Though not incredibly large in terms of mainland surface area, Croatia packs in a high variety of geographic relief. You can find 3 main types of geographic relief in Croatia: mountainous Dinaric, coastal Adriatic, and lowland Pannonian.
53% of Croatia is considered “lowlands,” as it falls under 200m, while 26% of Croatia has hills and peaks that fall between 200-500m. 21% of Croatia rises above 500m above sea level.
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Croatia’s coastal region extends from the mountains. To the north, the coastal region encompasses the Istrian peninsula, and the coastal belt becomes narrow—bounded by the high Velebit mountains and islands—south of Rijeka. Croatia’s southern coastal expanse was once historically considered Dalmatia, with its predominant karst relief.
The lowland Pannonian and para-Pannonian plains form the breadbasket of Croatia thanks to the alluvial soil from the Sava, Drava, and Danube that the crops. The Pannonian region runs along Croatia’s northeastern arm, and is also known as Croatia-Slavonia or just Slavonia.
The western edge of the Pannonian plains begins to transition into the hilly highlands of the para-Pannonian marked by the limestone plateaus of Kordun and Pokuplje. The Dinaric mountain region lies NW-SE, with Gorski Kotar and Lika comprising significant portions of the Dinaric highlands. Karst plateaus, primarily consisting of limestone, make up the much of the central mountain belt.
Croatia divides into three climatic regions: Central Croatia, and the Adriatic Coast.
Central Continental Croatia
Continental Croatia is separated from the coastal region by the Dinaric mountain range and has its own colder climate. During the winter, average temperatures are around 0°C/32°F. Summers range between mid-high 30s °C/high 80s or low 90s°F. July tends to have more frequent heat waves.
Croatia’s mountain ranges offer cooler temperatures and more precipitation. In the winter, average temperatures can go from -2°C to -4°C with regular snowfall. In the summer, the mountains are a more temperate 10°C to 18°C, and visitors often escape the coastal heat by traveling into the cooler mountain ranges.
The coastal region has a pleasant Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot, dry, and sunny, while winters are relatively mild and wet. During the summer, temperatures range between mid 70s-low 90s, with average temperatures lying around mid-to-high 20s°C/77-86°F. During the winter, temperatures rarely get below 5°C/41ºF.
FUN FACT: Hvar is Croatia’s sunniest island, boasting over 2,7000 hours of sun per year. Korčula’s Vela Luka, Split, and Dubrovnik are the followers-up for Croatia’s
CROATIA’S RIVERS AND LAKES
The majority of Croatia’s rivers (62%) belong to the Black Sea catchment basin, with the remaining rivers (38%) belonging to the Adriatic.
The two longest Croatian rivers, the River Drava (505km) and the River Sava (562km) both flow into the Black Sea basin after they meet up with the Danube.
River Sava’s main tributaries include:
- Kupa (the longest river whose entirety lies within Croatia)
River Drava’s main tributaries include:
Lakes pop up across Croatia, though few are sizable. Lake Vransko, near Biograd, stands as Croatia’s largest lake at 30.7 square kilometers, and many consider Lika’s Plitvice Lakes the most picturesque.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Major Ethnic Groups
Several ethnic groups live in the Croatian republic, with Croats being the largest. Serbs comprise the largest minority ethnic group, though that number has fallen dramatically since the war of independence in the 1990s.
Bosniaks, Italians, Slovenes, Hungarians, Albanians, Austrians, Bulgarians, Czechs, Germans, Roma, and other ethnic groups also can be found in Croatia in smaller numbers.
Croatian 96.1%, Serbian 1%, other and undesignated 2.9% (including Italian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, and German).
Roman Catholic 87.8%, Orthodox 4.4%, other Christian 0.4%, Muslim 1.3%, other and unspecified 0.9%, none 5.2%.
Croatians have mythologized the sea winds that wail against their country since ancient times, and they are now known fondly by name. Bura, the affable north wind, blows bad weather away. Jugo, the more sinister south wind, rouses your own inner demons.
The cool, dry Bura wind blows down from Croatia’s northeastern mountains. It usually brings clear, sunny days to Croatia’s shores, but it’s known for its mercurial temperament and its tempestuous strength. Croatia’s fishermen respect the Bura as well as fear it, for as a Croatian saying goes, the Bura likes to be alone on the sea.
The southeasterly Jugo wind (pronounced “you-go”), often brings along stormy weather and low pressure. Without barrier to shield from the Jugo, these winds rise in strength and speak before breaking after a couple of days. According to Croatian folk wisdom, the Jugo brings about stormy weather as well as mood swings. This wisdom is so ingrained that when the Dubrovnik Republic was in power, its Senate put on a pause on decisions when the Jugo gale was at full strength.
The Maestral, a summerly northwestern wind, is the cornerstone of Dalmatia’s summer and typically blows during the late morning until the early afternoon. Croatians appreciate the Maestral’s relatively fixed, unvarying presence and behavior. In the past, Croatian’s considered the Maestral in their city building plans, crafting streets that open toward the Maestral so that a natural form of air conditioning is effecting. You’ll appreciate the Maestral’s cooling effect on hot summer days.