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Croatia - Travel and visas
Nationals of most English-speaking and EU countries only need a valid passport to visit Croatia for up to three months within a six-month period starting from the first day of entry. If you want to stay for longer, you’ll need to apply for a temporary residence permit (privremeni borovak) at the Croatian embassy in your home country. This is supposed to take up to 12 weeks, but don’t be surprised if it takes almost as many months.
Full details of who does and doesn’t need a visa for Croatia, as well as up-to-date addresses and phone numbers of all the Croatia diplomatic missions worldwide – and foreign diplomatic missions in Croatia – can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
Flying to Croatia is easily the quickest way of arriving – Zagreb is just two hours from London, and Dubrovnik is only half an hour further. Both British Airways and Croatia Airlines fly to Croatia, though not always direct or every day – summer flights tend to be both direct and a good deal more frequent. Expect to pay anything between £100 and £500 for a scheduled return flight, including taxes.
Luxury coaches cruise between most cities in Europe, but it’s a long journey (London to Zagreb takes between 30 and 40 hours) and buses aren’t as cheap as they used to be (sample fares, without student discount, range from £120 upwards). That said, if you can get a discount, this may be a viable way to go.
In spite of the long drive (London to Zagreb is 1,640km by road; London to Dubrovnik 2,175km) and the expense (tolls and fuel in Europe are pricey), having your own car in Croatia can certainly be an advantage, especially if you’re travelling as a family, or planning on moving around a great deal and wanting to visit remote places. Unless you’re wedded to the idea of touring in your own vehicle, it can be much more cost effective to rent a car once you get there rather than take your own, and all the big companies have agencies in the main cities and airports. If you’re doing this, make sure you book the car before you arrive in Croatia, as it’s much more expensive once you get there if you haven’t reserved ahead. Note that traffic on the coast can be extremely busy in the summer.
You can travel across and up and down the Adriatic on one of the many ferries that ply the Croatian coast all the way from Pula and Rijeka in the north to Split and Dubrovnik in the south. The ferries are a slow but very attractive way of getting around, and a reminder of the only way people travelled any distance here as recently as the 1930s. The are now several companies plying the Adriatic between Italy and Croatia, including: Jadrolinija between Ancona and Split, Ancona and Zadar, and Bari and Dubrovnik; Sanmar between Pescara, Hvar and Split; SNAV from Pescara to Hvar and Vela Luka; Trieste Lines from Trieste to Rovinj and Pula; and Venezia Lines between Venice and Poreč, Rovinj, Pula and Mali Lošinj.
You can get around Croatia by plane, train, bus, car, bicycle and hitchhiking – or on foot – and around the Adriatic by ferry, or on your own (or a rented) boat. The train network is good to points connected to Zagreb, but poor (non-existent) along much of the coast, where you’ll find yourself on the ubiquitous buses or ferries. Public transport is regular, effective and good value for money, but can be slow and is sometimes overcrowded – notably in summer.
Croatia Airlines’ domestic flights are pretty good value, and a great way of getting from one end of the country to the other, especially if you’ve already seen it all from the bus.
Trains have greatly improved in the past decade, and cover the north and east of the country fairly comprehensively. They’re about the same price as buses or slightly cheaper, for any given distance, but can be faster (inter-city, brzi) or slower (local trains, putnički). Trains can get very crowded, especially in summer, but they tend to be reasonably punctual. Local trains (the ones not marked in red on timetables) are usually much less crowded, and much less punctual. The high-speed line between Zagreb and Split has been dogged with problems (including a major accident in 2009), but has reduced the journey time between the two cities to around 5½ hours.
The bus network is wide-ranging, reliable and regular, and operated – as in Switzerland – by a well-organised federated system of interconnected small companies. Buses offer the best way of coming into contact with local people, and are the only way of travelling on public transport along the coast and on the islands.
The most comfortable and often quickest way of travelling is by car, and sometimes it’s the only way to get somewhere really remote. Road quality has improved enormously in the 25-odd years since I first drove in Croatia, and there are now several good sections of motorway open – you’ll pay tolls on these, though they’re not excessive.