Croatia Do's and Don'ts

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With approximately 1,200 islands, azure waters and picturesque villages rich in history, Croatia is drawing more and more travelers to its shores. In fact, Croatia closed the 2012 tourism year as the Mediterranean’s fastest growing destination, luring travelers with its pristine national parks, adventure sports and UNESCO World Heritage sites such as the medieval Old Town of Dubrovnik. There’s more big news ahead as Croatia enters the European Union in summer 2013 as the 28th member state, and in especially good news for American travelers, the country will retain its use of the kuna, the domestic currency, which is kinder to the American dollar than the euro. While travel in Croatia is pretty much a breeze, here are a few do's and don’ts to help you navigate the country’s diverse offerings more smoothly.

Adriatic Sea, Croatia
Adriatic Sea, Croatia

Adriatic Sea, Croatia

The charming clay rooftops and gleaming Adriatic Sea are what make Croatia so appealing. 960 1280

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Croatian Archipelago of Islands

Croatian Archipelago of Islands

Sail around the Croatian archipelago to take in the tiny, rocky islands that dot the Adriatic Sea. 960 1280

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Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park

The largest national park in Croatia, Plitvice Lakes is also a World Heritage Site. 960 1280

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Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Upon entering the city walls of Dubrovnik, one of the most popular tourist destinations, you're greeted by white marble streets and Renaissance architecture. 960 1280

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Pula Arena

Pula Arena

Built in 27 B.C., the Pula Arena is the only remaining Roman amphitheater to have 4 side towers preserved. 960 1280

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Hvar

Hvar

The island of Hvar is a popular port for yachts and boats off the Dalmatian Coast. 960 1280

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Euphrasian Basilica

Euphrasian Basilica

Filled with mosaics dating back to the 6th century, Euphrasian Basilica in the town of Porec is one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in the Mediterranean. 960 1280

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Rovini

Rovini

Rovinj's steep, narrow streets liken it to Italy; it's a popular resort town and fishing port in Istria. 960 1280

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Diocletian's Palace

Diocletian's Palace

Diocletian's Palace was built by the Roman emperor of the same name at the turn of the 4th century in what is now the Croatian city of Split. 960 1280

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St Donat's Church

St Donat's Church

Inside the city of Zadar you'll find the pre-Romanesque church of St. Donatus as well as the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Anastasia. 960 1280

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Zagreb

Zagreb

The bustling city of Zagreb is the capital and largest city in Croatia. 960 1280

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Motovun

Motovun

Around the hilltop town of Motovun lie vineyards that produce Istrian's fine Teran and Malvazija wines. 960 1280

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Crni Rizot
Crni Rizot

Crni Rizot

This savory dish is Croatia’s version of squid ink risotto. Influenced by neighboring Italy, Croatia’s version of this deep, dark and rich dish is very similar to the Italian version, with chewy and soft arborio rice, tender cuttlefish, squid or octopus, and lots of olive oil, lemon and parsley for garnish. It’s best paired with a glass of red wine to stand up to the rich flavor from the ink. 960 1280

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Gridele

Gridele

One of the best ways to enjoy the seafood from the Adriatic is to get it straight off the gridele. Oily Adriatic fish is simply grilled with olive oil and fresh Mediterranean herbs over the wood from either old grapevines or olive wood, which both impart the region’s deeper flavors. 960 1280

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Brodet

Brodet

Similar to a bouillabaisse, this Croatian fish soup abounds with the flavors of various seafood from the Adriatic. You might find the day’s catch in it -- a whitefish like flounder, John Dory or red scorpionfish, plus crab and shrimp. Polenta is often served with the soup. 960 1280

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Pasticada

Pasticada

This stewed dish is a Dalmatian specialty of beef seasoned with bacon and a sauce of herbs and vegetables. It is usually served with potatoes or gnocchi, and Swiss chard on the side, but it isn’t uncommon to find it served with mashed potatoes, pasta or rice either. 960 1280

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Fritule

Fritule

Resembling doughnuts, these little fried pastries are a popular sweet in Croatia. They’re flavored with brandy, raisins and citrus zest, and are dusted with powdered sugar when served. 960 1280

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Fuži

Fuži

Truffles are native to the Istria region, and are a luxurious addition to many Croatian dishes, especially pasta dishes like this traditional Istrian pasta with parmigiano cheese. 960 1280

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Zganci

Zganci

Similar to polenta, this Croatian side dish is made from maize, wheat or buckwheat flour. After cooking, it is crumbled on to a plate and served with milk, yogurt or honey, or even the cracklings from bacon. 960 1280

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Scampi Buzara

Scampi Buzara

A common dish from the north Adriatic Sea, this is a simple dish to cook, and very messy to eat. Shrimps still in their shell are tossed in a light tomato sauce with shallots, garlic, wine and parsley. Grilled bread is the perfect accompaniment to sop up any leftover sauce. 960 1280

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Sljivovica

Sljivovica

A plum brandy, this drink is commonly imbibed as an aperitif, and is served in a chilled glass to lessen the effects of the high alcohol content. 960 1280

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Prsut

Prsut

Air-cured ham in Croatia is similar to Italian prosciutto. It is eaten as an appetizer or used to enhance other main dishes. 960 1280

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Istarska Jota

Istarska Jota

Also known as Istrian stew, this hearty dish features beans and sauerkraut, showcasing some of the Austrian influences on Croatia’s cuisine. 960 1280

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Palacinke

Palacinke

Croatia’s version of crepes, these thin pancakes are stuffed with different sweet fillings. 960 1280

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Pod Pekom, or Peka

Pod Pekom, or Peka

This traditional method of roasting meat is commonly found in many homes throughout Croatia. In a forged steel bowl, meats like poultry, lamb or veal, or seafood like squid or octopus, are placed atop chopped potatoes and drizzled with various Mediterranean spices and olive oil. The sacz, a steel dome lid, is placed atop to trap the heat and moisture, allowing the high heat from a Dalmatian furnace or oven to create evenly roasted meats and tender potatoes. 960 1280

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Zelena Menestra

Zelena Menestra

This traditional green stew from Dubrovnik is mentioned in writings as far back as 1480. The dish is rich and hearty, with lots of bacon, sausage, ham hock, potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables. 960 1280

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Taste of Croatia  14 Photos

Croatian Railway
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Don’t Be Afraid of the Bus
Unlike other European countries where hitting the rails is a no-brainer, Croatian train travel is not always the easiest way to get around. Although Croatian Railways, the national train company, does connect many cities, there is no service in the south, for example from tourist-heavy Split down to Dubrovnik, arguably Croatia’s most popular travel destination. There is only limited train service in the Istrian peninsula, a travel hotspot in the north likened to Tuscany for its rolling hills of vineyards and olive trees. The public transportation solution? Hop on the bus! The bus company Libertas Dubrovnik has as many as 13 buses traveling between Split and Dubrovnik every day, and the trip generally takes about 4 hours, only an hour more than if you drove in a car. For travel to Istria, try the bus company Autotrans; they have a line that will take you from Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb to the old Roman city of Pula, for example, in about 5 hours -- 2 hours longer than driving by car.

Do Drive With Care (And Don’t Talk on Your Cell)
While Croatian buses may run well, if you want to zip around more freely, rent a car. All of the major rental companies, from Avis to Hertz, are represented in Croatia, and can be picked up at the Zagreb airport. It’s usually cheaper to book online, and best to reserve well in advance if you are making a summer trip -- cars have been scarce in the popular travel months of July and August. Almost all Croatians drive a manual transmission, so if you prefer automatic, let the rental car company know when you make the reservation. Also, don’t drive and talk on your cell phone -- it is illegal in Croatia, and strictly enforced. You can drive with your own license and a passport for up to 6 months, after which time you would need a Croatian driver’s license. And while road signs are easily readable in Croatia, the driving sometimes isn’t. Local drivers tend to pass aggressively, and although the views on the coastal route from Split to Dubrvnik are breathtaking, keep your eyes glued to the road -- the guardrails on some of the hairpin curves don’t look very reassuring. But you do drive on the right side of the road in Croatia, so you can relax about that.

Do Take Ferries and Charter a Boat
If you are visualizing many paradisiacal swims in clear blue waters, then the Croatian islands are calling your name. Most of the residents of Croatian islands have their own small boats to travel between islands and the coast -- it’s the easiest way to get around. Public ferries in Croatia are another common way to island hop. The largest ferry company with the most connections in Croatia is Jadrolinija; there are also many smaller regional companies that you can ask the Croatian National Tourist Board about. Keep in mind that island hopping by commercial ferries can be difficult to plan and often inefficient. For example, the north-south ferries (Rijeka to Dubrovnik), run only 2 times a week. If you need more flexibility, look into chartering a boat. There are many local companies, like Happy Charter on the fashionable island of Havr, or Argola Charter in the appealing seaside town of Trogir, from whom you can rent speedboats, yachts or catamarans.

Croatia City Walls
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Don’t Walk the Walls With the Masses
If you plan to travel to Croatia during the peak months of July and August, you might have to buck some trends to avoid the crowds. For example, the No. 1 tourist activity in Dubrovnik is to walk atop the famous City Walls that run for over a mile around the Old Town. The remaining stonewalls, built in the Middle Ages, tower up to 82 feet in some places and are a great point of pride for Croatians -- no marauding outsiders have ever successfully invaded them. But take a cue from the locals -- stay away from the walls during the middle of the day in the summer when it can be very hot and crowded.

Do Watch Your Step
If you tend to venture off the beaten path, beware of unexploded minefields in inland areas like Eastern Slavonia, Brodsko-Posavska County, Karlovac County, areas around Zadar County and in more remote areas of the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Up to 2 million mines were laid during the war of the early ’90s, and Croatia is not expected to be mine-free until 2019. The mines are not in tourist spots and chances that foreigners would visit many of these places are slim. Nonetheless, hundreds of people have been killed by mines in Croatia since the end of the war; if you do happen to travel in these areas, stay on cultivated paths and look out for warning signs with the international symbol for mines -- a skull and crossbones inside a red, upside-down triangle.

Do Remember the Patron Saint
According to the last major census, almost 90% of Croatians are Catholic. So keep in mind that each village and town has a patron saint whose feast day will be celebrated with processions and ceremonies and probably a day off from work. Croatians are especially devoted to the Virgin Mary, whom they call "Gospa." Keep your eye out for little shrines built throughout the countryside to honor her.

Don’t Call It Yugoslavia
Croatia has long grappled with invading forces and external governments: Hungarian, Habsburg, Ottoman, Venetian, Serbian and Yugoslav. The country only just gained independence in 1991, and immediately thereafter was thrust into the devastating Bosnian War of the early ’90s. Now, Croatians are truly free, with a well-deserved sense of national pride. Therefore, steer clear of calling them Yugoslav.

Do Call It Croatian
Linguists say the Croatian language is almost identical to Serbian, except that Croatian is written in the Roman alphabet, while Serbian is written in Cyrillic. Nonetheless, always call their language “Croatian,” and not “Serbo-Croatian,” as it has sometimes erroneously been called in the past; comparisons to anything Serbian can still be a touchy subject for some.

Topless in Croatia
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Do Watch Where You Go Topless!
If you’re tempted to go European and drop the bikini top, feel free. Plenty of travelers sunbathe topless on beaches in northern and central Croatia -- and go totally nude in specified areas-- but you may need to be more discreet in the south, where values tend to be more conservative. And if you happen to find yourself on the island of Vrbnik, know that this is the birthplace of numerous Croatian bishops and a very religious community to boot -- so, keep your clothes on.

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