With over a million international visitors each year, Dubrovnik – once called ‘the Pearl of the Adriatic’, seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. While its sturdy medieval walls have protected it for centuries, it now faces another threat – tourist overcrowding. In the summer months, an overwhelming number of visitors, many of which day-trippers from cruise ships, descend on Dubrovnik in the thousands each day, making it difficult to even enter through the Old Town’s gates, much less to appreciate its historic architecture and charm.
To avoid the crowds in Dubrovnik and have a more enjoyable experience, you will need both flexibility and advance planning. Here are some tips:
Plan your visit around the cruise ship arrivals!
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 Dubrovnik Port Authority 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 (length & gross tonnage).
Usually, Thursdays are the busiest (with up to 5 cruise ships in port), followed by Saturdays and Fridays. To at least partially circumvent the shore-tour crowds, schedule your walking tour in the early morning or late afternoon / evening. In June, July, August, and September, the Old Town walls are open between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM (or later), so try to enjoy the views from the top of the ramparts over the Old Town and the Adriatic coast in the morning or evening when the sun is lower and the crowds are smaller. You can walk around the entire wall, or just part of it, but either way the experience is well worth it.
Choose the right gate!
There are 3 entrances into the Old Town – the medieval Pile and Ploce Gates and the Buza Gate, which was constructed in the 1900s. The Pile Gate in the western wall 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, but also disadvantages – premium rates, no sea views (remember the Old Town is encircled by walls), limited amenities, and crowds and noise under your windows.
There are also some wonderful hotel options just a short walk outside the walls that 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 sane 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.
May to October is high season on the Dalmatian coast with a peak in June, July, and August (and increasingly September). To really appreciate Dubrovnik’s unique history, architecture, and culture, 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 (Dubrovnik’s patron saint), and Easter.
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) all currently offer service.
5 alternative things to see and do:
So, if mornings and evenings are the best time to avoid the crowds in Dubrovnik’s Old Town, 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 through the scenic countryside 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.
Tour the Peljesac Peninsula north of Dubrovnik, known for its vineyards and the best oysters in Dalmatia, farmed in the town of Ston. Peljesac is a great spot for tasting local wines and seafood and exploring 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 there 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 these measures will bear fruit remains to be seen, but in the meantime the above tips should hopefully help you avoid the crowds in Dubrovnik and fully enjoy its historic charm and beauty.
Need more information on travel to the Dalmatian coast? Contact me to get insider tips, hand-picked hotel & restaurant suggestions, and much more!