. It connects all towns, especially in tourist regions. It's the cheapest way to travel around Croatia, although sometimes not the most comfortable and you should opt for an alternative mode of travel. For example, a bus ride from Zagreb to Dubrovnik is approximately 12 hours as the motorway goes only to Split. After that the road - Jadranska Magistrala - runs along the coast. It is a beautiful ride but extremely slow, especially in high season. Shuttle buses are available from all major airports to the respective cities and surrounding areas/towns.
Jadrolinija is the main ferry company with connections between its many islands and coastal towns throughout Dalmatia, Istria and other areas. The main route is between Rijeka and Dubrovnik]], taking about 22 hours in total. Split, Brac Island, Vis Island, Hvar Island, Korcula Island, Makarska, Mljet Island, Dubrovnik, the Elaphiti Islands and Lastovo Island are some of the destinations. Other companies are Split tours for the area around Split (Hvar and Vis), Miatours for the area around Zadar and Medplov for connections between Orebic and Korcula. For a full overview check this ferries website.
Nationals of the following countries can visit Croatia visa free for up to 90 days:
Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaraqua, Norway, Panama, Paraquay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, South Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela.
All other foreigners are advised to seek advice at the nearest embassy or consulate.
For foreign citizens: Since 1 April 2013, the Republic of Croatia has been applying the European Union’s Common Visa Policy. Pursuant to the Government’s Decision, the Republic of Croatia applies the Decision No 565/2014/EU according to which all third-country nationals who are holders of valid Schengen documents, as well as national visas and residence permits of Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania do not require an additional (Croatian) visa for Croatia. Further information is available under Visas.
The travel document which a third-country national is using to enter Croatia must be valid for at least another three months after the planned departure from Croatia and issued within the previous 10 years (e.g. an third-country national staying in Croatia until 26 December 2013 has to hold a passport valid at least until 27 March 2013). This does not apply to EU/EEA citizens who can enter Croatia with a passport or an identity card, both valid for the duration of stay and exit from Croatia.
For more information check the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs website.
See also: Money Matters
The official currency is Croatian Kuna (HRK). One Kuna is divided into 100 lipa. Banknotes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 kn. Coins are in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 25 and 50 lipa; and 1, 2, 5 and 25 kn. As of August 2010, the kuna has an exchange rate of €1 Euro to 7.21 kn.
Euros are widely accepted, even in restaurants late in the night, but you have to ask at which rate it is converted. The situation is the same with USD. GBP can only be converted in the banks and exchange offices. Other currencies have to be changed in the bank as well. There are some exchange machines operating 24/7 in bigger towns. Banks usually work from 8:00am till 7:00pm, exchange offices in some places until 10:00pm You have no street exchangers, except many locals will do the service for you even in late hours.
Croatia is the destination of many worldwide volunteer organizations that send groups of volunteers throughout the year to help with agriculture, community development, education, animal welfare, and more. These programs are put together by nonprofits, community groups and volunteers to help locals improve their economy and way of life.
The oldest continually operating university in southern Europe is the University of Zagreb, which was founded back in 1669. Even older is the University of Zadar, founded in 1396. It was for a period run by other institutions, until re-established in 2002.
For more information on opportunities to study in Croatia, have a look at the official portal at Study in Croatia.
When former Croatian president Tudjman asked the specialists to make one national menu for Croatia, they came back with the only dish originally made by Croatians: Zagorski strukli. Everything else is a mixture of Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish, Italian and Macedonian cuisine.
Croatian cuisine consists of Mediterranean and Balkanese flavours, and meat is a dominant part of the national diet. Since much food consists of local produce, prices can be quite high. Cheese, for example, can cost over €100 per kilo.
Bread has a special significance for Croatians, and is considered a gift from God.
Besides hotels, the most widespread type of accommodation in Croatia is the "private accommodation". It consists of self catering apartments or rooms in private houses. Owners are mostly local families and the units they rent are part of their house. By choosing private accommodation in Croatia, you can get great value for money and usually along the coast they come with a great view as well. It's best to rent a car though if you want this kind of accommodation as some homes are located far away from the main drag.
Croatia has a few distinctive local drinks. One of the most famous is Cedevita, which is a vitamin drink made from powder. Another is Traubisoda, a bubbly grape drink. Some beverages are prepared with aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, so be aware that these contain harmful chemicals.
Tap water is drinkable throughout Croatia.
Croats are keen coffee drinkers. Crna kava is a strong, black Turkish coffee taken with or without of sugar. In Croatian, "tea" can mean any drink of boiled water with plant extract in it. It is rare to take milk with tea, but common to have lemon with it. If you want to get a little crazy, you can even have rum with your tea.
Croatians like their alcohol, and you can count on being offered alcoholic beverages by the locals. People may drink to your arrival or departure, or to a happy or sad occasion. Liquor is often served as an appetiser before a meal.
Croatia is an excellent destination for beer lovers. While you can find most common beers in Croatia, the country does boast a few of its own brands, including Velebitsko, Karlovacko, Osijecko and Pan. Some of the main breweries are found in Karlovac, Zagreb, Osijek, Split, Daruvar and Koprivnica. There is also a brewery in Buzet, Istria.
Wine making is a growing trade in Croatia. Popular Croatian wines include gemišt or špricer, which is a white wine mixed with mineral water. Bevanda is a black wine mixed with water. Prošek is a popular desert wine.
Croatia also produces its share of domestic liquors, made from plumbs, pears or grapes. Rakija is a common term used for various brandies made from plums and other fruits. Some of the most notable brandies are loza, travarica, pelinkovac, šljivovica and vilijamovka. One particularly notable drink to check out is medovina, which is a wine made from honey and is claimed to be the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world's history.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Croatia. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Croatia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against typhoid as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
Croatia is generally a safe country. Each year it is visited by 11 million tourists and other visitors. Few people will have problems in Croatia, but each year several tourists are killed on the road and at sea.
There are some emergency services in Croatia that will rapidly react upon your call. The important numbers, free of charge, are:
Internet cafés are available in all major cities. They are relatively cheap and reliable. A free Wi-Fi signal can be found virtually in every city and can be found in cafés, restaurants, hotels, some libraries, schools, colleges etc. Mostly it's free, but sometimes a fee is required or you can use it for a limited time only. Internet connections with unlimited downloads costs 178 kn (€24) per month via T-Com and just 99 kn with some other providers like Metronet or Iskon.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Croatia is: 385. To make an international call from Croatia, the code is: 00.
Croatia uses the GSM 900/1800 system for mobile phones. There are three providers, T-Mobile (also operates the Bonbon prepaid brand), Vip (also operates the Tomato prepaid brand) and Tele2. Over 98% of the country's area is covered. If you have an unlocked phone, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for 20 kn. There have been promotions in which SIM cards were given avay for free with newspapers (7 kn) and sometimes even literally handed out on the street. GSM phones bundled with T-Mobile or Vip prepaid SIM cards can be found in post offices, grocery stores and kiosks at varying prices.
An alternative to using a mobile phone is Calling Cards which can be found in postal offices and kiosks, there are two providers, Dencall and Hitme. You can buy cards from 25 kn.
Hrvatska Posta is the national postal service of Croatia and has pretty fast and reliable service throughout the country and internationally. It takes several days by airmail to other countries in Europe, but over a week to the US for example. They have a direct link to the pricelist, where you can see the prices of sending postcards, letters and parcels both domestically as well as to other countries. Post boxes are yellow in Croatia and the times of collections are indicated on the box. The opening times of post offices vary, but mostly they are open from 8:00am to 7:00pm Monday to Friday and until 2:00pm on Saturdays, though some might keep shorter or even a longer hours, just ask around. You can buy stamps here, or at newsstands. Prices start at around 10Kn for sending a letter or postcard to neighbouring countries, a few more further away. If you want to send packages internationally, it might be better to check companies like FedEx, TNT, DHL or UPS. They are reliable, fast and usually not much more expensive than Croatia's postal service.
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