Despite - or because of - repeated invasions over the centuries and amalgamation with other countries, Croatians have maintained a strong, distinctive culture. Croatians depict their daily life through folklore. Songs, dances and costumes exist for every occasion in all parts of the country. Croatian dances are physically demanding, as dancers sing while they perform brisk and lively movements. In the kolo, men and women dance in a circle to the music of violins or the tambura, a three- or five-string mandolin. Guitars and accordions are other common folk instruments. Folk arts are performed at special events and regional gatherings such as the Zagreb International Folklore Festival. Croatia also has a strong tradition of classical music. Ivo Pogorelich is an internationally known concert pianist.

The oldest known Croatian paintings are from the 11th century. In the 20th century, Croatia's contribution to the world of fine arts has been the movement of Croatian Naive Art or self-taught artists; one of the most notable of these artists is Ivan Lackovic-Croata. Other well-known Naïve painters include Ivan Generalic and Ivan Rabuzin. Sculptures have been expressed in ornamental relief since the 10th century. The most famous Croatian sculptor is Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962), who created such works as the wooden Madonna and Child. His sculptures can be found in town squares throughout Croatia, as well as internationally. His piece The Canadian Phalanx 1914-1918 resides in Ottawa at the Veterans' Memorial Building.

Croatia's architecture dates back to Roman times. Important preserved Roman sites are the Diocletian Palace (at Split), the Euphrasius Basilic (Porec), and the Roman Colosseum and Temple of Augustus (both in Pula). The Adriatic islands contain over 13 centuries of Croatian architectural history, and the city of Dubrovnik is famous for its medieval and Renaissance architecture. Croatian architects of today are sought internationally; the New London Theatre was designed by the Croatians Vladimir Turina and Pavie Tvrtkovic.

Soon after the printing press was invented, Croatian literature entered the European scene. The Croatian nobility was deeply involved in literature, leaving much by way of poetry and translations. The famous playwright Marin Drzic (1508-67) helped raise the language to a high literary level. The 20th century has seen a strengthening of Croatian writing. The novelist, playwright and poet Miroslav Krleza is internationally known for his works The Return of Philip Latinowicz (1932) and the multivolume Banners (1963-65), which concerns Croatian life at the turn of the century. Vesna Parun is a well-known contemporary poet.

  Did you know?
The famous composer Franz Joseph Hayden (1732-1809) was born in the Croatian-speaking region of Austria and strongly influenced by Croatian folk music.