Croatia is of course famous for its many, many islands – the country famously has over 1,000 – and island hopping in the country is a truly magical way of exploring. Of course, doing so on a luxury yacht or on a sailboat with a full crew would be an absolute dream for many of us…but what if how holiday budget doesn’t quite stretch to that? Here, we provide you with some tips for island hopping in Croatia on a budget.
So, how do you do it? You rely on public transport! With ‘sea’ public transport being ferries and catamarans, of course.
Should I use ferries or catamarans? What’s the difference?
Ferries, in almost all cases, are actually larger ‘car ferries’ that enable those with cars to travel to (and from) the Croatian islands. However, foot passengers absolutely can use these vessels to travel to the islands as well.
Catamarans are foot passenger only vessels and are faster than ferries. However, they are also usually (a little bit) more expensive. Generally, ferries and catamarans don’t run on exactly the same routes (ferries often need larger ports to be able to dock e.g. Stari Grad on Hvar; catamarans can do so in smaller ports e.g. Hvar Town on Hvar).
However, we can offer you a direct journey time and price comparison on the Split – Vis route. The car ferry takes 2 hours 20 minutes and costs €8.23 per person (for a foot passenger; in high season). By comparison, the catamaran takes 1 hour 25 minutes on days it travels directly and costs €8.36 (in high season). But, a ‘slow’ ferry can still be somewhat magical, sitting up on the deck and watching the gorgeous scenery go slowly past.
Should I island-hop the Croatian coast with a car?
In a word – no! Or rather, not if you’re planning on island hopping in Croatia on a budget!
There are two reasons for that. Firstly, the cost of renting a car, while not normally too expensive (although usually more than some other popular holiday destinations) can obviously really eat into your budget.
The second reason – and a more important one – is the cost of heading to the islands with a car. As we mentioned above, it costs €8.23 to travel from Vis to Split in high season on the ferry. If you were to make the trip with a car, it would cost €47.25 for the car on the car ferry PLUS €8.23 for each person.
Additionally, most of the car ferries in Croatia travel on routes from the mainland to one island and back – not from island to island. So you’d always have to travel back to the mainland before travelling on to another island. And you’d have to pay to transport on each journey (and return!) which would rapidly become quite expensive!
But what if I want to drive around the islands?
On many of Croatia’s islands, local travel agencies offer car hire (usually in small little vehicles) by the hour, half day or day. This is one way of getting around certain islands with your own set of wheels. (You can also normally hire mopeds or bicycles too, which may also be suitable for you.)
Otherwise, enquire locally about bus timetables or, alternatively, join an organised tour if there’s something particular on an island you really want to see.
Where on Croatia’s coast should I start?
Almost all of Croatia’s main airports are on the mainland, so you’ll be flying to one of these. (The exceptions are Rijeka Airport which is on the island of Krk; Losinj and Brac also have small airports.)
You may like to take a look at our Croatia Ferries map to get an idea of the long-distance routes that operate up and down the coast. This will give you an idea of which routes exist and where you can travel. Do note, however, that there are also plenty of local islands in each part of the Croatian coast that you can also visit.
From one of these three starting points, you can then choose to travel down or up the coast. You may choose to do a loop – returning back to your starting point – or end up somewhere else. Certainly, starting in Split and ending in Dubrovnik (or the other way around) is a great idea.
Which islands should I visit?
There’s no right or wrong answer here! We’d definitely recommend you do some reading up on Croatia’s islands to see what you’d like to see and what kind of holiday you’re intending to have. A lively, non-stop party one? Take in Novalja on Pag, and perhaps Hvar Town too! Travelling with the family? Consider Brac! Want something rather quiet and very peaceful? What about Lastovo?
How long should I take to island hop?
How long do you have?!
Be reasonable about how many islands you really want to see as well as what you really want out of your holiday. Sure, you could move on to a different island each day (perhaps mimicking a more traditional cruise) but will you really be able to see/explore that much…or even have some relaxation time?
If you do want to see a number of islands whilst still exploring each one, we’d suggest at least two or three nights per stop.
Travel outside of season to make things more budget-friendly
The main ferry operator in Croatia, Jadrolinija, operates its service on a high-season and low-season basis – for both timetables and prices.
Taking the example of the Split to Vis car ferry and catamaran previously mentioned on this page, in low season a one-way ticket on either costs €6.50. As we’ve said, in high season, the price is €8.23 or €8.36. Sure, that’s only a difference of just under a couple of Euros, but if you’re making a number of ferry/catamaran trips this may soon add up.
Jadrolinija considers low season to be from the end of September to the end of May. Certainly, May would be a great month to travel in – the weather should be excellent and it should be just about warm enough to swim in the sea.
Note: not all companies offer low season prices. To see a list of ferry/catamaran operators in the country, see our Ferries in Croatia page.
Island hopping in Croatia on a budget – cheap sailing holidays
Perhaps none of the above is for you? Maybe you’d prefer not to do so much travel planning and just want to be taken ‘to the good places’, or perhaps you only have a week’s holiday and what to cram in as much as possible.
Consider taking an island hopping cruise at the tail end of the season (late September) to try and get a good deal. Check out what holidays some of the companies listed in our Sailing Holidays in Croatia section are offering.