SHOULD I RENT A CAR IN CROATIA? YES.

So you’ve made the leap and decided to travel to Croatia. You’ve got your flights booked and you’re already dreaming about the day you see those glistening blue waters of the Dalmatian Coast or get your first taste of the rare white truffle.  But now you’re left wondering…should I rent a car in Croatia? 

YES. Yes you should!

Renting a car in Croatia is what took our trip from amazing to the trip of a life time. 
 

Here are the five reasons why you should rent a car and everything you need to know about renting a car in Croatia.

5 Reasons You Should Rent A Car In Croatia

Freedom and time to explore inaccessible places

For independent travelers like us, a car hire in Croatia was the only way to go. Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish nearly as much as we did in Istria and beyond. In Istria, we were able to see Pula, Rovinj, Hum, Groznjan, and Motovun. None of this would have been possible since Istria doesn’t have a high quality intercity bus system and hiring a driver would have been more expensive than a rental.  

With the freedom of our own car we were able to arrive to Plitvice Lakes National Park at 7:00 AM in the morning before anyone else was there. We got three incredible hours where we were virtually alone in the park, before thousands…let me say that again, THOUSANDS of other tourists came in from the bussed in tours.  The memory of arriving at Plitvice just after sunrise and seeing the mist rising off the placid turquoise waters of the park is a moment I feel blessed to have witnessed alone. 

Plitvice Lakes National Park Peaceful solitary bliss at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Renting a car in Croatia can be cheaper than doing tours

When you think of getting a car hire in Croatia, your first thought is probably, oh gosh renting a car is going to be so expensive. But that’s not always the case! If you are traveling in a shoulder season of May-Mid June or Mid September to October the rates will be significantly lower than if you were traveling in July and August. There were a handful of activities that we knew we ABSOLUTELY wanted to do and once we factored in the costs of doing tours with a travel guide that would provide transport to such places we realized that the costs were almost even. The slightly higher price for doing a car rental over a tour was quickly trumped by the freedom, convenience, and flexibility we gained.

When calculating if it will be more cost effective to rent a car, take a bus, or a tour group you of course have to consider the cost of gasoline and tolls. We used the website Via Michelin to get an estimate of what those costs would be. When you put in your route, it will tell you the cost of tolls and petrol as well as how to avoid tolls if you are okay with taking a longer and more scenic path.

 

Driving a car in Croatia is easy

We took a meandering path from Zagreb to Istria to Plitvice to Zadar to Krka National Park and finally Split. We found that area of Croatia to be very easy to drive in. We were concerned at first, about whether or not we would feel comfortable, but we found the roads to be easy to navigate and the drivers to be courteous. This is of course a subjective experience and what is easy to some may be considered hard to someone else. We come from the perspective of two Los Angeles natives who are accustomed to city driving and have driven in Asian countries where, lets be honest…it can get a little scary. As long as the proper road etiquette and safety guidelines are followed, this charming country can also be wonderful to drive in. 

TIP: One practice we quickly came to understand was that on any highway or major thoroughfare, the right lanes are for driving in and the left lane is strictly a passing lane. After a honk or two, we figured it out. Once we got this down, the drive seemed pretty easy.

You can drop off your car in different locations

Based off of the best airfare we could get, we knew we would be arriving in Zagreb Airport and departing out of Dubrovnik Airport. Trying to force a circuitous route back to where we got our rental car felt…circuitous. The ability to start in Zagreb and drop off our car rental in Split was a game changer. We could stick to our dream itinerary and not pull back on the things we really wanted to experience. There is typically a surcharge costing around 100 US dollars and the service is only available in bigger areas where tourism is prevalent. When dealing with car rental companies, always feel the freedom to negotiate for extra fees to be taken off. When traveling in the off season, they are more open to it and you’d be surprised at how easy it is to get it reduced. 

 

Road Trip!

Lastly, seeing a country through your own vehicle is fun! It allows for spontaneity and the unexpected travel memory that you’ll talk about forever. When you’re on a crowded bus it can feel like you’re just trying to get by until you arrive at your destination. When driving with your family or travel partner, the journey of getting there becomes part of the adventure. Some of our favorite memories are of the unexpected and genuine interactions with locals in a setting that isn’t a homogenized tourist experience. Experiences like stopping in rural grocery stores and doing our darndest to understand Croatian or getting lost in the country roads of Istria on the way to our truffle tour and doing over emphasized body language to ask for directions. Small but meaningful experiences that become part of your treasure trove of travel memories. Also lets not discount the pleasure of stopping at any point along the drive, whether you get hungry, tired, or just plain old have to pee.

 

What you need to know about renting a car in Croatia

Cost of renting a car

The cost for renting a car can be as affordable as 14 US Dollars a day to as high as you want to go if you’re looking for a luxury experience. With all the taxes and extra fees we ended up paying 26 dollars a day. What brought the price up was the fact that we needed an automatic car and the different drop off service fee.  When figuring out the costs of the rental, play around with different places to pick up the car. Sometimes it’ll be cheaper to pick up your car at an area away from the airport and vice versa.  We worked directly with Sixt to rent our car and had a great experience with them. However, as this is not an endorsement, many companies offer equal service with the same conveniences.

Rent your car EARLY

Croatia is an outstandingly beautiful country and it’s popularity is only gaining. With that much demand, it means you need to secure a rental car before you get there. This is especially true if you are traveling in high season from July to August. Could you wing it and wait till you get there? Sure. Just be prepared for the rental cars to have much higher costs as well as the likelihood that there won’t be any cars available.

Car rental insurance

Every car rental company will have a slightly different contract, but most rentals have insurance that covers damage done by someone else. Before deciding if you want to buy car insurance for any damage incurred by you, check to see if  your credit card has full coverage insurance for car rentals. If you’re not sure, call and inquire about it. It’s worth the annoying phone call to an automated menu with a trillion options to eventually get a direct answer and know if you are covered.  

Ferry crossing insurance

If you are traveling to one of the islands and plan to take your car with you, the car rental insurance will NOT cover any damages done on the ferry. You will need to choose if you want to buy extra insurance specifically for ferries. 

Take note of all damage to the car

Before you leave the car rental lot, they will do a full walk through with you to mark any damage that is already evident on the car.  This is the time to be thorough and bring up anything you notice on the car. It’s wise to take photos so you have proof if they challenge you for any damages you did not incur. I’m sure that 98% of the time the worker you get is honest (yes, that’s a completely made up statistic – it’s the internet) but do you really want to take the chance that you get the honest one? Take photos and note all damage. 

Is it hard to park in Croatia?

Along our route, we stayed in AIRBNB’s and each of our accommodations either provided parking for us or recommended a free and safe area to park the car overnight. Although we had no issues with this, it’s always a good idea to ask and/or prepare in advance so that you don’t find yourself driving around in circles looking for parking. Parking is expensive in the big cities like Zagreb, Dubrovnik, and Split but we found parking to be accessible and free in all of Istria and Zadar. 

Type of drivers license needed

Your home country license is enough to secure a car rental, but we always get an international drivers license just to be extra safe. They are affordable, we paid $15, and if you are a member of AAA can easily be purchased through them.

Minimum age to rent a car in Croatia

The minimum age requirement to rent a car in Croatia is 18 years old, however there will be a surcharge if you are under the age of 22. Some car rental companies put the surcharge on anyone under the age of 25, so be sure to read the age requirements if you are in that age range. 

Download your driving routes before you leave

We used ViaMichelin before our trip to get an estimate of how long our drive time would be and once in Croatia used Google Maps for navigation. With the exception of one very off the beaten path Truffle Tour in Istria we never got lost, so score one for Google Maps! We have t-mobile and the service was always excellent, but no matter how great your coverage is I would suggest using the download feature in Google Maps and having all your driving routes available to you offline.

Get a small car

Croatia is a classically European country with windy roads and narrow thoroughfares. If you aren’t traveling with a family or with lots of stuff, we suggest getting a small car that will allow you to comfortably manage the smaller towns and country roads.  Plus, better gas mileage!

Automatic cars are available

Most cars are manual, but you can get an automatic car at a higher cost.  Supply is small, so again, make sure you reserve ahead of time.  

Tolls

There are toll roads in Croatia and you must pay the toll. You can use the website ViaMichelin to get an accurate cost of the tolls on your route or use the site to find a different routes that don’t require tolls.. You can pay in credit card, Euros, or Kuna.

What side of the road do they drive on?

In Croatia, like most of Europe, they drive on the right side of the road.

 

Why you shouldn't rent a car in Croatia

If you are staying in Dubrovnik, Zagreb, or Split there isn’t a need to rent a car. Parking is not only costly but hard to get and with everything being accessible by foot, bus, or taxi there’s no advantage to having one. If you are wanting to take a day trip, you can always rent a car for a day and return it in the evening. Many people choose to do that when visiting Montenegro from Dubrovnik. We dropped our car off in Split and used public transport for the rest of our trip through Vis and Dubrovnik and we are so glad we made that choice.  

If you are island hopping or staying on an island like Hvar or Vis, a more economical option is to rent a scooter. Plus, it’s super fun! 

The only other reason to not get a rental car is if it’s not in your budget. While a car rental is wonderful to have, it shouldn’t stop you from seeing this incredible country.  Yes, it might take longer and some places will have to be taken off the itinerary, but with so much to experience here, you’ll never regret the extra work it took.

Let us know if you have any questions below!

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