A country of dramatic mountainous landscapes and dreamy deep-blue seascapes, Croatia is now easier to visit than ever before. Big improvements have been made in the national infrastructure: the motorway network has been extended and modernised, and many hotels have been renovated and given a fresh look with slick contemporary designs. It has also become much easier to reach, with more and more airlines now flying from Britain to Croatia.
Tourism here has a long history – there are traces of Roman summer villas on the Dalmatian islands. Nowadays, lovers of the great outdoors come to Croatia specifically for its adventure-sports facilities – between the sea and the mountains, sailing, scuba diving, sea kayaking, rafting, mountain biking and rock climbing are all on offer.
For those in search of history and culture, city destinations such as Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar offer Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Austro-Hungarian monuments. In fact, the historic centres of Dubrovnik and Split are Unesco world heritage sites, as are the cathedrals in Trogir and Sibenik and the basilica in Porec. Against this backdrop of splendid historic buildings, these cities stage summer festivals, hosting open-air concerts and theatre after dark, often attracting notable international performers.
While Croatia’s rocky stretch of Adriatic coast is not suitable for large-scale tourist development, it is astoundingly beautiful, offering numerous small pebble coves backed by pinewoods and giving on to a crystal-clear turquoise sea.
This combination of timeless unspoilt nature coupled with beautifully preserved centuries-old architecture and a lively contemporary cultural scene, including an ever-growing number of electronic and alternative music festivals, promises rewarding memories for anyone who wishes to explore it now.
When to go
If you are not tied to school holidays, the best time to visit Croatia is during the “shoulder-season” months of May and June and September and October. Then you can expect pleasant sunny days ideal for swimming in the sea and sunbathing, with all the tourist facilities up and running but no crowds. It’s also the perfect time for outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain-biking, rafting and sea-kayaking. In contrast, the peak season of July and August sees the coastal resorts extremely busy, with soaring temperatures and a steep rise in hotel room prices – on the plus side you get open-air cultural events and a buzzing cosmopolitan nightlife.
In low season, November to April, many hotels and attractions along the coast close down for winter, and the weather becomes chilly and unreliable. However, at this time of year you might come across some excellent offers on low-cost flights and city hotels, and you’ll get a better feeling for how the locals live.
There are year-round flights between London and Zagreb, and London and Dubrovnik. In summer, there’s also a good choice of budget airlines serving various destinations along the coast. Flight times from London to Zagreb are 2hrs 15min, London to Dubrovnik 2hrs 40min, Manchester to Split 2hrs 50min, and Manchester to Dubrovnik 3hrs.
The following airports are served by international flights: Zagreb; Dubrovnik; Pula; Split; and Zadar.
British Airways flies to Zagreb from London Heathrow and to Dubrovnik from London Gatwick.
Croatia Airlines flies to Zagreb from London Heathrow, with the option of connecting internal flights to Dubrovnik, Pula, Split and Zadar.
EasyJet flies to Zagreb from London Gatwick; to Dubrovnik from Edinburgh, London Gatwick and London Stansted; and to Split from Bristol, Glasgow, London Gatwick and London Stansted.
Monarch flies to Dubrovnik from Birmingham, London Gatwick and Manchester, and to Split from Birmingham.
Jet2.com flies to Dubrovnik from Belfast, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle; to Pula from Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle; and to Split from Leeds Bradford and Manchester.
Ryanair flies to Pula from London Stansted; to Rijeka from London Stansted; and to Zadar from Manchester and London Stansted.
Thomson Airways flies to Dubrovnik from Birmingham, London Gatwick and Manchester.
Wizz Air flies to Split from London Luton.
Ferries & catamarans
It’s also possible to arrive in Croatia by ferry or catamaran from Italy. The Croatian company Jadrolinija runs overnight ferries from Ancona to Split and Ancona to Zadar (all year), and Dubrovnik to Bari (Apr-Oct). Blue Line also covers the Ancona-Split route (Apr-Oct).
In summer only, the Italian company SNAV runs an overnight ferry from Ancona to Split (Apr-Oct), and a high-speed daytime catamaran from Ancona to Split (July-Aug), while Venezia Lines operates catamarans from Venice to Porec, Rovinj and Pula in Istria (Apr-Oct).