Sitting on the edge of the dock, toes dangling in the cool Adriatic Sea, I could not think of any place I would rather be than the outskirts of Dubrovnik, Croatia. It was a perfect July evening and, far from the crowds of the Old Town, Tara and I were able to enjoy it in quiet serenity. It was also our last evening and, as such, a time for reflection.
My time in Croatia with Tara was priceless in more ways than one, but perhaps no lesson from that trip was more profound than this: If you want something badly enough, it is possible to make it happen.
In July, Dubrovnik is overwhelmed with tourists on a daily basis, thanks to the cruising industry. When we first began planning our trip, we had a feeling that our pocketbooks would take a significant hit when we reached this city. An affordable Croatia trip seemed to require moving inland, away from the stunning shorelines the country is known for.
And yet, with a little creativity, we found that it was not impossible, or even difficult, to have an incredible experience, at a price that put our worries aside.
Admittedly, coastal Croatia does comes in cheaper than many other European cities. Still, it can cost you a pretty penny if you aren’t careful. Like any tourist town, there are plenty of residents trying to make an extra buck (kuna) off of the daily swell of visitors.
Luckily, there are a ton of different cost-saving methods that travelers can employ on pretty much any trip abroad. And if you want to explore Dubrovnik, there are a few ways to do so while saving some money.
1. Stay awhile
The biggest draw of Dubrovnik is, without a doubt, the Old Town. A UNESCO Heritage Site, one of the most gorgeous walled medieval towns in Europe, and a Game of Thrones filming location, it has a lot of appeal. And it is absolutely worth taking the time to explore.
The largest segment of day-trippers to Croatia are those disembarking en masse from cruise ships. They leave the ship, descend upon the city for the hottest hours of the day, then vanish as the sun begins to sink behind the horizon. Dubrovnik at noon and Dubrovnik at 10:00pm are completely different cities. At noon you can barely walk without being jostled. At ten you have wide streets and alleyways open for exploration.
If you’re only going to Dubrovnik for a day or two, you won’t really have the time to appreciate how lovely the city is. Making the time to head into Old Town at night makes all the difference.
2. Explore outside the city walls
Old Town (Stari Grad) Dubrovnik is, undeniably, the highlight of visiting the city. Walking the city walls affords visitors stunning views of the Adriatic, Mount Srđ, and the city itself. Of course, it’s also the most popular activity for visitors and will cost you about 90 kuna ($15 USD). This in itself isn’t hugely expensive, but when you add in the more expensive food prices and numerous tourist traps a day in Old Town can be expensive.
Luckily, there are numerous places outside the city walls that not only worth your time, but more affordable. Head down to Lapad, where small restaurants dot the street. Take the time to find the bargain shops, local diners, and perhaps even do some grocery shopping, cutting down on food costs.
3. Find an apartment
If you listen to me on number one, then definitely heed my advice here.
Do not book a hotel.
Don’t even book a hostel, which books per head, unless you’re traveling solo.
Instead, hop onto a site like Airbnb and find an apartment rental, which can save you a ton of money.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you don’t even have to go that far. Just show up in the city and wait for someone to approach you. There are tons of people walking around near the ship ports with signs that read “Apartmen“, advertising their apartments for rent, often at huge savings. Just use common sense and make sure you check on the conversion rate.
The benefits of staying in an apartment are huge. First of all, you get to know a local family. Second, most owners will charge like a hotel – for the room, not per person. This means that if you’re traveling with a group you can get a steep discount if you play your cards right. Third, the accommodations tend to be clean, quiet, and far more luxurious than most hostels or hotels of the equivalent price.
Case in point? For $70 a night (or $35 each, since there were two of us) we had a big bed, couch, full kitchen, bathroom with shower, and outdoor patio area all to ourselves. It was completely private and gave us the opportunity to save money by cooking our meals.
4. Take Day Trips
Dubrovnik is lovely, but it is also surrounded by other amazing sites that can be experienced on a discount. For example, we spent one day mountain biking in Mljet National Park. We took the public ferry over to the island, rented bikes, and peddled up and down the various trails, stopping to take a dip in one of the lakes. Since it wasn’t an official tour, we saved a ton of money. It wasn’t quite as epic as Plitvice National Park, further inland, but it was still gorgeous and well worth the trip.
We also took a day trip to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina from Dubrovnik. This was an official tour, but it was still affordable and the prices across the border worked in our favor as well. Often times we found that it was more affordable to pay a tour company to take us out of the city for a day instead of doing one of the Dubrovnik tours.
5. Take a day off
It’s so easy to get caught up in the go-go-go mindset when you get to a new place. Unfortunately, this mindset can be expensive as well as tiring. We spent one of our days in Dubrovnik following the locals. We made breakfast with the food we bought from the market, walked down to a nearby beach, relaxed and enjoyed the views. There was no point where anyone was trying to sell us anything, or where we were forking over cash for an expensive tour. It also gave us the chance to truly appreciate where we were. There’s nothing like stopping to take a deep breath and just be.
A Final Note: Currency
One of the nice things about Croatia right now is that it operates on the kuna, which generally works to the advantage of American travelers. The exchange rate favors the USD and meals, tours, and souvenirs are pretty affordable, especially once you get away from the coast.
That said, Croatia is a part of the Eurozone and it is only a matter of time before they switch away from the kuna and onto the euro (the current estimation is sometime in 2019). Right now, an affordable Croatia trip is not difficult, but there’s no telling how that may change in the future.
Have you been to coastal Croatia? How did you save money?