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Best time of year for Croatia

I like decent weather, but decent for me can include some rain and wearing a jacket at night. I don't like big crowds, I prefer to travel either before or after the most crowded times of the year. I like to find some balance between good weather and smaller crowds. With that in mind, what's a good time of year to visit Croatia?

Posted by valadelphia
514 posts

May would be ideal, and I will add if you are not interested in swimming, earlier in spring would fit the bill.
September would work, but more likely to be hot early in the month.

Posted by Brad OP
Belmont Bay, VA
10128 posts

When does the water warm up enough for swimming. Is it like the Riviera where it doesn't really warm up until late summer?

Posted by valadelphia
514 posts

Late May/early June should be fine for swimming. The sea is still somewhat chilly for a southerner like me, but I have always been able to swim in late May on particularly hot sunny days.
The crowds are not too bad at that time of year (I would go in early September also), and there are strategies to avoid them like checking cruise schedules for example, and doing excursions during the day and enjoying town in the morning/evening. Also, don't discount the less popular towns, which are pretty too (just maybe a hair less pretty than Hvar or Dubrovnik but with a fraction of the crowds.)

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
2776 posts

I've been to Croatia in May and in early October. My ideal time would probably be end of September or maybe early October. On my October visit, I felt that the Dalmatian coast was just about to shut down for the season; there were fewer excursion options, shorter hours, etc. Weather was still warm in Dubrovnik enough to wear shorts, but the day I left the temperature dropped and when I got to Korcula it was raining on and off. I was told that the Buza Bar in Dubrovnik closed for the season the day the rains came. (But that was 2009; maybe they stay open later now.) Korcula was pretty dead at night for sure - restaurants were open but it felt a ghost town, not really a pleasant atmosphere in my view.

But the Adriatic was still warm enough to swim in early October - I did, in Dubrovnik. I doubt it would be warm enough in May (when I didn't even try).

If you don't mind the shorter opening hours and fewer excursion options in early October, that might be your perfect time - maybe even late October, though personally I probably wouldn't go that late. The weather is different every year of course but the odds of rain increase as you get through October. You might not mind the rain, but you miss something if you don't see at least some sun on the Dalmatian Coast in my view. One of my favorite memories of my October visit was seeing the sun set into the Adriatic on clear evenings - just magical. On my May trip, I had little rain but it was often clouded over many days, and I only saw one ocean sunset on my entire trip. Maybe just bad luck.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8969 posts

In 2015 the weather in coastal Montenegro and Croatia turned fallish by October 5. I had had cooler weather in conjunction with rain earlier than that in Bulgaria. I was in Croatia (mainly Zagreb) October 6-11, and there was rain at least one day out of two. October 11 was a total wash-out (but it was a long holiday weekend and everything was closed anyway).

Mine was just one experience, but I would tread cautiously as far as October is concerned. It's possible the coast tends to be drier than Zagreb. You can take a look at the real-world stats and the monthly averages on wunderground.com.

I was also in Zagreb in late August on that trip, and even then it wasn't unpleasantly touristy by my standards. My one problem with serious crowding on that trip (which didn't include Dubrovnik or the islands) was Plitvice Lakes National Park. Spend the night before your visit very near the park and try to go mid-week if you can.

Posted by Brad OP
Belmont Bay, VA
10128 posts

Thanks for the replies so far. Last year I took my first trip in May to Burgundy. It was too early to be there. It was cold and wet; the vines hadn't really started growing. The upside was, except for Beaune, I felt like I had the place to myself. I went to Southern France and the Riviera in late September and it was a good time to be there. Still barely warm enough for the beach and light crowds. I have been to Venice in mid October and liked it, but it needs to be visited further out of tourist season - beach weather vs. rain isn't important.

Right now I'm thinking mid-June or mid September. I'm wondering when the crowds really start ramping up and ramping down on the back end so I can try to catch decent weather but not fight crowds in Plitvice.

I like the idea of visiting the less touristy towns. I've looked at photos of dozens of towns and there seem to be a lot of really nice places that aren't on the standard RS routes. I think those might be ideal for me, with only quick visits to the must see popular destinations.

I expect to rent a car and drive. Maybe do a loop or split the rental so I don't drop in a different country. What is the norm if you visit an island? Do you ferry the car with you or park it on the mainland and walk on the ferry?

Brad

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
2776 posts

There car ferries and there are passenger-only catamarans. You can do it either way. Sometimes the car is a hassle on the islands; sometimes it lets you explore more beyond the main towns. Really up to you. As long as you can find a car ferry schedule that works for you, and you think you want it, go for it.

Dubrovnik is likely to be the busiest town on your itinerary (assuming it's on your itinerary). Mostly this is due to cruise ship daytrippers. There is a website you can dig up that lists the schedule of docked ships, and some people use that to try to time their stays based on when the fewest ships may be in port. But they should be gone by late afternoon anyway. Dubrovnik is lovely at night especially, anyway. Daytime is not a bad time to do day trips while the crowds are in town. It's not really a big town; doesn't take forever to explore. The one daytime activity you'll want to do is walk the walls. I did it first thing in the morning before it got crowded.

Yes, Rick Steves does leave off some nice places in Croatia e.g. the lovely town of Sibenik north of Split (and near Krka national park). Then again, don't assume everyplace people visit that Rick doesn't cover must be great. I have learned that some non-touristy places are that way for a reason.

You should still expect a lot of people at Plitvice even in September mid-day. The trick is to stay overnight in or near the park and get in when it opens at 7AM, before the tour groups arrive. It doesn't necessarily take that long to explore Plitvice; about six hours might be enough for the average person. So hike in the morning around 7 and half of your time should be relatively uncrowded; just expect crowds later. You could also try to arrive early enough the previous day to enter the park late afternoon and see the rest the next morning. FYI, if you stay at one of the park-run hotels - convenient but otherwise overpriced - they will stamp your previous day's park ticket so you don't have to pay a second day in a row.

Posted by Carla
Boulder CO
910 posts

We drove through Croatia for 2 weeks during the last 2 weeks of May. We visited Hvar and swam, and kayaked and swam in Dubrovnik. The water was perfect !

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8969 posts

Brad, most of the people at Plitvice on August 28, 2015, were not Americans. They were mostly either Croatians or other Europeans. Avoiding July and August will help with the "other Europeans" category. Avoiding Friday-Monday will help with Croatians living within day-trip distance and other Europeans who grabbed cheap weekend flights into Zagreb, Zadar or Split.

Unfortunately, the number of visitors that day was so high (I'm tempted to say "unbelievably high") that even a 50% reduction would still have been way too many people on those boardwalks, so you need to use any trick you can think of to avoid the busiest times. I wouldn't expect a huge different between May and September, but it will still be important to be in the park very early in the morning and/or very late in the afternoon. I guess the longer days in May might be of some help there.

I've visited both Rab and Hvar without a car (neither recently), but I can see the advantage of having your own transportation. Getting away from the port town is often a very different experience. However, as I assume you know, you'd have to be sure you were permitted to take the rental car on a ferry.

Back in the day, the bus that went past the embarkation point for the ferry to Rab traveled on the highway way up above the coast; it did not go down to the ferry dock. There I was with my suitcase (rather light, but pre-wheels). I started off down the proverbial long and winding road and (probably thinking about the climb back up) decided, "No way." I opted to hide my suitcase in the rocks far enough from the road that I though no one would notice it. It was still there when I returned at the end of the day. I also accepted the offer of a ride down the hill from a couple of guys in a truck. I'm female. Aah, the optimism/stupidity of youth.

Posted by Paul
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
931 posts

We have been in Croatian in June, October, and November. We visited Sarajevo in late October, and then had a private driver to Mostar. We wanted to catch a bus to Dubrovnik, but the bus was not running at that time. So, late in shoulder season, watch for services cutoff. When we did get to Dubrovnik, it was charming, and not crowded; we were there Nov 5-8 or so. It was not cold, but we were more comfortable with a light coat. In Sarajevo, in the mountains, it was quite cool, and a coat was needed.

This year, we were in Zagreb at the start of June, and were in Sibenik and Zadar from June 6-June 12. The weather was nice, no rain, not hot, really ideal. The crowds were manageable in these smaller, less touristic cities. We booked a room on the square in Zadar the night before - it was 480 Kn. Sibenik was very pleasant, and not hugely tourist-ridden. But we were in Dubrovnik at the same time in 2015, and that was pretty crowded. So, depends where you go.

Posted by Jennifer
Tunbridge Wells
2104 posts

Croatian and Hungarian schools start their summer holidays c 15 June, which is a month earlier than Northern Europe, so to avoid family crowds, don't visit between mid June and the end of August.

The middle 2 weeks of September are ideal - the crowds have gone, but the weather is still decent and places haven't started closing down for the winter, which happens from the end of September.

Dubrovnik gets far too many cruise ships, but their movement can be checked online in advance.

Posted by Brad OP
Belmont Bay, VA
10128 posts

Sounds like mid September will be best. Is Plitvice significantly better in the Spring? I hadn't considered that it might dry up in late summer.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8969 posts

The little waterfalls were doing their thing in late August 2015. My previous trips were so long ago that I don't remember what month they were (certainly it was between late May and September) or whether there was more or less water. I do remember that there were only about 15% - 25% as many people in the park. (Thank you, budget airlines.)

Posted by Mike2015
Lafayette, IN
8 posts

I’ve seen several posts regarding checking cruise ship timetables to avoid crowds. Does anyone have a favorite site they use for this? Thanks.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8969 posts

Mike, you might want to create a separate thread to ask this question--someone may have the perfect answer. I know I've seen different websites mentioned over the last few years, but somehow I've never recorded that very useful information in a place where I can find it later.

So I take a quick-and-dirty approach: I Google something like "cruise ships in port Dubrovnik", then I look at the links and try to find one that seems to belong to the local port authority. But I know it has been mentioned here that the online information is not necessarily 100% accurate. I think expecting to get the total picture 6-9-12 months ahead of time would probably be over-optimistic.

Posted by Joann
Dartmouth, MA, USA
179 posts

Hi Brad, Here is the cruise port website I have used to plan my days in port cities. It lists ports from all over the world. If you click on the individual ship names it tells you how many passengers it holds and the hours it is in dock. Sorry I don't know how to embed the link - you'll have to copy & paste. http://ports.cruisett.com/schedule/Croatia/184-Dubrovnik/May_2018/

Just to add my two cents, we were in Dubrovnik & Plitvice in Mid-June last year and it was HOT. My daughter thought it was even hotter than Florida in August - I don't know about that but it was very hot. Water was warm enough for swimming. Also agree that you need to stay overnight the day before for Plitvice. We did and got to the park early. Spent about 4 hours. By the time we left it was getting very crowded. The first couple of hours it was very nice (crowd-wise).

Edit - looks like it did create the link!

Posted by Brad OP
Belmont Bay, VA
10128 posts

Thanks for your replies. It looks like early to mid September will be about right. Maybe starting the 6th through the 24th?

Posted by inireland
Waterville, Ireland
409 posts

I was camping for a few weeks in late May and the weather was miserable. Rained alot, and was quite chilly. Went South for a week, and then it was glorious when we returned! So you may have a good May and a lousy July, or vice versa!

In the summer, it's fantastic. Jumping off rock walls next to a bar in Dubrovnik; snorkeling around, then drying off on the rocks. Heaven!

Susan
Expat in Ireland