Driving in Croatia | Advice From a Local

So, you’re planning a trip to Croatia? First of all, good choice. You’ll love the scenic drives, that’s guaranteed. Second of all, if you’re driving to Croatia, or planning to rent a car once you get here, there are a few things you should keep in mind. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that driving in Croatia is easy. You’ll see.

I know that driving in another country and on unfamiliar routes can be tricky but have no fear fellow driver, I am here to explain e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. From rules and regulations to gas stations and road conditions in Croatia, this guide has everything you need. 

Plus, I threw in a couple of useful tips and tricks that could come in handy.

1. Rules and regulations for driving in Croatia

First and foremost, if you’re planning to drive in Croatia, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the Croatian road signs

Next, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

Croatians drive on the right side of the road.

● Seat belts are mandatory for all passengers in the vehicle.

● Blood alcohol level (BAC) limit for drivers under the age of 25 is 0%, for those older than 25 the BAC level is 0,5%. 

It is strictly prohibited to use a mobile phone while driving. However, it is possible to use a hands-free device.

From the end of October to the end of March, it is necessary to use low beams during the day. In addition, you should use headlights at night and when visibility is less than 328 feet.

From November to March, winter tires are mandatory. 

● Children under 12 are not allowed to sit in the front seat. Children aged 2 to 5 should sit in a child seat.

You must be at least 18 years old to be able to drive in Croatia. However, if you’re renting a vehicle, the age limit is usually 21 years, but this depends on the rental company.

What is the speed limit in Croatia? 

As for speed limits in Croatia, there are actually 3 categories. That is, the speed limit depends on what kind of road you drive on. Here’s how it works:

1. Inside populated areas – 50 km/h

2. Outside populated areas – 90 km/h – 110 km/h

3. Motorways – 130 km/h

You gotta break it til you make it.

Speed limit sign on a road with cars in the background
Speed limit sign

2. Documents and things to bring along

Honestly, when driving to a foreign country, I’d say it’s better to forget your car than your documents. That’s how important they are. Also, not having all the necessary documents and other things could result in a fine, so take notes:

● Driver’s License: Carry your home country’s driver’s license. However, if it’s not in the Latin alphabet, you’ll need an international driver’s license as well. This rule is especially relevant for licenses in Chinese, Arabic, or Cyrillic, for example.

● Passport or ID: Always have your passport or a valid ID on hand, especially if you’re stopped for a check. It’s essential for verifying your identity.

● First Aid Kit: It’s not just a safety measure but a legal requirement in Croatia to have a first aid kit in your vehicle. If you don’t have one on you, you could get a fine.

● Reflective Vest and Warning Triangle: These are also a legal requirement in case of emergencies or breakdowns. Make sure they are easily accessible in your vehicle.

● Vehicle Documents: Don’t forget the vehicle’s registration and insurance papers, particularly if you’re renting a car. It’s always good to have these documents handy in case of any inquiries.

Hand opening a glovebox with documents
Glovebox with documents

These are your essentials. With them, you’re all set to explore Croatia’s highways and byways safely and legally 😊. 

3. Road conditions in Croatia

So…It is time I spill the tea 🍵. First of all, I’m aware that most sites state (pretty bravely I must add) that all Croatian roads are in good condition. Well, here’s the thing – that is true but not in all situations. I guess I could give them the benefit of the route. That is, Croatian roads are in good condition, and some are in good-ish condition. Depends on where you are. 

The thing is, most major cities have good roads, and Zagreb, I would say, is at the top. The highways are also fairly new and regularly maintained. 

However, be cautious on some roads, especially on islands and near smaller villages. These areas might have potholes, windy conditions, or lack protective fencing, requiring reduced speed and extra vigilance​​. Also, there are many roads in the countryside where you need to be extra careful because of landslides.

All in all, I would say that driving in Croatia is safe but there are some roads, especially those further away from cities, where you need to be a bit more careful while driving.

Road conditions in Croatian cities and towns

As we all know, navigating larger cities can be stressful due to traffic jams and limited parking. And it can be especially difficult if you’re not familiar with the roads. Thankfully, Croatia has no big cities. Even our capital, Zagreb, is a medium-sized city. However (there is always a however 😅), that has its pros and cons. 

The biggest ‘con’ is that coastal cities get very busy in the summer. Therefore, I kindly suggest you avoid driving in city centers during peak tourist season. It is for your own good, trust me. It is too hot, traffic jams are beyond belief, and people are nervous. What’s more, in some city centers, such as Split, there are pedestrian zones where cars are not allowed​​. In addition, it is often easier to park on the outskirts and explore on foot or by public transport. 

On a brighter note, the biggest ‘pro’ is that it is super easy to explore our cities on foot. Everything is nearby and you can do all the fun things you want without having to worry about parking. So, if I may suggest, instead of paying for parking, go for the eco-friendly option and spend that money on a coffee in the pedestrian zone where gorgeous views are guaranteed. 

Road conditions in Croatian countryside

In contrast to cities and towns, the countryside offers a more relaxed driving experience. But, even though it is more relaxed, you still need to be cautious during summer due to increased traffic, including cyclists and motorbikes. Just like in cities, people can get quite nervous and impatient so my advice is to drive defensively

Another thing to watch out for are animals crossing the roads and slow-moving agricultural vehicles. Also, as I mentioned before, road conditions in the countryside are not as good as in cities and towns so it is important to be careful and patient. 

Driving cautiously has a lot of upsides (perhaps even all the upsides), especially when driving through the Croatian countryside. The views of the surrounding landscape and animals are beautiful and will make your journey a feast for the eyes. So, follow the rules and enjoy the views!

Driving in Croatia: Countryside road through vineyards in Istria
Countryside road through vineyards in Istria

One more thing, if you’re visiting in the off-season, no need to worry about heavy traffic – you’re good to go. 

4. Motorways and tolls in Croatia

Motorways in Croatia are the fastest way of traveling from one part of the country to another, especially if you’re traveling towards the Adriatic coast. Also, they are the easiest to navigate due to simple signage. So, if this is your first time in Croatia, I’d say that the highway is the best and simplest way to reach your destination.

Experiencing Croatian Motorways/ What are Croatian Motorways like

As I mentioned earlier, Croatian motorways are fairly new and regularly maintained. Therefore, they are renowned for their good condition, offering a smooth driving experience. 

Furthermore, Croatia’s transport infrastructure is well-developed, ensuring easy connectivity between different regions. However, due to our country being shaped like a dragon 🐲, traveling from one part of the country to another can take a bit longer than you’d expect. Luckily, it is a very small country so that shouldn’t affect your journey too much. I do however recommend that you start your trip early in the morning when the traffic is not so busy, especially if you’re traveling in the summer. 

In addition, the capital Zagreb is linked to other parts of Croatia via motorways but there are alternatives such as the scenic Adriatic Highway (D8) offering stunning coastal views. If you’re not in a hurry to get to your destination, I strongly recommend taking this route because the views are truly breathtaking. 

Also, please keep in mind that these highways are toll roads, so be prepared to pay a fee when you exit​​.

Driving in Croatia: Scenic route of the Adriatic Highway near Dubrovnik
Adriatic Highway near Dubrovnik

Toll system in Croatia

First of all, you do not need a vignette to drive in Croatia. We like to keep some things old-fashioned so we’re just sticking to the good ol’ toll system. However, lately we have been installing toll machines that should make things easier and become more and more common.

So, Croatia employs a toll system on its motorways. Here’s how it works: you’ll receive a ticket upon entering a motorway, and upon exiting, your toll cost is calculated based on the distance traveled. 

And how much are the tolls in Croatia, you wonder? The toll prices vary depending on your vehicle type – motorcycle, car, car with trailer, bus, or lorry. For instance, the toll from Zagreb to Rijeka is about €9.20 for a standard car, while Zagreb to Split is around €24. 

And how do I pay road tolls in Croatia, you might ask… No worries, I’ve got all the answers. Payment can be made in cash (Euros) or by card​​​​. 

And I’ve got another tip for you.

As a local who’s been through this many times, I recommend always bringing cash with you. Here’s why – there are separate queues for those paying in cash and those paying by card. This way you can choose a queue with less traffic. Also, it can easily happen that there is a stoppage at the toll booths so this could save you some time (which is better spent at the beach anyways).

Driving in Croatia: Toll gate in Croatia with mountains in the background
Toll gate in Croatia

Discounts and On-Board Unit (ETC)

For regular motorway users, an on-board unit with an ETC system offers discounts ranging from 13% to 21%. This system allows for easier passage at toll gates and comes with various tariff plans, including prepaid or monthly bills. You can purchase the ETC on-board unit at various points of sale, with prepaid accounts starting from €35 (including the unit and toll credit)​​​​.

In addition, there is also an app called HAC ENC that allows you to pay tolls without queuing at the motorway. The application has several highlights: it allows you to check the cost of the toll in advance, you can use it to find the nearest rest stop, and it shows where the gas stations are on the highways in Croatia. Moreover, it gives you information on where to buy an ENC device or an ENC voucher as well as where to top up your ENC on the highway.

Croatian highways and ‘Stara Cesta’

In addition to the modern motorways, Croatia offers two popular routes for those traveling to its stunning coast – the Croatian Highway and the ‘Stara Cesta.’

Croatian highway is the main motorway and I’d say it’s the fastest and most direct route to the Dalmatian coast. In addition, it’s well-maintained, offers a comfortable driving experience and provides some scenic views along the way (I do have to emphasize the ‘some’ part because of what Stara Cesta has to offer). 

It is ideal for those who prefer a quick and straightforward journey. Also, as I mentioned above, it does come with toll charges so keep that in mind.

‘Stara Cesta’, translated as the ‘Old Road,’ offers a more leisurely and picturesque drive. You know those scenes in movies or music videos where people are just having the best time ever on the road? Just enjoying breathtaking scenery, listening to good music, having the time of their lives? Well, it’s just like that. But with a Croatian twist. 

Stara Cesta meanders through charming towns and villages, providing a glimpse into the local life and culture. While it takes longer than the highway, it’s toll-free and offers a more authentic experience of Croatia’s landscapes and heritage (and it’s totally worth it).

Are you ready to make some really pretty memories on your trip 📸?

Both routes are popular among locals and visitors, each offering a unique perspective of Croatia’s diverse and beautiful terrain. Whether you choose the efficiency of the Croatian Highway or the scenic allure of the ‘Stara Cesta,’ you’re in for a memorable journey to the Croatian coast.

Driving in Croatia: Beautiful views along the coastal road in Croatia
Coastal road in Croatia

5. Gas stations in Croatia

As you drive through Croatia, you’ll find a well-distributed network of gas stations that ensures a smooth journey whether you’re exploring the coastline or venturing inland. Gas stations in Croatia are frequently found along major highways and in urban areas. What’s more, many are equipped with convenience stores, restrooms, and sometimes even small cafes, making them perfect stops for a quick break or to stock up on essentials.

Most Croatian gas stations offer a variety of fuel types, including diesel and unleaded petrol, catering to a range of vehicles. The staff at these stations are often multilingual and ready to assist you in English or other major European languages, adding to the ease of your travel experience. They truly are working gas heroes. 

Furthermore, gas stations in Croatia often have extended operating hours, and some are open 24/7. Therefore, I’d say that refueling in Croatia is pretty convenient and ensures that your journey through our beautiful country is as seamless as it is memorable.

And one more tip I want to share with you – check where you can find gas stations before you hit the road. Better safe than sorry. And better fueled up than stuck in the middle of nowhere calling roadside assistance 🤓.

Close up of a hand refueling at a gas station
Refueling at a gas station

6. Renting a car in Croatia

From my experience, I can say that renting a car in Croatia is an easy and convenient process.  First, there are numerous reputable rental agencies located at airports, major cities, and popular tourist destinations. And second, whether you’re looking for a compact car for city driving or a larger vehicle for a family adventure, you’ll find a range of options to suit your needs.

Before you set off on your Croatian road adventure, there are a few key requirements to keep in mind:

You must possess a valid driver’s license from your home country, and if the license is not in the Roman alphabet you will need an international driving permit. 

The minimum age for renting a car is typically 21 years, but this can vary with different rental companies. 

● Drivers under 25 should be aware of possible additional young driver surcharges. 

The average cost of renting a car in Croatia ranges from 30 to 60 euros per day, depending on the vehicle type and rental period. This fee usually includes basic insurance, but it’s advisable to consider extra insurance options for added peace of mind.

Car rental terms and conditions

When renting a car in Croatia, it’s also important to be aware of the rental terms and conditions:

Most rentals come with a limited kilometer allowance, and additional charges may apply if this limit is exceeded. 

Familiarize yourself with the fuel policy – whether you need to return the car with a full tank or pay for the fuel used. 

Always inspect the vehicle. While it’s unlikely the car will have pre-existing damage, knock on hood, it’s best to do a quick check before you set off on your journey. This way you can avoid any unwarranted charges.

A person renting a car and receiving the car keys
Car rental

With these considerations in mind, renting a car in Croatia can be a straightforward and enjoyable experience, allowing you to discover the country’s hidden gems and iconic landmarks at your leisure.

7. Electric cars in Croatia

Eco-friendly drivers, we salute you! Embarking on a journey through Croatia in an electric vehicle in 2023 is not only an eco-friendly choice, it is also practical. 

Namely, Croatia has made significant strides in supporting electric mobility, which is evident in the increasing number of charging stations. Yay! 👏

These stations are conveniently located across the country, particularly in tourist hotspots and major cities like Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik. This network includes several fast-charging options, ensuring that drivers can quickly recharge and continue their adventures with minimal downtime.

Additionally, the Croatian government is keen to promote the use of electric vehicles. Cha-ching alert! There are incentives such as tax cuts and potential subsidies for EV buyers. This initiative not only supports the adoption of green technology but also enhances the overall experience for travelers who choose electric cars for their Croatian escapades.

8. Tips for driving in Croatia

Overall, Croatia is a safe country, I would say, but here’s the thing – you can never be too safe. Therefore, I have prepared for you some additional tips about driving in Croatia.

Information about Croatian roads in English

Embarking on a road trip through Croatia is an experience filled with stunning vistas and charming locales. To ensure a smooth journey, it’s wise to stay updated with the latest road conditions. A great resource is the Croatian Automobile Club’s website, www.hak.hr, which offers up-to-date road information in English. Whether it’s roadworks or traffic jams, checking this site can help you plan your route more effectively.

Traffic in Croatia

When planning your travel schedule, keep in mind that weekends in Croatia can be particularly busy on the roads, especially during summer. Popular coastal areas and tourist destinations see a surge in traffic as both locals and tourists flock to these spots. If you prefer a more relaxed drive, try traveling on weekdays or starting your journey early in the morning to avoid the rush.

Penalties and fines in Croatia

It’s essential to be mindful of local traffic regulations to avoid penalties and fines. Croatian traffic laws are strictly enforced, and fines for offenses like speeding, not wearing seatbelts, or using a mobile phone while driving can be hefty. Always adhere to speed limits and road signs to ensure a safe and penalty-free trip.

Parking in Croatia

Parking in Croatia is usually straightforward, with clear signage and designated parking areas in most towns and cities. However, in busier areas, especially in tourist hotspots, finding a parking spot will require some patience. Also, pay attention to parking rules and fees, as these can vary. Otherwise, you might end up parking at the moon 🌜🐕. Additionally, in many places you can pay for parking via SMS, which is incredibly convenient.

Driving in Croatia: Parking lot in Rovinj, Croatia, with the view of the town in the background
Parking lot in Rovinj, Croatia

Driving in Croatia is a delightful way to explore this beautiful country. With these tips in mind, you’re all set for an enjoyable and stress-free driving adventure!

Is driving in Croatia easy?

Driving in Croatia is safe and can be a pleasant experience, especially if you’re accustomed to European road standards. The roads are generally well-maintained and signposted clearly, making navigation a breeze. Rural areas offer more relaxed driving, while urban areas, particularly in tourist seasons, might require a bit more patience due to increased traffic.

Are there speed cameras in Croatia?

Yes, Croatia does have speed cameras, but they’re not as abundant as in some other European countries. They’re usually well-signposted, so you can keep an eye out for them. My advice is to use Google Maps while driving, as it often indicates the locations of speed cameras, helping you to stay within the speed limits and avoid fines.

Do I need international drivers license in Croatia?

If your driver’s license is not in the Roman alphabet (like Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, etc.), it’s essential to have an international driving permit (IDP). It’s always a good idea to carry your passport or ID card along with your driver’s license for identification purposes while driving in Croatia.

Do I need winter tires in Croatia?

If you’re traveling in winter, remember that winter tires are mandatory in Croatia from November to April. The weather can be unpredictable, especially in mountainous regions, so I advise you to be prepared. Most car rental agencies will equip the car with winter tires during this period, but it’s always good to check beforehand. So set tire to the rain and watch it pour as you stay safe.

Useful contacts for Driving in Croatia

Emergency Services (Police, Fire, Ambulance): 112

Police: 192

Firefighters: 193

Ambulance: 194

Croatian Automobile Club (HAK) Roadside Assistance: 1987

Road Condition Information (HAK): 072 777 777

Croatian Motorways (HAC) Information: 0800 0422

General Information Directory: 11888

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