Is Dubrovnik worth visiting? Thousands and thousands of travelers each year seem to think so. They’ve made this one of the most-trodden corners of the whole Balkan Peninsula in recent years. In fact, there have been so many visitors that UNESCO has even threatened to revoke the city’s world heritage status unless something is done about it. Yikes!
It’s easy to see what all the hype is about. This once-powerful medieval city-state lies in the gorgeous exclave of Croatia, far at the southern end of the country where the weather is warm throughout the whole summer and the Adriatic Sea is balmy until November. It’s crowned by muscular walls and anchors on an Old Town area filled with churches, fountains, and enchanting cobbled lanes.
More than that, Dubrovnik is now riding high since its role in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. And it’s one of the most popular jump-off points for getting to the famous islands of south Croatia, including wild Mljet and the beautiful pebble coves of Korčula. Still not convinced? This guide will help you decide if Dubrovnik is worth visiting…
History is everywhere!
Walking around Dubrovnik is like stepping into the past. Every building and pathway feels like it belongs to a bygone era. Sure, like the rest of Croatia, it has its modern amenities. WiFi is fast and you can have any food you like delivered within minutes. That’s why Dubrovnik is up there with the likes of Bali as being popular with digital nomads.
However, it hasn’t lost touch with its proud maritime history. The Old Town offers amazing architecture around every corner, much of which was built between the 14th and 19th Centuries, when Dubrovnik ruled as a self-governing state. The stunning stone structures remain exquisitely preserved, making this one of the most enchanting old towns in Europe for sure.
So much history has occurred in Dubrovnik since its founding. An earthquake in 1667 destroyed much of the town, which has since been rebuilt. Dubrovnik went from being part of the Republic of Venice to joining the Austrian Empire, before being controlled by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia until Croatia regained independence in 1991. All of these stories are told as you wander the streets from alley to alley, piazza to piazza.
The town has a unique culture
If you’ve visited other Croatian cities like Zagreb, Zadar, Pula, or Split, you might think you’ve seen it all. However, Dubrovnik is a city like no other and you can only discover this one by visiting the place for yourself.
On the Adriatic coast, it does have some similarities to other Croatian coastal town. For example, it has a maritime past and plenty of beaches for tourists to relax on. However, it’s also a city that’s cut off from the rest of the country. A border with Bosnia and Herzegovina separates Dubrovnik from its compadres to the north.
As a result, it’s developed its own distinct personality over the centuries. You’ll see that come through during the Festival of St Blaise in February, when the locals take to the streets to wave flags and do processions in honor of their patron saint. You’ll see it in the food, which includes Italian-Balkan mashups like black risotto. And it’s in the architecture, which fuses Latin Gothic touches with influences from the east.
The filming locations
One of the biggest reasons that people feel Dubrovnik is worth visiting in the modern age is its usage as a filming location. Most notably, many scenes from the world-renowned Game of Thrones series were filmed here. That, in itself, is enough to entice whole cohorts of fans. View the Red Keep at the Lovrijenac Fort, experience Blackwater Bay at Dubrovnik’s West Pier, explore the King’s Landing at Pile Harbour, and visit Gradac Park for a chance to view the location of the Purple Wedding. (Sorry, non-fans won’t know what any of that means!)
It’s not just Game of Thrones, either. Many other television series and movies were filmed in Dubrovnik, including Star Wars, Robin Hood, and Captain America. By visiting this relatively small Croatian city, you’re actually immersing yourself in some of the most totemic pop culture sits of the last few decades.
It’s a small, tight-knit community
Many travelers flock to huge cities like London, Paris, and New York because they love the buzz and excitement of being in such a massive place. However, many other tourists find these kinds of situations stressful. They’d rather be somewhere a little quieter where they can relax, unwind, and enjoy a little peace and quiet. If that’s you, then you’ll love Dubrovnik!
With a population of just 40,000, you’ll be entering a small community where the pace of life is a little slower. It’s still a city, so it’s not like staying in a tiny village, but it’s also quiet enough not to be overwhelming. The Old Town that sits within Dubrovnik’s famous city walls is a relatively small area that can easily be explored on foot, too.
If you are keen to really dodge the crowds then we’d recommend coming during the fall or winter months. The summer can see the population of Dubrovnik swell to many times its usual, and the main piazzas and beaches will be packed. Yes, the colder parts of the year might not have the best swimming and sunbathing but they do mean getting to see the history sites and whatnot without a load of other folks around.
There’s no question that most people come here for the rich history and the moody Old Town area. However, is Dubrovnik worth visiting for beaches? You bet it is! There are some fantastic coves and bays dotted around the town. Most of them lie to the north and the south, so it’s a good idea to pick a hotel that’s outside of the historic core if lazing on the shoreline is your number one goal.
The most popular beaches in the area are the ones on the Lapad Peninsula. They’re actually backed by the new town of Dubrovnik and very well linked to the Old Town by bus. The best of them is Uvala Lapad Beach, which is a hubbub of life in the summer months. Other beaches that we’d recommend having on the radar include:
- Plaža Sveti Jakov – A tree-backed cove on the south side of town.
- Banje Beach – Quite a lively spot to the south of the Old Town with its own beach clubs.
- Kupari – Secluded sand-pebble beach that skirts the coast to the south.
One thing many travelers crave when heading abroad is access to more agreeable weather. Maybe you’re from a country that’s regularly cold, dark, and wet? If you head to Dubrovnik, then you have nothing to worry about. For much of the year, you’ll enjoy warmer weather than you might be used to. And, being by the sea, that’s exactly what you want.
Although Dubrovnik is in the very south of the country, giving it a touch more of a tropical climate, it still enjoys a gentle sea breeze from the Adriatic, meaning that it never gets too hot. The hottest month of the year is August, where the temperature tends to peak at 30°C (86°F).
If that’s too hot for you, then simply visit in the spring or the autumn, for temperatures closer to 20°C (68°F). Even in winter, it’s a good place to come and escape the bitter cold of the north. While it will probably be too cold to swim in the dazzling blue sea, it will be comparatively mild to the UK, the Midwest, Scandinavia and the like.
An international vibe
Wherever you go in the world, it’s nice to feel welcomed. Although Dubrovnik is a small city with a unique culture, it’s not one that shuts people out. The locals are used to tourists and ex-pats spending time there, almost on a daily basis. Therefore, they’re always welcoming to foreigners and will be happy to show you their home.
You’ll find that you fit in easily in Dubrovnik. You’ll be treated well by anyone you come across and shouldn’t find it difficult to make friends. Don’t worry if you don’t speak any Croatian because Dubrovnik locals are incredibly good at speaking English and are more than happy to use it.
It may be a small city but Dubrovnik hosts many events that attract people from around the world. If you want to quickly immerse yourself in a diverse and international community, then check out the Festival of St Blaise (Dubrovnik’s patron saint), the Mediterranean Fair of Healthy Food, Medicinal Herbs and Green Entrepreneurship, and the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. That’s just a few examples of the many internationally-minded events held in the beautiful city of Dubrovnik.
It’s a gateway to the islands
Dubrovnik is a fantastic steppingstone over to some of the most wonderful islands in all of Croatia – nay, the whole of the Adriatic. It’s actually closer to some famous spots than the big port of Split further north (which is where most people base themselves for Croatian island hopping).
The closest island of the lot is Mljet. What it lacks in vowels it more than makes up for in natural beauty. Yep, this one’s known for its vast swathes of pine and oak woodland, which are now protected as part of a national park. Within those lie the lakes of Veliko and Malo Jezero; two glistening bodies of water that are topped by an intriguing monastery.
There are other islands you can get to from Dubrovnik, too:
- Lopud – A very relaxed island that’s popular with families, Lopud has an enchanting Franciscan monastery that’s worth seeing.
- Sipan – The largest of the Elaphiti Island chain north of Dubrovnik, this one was known as an escape for the city’s nobles back in the 1400s.
- Hvar – It’s a longer ferry up to Hvar, but the reward will be the pumping party island of Croatia, with champagne bars and beach clubs that thrum all summer long.
Foodies shouldn’t be disappointed by Dubrovnik. We’ve already mentioned how this town pulls in influences from the east and the west. That means it’s got a unique mix of flavors that mingle Balkan cooking with Italian cooking. The result is pretty fantastic for the taste buds. Some of the top local dishes here include:
- Crni Rizot – This is black risotto, stained with squid ink and usually served with calamari rings and prawns. It’s a seafood lover’s dream!
- Octopus salad – One of the summertime treats of Dubrovnik, this salad contains – you guessed it! – octopi and loads of zingy lemon juice.
- Oysters – South Croatia (particularly Mali Ston just to the north) is known for its oysters, so be sure to sample some fresh with a crisp white wine.
The best place to sample all this local cooking is in one of the town’s charming konoba, traditional Croatian taverns run by families. You’ll find them in the new town and the old town, with the most touristy of the lot running the length of the main Stradun drag.