Topics include Things to Do, Dining Scene, For Foreign Visitors & more!
The following Q&A was prepared after a 1 month trip in June 2015. It is from an American perspective. I hope you find it helpful.
Q: Why Croatia and Slovenia?
A: Croatia has all of the benefits of the Mediterranean coastline with beautiful coastal cities, old world charm, good weather, low crowds, and at reasonable prices. Slovenia has the same, but instead of coastline, it is blessed with green rolling hills that become the Julian Alps in the more northern region.
Q: Is it safe? Tourist friendly? Reasonable infrastructure?
A: Outside of monuments and museum tributes, no sign of any current conflict in the region. Never had any problems walking around in the day or evening. No sense that there were any particular crime problems. All the people we interacted were welcoming and seemed genuinely happy to see us. No sense of dislike for visitors/tourists. They also did not seem to want to take advantage of you either. Each place had adequate infrastructure, but you sometimes had to search for a public toilet, gas station, larger market.
Q: Any language issues for English speakers?
A: English always seemed to be possible wherever we went. Not just capable, but the locals are typically fluent in the English language. From border crossings to hotels/apartments to restaurants/shopping, we had no problems ever. We went to a cave tour in Slovenia and they had us separate into groups by language. 80% picked English when polled. This is not a problem in the least.
Q: What is it like to drive there?
A: It was entirely doable, but some differences are notable. The toll roads are uncrowded and fantastic. The toll fees are reasonable. In Croatian, payable in Kuna at exit points. Slovenia has a Vignette (sticker you prepurchase at petrol stations and display). You drive up to 130 km/hr and feel very comfortable. The larger non-toll roads vary. Most are 2 lanes with a brisk, but mostly comfortable pace. Smaller roads can be good, but you can find yourself often on a 2 way road that is 1.5 cars wide. Coupled with lots of twists and turns, these roads keep you at the ready to deal with a car coming the other way. The good news is that these roads tended to be uncrowded and you pretty quickly get in the flow of how to drive them. People are mostly in a cooperative spirit and offer a friendly wave in the smaller towns when you act the same.
We rented a car for the month. Necessary to do a trip like ours. Great to have to get from town to town on your own schedule, especially when the roads were on the better end of the scale. Convenient to have when you need to get to a place outside of walking distance. Optional to have when there were public transportation options. A pain to park near city center.
Q: Should you drive?
A: Most cars are stick shift, so keep that in mind. If you are a go with the flow driver, you will do fine. If you find yourself complaining about fast drivers then you are probably one of those people who don’t get the rhythm and maybe this is not for you. You will need a capable navigator. We rented one of their larger cars which was an intermediate VW Passat. A great choice for us as it barely fit our luggage consisting of 3 bags and a few shoulder backpacks.
Q: What about maps, GPS, getting lost?
A: Prepare well! Don’t just show up planning to figure it out. We pre-printed google maps for every transfer from one location to another. We had a GPS that worked offline. We had (sometimes) google maps streaming on a cell phone. We made it, but had a few struggles. Have a plan and a back up plan. Probably the best is a GPS with turn by turn navigation. Strongly consider renting one or bringing one. The Croatia maps were reliable. Slovenia maps pretty good in larger areas and on major roads. Some issues in remote areas.Montenegro similar. Bosnia not complete, so printed maps saved the day. When you travel these roads the first problem is no street signs. So “ turn on X is mostly useless”. If you are on main roads, then you mostly just continue on the main road. Intersections (commonly a traffic circle) will reliably give you a sign showing which fork takes you to which city. Therefore, you will want to have a list of cities on your pre-printed route map that you can call out. Sometimes you can just follow the parade of cities and not even consult the GPS until you are near the end. Make sure to print a very detailed map of your next hotel location. Don’t trust the GPS to take you to the front door. Unexpected one way streets, pedestrian only zones and weird traffic situations will foil you. Some places, the neighborhood map is a maze. Knowing what the front of the building looks like is even a help.
Q: What is it like to park there?
A: This is my one gripe with the trip. It varies from ample parking to difficult to insanely difficult. This should be a major consideration in where you choose to visit, where you stay, where you eat…. Basically the smaller towns have enough parking somewhere that you can park and walk to the part you want to see. As the town gets larger, you can pay modest fees to be closer to the older centers of town. In larger cities, it can be a real problem. My suggestion in larger towns is to stay at places that have a parking solution for you.
Q: How do I get around the islands? What about a ferry?
A: There are good internet resources for Croatian ferry schedules. Jadrolinija are one of the biggest names here. We found the ferries to operate on a very strict timeline, be clean, professionally run, spacious to sit, and ample space for getting a car onto. This was in June. In July/August, get there early if you have a car to transport. In the shoulder season, make sure you are on the right month’s ferry schedule. Having a car on an island is very helpful if you plan to move around the island. Unnecessary in situations where you are staying put.
Q; Kid friendly? Romantic for couples? Elderly access?
A: In general kids of all ages will integrate well into a trip here. It will also be less expensive than other European options, so if you are on a budget, that helps. Much of the trip is sightseeing, so they have to like looking at things that appeal more to adults. As long as you weave in a kid activity on most days, they will do fine. For us this included beach/swim, horseback riding, river rafting, ice cream stops (ice cream is ~$1 and seems to be every 100 feet in most towns). If you are a couple looking for romance you will have no problems creating a great trip. For people with mobility problems, this might be an issue. We walked quite a bit. Some, but not much handicap access. I am sure there are solutions, but would need to work at it more than the US.
If you want the whole immersive experience, you might want to check out sailing, especially along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. This area had conducive weather conditions, warm blue seas perfect for sailing, and a number of natural attractions like deserted islands, virgin beaches, and great coves. We saw a number of options as well. You could set sail on a chartered cruise; these come with huge parties on deck and on the ports of call. We prefer the other option; sailing your own chartered boat. This makes for a much more intimate experience. To make the best of Croatia’s beautiful sailing opportunities as well as its architectural heritage, you can go on a ‘discovery cruise.
Q: What is the food like?
A: We visited all over the country, so I have a good feel for the food. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.
You will thankfully not see the franchise fast food of the US, which was a refreshing change. There are locally run takeaway food options in moderate sized cities or larger that have burgers, sandwiches, Ćevapi , fries… Not something we ate at much, but there were a few times we grabbed a quick bite to keep on track for some great sightseeing.
A typical mid-range place has sit down service with a menu of fish, meat plates, pizza, and a few popular regional dishes. As you move more towards the northern areas, pasta dishes become common. Appetizers, salad, soups are readily found and useful to break up the main dishes which tend to be more meat centric.
An upscale place can have a number of fantastic dishes at higher prices, but good quality. Suggest you liberally peruse the TA reviews as I have found the reviews to be spot on in the description. Note that some places have high quality, but small portions.
There are some fantastic family run restaurants - again TA research is central to finding the good ones.
You will find some ethnic restaurants that are not from their region just the same as we have at home. These tend to be pretty good options and a diversion from the typical Croatian menu is needed now and then on a longer stay. Don’t expect United Nations choices like we can find in the US.
Most places have menus near the door, sitting on a table, or curbside to check before committing. Vegetarians will have more of a challenge with the typical menu from what I recall, but I think it can be done without too much effort.
For Breakfast, there are plenty of Pekaras (Bakeries) around. Most don’t serve drinks or have a seating area. Street cafes that serve coffee are plentiful. However, many do not have food in the morning. So we frequently bought a pastry and then carried it next door to a café to have with our coffee. They did not seem to mind at all, and you can have a meal for about $2 with a nice place to sit.
Drink situation is a follows: You have to ask for water. Many places bring bottled water for a small/moderate charge, but some will bring tap water for free. The tap water there is just fine. They have sodas, but none of us drink them, so hard to comment firsthand. While local beer is quite popular among natives, we felt that beer is simply not their strong suit. A lot of places serve a so-so brew, but a few places serve higher end options. Wine is plentiful, inexpensive, and mostly good. Since they tend to be so inexpensive though there are a number of stores that carry wine starting about $3-5 per bottle. The few we tried at the lower price range were not that great. Suggest paying for higher end wine which is still usually under $10/bottle. Check out their strong spirits, usually served before meals in the local restaurants. Beware though—that stuff will knock you down if you don’t exercise caution.
Q: Where to stay?
A: The country is not as built up with hotels compared to other places you might have visited. The larger hotels and resorts are typically a little outside of the old town centers which add a commuting step to get to the best part of the city. We opted to stay mostly in apartments. They are plentiful in this region, a less expensive choice, easier to get centrally located, and accommodate families larger than 2 persons. We found them on Booking.com and had no problems at all. The owners tended to be very friendly, usually lived on site, fun to talk to, more flexible on checkin/out timing, easy to work in a few extras (laundry, local advice, help with luggage, parking assistance). Some had breakfast included, all had kitchens, some had laundry, most had parking, bathroom setup varied considerably. I personally directly emailed every place ahead of our stay to verify and to make it easier to communicate the day prior to arrival.
Q: Cell phone?
A: Get a local sim card for a nominal fee and pop it into your phone. Inexpensive, easy to do, most have unlimited data, good for safety and easy communication. A little harder when you change countries like we did, so we had a cellphone about half the trip. It did not turn out to be a burden when we did not have it. However, I do huge preparation, and a cell phone might help you out in a pinch if you did not prepare as well.
A: I found it to be the usual tourist wares in most of the touristy kind of places. T-shirts, post cards, low-end jewelry, candy/treats, bags/purses, some lowend/mid- range clothing. There were a few places with local artwork/crafts, but sparse compared to what I expected. Prices were ok, but nothing to compete with the bargains ofAsia or the mass merchandising of the US. Don’t expect this to be the highlight of the trip.
A: Croatia has a number of ancient tourist hotspots. For instance, we saw that the Diocletian palace in Split (in the Dalmatian coast) drew in a pretty decent crowd. Natural beauty is more the order of the day than man-made attractions, I think.
Most of the region is not built up for tourism. That is good and bad. It means it is a little more self- directed, but access is ok if you know where to go. Takeaway point; plan ahead. You enjoy low prices and many free options. There are beautiful places everywhere, so just being there is pretty good. You can take excursions that mostly involve smaller boats, ferries, buses, or walking tours to a particular destination. We mostly found that unnecessary and could enjoy each area on our own. Many places had a way to get a guide for a reasonable additional fee. There are some regions with sports activities. Signage is sometimes limited, parking variable, so plan each place out ahead and you will have a smother time on your trip.
Q: Nature vs towns?
A: You will want a blend of the two. The old towns with the cobblestone streets, cafes, boutique shops, cute churches… are pretty compelling to visit. You need to do this some of the time you are there. However, we were there for a month and the old towns began to be a little cookie cutter after awhile. Nature on the other hand was spectacular and varied. Make sure you include some to break up the other.
I’d lean on the natural side though, personally.
Q: How expensive is this place?
A: I don’t have a broad firsthand knowledge of costs in Europe. From what research I have done, it is substantially less expensive than Italy while retaining similar characteristics. A few patterns to note: prices were higher near city center vs outside of the tourist traffic. Larger city prices were a little more than smaller ones. Further inland from the coast was less expensive. Some of the more popular city centers were perhaps premium priced (eg. Dubrovnik old town). I think you will find overall lower prices and good value.
Q: Cash and Credit cards.
A: Croatian currency was the Kuna, while the other countries are the Euro. ATMs are plentiful and we used them almost exclusively. We did not test the credit card acceptance very often, but the stores and nicer restaurants take them. The nicer hotels do, but we stayed in apartments that mostly took only cash. We use our Fidelity Cash account for the ATM. They refund you international ATM fees and give you bank conversion rates. This is the ultimate convenience and economy of fees. Therefore you can make smaller and more frequent withdrawals without paying a premium. Having said that, I commonly took out large sums and had no issues with doing so. I have a credit union credit card that gives bank rates and no international transaction fee. I try to only use it in more established places to lessen the likelihood of a problem. I checked all my accounts on return and everything matched my receipts. Use common sense crime prevention tactics. Don’t run around with a wallet in your back pocket or a purse dangling for someone to target and you should do fine there.
Q: Getting there.
A: Find a good gateway city to Europe that has a non-stop from your home airport. We used Frankfurt, but other options include London,Amsterdam, Munich, Zurich, Istanbul… Generally UK or German airports had the best pricing and next leg of the trip options. There are other choices that might chain in a unique city (eg. going through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines). I thought about doing something like this, but am glad chose not to. Croatia has so much to offer, you will not be disappointed to maximize your time there.
Once at the Gateway city, hop over to Croatia. Zagreb is your easiest and hubs to the rest of the country. Other majors are Split, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Pula, and Rijeka. Croatian Airlines was reasonably priced, appeared modern and managed our flights right on time. If you need to fly within Croatia, they are a good option.
Q: How long should I spend there?
A: We covered the majority of Croatia, some of Slovenia/Montenegro, and a small taste of Bosnia/Italy on our 1 month trip. Still there was plenty that we did not see, so a long trip is certainly worth it. In the 2-4 week range you could cut a few places and still see much of the country. As you get closer to 2 weeks, you will need to edit some. 1-2 weeks could make a nice regional trip. Less than a week is only a good idea of you are coming from a nearby country.
Q: When to go?
A: We went in June and that was a great choice. Not that crowded except in the bigger cities. Even that was not really a problem. Having a few people gave it life and a good vibe. No problems getting a table or catching a ferry. July/August is warmer and reportedly more crowded. Still probably fine if you plan ahead and avoid some of the more crowded areas. Shoulder season Apr/May, Sept/Oct will give you much better availability and better pricing. You can probably get some real bargains in shoulder season and off season if you are so inclined. Beware that some places may be closed in the off season.
Q: Weather? Clothing?
A: Warm, but not oppressive. Of course depends upon the month. Humidity was not too bad. Zagreb in early July was the hottest part of our trip. Trivial rain a few times during the month that seemed to clear in hours. Many days were cloudy/overcast. You get used to it and it probably better than direct sunshine in the summer. Rarely used a light jacket (caves, light rain). Long pants were unnecessary, but had one pair. Most places dress casual. Recommend that your shoes favor comfort over fashion. Bring one pair of water shoes to deal with the pebble/rocky beaches. Some nicer attire for eating out.
A forum post containing a full one month Itinerary can be found here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-...