With classic rock music playing, reliable Wi-Fi access, and spectacular scenery (think of the Pacific Coast Highway in California times two for beauty), who knew bus travel Croatia could be so fun! Last summer, my nine-year-old son and I traveled for 17 days throughout Croatia. We started out in Dubrovnik and continued on to Split, then Opatija, Rovinj, and finally to Zagreb. It was a fantastic trip filled with historical sites, great food, outdoor adventure, and friendly people.
Taking a bus, however, was not my original plan for traversing the coastline. Instead, I wanted to travel by train or boat as I thought it would be more fun for my son and more green. However, I quickly figured out that the only reliable form of public transport in Croatia is taking a bus.
Train & Ferry Transport in Croatia
There are two reasons that it’s a bit more stressful to take a train or ferry rather than a bus. First, Croatia’s EU Rail network only connects major Croatian cities (not necessarily the towns that we were visiting) and the rail lines are continuously being updated leading to potential delays. Also, in order to get to Dubrovnik, one still needs to take a bus.
The second difficulty was planning an overnight ferry excursion in advance. While I knew that the ferries would only be operating on certain days, I found that getting reservation or schedule information for the month of July even a couple of months in advance was impossible because the companies rely on government funding to operate. Not unlike the US government, decisions about funding are made at the last moment. Given our family itinerary, I was unable to chance that a ferry would be running on a particular day. So, experiencing Croatia by bus worked best for us.
The Skinny on Buses in Croatia
There is a vast and elaborate network of bus lines, including Arriva, which stop in all manner of cities, large towns and small villages all over Croatia. They are clean, safe, run frequently, and offer online booking discounts with seat assignments.
However, the buses either do not have onboard bathrooms or do not allow for the bathrooms to be used by customers. Also, something that we found quite peculiar, it is up to the discretion of the driver and the ticket collector to take a rest break and it’s random. For example, for the 3-hour bus ride from Dubrovnik to Split, there was a 20-minute rest break in Bosnia (after going through a passport check). However, the 8-hour long bus ride from Split to Rijeka had just one break and it was for 10 minutes!
Another minor drawback with strictly relying on buses is the incomprehensible route to Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is the most famous park in Croatia. While you can certainly buy a one-way bus ticket to get there (the bus stop is just outside the entrance to the park), there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to return that day.
Essentially, for your return, you wait for a bus and if there is an available seat, you purchase your return ticket then (during the high season of late July into August, this could be problematic). Otherwise, you have to wait for the next bus or end up staying the night. Upon hearing this process, it was actually my son who spoke up and said, “Mom, let’s wait until our next trip to Croatia to visit the park. We can even plan on staying the night!” You just have to love seeing them develop a sense of being flexible with their plans.
Tips for Getting Around Croatia by Bus:
- Remember to bring snacks and beverages onboard because not all rest stops will be at a place where you can purchase food.
- Keep your eye on the clock during a rest break because the bus driver will depart without doing a headcount. We witnessed this personally on the way to Zagreb when a young woman was running in the parking lot after the bus, screaming for it to stop. After the lady climbed on board and said a few choice words, the driver and ticket collector just laughed at each other and continued.
- For family travel, consider a mix of buses, trains and car rental so you can explore all the beautiful corners of Croatia.