I’ve yet to meet a single person who doesn’t want to go to Dubrovnik.
The city has it all: the incredible city walls, the well-preserved architecture, the orange rooftops, the sun and the sea – trust me, photos really don’t do the place justice.
But is the Pearl of the Adriatic too good to be true?
I visited Dubrovnik in late September as part of a wider backpacking trip across the Balkans and my impressions of the city were… mixed. However, I do think there might be a reason for my attitude towards the city (more on that later) but first, I want to share the reality of visiting Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik is beautiful
On arriving in Dubrovnik, one thing becomes astoundingly clear: it is beautiful. The walls of the old town seem impossibly high and the streets and alleyways beautifully preserved. Walking around the city walls, you’ll see endless terracotta rooftops, occasionally punctuated by a church dome, all on a backdrop of turquoise Adriatic Sea.
And I’m not just talking about the walled city, either – the beaches, the coastline and the mountainous backdrop are all enough to make you stop and stare.
There’s no two ways about it: Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and easily ranks up there with Venice and the best of the European ‘classics.’
Dubrovnik is busy packed
HOWEVER the second thing you’ll notice about Dubrovnik (probably two seconds after the first) is that it is packed.
Not just busy, packed.
Admittedly, you can’t expect to have a place as beautiful as Dubrovnik to yourself – there’s bound to be a high level of tourists. But my visit was at the very end of September: most definitely ‘shoulder season’ (i.e. not quite peak, not quite off-peak) and people were thronging through the Pile Gate like it was rush hour on the Tube, while the bus drop-off point just outside was like Magaluf, with hordes of tourists and even more people trying to flog their tours.
Of course, there are ways of escaping the crowds: we spent a day on one of the most popular beaches, with only around 20-30 other people around and our time spent traversing the city walls wasn’t too crowded. Evenings were also fairly quiet as many of the tourists were daytrippers from the cruise boats.
But in the end, we were forced to actively avoid the old town during the day because of the crowds, which was a real shame.
Dubrovnik is not cheap
This third point was a bit hard to stomach (no pun intended). After spending five days in Bosnia & Herzegovina before landing in Dubrovnik, we were reeling at how much restaurants were charging. With no access to the kitchen in our guest house (which was also pretty pricey), we didn’t have much choice but to eat out.
Don’t get me wrong, the food was lovely, but after Bosnia, the prices came as a real shock: most meals were on a par with UK prices (which are a lot higher than in Germany).
How to do Dubrovnik
So with all the moaning I’ve managed to do, you might assume I’d advise people to avoid Dubrovnik like the plague. Not quite.
In fact, I think the reason my feelings towards Dubrovnik are mixed is because we didn’t visit the city in the right way: Dubrovnik is a beautiful city, but not one for backpackers.
We moved on to Split afterwards, which was far better suited to our trip: the city has less tourists, lower prices and a much more chilled vibe.
Dubrovnik, on the other hand, is a perfect city to visit for a weekend break or for a few days on a cruise. The old town is beautiful, but not huge, giving you plenty of time to check out some nearby beaches, do a boat trip or even take a day trip to Mostar in Bosnia or Montenegro (Dubrovnik is very well connected). Basing yourself in Dubrovnik and venturing out also means that you won’t feel such strong shock about price differences.
Unfortunately as far as the crowds go, I think Dubrovnik will always be busy. However I did visit Venice in early November once and was treated to great weather and a calmer city – possibly a good time to hit Dubrovnik too?
So in conclusion: definitely make the trip to Dubrovnik. But be sure to leave the backpack at home.