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Getting around Croatia – Travel and Where to Stay

Getting to Croatia

We start with how to get to Croatia from the neighbouring countries. The easiest and expensive option is by flight – through Zagreb or Split or Dubrovnik and use flights for the rest of the journey. You can use any booking website to look at available options. In this blog we will cover how to use trains and buses and make the most of them to get around Croatia.

From Budapest, Hungary: Our itinerary of Eastern Europe led us from Budapest to Zagreb. We had the option of taking a bus which would take about 5 hours (excluding the time for immigration at the border) or the train which was a similar duration but was more comfortable. We chose the train for two reasons: first, to enjoy the countryside and second, the train would stop at the border and we would have to switch to a Croatian train for the rest of the journey to Zagreb – this was something we wanted to experience.

The train from Budapest

For booking all your train tickets anywhere in Europe, we would always advise you to go to the official website of the railways as they will always give you the best and cheapest options. In this case, head to www.mavcsoport.hu (the Hungarian railways website). To guide you through how to book tickets here, check out this detailed account by The Man in Seat 61 – the go to place if you want guidance on train travel anywhere in Europe. Do note that you will not get an e-ticket for this train. You need to keep the code you will get by email and collect the tickets at automated machines at the train station in Hungary. We recommend booking the tickets in advance so that you don’t have to figure out travel options at the last minute. You also get cheaper tickets on advance booking. Budapest has multiple railway stations – you can catch the train to Zagreb at Budapest Keleti (Keleti Palyaudvar) railway station.

From Austria or Italy: The best option would be to travel to Zagreb via bus. The journey would take you through beautiful Slovenia and if you are lucky, you would get a long enough break to explore the beautiful lake town of Bled.

Now that you’ve reached Croatia, buses and ferries are your lifeline to get around.

Travelling in Croatia – Buses

Croatia has a good network of buses which are convenient to get from one place to another. Two very good websites for booking buses are Flixbus and GetbyBus. These guys are basically aggregators which will show you options from various companies. Do check out the ratings and reviews of the operator to make sure you pick the right bus for your travel. They can charge you for heavy luggage, so keep change handy.

Pro Tip – Split to Dubrovnik

You can choose to take a bus from Split to Dubrovnik and back. However, the road route crosses a tiny patch of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What does this mean? You are exiting Croatia and need to re-enter to continue the journey which means two rounds of immigration checks. This also means that if there is a hold-up for a single person in the bus, the entire bus needs to wait. The travel time from Split to Dubrovnik is 4.5 hours excluding the wait at the checkpoints. We wanted to avoid this bit and planned it in a way that we used boats both ways. Check out our complete itinerary here.

Travelling in Croatia – Ferries/Catamarans

We took catamarans from Split to Hvar and onwards to Dubrovnik. There are two major operators – Jadrolinija and Kapetan Luka. We used both for different legs of our journey and would recommend both equally. Both connect the mainland to all major islands along the coast and you can plan all the legs of your journey accordingly.

Other Tips

Make sure you keep enough buffer between transfers in your journey so that you don’t miss out on a bus/boat. It is always better to reach a place early than deal with the frustration of missing a connection.

We always recommend making your bookings atleast a week or two in advance to ensure that you get a seat (preferably, a reserved seat). Also, advance bookings can get you some good deals! Keep your eye out for these.

Where to Stay

The sweet spot for us while booking a place to stay is to have it close to the main attractions with access to the transit systems. The access part is kept at higher priority as it is convenient when you’re moving in/out with your luggage. In Europe, it becomes much easier than most other places as the cities have been designed with great connectivity.

Zagreb: We picked an Airbnb at a walkable distance from the bus station (which is also close to the railway station). We had an early morning flight out of Zagreb and chose to stay near the origin point of the bus.

Plitviče National Park: The park itself does not have any options for stay but there are a couple of villages right outside the main gates. We picked Rastovača which is a 10-15 min walk along the highway from “Entrance 1” of the park. The buses from Zagreb stop at Entrance 1. Make sure you reach when there is still daylight as the highway goes through a dense forest and you don’t want to be stranded here in the dark! Rastovača is a beautiful village with some nice cottages where you can find rooms on Airbnb. We stayed at a lovely little cottage called House Spehar (where we had some amazing breakfast the next day!). You can also choose to stay in some of the hotels near Entrance 2 – we didn’t go for these as most of the crowd enters the park from here and the best way to explore it would be start at Entrance 1 in the opposite direction of the crowd. For more on how to make the most of your day at Plitviče, click here.

Split: When in Split, try to stay as close to the Old Town as possible. Split has an active nightlife which is concentrated in this area. As the public transportation dies down quite early, having your room close to the Old Town is a major plus. On one of our stays, we couldn’t find a place close enough and we had to walk back almost 4 kms (couldn’t even find cabs!).

Hvar: The island of Hvar is quite big – however, the preferred places to stay are near the port for ease of movement. With some effort, you can find some beautiful Airbnb’s with amazing views. Be wary of the stairs as there are many in the area! Hvar also has some amazing seafood places, but more on that here.

This should get you going on your tickets and accommodation in Croatia. For more on the itinerary, the places you should visit and the food you shouldn’t miss, check out our other blogs on Croatia here.

Do leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Feel free to shoot your queries as well! To catch all our latest travel stories, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

Croatia Food Guide

Croatia is a delight for seafood lovers! We had some of the best seafood we’ve ever tasted and is the main reason why we wouldn’t think twice before coming back here again.

Zagreb

Dolac Market: We love visiting the local green markets as it is the best place to get a flavour of the local taste. You can sample the fresh fruits, veggies and meats at this market – we got some tasty apricots to eat while we walked around the city.

You can also find a lot of restaurants along the Ulica Ivana Tkalčića.

Split

Villa Spiza: Excellent food with simple and fresh ingredients! It takes some time to find the place as it is not the biggest one in the city. Make sure you go early, or you might not get a table before they run out of food! The menu of the day had pork chops and lamb pasta. Delicious food which keeps you coming back for more!

Pazar market: Local green market near the Old Town. Go early in the morning to see people selling fresh produce and meat. You can pick up some fruits and berries to munch on throughout the day.

Fife restaurant: Towards the end of the Riva Promenade, this place serves really good local dishes at compelling prices.

Hvar

Marinero bistro: Without doubt, the best food we had in Croatia. Delicious tuna fillet, fried calamari with tartar and house wine made for a wonderful dinner!

Dalmatino: We didn’t get time to go here but heard some good things about this place. Next time!

Mlinar bakery: This was our go-to place across Croatia – ideal for a quick bite, stocking up on supplies or even a small meal. It is pocket friendly and tasty and is ideal for the backpacking tourist.

Image from Mlinar

Now that you know some of the best eats in Croatia, you can take a look at how to plan that Croatian itinerary and how to go about booking your tickets with our travel guide here.

Do leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Feel free to shoot your queries as well! To catch all our latest travel stories, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

The Dalmatian Coast – Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik

The first image that pops up when you hear the word “Dalmatian” would be the black and white spotted dogs made famous by the Disney movie. The origin of this breed is from a region of the same name in Croatia. The historical Dalmatia region is along the Adriatic coast and covers most of the southern half of the country. The major cities in this region are Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik. There are many beautiful islands off the coast, some of the best ones being Hvar, Brač and Korčula.

Split

We started our holiday from Zagreb where we spent half a day (enough to see all major attractions). We then spent an amazing day at Plitvice National Park. A 4-hour bus journey from Plitvice took us along the coastal cities of Zadar and Sibenik to Split. We were picked up by our Airbnb host from the bus stand who had come along with his two cute kids. Nino – our host – was super-friendly and a really nice guy. He gave us a mini tour of the city and told us how to get around. As we entered the residential neighborhood, we noticed gardens behind every house with vines wrapped around the garages. And on these were grapes!

Coming from Indian city life, it is indeed a wonder to see grapes growing freely in every house! We left our luggage in the room and walked back to the old city.

As we entered the old town area, the vibe itself changed. The tiny streets transported us to another age as we walked around looking for a place to eat. We always read up about the best places to eat so that we experience the best foods in the limited number of days we spend. We arrived at our destination, Villa Spiza – a small restaurant in a tiny lane. For a place so tiny, there was a lot of crowd waiting to get a table. As we waited (40 mins in total), we saw the owner come out and strike off some items from the menu. We learnt that their menu changes every day based on what they get fresh from the market. Luckily, the dishes we had our eyes on were still on the menu when we got our table. And it was totally worth the wait! Delicious pork chops and minced lamb pasta and amazing wine to go with it! All food pics are available on the Food page. After dinner, we walked around, got an ice-cream and saw some hostelers partying out on the lanes – looked like this one was going all night long.

Our second day at Split was mostly spent exploring Diocletian’s Palace and the walled city.

We first headed to the farmer’s market where we picked up some fresh fruits for the day. The Palace itself has a lot of interesting elements – sphinxes from Egypt, a temple dedicated to Jupiter and actors dressed up as Romans putting on a show for the visitors.

We also spotted some of the shoot locations of Game of Thrones there. If you get tired walking, there are plenty of little restaurants and takeaways. We ended our day by taking a bus back to Zagreb.

Pro Tip: To get a panoramic view of Split old town and the port, head up to Park Marjan. We started our day here walking all the way up to the observation deck. The early morning light gave us a beautiful view of the city. From here, you can climb down the steps and get to the Riva Promenade.

Hvar

We had planned to visit Hvar, Dubrovnik and come back to Split – so we decided to leave our luggage at the Split port instead of lugging it around all the way. Look out for lockers near the bus stand where you can leave your luggage for a daily rate. We took the 9:45 am Jadrolinija catamaran from the dock. Wondering how to book tickets for these? Check out our guide to local travel in Croatia.

The boat was good and the ride was smooth – it cut through all the waves and almost glided through to reach Hvar in just under an hour. We walked up some steps near the port to our Airbnb where we left our bags and went to explore the town.

Walking along the coast-line itself is a soothing experience. The water is so clear that you feel the boats are floating in air!

We continued to explore the old town area and a series of stairs led us up to the Fortica. The climb up is quite tiring but the end result is worth it – you get a view of the entire town with the coral tiles roofs, blue skies and the blue sea merging into it, rugged terrain along the coast and cactus plants with beautiful flowers all around!

We walked into a restaurant for lunch where we had some amazing fried calamari. We headed back to our room as the sun was beating down on us. We met our host, Zora who suggested some off-beat places on the island. There was a beach which was a good 30 mins walk along the coast on the southern part of the island which she recommended. We passed through a neighbourhood of premium apartments and some remote roads along the coast to reach the beach. The beach was full of white pebbles and the water was perfect for a swim.

We took care not to step on the sea urchins! After spending a couple of hours here, we took a shortcut by climbing over a hill to cut across.

For dinner, we headed to the Marinero bistro which is just off the old town centre. The food we had here was possibly the best we had on the trip to Croatia. Grilled tuna fillet, calamari with tartar and house wine – the memory of the taste makes us want to go back there! Food pics here!

We spent some time at the beach spotting stars and constellations (the sky was so clear!). As we walked back to our room, we saw many people dressed up getting on boats to go to Carpe Diem – one of the craziest party places around. We had to catch a boat the next morning and decided to skip it – best to leave it for later!

Dubrovnik

We took the Kapetan Luka catamaran from Hvar to Dubrovnik at 8:45 am. This time we sat on the upper deck where we enjoyed views of the coast and the islands of Korčula and Mljet. As we got closer to Dubrovnik, we saw not one, but many cruise ships off the coast. Oh no! Cruise ships could mean only one thing – crazy crowds!

As you exit the port at Dubrovnik and cross the road, you will see a visitor information centre and a counter from where you can buy bus tickets. We got our tickets and boarded bus 1-A to the Old City (Stari Grad). The walled city welcomed us in a manner that we expected – full of tourists. There were multiple Game of Thrones tours going on along the walls and inside as tourists tried to recreate the scenes. We explored the city for the better part of the day – the inner walls, the cathedral, the port (of wildfire), drawbridge and lots of steps (including the Shame, Shame ones).

The restaurants are all tourist traps with super expensive menus and even the exchange rate here was the worst we had seen in Croatia. After lunch, we took Bus number 3 back to the port where our boat to Split was waiting.

As mentioned in our top post, if you are crunched for time, you would do well to skip this journey to Dubrovnik as the crowds will put you off. If time is not a constraint, stay for 2 days and start exploring the walled city early in the morning before the cruise crowd hits.

One place we would like to mention here is the Mlinar bakery – it came to our rescue more than once when we were starved and couldn’t find a decent restaurant and also as a place to stock up on supplies before we hit the road/boat. For more on places to eat in Croatia, check out our post here.

A Day in PlitviCe

The place we were looking forward to the most in Croatia was Plitviče National Park. Why you ask? Take a look at these pictures we shot, and you’ll get an idea why.

The lakes in Plitviče have been formed at different heights as a series of cascades. You can also spot many waterfalls and rapids as the water flows down from the upper lakes to the lower lakes. But what is most stunning in this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the colour of the water! The distinctive colours of the lakes is due to moss, algae and minerals which are deposited on the limestone topography. There are wooden pathways and bridges criss-crossing the park which give you the chance to experience nature’s beauty at its best! Now that we’ve resolved the why, here’s how you can make the most of your day at Plitviče.

Reach the park early in the morning

This advice holds true for many tourist attractions as you get to see the place in all its glory without tourists. I cannot emphasize how true this is for Plitviče (we got a glimpse of the crowded version as we left). We started our day at 7:30 am from our beautiful cottage in Rastovača (check out our tips on places to stay here) and we were at the ticket counter in Entrance 1 at 7:45 am. We didn’t have to face a queue and were one of the first people to enter. If you go during the peak season (July-August), you might have to wait a while in the queue, and you may even get a later slot – so make sure you book in advance if you visit in these months (we visited in June). The entrance fees also goes up in the peak season. You can check out the latest fees on their website.

Select the best routes

There are around 8 different routes (4 from each entrance of the park) you can choose to take on your tour depending on how much you are willing to walk and how much time you’d like to spend at the park.

We selected Route C – a 4-6 hours long trail which would span 8 km across the upper and lower lakes. This is one of the best routes to get a complete experience of Plitviče – there is one stretch on the route which is via boat too. We also took a deviation towards the end of the trail and walked through a stretch of route H to get a view of the upper-most lakes of the park.

Once you reach the end of the trail, you can take a shuttle bus back to your entrance or walk along a shortcut trail.

Alternatively, if you are entering the park from Entrance 2, select Route H (which covers the same route in the opposite direction).

If you are crunched for time, go for Route A or B which will take you through the best parts of the lower lakes. If you want to spend the entire day, go for Route K – the longest trail available.

Best spots in the Park

Most of the wallpaper worthy spots can be found along the lower lakes. The closest one to Entrance 1 is the Veliki Slap or Big Waterfall (you can find signboards which will guide you).

You can find plenty of amazing spots along the boardwalks. Take your time and enjoy the views as you make your way along the trail.

Cascade viewpoint – you can get this view when you walk back to Entrance 1 from the bus stop.

Additional spot: on the way to Veliki Slap, you will find a path going upwards – walk up and continue along the path towards the right and you will reach the viewpoint in about 200 metres.

Best time to visit

You can visit Plitviče anytime between April to October to enjoy the colours of the lakes. July-August is the peak season which you can skip if you want to avoid crowds. We visited in June and really enjoyed it. There were many parts of the park where we had the place entirely to ourselves. The weather was warm and comfortable – perfect for the long walk!

Getting to Plitviče

Plitviče is located 130 km south of Zagreb and 250 km north of Split which makes it a great place for a day trip. You can find several buses on this route which makes it very accessible. For all your local travel in Croatia, check out our guide here. We arrived in Plitviče a day before our planned visit to the park. This gives you the freedom to rest well and start early to beat the crowds.

Where to Stay

We recommend staying close to Entrance 1 – this will enable you to enjoy the beauty of the lower lakes before the crowds start hitting. We picked an Airbnb in the village of Rastovača. Check out our blog on places to stay.

We spent about 6 hours in the park and loved every second of it. Afterwards, we went back to our stay, picked up our bags, walked back to Entrance 1 and boarded our bus to Split at 3:15 pm. The story of Split and the journey beyond is chronicled here.

For all the water lovers, entering the water is not allowed in Plitviče. However, if you want to swim in such waters, head to Krka National Park and enjoy!

Do leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Feel free to shoot your queries as well! To catch all our latest travel stories, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales