With over 1 million international visitors each year, Dubrovnik – once called ‘the Pearl of the Adriatic’, seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. Its sturdy medieval walls have protected it for centuries, but now face a new peril – tourist overcrowding. Heading for the Dalmatian coast this year? Here are some tips on how to circumvent the crowds in Dubrovnik!
In the summer months, an overwhelming number of visitors, many of which day-trippers on cruises, arrive in the thousands each day, making it difficult to even enter through the gates of the Old Town, much less to appreciate its historic architecture and charm. To avoid the crowds in Dubrovnik and enjoy a better experience, you will need both flexibility and advance planning. Here is how:
Plan your visit around the cruise ship shore tours
If you will be in Dubrovnik in the summer (as most people do), scheduling your tour of the Old Town around the cruise ship arrivals could make a huge difference. Luckily, the Port of Dubrovnik publishes the cruise ship schedule so you can see how many ships are expected on each date, their arrival and departure times, and their size and capacity. They also use a handy color coding for each day – green for less than 3,500 expected passengers, yellow for 3,500 – 7,500 expected cruise visitors, and red for over 7,500 anticipated arrivals.
Usually, Thursdays tend to be the busiest (with 3 – 5 large cruise ships in port) and mornings are busier than afternoons. To at least partially circumvent the day-tripper crowds, schedule your walking tour early in the morning or later in the afternoon. In June, July, August, and September, the Old Town walls open 8:00 AM and close at 6:00 PM (subject to change). Believe me, the views from the top of the ramparts over the Old Town and the Adriatic coast in the morning or evening are to die for! You can walk around the entire wall, or just part of it, but either way the experience is well worth it.
Choose the right entrance into the Old Town
There are 3 entrances to the Old Town – the medieval Pile and Ploce Gates and the Buza Gate, which was constructed in the 1900s. The Pile Gate on the western walled is the busiest with the sheer number of people trying to get in and out at the same time sometimes causing jams. This is where most of the buses unload passengers from the cruise ships docking in the port of Gruz. The Ploce Gate on the opposite (eastern) side of the Old Town is generally less crowded and the northern Buza gate is even less so.
Stay near (but not necessarily in) the Old Town
Early mornings are a great time to avoid the crowds in Dubrovnik’s Old Town. After the pub crawlers stagger away and before the throngs of cruise passengers arrive, you can have the narrow stone lanes (almost) to yourself and stop at the open-air market on Gundulic Square without the risk of being trampled over. The handful of hotels in the Old Town (my favorite is the boutique 6-room St. Joseph’s) have their advantages – housed in historic buildings and just steps away from the main sights, and disadvantages – premium rates, no sea views, limited amenities, and crowds and noise under your windows.
There are also some wonderful hotel options outside, but within a short walk, of the Old Town. These will keep you near the historic center, but with better amenities (i.e. pools, gyms, bars), gorgeous sea and / or Old Town views and, best of all, within a safe distance from the hordes of day-trippers. My top suggestions are the Villa Dubrovnik, the Excelsior, and the Bellevue hotels, all of which are a mile or less from the Old Town.
If possible, go off-season
May to October is high season on the Dalmatian coast with a peak in June, July, and August (and increasingly September). If your travel dates are at all flexible, try to schedule your visit in late October – November or April – early May when the weather is likely to be warm and sunny, but not yet stifling hot and humid. December through March is when the locals retake their town and celebrate a series of festivals – Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, the Day of St. Blaise (the city’s patron saint), and Easter. This is why a winter trip to Croatia is not as crazy as it sounds.
Flights in and out of Dubrovnik in off-season are limited, but still available. Lufthansa (via Frankfurt), Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul), Croatian Airlines (via Frankfurt), Vueling (via Rome or Barcelona), and British Airways (via London Gatwick) are among the airlines currently offering seasonal flights to Dubrovnik.
5 things to see and do outside the Old Town
So, if mornings and evenings are the best time to circumvent the crowds in Dubrovnik, what do you do during the day? Here are 5 alternative things you can do:
- Just a short walk outside the Old Town, take the cable car to the top of Srd Hill for those postcard-perfect views over the Old Town and the Adriatic coastline.
- With its small villages, olive groves, and vineyards, the Konavle region south of Dubrovnik is Croatia at its most traditional. For a fun and active day outside, spend a few hours hiking, biking, or horseback-riding followed by a cooking class or a winery visit.
- To see Dubrovnik as medieval seafarers once did, take a sea-kayaking tour beneath the city walls and explore the caves and bays of Lokrum island.
- The Peljesac Peninsula north of Dubrovnik is known for its vineyards and the best oysters in Dalmatia, farmed in the town of Ston. Peljesac is a great for tasting local wines and seafood and to explore Ston’s defensive walls. A feat of medieval engineering, they are over 3 miles long and include a series of towers and bastions.
- Visit the nearby Elaphiti (Elafiti) islands by private boat or ferry? Dubrovnik’s aristocracy used to have their summer mansions on some of these and the remains of medieval monasteries and churches can still be seen. Explore the isles’ coves, secluded bays, and sandy beaches before heading back to Dubrovnik.
After a period of unprecedented (and unchecked) tourist growth, Dubrovnik’s mayor has announced plans to limit the number of daily visitors to the Old Town to prevent overcrowding and improve the locals’ quality of life. Whether such measures will be implemented in 2018 remains to be seen, but in the meantime the above tips will hopefully help you evade the crowds in Dubrovnik and enjoy its historic charm and beauty to the fullest.
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