Review: Croatian Railways ICN Train Split to Zagreb

In this review, we travel with a tilting InterCity train (ICN) from the Croatian Railways (HŽPP) on the scenic line between Split and Zagreb.

The long trip home

After a great time on the Croatian coast in the lovely cities of Trogir and Split, it was time to turn back home.

I would again travel all the way by train, beginning with the fabulously scenic ride between Split and the Croatian capital of Zagreb.

It’s straightforward enough to buy your train ticket online on the Croatian Railways (HŽPP) website, although you can obviously do this as well in person at the station.

As the full fare ticket between Split to Zagreb was just 148.90 Croatian kuna (20 euro) for first class, I decided to buy the cash fare instead of using up another travel day on my Interrail pass.

Do note that when you use an Interrail or Eurail pass it is compulsory to make a seat reservation when travelling on ICN trains in Croatia, something which can only be done at the station (€3.60 for both 2nd and 1st class).

Croatian Railways ICN Train Split to Zagreb
Train 520 – Departure: 8.35am – Arrival: 2.54pm
Duration: 6h19m – Distance: 422 kilometres
First class, Wagon 1, Seat 21 – Costs: 20 EUR

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The railway line between Split and Zagreb mostly runs inland. ©OpenStreetMap/Paliparan

Split railway station

The main train station of Split is located a stone throw away from the city’s famous Riva (seaside promenade) and old town.

Split’s railway station is a multi-modal transport hub, as both the bus station and the Jadrolinija ferry terminal are just metres away.

Inside the small station building you can find a couple of ticket windows and automated ticket machines as well as some luggage lockers.

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Split railway station as seen from a distance. ©Paliparan
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The front entrance of the railway station. ©Paliparan
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Split train station with the departures and arrivals board and both a ticket desk and automated ticket machine visible towards the right. ©Paliparan
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The platforms at Split railway station. ©Paliparan
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From the train station you can easily spot the bell tower of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius in the distance. ©Paliparan
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Split train station. ©Paliparan
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Split train station. ©Paliparan

Before departure

In front and right next to the main train station building, you can find several kiosks, shops and cafés if you need to buy some food or drinks for the journey.

You are well-advised to do so, as there is no dining car on the Split to Zagreb ICN train.

The affordable outdoor café right in front of the station serves good-quality coffee to get you started for the day if you happen to take the morning train.

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Right next to the train station building you can find an outdoor café where you can get good-quality coffee, pastries and snacks. ©Paliparan
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Some coffee to get the day started. ©Paliparan
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You have some good views as well over the port from the train station café. ©Paliparan

The ICN tilting train

HŽPP normally runs two daytime ICN trains and one overnight sleeper train on the 422-kilometre-long stretch between Split and Zagreb.

ICN stands for “InterCity Nagibni” and simply refers to a tilting InterCity train as Nagibni is the Croatian word for tilting.

These diesel multiple unit (DMU) tilting trains are made by Bombardier, which has branded this type of train as “RegioSwinger”.

They are also used in Germany by Deutsche Bahn, which uses these tilting DMUs on some regional lines.

Although these tilting trains might look rather small and unimpressive for such a premium long-distance route between Croatia’s two largest cities, you should keep in mind that the country’s preferred mode of transport is actually the bus and that the Croatian Railways have long suffered from budget cuts.

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The ICN train from Split to Zagreb. ©Paliparan
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This tilting train is a Bombardier RegioSwinger. ©Paliparan
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The back of the train was fully covered in vinyl advertising wraps. ©Paliparan

On board the ICN train

Seats on board this Croatian Railways ICN train are in a 2-2 configuration in both second and first class.

In fact, there isn’t much of a difference at all between the seats in second and first class, as the only difference I could observe was the fact that seats in first class all had a headrest cover, something which was absent in second class.

Another minor difference (at least on my trip!) was that first class felt more quiet than second class as it had a 30-40% occupancy compared to about 80% of all seats taken in second class.

However, I wouldn’t think this is worth the surcharge for first class and next time I would therefore just buy a second class ticket when travelling by train between Split and Zagreb.

Although the train is air-conditioned and has toilets and ample luggage storage, there are no other facilities on board.

There are no power sockets either in the ICN train let alone WiFi internet, although 4G mobile data coverage along the route is decent.

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Second class seats on the Croatian ICN tilting train. ©Paliparan
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First class seats on the ICN train are almost completely identical to those in second class. ©Paliparan

Seat quality and comfort

No matter the class of travel, you will likely be disappointed by the seat quality on board the ICN tilting train between Split and Zagreb.

The seats are just quite hard and become rather uncomfortable after a while.

Whilst the German Railways uses this type of train on relatively short regional journeys (for which it is certainly adequate), the Croatian Railways uses it on a six-hour-long journey.

Needless to say, you’d expect a bit more comfort on an InterCity train operating such long-distance route, although I’d still think the seats and ride on the ICN is more comfortable than any Croatian bus journey.

In fact, when it came to the ride quality of the train itself I had zero complaints and the tilting didn’t cause any discomfort.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage was the fact that on my particular train the first class seats were all located at the rear-end of the train, which was completely covered in vinyl advertising wraps.

It was therefore almost completely impossible to look outside the window, let alone taking pictures of the scenery!

Perhaps the biggest selling point of taking a day-time train between Split and Zagreb is the gorgeous Croatian scenery – so I cannot overstate enough how annoying this was.

In fact, I ended up downgrading myself by taking an empty second class seat in the front of the train so at the very least I could enjoy the views.

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Although the seats are decent enough for a short journey, they become a bit uncomfortable after a couple of hours on the train. ©Paliparan
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The vinyl advertisement wraps covering the windows and obscuring the views was by far the biggest annoyance! ©Paliparan

Departure

The ICN train departed the main railway station of Split on time and halted shortly afterwards at the city’s secondary Predgrade station.

Once the train had cleared the city limits it gradually climbed up into the hills.

The sweeping views from the train over the Adriatic Sea and coastline are a perfect farewell to Split – or make for a grand entrance to the city if you arrive here from Zagreb.

Make sure you sit on the left side of the train when travelling from Split to Zagreb (or on the right side if travelling south) if you want to enjoy the sea views.

Generally, I’d say that the left-hand side of the train offers the best views for most of the ride when travelling north from Split and Zagreb, so this was where I sat down for almost the entire length of the journey.

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View from the rear cab of the train over the tracks and platforms at Split station. ©Paliparan
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Just after departure from Split there are some terrific sea views from the left-hand side of the train. ©Paliparan
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Sea view just after departure from Split. ©Paliparan

Forested hills

After a while, the train leaves the coastline behind and climbs its way up through a beautiful green landscape of fields, shrubs and trees.

One great advantage of this line is that the single track railway line is built high up the hillside for most of the route, one of the main reasons why the views are so fantastic on the Split to Zagreb train.

At this part of the journey the landscape felt fabulously empty as only the odd village or church was visible in the distance.

Just before the station of Perkovic, the branch line to the seaside city of Šibenik joins the main Split to Zagreb railway line.

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After a while, the train leaves the coastline behind and runs inland. ©Paliparan
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Scenery from the Split to Zagreb train. ©Paliparan
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Lovely green fields and forested hills as seen from the Croatian Railways ICN train. ©Paliparan
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Apart from the distant village and a couple of small churches the landscape felt fabulously remote. ©Paliparan
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The railway line from Sibenik joins the Split-Zagreb mainline just before the station of Perkovic. ©Paliparan

From Perkovic to Knin

After a three-minute stop at the station of Perković, the ICN train continued its course further inland towards Knin.

The beautiful song ‘Djevojka iz mog kraja’ by the famous Croatian singer-songwriter Arsen Dedić recalls this part of the journey, with Dedić singing about sitting in a second class wagon (“u vagonu druge klase”) on a train from Perkovic to Knin (“s Perkovića preko Knina”).

It was a lovely spring day and the views remained absolutely stunning during this part of the journey.

I especially loved passing by the smaller stations, as each of them still has an immaculately dressed station chief in Croatian Railways uniform waving off all trains.

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Perkovic station. ©Paliparan
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View of the plateau between Perkovic and Knin. ©Paliparan
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The views on this lovely spring day were excellent. ©Paliparan
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The station of Drniš. ©Paliparan

Approaching Knin

Another important stop on the Split to Zagreb railway line is Knin, a town heavily fought over between the Croats and Serbs in the Croatian War of Independence of 1991-95.

There are some fine views of the hilltop castle of Knin on your left-hand side just before the train arrives at the rather ugly station.

Just outside Knin there are some beautiful waterfalls and fine hiking routes, making this town a good choice if you might want to make a stopover between Split and Zagreb.

If you have the time you could for example take the morning train from Split to Knin, look around for a couple of hours, and continue your journey by taking the afternoon train from Knin to Zagreb.

However, keep in mind that this requires two separate train tickets (Split to Knin, Knin to Zagreb).

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View from the train somewhere between Drniš and Knin. ©Paliparan
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From the train you can clearly see the hilltop fortress of Knin. ©Paliparan

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Knin train station. ©Paliparan

Knin to Gračac

Right after departure from Knin, the scenery changes dramatically.

The mountains become higher, the hills more densely forested and the landscapes even more remote.

The train continues to climb and at some points you can almost look down several hundred metres into the valley from the railway line.

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After Knin, the scenery becomes even more wild and remote. ©Paliparan
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Densely forested hills and mountains just after Knin. ©Paliparan
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View from the train. ©Paliparan
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Apart from a couple of small settlements, this part of Croatia felt quite remote. ©Paliparan
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Wonderful view from the train between Knin and Gracac. ©Paliparan

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View from the train between Knin and Gračac. ©Paliparan
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I couldn’t get enough of such gorgeous views over the forested hills and mountains. ©Paliparan
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Some more fine mountain and forest views just before arrival at Gračac. ©Paliparan

Gračac

At the station of Gračac, the train stops for 10 minutes.

This being the Balkans, it was not really surprising that almost half the passengers went out of the train to have a smoke on the platform.

Even if you don’t smoke, the stop at Gračac is a great opportunity to stretch your legs a bit.

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The ICN train from Split to Zagreb halts for 10 minutes at the station of Gračac. ©Paliparan
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Many people stepped out of the train at Gračac to smoke. ©Paliparan
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The railway station of Gračac. ©Paliparan
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The ICN tilting train at the railway station of Gračac. ©Paliparan
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Old steam engine at the station of Gračac. ©Paliparan
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View from the station platform at Gračac over the surrounding mountains. ©Paliparan

Gračac to Gospić

After departure from Gračac, the scenery changes again as the terrain becomes even more mountainous.

At first, you can see the mountains of the Paklenica National Park on your left-hand side, whilst closer to Gospić you have some great views from the same side of the train over the bleak cliffs and peaks of the Velebit mountain rage.

Both mountain ranges are part of the Dinaric Alps and have multiple peaks of around 1,700 metres (5577 ft) high.

Although Gospić is one of Croatia’s smallest county capitals, it is relatively well-known across the country as the place where famous inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla grew up, as he was born just a few miles out of town in the village of Smiljan.

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Scenery from the train after departure from Gračac. ©Paliparan
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Gorgeous views over the Dinaric Alps from the Split to Zagreb ICN train. ©Paliparan
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Although the skies became more clouded, the landscape was still as stunning as it was at the beginning of the journey. ©Paliparan

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Dinaric Alps as seen from the train. ©Paliparan
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Dark clouds over the Dinaric Alps. ©Paliparan
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View between Gračac and Gospić. ©Paliparan
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Mountain view. ©Paliparan

To Karlovac

After Gospić, the ICN tilting train stops in towns and villages like Perušić, Vrhovine (the nearest train station to the famous Plitvice Lakes) and Josipdol.

Just before Karlovac, the train follows the course of the Mrežnica river – with the best views now being on your right-hand side.

With a population of 55,000, Karlovac is the largest city between Split and Zagreb where the train halts.

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Perušić station. ©Paliparan
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Verdant green hills. ©Paliparan
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Enjoying the last mountain views before the train descends to the Croatian lowlands. ©Paliparan
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Mountain views just before reaching the station of Ličko Lešće. ©Paliparan
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Leaving the mountains behind. ©Paliparan
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The train now follows the course of the meandering Mrežnica river. ©Paliparan
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View from the train over the Mrežnica river. ©Paliparan

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Karlovac. ©Paliparan

Karlovac to Zagreb

From Karlovac, the ICN train drives non-stop towards the Croatian capital of Zagreb.

Compared to all the splendour of the previous hours, the views on this stretch are rather boring.

However, it’s a fast bit of railway line so the time went by rather quickly and we eventually arrived on time in Zagreb.

As always, it’s a pleasure to arrive at the wonderful railway station of Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor (which simply means “main station” in Croatian).

From Zagreb’s centrally located railway station it’s a pleasant 10-minute walk to Trg bana Josipa Jelačića (Ban Josip Jelačić Square, the main city centre square).

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Scenery between Karlovac and Zagreb. ©Paliparan
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Approaching the Croatian capital of Zagreb. ©Paliparan
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Riding through the suburbs of Zagreb. ©Paliparan
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The ICN tilting train from Split has arrived at Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor! ©Paliparan
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The ICN tilting train (left) stands right across the platform from a normal Croatian Railways InterCity (IC) train. ©Paliparan
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Zagreb’s beautiful train station. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

Although most people take the bus or fly between Split and Zagreb, the ICN tilting train operated by the Croatian Railways is a fantastic alternative.

The Split to Zagreb railway line is highly scenic and the views from the train do not disappoint.

Indeed, the views of the forested hills, rivers, countryside and high mountain peaks are among the best in the Balkans.

There are however some disadvantages to taking the train, as the ICN trains aren’t the most impressive and the seat quality isn’t the most comfortable ever.

However, I do think the train beats the bus as it is more spacious and certainly a more relaxed way of travel, allowing you to get a much better impression of the diverse country that is Croatia.

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘Across Europe by Train: Interrail in the Age of Corona‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: LOT Polish Airlines Economy Class Bucharest to Warsaw (Embraer ERJ-175)
2. Walking Through an Empty Warsaw in Corona Lockdown
3. Review: Four Points by Sheraton Warsaw Mokotow
4. Review: LOT Polish Airlines Economy Class Warsaw to Zurich (Boeing 737 MAX)
5. A Stopover Walk Through the Old Town of Zurich
6. Review: Railjet Train Zurich to Feldkirch
7. An Evening in Friendly Little Feldkirch
8. Review: Nightjet Train Feldkirch to Graz
9. A Short Walk Along the Sights of Graz
10. Review: Emona EuroCity Train Vienna – Ljubljana – Trieste
11. Zidani Most: Europe’s Most Picturesque Train Station
12. Review: Ljubljana to Zagreb by EuroCity Train EC 1211 ‘Sava’
13. Flying With Trade Air on a Let L-410 Turbolet Across Croatia
14. Review: Palace Derossi, Trogir, Croatia
15. A Visit to the Tranquil Island City of Trogir, Croatia
16. Cycling on Ciovo: A Trogir Day Trip by Bike
17. Split: Croatia’s Bustling Seaside City Full of History
18. Review: Croatian Railways ICN Train Split to Zagreb (current chapter)
19. Review: Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb, Croatia

** rest of the chapters to follow soon **

koen paliparan rhodes rodos

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

2 thoughts on “Review: Croatian Railways ICN Train Split to Zagreb

  • August 17, 2022 at 3:49 pm
    Permalink

    I think this is a journey I will give a miss Koen although the scenery is stunning. I see the ICN train even has Deutsche Bahn fabric on the seats!

    (FWIW I was on one of these trains last week from Berlin Hbf to BER, the dedicated DB airport service, there are no luggage racks provided, it was utter chaos….)

    Reply
    • koen paliparan rhodes rodos
      August 17, 2022 at 4:18 pm
      Permalink

      BER is almost a third-world airport.. but yeah I can imagine that the long train trip on what is essentially a DB Regio Bahn train isn’t for everyone.

      As a fellow avgeek I would instead suggest flying Trade Air on their Let L-410 Turbojet as it’s great fun! (unfortunately the flights are currently suspended due to some renewal issues with Croatia’s PSO routes)

      Reply

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