After ten years of travel and over 90 countries, I have come to the conclusion that Croatia is one of the most underrated travel destinations on the planet.
I’m slightly biased, of course.
When I first decided to set off on my round-the-world adventure, I decided Croatia would be the very first country on my itinerary.
It was an unusual choice, I know. Most travellers set off for Bangkok, London, Sydney, or Beijing to kickstart their gap years, but something about Eastern Europe fascinated me. I wanted to explore some of the lesser-visited parts of the continent in which I was born, and Croatia sounded like the perfect place to start.
It’s since held a special place in my heart as the destination that helped me gain my travel footing, and I immediately fell deeply in love with it.
What’s not to love?
You’ve got gorgeous architecture to snap photos of, hundreds of islands to explore, the spectacular Plitvice National Park to wander around, underrated Zagreb for a city break, and some of the best beaches in the world. There are opportunities to sail the coastline, surprisingly fantastic cheese to eat, lovely locals, and so many beautiful landscapes that it’s hard to believe one country can offer up so much.
I originally planned to spend two weeks travelling around Croatia for my first visit, but after falling in love with the country, I quickly extended my stay to a full month. I hit up Dubrovnik, Split, Brac, Zadar, Pag, Zagreb, Plitvice, and Crikvenica over that time, and easily could have spent longer if I didn’t already have a flight to the other side of the world to catch.
I’ve since returned twice more to Croatia, and every time I do, I realise just how underrated a country it is.
I mean, it’s not super off the beaten track, like Moldova or Belarus, and wandering through Dubrovnik’s old town in the middle of August will leave you swamped with tourists and craving some respite. But Croatia is still lesser-known and lesser-thought-of than some of the big hitters in European tourism. I believe it’s well worth a visit.
I’ve been recording every single cent I spend in the countries I visit from day one of my travels because I want to prove that seeing the world is inexpensive and achievable. I want to be able to give a realistic and accurate look at how much you can expect to spend in each country you visit.
Today, it’s Croatia’s turn. I visited Croatia first of all as a solo backpacker, and then secondly and thirdly, as part of a couple on a mid-range budget. In total, I averaged 45 EUR per day while I was there. That’s 55 U.S. dollars, £39, or 330 Croatian Kuna.
Here’s how much you can expect to spend on a trip to Croatia in 2021.
How to Save Money on Flights to/From Croatia
My European readers won’t have to worry too much about the cost of flights to Croatia, as the wide range of budget airlines means finding something affordable is never too much of a problem. As always, I recommend heading to Skyscanner to snag yourself a bargain.
If you’re flexible with dates and itinerary, you’ll find the best deals by searching to flights to “Croatia” rather than an individual city, as you may find it’s far cheaper to fly into Zagreb over Dubrovnik, for example. It’s also worth setting your flight departure date to be across an entire month, which you can do with Skyscanner. This will show you the cheapest dates to fly and ensure you have the very best deal possible.
In general, you’ll find that it’s cheapest to fly to Croatia outside of high season, which coincides with typical European summer vacation dates (late-June to late-August). May and September are the shoulder season months, and October to March is the official low season, where you’ll find the lowest prices. If you do have the freedom to visit during shoulder season, I highly recommend it, as it’ll mean spending less on flights and accommodation while having to deal with fewer tourists. Shoulder season is my favourite time of year to travel, and it’s worth making the effort to do so in Croatia.
What if you’re not European?
Well, unfortunately, there are only a handful of direct flights between North America and Croatia — you can fly from Newark to Dubrovnik — but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to spend an enormous amount of cash in order to get there.
Fortunately, getting to Europe from North America is surprisingly cheap these days, and I wouldn’t expect you’d need to pay more than around $400 for a return ticket. Allow me to introduce you to one of my favourite websites in the world: Secret Flying! I’d estimate that 80% of the flights I book these days are due to a deal I’ve found on Secret Flying.
Once you’ve booked your flight to Europe, you’ll need to figure out how to get to Croatia for cheap, but that’s when Skyscanner comes in! Europe is full of cheap airlines and getting from country to country is nearly always easy and inexpensive.
How to Save Money on Accommodation in Croatia
As always with travel, it’s possible to cut your accommodation costs down to zero if you have the time and patience to seek out an offer.
Couchsurfing exists in Croatia, and allows you to stay with a local for free, sleeping on their sofa and enjoying a local’s insight into life in their country. It’s not the most comfortable of living situations, but if your budget is tight, it’s worth sending out a few requests to hosts to see if anything comes of it. You can search for potential hosts on the site.
Housesitting is another option. This is where you’ll take care of somebody’s house for free while they’re away, and usually look after their pets, too. It’s best for long-term travellers or retirees as you can’t pick and choose dates and destinations, so you need to have a lot of flexibility as to where you go and at what time of year. If you do have that freedom, it’s a wonderful way to cut down your travel expenses, soak up some home comforts, and live like a local for a while. Trusted Housesitters is one of the best sites for getting started with housesitting.
And finally, if you’re travelling long-term and don’t mind getting your fingers dirty, you could look at WWOOFing or WorkAway as a way to cut down your costs while working on a farm in exchange for accommodation and food. It’s not the most glamorous of experiences, but getting to live for free in a foreign country is an incredible experience, so if you’re backpacking around Europe, this may be the way forward for you.
I’m suspecting, though, that for most of you, you’re not interested in the free accommodation and just want somewhere clean, safe, and affordable to rest your head each night. If that’s the case, there are several options available for you.
The first of these are hostels. In Croatia, you’ll come across hostels all over the country, finding them on tiny islands, in large cities, and even in the national parks. They’re one of your best options for saving money.
Hostels in Croatia are slightly cheaper than equivalents in Western Europe, with the big exception being Dubrovnik over the summer, which is eye-wateringly expensive (I once paid €35 a night for an 8-bed dorm that was an hour’s walk from the Old Town in July!) You can expect to spend around €10-15 for a dorm bed in most spots in Croatia, with the price increasing to slightly about €15 a night on the popular islands, national parks, and more tourist-filled areas.
When it comes to private rooms in hostels, you can expect to spend around €25 a night for a clean, basic room in a good location, so if you’re travelling with friends or with your partner, you may find it cheaper to grab some privacy over settling for two beds in a dorm room.
If you’re an older traveller and put off by the thought of nights spent in hostels, you shouldn’t be! Private rooms are usually very quiet and clean, and most hostels are modern, safe, and centrally located. They tend to have a little more personality than generic hotels, and the staff are fantastic at offering kickass travel advice. As long as you check the reviews of any hostel before booking it to make sure nobody refers to it as a party hostel, you’re all good to make a booking there.
I use HostelWorld to find the cheapest hostels, as they tend to have the greatest number of listings at the lowest prices.
And, of course, there are always hotels, which will usually start at around €50-€150 a night for a decent, clean, mid-range property in a central location. I always use Booking, as they have the most accommodation options for the cheapest prices.
The Best Hostels and Guesthouses in Croatia
As I mentioned above, I’ve visited Croatia during various stages of my travel career, both as a solo backpacker who was travelling on a shoestring budget and as part of a couple that was looking for all things private and mid-range. I’ve learned a lot about how to travel affordably through this country in the process.
I always like to share which accommodation I stayed in on my travels, as well as recommend alternatives when mine sucked. Everywhere I recommend below has excellent reviews and offers great value for money. On my most recent two-week trip around Croatia, I followed this itinerary:
Dubrovnik: 3 nights
Split: 3 nights
Zadar: 3 nights
Plitvice: 2 nights
Zagreb: 3 nights
Here’s my list of my favourite accommodation options in Croatia, listed in both Euros and Croatian Kunas:
Dubrovnik — Apartments Sv.Jakov (€68 a night, or 500 HRK): There’s two things you need to know about accommodation in Dubrovnik. The first is that it’s expensive, and the second is that staying inside the old town is extremely expensive. The good news is that Apartments Sv.Jakov solves both of those problems by being both affordable and accessible to the centre of town (a 15 minute walk from your room). But not only that, it also has one of the best views in the entire city and some of the best reviews of any property. Throw one of the friendliest owners in the country in the mix and you can see why I’m gushing its praises. This is an excellent option for Dubrovnik.
Split — Apartment Citadela (€100 a night, or 750 HRK): Split is full of expensive hotels. In fact, you’ll struggle to find a stay in one for under €200 a night. I recommend Apartment Citadel because it’s half the price of the hotels, receives incredible reviews, and right in the heart of town — it’s a truly fantastic location! And you’ll have access to a kitchen, too, to help you save money on meals.
Zadar — Harvey’s Luxury Rooms (€66 a night, or 500 HRK): This is a no-brainer when it comes to accommodation in Zadar! It’s inexpensive, in the centre of the old town, close to tons of excellent restaurants (I recommend Kantuna), and a super-accommodating owner. With some seriously nice furniture providing decoration in the rooms as an added bonus, you really can’t go wrong.
Plitvice Lakes National Park — Villa Jezerka (€46 a night, or 350 HRK): I loved both of my stays at Villa Jezerka in Plitvice Lakes National Park and have sent so many of my readers there since visiting! I chose this place because it’s easily the best-rated accommodation that’s close to the park, and it’s pretty affordable too. It didn’t disappoint. You’ll likely spend most of your time walking in the park, but when you’re at the villa, you’ll be greeted by lovely staff, presented with a filling breakfast, and marvel at the fresh air. That’s one of my lasting memories of the area Villa Jezerka is in: how peaceful the surroundings were, and how healing the clean air felt.
Zagreb — Embassy Row B&B (€126 a night, or 950 HRK): It’s rare to check out the reviews of accommodation and find yourself greeted with a wall of 10 out of 10s, but that’s exactly what drew me to Embassy Row B&B. If there’s a better spot in Zagreb, I’d be seriously surprised. What I love about this place is the lavish, fresh breakfast, the great location, and the wonderful owner. Nadia is kind, friendly, welcoming, and only too eager to give recommendations on how to make the most of your time in the city. I wouldn’t consider staying anywhere else.
How to Save Money on Transportation in Croatia
Transportation is fairly inexpensive in Croatia, so you won’t need to worry about it upping your travel budget by too much. The best, easiest, and cheapest way to travel around the country is by bus or ferry.
Domestic buses will take you pretty to much anywhere you need them to, and are fast, comfortable, and modern. You can expect your ride to come with power sockets and Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and large, spacious seats, making it a no-brainer to go for the bus over anything else. If you book your bus tickets in advance through Arriva, you can save 5% on the price of your ticket while not having to worry about the bus being full.
If you’re anything like me, though, you can’t imagine visiting Croatia and not spending time on some of its gorgeous islands (my favourites are Brac and Pag). In this case, you’re going to want to hop on a ferry to get from the mainland to paradise. You can find a map of the ferry routes on CroatiaFerries — and most ferries run at least once a day in peak season.
Keep in mind that if you’re going to be renting a car in Croatia, you’ll pay quite a bit extra to take it on the ferries, so it may work out cheaper for you to find somewhere to park for free before heading to the islands on foot.
When it comes to hiring a car to drive around Croatia, you shouldn’t feel intimidated. Even my parents managed a two-week road trip around the country without any hassle, and said it was a far more peaceful experience compared to nearby Italy! I always hire a car through RentalCars.com, a comparison search engine that brings up the best deals from all the popular providers.
As always, you’ll have far more independence if you decide to drive through Croatia, as you’ll be able to stop off whenever you feel like it, take detours to tiny villages, and stop at spectacular viewpoints to take photos whenever you want.
Parking is going to be your main issue when it comes to driving in Croatia. Many of the popular tourist destinations are pedestrianised, so you may find yourself driving around for half an hour in search of a parking space. If you’re happy to park up at your accommodation and then take public transport or walk, you’ll have a much easier experience.
You can also hire scooters in Croatia, so if you’re competent on two wheels, you may want to opt for this instead! You’ll pay less to hire them and won’t find parking as difficult either.
Flying is typically expensive and time-consuming, so you’ll want to skip out on that if at all possible. You’ll save money and see a lot more of the country by travelling overland.
Here are some of the typical transportation costs you can expect to run into while in Croatia:
- Bus from Dubrovnik to Split: €12
- Bus from Zagreb to Zadar: €11
- Bus from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes: €10
- Ferry from Dubrovnik to Hvar: €28
- Ferry from Dubrovnik to Brac: €29
- Ferry from Split to Brac: €12
- Bus from Zagreb to Pula: €13
How to Save Money on Food in Croatia
Food can be expensive in Croatia, but there are plenty of ways to cut costs while you travel around this beautiful country.
Cooking is always going to be more affordable than eating out, so if you’re willing to sacrifice some meals on your vacation, this is a great way to keep on track with your budget. Hostels will usually give you access to a shared kitchen, and if you’re opting for an Airbnb, you can check that it allows you access to the kitchen. If that’s the case, you can head to a local market (a great cultural experience) and stock up on fish, vegetables, and fruits, and spend far less on your meals than you would at a restaurant.
Many hostels and hotels will offer free breakfasts within their room rate, so if that’s the case, I always recommend eating later in the morning and eating a lot of food, as you may find you’re too full to have lunch. If you’re particularly sneaky, you may be able to grab an extra bread roll from the breakfast offerings and have that for lunch, too.
You’re also going to want to opt for a larger lunch and a smaller dinner. Most restaurants charge less for their lunch menus, even though they’re serving the exact same meal for lunch and dinner. If you can eat a bigger meal for lunch, you can then get by with a much smaller one for dinner and save money through doing so.
In general, you should expect to spend the following on each meal:
Breakfast: €2 each for bacon and eggs; €6 each for something in a hipster cafe.
What can you expect from breakfasts in Croatia? If you’re looking for something cheap and simple, you can’t go wrong with pašteta (pate) on bread. Bread and spreads are commonplace in the country, whether it’s margarine, the aforementioned pate, cheese, jam or Nutella. Often, these will be accompanied by cold cuts of meat, such as ham, prosciutto, and salami.
In cafes, you’ll regularly be able to pick up some burek, a savoury pastry containing meat, cheese, or vegetables. Pair it with a serving of yoghurt and you’ve got yourself a traditional Croatian breakfast!
Beyond that, you’ll be able to find those standard omelettes, oatmeal, full English breakfasts, and croissants that you’ll find across the continent, either served up in your accommodation or up for grabs in a cafe in town.
Lunch: €7 each for a sandwich/slice of pizza from a deli with a soft drink
Lunches in Croatia can be delicious and large. Croatians prefer to have a larger meal for lunch and a smaller portion of food for dinner, so loosen up those waistbands and prepare yourself for a true feast! You’ll typically kick things off with some soup to start, then follow that up with some slow-roasted meat, which is practically guaranteed to be so tender that it’s falling off the bone, accompanied by potatoes and vegetables.
Dinner: €10 each if you’re on a budget, €18 each for a mid-range restaurant, €35 each for something higher-end.
One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll often be given bread, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar with lunches and dinner in Croatia, so you should aim to take full advantage of this. Seriously — this was one of my culinary highlights from Croatia. Most of the time it was free with the meal and so ridiculously tasty.
What about tipping? In most restaurants you’ll frequent, tipping will be welcome but not in any way expected. So don’t panic — it isn’t seen as offensive if you don’t tip! And likewise, it won’t be viewed as offensive if you do. Expect to pay 10-15% in any fancy restaurants you head to, but anything laidback and local won’t require you to pay extra.
I don’t often have much success with this suggestion, but I do recommend keeping an eye on your drink consumption while travelling in Croatia. Alcohol is obviously a big budget buster on the road (and Croatian wines can be quite pricey in restaurants), so if you’re happy to substitute the sodas, juices, and booze for tap water, you’ll save a ton of money. And yes, the tap water is safe to drink in Croatia, so you really don’t need to worry about buying bottled water.
If you’re determined to jump headfirst into the Croatian food scene and don’t want to spend your vacation cooking, you should look to eat at the konobas and pizzerias as opposed to the fancier restaurants. Konobas are small family-run restaurants that offer big dishes and low prices, and sometimes even family-made wine. If in doubt, avoid anywhere with white tablecloths and a big English menu outside, because that means it’s set up for tourists and charging more. Delis are great options for lunches, as they offer sandwiches for low prices.
You can always ask the locals for food recommendations, too! Ask at your accommodation for recommendations on the best budget eats, or simply walk around and see which restaurants are full of locals. In the case of the more tourist-filled cities, like Dubrovnik, you’ll find that just walking a couple of blocks outside of the Old Town is all you need to do to find cheaper prices in restaurants.
Here are some typical prices of food and drink in Croatia to help you budget better:
- Pint of draught beer: €2.00
- A bottle of house wine in a restaurant: €12.00
- A slice of pizza: €2.50
- Sandwich from a deli for lunch: €2.90
- A 30 cm pizza for dinner: €11.00
- Seafood dish in a fancy restaurant: €27.00
- Cappuccino in an expat area of town: €1.50
- Litre of milk: €0.75
- A loaf of bread: €0.80
- A dozen eggs: €1.80
- 1 kilogram of tomatoes: €1.40
- 1 kilogram of potatoes: €0.80
- A 1.5l bottle of water: €0.90
- A risotto for lunch: €10.50
- A steak dinner: €17.50
- Famous Croatian lamb from the spit: €16.50
- A gyros for lunch: €2.00
- A local meal from a konobos for dinner with wine: €18 each
- A three course meal and wine in a high-end restaurant in Dubrovnik: €50 each
How to Save Money on Activities in Croatia
We’ve covered accommodation, transportation, and food, but let’s face it: you’re not going to have the trip of a lifetime if you skip out on entrance fees and activities! Here’s a detailed breakdown of some of the costs you’re likely to encounter while travelling around Croatia:
- Walking the city walls in Dubrovnik: $24
- Entrance to Plitvice Lakes National Park: $25
- Entrance to Krka Waterfalls National Park: $25
- A Game of Thrones-themed walking tour in Dubrovnik: $20
- Entrance to Pula’s amphitheatre: $9.20
- Sea kayak tour for three hours in Dubrovnik: $32
- A day trip to Montenegro from Dubrovnik: $58
- Skip-the-line entrance to the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb: $7
- Cost of SplitCard, giving you free entrance to museums, plus free use of buses in the city: $6
There are plenty of free activities to participate in, too, while you’re in Croatia, and I know that I had a fantastic time simply wandering through the Old Towns, exploring local markets, sunbathing on beaches, and making the most of the museums that don’t charge for entrance.
While, for example, you’ll get a great view of Dubrovnik by walking the city walls, you could be just as satisfied by walking the streets of the Old Town, as it’s just as beautiful from the ground as it is from above. If you love beaches, you’ll save money on activities by lounging out on the sand/pebbles rather than jumping on a banana boat or hiring some snorkelling gear. Markets are always a great way to get a taste of the local culture without spending any money, and simply heading out for a stroll through some of the more local neighbourhoods will introduce you to lesser-visited parts of the country. Yes, if you’re looking to save money on activities, my biggest recommendation is to walk everywhere — Croatia is so beautiful that there’s always something wonderful to see.
If, like me, you love taking tours to get to know a country better, I recommend heading to Get Your Guide for inspiration. They have a whole range of activities and tours available, like day trips to Bosnia ($60) or Slovenia ($120) to boost your country count, a Game of Thrones tour in Split ($35), and an island-hopping trip to five Croatian islands ($130).
Miscellaneous Items to Buy for a Trip to Croatia
A Croatia guidebook: A guidebook will give you an in-depth look into Croatia’s culture, suggest the perfect itineraries for the amount of time you have, and offer recommendations for where to eat and what’s worth doing. I like Lonely Planet guidebooks, and their Croatia offering receives great reviews.
- On a kayaking trip from Koh Yao Noi to Koh Nok, a freak wave splashed over me, as well as my camera and phone. Had I not had them in a dry bag, the water damage would have likely destroyed them.
- On a ferry ride in Thailand, the boat sprung a leak and began to sink. I was able to put my laptop, camera, hard drive, passport, and money in my dry bag, seal it up, and know that they’d stay safe and dry if the worst were to happen.
- I chartered a yacht in Greece and relied heavily on my dry bag while I was there. When mooring in tiny bays, I was able to fill my dry bag with my camera, towel, and sunscreen, jump in the sea, and swim to the nearest empty beach without worrying about keeping my belongings dry.
- I also think dry bags are fantastic for solo travellers on beach days. It’s tough going to the beach when you’re travelling alone because you’ll need to bring nothing with you, risk getting robbed while you’re in the ocean, or stay on the sand at all times. If you have a dry bag, you can fill it up with your valuables and take it for a swim with you, rather than leaving them on your towel and hoping nobody will grab them.
I love all things Sea to Summit, and after trying several of their dry bags out, my champion is the Ultra-Sil 8L — it’s durable, thin, lightweight, and has never let me down.
Travel insurance: If you’ve read any other posts on Never Ending Footsteps, you’ll know that I’m a great believer in travelling with travel insurance. I’ve seen far too many Go Fund Me campaigns from destitute backpackers that are unexpectedly stranded in a foreign country after a scooter accident/being attacked/breaking a leg with no way of getting home or paying for their healthcare. In short, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.
Travel insurance will cover you if your flight is cancelled and you need to book a new one, if your luggage gets lost and you need to replace your belongings, if you suddenly get struck down by kidney stones and have to be hospitalised, have your camera stolen and need to buy a replacement, or discover a family member has died while you’re overseas and now you need to get home immediately. If you fall seriously ill, your insurance will cover the costs to fly you home to receive medical treatment.
I’ve used World Nomads as my travel insurance provider since 2012 and have nothing but wonderful things to say about them.
I’ve made two claims with World Nomads (once when my partner broke his brand new phone in Thailand, and World Nomads paid for the repair cost, and once when crashing a rental car in New Zealand, when World Nomads paid out the full $1,500 to repair the front bumper with no excess or fees to pay from my end) so feel comfortable recommending them to you.
How Much it Costs to Travel in Croatia
I always like to share my own personal expenses when travelling in a country, as I think it helps you figure out what you should be expecting to pay each day while you’re there. A list of expenses is great and helpful, of course, but putting them all together in order to come up with a reasonable estimate can be trickier.
Here’s what I’ve spent on average over my six weeks in Croatia:
Accommodation: €19 per day
Food: €23 per day
Activities: €2 per day
My average daily cost of travel in Croatia is therefore: €51 per day. Not bad at all!
Photo of Split waterfront by xbrchx/Shutterstock; of Dubrovnik by Anna Lurye/Shutterstock; of the beach by Kite_Rin/Shutterstock; of Plitvice by Maurizio De Mattei/Shutterstock; of Pula by OPIS Zagreb/Shutterstock; of squid meal by Jana Kollarova/Shutterstock.