How to get around in Croatia: buses, boats, bikes, and a bit of railway magic

Getting around Croatia is generally a breeze.

Croatia’s bus network connects almost everywhere and is a great option, especially on a budget. If you’re touring the coast, you can hop on ferries to reach mainland cities and the islands. Driving is fairly straightforward, and lets you reach destinations that aren’t well-served by public transportation. Flights and trains are useful for hopping between Zagreb and the coast.

Transportation does vary seasonally. In buzzing July and August, it’s worth booking ahead or turning up early for buses and boats, and you may find yourself stuck in traffic on the way into and out of resort towns. Between November and March, timetables for buses and ferries are reduced, and you may need to plan your route more carefully. Here’s everything you need to know about traveling around Croatia.

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Buses go nearly everywhere

Bus services are excellent and relatively inexpensive. You can explore most of Croatia car-free, although Istria (once you’re off the main coastal route) and the islands have patchier networks. Most bus stations are located fairly centrally (and conveniently near ferry ports) making getting around straightforward. One exception is Dubrovnik, where the bus station is around 5km (3.1 miles) from the old town – hop on a local bus or taxi.

Different companies often operate on the same route, so prices can vary. Luggage stowed in the baggage compartment under the bus costs extra (around €1.30 a piece). Buses between Split and Dubrovnik pass through Bosnian territory so keep your passport or ID handy.

At large stations, bus tickets must be purchased at the office, not from drivers, and it’s worth booking ahead in high season. Major companies include Arriva, FlixBus and Čazmatrans. Getbybus is a useful website offering schedules and bookings.

A ferry sails across the sea with islands and the sunset in the distanceHop aboard a boat or ferry to see the best of the Croatian islands © Anton Petrus / Getty Images

Boat travel is often a highlight of a visit to Croatia

Boats connect the main coastal centers and the surrounding islands year round, with services extended in the tourist season. Many visitors find cruising the blue waters and rocky shores of the Adriatic one of their trip highlights. The major hubs are Split, Dubrovnik, Šibenik, Zadar and Rijeka. Locals use “ferry” to refer exclusively to car ferries (which can also be used by foot passengers) and “catamaran” for the faster, passenger-only services.

Boats are comfortable, with seating inside and out on the deck. The larger boats have restaurants and bars, and almost all have at least a snack counter. Most offer free wi-fi, though the signal is variable.

You can usually buy tickets online (Jadrolinija is the main operator), but pre-booking doesn’t guarantee you a space on a particular sailing, so it still pays to get to the wharf early in peak season if you’re traveling with a car. Foot passengers pay less, have more flexibility and can generally hire a car, scooter or bicycle on arrival.

Traveling by ferry or catamaran in Croatia can be glorious. Sitting on the deck, you feel like you’re in a great unfurling tapestry. Lopsided pines, bright wildflowers, coves, porpoises and fishing villages roll by as the sun shifts overhead, so relax and enjoy the experience.

A car drives along a coastal road with island scenery stretching out in the distanceIt’s worth checking out local car-hire companies, which may offer cheaper rentals © PATSTOCK / Getty Images

Cars offer the most freedom

Driving is an excellent option if you’re in a family or group, or if you want to tour several destinations in a short trip, like the hill towns and resorts of Istria, or the Dalmatian coast and nearby Paklenica and Krka national parks.

Croatia drives on the right, and roads are mostly excellent, although there are stretches where service stations are scarce. Still, with most places within a few hours of each other, most trips are short. At around six hours, Zagreb to Dubrovnik is the longest drive you’re likely to take, and one of the few major routes that isn’t entirely on a multi-lane highway (the last section through southern Dalmatia is yet to be upgraded). The Hrvatski Autoklub has a live dashboard on works and congestion.

Car hire is available in all major towns and airports. Local companies are often cheaper, but the big chains offer one-way rentals. You may get a lower rate by booking from abroad or getting a fly-drive package. To rent a car you must be 18 or over and have a valid license and a credit card to cover insurance excess. Hitching is not recommended, but carpooling is an option – BlaBlaCar has a good local presence.

Tips for toll roads: There are tolls on all highways and some other routes. The first set of booths you come across when you enter a highway dispenses tickets. Present them at the booths when you leave the highway to calculate and pay the toll.

Trains and flights are good for crossing the country

The train network is limited, and often slower than buses. But it’s not a bad bet if you’re exploring inland Croatia, or heading between Zagreb and coastal cities such as Rijeka, Pula or Split. Croatian Railways has schedules and prices.

Flying is the quickest way between Zagreb and the coast, and while connections between the coastal cities are less frequent, the connection between the Istrian capital of Pula and Dubrovnik, for example, can be useful if you time it right.

There aren’t many flights to the islands – most visitors just get a boat from the nearest mainland port – although you can reach Brač Island from Zagreb. The national carrier is Croatia Airlines.

Pag bridge in Croatia Rent a bike and ride the coastline of  islands like Pag © PATSTOCK / Getty Images

Bicycles are a great way to explore the islands

Bikes are easy to rent along the coast. Relatively flat islands such as Pag and Lošinj offer the most relaxed cycling, but the winding, hilly roads on other islands have more spectacular views.

Cycling requires caution: many roads are busy highways, with no bicycle lanes. You’ll see Nextbike’s hire stations in many cities, especially Zagreb, which has decent cycling infrastructure – download the app to get started. Some tourist offices, especially in the Kvarner and Istria regions, have maps of routes and bike-rental info.

Use the bus and tram networks in larger cities

Many cities and resorts are small enough to walk around. Zagreb’s tram network is useful for the train and bus stations, while a short funicular connects the Lower and Upper Towns. Local buses are fairly frequent in most cities, and usefully connect Lapad Bay with central Dubrovnik. Bus tickets are usually €1–2, with a small discount if you buy tickets at a tisak (newsstand), and need to be stamped once you’re on board.

Accessible transportation is limited in Croatia

Mobility-impaired travelers will find the cobbled streets and endless steps of Croatia’s old towns challenging. Many beaches are accessed via steps or rocky walkways, with those near hotels and resorts more likely to have ramps.

Public toilets at bus stations, train stations, airports and large public venues are usually wheelchair-accessible. Bus and train stations in Zagreb, Zadar, Rijeka, Split and Dubrovnik are accessible, but the ferries are not. Get more information with Lonely Planet’s free Accessible Travel guides.


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