Sunday, 26 November 2017

Dubrovnik 6 years on: and tips to avoid the crowds

Back in 2011, when I first visited Dubrovnik, in Croatia, it was much less touristy than it is today. Despite this, the number of visitors to this UNESCO site was still fairly high.



As I stood at the main entrance calculating the ticket price to climb the walls, I quickly determined that the contents of my blue spined guide book, should be read with caution. Prices were double, which confirmed my view regarding the speed at which information can become out of date and possibly behind the times. As a budget traveller, in those days, this wasn't ideal.

Six years on and today, at 20 Euros, a climb along those same city walls is still the highlight of a visit to Dubrovnik, so you wouldn't want to miss it. Plan a visit with caution as it's not the cheapest destination in Europe, by far.

Built in the 16th Century, the pedestrianised Old Town of Dubrovnik is surrounded by stone walls, which you can walk full circle. On my previous visit, it was easy to climb and wander, taking in the views and snapping away on my camera. Today, in peak periods, you may struggle to get your camera out of your bag, let alone snap a clear view, as people shuffle along elbow to elbow.

Following the release of the infamous Game of Thrones series, the area has both benefitted and suffered from the income generated by on location filming. The significant increase in visitors, namely fans of the show, is excessive and could deter those who visit for another reason.

Stradun view

The biggest shock for me during this visit was the cost of everything. From accommodation to food, to ticket prices and tours. They even charge for toilets, but at least the water is free and drinkable (fill up at the fountain at the main entrance to the Stradun).

If you're wanting to visit, and are concerned about the crowds, the good news is that there are plans underway to reduce and limit the number of visitors to less than half the recommended numbers prescribed by UNESCO. However, this is expected to take a couple of years to be fully implemented and is expected to mostly impact on the cruise visitors.

Therefore in the meantime, here are my recommendations to avoid the crowds.

1 Visit in the off season

The Dalmatian coast retains its warmth most of the year, with the peak season months of June to August also being the hottest time to visit.

Plan your visit during the months of September and October when the cruise ships are in the Caribbean and instead experience the local festivals and events which take place at this time of year.

2 Avoid the cruise ships

Check the schedule, as there are particular days that are likely to be the busiest times as tours groups descend into the Stradun. The early birds who enter the city in the early morning, will have the place to themselves for a short while, although the entrance to climb the walls doesn't open until 8am in the peak periods.

Late afternoons are a good time to wander the marbled streets as the temperature cools and the cruise ships have left.

3 Avoid entering via Pile Gate

It's the most famous entrance, especially to Game of Thrones fans, as it's the location of a number of well known scenes from the series. This is also the way the cruise companies tend to enter with their groups and is situated close to the meeting point for the numerous walking tours around the city.

Search out Ploce and/or Buza Gate for an alternative entrance, with no crowds. If you want to see Pile Gate, it's worth visiting early or late in the day.

4 Stay overnight

Everything is always different at night. Dubrovnik seems almost like another place as the heated marble walkways, cool and the crowds dissipate. It's still popular after hours and still what I would consider expensive, but if you keep to the edges you can still find places which are reasonably priced.

Dubrovnik at dusk

I would also recommend staying outside of the city walls, although be prepared to climb a lot of steps. It's fine once you have done this a couple of times.

5 Delay your visit

As previously mentioned, there are plans to cut the number of visitors, predominantly cruise ships. There will be limits placed on arrivals at peak times as well as day trips offered by tour operators, although I'm unsure how they will control this exactly.

It will certainly be interesting to see Dubrovnik with reduced crowds, so no doubt I will be back again in another 6 years to check in.

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