Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Dubrovnik Survival Guide

49

Kate in Dubrovnik

A survival guide? For Dubrovnik?! Is that even necessary?

I’m totally serious.

Dubrovnik is a fantastic place to visit – a walled, orange-roofed old city perched above the Adriatic, islands in the background. George Bernard Shaw once said, “If you want to see heaven on Earth, come to Dubrovnik” – and believe me, he was a very well traveled man. He would know.

But if you arrive in Dubrovnik unprepared, there’s a big chance that you’ll be disappointed. I certainly was the first time around. I don’t want that to happen to you — so read on.

Dubrovnik Skyline

Come to the old city of Dubrovnik on a summer day and you will be overwhelmed by just how clogged the streets are with shuffling groups being led by umbrella-hoisting guides. Now, I’m not one of those people who thinks I’m too good for anywhere “tourists” go — seriously, people, we’re all tourists here — but Dubrovnik tests my patience.

The old city is small to begin with and when you add enormous crowds of tourists, it becomes overwhelming — it feels like Adriatic Disney. It’s not just crowded, it’s super, super, super crowded. Add the searing summer heat and it’s a recipe for misery.

Even worse? Walking the walls in the middle of the day, when the hot sun is beating down, the steps are endless, the crowds are thick, and you are melting into a puddle.

DubrovnikPink Dubrovnik SkyDubrovnik

You might compare it to visiting Venice in the summer. But even on the busiest summer days, you can still find plenty of secluded spots in Venice if you walk far enough. That’s not the case in the old city of Dubrovnik. The city center of Venice is much larger and has a population of about 60,000; Dubrovnik’s tiny old town has a population of about 1,000, many of whom wisely rent out their homes during the summer months.

According to Croatia Tourism, roughly half of Dubrovnik’s annual tourists arrive by cruise ship. Most cruise ships dock for a single day. Most cruise ship excursions have the same routine: arrive in the old town in the morning and stay until the afternoon.

Dubrovnik

Solution: Only visit the old city after 4:00 PM during the summer. Or even 6:00 PM if you can. Believe me, you won’t be missing anything. Some cruise ship excursions depart the old city at 2:00 PM, others at 4:00 PM, but it makes such a difference in how pleasant it is to explore the city.

So, what should you do before 4:00 PM?

City Beach Dubrovnik

Relax and swim in the Adriatic. Choose a hotel with a section of beach, or head to a public beach like City Beach, just outside the Old City. Swimming in the Adriatic is its own reward.

Rachelle and Kate kayaking. Image via @TheTravelBite on Instagram

Go kayaking. I loved the morning I spent kayaking around the Old City, and some longer trips even circle the island of Lokrum! Image: Rachelle Lucas.

Dubrovnik Cable Car Sunset

Take the cable car up the mountain. Though you might want to stay for sunset and get shots like this!

Mljet Forest

Take a day trip. My favorite day trip from Dubrovnik is the island of Mljet, home to a national park filled with saltwater lakes. Swimming in those neon lakes is one of my favorite memories from Croatia.

Beyond that, there’s Lokrum Island just off the coast, there are other nearby islands like Korčula, there’s the resort town of Cavtat nearby, and just driving down the coastline and gawking at what you see is a perfectly acceptable day trip from Dubrovnik!

You can even leave the country and visit Kotor or Budva, Montenegro, or Mostar, Bosnia.

Dubrovnik at night

Old City in the Evening

Dubrovnik will never be tourist-free, especially during the summer, so don’t go in expecting that. However, in the evening, Dubrovnik becomes much more pleasant. And, to me, bearable.

Also, this is the time to walk the walls surrounding the old city!

Dubrovnik

Last time I walked the walls, it was in the afternoon and I nearly melted. This time, I did it at around 6:30 PM, which was close to the closing time of 7:00 PM, and while it was still quite hot (which is exacerbated when you have so many stairs to climb), it wasn’t the hell on earth I experienced before. The light is ideal for photography, too.

Dubrovnik Game of Thrones

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you must go on the Game of Thrones tour! Dubrovnik has served as King’s Landing in all the seasons so far. My guide was actually an extra in one episode and she brought a binder full of screen shots from the show.

Should You Go Off-Season?

I’m a big advocate for traveling in the shoulder season or even the off-season in certain places, but not all destinations are equal — some are great in the off-season while some are awful.

For Dubrovnik, honestly, I think that the Adriatic coast is such a quintessential summer destination — the colors, the beaches, the ice cream. If you want to go at a slightly off-peak time, I recommend mid-to-late May or September. Keep in mind that while lots of airlines fly to Dubrovnik, most of them are only during the summer months.

Come Chat with Me!

On Monday, July 14, join me for an #ExploreCroatia Twitter chat! I’ll be co-hosting along with my Croatia-loving colleagues Matt, Rachelle and Rob. The chat starts at 2:00 PM ET/7:00 PM GMT and the hashtag is #ExploreCroatia.

If you want to know more about traveling in Croatia, please feel free to join in!

D'Vino Wine Bar

Kate’s Favorite Dubrovnik Spots

Slastičarnica Dolce Vita — The city’s best ice cream and they’re famous for their bitter orange, which they recommend pairing with chocolate.

Cafe Buža — This cafe has two locations built into the cliffs, overlooking the Adriatic! Amazing setting, and worth visiting before the sun goes down. You can also go swimming from both locations.

Proto Restaurant — I ate seafood twice a day in Croatia, but the absolute best seafood was at this restaurant. Perfect snails and delicate seabass.

D’vino Wine Bar — My favorite evening hangout. Run by an affable Australian named Sasha, D’vino Wine Bar has a fabulous selection of Croatian wines, and Sasha will be happy to help you find the right local wine for you.

Kayaking — A really fun way to spend a morning and see the old city from a different perspective. Adriatic Kayak Tours offers half day tours from 280 kuna ($50 USD) per person.

Dubrovnik Cable Car — An incredible view of Dubrovnik from above, especially at sunset. Round-trip tickets for adults cost 100 kuna ($18 USD). Panorama Restaurant at the top has surprisingly fantastic food, too.

Game of Thrones Tour — A must for fans. Viator offers group tours from $83 USD; Tours by Locals has private tours from $140 for up to eight people.

Walking the city walls — A must for every Dubrovnik visitor! Walking the walls costs 100 kuna ($18 USD) and the walls close at 7:00 PM.

Lovrijenac, aka St. Lawrence’s Fortress — If you don’t take a Game of Thrones tour, go here on your own. The fortress is cool on it’s own, but it’s an incredible place to get shots of the old city at golden hour.

Lodging: this time I stayed at the luxury property Hotel Dubrovnik Palace, about a 10-minute drive from town with a great beachfront and a really nice breakfast. I also visited their sister property Hotel Excelsior, which is just as nice but with a better location, a short walk from the old city and City Beach. On the budget end, a few of my friends have stayed at Fresh Sheets, a hostel with private rooms actually located within the old city, and raved about it.

This campaign was created and sponsored by the Croatian National Tourist Board in partnership with iambassador. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to Dubrovnik? What was your favorite part of the city?

Comments

49 Responses to “Dubrovnik Survival Guide”
  1. Ken Kai says:

    Woah, interesting fact with Games of Thrones, didn’t know that! The cable cart thing looks great as does the kayaking!

  2. I’ve never been to Dubrovnik, but it sounds amazing. Thanks for all the tips. They could easily mean the difference between a stressful time and a really cool time.

  3. Ashley says:

    Great tips! I’ll keep them in mind when I visit Croatia.

  4. Naomi says:

    I am bookmarking this for my yet-to-be scheduled trip to Croatia as I will make it there this year (somehow). I am big fan of avoiding the crowds if I can so I will take this advice!

  5. Renuka says:

    Before I say anything, I’d just like to praise you for the photographs that are SO gorgeous! Dubrovnik is certainly a lovely city as you describe and show through your pictures. However, the crowd thing can overwhelm some people and they might miss out on the good part – its magical beauty. But, I guess this guide is really helpful.

  6. Katie says:

    How am I just now finding out that Dubrovnik is Kings Landing?! I would absolutely take a Games of Thrones tour! Everything is this post is fab – but that takes the cake for me.

  7. Amanda says:

    I was one of those day-tripping tourists to Dubrovnik – a few hours on a scorchingly hot afternoon in July. But you know what? I sucked it up, braved the heat, and loved walking the walls (and then seeking out ice cream afterwards!).

    Next time, though, I would definitely want to stay longer and do things like kayaking and day trips (and of course a Game of Thrones tour!).

  8. I went in mid-late September and I thought it was pretty perfect. There were still a few cruise ships but it wasn’t blocked. I walked the city walls first thing in the morning before everything had a chance to heat up. No crowds there either.

    Have you visited War Photo Limited? It’s on my must do list for Dubrovnik. It’s open later so it’s something I did in the evening after dark.

  9. Whitney says:

    I could not agree more. My Dubrovnik plan got thrown out of whack last year when I missed a train and a subsequent ferry but it ended up better than I could have planned. Since I arrived in Dubrovnik in the afternoon, I ended up visiting the Old Town in the late afternoon/early evening. Golden Hour on the wall or MAGIC HOUR as I like to call was absolutely lovely in June. Minimal crowds. Less sweltering. PICTURE PERFECT lighting! Fell in love with the city!

    Love the blog – keep it up!

  10. Our very last evening in Dubrovnik is Monday night, so I don’t know if we’ll make the Twitter chat, but if we’re around we’ll definitely try to be there! This entry hit at the perfect time — we have three days left here and weren’t sure how to fill them! Thanks for the ideas!

  11. mark says:

    Hi Kate! Great tips about visiting Dubrovnik, but definitely let your readers know that there is so much more to the city than just Old Town! I found that the area up north to be much less congested with tourists, with more hidden gems.

    Northwest Dubrovnik, you’ll find the boardwalk around Bay Lapad with a recently built hotel, Hotel More. Beneath the hotel is the Cave Bar, which is an actual cave that was unearthed during the hotel’s construction. Nothing beats a hot day in Dubrovnik better than relaxing in the cool confines of a grotto sipping a Karlovačko. The boardwalk winds its way into the pedestrian road, Šetalište Kralja Zvonimira. About a quarter mile in length and lined with trees and restaurants with outdoor seating, the setting is perfect to simply relax and people watch.

    The northeast part of town by Gruž Harbor is another cool little place on the water. While it is a mooring for the cruise ships, the majority of the tourists all seem to head directly over to the south side of the city towards old town and completely overlook this area. The west side of the harbor hosts the Yacht Club Orsan Marina and has a great little restaurant with an awesome view. Between the harbor and marina (next to Hotel Lapad) is the Škar winery. The owner lives on site and is very gracious and engaging. When we were there, it looked like he was closing down for the evening, but he invited us in and showed us around. We had a chance to see the aging room and he pulled a few bottles off the shelf and we began sampling his wines. About an hour or so later, we left (stumbled out I should say) with a few bottles under our arms.

    While Old Town is what certainly attracts people to Dubrovnik, it would be a shame for folks to come all that way and miss a wonderful part of city!

  12. I was totally enjoying these tips, and thinking to myself, wow, I should take a trip to Dubrovnik, sounds like a great place and then GAME OF THRONES. Now I must move this to #1 on my bucket list! Thank you so much for this post.

  13. Susan says:

    I actually happened to walk by the filming of Game of Thrones in Dubrovnik last September and was cut off guard because I had no idea they were filming there at the time.

  14. Victoria says:

    I’ve never been to Croatia but I certainly want to. It sounds great and mysterious to travel to now, before it’s well discovered LOL!!

  15. Richard says:

    Some great tips there, Kate. I loved the beaches – as well as the one you mention, Sveti Jakov is well worth it and is about 20 minutes walk from the old town. I loved Buza and D’Vino too – how come Croatian red hasn’t got a reputation as one of the world’s best?!

    • I can actually answer that question, Richard — it’s because Croatian wineries are so small that they don’t produce in large enough quantities to export internationally, and they thus don’t have an international reputation. You can find Croatian wines in super-specialty shops in the US and UK, but they are not easy to track down!

    • Sandra says:

      Agreed Richard – the wine in Croatia is amazing! I also inquired into this back home in Canada at some specialty wine stores. I was told the wine ends up being so expensive to import, that the price ends up much too inflated for the quality of the individual bottle that it is often not worthwhile for them. I am yet to find a store here that sells it.

  16. Jodie Young says:

    Your pictures look fantastic!

    Brilli tips and you have certainly made me want to visit!

  17. I think Game of Thrones must not have been out when I was in Dubrovnik because I didn’t have much crowding at all and it was July. The TV show, it seems, has made it even more popular!

  18. I went to Dubrovnik in late May and thought it was a perfect time to be there after visiting the first time in July. Late May is still hot (high 20s) but not as unbearable hot as the height of summer. There were also less people. The City beach and kayaking were defininte highlights for me too and I did a day trip to Kotor and Budva – such a beautiful part of the world

  19. Nicole says:

    We went in the middle part of August. It was overwhelming as you mentioned. It was beautiful, though. But you’re right, It’s hard to find a place in Dubrovnik that isn’t swamped with people.

  20. Awesome post Kate. So very helpful. I’m hoping Croatia and Dubrovnik will be on my radar for next year. It just looks stunning and there seems to be a lot to see and do. Will be keeping this post in mind when I do my planning.

  21. Anna says:

    ADRIATIC DISNEY – YES YES YES. I havent been to Croatia but this shorthand describes perfectly the experience I had visiting Venice in 2008 and Amsterdam this past Saturday. It’s not that both weren’t absolutely unique and gorgeous, but they were lacking in authenticity to me, because the entire cities seemed to exist solely for the purpose of tourism, and visually look like movie sets rather than living, breathing communities. They tend to be very overwhelming as well. I much prefer places that combine tourist-appealing whimsy and actual local energy, like Florence or Brussels.

    • The thing is, you CAN find those living, breathing communities in Venice and Amsterdam — you just need to venture outward and keep going. Dubrovnik’s old town doesn’t have that option, but you will find it outside the old town.

  22. Laura says:

    Based on the peaceful photos and how everyone raves about Dubrovnik so enthusiastically it never really occurred to me how crowded and miserable the Old City must be in the summer. Thanks for your advice – I’m glad it didn’t become a “thing I wish I had known before going!” Great idea to stay out of the Old City until after the cruise ships leave.

  23. these photos are beautiful. i will be in croatia around november and am hoping that it won’t be too cold to enjoy the outdoors. The walking the city walls tour and the cable car look great, thanks for bring them to my attention – i can’t wait to see Croatia for myself !! :)

  24. Angela says:

    Should have read this before i went, regret not doing any swimming in Dubrovnik, what was I thinking!

  25. Kelly says:

    Dubrovnik looks incredibly beautiful! Your photos are great! Would love to visit there one day!! :) x

  26. NZ Muse says:

    Game of Thrones has put Croatia on my radar!

  27. J.A. says:

    Hi,

    2 questions:

    1) Which camera did you use on this trip?

    2) Did you travel solo?

    Thanks

    Brgds

    • Hi JA –

      This trip was with a few friends, and I used my Nikon D5100 for these photos. You can see more about what I use for photography on my Travel Resources page.

  28. This is so awesome! I’m definitely showing this to our clients. We loved Dubrovnik, but yes, it can be a let down or even just plain underwelming with an overwhelming amount of tourists. But it’s such a beautiful place that it is absolutely worth experiencing!

  29. Katie says:

    Hey Kate! Great tips! I’m in the middle of planning a 7 day trip to Croatia, landing in Dubrovnik. Just curious your (or others!) opinion on the amount of time to base from there? Tentatively I’m looking at about 5ish days with Dubrovnik as my base and then spending on the last nights in Bosnia or Montenegro. Is 5, almost 6, days there going to be too much even with day trips? No idea what to expect!

  30. Denise says:

    Yes, I’ve been there, celebrating last New Year’s Eve! Good atmosphere! Check: http://www.vrouwonline.nl/weblog/denisem/oud-nieuw-gevierd

    (Wow, that picture of yours(?) of the cable car! I’ve been but it was raining. Pity.)

  31. Ray says:

    Hi Kate – good blog! I totally agree with you about the tourists clogging up the old city and the searing heat in summer. But I have to say that Dubrovnik is my favourite destination so far… I don’t think I’ve seen a more picturesque place anywhere in Europe!

    In addition to the things that you recommend during the day, I’d add renting a motorbike and exploring the neighbouring towns along the riviera. I did that and was amazed at the variety: from little fishing villages to bombed out ghost towns – big contrast to Dubrovnik!

    I still love the place though, and the photos I took there are some of my favourites – check them out on my blog if you have time!

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