Your journey to Hvar should be seen as part of the travel experience and not just about the getting there. If you plan the journey and start adding up the time it will take you, you are missing the point. In all reality it is going to take the best part of a day of your life, so you need to see it as part of the adventure.
At the start of the journey, you may be at the mercy of one of the low cost airlines... We all know about this bit so see it as a necessary evil and try to not reflect on their definition of low cost by the time you have paid for your luggage, that limp sandwich, the pleasure of sitting next to your loved ones rather than fighting for space together and so on.
The crucial thing here is to book a flight that will enable you to get to Hvar same day. Flights and ferries need to be coordinated. So check the Jadrolinija website for ferry/catamaran times and allow for the flight to be late..
The following assumes you are taking the easiest option and fly into Split.
On arrival at Split, 4 options present themselves:
Hire a car.
Take a bus.
Take a cab.
Take a helicopter, newly introduced in 2012.
Car rental at Split Airport
Hiring a car may be the preferred option simply because having a car does prove useful on Hvar and car rental opportunities are limited on the island, although there are pros and cons. The downside is that you need to find your way to the ferry some 40 minutes away (depending on the traffic, your driving and your navigating.)
At this point you might want to know that you need to have said no to all offers of wine and beer on the plane - you need to be sober if you are driving here. The legal blood alcohol limit is lower than that in the UK and you don’t want to start your holiday at the police station. Not sure the guide books have enough handy phrases for that one!
Book your car in advance – demand in the summer months is high, and for Hvar you will be best with something smaller as some of the roads are narrow. You will need air con in Summer, but we have yet to see a hire car without air conditioning so it might not matter if you don't opt to pay for it. How lucky do you feel?
Don’t be surprised if your car hire company leads you out of the airport and across the road to collect the car. Those cars seemingly abandoned by the side of the road really do belong to some of them!
Strangely the road signs out of Split airport direct you along the smaller road to Split, past housing, schools, shops etc. If you ignore these and turn out of the airport towards Trogir you will pick up the bigger faster road to Split only a couple of miles up the road. A much better bet and much easier to navigate..
When you get near Split you start to see the signs for Trajekt which means Ferry. The picture on the signs should give you a clue. The signs work so follow them!
At the harbourside follow the signs for the Stari Grad ferry. You will be let under the barrier to wait on the harbourside if you are too early for your crossing. Useful to know as there is nothing like enough parking in Split. You can park in the queue and if time allows go off and look around Split, knowing that your car is safe and is parked for free.
Buy your ferry ticket from the Jadrolinija booths on the harbourside. They are usually manned by someone who speaks English. (Smiles not guaranteed though!) Be aware that the booths may not open until an hour before the ferry is due to leave.
On the ferry most local people seem to go into the cabin inside, which is a no-smoking area. Far nicer is to go up on deck and enjoy the journey. The views are lovely, you sail close to other islands and can enjoy either the sunshine or the moonlight. Try to pick up something to eat in Split as the food on board is basic! You will need extra layers of clothing – it can be surprisingly breezy on top even if the sun is shining. And don’t forget the sunglasses and sunscreen. You will be getting two hours of sunshine…
Bus to Split Harbour
You can take a bus from the airport to the harbourside in Split. The bus officially meets the Croatian Airline flights but there are many of those and it is likely that the bus will be there, or be due, when you leave the terminal building. It is a Croatian Airlines coach.
Taking the bus is hassle free, and gives you extra options at the harbourside as you won’t have to wait for the car ferry to Stari Grad. The catamaran takes foot passengers to Jelsa on Hvar via Bol on Brač. Another catamaran takes foot passengers to Hvar town. Again see the options on the Jadrolinija website as the timetables vary at different times of the year.
Tickets for the ferry and catamaran are purchased from the Jadrolinija booths on the harbourside. Make sure you find out where the ferry or catamaran departs from and be aware that the car ferry usually departs a good distance up the harbourside so if you are on foot from the bus stop and are taking the car ferry you will want a light bag or good wheels!
Finally, taking a cab from the airport is painless – there are usually plenty ranked up outside the terminal building. However the expensive cost of cabs is one thing that is likely to surprise you about Croatia! Why not look at prebooking a taxi with one of the companies offering transfers? Again forward planning usually pays off! See your onward travel options in the section on taking the bus.
Useful things to know:
- There is an ATM at the airport and places to exchange money. However the latter are not always open so perhaps pick up some cash at your departure point. Don’t rely on being able to use your credit card – you will be surprised how many places do not take them.
- Car seats for children, sat navs etc are best booked in advance from your car hire provider.
- Some black cars are offered by the car hire companies and these get very very hot in the summer. If you are allocated one, perhaps consider asking for a different car!
- There is a Left Luggage booth at the harbourside in Split. This may be useful if you want to see Split before taking the ferry or catamaran.
- Getting a hotel room for one night in Split in the summer is very very difficult. Allow time for the flight to be late in your plans. If there are delays you may miss the last ferry, or, in high season only, you may have to take the very late ferry, arriving in the depths of the night. If you need to spend a night in Split, book this in advance. The other option is to try the harbourside where local people will be trying to offer their rooms to those arriving off the ferries.
- Be aware that the Stari Grad ferry is usually met on Hvar by buses to other towns and villages. The Jelsa catamaran is not and you may find that there are no cabs either. Make your onward plans in advance and if in doubt ask your accommodation hosts!
- On the catamaran to Jelsa the destination is often not announced clearly so it is easy for unwitting passengers to get off at Bol on Brač when they wanted to go to Hvar! I have seen this happen, and yes I did stop them.
- If travelling to Hvar via car ferry you might want to make the supermarket opposite the ferry terminal your first stop. It is the biggest supermarket on the island, and offers the widest range of products.
- If you are returning by car ferry be sure to arrive at the ferry in plenty of time. In high summer the ferries are very busy and the queue of cars can be long. You may not get on the ferry if you don’t, and you may then miss your flight. Again make the journey part of your holiday and allow yourself time!
- Pack a picnic for your ferry home and enjoy the trip. There isn’t much catering in the Departures lounge at Split (snack bar only) so make the most of dining opportunites elsewhere.
On arrival at your destination on Hvar, visit one of the recommended cafés or bars and reflect on your day. You have travelled, have arrived and are on holiday now! Look around. You made a good choice!