After seven years of travel and over 80 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 or London or 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 before hitting up Asia, 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.
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, when it comes to European travel. And wandering through Dubrovnik’s old town in the middle of August will leave you swamped with tourists. But it’s still lesser-known and lesser-thought of than some of the big hitters in European tourism, but 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.
Here’s how much you can expect to spend on a trip to Croatia in 2019.
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 is the typical European summer vacation dates (June to August). May and September are the shoulder season, and October – March is the 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 currently no direct flights between North America and Croatia, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to spend an enormous amount of cash in order to get there. Although it likely does mean a fairly long and tiresome travel journey is on the cards for you.
Fortunately, getting to Europe from North America is really cheap these days, and I wouldn’t expect you’d need to pay more than around $300 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.
As I write this now, in December 2018, you can currently snag the following deals:
- Chicago to London for $99 one way
- Los Angeles to Scotland for $464 return
- Denver to Zurich for $435 return
- Boston to London for $237 return
- Toronto to Berlin for $424 CAD return
- And for my Oceanians out there: there’s even Sydney to Zagreb for $959 AUD return!
Not bad, right? 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 here.
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 (here) or WorkAway (here) 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.
Airbnb is another option you might want to keep in mind, as staying in a private room with a local on Airbnb can often work out to be as affordable as a night in a hostel. You’ll be looking at around €25-30 a night for a private room on Airbnb. I usually recommend not staying in an entire Airbnb apartment for ethical reasons, so go for a private room so you’re not contributing to housing crises in beautiful cities around the world. You can find Airbnb apartments in Croatia here.
And, of course, there are always hotels, which will usually start at around €50 a night. You’ll have slightly more luxury and comfort in hotels, so it’s up to you to work out whether this is worth the additional expense. I always use HotelsCombined to find guesthouses and hotels when I travel, as they compare the prices between sites like Booking, Agoda, Expedia, and more. I’m always surprised to learn how much the price varies between different websites!
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. While I’ve not yet have the pleasure of visiting Croatia on a high-end budget, I believe I’ve learned a lot about how to travel cheaply throughout the country.
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.
Here’s my list of my favourite accommodation options in Croatia:
Dubrovnik — Villa Konalic Hotel Dubrovnik (€22 a night): Dubrovnik is easily the most expensive part of Croatia, so if you’re travelling on a budget, you’ll want to look outside the Old Town for an affordable (and more quiet) place to stay. Villa Konalic is the best of the options here, located three miles from the city walls, but there’s a bus you can take to make the journey into town easier. The staff are lovely, the Wi-Fi is fast, there’s air conditioning (vital in summer), and there’s a kitchen you can use to save money on food.
→ Check rates for Villa Konalic| Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Split — Old Town Hostel Split (€11 a night): This cosy hostel has one of the best locations in the city, so the fact that it’s so inexpensive makes staying there a no-brainer! The staff are great and have so many recommendations to share with guests, and it’s surprisingly quiet given its central location. If you’re a solo traveller, this is also a fantastic place to meet people! If you’re older, you might want to skip this one, as it tends to attract a younger crowd and offers free welcome shots to guests.
→ Check rates for Old Town Hostel Split | Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Brac — Pansion Ivan & Ivana (€39 a night): Brac is a fantastic alternative to Hvar if you want to avoid the crowds, although it’s easy to island-hop between the two islands, so you can get the best of both worlds. Brac is home to a fairly famous beach called Zlatni Rat — the stones that were used to build the White House were sourced from this very location! Pansion Ivan & Ivana is easily the best place to stay on the island. The breakfasts are delicious and filling, the rooms are cleaned every day, and Ivan and Ivana are so, so friendly. Highly recommended!
→ Check rates for Pansion Ivan & Ivana | Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Zadar — Hostel Sunset (€15 a night): I love Zadar! Unfortunately, I didn’t love the hostel I stayed in while I was in town, but Hostel Sunset sounds like the best option for budget travellers. Reviewers gush over its quiet location beside the beach, praise the cleanliness of their rooms, and write about how the owner was incredibly welcoming. I’d opt to stay here on a future visit to Zadar.
→ Check rates for Hostel Sunset | Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Hvar — Apartments Desa Petric (€37 a night): I’ve yet to visit Hvar — mostly because I try to avoid expensive islands in the height of high season — but for those of you who are aiming to visit, Apartments Desa Patric looks to have the best reviews for the lowest price. Reviews write about the incredible owners who offer lifts to and from the airport/port, the large and spacious apartment offering great value for money, and the well-equipped kitchen combined with a terrace for eating meals on.
→ Check rates for Apartments Desa Petric | Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Pag — Hotel Biser (€37 a night): The island of Pag isn’t typically included on travellers’ itineraries in Croatia, but I found it to be an excellent island alternative if you want to escape the crowds in high season. I didn’t like the accommodation I chose for my stay in Pag, but Hotel Biser looks like a much better option — it’s one of the highest rated hotels on the island! Hotel Biser offers great value for money, has a beautiful view overlooking the water, serves a delicious breakfast, and comes equipped with air conditioning and Wi-Fi.
→ Check rates for Hotel Biser | Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Plitvice Lakes National Park — Villa Jezerka (€46 a night): I loved my stay at Villa Jezerka in Plitvice Lakes National Park, and have sent so many of my readers there since visiting! I chose it because it was easily the cheapest accommodation that was close to the park, but still received fantastic reviews from guests. 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, eat a filling breakfast, and generally stay in a clean and spacious environment. No complaints at all, and I was happy with the price.
→ Check rates for Villa Jezerka | Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Zagreb — Chillout Hostel (€10 a night):If you’re on a budget, there’s no reason not to stay at Chillout Hostel. I stayed here during my first visit to Zagreb and loved how sociable it was! It’s a bit of a party hostel, so if that’s not your scene, look to stay elsewhere, but if you’re up for making new friends and exploring the city’s bar scene, this is a great option. The staff are incredible, the location can’t be beaten, and you’ll come away having met a ton of kickass people!
→ Check rates for Chillout Hostel | Read reviews on TripAdvisor
Pula — Crazy House Hostel (€31 a night): Pula has been my biggest Croatian oversight so far, and I still can’t believe I haven’t made it there yet! When I do finally visit, though, I fully plan on staying at Crazy House Hostel. Don’t let the name put you off — the hostel itself is quiet, and guests are told not to make noise beyond 11 p.m., guaranteeing you a good night’s sleep. The hostel itself is in a good location next to the famous amphitheatre, the beds are comfortable, and the terrace looks like the perfect place to kick back and have a couple of beers after a long day of sightseeing.
→ Check rates for Crazy House Hostel | Read reviews on TripAdvisor
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 and cheapest way to travel the country is by bus or ferry.
Domestic buses will take you pretty 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 and not have 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. 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 here — 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.
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.
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.
- Lunch: €7 each for a sandwich/slice of pizza from a deli with a soft drink
- 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 vinegar with lunches and dinner in Croatia, so you should aim to take full advantage of this. Bread can be super-filling and allow you to then opt for an appetiser for dinner in order to save money. Even if the bread and oil isn’t free, it won’t be more than a couple of Euros, so this can really keep your costs low. Plus, the bread and oil in Croatia is fantastic!
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 nervous about it, invest in a GRAYL water purifier to ensure every drop of water you drink is safe and clean — I used mine to drink the tap water in places like Mozambique and the Congo and didn’t once get sick!
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 in Croatia to help you budget better:
- Combo meal at McDonald’s: €4.50
- 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: $70
- Entrance to Pula’s amphitheatre: $9.20
- Hiring a sea kayak for one hour in Dubrovnik: $25
- A day trip to Montenegro from Dubrovnik: $58
- Entrance to the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb: $5
- 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 Viator for inspiration. They have a whole range of activities and tours available, like day trips to Bosnia ($52) or Slovenia ($82) to boost your country count, a Game of Thrones tour in Split ($80), 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.
How Much Did I Spend on My Trip to 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.