With all those islands you would expect the ferry services in Croatia to be efficient and they certainly are. Reasonable charges too.
We've used Jadrolinija's car ferries from Split to Brac and to Hvar (1 and a half to 2 hours) and also from Sumartin on Brac to Makarska (30 minutes) - 60km south-east of Split. Ticket prices vary according to the length of the voyage. There's no discount for return tickets.
With just a few exceptions, Jadrolinija's local ferries cannot be booked in advance. Tickets for both car ferries and high speed passenger services can only be bought ON THE DAY. The website given here is very good, use it to check times, fares, etc for all Jadrolinija's services - local and international.
During high summer the service runs pretty well right around the clock with the last ferries for the main ports going at about 1am and the first one of the day setting sail at 6am. You can't pre-book a place on the ferries so the routine is to turn up at least a half an hour or so before the ferry is due to depart, park your car in the queue, go and buy your ticket and then wait for the ferry to begin loading. On a Sunday in June we had no problem - later in the summer there is obviously more demand and you might miss the ferry you are aiming for and have to take the next one, though with the frequency of the boats this shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Once on board with the car secured, it's up on deck to enjoy the crossing . As you would expect, on the big ferries there's a snack bar on board. The ferries were all very clean with plenty of seating both inside and up on deck. The loading and unloading of cars is very efficient so the whole exercise is really hassle-free, just a lazy cruise in the sunshine with the port you've left from falling behind and the islands slipping by slowly as you sail along.
Buses (coaches) are the best way to move around Croatia. The network consists of numerous private companies and can be somewhat confusing. In general buses are modern and air-conditioned (which is not the case with 2nd class train cars).
There are bus lines to literally all places you might consider visiting, and on major routes there are many departures - for instance, on the Zagreb - Split route there are departures every 30 minutes where some 20 different companies compete.
Buses are popular way of transport so buying your ticket a day or two in advance for major routes is not a bad idea. Especially if you are using the second leg of your return ticket (which is always 20-30% cheaper) when you don't have much flexibility since you must return with the same company you used on your first leg. Also remember that you should buy a seat reservation for the return trip even in cases when you have the ticket - just go to the bus station. Seats are numerated (broj sjedala = seat number).
For each piece of luggage you want to store in a bus storage you'll have to pay 5-8 kunas to the driver.
Please see my next tip for some useful links (I can't put them here because of the length).
Here are links to major bus stations or timetables:
Zagreb Bus Station:
Split Bus Station:
www.ak-split.hr (click on vozni red)
Trogir bus info:
Dubrovnik bus info:
Pula Bus info:
Makarska bus info:
Karlovac Bus Station:
Varazdin Bus Station:
Zadar Bus Station:
Some of the major bus companies with websites and online timetables:
Croatia Bus, Autotrans, Cazmatrans, AP Varazdin, Panturist, Croag, Contus, Brioni
If the website is in Croatian, just click on Vozni red (=timetable).
There are eight international airports in Croatia. Their websites have useful info, like flight schedules, lists of air companies (including charters), car rental companies and buses to town centers.
ZAGREB (ZAG) www.zagreb-airport.hr
Although the airport building will evoke the feel of the communist 1950s, this is Croatia Airlines' main hub and still the main gateway to Croatia.
DUBROVNIK (DBV), www.airport-dubrovnik.hr
Modern airport building was re-built after the old one was totally destroyed in the war and is now one of the most modern airports in Croatia.
SPLIT (SPU) www.split-airport.hr
In continuous reconstruction during the last several years, set in a beautiful environment of olive trees, closer to Trogir than to Split.
ZADAR (ZAD) www.zadar-airport.hr
Also totally destroyed in war, and now reconstructed it is unique since their runway crosses the state road which is closed every time a plane lands or takes off.
PULA (PUY) www.airport-pula.com
Main airport in Istria, with several flights to Zagreb and mainly international connections.
RIJEKA (RJK) http://www.rijeka-airport.hr/
After the new highway connected Rijeka to Zagreb this airport lost its significance, but in the future it might become a base for low cost airlines.
BRAC / BOL (BWK) www.airport-brac.hr
Brac is the only real island with an international airport, small in size but a great way to avoid the crowds of Split ferry port.
OSIJEK (OSI) www.osijek-airport.hr
The third airport that was totally destroyed and now totally reconstructed. Interesting mainly to Slavonians wanting to reach the coast quickly.
Bus links from airports to town centres can also be found on CTA website:
Flying around Croatia can be a tad tricky. Well, not difficult, but it can be expensive if you buy your ticket online ahead of time. Croatia Airlines, the country's main carrier has this crazy rule that you can only buy your ticket online three days prior to your departure date (from their website: "Please note that all tickets reserved online, in order to be obtained at the quoted fares, have to be bought within 72 hours in the country of the reserved departure flight.") This means that prices will be higher as prices are always a bit higher closer to your actual flight date. The way around this is to know someone in Croatia who is willing to buy your ticket for you like I did. However, traveling in the off-season, ticket prices were still relatively low. I flew on the earliest flight possible from Zagreb to Split and also on the earliest flight from Dubrovnik to Zagreb and both were pretty cheap.
The best way to get to and from the aiports in Croatia is to take the Croatia Airlines bus. You don't have to fly on Croatia Airlines to ride the bus and, as of February of 2004, the cost was between 25-30 Kunas each way (around 3 USD). In Zagreb, it was 25K and in Dubrovnik and Split is was 30K. The buses are comfortable and you can store luggage below before you get on the bus. The airport is located 20-35 minutes from town in all three cities' case.
Croatia's bus network is far-reaching, but the prices can get pretty high. Buses run between Zagreb & several cities in Hungary & Germany, as well as Amsterdam, Brussels, G?teborg aso.
Trains are about the same prices [or sometimes even higher] & although more comfortable than the bus, they tend to be slower... They connect Zagreb to Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Slovenia & Serbia & Montenegro [and further to Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey aso.], while ferries link Croatia to Greece & Italy.
If you can get where you're going by ferry, then do it - cruising the Adriatic islands certainly beats sitting on a bus, no matter how cheap or fast it is. Jadrolinija ferries ply the coastal waters all the way from Pula to Dubrovnik, to cities & larger islands. If you buy a ticket for the whole trip, you can stop off as many times as you want for up to a week's time.
Travellers with their own vehicle can use four border crossings between Hungary & Croatia, 29 between Slovenia & Croatia, 23 between Bosnia & Hercegovina & Croatia & seven between Yugoslavia & Croatia. If you're driving in Croatia, be sure to do so on the right side of the road! ;) All the usual car rental chains are represented in Zagreb & Split. The spectacular Adriatic highway from Italy to Albania runs along the steep slopes of Croatia's coastal range & is one of the most exciting drives in the world.
Getting around the country can get difficult during the season [from May to Sep], but with enough planning & a bit of luck, you can get everywhere... ;)
The best time to visit Croatia in my opinion, would be in May when most of the ferry lines are still running and the tourist hordes have not quite made their full invasion. Unfortunately for me, I was here in February and the ferry service was very limited, which made it difficult to visit the islands without having much more flexibility in my schedule.
You can get to Croatia from Italy very easily by using the Jadrolinija Ferry or one of many Italian ferry services (SMC, Adriatica, Agestea and others).
From within Croatia, you can take a ferry to almost all of the islands on very frequent schedules in the peak season. Keep in mind, however, that if you're traveling outside of the peak season, you'll be much more limited (i.e. there may only be one or two ferries a week to a particular island).
Croatia Airlines is the official national air carrier in Croatia, with OU as its international code. They operate on numerous flights to & from Croatia: Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, London, Munich, Paris, Rome, Sarajevo, Skopje, Vienna, Zürich, Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, Madrid, Lyon, Milan, Düsseldorf, Hannover, Hamburg, Berlin, Stockholm, Göteborg, Warsaw, Moscow, Athens, Istanbul & Tel Aviv, as well as around Croatia: Rijeka [RJK], Pula [PUY], Zadar [ZAD], Brač [BWK], Mali Lošinj [LSZ], Dubrovnik [DBV], Split [SPU], Osijek [OSI] & Zagreb [ZAG]. There are daily flights to larger European cities & connections to other cities.
The main, biggest & most important airport [although small, poor & old] is Zagreb Pleso located 17 km (11 mi) southeast of the city center [with a bus connection from Zagreb Bus Station], but during the summer there are often flights via other Croatian cities. National airlines flying to Croatia are Lufthansa, BA, Air France, Austrian, Aeroflot, Czech Airlines, LOT, Malev, Turkish Airlines, SAS, Alitalia & Air Portugal, along with some more charter companies like GermanWings, Slowflake, HLX, SkyEurope, Norwegian, WizzAir aso. [Links below!]
Considering their modern fleet [made of eight Airbusses & three ATRs], good service & a tough inter-European competition, it's not strange that Croatia Airlines don't have the lowest prices! But it is not rare that they have special offers, discounts for youth & students aso. You can get a one-way domestic flight from 100 HRK + taxes or a one-way international flight from 100 EUR + taxes! Be sure to check their official pages regularly - maybe you find the perfect flight & come to Croatia! ;)
In case you want make day-trips to the most attractive islands, such as Hvar, Mljet, Korcula etc., I suggest you this speed boats called "hidrogliser". It takes about one hour to get to the island you choose to visit. Traveling is very comfortable, speed and air-conditioned.
Taxis are pretty expensive in Croatia and if you're visiting the coastal towns, you really won't need one. Most of the towns are small enough to explore on foot. In Zagreb, the bus and tram systems will have you covered, so there's really no need.
There is a great, romantic tram in Zagreb that, other than walking, is the best way to explore the city. The routes can be a bit confusing, so you're best bet is to ask a local what number you need for your particular location or just ask the driver.
Tickets can be purchased from tobacco or magazine stands throughout the city for 6.50 kuna or for 8 from the driver onboard.
There are 1185 islands, islets and cliffs in the Adriatic, however, not all of them inhabitated. All inhabitated islands are connected to the mainland by the ferry-boats, which travel frequantly in both directions, especially during the summer season.
In case you need specific information, contact www.jadrolinija.hr.
If you're traveling around the Croatian coast, there is a very high chance you'll end up on one of these ferries. They are a very popular way of getting both cars and people from place to place around the many islands dotting the coastline.
The ferry schedule is a bit tricky to understand, and you really have to plan ahead if your time is limited and you want to be sure of getting from point A to point B. For instance, the boats don't always run every day, the summer schedule is different from the rest of the year's, and many ferry ticket offices are only open a few hours each day. This is one of the few aspects of travel in
Croatia that you can't just leave until the last minute!
Ferry travel is complicated further if you have a car. Not all ferries take cars, cars can't get off at intermediate stops on ferry routes, and cars require reservations to ensure that they get a spot. Be careful to check in advance that you'll be able to do what you've planned to do.
If you are planning to go to Croatia by car and you happen to have a GPS system I can only recommend one programme: It's a Croatian programme called Mirea "Via GPS". Unlike all major programmes on the European market this programme has almost all streets in its database, most other programmes only know the major roads in Croatia.
We used Via GPS and found all booked accommodation quite easily in Zagreb, Zadar, Trogir and Dubrovnik. Without the system it would have been a nightmare to navigate, especially in Zagreb and in Dubrovnik. Sometimes the programme has a few hickups though, it wants you turn around suddenly or tell you to drive right into some unpaved roads.
It's also not very comfortable, it doesn't show you your expected arrival time or the speed limits. Sometimes it tells you 2 kms before you need to turn that you need to turn, sometimes it doesn't. But we didn't care, we only wanted it to tell us the right way in the cities.
The German instructions are a disaster mostly, the woman speaks with a strange dialect and bad grammar. But we still loved her, our dear "Janica" ;)
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