The reality of Dubrovnik

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.

Dubrovnik from the city walls

Dubrovnik from the city walls

The domes of Dubrovnik's old town

The domes of Dubrovnik’s old town

The church of St. Blaise (Crkva Svetog Vlaha)

The church of St. Blaise (Crkva Svetog Vlaha)

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.

View from the city walls

View from the city walls

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.

Daytrippers from cruise boats queueing to be ferried back

Daytrippers from cruise boats queueing to be ferried back

Queue of day trippers returning to cruise boats

Queue of day trippers returning to cruise boats

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.

A short boat trip - and a world away - from the crowds

A short boat trip – and a world away – from the crowds

Stradun - the main street of the walled city - at night

Stradun – the main street of the walled city – at night

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.

Incredible Bosnian food

Incredible Bosnian food

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).

View from the city walls

View from the city walls

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.

City streets

City streets

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.

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24 responses to “The reality of Dubrovnik

  1. Dubrovnik is a beautiful place but it definitely can’t be described as a hidden gem! I was there in June last year and weirdly it was less busy than it looks when you were there, though might have been something to do with the fact that it poured with rain in the morning. Like a lot of mega-popular places I think as long as you expect it to be busy it’s still great to see (or yes otherwise get up about 6am in the middle if winter if you want to see it deserted!).

    • You’re right, Dubrovnik will always be busy, but I found it really hard to loose the crowds, unlike Venice where there seems to be plentyof alleyways to hide in.
      Post-rainfall sounds like a good time to visit though!

  2. I am crazy to go there this year. I have been to other places in Croatia and of course always wanted to go to Dubrovnik too. I heard it was very crowded, but I would never guess that already at the end of September it was still packed 😦 oh noo!! And by your pictures I can tell it is really packed! Thank you for sharing this reality, it will help me a lot when planning my trip!! 😀

  3. I really do want to visit Dubrovnik, but it was a fear of the crowds that swayed me to Istria instead. I still want to go, but I don’t regret our decision to stay up north in Porec. I fancy a cruise, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up there at some point as one of those daytrippers!

    • Ooh, Istria looks lovely though! I would definitely advice Dubrovnik at some point though – just make sure you prepare yourself mentally. Must be amazing for a cruise – so many islands to pass by.

  4. It is a beautiful place, but it’s tiny and the powers that be let far too many evil cruise-ships in each day. I reckon you’d love this website, which has stats of the number of passengers docking on a daily basis: http://www.portdubrovnik.hr/girica1.php. Quite often there are over 7,500 day-trippers in a small area, who spend very little while there.

    I stayed in an airbnb apartment in the Old Town for 4 nights, and arrived at 6am when Stradun was deserted. I was shocked at how busy it was by 9am. Loved the place to bits though.

    • Dubrovnik is definitely worth putting up with the crowds for, I agree. I could not image it at the height of summer – 7,500 is basically a whole town. Must have been nice to get out early and explore the old town.

    • I’m planning to write more on Split soon, but yes I LOVED Split It has a really nice vibe, and it feels like a ‘living’ city, not just a place for tourists. The prices are far lower, but it has just as much to see and do. I would happily go back to Split tomorrow!

  5. I really really want to go to Dubrovnik, as part of a Serbia – Montenegro – Bosnia – Croatia tour, although I don’t see it happening anytime soon. 😦 Also, thank god you didn’t say anything about Game of Thrones filming there, so many people seem to be interested only because it’s a location for the show. I honestly don’t give a rat’s ass where they film, I want to visit a place for itself.

    • We did actually see them filming while I was there… but it was totally wasted on me as I don’t watch it. Dubrovnik has good connection to Montenegro but we were too short on time to see the country properly 😦

  6. I think you’re being a bit too harsh to say to leave the backpack at home. After all, I finished my Croatian backpacking trip there and easily got by on a budget. I stayed in a backpacker’s boutique hostel really cheaply even as it’s famed for Tyrion of Game of Thrones fame staying here.

    When I went, it was in August. So it was peak season but with careful impromptu planning, we didn’t feel Dubrovnik was packed. We only ventured inside after 3pm when the cruise people had already gone back. Before 3pm, we would climb the mountain overlooking Dubrovnik, chill out on the hidden beaches, go to Lokrum island or simply take a day trip out. After 3pm, we could go on the walking tours, on the city walls at sunset (a MUST!) and find very cheap restaurants to eat out that served delicious food.

    So I say, bring your backpack with you. You just got to be brave and find the great deals.

  7. Hmm, that is an interesting point. I just found it hard to get used to have to avoid the one place I wanted to go most. I do still think the city works best as a weekend destination though, and if you’d spent more time in Bosnia, you’d see how much friendlier the prices are there!

  8. I’ve heard this about Dubrovnik, the crazy crowds issue. I think the reason it is SO bad there, even compared to Venice and such, is because the place itself is pretty small, to the crowds are really cramped in there. Still, I really want to visit, maybe in late April or so.

    • I totally agree – Venice isn’t massive, but you can loose the crowds in the small alleyways or head to another island. In Dubrovnik, you are literally fenced in by the huge walls and there just doesn’t seem to be many places to go.

      Still, I would recommend it to anyone – I think it’s just important to be prepared! I bet April would be a nice time to go.

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