How to Travel Croatia with a Eurail Pass
Croatia is a remarkable destination to visit. Azure blue waters meet vast skies, which turn blood red at dusk to form the most unbelievable sunsets. Dozens of islands stretch out along the Dalmatian Coast, tempting you away from the mainland. The ocean is pristine, the people friendly, and the history palpable. The thin coastal country doesn’t have the same rail infrastructure you may be used to in other central and western European countries – but that’s no reason to avoid it. Here’s how you can see Croatia with a Eurail Pass.
Croatia with a Eurail Pass
Check your rail map and schedules carefully
Croatia’s terrain makes for scenic but time-consuming travel. It also limits the rail infrastructure that’s present in the country. The train system covers the north and east fairly comprehensively, but it’s left wanting further south along the coast.
Most people seeing Croatia with a Eurail Pass will arrive in the capital Zagreb, which is easily accessible by train from Central and Eastern Europe. From Zagreb, it’s easy to explore inland Croatia by rail. The Rail Planner app, online timetable, and physical rail map can help you see if trains run to the specific destination of interest.
When it comes to the coastline, trains start to thin out. If you want to get to the Adriatic sea, the main lines run to Rijeka and Split, with limited connections in between. They operate regularly and efficiently, but often at unusual hours. There’s also a night train option between Zagreb and Split.
Because of this, many people choose to spend time exploring inland Croatia, and then make the pilgrimage down to Split to begin the coastal adventures.
Consider a linear route
With Croatia being a long, thin country, you’ll probably have no option but to consider a linear route. If you’re seeing Croatia with a Eurail Pass, then starting in the north and ending in the south will expose you to the best destinations in the country. It also allows you to exit into the Balkan states where you can continue the adventure.
Check the season carefully
The biggest mistake many travelers to Croatia make is forgetting that this is a highly seasonal destination. Cities that are inland remain open and accessible throughout the year, but some of the island destinations all but close during fall and winter. This means that you may arrive in Split only to find that your dream island destination is not only deserted, it may actually be totally inaccessible.
Of course, during peak season, the cities, islands, and coastlines overflow with tourists. It’s also tremendously hot and sticky at times. Ferries, airlines, and other modes of transport operate at full capacity to regular schedules.
If you aren’t a fan of crowds, and can handle the odd cool and cloudy day, then the shoulder season in April or October may be a better option. Just bear in mind that ferries run less regularly, with some routes shutting down altogether. Many airlines that pop up in summer to cover longer distances also close their doors, leaving you with no option but to take several long bus rides.
Arrive by plane or ferry
If you’re on a tight schedule, or you’re happy to skip inland Croatia, there are several other options of arrival at your disposal. There are regular flights to most major centers, particularly during summer months.
You can also consider hopping aboard a long distance ferry from Italy. Depending on the season, there are ferry departures from Trieste, Venice, Ancona, Pescara, and Bari. With your Eurail Pass, you can get a 20% discount on SNAV ferries traveling from Ancona to Split or Hvar.
Combine with other modes of transport
If you want to explore the coastline comprehensively, you’ll have no choice but to leave the train behind and travel via other modes of transport. Fortunately, there are several options available.
Buses are the most common form of transportation along the Croatian coastline. For the most part they are cheap, comfortable, and convenient. There are several companies that operate along popular routes, and you can easily book online ahead of time to secure a seat. Bear in mind that some distances are vast, and roads are often complex and snake precariously along the coast.
There are several airlines that operate various routes in and around Croatia. Aside from Croatia Airlines, several international and low-cost airlines fly directly into the likes of Split and Dubrovnik.
During peak summer months you may be able to hop aboard a seaplane between major coastal centres. Recently, charter airline TradeAir has been offering cost-effective connections to the public between the likes of Pula, Split, and Dubrovnik, even in the off-season.
Ferries are the answer if you want to reach the island destinations. There are regular ferries operating along the coastline, and many of them also showcase the beautiful island scenery. These often connect remote cities easily and more scenically than the bus. However, they are more seasonal, expensive, and subject to weather conditions.
The capital city is set on two different levels and has a fascinating mix of 18th and 19th-century Austro-Hungarian architecture. There’s a special charm to the winding streets that lead up to the old town and its most famous attraction, the Zagreb Cathedral. St Mark’s Church is also a beautiful structure.
This small coastal town on the Istrian peninsula offers inimitable charm, beautiful sunsets, unspoilt beaches, and delicious seafood. You’ll have views that will make you fall in love with this often-overlooked corner of Croatia.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
This large forest reserve has 16 stunning terraced lakes, connected by waterfalls, and feeding into a limestone canyon. It’s one of the country’s top natural attractions.
This iconic coastal city has grown up around the 4th century complex of Diocletian’s Palace. It offers easy access to several Croatian islands.
There are too many islands to mention them all, and there’s almost no such thing as choosing the incorrect one. Hvar, Braĉ, and Vis are some of the most popular and easiest to reach by ferry.
Younger travelers will know this as a key Game of Thrones destination. The small walled town also has a rich history and fascinating architecture that at times feels like a living movie itself.
Croatia is a beautiful diverse country, and it’s perfect for exploring as part of a rail journey. If you want to see Croatia with a Eurail Pass, then a Global Pass or Croatia Pass will get you started. You can also combine this with buses, ferries, or planes to make an unforgettable coastal adventure.