Dubrovnik on a budget: 12 ways to keep your Croatian kuna in your pocket
Known as "the pearl of the Adriatic" – and King’s Landing to Game of Thrones fans – Dubrovnik is the single most popular destination in Croatia. The high demand for this famously pretty town is reflected in its prices, which tend to be higher than elsewhere in the country.
Travel, accommodation and eating costs in Dubrovnik might seem daunting at first, but tweak your timeline or consider the wider region instead of just the old town, and you'll be able to enjoy just as much for less. Here are some tips on how to make the best of Dubrovnik on a budget.
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Time your visit wisely
From temperatures to crowds to prices, everything in Dubrovnik is at its highest between June and August. If you are not bound by school schedules or corporate holidays, consider April, May or October for your visit. The buzz is on, sunbathing is a given and the prices are off their peak.
While Dubrovnik hibernates for the better part of winter and early spring, there's a pop of life in December, when the city, adorned in festive Christmas decor, stages the Dubrovnik Winter Festival. The main street of Stradun and many squares come alive with street-food stalls, where locals and rare visitors gather over sausages and mulled wine. While the weather might not be ideal and many shops and restaurants are closed, this is the chance to see Dubrovnik at its cheapest – and most local – time of the year.
Fly if you must, but consider your options
Dubrovnik international airport sits half an hour from the town and is superbly connected in the summer season. Unfortunately, flying here is rarely gentle on your wallet. If you are coming for a short stay and just visiting Dubrovnik, plan well ahead, shop around and cross your fingers that the sales fairy looks your way.
Should your plans include traveling around Croatia or the region, consider making your touchdown elsewhere and reaching Dubrovnik by car, bus or boat. A four-hour drive, Split is the closest airport in Croatia, but island-hopping is a better way to go; Zadar is frequented by low-cost operators, and Podgorica in Montenegro has been gaining momentum as the hub in Dubrovnik’s neighboring country.
Stay away from the old town
The old town is probably the reason you are visiting Dubrovnik at all, but staying inside the whitewashed city walls comes with multiple sacrifices, from financial to peace and quiet. Instead, look to neighborhoods within short walking distance, like Ploče or Boninovo, which are less expensive but still on the nicer side. The well-connected areas of Lapad, Babin Kuk and Gruž are a 30- to 45-minute walk from the old town and feature more affordable accommodation, mainly in private apartments.
If you're primarily coming for quality beach time rather than history, culture or nightlife, consider staying along the Dubrovnik Riviera and dropping in to visit. Tiny towns like Mlini or Cavat might be a 20- to 30-minute drive away, but the beaches are splendid, the restaurants and cafes plentiful, the bus and boat shuttles frequent and the savings sizable.
Choose self-catering over bed-and-breakfast arrangements
Starting the day with a hearty breakfast is very important, but dining out around Dubrovnik can easily offset the savings of that one complimentary meal. If you’re staying in an apartment with a kitchen or a kitchenette, you can go the local way, roam the markets, get fresh, seasonal and local ingredients and dine in.
Shopping for food is easy around Dubrovnik, with many large supermarkets, like the chains Konzum or Pemo, catering to all preferences – and offering a good selection of Croatian wines and beers at a variety of price points.
Dubrovnik has several open-air green markets, and the largest one in Gruž Bay also features a fish market. Going in the morning means a greater selection, but visiting toward the end of the day might save you a buck, as the sellers are more keen on bundling up as they get ready to pack up and leave.
Eat bluefish rather than white fish
Croatians group their fish by the color of its meat and fat content. Due to the tender and light meat, white-fleshed sea breams and seabass are regarded and priced as delicacies. Opt for the oilier bluefish, such as sardines or smelt – it's packed with healthy omega acids, just as local and far less costly, even in restaurants.
In restaurants, go for the daily menu, and browse bakeries for picnics
Menu prices might seem intimidating when you're visiting Dubrovnik on a budget; however, many restaurants and bistros in and out of the old town offer daily menus, or dishes that offer good value at favorable prices.
Bakeries are the local quick-food go-to, offering anything from croissants and puff pastries to meat- and cheese-filled bureks to tasty apple or cherry štrudels. Pick up a few and enjoy a beach picnic.
Drink coffee off the main street
Along Stradun, the theatrical old town thoroughfare, prices come as steep as the towers. Venture into the grid of streets that branch off the main one to find more reasonably priced cafes, bars and pubs.
Avoid driving – and parking in particular
With many one-way, one-laned roads and rivers of buses, shuttles and cars headed to the old town, it’s easy to get stuck in traffic in the high season. And after all that, if you're lucky enough to find a parking spot in the vicinity, the meter will set you back anywhere between 40KN and 50KN (US$5.50 to $7) per hour.
Walk or take the bus around the town and island-hop on public ferries
Fortunately Dubrovnik is quite small, and you can cover much ground in an hour’s walk. Yellow Libertas city buses connect the whole town with frequent though often-packed lines. If you plan on using the bus, get the one-hour tickets upfront from a kiosk; if you forget and buy them on the bus from the driver, it will not only cost 3KN more ($0.50), but you will have to deal with frowns for holding up the queue.
Libertas buses also connect to places like Cavtat or Ston (oysters, anyone?), though some lines run on very limited schedules. The public Jadrolinija ferry connects the Elaphiti islands of Koločep, Lopud and Šipan with Dubrovnik, and is the most convenient and best-priced alternative to three-island tours.
Get the Dubrovnik Card for the best value on the city’s famous attractions
Coming to Dubrovnik and not walking the city walls is permitted only if you object to stairs or heights or the ticket price. If the latter is your concern, get the single-day Dubrovnik Card, which grants access to the city walls as well as eight museums and galleries, like the Rector’s Palace or the MOMA, plus a 24-hour bus pass for city lines and additional discounts at selected shops and restaurants.
The card also comes in three- and seven-day versions, with added benefits like suburban rides to Cavat, access to other museums and a 30% discount on tickets to Lokrum Island and Mljet National Park (seven-day).
Savor the many free experiences
Dubrovnik old town, a labyrinthine grid embraced by the mighty city walls, holds historic palaces and residences, an old harbor and many stunning places to see. Wander, explore, take the stairs, enter the many churches and marvel at the pigeon-feed spectacle that takes place daily at noon in Gundulić square.
If you’re willing to forgo the luxury of a sun lounger and just go with a beach towel like the locals do, quality beach time will cost you nothing, and hiking to Srđ hill instead of taking the cable car will save you a buck, yet reward you with the same mesmerizing sunset over the city.
Check if you're eligible for VAT return on airport
At 25%, Croatia has one of the highest VAT rates in Europe. If you are a non-EU resident, you might be eligible for VAT refunds upon taking the goods out of the EU. You can recognize shops that offer this service by their Tax Free sticker; the minimum spend required in a single purchase is €100 ($107).
Typical costs in the summer season:
- Hostel dorms: 150-300KN ($20-42)
- Private accommodation: 500-1500KN ($70-200)
- Espresso: 10-25KN ($1.40-3.50)
- Beer: 33-62KN ($4.50-8.50)
- Wine flight: 80-120KN ($11-16.60)
- Bakery delights: 15-25KN ($2-3.50)
- Daily lunch menu: 90-130KN ($12.50-18)
- Three-course dinner for two: 500-750KN ($70-104)
- Bus ticket: 12-15KN ($1.70-2)
Buy the Croatia travel guide
Lonely Planet’s Croatia is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Walk the city walls in Dubrovnik, discover marvelous Mljet, and hit the beach in Bol; all with your trusted travel companion.