4 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Dubrovnik
Have you ever been disappointed by a place you thought you'd love?
More often than not, I fall in love with the cities and countries we travel through. And when I fall, I fall HARD. I’ve been surprised by towns I planned to only pass through, and it’s pretty common for me to extend my stay in places I like.
That said, with my Instagram feed clogging up with insanely beautiful pictures, it’s safe to assume that not everywhere I visit will end up will be nearly as stunning as it appears on my iPhone’s screen.
For me, Dubrovnik was a disappointment.
Croatia was one of the countries I was looking most forward to in the Balkans. Its aquamarine waters and perfect waterfalls in lush forests are what dreams are made of. And an imminent trip to Dubrovnik pushed me to start watching “The Game of Thrones” so I could more fully appreciate this real life King’s Landing.
I read up on the history, I oogled over pictures, looked up things to do and was so ready to get there.
And when I arrived, there was no arguing it is gorgeous. In fact, Dubrovik has some seriously Instagram-worthy spots!
So what did I find in Dubrovik that left me disappointed? Let me explain...
1. Dubrovnik was incredibly crowded with tourists
Yes I know, we visited Croatia at the pinnacle of high season, and crowds are to be expected. But this was to the extreme. When Ben and I entered the narrow entrance to the old city, selfie sticks blocked our path and tour groups clogged the streets.
The July heat burned down on my shoulders and the only escape from the sun was to step into the souvenir shops lining the streets that sell magnets for €8 and Game of Thrones t-shirts for €30.
I wandered down a back street hoping to find a bar that we heard being described as “off-the-beaten path.” We ducked under a low arch to enter and discovered that it can no longer be called a “hidden gem” in any sense of the word. Every table was occupied and others lurked behind tables, hoping to grab the first seat available.
2. Dubrovnik is expensive
So we wandered further and found a shaded little café that had an open table. I needed to get away from the crowds and out of the sun, so this seemed like the perfect escape. I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu – a €3 americano. When the waitress asked if I wanted a little milk on the side I nodded, “Just a tiny bit,” without knowing she would charge me an extra €1 for a teensy pitcher.
I knew Dubrovnik would be expensive. Most of the tourism in Croatia is aimed at Europeans on a weeklong holiday, so it only makes sense. We’ve been to expensive places before, but there usually seems to be some cheaper options if you look: street food, free walking tours, dorm beds.
But in our experience traveling in Dubrovnik, we found tourist prices and slightly cheaper tourist prices. Meals seemed to be a minimum of €12, tours of the city started at €15 per person, and an average dorm bed would set you back €50.
Budget Tip: Hotel prices throughout Croatia were so much higher than the other Balkan countries. To save money we booked a few Airbnb apartments. It was typically cheaper than hotels or hostels, we would get an entire apartment, and it was more of a local experience. If you use our link, you can get $40 USD off your first trip with Airbnb.
3. More tourists than locals
I’m a tourist, so this may sound a little hypocritical, but I don’t want to be surrounded only by tourists when I travel. In my mind, travel is meant for experiencing other places and cultures different from what you already know. That is how we grow and learn, pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones.
4. It felt "cheesy"
The Old City, to me, felt kind of “fake”. Historic buildings had been transformed into souvenir shops and pirate-themed candy stores. Tour guides dressed in chainmail led groups on "Game of Thrones" tours where they'd hold up an iPad and show scenes from the show.
To me, it kind of had a Disney Land feel. Which, in my opinion, is fine for a theme park, but not for a UNESCO World Heritage city.
Would we go back to Dubrovnik?
I’ll admit, Dubrovnik is a beautiful city. It’s clean. It has history. But it just didn’t feel like a real city. It seemed that everything was preserved only for tourists, and the only jobs people seemed to have revolve around tourism, meaning many of the workers were clad in historic costumes. A little cheesy, if you ask me.
I’m not one to discourage people to go places. I’m glad I visited Dubrovnik because I would have always wondered what it is like.
And circumstances definitely affect how much I like a place. Maybe with the cooler temperatures and fewer crowds of low season, I would enjoy myself much more.
If you plan to visit Dubrovnik, keep these tips in mind:
Avoid peak tourist season: We traveled to Croatia in July, during the busiest time for tourism. If you don't dig crowds, go earlier or later in the year.
Be sure your budget is big enough: Our budget was too low to be able to fully enjoy Croatia. The prices in this country are more on par with Western Europe, and while our budget was just fine for the rest of the places we visited, we had to be super frugal in Croatia.
Don't compare: We LOVED Bosnia and Slovenia which we visited before and after Croatia. So we found ourselves comparing it to these countries where the crowds were fewer, the locals seemed friendlier and the landscapes were just as beautiful. I know it’s not fair to compare, but it's a natural reaction.
Venture out of the Old City: We stayed in an Airbnb at a family’s home a 30-minute walk from the center, so we saw a lot more than just the historic part of town. We thought the island of Korcula reminded us of Dubrovnik, but we found it to be less crowd and less touristy. For information on Korcula, check out our Croatia Travel Guide. And in terms of big cities, we actually enjoyed Zagreb, the capital city in Croatia.
Allot enough time: We didn’t give it enough time. We spent about 2 weeks in Croatia, and went to the major spots, but if we were to go back again, we would have gone to more small villages and budgeted time and money to get further off the “beaten path”. Croatia is much more than Dubrovnik and Split.
Manage your expectations: We had super high expectations, and that’s where this disappointment stems from. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy Dubrovnik or think it was beautiful. But sometimes not having expectations at all can help you enjoy travel experiences more.
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Have you traveled to Dubrovnik? What did you think? Do you share my same feelings or do you think I'm crazy? Let me know in the comments below.