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