A country with an extremely diverse geography, Croatia is a small country in the Balkans (127th country in the world and 19th in Europe in area) which has varied landscapes and tourist characteristics. Its coasts are particularly jagged with almost 700 islands. Situated between the East and the West, the country is naturally on major trade routes which has led to both wealth and aggression throughout the last 2 millennia.

Key facts about Croatian geography

  • Latitude: between the 42nd and 47th parallel North
  • Longitude: between the 13th and 20th meridian East
  • 3,300 miles of coastline with the Adriatic Sea. Number of islands, islets and cliffs: 1185. The largest islands are Krk and Cres. Only 67 islands are inhabited.
  • 1,400 miles of land borders
  • Area: 21,851 square miles
  • Highest point: 1831m (Mount Dinara) and lowest point: 0 (sea altitude)
  • Longest river: Sava (568km)
  • Largest lake: Lake Vrana (14,2 square miles) out of a total of 200 lakes
  • Capital: Zagreb
  • Climate: Mediterranean on the Adriatic side, mountainous at altitude and continental in the center, north and east
  • Population: 4 million
  • Official language: Croatian

Geography of Croatia – Location

Croatia is located in the south-eastern part of Europe and neighbors Hungary to the north-east (205 miles of border), Serbia to the east (150 miles of border), Bosnia–Herzegovina to the South (930 km of border), from Montenegro to the southern tip (15 miles of border) and from Slovenia to the North West (310 miles of border). It is the shape of the country (horseshoe) which leads to this large number of borders with neighboring countries.

A surprising feature is that the country is cut in two at Neum (port of Bosnia-Herzegovina) which cuts Dubrovnik at the southern tip from the rest of the country. Borders are also a subject of tension with neighboring countries and particularly with Slovenia and Serbia (the war of the 1990s left wounds that are still poorly healed). Finally, with Italy, Croatia also has maritime borders in the Adriatic Sea.

carte de croatie
Global map of Croatia

Croatian landscapes

The diverse landscape and geography of Croatia are one of the reasons that attract tourists to visit the country. These major cities and regions each offer a different tourist experience.

  • On the borders with Hungary and more generally in the northern half of the country, we benefit from vast areas (plains) of low altitude with hills, lakes and watercourses which meander gently: this is the Pannonian basin;
  • The rocky and mountainous coastline is occupied by the Dinaric Alps, an essentially limestone mountain range, with few passes and a pronounced karst relief;
  • Between the two, Lika and Gorski Kotar provide a wooded link between the coast and the more continental part of the country;
  • Finally, in the Adriatic Sea, the islands offer very contrasting landscapes and only around fifty are inhabited out of the almost a thousand islands and islets that the country contains.

Sculpting the karst relief, the water meanders sometimes in rapids, sometimes lounging in the green meadows of the country. This is the case of the emblematic Zrmanja. Most of the water flows towards the Black Sea via the Danube in the east of the country. The rest flows towards the Adriatic and it is the reliefs of the Dinaric Alps which determine the watershed.

Croatia is a seismic and active zone. In Croatia, earthquakes are frequent and occur in the Alps – Mediterranean region (most earthquakes occur in coastal regions).

Mount Dinara is the highest point in Croatia. It is one of the mountains located on the border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia which peaks at 1830 m in height. 10 other peaks exceed 1500m altitude but they remain marginal in the geography of the country, more than half of the territory does not exceed 200m altitude.

carte des montagnes de croatie
Landforms of Croatia

Natural resources of Croatia

Croatia has an abundance of natural resources, including oil and gas, calcium, limited quantities of coal (in the northwest of the country), bauxite (in Dalmatia and Istria), asphalt, iron, coal and salt – exploited since antiquity. The exploitation of oil and gas deposits amply satisfies the needs of the Croatian people, a part is even intended for export. With the relief, the country also benefits from a strong hydroelectric potential and with wind from wind energy (even if this last point still remains minimal).

Croatian agriculture and land

Croatia’s geography allows for varied land use. More than 30% of land is cultivated but agriculture only employs 15% of the population and generates only 4% of the country’s wealth. Wheat, sugar beet, corn, market gardening and forestry are the main crops in the country with vines, olives but also tobacco and livestock and fishing.

Croatian vegetation

The plant cover is very diverse. Forests represent 36% of the country’s surface area. In continental regions, forests are dominant and are mainly composed of pedunculate oak, hornbeam, beech and fir.

The coastal strip and islands are characterized by Alpine pine, downy oak, white and black hornbeam and dense evergreen undergrowth.

National parks and the protection of Croatian flora and fauna

The geography and resulting micro-climates have resulted in numerous eco-regions with endemic species that make the country one of the richest biodiverse countries in all of Europe. As a result, Croatia has 8 national parks which were established to protect animals and plants. The total area of these national parks reaches almost 386 square miles, of which 293 is land and the rest is water.

The approach to protecting ecosystems is not recent because the oldest park was created in 1949 and the most recent dates from 1999. Croatia has also protected dozens of other specific areas under the name of natural parks. More than 750 sites are also classified as Natura 2000, representing 36% of the country’s total territory.

Human distribution, urbanization and transport in Croatia

Since the end of the war, the country has aged and lost inhabitants. It is especially the countryside which is being emptied in favor of the capital and the coast. The country’s urbanization rate has exceeded 55% and the main cities are now: Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, Osijek, Zadar and Pula.

Water is not a scarce resource in Croatia but it is unevenly distributed. Combined with tourist pressure in certain areas, this leads to management problems for this resource. Particularly on the coast where you sometimes have to choose between agriculture and tourism.

Railway lines and main roads follow the Adriatic coast and radiate in a star pattern around the capital. The good quality motorway and rail network is supplemented by around twenty major airports and almost 500 miles of waterways. The terrain remains a problem and the main means of transport avoid it. To get to the islands, bridges and ferries are well developed and operate all year round without a hitch.

Interactive map of Croatia