David and I just returned home from a joint-family trip to Croatia with all four of our parents. The majority of our week consisted of a catamaran cruise around the islands of the Dalmatian Coast. We also spent a couple of days exploring Trogir and Dubrovnik. Overall, our trip was very enjoyable and we learned a lot about traveling in Croatia!
Anyone who has considered visiting Croatia probably knows that this beautiful country on the Adriatic doesn’t have year-round sunshine. Due to weather, there is a high season, low season, and shoulder season.
Due to our travel dates and the price of our catamaran cruise, we decided on the shoulder season—specifically the last week in May.
Whilst not the hottest time to visit, there are lots of reasons to visit Croatia during the shoulder season. Here are some things to consider:
1. It’s Cheaper
Let me start by saying that, comparatively speaking, Croatia is not dirt cheap. Although a part of the European Union, Croatia does not yet use the euro. Despite this, food and goods in popular parts of Croatia are comparable in price to other European countries. These prices, though, increase exponentially during peak season (July and August).
This being the case, it’s important to take price into account when choosing your travel dates. For us, the shoulder season was the best choice for the catamaran cruise we wanted to do. The catamaran that we rented costs twice as much during July and August than we paid in May.
This made our decision for us as it saved us thousands of dollars. Now that we’ve done it, we’re really glad we visited in May.
2. Crowds are (Much) Smaller
As Croatia gains in popularity as a tourist destination for visitors from outside of Europe, crowds are inevitable. Our week-long catamaran cruise along the Dalmatian Coast brought us through several popular sightseeing destinations including Trogir, Hvar, and Dubrovnik. These towns (especially Dubrovnik) were bustling with many tourists—even in the shoulder season.
Crowds varied by time of day, day of the week, and weather, but they gave us a good sense of just how busy things could get during the peak season. The plethora of restaurant and souvenir shop options in port towns is another indicator of how busy things are later in the summer.
As we finished off our trip in Dubrovnik on a sunny Sunday, we were surrounded by people on all sides. Dubrovnik is an ancient beautiful walled city on the Adriatic that draws a lot of tourists. Today it is extra popular due to its role as the setting of the HBO series Game of Thrones.
Our local hostess, Tena, reaffirmed that Dubrovnik is crazy in the summer—packed and very expensive. We were very pleased to see it in the shoulder season when we were still able to grab a last-minute tour and dine without waiting in line. I expect these conveniences wouldn’t be the case during the height of peak season.
3. The Weather is Less Predictable
The final thing to consider when planning a trip to Croatia during the shoulder season is the weather. I place this last on the list because, ultimately, it’s not something you can really control.
True, Croatia is typically much hotter and dryer in the peak season. The Adriatic Sea is also likely to be warmer. This means that visiting during the shoulder season can be a bit of a gamble. You could get lucky with sunny springtime weather or it could rain the entire week. We had a bit of both but mostly good weather.
The last week of May 2019, when we visited, was mostly in the mid- to high-60s with some days in the 70s. The two days that were in the mid-70s were actually sweltering. We were glad it didn’t get any warmer. The other days were fine—we were able to walk and see almost everything we had on our list. We had one really rainy day in Stari Grad, which wasn’t pleasant, but we were thrilled it only lasted one day rather than all week.
Unfortunately, the lack of sunshine meant that we didn’t end up visiting the famous Blue Cave, as our captain informed us that the weather would result in iffy conditions. It was too wavy to kayak or dingy into the cave and the lack of sun meant the bright blue hues that draw so many people to the cave, wouldn’t be visible. The cave was also closed when we made our first attempt to visit.
Other Things to Consider
There are some inconveniences to visiting during the shoulder season. Certain accommodations and products aren’t available, for example. A waiter at a restaurant in Trogir informed us that almost none of the drinks listed on the menu were available in May. Similarly, our hostess was unable to get ice for our catamaran due to it being shoulder season.
For us, these small disappointments did not outweigh the benefits of the shoulder season. We enjoyed lower prices on our Airbnbs in both Trogir and Dubrovnik as well as on our catamaran cruise. Restaurants almost always had open tables for us and we rarely had to wait in line to take a shower in the marinas.
I would definitely consider all of these pros and cons before booking your trip to Croatia. If you want to make 100% sure that you will have hot sunny days and warm swim-able water, it’s probably best to visit Croatia in July or August. But if you want to save money and avoid large crowds, the shoulder season is a much better choice.
For us, the slightly cooler weather was a minor inconvenience and one well worth it. We saved half the price of our catamaran cruise and got to see a unique view of Croatia—one not inundated with tourists.