Travel to Croatia : Trains and Cost Info
How do I get there?
[This is my travel practicalities hub. I'll be working on a What to Visit in Croatia Hub next.]
If you're coming from the U.S., it's not terribly easy. You'll have to fly into one of the major European hubs (London, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna) and then fly from there to Croatia's capital, Zagreb. (Airport name: Pleso; Code: ZAG) Bear in mind the ugly, communist-era airport doesn't exactly make the best first impression--rest assured most of the rest of the city and country are much nicer!
Flight cost: Flying out of San Francisco during the peak season (July & August) will run you about $1000 per ticket if you find a steal, or about $1200-1300 otherwise. The best deal I've been able to find is through croatiatravel.com. Their engine runs through all the cheapest fares and checks their availability one-by-one. Otherwise, it's good to cross check with a service like Kayak or Mobissimo. Flying out of NYC will run about $800-1000 during peak season.
NOTE: There are direct flights to Dubrovnik now, from several Western European hubs, including the major ones (London-Gatwick, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam), and some further afield (Madrid, Oslo, Tel Aviv, Sicily-Catania...!). Here is a full timetable.
Getting to the coast
You have two viable options:
- Train. If you find train travel through Europe romantic, a sleeper car in a train from Zagreb to Split will get you to the coast cheaply if slowly. (That's why I insist you take a sleeper car). The ride takes about 8 hours, so a 10:57pm departure will allow you to get your rest on the train and get you into the seaside city by 6:54am, right in time for some brekkie. Cost?225 kuna (~$40) each way, so $80 for an RT.
Train info (from "Zagreb Gl. kol." to "Split")
- Plane. Highly recommended if you're impatient like me. A flight from Zagreb to the island of Brač takes about 40 minutes! Ideal if you want to skip the land-to-sea connection (ferry or hydrofoil). Flights also go directly to Dubrovnik ("the Pearl of the Adriatic"). Cost? From Zagreb to Brač or Dubrovnik you can get round-trip tickets for as low as 550 kuna ($95) for the budget FlyPromo fare, up to three times as much for the FlyAdvanced fare if cheaper fares are sold out. Plan ahead, and you'll only pay a little more for a flight than the train.
Currency exchange rate between USD and HRK (Croatian Kuna). Current exhange rate (August 2006): 5.7 kuna to the dollar.
Getting to Zagreb
Zagreb has two parts: old Zagreb (i.e. worth visiting), and New Zagreb (i.e. communist-era cement housing blocks worth avoiding). Fortunately, it's not too hard to get into beautiful old Zagreb from the airport, although give yourself a little time.
TAXI. The quickest and most expensive option (isn't it always?). Of course, make sure you pick up a taxi from the taxi stand and make sure the meter's running. Will take about half an hour; Croatians take their driving lessons from the Italians, so be sure to put on that seat belt! ("Molim Vas, gdje je sigurnosni pojas?" MO-leem voss, g-dyeh je SEE-goor-noce-nee PO-yoss? Excuse me, where's the seat belt?) Cost? About 250 kuna ($45). Yeah, I know, not cheap. That's why I suggest...
BUS: Save just a little time, save a LOT of money. Look for the big, air-conditioned Croatia Airlines bus that leaves every half an hour, and charges 30 kuna ($5.50) to take you to the main bus station near downtown. Time is similar, about half an hour.
On the coast
Two words to know: trajekt (TRAH-yeckt) and gliser (GLEE-sair). Ferry and hydrofoil, respectively.
Ferries between the mainland ports of Split, Rijeka, and Zadar, and the nearby islands, are usually run by Jadrolinija. Look for the Ferry/Trajekt Jadrolinija signs at the harbors of each of these coastal cities. Here's a table of all the schedules during high season. If you're going to the island of Brač from Split, take the Split-Supetar line. If you're going from Split to the island of Hvar, take the Split-Stari Grad line. When you arrive in these island port cities, you'll find buses to the most popular destinations on the island (Bol and Sumartin on Brač, Jelsa and Hvar on Hvar).
A quicker option is by hydrofoil, usually run by Atlas, the largest tourism agency in Croatia. While you can't bring your car on board like you can with the ferries, you get everywhere much faster by hydrofoil. The problem with hydrofoils? Notoriously difficult to get accurate information on. Atlas uses the hydrofoils to pick up tourists from Split, then a few of the neighboring islands, for example, and then heads out to its destination (like Dubrovnik or Krk up north). You'll want to inquire about catching one of those first legs where they're picking up tourists (i.e. from Split to Hvar, or Brač).
Nevertheless, it's worth investigating if you want to save considerable time. For example, from Split, you can go directly to Bol (on Brač) or Jelsa (on Hvar), instead of taking the (much slower) ferry from Split to the port city and then navigating by bus. Trust me--it's worth a call.