Renting A Car In Croatia
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 lifetime.
We think driving is the best way to get around Croatia. Here are the five reasons why you should rent a car and everything you need to know about renting a car in Croatia.
Want to know more about Croatia? Check out our other articles on Croatia.
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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 car, we were able to arrive at Plitvice Lakes National Park at 7:00 AM in the morning before anyone else was there. We had 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.
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 that renting a car is going to be expensive. But that’s not always the case! If you are traveling in a shoulder season of May to 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. 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 getting a car rental over going on 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 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 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 let’s 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.
Looking for the ultimate itinerary for Croatia? Check out our article featuring 2 separate itineraries for Croatia.
You can drop off your car in different locations
Based on the best airfare we could get, we knew we would be arriving at Zagreb Airport and departing from 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 wanted to experience.
There is typically a surcharge, 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.
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 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 best 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, let’s 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 rental cars in Croatia
The cost of renting a car in Croatia varies with the season and can range from $25 to $75 for a small economy vehicle. Different things will bring up the cost of the car, like dropping the rental car off at a different location and renting an automatic vehicle.
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.
I suggest using the popular car rental website Rentalcars.com to price compare and see what the current cost is to rent a car in Croatia. Rentalcars is a broker that works with all the main car rental companies in Croatia. They offer competitive prices and you can compare the costs of all the companies in one place. Use the box below to find a great car rental deal!
Rent your car EARLY
Croatia is an outstandingly beautiful country and a popular destination. 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 in Croatia 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 VRBO’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 can be expensive in big cities like Zagreb, Dubrovnik, and Split, but we found parking to be accessible and free in all of Istria and Zadar.
Type of driver’s license needed
Your home country license is enough to secure a car rental, but we always choose to get an international driver’s license just to be extra safe. They aren’t too expensive (we paid $15) and can be purchased through AAA.
If your driver’s license from your home country isn’t written in Latin letters (for example, Thai letters), then you will need to get an international driver’s license.
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 a 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.
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 different routes that don’t require tolls. You can pay by 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 want 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!
Want to know more about Croatia? Check out our other articles on Croatia.
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