14 ways to explore Croatia on a budget

Prices to visit Croatia have been creeping upwards as more travelers discover the delights of this beautiful country.

You’ll find more luxury hotels than ever springing up at a rapid pace, particularly in some of the upmarket resorts along the Adriatic coast and on a few of the islands. At the same time, however, there’s been a surge in private apartments and family-run guesthouses, which are more affordable choices in Croatia if you’re on a budget.

One of the biggest expenses will be your flights to Croatia, which can rise to mind-boggling levels as soon as the summer season approaches. But once you arrive, it’ll be surprisingly easy to travel around without spending too much. This guide to daily costs with top money-saving tips can help budget travelers get the most out of Croatia when money is tight.

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A woman follows a boardwalk through trees and beside a lake as the sun sets
Time your visit just right for the best discounts when going to Croatia’s top national parks © Dennis van de Water / Shutterstock

How expensive is Croatia? A guide to daily costs

  • Hostel dorm bed: €35
  • Basic room for two: €75
  • Self-catering apartment for two: €95
  • Ticket on a city bus: €0.53 to €2.90
  • Coffee: €1.60 to €3
  • Sandwich: €4
  • Dinner for two: €68 for two courses
  • Beer at the bar: €4 for a half-liter of Croatian draft beer
  • Breakfast slice of burek: €3.30

Visit outside of the summer months

High season in Croatia – July and August, and sometimes the second half of June – means high prices. Accommodations will be more expensive, and many attractions raise their prices. Compare entrance fees to Plitvice Lakes National Park from June to September – at around €40 – to those in April, May or October, at €24. Better yet, come in the winter when Plitvice becomes a snowy magical place, and it costs only around €10. Similarly, Krka National Park charges adults €40 for visits between June and September, but only €15 for April and May and €20 for October, with the best bargain of all being found January to March, November and December, when it’s just €7 to visit. 

Be flexible about which airport you fly into

From June onwards, flights to Split start to soar. No wonder, as it’s the gateway to some of Croatia’s most desirable islands, including Hvar, Brač and Vis. As prices rise to meet demand, you might want to try different airports, such as Zagreb, Zadar or Rijeka (which is actually on the island of Krk).

Buses with Arriva from Zagreb to Zadar cost around €15, and with Croatia Bus you can pay €30 for a single from Zagreb to Split, with the occasional discounted offer taking prices down to €15. There’s also the option to fly into cities in neighboring countries – Ljubljana in Slovenia, Budapest in Hungary or Trieste in Italy – and rent a car.

Tourists wander along the city walls of Dubrovnik, next to the Adriatic Sea, with an island in the distance
The further you stay from the center of Dubrovnik, the more budget accommodations you’ll find© Giuseppe Piazzese / Shutterstock

Save money on accommodation by staying a little further out

While it’s tempting to stay in the center of town, it can often come at a premium. You might have to walk 15 or 20 minutes from the center to find cheaper accommodation options, but it can be worth the money saved. Dubrovnik is a good example: rather than stay in the Old Town or just outside the city walls, look further out towards Gruž or Babin Kuk, both of which are easily reached by bus from the Old Town. 

Swap a hotel room for an apartment

In recent years, there’s been a mushrooming of private apartments in Croatia to cater for growing demand. You’ll certainly save on the cost of food if you can do self-catering, and some apartments offer the use of a shared barbecue. Some even offer other useful free services such as bikes you can borrow.

Croatia’s rail fares are reasonably priced

It does have its limitations, but Croatia’s national railway company, HŽPP, is an affordable way to get around parts of the country. The network isn’t particularly extensive though: trains run from Zagreb to Split, but not further south towards Dubrovnik, although the regions around Zagreb and the north are better serviced. Fares are reasonably priced: for example, a return from Zagreb to Split costs around €34.

There are many different long-distance bus services

Croatia’s rail network may be limited, but the same can’t be said for the buses – particularly along the Adriatic coast. The only problem is trying to find the service you need among all the different companies providing everything from long-distance travel to tourist coaches. Arriva is a good place to start, as it also includes international routes. Check the websites of the main bus stations, including Split and Zagreb, to get timetables and tickets.

City buses are very good value

Croatia’s urban buses can be astonishingly cheap, even in the capital Zagreb, where a ticket can cost as little as €0.53. Generally, tickets are a few cents cheaper if you buy them from kiosks rather than the driver, who will take only cash. If you plan multiple journeys in the course of a day, a daily ticket can be – but is not always – cheaper.

The Jadrolinija ferry entering Drvenik from Hvar Island
Croatia’s national ferry can take you between the country’s beautiful islands © Marsan / Shutterstock

Passenger tickets on car ferries are slightly cheaper

With a bit of planning, you can travel to Croatia’s inhabited islands easily and affordably, both from the mainland and between islands. The national ferry operator, Jadrolinija, runs car ferries as well as passenger-only catamarans. Catamarans are faster, but sometimes can be marginally more expensive, particularly in July and August. A ferry from Split to Hvar costs around €6, yet a catamaran would be over €7. 

Look out for unexpected restaurant charges

Croatia’s seafood is superb, and in many places, you pay for that high quality. But if you’re on a budget, you might want to pass on the grilled fish that many restaurants sell by the kilo. You won’t know the exact price until the bill comes, and it can be an unpleasant surprise. There will be other fish and seafood options on the menu that have a set price, so at least you’ll know what you’re paying. 

Also bear in mind that many restaurants automatically charge a couvert – rather like a cover charge – per person, and it usually includes a basket of bread. It shouldn’t be more than about €4 a head. You could try to wave away the bread and insist not to be charged for it, but this doesn’t always work.

Make a marenda one of your meals

Marenda is like a Dalmatian version of brunch, a hearty meal eaten before noon that harks back to the days when people would have been working since very early morning and needed a filling break. Nowadays, you’ll see marenda menus that are served only at lunch and offer some of the cheapest places to eat in Dubrovnik.

A plate of burek filo pastries
Burek is a filo pastry that is affordable and hearty © heinstirred / Getty Images

Snack on burek from local bakeries

Picked up from a bakery (pekarnica), these filo pastries pies are a cheap and delicious way to kick off the day and keep you going till lunch. Burek can be filled with cheese, spinach (sometimes both) or meat, and taste good cold as a picnic snack. 

Drink the tap water

Tap water in Croatia is perfectly drinkable, and you can save money as well as help reduce waste by not buying bottled water in stores and not ordering bottled water in restaurants. Ask for a glass of obična voda.

Ask about student discounts

If you have an up-to-date International Student Card (ISIC), the savings can be huge. Rather than spend €35 to walk Dubrovnik’s city walls, you’ll be charged only €15 if you present your card when buying a ticket.

City passes aren’t always good value

While a city pass that offers free entry to certain attractions, free public transportation and discounts in shops and restaurants can look good on paper, sometimes you’ll need to spend your entire trip visiting all of the listed attractions before you save any money. 

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