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How to Travel from the Capital City of Croatia- Zagreb, to Split Dalmatia in About Five Hours

Updated on April 5, 2016

The Mediterranean as it Once Was

Peace and beauty await you here :)
Peace and beauty await you here :)

Operation: Dalmatian Vacation

A Croatian Vacation -

So you've decided you want to come to beautiful Croatia for holiday, preferably sunny Dalmatia where the seashore is beautiful, warm and clean.

How do you get there, Train, Bus or Private Coach Service?

Using Zagreb as a main artery in your travel, there are several options. Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia, and is an important hub to start from. Whether you are coming to Croatia from Europe, America, Australia or anywhere else, most connections will have a layover in Zagreb.

While in ZG

Depending on whether you want to stay a night and do a little sightseeing, there are plenty of options at your fingertips. The airport is slightly out of town in Novi Zagreb, but a taxi ride and a day are all you need for a pleasant side trip. Since this Hub is mostly focused on getting you to Dalmatia, let's talk about how it can be done.

Train Travel, Croatian Style

The train can be both cool and boring.  Consider your options and choose wisely.
The train can be both cool and boring. Consider your options and choose wisely.

Option #1 - The Train

Hrvatska Želježnica (or HŽ) has a large, stately train station at the end of the long greenbelt in Zagreb. The train used to be the traditionally preferred method of travel. Not so anymore. The ticket prices have gone up (if not doubled) and the train ride is long and a bit dull. Not much to see looking out the window.

Night Travel

One great perk for the train is the option of sleeping all the way down to Split. As a woman I found it handy to find a cabin with another female and using my handbag as a pillow. There is a feeling of safety in most parts of Croatia, but safe is safe. The conductor usually bugs you at least once asking to see your ticket but after that it's nighty night all the way to Split.

There are trains leaving Zagreb at 9 pm (more stops) and 11:30 pm (more or less express), so if you are lucky to share a cabin with a normal looking human being, stretching out across three seats is a nice way to pass the time, arriving at the Split station at 7 am, just perfect.

The Price is Right

The price for train travel is currently 170 kn, about $30 with a 5,5 exchange rate (5.5 Croatian kuna per $1 USD). The rate of exchange will vary, so plug in the current number with the amount of kuna (170 / 5,5).

Sleeper Car - Just Say No

I found the sleeper cars overpriced and overheated. Lately it seems better but for a time the train was either too hot or too cold. A nice light wrap or synthetic blanket is a good companion for overnight train travel.

A Comfortable Option

Some buses have a bathroom.  There is usually a break every 2-3 hours, including a 20-30 minute meal break.
Some buses have a bathroom. There is usually a break every 2-3 hours, including a 20-30 minute meal break.

Option #2 - The Bus

If you are connecting to the ZG bus terminal ("AUTOBUSNI KOLODVOR"), it's not terribly far from the Train Station, but a #4 tramway will get you there in about five minutes.

Cold Hard Cash

Unlike the train, bus tickets are sold on a cash basis only. You may buy a ticket on the upper level of the Zagreb Bus Terminal (Kolodvor) - use the outside escalator if you wish. During summer, it's wise to buy your ticket ASAP from the ticket window, because they sell out. In non-rush times, buying a ticket on the bus itself from the driver will save a little spare change (about 5 kuna).

Croatia Bus

Partially subsidized by the Croatian government, the lowest price carrier is Croatia Bus. Some complain that the drivers are incompetent or the buses are past their prime, but honestly, that isn't exactly accurate information. There are limited runs but the price is usually about 50% cheaper, with additional discounts for travelers over age 60, students and the unemployed. Group rates are also available and you can charter a bus - check the website for details.

A Normal Scenario

With a nice half hour break around the center of Croatia, there are usually two tiny breaks for bathroom or cigarette pauses.

Other Carriers

Those with a reputation for comfort and class are Promet Makarska (Transportation Makarska - a city in Dalmatia), Samoborćek (lone pine tree) and others. These are new buses, but not always worth the nearly double price of the Croatia Bus.


Buses run every hour, just about 24 hours a day. If you want a connection to Split, there are many to choose from. Click on the link below to access the most up to date timetable.

The ZG-ST Autocesta - The Zagreb-Split Auto Highway

About ten years ago, after half a century of pussyfooting, the new Croatian government build a modern highway, linking Croatia's main cities to one super modern highway. Travel time was immediately cut in half. The road is comfortable and scenic. Highlights of the drive are the fantastic panorama views out the window. Sveti Rok (Saint Rocco) mountain tunnel was dynamited out in fact during the War for the Homeland (Domovinski Rat) in the mid-1990s. This tunnel has significantly shortened the travel time. One a little more and Dubrovnik will also be linked to this superhighway.

Some buses take the Autocesta (AC) and some do not. If your timetable shows more than 5 hours, it does not. Find out before you leave, especially if you are traveling with small children or the elderly.

Don't compare with the US

In the US the bus is the bottom of the barrel. Not so in Croatia. They are zippity do dah fast, most usually reasonably comfortable. With a little bit of luck, you can take the seat next to you as a place for reading material, bag and even laptop, taking advantage of the travel time. A U-shaped head cushion is a good idea, too, many passengers sleep a wink or two on the way to their destination.

Option #3 - Private Coach

The cost from Zagreb to Zadar or Zagreb to Split will be slightly more expensive than public transport, but it will be a heck of a lot nicer because you can get out and soak in some of the outrageous scenery. Don't forget, Croatia has geography less than half the size of California and no less than EIGHT national parks in a very small geographic area!!!

The private coach will be cozy, with great legroom, tinted windows and plenty of stops for photos, snacks, and stretching breaks.

I highly suggest phoning around for prices, which may vary a lot. Good deals do exist however and are worth looking for!!!

A side trip

It's beautiful with walking trails for the sedentary and the active.  Boats take you to your destination.
It's beautiful with walking trails for the sedentary and the active. Boats take you to your destination.

If Time is on Your Side

When Traveling through the Center - Go visit Plitvica!

Those traveling south by bus may want to take a detour and visit Plitvica, one of the natural wonders of Croatia and the world. It is a National Park filled with scenic walking trails, lakes, lagoons, waterfalls and natural harmony. The day trip to Plitvica will be well worth the extended travel time. June is especially spectacular when the falls are overfilled with melted rainwater. There are three major hotels and many small bed and breakfasts nearby. I recommend Hotel Jezero, (meaning Lake), with a fantastic buffet - you can eat well, make a small lunch for later and spend the whole days around the falls.

Plan B - Fly in to Zadar

"Not That Far Away"

You can always fly in to Zadar and then take a scenic bus ride down the coast. In this case, it's wise to get the best bus because although the roads are fine, they aren't in the same class as the ZG-ST AutoCesta. Lots of turns - but that's what makes the trip so nice, you are really preparing for what awaits you.

Ryan Air

Another great way to get to Dalmatia is by using Ryan Air. It has a Hub in Zadar, a local city just north of Split. Ryan Air is a low cost air travel provider, with excellent deals so try to plan ahead if you want a super low airfare.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is the strict luggage rules. A small carry-on bag is allowed weighing up to 10 kilos (22 lbs) per person. It has to fit the predetermined dimensions as you check in. It's not uncommon to see travelers stuffing small items into their pockets to try to meet the weight requirement! Even so, it pays to travel light and send stuff home by Post if that is a reasonable alternative.

German Wings

German Wings also flies to Zadar, with connections from London Heathrow and London Stansted from Great Britain, as well as Lisbon in Portugual (among others). Here is the link. A flight from Heathrow to Zadar gave me a quote of 253 Euros, Round-trip.

PLAN C - Arrival via Italia

Another great way to get in to Croatia on a low budget is by bus from Trieste, which the last time I checked cost a bit over 50€. If you fly to Rome or any other airport, take the train to Trieste and pop into the bus terminal. It's an all night bus ride with several stops along the way and you will be taking the coastal route, so you can stop and go if you decide you want to stretch things out and see other lovely places, like Rijeka for example.

If you go straight through you'll be in Split at 4 am.

Another great option is the ferry from Ancona to Zadar or Split. Check travel dates - twice a week for Winter and everyday for Summer travel. Rates vary - in the summer you can cross the Adriatic for about 20€ if you sleep on the couch or on the open summer deck (many do!). SNAV and Jadrolinija offer this connection.

You Made It!

This is exactly what it looks like on a warm, sunny day!
This is exactly what it looks like on a warm, sunny day!
The sunny Riva, or seaside walkway.  Lined with palm trees, boats and locals, it is always alive with activity, Mediterranean style.
The sunny Riva, or seaside walkway. Lined with palm trees, boats and locals, it is always alive with activity, Mediterranean style.

When in Split

Once you arrive in Split, you must see the Diocletian's Palace, the Cathedral, Marian Hill and the Archeology Museum. The locals sit by the sea and have a cup of strong coffee or cappuccino. Why not join them? After all, when in Rome...

For those headed off to the islands, Jadrolinija is the word you will need to be familiar with. They provide frequent accessible connections to the islands and timetable information can come in handy. No place is perfect, but in Croatia, you will find peace and comfort, minus the stress and crime that accompany most tourist destinations around the world.

Water Taxi Service

Jadrolinia has a classic car ferry (shown), small speedy catamaran and even a glicer boat.  There are refreshments served on its ferries.
Jadrolinia has a classic car ferry (shown), small speedy catamaran and even a glicer boat. There are refreshments served on its ferries.

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