by: Aidan Fitzgerald
Croatia is an ancient country with a long and distinguished past, but in the 20th century the country faced great hardship until it was declared independent in 1991 after a bitter war. Since then, Croatia has been growing in popularity as a tourist destination, due to its beautifully preserved Renaissance towns, extensive sandy coastline and of course, its stunning Mediterranean weather.
A good starting point for exploring Croatia is Zagreb. It’s the capital city located in the heart of the ‘horseshoe’ shaped Croatia and it’s a very popular tourist destination. Many tourists are tempted to skip it and head straight for the coast, but if you do the same you’ll be missing out. A visit to Ban Jela?i? Square is especially recommended as it’s filled with a large array of medieval churches, palaces, museums, galleries and government buildings.
Croatia Car Hire Tip: Croatia doesn’t have much motorways and many of the roads were in poor condition after the war, but the country has made great effort to repair them. It’s still a work in progress so best be aware when you’re planning your driving excursions.
To the east, there is the important inland town of Osijek (about 280km from Zagreb). This city saw an awful lot of the fighting during the war of independence and many of the buildings still bear the scars. One building in Osijek that did escape damage and is well worth seeing is the Tvr?a, an 18th century Hapsburg fortress. Anyone wishing to explore east Croatia and beyond, is sure to pass through Osijek. If you have time you could visit the town of Vukovar, which is about an hour away and is a sobering experience on the nature of war.
Croatia Car Hire Tip: The speed limit is 130km/h on motorways, 80km/h on main roads, and 50km/h inside in towns. Like most of the continent, driving is on the right.
To the west of Zagreb, travelling on the A1 to Bosiljevo and then the A6 to the coast you can find Rijeka (about 182km from Zagreb). Rijeka which is the largest seaport in the country is mostly about trade and transport, so isn’t as much of a tourist destination in itself. That being said, there is still some things worth seeing if you are passing through the town such as the Maritime Museum or perhaps head up to Trsat which is a restored fortress and it has many historic churches on site as well.
Croatia Car Hire Tip: It is illegal to overtake military convoys and long lines of traffic so its best to just be patient.
To the west of Rijeka for about 110km on the Istria Peninsula you can find Pula. Pula was originally a city in Italy but it was annexed after WWII and the majority of the Italian community fled persecution from the communist regime. Today the city is a popular tourist destination for its many Roman Ruins, including the Arena which is one of the largest Roman amphitheatres to survive to the modern day.
Croatia Car Hire Tip: Unlike many countries in Europe, the legal alcohol level in your blood is 0.0. The police are allowed to spot check randomly and any trace at all can lead to fines. Refusal to submit to inspection is seen as an admission of guilt.
Heading down the coast from Rijeka for about 224km you’ll find Zadar, which is a small city that is easy to get around. The city has some roman ruins though not as extensive as Pula. In addition to Roman ruins there is a large collection of churches which are built in various different styles from throughout the centuries. If you are travelling direct from Zagreb to Zadar you’ll pass the Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the Europe and definitely worth a visit.
Croatia Car Hire Tip:Seatbelts are compulsory and headlights must be on at all times. In the event of even a minor car accident, the police HAVE to be called.
Further on down the coast you’ll find the second largest city in the country, Split. (It’s about a 4 hour drive from Zagreb on a newly opened motorway).This city was originally created as a retirement villa for a roman emperor Diocletian, and after a few centuries the interior was settled by refugees from another city. Today, much of the inner city still uses the original palace for its markets, shops and squares; there is even a Christian Cathedral which is set in Diocletian’s Mausoleum (Ironic given Diocletian reputation for the persecution of Christians!).
Croatia Car Hire Tip: Bosnia and Herzegovina has a small 26km stretch of coastline, which essentially splits Croatia in two. This shouldn’t be a problem as Croatia has good relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina and to cross the border you’ll only need your ID.
Continuing down the coast you’ll have to briefly pass through Bosnia and Herzegovina on your way to Dubrovnik. The city is about 216km from Split and is one of the main tourist areas of the country and indeed the Adriatic. The architecture of the city is especially interesting and though it was heavily damaged in the war, it has been painstakingly restored to the original quality. It’s well worth visiting this beautiful city with its marble streets, baroque building and Renaissance style fountains.
Croatia Car Hire Tip: Mobile Phones are strictly forbidden while driving.
Croatia has 1,185 islands which are a huge part of the country’s appeal. The most popular of the islands are Hvar Island, Korcula Island and Mljet Island. Ferries operate to the islands, so bring the car across and explore them at your leisure, as the public transport network on the islands is not as good as the mainland.
A car is an excellent way to make your way around the whole country. You can book one now for your holiday on out Croatia car hire page.
About The Author
Aidan Fitzgerald writes for car rentals website www.novacarhire.com
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