By Rick Steves and Cameron Hewitt
Tourist traffic in this part of Europe (especially the coastal towns) is extremely seasonal. The peak season hits suddenly and floods the towns like a tidal wave, only to recede a couple months later — leaving empty streets and dazed locals. In general, the tourist season runs roughly from mid-May through early October, peaking in early August. (If you're staying in bigger cities or landlocked towns, the seasonal influence is much less pronounced.)
July and especially August are top-of-top season — boats, buses, and budget accommodations are packed to the gills with mostly European vacationers. Visiting Croatia in July or August is like spending spring break in Florida — fun, but miserably crowded and hot. Hotels charge top dollar, and you'll miss out on the "undiscovered" quality that pervades most of the region the rest of the year.
Early May through June and September through early October are shoulder seasons – and the time when most Rick Steves readers are visiting. Within these time spans, late June and early September are nearly as crowded as peak season (particularly on weekends at seaside towns), but the rush subsides substantially in May and October; by the second week of October, restaurants are already starting to close down for the winter. Shoulder season is my favorite time to visit — I enjoy the smaller crowds, milder weather, and less-frenzied locals.
Mid-October through early May, small towns are dead as a doornail. Many resorts close down entirely, with only one hotel and one restaurant remaining open during the lean winter months; many residents move to the interior to hibernate. Anything that's open keeps very limited hours (weekday mornings only). The weather can be cool and dreary, and night will draw the shades on your sightseeing before dinnertime.If traveling in the winter, skip the coast (or limit yourself to bigger towns like Split and Dubrovnik), and focus on the cities and the interior.
Because of this region's extreme seasonality, opening times and prices are especially flexible. It's not unusual for a hotel to charge six different rates for the same room, depending on the time of year. (A hotel receptionist once showed me a binder with hundreds of potential rates they could charge, based on room size, type, views, season, and length of stay.) With every visit, I dutifully hike around these towns trying to pin down hours for tourist offices, travel agencies, and museums. And every time, they change. If you're here anytime outside of midsummer, don't rely on my hours — call a day or two ahead to double-check that the place you need (like a room-booking agency) will actually be open when you arrive. It's always smart to call ahead to double-check opening times.
- See the main holidays and festivals for Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina
- See my recommended itinerary for Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro
Cameron Hewitt is co-author of the Rick Steves Croatia & Slovenia guidebook.