What do you need to know before you go to Croatia? Here are my top 8 Croatia travel tips for your trip.
Croatia has become one of my favorite countries to travel to – it’s beautiful, easy to travel, and is packed with fascinating history and great food. I spent a year living here as a digital nomad during the COVID pandemic, exploring the city of Split and a bit of the surrounding area, and now use it as one of my bases in Europe.
1. It’s very friendly and safe
There’s a reason Croatia is one of my favorite destinations as a solo female traveler – it’s an incredibly safe and welcoming country.
Living in Split, I got used to leaving my bag anywhere without keeping an eye on it and walking home alone at 3 am from any part of the city center. And I never had any issues, nor did my other solo female friends.
The rest of Croatia is similarly safe. Crime rates are very low, and people look out for each other. That’s not to say you don’t need to pay any attention at all to your safety or belongings, especially in the height of the summer season when it’s packed and there are lots of people moving through. But overall, it’s one of the safest countries I’ve been to as a solo woman traveler and female digital nomad.
And Croatian people are very welcoming. They’re outwardly reserved, so they won’t just come up and smile and start chatting, but hey, not many cultures are like that anyways. (It’s one of the things I had to get used to as an American traveling and living abroad – we’re an abnormally friendly and smiley people!)
But once you start to chat with them, or go to the same place more than once, they’ll be warm and hospitable. It’s a quiet but genuine kind of friendliness – people will really watch out for you here. (Except on the coast in August – everyone has been working 12 hour days, 6 days a week all summer and they are tired. Don’t take it personally.)
Croatians are also proud of their country, though they do like to grumble about some of the aspects of life here – they’ll tell you all about the history and culture if you give them a chance. And if they really like you, the rakija will start flowing and you’ll truly be friends!
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2. It’s easy to travel around Croatia
Croatia is also an easy place to travel around. The buses are plentiful, reasonably priced, and connect to all the places you’ll want to go – same for the ferries if you want to visit the islands (which you should). The roads are well-maintained and safe for driving.
I do avoid the trains unless I have a lot of time – they’re safe, but they’re very, very slow. Still a good option if you’re looking for a scenic route though.
Also, Croatians in the most popular tourist destinations speak excellent English. It’s easy to get around here without speaking Croatian (which is good because it’s a hard language!).
While it’s been challenging in the past for Americans to travel to Croatia because there were no direct flights between the two countries, that’s changing. There are new summer lines to Dubrovnik from New York that make the journey easier!
3. Speaking a little Croatian goes a long way
That being said, knowing a few key phrases in Croatian will go a really long way in making friends and getting great service. After all, you’d be pretty surprised if someone came up to you in New York City and started asking you questions in Croatian – starting off in the local language is just polite.
Here are the key phrases you need to know:
- Hello – dobar dan (good day) or dobra večer (good evening)
- Thank you – hvala
- Please – molim
- An all-purpose greeting or goodbye – bok, or bog in Dalmatia
Croatians appreciate the attempt to speak their language, so even if you mess up a little, they’ll be kind. (I got all flustered talking to a very handsome guy at a Christmas market recently and said “good day” at 10 pm, so I have experience here!)
4. Regional differences matter
As you can see in the words above, there are some regional differences in how people speak in Croatia. For a country of only 4 million people, the variations are larger than you’d expect. Even ordering a coffee is different in Split than in Zagreb.
The dialects can be significantly different – Dalmatian differs from standard Croatian in a way that is sometimes challenging.
And the biggest thing that sets the regions apart? Football! (Soccer, for my fellow Americans.) Croatians love their football teams, and the rivalries are fierce. I went to my first Hajduk game – the local Split team – in 2021 and it was an amazing experience!
5. The culture, and the food, are a delightful mix of influences
While the language differences are tricky when you live here for a while, it’s also great to have so many regional in such a small country when you’re planning a trip to Croatia. The influences from neighbors and conquering empires like Italy, Austria, and their former Yugoslavian neighbors mean that each region has a unique feel.
The food in Istria, in the north, is full of rich delights like truffles. Dalmatians are proud of their excellent seafood and also have a strong Italian influence in the food – pizza is great here. And the region around Zagreb has a stronger Austrian influence and a cooler climate as well.
But there are some elements of the food that are great all over the country. Croatian wine isn’t that well-known yet, but it’s delicious. I love a cool white graševina or pošip on a hot summer day on a terrace in Hvar, but there are lots of varieties to explore.
The preferred rakija varies by region as well, so try it all (within reason because some of it is really strong!). One of my travel tips for Croatia is to pick at least two different regions to explore on your trip so you get a well-rounded view of this interesting and diverse place.
6. It’s part of the EU – with some exceptions
Croatia has been a member of the EU since 2013. However, while it is a full member, it also doesn’t belong to some of the most common areas yet. It’s not in the Eurozone yet, so they are still using the kuna as currency. Croatia is supposed to be switching to the euro soon, but we’ll see when it actually happens.
And Croatia is also not in the Schengen visa zone yet – which makes it a tempting option for digital nomads who want to stay in Europe for more than 90 days at a time. That is also supposed to be changing sometime in the next two years, but for now you’ll still encounter border checks when coming from another part of the EU to Croatia.
7. Tipping is not required, but it’s appreciated
In Croatia, tips are not expected like they are in the US. Waiters make a salary, though it’s low like all local wages. But that doesn’t mean a tip isn’t appreciated. Leaving a kuna when you have a coffee is pretty typical, or rounding up when you have a meal.
If you’re visiting a touristy destination in the summer, like Split or Dubrovnik, then I lean towards tipping more. Waiters work really hard in the summer with few or no days off, and they appreciate a tip more in the 10-15% range.
What you won’t find though is a way to add a tip to your credit card, at least in 99% of places. One important Croatia travel tip is to grab some kunas from an ATM when you arrive – you’ll need them anyways since not everywhere accepts credit cards, particularly smaller konobas (bistros) and cafes.
8. Coffee time is everything
Finally, my favorite travel tip for Croatia – get into the local coffee culture. Having a coffee is not just a means to get a productive buzz here on your way somewhere. You should grab a friend or five, sit down, and settle in for an experience.
The coffee will be fine – not amazing – but you’re not here for the flavor. It’s a social event that life revolves around. You can sit in a cafe, order a single coffee, and sit for hours just chatting and shooting the breeze.
It’s relaxing, especially when you find a charming cafe you love. And when the sun goes down, you can switch to beer or wine because the cafes are also bars. (Handy!) If you’re really feeling the local vibe, you can have a rakija with your coffee – that really kickstarts your day.
These Croatia travel tips should help you to have a great trip to this beautiful country, whether you’re here for a long weekend or getting residency and staying for a year!