Dubrovnik is one of the most visited cities in all of Croatia— and for good reason. The Old City is encircled by ancient city walls and when you walk through the gates, you’re instantly transported through time. Inside is a maze of narrow stone streets, medieval palaces and cathedrals, and restaurants around every corner. Not to mention, its location on the Adriatic Sea makes for postcard-worthy beaches, so you can combine sightseeing with just the right amount of relaxation.
The fact that Dubrovnik’s Old City is a historical treasure is no secret, though, and the city is visited by thousands of tourists each year. Of course, its reputation as the filming location for Game of Thrones and the Star Wars movies has only increased the city’s popularity.
While I typically get rather turned off by places that are overrun by tourists, I have to make an exception for Dubrovnik. There’s just something about this charming medieval city that lures you in and leaves you wishing you could stay longer. And with a few tricks up your sleeve, you can make the most of the city despite the crowds.
Here are a few tips I picked up during my visit that will help make your stay in Dubrovnik even more enjoyable:
1. Visit in the Shoulder Seasons
My favorite time to travel anywhere in Europe is during the shoulder months: April and May in the spring and September and October in the fall. The shoulder seasons are a great time to travel because the weather is still nice (not too cool, not too hot), and there are typically fewer tourists around. This is the case with Dubrovnik as well. I visited in April and while the water was still chilly (though we did manage to jump in, even if only for a few minutes!), the weather was a perfect 70 degrees. We had no issues with restaurants being open or tours operating, either. Don’t get me wrong, there were still many people in the city (especially more than we were used to after traveling through the Balkans in the winter), but fewer than I’d imagine flock to the city in the summer.
2. Walk the City Walls in the Morning
Walking the ancient city walls that surround the Old City is one of the most popular activities in Dubrovnik and is a must-do: the views are spectacular! However, the walls can get PACKED, especially midday when big crowds of people arrive from cruise ships. To enjoy the walls at your own pace and be able to take as many photos as you want without people passing through, it’s best to go in the morning. We visited right when they opened at 8am and did not regret it!
Generally, avoiding the midday crowds is also a good idea when wandering around the city and going out to eat as well. It’s much less crowded early in the mornings so you can get some nice photographs (such as the ones above) without a bunch of people in them, and it’s better to eat dinner out when cruise ships have left rather than lunch.
3. Stay Outside the Old City
Staying outside the Old City is a great way to enjoy all it has to offer while having the option to take a break from the crowds in a quieter part of Dubrovnik. Dewey and I stayed in an apartment that was about a 10 minute walk from Pile Gate, the main entrance to the Old City, with a view overlooking the water and the city from our balcony.
Admittedly, we had to climb quite a few stairs to get home as Dubrovnik is a hilly city, but the view was worth it! We enjoyed exploring the Old City and then retreating to our apartment for a glass of wine on our balcony in the evenings.
Staying outside the Old City will also help you save money on accommodation as it’s much cheaper and allow you to see other parts of Dubrovnik beyond the walled city. It’s a win-win!
4. Visit the Less Popular Sveti Jakov Beach
When visiting Dubrovnik, most people go to Banje Beach to hang out by the water. It’s located right next to the Old City, so it’s understandable that it’s the most popular. However, if you’re willing to venture a bit further away from the city, I highly recommend visiting Sveti Jakov (St. Jacob) Beach. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the Old City, but the walk is easy and enjoyable with many views looking out over the Adriatic along the way. Plus, the beach itself is beautiful and because it’s a bit away from the city center, there were far fewer people there. Dewey and I referred to it as our secret beach, but we are happy to share the secret with you all!
Tip: Along the walk there is a cool turn off you can take that leads to a bunch of rocks that have been flattened on top so you can sit and watch the sunset over the Old City with no one else around. I came here a few times to journal and do yoga and it was so peaceful. If you put Sveti Jakov Beach into your GPS, follow the directions about 15 minutes until you pass three benches on your left. There will be a staircase leading down to the water on your right just passed the benches, and it will take you to the rocks.
5. Get Ice Cream at Dolce Vita
What’s better than ice cream on vacation!? When you enter the Old City, there is a café right on the main drag that sells ice cream. However, don’t be tempted to go here. The lines are often so long they block the street! If you’re looking to cool off with a big scoop, seek out Dolce Vita café. It’s right off the main street and it’s way less busy. Both Dewey and I can attest that the ice cream was delicious (they had a Ferrero Rocher flavor!!) and we didn’t have to waste time standing in long lines.
6. Take Advantage of Dubrovnik’s Many Excursions
A excellent way to explore Dubrovnik without all the crowds is to take an excursion, and Dubrovnik offers many. You can take boat tours, visit nearby islands, scuba dive, jet ski, hike, and much more.
While we were there, we did a sea kayaking tour. It was such a fun, inexpensive way to learn about the city’s history from a local guide while also getting in some exercise. Not to mention, views of the ancient city walls from the water were breathtaking. If you’re interested, you can find the tour we did here.
Another excursion you can take is to the island of Lokrum, which is just a 15 minute boat ride from the Old City with ferries running every hour. It’s a picturesque island with forests to wander as well as rocky cliffs and a beautiful lagoon.
You can explore the ruins of a medieval Benedictine monastery, hike to an old fort built by the French for panoramic views of Dubrovnik, and stroll through botanical gardens. You can also have lunch totally surrounded by nature at one of only four cafes on the island. Not to mention, the island is covered with peacocks (if you’re lucky, they might show you their feathers) and bunnies! After spending a lot of time in the Old City, it was nice to escape to nature for the day.
7. Check Out Events Happening During Your Stay
I always encourage looking into local events when planning a trip, and being the popular city it is, Dubrovnik will likely have something going on while you’re there. It’s a great way to see what local’s are interested in and gives you a chance to do something different than the typical tourist activities.
We lucked out and discovered that the Dubrovnik Wine Festival was happening while we were visiting. We learned from local wineries about Croatian wine and tried the most delicious cheeses and meat from a nearby farm. The best part about the event is that it took us to a different part of the city, Sunset Beach in Lapad Bay, which was a lively area with many restaurants. We were there at sunset, too, and we quickly understood how the beach got its name! Dubrovnik is more than just the Old City, and I was happy to have had a chance to see other areas.
Tip: If you decide to visit the Sunset Beach area (which I recommend), have dinner at Pantarul. Our host recommended it to us and said it was the best food in all of Dubrovnik— we can confirm it was delicious! Eating here is a good way to avoid tourist prices at restaurants in the Old City as well.
Our week in Dubrovnik was a highlight of my trip so far, and I highly recommend visiting this unique city. I hope these tips will help you manage the crowds and make the most out of your stay.