Things to do in Croatia
Croatia has an impressive history, a fact that is best explained through the vast array of sites worth visiting. Most towns have an historical center with its typical architecture. There are differences between the coast and the continental part, so both areas are a must.
The most famous is Dubrovnik, a prime example of the coastal architecture, but by no means the only one worth visiting. Equally important is the capital and largest city, Zagreb, with a population of about 1 million. It is a modern city with all the modern features, yet it has a laid back feel. In the east, in the region of Slavonija with it's regional capital Osijek and the war torn Vukovar are awe inspiring. Scattered throughout the region are vineyards and wine cellars, most of which give tours and tastings.
Sailing is a good way to see the coastal islands and networks of small archipelagos. Most charters leave from Split or the surrounding area on the North or the South circuit, each offering its own pros and cons. A good way is to book a package with a company at home, but many Croatian companies also offer both bareboat and crewed charters.
Booking of a charter vessel is basically done in two parts. Fifty percent of the charter price is paid right away, after which the booking is confirmed. The other fifty percent of the charter fee is usually paid four weeks before the charter date. Before the first payment of the charter fee you should request to see the charter contract from the agency where you chartered a boat. Pay close attention to cancellation fees because many times if you cancel your charter vacation you could lose the initial fifty percent you already payed when you booked a charter so take a close look at that in the charter contract. After that you are set for a sailing vacation.
When you arrive to marina where your chartered yacht is situated you need to do the check in (usually Saturday around 04:00 PM) and you have to do the shopping for the charter vacation. Don't neglect the groceries shopping because the sea is unpredictable and you don't want to get stuck on the boat without anything to eat or drink.
You can do the shopping in a marina (although the prices are much higher there) or you can order from yacht provisioning services who usually deliver the products to your chartered yacht at no extra fee. This is convenient because it takes the load of you and the things you must do when you arrive at the marina for your sailing holiday.
Croatia was the first country in Europe to start with the concept of commercial naturist resorts. According to some estimates about 15% of all tourists that visit the country are naturists or nudists (more than one million each year). There are more than 20 official naturist resorts as well as a very large number of the so-called free beaches which are unofficial naturist beaches, sometimes controlled and maintained by local tourist authorities. In fact, you are likely to find nudists on any beach outside of town centers. Naturist beaches in Croatia are marked as "FKK". The most popular nudist destinations are Pula, Hvar and island Rab.
Increasingly Croatia is becoming a popular place for health tourism. A number of dental surgeries have experience in treating short term visitors to Croatia. Croatian dentists study for 5 years in Zagreb or Rijeka. Harmonization of training with EU standards has begun, in preparation for Croatia's accession.
One of Croatia's more "wild" holiday offers are the lighthouses. Most of them are situated on a deserted coastline or in the open sea. The specialty of this is that you are able to cut yourself off from the rest of the world and take the time to "smell the roses". Sometimes the best way to relax is to take part in a Robinson Crusoe style holiday.
Croatia has 11 rent-a-lighthouses along the Adriatic coast: Savudrija, Sv. Ivan, Rt Zub, Porer, Veli Rat, Prisnjak, Sv. Petar, Plocica, Susac, Struga and Palagruza.
Croatia's official currency is the kuna . In many tourist places prices will be also given in euros. Although some business owners may even accept euros they will usually not be authorized to do this (Euro is not legal tender in Croatia). Use the near-by cash-point or a bureau de change to obtain the needed amount of kuna and note that whatever amount of kuna you have left at the end of your stay you can convert to euros at a local bank or exchange office.
Prices are around 10% to 20% lower than other EU countries. Touristic destinations and articles shoot prices up, though.
ATMs (in Croatian bankomat ) are readily available throughout Croatia. They will accept various European bank cards, credit cards (Diners Club, Eurocard/Mastercard, Visa, American Express etc.) and Croatian debit cards (Cirrus, Maestro, Visa electron etc.). Read the labels/notices on the machine before using.
If you buy goods worth more than 500 kuna you are entitled to a PDV (VAT) tax return when leaving the country. Note that this applies to all goods except petroleum products. At point of purchase ask the sales person for a PDV-P form. Fill it out and have it stamped on the spot. On leaving Croatia the receipt will be verified by the Croatian Customs service. A PDV refund in Kunas can be obtained within six months, either at the same shop where you bought the goods (in that case the tax will be refunded to you immediately), or by posting the verified receipt back to the shop, together with the account number into which the refund should be paid. In this case the refund is dealt with within 15 days of receipt of the claim. There is another, much easier way to receive the refund. Buy your goods in shops with a "CROATIA TAX-FREE SHOPPING" label. This label is displayed on the shop's entrance, usually next to the labels of credit and debit cards this particular shop accepts. Using an international coupon, refund is possible in all countries-members of the TAX-FREE international chain. In this case the service charge is deducted from the tax refund amount.
Croatian cuisine is quite diverse so it is hard to say what meal is most typically Croatian. In the eastern continental regions (Slavonija and Baranja) spicy sausage such as kulen or kulenova seka is a must-try. Cobanac ("shepherd's stew") is a mixture of several different kinds of meat with a lot of red spicy paprika. In Hrvatsko Zagorje and Central Croatia pasta filled with cheese called strukli is a famous delicacy (it is said that the best strukli in Croatia is served in the Esplanade Hotel restaurant in Zagreb), as is purica s mlincima (baked turkey with a special kind of pastry). Sir i vrhnje (sour cream with cottage cheese) can be bought fresh on the Zagreb main market Dolac. Croats love a bit of oil and you will find plenty of it in piroska . In mountainous regions of Lika and Gorski Kotar meals made of mushrooms, wild berries and wild meat are very popular. One of typical dishes in Lika is police (oven-baked potatoes covered with bacon) and several kinds of cheese (smoked cheese and skripavac ).
The coastal region is well known for truffle delicacies and soup manestra od bobic (Istria), Dalmatian prsut and paski sir (Pag-island cheese). Dishes made of fresh fish and other products of the sea (calamari, octopus, crabs, scampi) shouldn't be given a miss! Many places serve fish delivered from the local fisherman the night before - find out which ones!
Croatian cuisine has yet to come up with a Croatian fast food representative. The market is dominated by globally ubiquitous hamburgers and pizzas but you will also find "burek" and "cevapcici" imported from the medieval Ottoman empire which stretched from Turkey to neighboring Bosnia. The latter two dishes are widely popular in the entire South and Eastern Europe. Burek is a type of cheese-pastry whereas cevapcici are seasoned minced meat shaped in finger-size portions served in bread and often covered with onions. Although definitely not a fast meal (takes several hours to prepare) also foreign in origin is the so-called sarma or sauerkraut rolls filled with minced meat and rice. For those coming back from nightclubs at 4 or 5AM as is common in Croatia, it is popular to go to the local bakery and get fresh bread, burek or krafne (croatian chocolate filled donuts) straight out of the oven. Delicious! As far as fast food goes, who needs it when you can buy delicious prsut during the day and warm bread at night to compliment it. Most Croatians generally look down at fast food.
Desserts: What it lacks in the fast food department Croatia makes up with a myriad of desserts. Probably the most famous is its delicious creamy cake called kremsnite but different kinds of gibanica , strudla and pita (similar to strudel and pie) such as orehnjaca (walnut), makovnjaca (poppy) or bucnica (pumpkin and cheese) are also highly recommended. Dubrovacka torta od skorupa is delicious but hard to find. Paprenjaci (pepper cookies) are said to reflect the Croatian tumultuous history because they combine the harshness of the war periods (pepper) with the natural beauties (honey). They can be bought in most souvenir shops though fresh-made are always a better choice. Rapska torta (The Rab island cake) is made with almonds and locally famous cherry liquor Maraschino . It should be noted that this is hardly an exhaustive list and even a casual glimpse in any Croatian cookbook is likely to be worth the effort. Chocolate candy "Bajadera" is available throughout shops in the country and along with "Griotte" is one of the most famous products of the Croatian chocolate industry.
An unavoidable ingredient in many meals prepared in Croatia is "Vegeta". It is a spice produced by "Podravka".
Olives: a lot of people claim that Croatian olives and their olive oil are the best in the world, which is not even well known in Croatia and less worldwide. Many brands exist and some of them have several world awards. Try to buy olive oil from Istra (although oil from Dalmatia is also excellent) and choose only Croatian brands for olives (most notable sms, few times awarded as the world's best!). Try to read the declaration before buying to ensure you are buying Croatian olives and oil, since there are a lot of imports (usually cheap products from Greece). All of this can be found in most of the supermarkets, but you should be really aware of the imports, most of the Croatian people aren't experts and prefer cheaper products, so they dominate. The olive oil is a irreaplaceable "ingredient" in the coastal cuisine, but you should be aware of the use of cheaper, not Croatian, oil in restaurants because most of the tourists don't notice the difference so the restaurants don't find it profitable to use excellent oil; they rather use cheaper Spanish or Greek. Usually, asking the waiter for a better oil (and looking like an expert) helps, and soon he gets you a first-class oil from a hidden place.
Alcoholic: Try many different kinds of wines. Also worth trying is rakija , a type of brandy which can be made of plum ( sljivovica ), grapes ( loza ), figs ( smokovaca ) and many other types of fruit and aromatic herbs. Pelinkovac is a bitter herbal liquor popular in Central Croatia, but is said to resemble cough-medicine in flavor. Famous Maraschino , a liquer flavored with Marasca cherries, which are grown around Zadar, Dalmatia. Non-alcoholic: Sometimes although very rarely you may find "sok od bazge" (elderflower juice) in the continental region. Worth trying! On a more general note, Croatia produces a broad palette of high quality wines (up to 700 wines with protected geographic origin) and brandies, fruit juices, beers and mineral water. On the coast people usually serve "bevanda" with meals. Bevanda is heavy, richly flavored red wine mixed with plain water. Its counter-part in northern parts of Croatia is "gemisht". This term designates dry, flavored wines mixed with mineral water.
Two most popular beers are "Karlovacko" and "Ozujsko", but "Velebitsko" and "Tomislav pivo" have received a semi-cult status in the recent years. It is served only in some places in Zagreb and Croatia.