The Croatian Coast is one of the most visited strips along the whole Mediterranean shoreline; emerald green waters and picturesque old towns, coupled with a sensational cuisine, attract hordes of tourists every year. The fact that Croatia is also relatively inexpensive compared to say, France or Italy, also acts as an unrivaled magnet. Dubrovnik, the paramount shining jewel of the country, would have to rate as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, yet it can be an absolute nightmare to visit. At the height of summer, an estimated 15,000 tourists ply the alleys of the Old Town Centre and, considering just how small the centre is, it can spell absolute disaster for anyone who wishes to actually enjoy it. But it’s not all doom and gloom! Get a few trips under your belt and you soon realize that holiday bliss is all about timing. Get it just right and you could be excused for thinking you’re the only one on earth who’s discovered this hidden gem.
Dubrovnik Guide – Best time to visit Dubrovnik:
Forget August! Travel to Dubrovnik in summer and the only thing you’ll want to do, once you climb the steps of the old city walls, is jump over the edge; it’s really that bad. Not only do you get to share this teeny tiny town with thousands of self-drive tourists from neighbouring countries, but you’ll also have to make room for the tens of thousands who ‘pop in’ for the day from passing cruise liners. And if there’s one thing Dubrovnik’s old town doesn’t have a lot of…it’s space!
Instead, plan your trip for either March/April or September/October. While it may be a little too chilly to go in for a swim, trust us when we tell you that the Croatian Coast is all about views and winding roads, not necessarily superlative swimming beaches so you won’t be missing out on very much at all. Besides, locals are much friendlier off peak season, prices are lower, roads unclogged (ideal for hire-car day trips) and sightseeing infinitely more enjoyable.
Got a week or so up your sleeve? Even better. Bad weather patterns on the Mediterranean mean that you never have more than 2-3 days of crappy rains in a row. Pick the first sunny day to venture into the Old Town, and you may well be the only tourists doing the Walls’ Walk.
Best time for the Walls’ Walk:
It’s hard to imagine that this walled city was the sight of catastrophic bombings just two decades ago. Left hopelessly unprotected (no-one thought a demilitarised UNESCO sight would be targeted) Dubrovnik’s city walls suffered some quite serious damage in the early 90s, yet you’d never even know it nowadays. Pristinely restored, the 2km-long, all encompassing medieval walls are an absolute delight to explore and offer supreme ocean and old town street views.
The Walls Walk is by far the most popular activity in Dubrovnik; it costs merely 90 Kuna (£10) and could easily be the most enjoyable thing to do in town. At the risk of sounding repetitive however, that’s all as long as it’s not attempted at the height of summer. Not only do you have to contend with mind-boggling crowds, but the high brick walls act as a furnace making it seem as if you’re cooking inside a baker’s oven! No matter how good the views are then, chances are you won’t be enjoying them much. On a sunny morning at any other time of the year, however, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better walking trail. Moreover, start your walk at about 12pm (the entire walk should take you about 2 hours) and if there are any other tourists around, they’ll be tucking in to lunch at one of the local restaurants instead. Bingo.
Pack some drinks and a healthy supply of bureks from the local bakery and you may even find yourself spending the whole afternoon up here.
Best spot for city views:
The city’s cable car is the second most popular attraction in Dubrovnik, yet one we think is not worth the money. Mostly, because the only thing it does is gift you a great overview of the old town, yet there’s a much more idyllic way of enjoying breathtaking views which costs zilch, and is not overrun with visitors, even in summer.
The southern road leading out of town ascends rapidly and hugs the coast all the way to the Bosnian border some 5km away, so taking a walk out of town for 20 minutes will see you reach a magnificent panoramic viewpoint few tourists venture to. To get here, simply exit the city Pile Gate, turn right, follow the road around and head up following the signs to the airport. The road is not very trafficked so if you want to rent a scooter for an hour (renters abound), this would be a great option too.
Best places to stay in:
As opposed to cities like Venice, which are mind-blowing to experience within, Dubrovnik is one of those cities best experienced without, meaning it’s a city worth looking at, not necessarily from. Old Town centre hotels are very popular, yet we fail to see the appeal. The walls are high and the streets narrow and shaded; the most view you’ll get from a town centre hotel window will just be other hotel windows! Besides, the old town centre may once have been the hub of local activity, but nowadays it is geared solely towards tourism, which means you won’t have much of a local ‘taste’ within the walls themselves.
If you want to enjoy the best of Dubrovnik, choose your accommodation among the plethora of hotels plying the road south of the city towards the airport (see above) where you can score a real room with a view.
While there are just as many options north of the city, the road is rather flat so although you’ll still get great sea views, they won’t include the Old Town, which juts out of a promontory on the southern end.
Best lunch in town:
While the walled centre is brimming with restaurants, we’ll be the first to admit they’re not all that great. Offering a very standard fare of fish and pizza (to please the significant Italian tourist patronage no doubt), the joints are extremely overpriced, and don’t offer much in terms of taste bud gratification. Yet one need only venture out of the walls to grab either a decent grilled meat platter at half the price or, better still, grab a take-away pizza instead and head to the best picnic spot in town.
Just inside the Pile Gate, on the left hand side, you’ll notice a small archway which leads to the gardens and playground below the walls. Go through to the gardens, stick to the left and walk toward the water; there you’ll come to a small pebbly beach with fantastic views of the wall’s first tower and the fortress across the bay. Pack a blanket and a bottle of red and voila’….you’ll have the best lunch spot in town all to yourself.
Some travelers will argue that there are certain places in the world which are not worth visiting, simply because they are deemed too touristy; yet we think the savvy wanderer can discern between a tourist attraction and an attraction made specifically for tourists. Dubrovnik is by far one of the most incredible cities one could ever hope to visit and there are countless reasons why it is also one of the most visited. It’s astonishingly beautiful, oozes history and culture on every turn, and boats one of the most glorious settings of any coastal cities, Venice included. It is quite magnificent, and if you plan your trip wisely, you’ll get to enjoy it at its very best.