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Do’s and Don’ts For Travel in Croatia

by Andrea on September 4, 2011

Croatia was one of the most difficult places we’ve travelled to. My first draft of this post was a bit less forgiving, but then we went to Korcula and the people became friendlier, the weather cooler and the beaches more inviting. I realized that for as many unfriendly, unhelpful people as there are working in the service industry, there are just as many kind, welcoming and hard-working people who are ready to show you a good time. Chatting with our friendly taxi driver in Zagreb, we caught a different perspective. “People in Croatia don’t like to work,” he said. “Sometimes the wages are so low that you don’t have the will for a smile.”

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Holidaymakers soak up the sun on a beach in Pula.

I don’t know what to say to that. When I’m travelling in a country I take notice of the socioeconomic conditions. I’ve travelled to poor regions before, none poorer than Bolivia. And everyone there had a genuine smile on his or her face. Thailand was also full of friendly people, despite the fact that many of them live in substandard housing and I saw a few bathing in the Chao Phraya River.

Economically Croatia is nowhere near as poor as these two examples. Perhaps they feel so because of their proximity to the Schengen area countries? Is this a good excuse for such consistently rude, unwelcoming behaviour to visitors? I’d love to hear from other readers on this issue.

Those who keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter may know that we cut our time there short by two weeks. Croatia is a very beautiful country and we didn’t even get to some of the most attractive cities and areas. It isn’t cheap, however, and we’re celebrating our one-year wedding anniversary this month. We don’t want to deal with unfriendly people and a lot of nonsense. But I want to be helpful and for visitors to have the knowledge to make the most of their time. Here are my do’s and don’ts for exploring and preparing for your Croatian adventure so that you can have hopefully have a better time than we did.

 Dos and Donts For Travel in Croatia

DO Choose your accommodation carefully

Yes, you can stay in a hotel. But you’ll pay a lot more money and have a much more impersonal time than if you go on a site like HostelBookers and find an apartment. We stayed in two: one in Pula and one in Korcula. These had amenities like satellite television, free wireless internet and kitchens. At Nina we had an entire apartment to ourselves with our own kitchen, air conditioning and a table. Both times we were hosted by kind families who did our laundry, made us breakfast, gave us tips on what to see and do and we got to experience the local people. Our hotel experiences were nowhere near as nice. In Zadar we were yelled at as we checked in because the woman hadn’t bothered to check her email from the online booking site we used. In Rab we left three days early because our tiny hotbox hotel room had mosquitoes and their idea of a sea view room meant you had to stick your head out the window and look around the corner.

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Our favourite spot in Croatia was Korcula. This is a view of Korcula Town from the water.

DON’T Expect great service

You might be blown away by friendly, attentive service at a shop, restaurant or hotel, but let this be a pleasant surprise rather than an expectation. Croatians don’t exchange the normal pleasantries you might be used to elsewhere in the world (unless they know you and then they’ll chat for twenty minutes while the rest of the customers stand there waiting to be served) and quite a few of them just have no idea how to assist someone with questions. On a positive note, everyone speaks at least a little English so you’ll have no problems with language barriers. Even the tourism office is no guarantee. When we visited the one in Rab we were trying to get to Split. “Good luck,” said the guy behind the counter with a straight face. It was only after I outlined the options we’d already researched and became frustrated about the fact that we’d come to him for help (the old, ‘you’re the expert, if you don’t know who does?’ trick) that he finally became helpful, even friendly in the end. Which brings me to my next point.

DON’T Try to island hop

Our itinerary included the islands of Rab, Brac, Korcula and Hvar with plans to stay three to five nights in each place. We thought it would be a breeze to get from one to another. Wrong. Each journey involved about three legs even if the islands seemed close. Ferries don’t run from one island to the next with any regularity. In most cases you have to take a ferry (or two) and then a bus to your destination. The hubs are Rijeka, Split and Dubrovnik with connections from some of these requiring careful timing. Most of the ferries are run by Jadrolinija, but smaller operators do exist. We had some long travel days and probably would have been happier choosing our favourite island and staying there the entire time. How do you know which island you’ll like the best? You don’t until you visit. For us, Korcula was the best, but this may be simply because of the experiences we had there. It’s the gastronomic island, with great food, nice beaches and a pretty little town. Rab was our least favourite and isn’t really suitable unless you have a boat. Many people swear by Hvar but it’s the most popular and can be very expensive. We ended up forgoing travel there so we could enjoy more time in another country.

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Jadrolinija runs most of the ferry services in Croatia.

DO Bring the right gear

Croatia’s beaches are not the sandy affair you might be used to. While sand beaches do exist, most of them have pebbles or sharp rocks, so purchase some reef shoes. Don’t um and ah about it: it will make the difference between skipping happily into the water or wincing as you tiptoe for fifteen minutes out to the deep part. You’ll also probably want some snorkel gear and a beach towel as even the more expensive hotel we stayed at in Supetar didn’t provide these. Hats and sunscreen are a must.

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DON’T Visit in August

This was probably our biggest mistake. It’s stinking hot, teeming with German and Italian tourists (which is fine but you might get tired of constantly being addressed in German when you’re speaking Croatian or English) and many locals are absolutely sick and tired of foreigners. I suspect this was our biggest foible but, unfortunately, this was the only time we had this year to visit. Everything is more expensive, more crowded and more aggravating.

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DO Bring cash

Even if the door of the establishment has the Mastercard and Visa logos on the door and even if you see the credit card machine sitting there on the counter, don’t assume that your card will be accepted. We came across more ‘cash only’ businesses in Croatia than anywhere in South America. And bring plenty of money in general. The only bargains are beer and transportation.

DO Enjoy the nice local food

We didn’t have a bad meal in Croatia. From delicious grilled meats to fresh seafood to excellent Italian dishes, you can’t go wrong with restaurants. For those with a sweet tooth, you’ll find a gelato shop every 50 metres and bakeries have excellent pastries and desserts. In general, ‘caffes’ serve coffees, ice cream and specialty drinks while restaurants and takeaway shops have the food. Diversity is not common – restaurants of a similar type will offer pretty much the same menu and we didn’t find much in the way of international cuisine. Be sure to try cevapcici and the delicious fish such as Sea Devil, which is like monkfish.

Our favourite restaurants were:

Bistro Palute – Put Pasike 16, Supetar, Brac island

Vinotoka – Jobova 6, Supetar, Brac island

Kod Kadre – Arsenalska 3, Pula

Pizzeria San Marco – Rapske brigade 6, Rab island

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Laid-back Korcula town

DO Be prepared for some shocks

Some things might truly surprise you, especially if you’ve never visited the Balkans before. People sound more aggressive when they speak and it takes awhile to realize that they aren’t yelling at you. In Pula we sat through a dinner across from a pregnant woman in her third trimester smoking cigarettes and drinking beer and no one besides us was batting an eye. On a beach in Supetar I was taking pictures of the sunset when a local started throwing rocks at me because I was unknowingly in the way of his photos. Never mind the fact that there was a whole empty stretch of beach to his right. When John came over to tell him to stop, the guy became even more aggressive and grabbed his arms, pushing him away. After we went back to our table their teenage daughter followed up by giving us the finger repeatedly, making faces and yelling obscenities at us. The owner of our hotel told us that some people are a bit crazy because of the war, but that was just too crazy for me.

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A gorgeous Korcula sunset

I’m sure many people travel to Croatia and have a positively wonderful experience. The locals we met who weren’t in the service industry were lovely people, so please don’t take this review as a commentary on Croatian people in general. It’s always nice to feel welcome in a country when you’re travelling, otherwise it can be a challenge to stay somewhere for a long time. For us, it was just too aggravating to justify the cost of being there. Sometimes beauty just isn’t enough.

Have you visited Croatia? What are your top tips?

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{ 178 comments… read them below or add one }

Visko April 27, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Don’t get frustrated because of tiresome, rude and lack-of-decent-manners persons that work in tourism. You met them as a tourist for a week or two. The local Croatian population has to live with those morons whole the time. Morons are to be found everywhere on this planet.

Why some people are not smiling?
They are working, but the owner does not give salary regularly or not at all. The labour market is dominated by job-givers, not by labour (job-takers).
For the labour it is: take it or leave it. If You take it, You must hope that the owner will give you your salary. That’s why some people don’t have smile on their faces. If You do not take it, then hope that You will won on lottery (=find a job).

Don’t:
don’t ever say that there was a “civil war” in Croatia. It was not.
Serbia + Bosnian Serbs + Serbias satellite Montenegro waged a war to conquer Croatian territory + expelling or killing of all Croats on the territories that Serbia temporarily managed to conquer.
Besides that, for 70 years, Croatia has been denigrated by the Yugo-diplomacy that was completely held by Serbs.
Croatia passed through hell to reach international recognition and later to restore occupied territory. Croatia barely survived the Serbian attack.
Petty interests of super powers that disliked Croatia, also contributed to Croatian problems.
That is why you must never use the term “civil war”. It was a war of conquest. Serbia waged a war to conquer Croatian territory.

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Marko Mario May 4, 2014 at 12:08 am

The thing is that during the tourist season in the summer everyone wants to earn an extra euro. Many people that work in services during summer are not from the coast but from the continent, particularly Slavonia. They are acquainted with the local area and local customs as much as a tourist who visits for the first time is. This is a fact of Croatia’s tourist season that inlanders flock to work on coast. They are culturally different from Dalmatians and they might get rude as they only come to work for 4 months and then they leave back home to the Croatian continent. Of course, this is not a rule, but the tourist season is chaotical for everyone in Croatia and everybody wants to earn money badly. So, such haste in earning money leaves behind the pleasantries. Also, saying thank you, please, you are welcome with a smile is considered as an unnecessary “ordeal” in the summer heat for some people in Croatian services as they would like not to be working during the hot summer – and I don’t think it is because they don’t get paid enough – there are always tips in hotels and restaurants. And it is precisely the summer when everybody gets paid regularly.

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Marko Mario May 4, 2014 at 12:31 am

I’ve just read the previous comments and read that John spoke Macedonian on every occasion and got a response. And the guy throwing rocks at you was Croatian as you could clearly understand him. I am half Macedonian myself, half Croatian. My maternal grandfather is from Gevgelija in Macedonia. The thing is that they showed contempt and dislike because of the Macedonian. It is really possible. Some people in Croatia are really nationalistic and hostile to Eastern, ex Yugo tourists. If they heard you speaking Macedonian what they deemed as Serbian it is possible they got hostile. If you spoke English all the time exclusively they would probably not show they contempt to you or rudness in such a vivid way. It makes sense to me now as I was wondering on the explicit rudness since I know they all want money and would kill for 10 euro tip it didn’t make sense to me.

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inspiringtravellers May 4, 2014 at 11:47 am

Editor’s note: we did not speak Macedonian all the time, mostly English. John only used the words he thought were similar. Also, we did not converse with the guy throwing rocks before he started throwing them. Thank you for your comments.

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Marko Mario May 5, 2014 at 12:46 am

It’s good to know the other side of the story of tourist experiences in Croatia. People here started to develop tourism massively in the sixties, seventies. By the end of the eighties tourists where loved and cherished and they were mostly western Germans and Italians. There was no tourism in the nineties and then from the 2000s onward a massive marketing campaign has made Croatia look as Saint Tropez. While the habits remained the same the tourist structure changed. Less Germans and more visitors from other countries. Germans here are most loved because of the perception that they spend a lot and just come for the good weather, sun, sea and fresh fish. So, more international structure of visitors is in collision with the expecations of the locals – tourists that don’t ask for anything but nice weather and fresh food.

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Mark May 12, 2014 at 7:11 am

My German wife and our dog have now been living in Croatia just north of Zagreb for approx. one year and I visit regularly, I work in the UK. We have generally been treated with great friendliness and are often invited back for dinner or coffee and cake. We have noticed though that money really does talk and they will do just about anything for you to earn a few Euros. We feel sorry for the way that a lot of them have to live in broken down houses and with very little money indeed. The Croatian economy just about had its back broken due to the war. They usually react to the way they are treated. I you are friendly to them and not arrogant they they will be friendly back

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maria June 4, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Hello everyone! I’m visiting Croatia next month and wanted to know what the attitude towards swimwear is?
Are brazilian bikini bottoms acceptable? (skimpy but not a thong)

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Marko Mario June 4, 2014 at 5:09 pm

hi, I’m from Croatia, the coastal region. Yes, it’s absolutely acceptable. I remember in the early eighties when I was a child I was running around the beach and everywhere I looked were topless German tourists. It’s standard. On a regular beach it’s totally normal brazilian bikini, thong, topless whatever. No one of the local population who is also on the beaches frowns upon it as it is usual for decades now as I mentioned and Croatina women also wear brazilian bikinis, thongs and topless frequently.

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jack June 11, 2014 at 2:03 pm

In 2010 I bought a tiny apartment in southern Croatia to use for regular vacations, and also have found interaction with the locals less pleasant than I’d expected, even though my expectations weren’t unreasonable. I thought that my normal, friendly attitude would be enough to bring out what I consider to be at least average treatment from them, but not so much.
I appreciate this article and find it to be honestly written by people who seem intelligent and who show no indication of failing to understand that there are cultural differences in the various places they travel to.
I place a large discount on the replies which insinuate that anyone who is subjected to abuse has brought it upon themselves, or makes excuses for behavior which is undesirable, meanspirited, ignorant and unintelligent. These are qualities which are to be shunned by all humans everywhere.

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jack June 11, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Croatians have their own small country, but they don’t have their own planet. Currently some of them may not have the sense to work toward improving their own fortunes by treating others decently, but they’ll increasingly be forced to drop their bad habits.
Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.

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Marko Mario June 11, 2014 at 3:11 pm

I personally know Germans and British tourist who bought houses back in the ’90. on the Croatian coast. And they were not disrespected in any way. I think generalizing bases on one example is totaly misleading. One cannot say all Croats, and so on. I lived in USA and there were some Americans who were unpleasant yet I never said all Americans are like that. In every country people can be unpleasant to each other. Violence occurs anywhere also. In England when I was years ago to learn English in a park girls passed by us tourists saying – oh, foreing, foreign again. So, in the most civilized countries people can be unfriendly to tourists. There are unfriendly and friendly persons in Croatia but it is normal as there are anywhere in the world.
Just to explain the aggressions that occur. They are usually triggered off by nationalism but they occur rarely and even in England some hooligans sometimes attack a tourist because of its manners, skin color or something like it. I am not justifiying. I just think it is unjust to generalize.

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jack June 11, 2014 at 4:36 pm

I just said, essentially, that I discount the comments that insinuate that the original post is by people who don’t know how to be nice. Now you make a post that makes the very same insinuation. Then you accuse me of generalizing about all Croats, which is also false.
Then you go on to describe troubles you’ve had in America and England.

There is nothing untrue in the original post that we’re responding to, or in mine. We have not generalized, we have not lied. However, there are false accusations in your

Also, although I cannot prove it, I am of the opinion that to hint that the probability that someone a Croatian meets in America is likely to be no more friendly than someone an American meets in Croatia is just silly. Anyone with any experience in the 2 countries knows it.
Try to fool people to think otherwise all you like on the web, but don’t try to fool someone who travels.

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mario June 11, 2014 at 3:19 pm

jack, sell apartment asap and go somewhere else …. what did you expected, that we are some exotic “natives” which will adore you just because you buy something here? remember one thing, we cannot be forced to “to drop bad habits” in our own country, because here we decide what bad habits are …. understand? so go fys and find some other place for regular vacations

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jack June 11, 2014 at 4:39 pm

I hope everyone reads your post.

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Marko Mario June 11, 2014 at 5:22 pm

I personally felt appalled when I read what happend to Inspiring travellers on their trip in Croatia – attacked by a local throwing rocks and other unpleasant situations. I did not insinuate anything regarding that and that’s all. What I wanted to stress for the sake of justice is that not all people in Croatia are like that. To think that would be insane. If that were true nobody would come here. There are incidents everywhere but that is not a rule. By saying Croats should drop bad habits you’re insinuating all Croats. For the sake of justice one should always use words such as some, individuals and majority or minority. All Croats cannot drop bad habits because not everyone behaves badly. I am not fooling anyone into believing anything false about travelling in Croatia. I did travel around and yes some Americans can be unpleasant, some Croats can be unpleasant. I worked in a hotel in USA so I met guests from all over USA on a daily basis. I also worked in tourism sector in Croatia and it’s not a general rule that tourist complain about the unfriendliness. But, of course what Inspiring Travellers experienced is terrible and it is shocking. They themselves do not portray it in their article as a thing every Croatian would do, of course not. They point out that there is lack of pleasentries in the communication. I don’t know the reason for that – I thought of several reasons – people from the inland coming to work just for the tourist season to earn something – so no real interest or motiviation for work in tourism or experience in it. I also thought of
the nationalistic argument, as some people tend to be nationalistic with other ex-Yugoslav tourists. Since they occasionaly used Macedonian language I thought that might the reason for some of the unfriendliness. I am not defending anyone, just trying to be objective.

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Pamela June 11, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Mario proves everyone’s point – lovely country but often lacking in warmth and logic. I met many Mario’s while there. But this does not mean there are not lovely, kind and helpful Croatians, but there are just as many Mario’s who are not helpful for the country’s tourism trade.

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Marko Mario June 12, 2014 at 7:28 am

I think it would be also insightful for the Croatian Tourist Board to hear about the negative experiences Inspiring Travellers had in Croatia. It would maybe help Croatian Tourist Board to point out to local tourist board subsidiaries to deal with the issue of helpfulness and friendliness of the staff. Great deal of public money is invested every year into the international marketing campaign yet obviously not as much is invested in the proper training of the staff.

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