Affordable Croatia: Dubrovnik on a Dime

Downsizing 101: 5 Tips for Clearing Clutter
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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.

Affordable Croatia: Dubrovnik on a Dime

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 City Walls, Dubrovnik
The views from the city walls are even nicer once the crowds die down.

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

Sunset in Lapad, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Just outside the city walls, Lapad offers stunning views and cheaper rates.

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.

Apartment in Dubrovnik, Croatia
All this space and more, for the same price as a hostel.

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.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Stunning Mostar is only a few hours away by bus, and the tours are affordable.

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.

Breakfast in our apartment garden, before heading off to spend the day at the beach.
Breakfast in our apartment garden, before heading off to spend the day at the beach.

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?

Downsizing 101: 5 Tips for Clearing Clutter
Why I Don't Travel Solo
  • I lived in Dubrovnik for a few months. I think the best times to visit this city are April and mid-Sept when there are far fewer tourists. During the off season things are always cheaper. Another idea would be to stay in a neighboring town like Cavtat. Much quieter, and Dubrovnik is accessible by bus. Such a lovely place, thanks for sharing your photos!

    • You have no idea how jealous I am that you lived in Dubrovnik. I would love to do exactly that, and I think you’re absolutely right. We visited in July, so it was hot, and high tourist season. I’d love to go back in the off-season — I’m sure it’s a totally different experience!

  • I have heard a lot about Croatia but have never looked into it. Anywhere that can be affordable and gorgeous is a go for me. Thanks for sharing your tips!!

  • Ruth Rieckehoff

    Lots of good things to take into consideration in here. Like the idea of renting an apartment. Didn’t know you have to pay to walk the city walls. Well, I guess it is a must so people will pay anyway.

    • Yeah, exactly. It’s such a popular thing to do that they started charging for it. It’s a little silly, but the views were amazing, so…worth it!

  • contented traveller

    Totally agree with all your points from the apartment to taking a day off to think about all of wonderful things you have done and will do

  • Fantastic tips! Visiting Croatia is pretty high on my list. Lots of great things to keep in mind. 🙂 Tourist cities are always quite different from day to night – I’ve found that many of the most crowded spots can become quite charming at night 🙂

  • Ally

    These are great tips! Never thought about visiting Croatia. These pictures are magnificent! Thanks for sharing. Found you on #WeekendWanderlust

    • If you haven’t thought about Croatia, you definitely should add it to your list. The country is stunning, both along the coast and inland! It’s definitely on the top of the list of places I’ve been. 🙂

  • Awesome, thanks for the link! I wasn’t traveling with kids, but I’m pretty sure the tips here would apply to family travel as well.

    I would love to go back to Croatia and explore further north. We went to Zagreb, but the only coastal city we had time for was Dubrovnik. Rovinj is definitely on our list for next time, as is Zadar and Split. It’s such an amazing country, don’t you think?

  • happyhoyt

    Your photos are stunning! I loved Dubrovnik, but was only there for a day as a cruise stop. Would love to go back and stay there.

    • Thank you! It’s a great city, even if you just get to see it for the afternoon! If you get a chance to go back for longer, though, I highly recommend it!

  • LydiaCLee

    So pretty. I’ll admit it’s not high on my list (not for any reason) but I have a lot of friends going or just been…heard great things about it…

    • If you ever get the chance to go, I really do recommend it. It’s a wonderful city, especially in the evenings!