Traveling to Croatia on Budget
Croatia is perhaps one of the most beautiful Mediterranean countries around and still quite affordable as long as you know where to find the savings. If you can learn to shave off some expenses, you can easily go to Croatia for less than $125 day.
As with any trip, the biggest expenses are: accommodation, food, airfare, in-country transportation & excursions. Please keep reading Traveling to Croatia on a Budget to learn simple strategies on how to go to Croatia for less than $125 day and make it feel like a 3 star vacation.
Budget Season to Go to Croatia
Choosing the wrong month will almost double the price of traveling to Croatia. The most expensive times to go to are July & August. To ensure the best rates and best weather go before or after peak season. For example, many shops and restaurants start to open their doors for the season after Easter (around April 15) but the weather in early April is still on the colder side (low 60’s). Waiting until the end of April or early May will guarantee better weather and cheaper accommodations. Mid to late September is another great time to book a trip as the season starts to wind down, crowds lesson, the weather is still good and everything is still open.
Flights are your single largest line item. If you look for flights from your departure city directly into Croatia, expect to pay a lot more. Here are a couple ways to find savings when booking a flight.
- Once you have a desired arrival city (Zagreb, Pula, Zadar, Split & Dubrovnik are most popular). Set up an alert using Hopper or Travel Zoo or another service and wait for flights to hit your price.
- Skip trying to fly into Croatia on a single booked ticket and break up the trip into two separate booked flights. Choose a popular European city and book a separate regional carrier to Croatia. Regional carriers like GermanWings or Ryanair are good places to start for inexpensive flights to Croatia. Frankfurt, Berlin & London are popular connection cites for finding flights to Croatia.
- Same strategy as #2 but use your frequent flier miles. Peak Europe tickets are 60k miles and off-peak are 40k. Croatian Airlines is a star alliance member with reasonable flights from all over Europe to Dubrovnik & Split.
I spent $750 on flights to Croatia, this includes a RT flight from Charlotte to Zagreb and a regional flight from Dubrovnik to Zagreb.
Prices double in the summer for most everything. Depending how budget you want to go, Airbnb tends to be the best method for finding suitable lodging at wonderful prices. You have the option to rent entire apartments or rooms in people’s homes. It all depends on your style of travel but having the ability to stay with locals in addition to booking private flats is very appealing and allows the best of both worlds.
To really save money, stay out of the old city centers. While they are beautiful and provide postcard images, they are 2-3 times more expensive than staying slightly farther away and paying $1.50 to take public transport. Plus, spaces tend to be larger and you get a chance to see real working neighborhoods instead of the tourist hubs of old town. I spent about $25 a night at various Airbnb places from sharing a room in someones home in Zagreb to my own 3 bedroom apartment in Split.
If on a shoe-string budget, opting for a car is a luxury you can not afford but I would suggest spending a little extra on this extravagance. The experience of this country is infinitely more profound by renting a car vs taking buses and planes. If you are traveling with several people, splitting up the price tag for a car is a great option. I spent 21 days in Croatia and estimated I spent about $600 including daily rental fee, tolls and gas. I drove over 1,000 km and drive from Zagreb to Istria and then down the southern Dalmatian coast to Zadar, Split & Dubrovnik. I went through an European rental agency for the car as the quotes from American based Avis, Hertz were too expensive. I ended up going with Fleet. If you are not going in peak season, it is reasonable to find a daily rate for less than $15/day for a small car. One thing to note, manual transmission cars are cheaper than automatic. My rental was slightly more expensive due to a $150 destination fee for returning my car in Dubrovnik. That could have been avoided if I had returned the car in Zagreb. I spent about $28 day on transportation and could have halved this if I had been traveling with someone.
Available in most cities, excursions are a great way to get out and see more of the islands and surroundings places of Croatia. I was surprised how expensive these were. For example, day trips to islands around Dubrovnik can run anywhere from $45-60 pp. Croatia has many amazing beaches and ferries to the best islands such as Hvar, Brac, Korcula so if you took my advice and rented a car, you would not need to spend $50 pp to go on an excursion. I spent $45 to go on an excursion (w/o lunch) to Bosnia-Herzegovina that I could have easily done with my car.
Food is about the easiest way to save money. Stay away fro touristy restaurants and you will save a bundle. A pekarna (bakery) offers bake fresh bread, pastries and pizzas everyday at incredible cheap prices. Grocery stores have meats and cheese so you can picnic everyday. There are also lots of kebab stands along the Dalmatian coast. Alcohol is reasonably priced at most places with a glass of wine selling for $3-6 (getting more expensive thefurther south you go). I tried and failed miserable to go cheap when eating. The food is just too good to stay on a budget. If you do decide to splurge, opt for the many seafood dishes and local Croatian wine (buy it at the grocery store for sub $8 bottles). I routinely enjoyed a starter, main course, dessert and 2 glasses of famed Croatian wine and walked out the restaurant with a $40 bill, no tipping necessary. I spent about $35/day on food, mainly attributed to my slight addiction to Croatian wine. I should also note, I opted for a rather light breakfast and a huge late lunch, which allowed me to skip dinner or just drink more Croatian wine.