Dubrovnik Croatia is one of the most popular travel destinations in all of Europe. In fact, it ranks as the most over-touristed city in Europe by a large margin, with 36 visitors for every 1 resident. This can certainly be blamed on Game of Thrones – the popular TV series that was filmed in Dubrovnik’s picturesque Old Town. And after spending a week in Dubrovnik, I can personally testify that it’s crowded…very crowded. Even in early October when we visited. But, I found that it’s still possible to enjoy this beautiful area without always having to fight the touristic hoards. So here are 11 Useful Dubrovnik Travel Tips I gleaned while visiting the Pearl of the Adriatic.
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Old Town is the Usual Main Focus
I’ll wager a guess that Dubrovnik’s Old Town is the world’s most famous walled medieval city. And it’s most definitely perfect in that regard.
On the outside – thick stone walls, impressive entry gates, watchtowers. All surrounded by gorgeous blue water as it juts out into the Adriatic Sea.
On the inside – palaces, churches, monasteries, narrow alleys & stairways, marble streets.
But… all the trappings of modern day tourism as well. Lots of restaurants, guest houses, and Game of Thrones dominant souvenir shops.
And lots and lots and lots of tourists.
As I mentioned, we visited during the final week of September into the first week of October. I thought it might be quieter. And the locals told me that it definitely was…compared to peak season.
But, this is what quiet looks like…
One of the most popular touristic things to do in Old Town is walk the circumference of the town walls from on top. The photo below shows the entry line at one of the access points.
Due to the crowds, we decided not to walk the walls. We could always see a slow procession of tourists above us, which made the experience seem a lot less enthralling (the cost was not enthralling either as I will explain below)
And at all of the most popular sites inside the Old Town, there were always lots of people. In these locations it proved impossible to get people-free photos.
The stairway below serves a well-known role in the Game of Thrones. I don’t know what exactly – I never watched the show. But as I stood on it, hoping to get a people-free shot, I heard one person after another excitedly talk about its Thrones importance as they passed by. This is the best photo I could get….
So the first of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips is to expect big crowds in Old Town seemingly no matter what time of year you go.
Old Town Quiet is Possible
But, it is possible to find peaceful places inside the famous walls if you get off the beaten path.
And so the second of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips is seek out the quieter corners of Old Town for a better experience.
This is a restaurant called Taj Mahal. We showed up here early for lunch at 11:30. There were only a couple of other diners at that time, and since it’s not located on a common through-street, we actually had a peaceful and delicious dining experience. (It’s not an Indian restaurant as you would presume from the name. It’s actually a highly-rated Bosnian restaurant.)
We also found that the further away you get from the main thoroughfares, you can find quiet alleyways and people-free photos (especially in the western side of the town).
Along with evidence of normal life inside these walls….
And while it seems obvious to suggest going early in the morning to avoid the crowds, I’ll still say it. But I’m talking really early. Had we been staying in Old Town, I’m confident that I would have loved wandering all the streets at 7 am.
You Can Find Lots to Do Outside the Walls
And while I probably would have definitely enjoyed the early hours ambience had we stayed in Old Town, we did not.
And I’m glad we didn’t. Because we were able to better discover the non-touristy side of Dubrovnik. Which is what we prefer anyway.
So the third of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips is to not limit yourselves to Old Dubrovnik. There is a whole lot more to see and do in the wider Dubrovnik area, as I will show further along in this post.
For our week-long visit, we stayed in an Airbnb in the suburb of Lapad. This part of town is located north of Old Town, about a 30 minute walk away.
It’s a quieter residential area within easy walking distance to both Dubrovnik’s main harbor and the beautiful coastline that surrounds Lapad. Its central location really gave us the chance to experience all of Dubronvik. In fact, we only spent a total of 5 hours (including two meals) in Old Town during our week in the area.
If you think this area sounds right for you, here’s a look at some lodging options via various platforms:
Or if you prefer Airbnb, then our hosts Alan and Katarina have multiple properties to choose from throughout Dubrovnik, in addition to the one we stayed in. They were excellent hosts and you can click here to view their Airbnb rentals.
Dubrovnik is Expensive
As you prepare for your visit to Dubrovnik, be sure keep in mind the fourth of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips. Dubrovnik is expensive, so plan your budget accordingly.
Our week in Dubrovnik came at the end of a 6.5 week itinerary that started in Vienna, took us to Ljubljana and Bled Slovenia, Budapest Hungary, Kotor Montenegro, and finally Dubrovnik. During this entire trip, dining out was most expensive in Dubrovnik (though Vienna was a close second), and admissions to major tourist sites were also the priciest.
While you would probably expect this with the most over-touristed location in Europe, I was still a little surprised. We have previously traveled in other parts of Croatia and found the prices quite reasonable. And an Old Town restaurant owner told us that further up the coast in Split, prices were generally 50% less.
Our typical bill for lunch or dinner at an average restaurant was around 60-70 Euro (for 2).
The cost for walking the Old Town walls….35 Euros!!
That’s by far the highest admission cost that I’ve ever come across for a tourist site anywhere.
The Dubrovnik Pass is Worth It (Depending On Your Itinerary)
As I mentioned earlier, we chose not to walk those town walls. I’m sure if we had, I would have found several great Dubrovnik photo spots. But there was always way too many people, and the cost just seemed unreasonable.
Had it been our only chance to walk medieval walls this year, we probably would have done it. But we’d just walked walls in Kotor Montenegro, another medieval city just 56 miles down the coast (only 8 Euros). And we also walked some really cool medieval walls in Óbidos Portugal earlier this year (Free!)
However, if you choose to walk the walls, and I think most visitors do, then #5 of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips is to purchase the Dubrovnik Pass first.
You’ll see huge banners hanging throughout the Old Town advertising this tourist pass. And it can be purchased directly on your phone, using the giant QR code, and also online.
A one day pass costs 35 Euros. Sound familiar? Seems to me that the price was set very purposefully, and is pretty much a no-brainer if you want to walk the walls.
The one day pass will get you “free” access to the walls, along with a few other museums and sites within the town. And free transportation on Dubrovnik’s bus system for the day – potentially useful if you aren’t staying near Old Town.
Depending on how long you will be in Dubrovnik, you can also opt for 3 or 7 day versions of the Pass at a higher price with expanded offerings. Our own itinerary evolved mostly beyond Old Town, so we didn’t buy Passes. But if you’ll be doing Dubrovnik’s most popular tourist stuff, I think it is worth it. Click here to check out the various versions of the Dubrovnik Pass.
Sometimes Walking is Best
Riding the bus within Dubrovnik can be a bit sardine-like. So if you do buy the Pass, you may find that you don’t end up using its free bus option very often.
On our first morning in Dubrovnik, we took the bus from Lapad to Old Town. And when we boarded, this is what it looked like….
In fact, at the next few stops, it was so full that no additional riders could enter.
So #6 of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips is that sometimes it is best to walk in Dubrovnik.
Our Airbnb’s central location in Lapad allowed us to walk to most places we wanted to go, generally within 15-20 minutes.
We did try to ride the bus one more time into Old Town, it was too full to board, and we were waved off. That is when we personally confirmed that it was a 30 minute walk from our Airbnb to Old Town. Some of that walk was high up along the coast with some great views. So we were glad we ended up doing it.
If you do want to try the bus (and other routes may be less packed – I don’t know), then the current cost is $2 Euros if paying the driver directly. Alternatively, tickets can be pre-purchased for a little less at various easy-to-spot kiosks around town (labeled Libertas).
Also note that the bus schedules and route recommendations are not available on Google Maps when using it for navigation like in other cities. The routes and schedule can be viewed here. Or they also have a somewhat useful app that can be downloaded via their website.
Alternatives to the bus include Uber and taxi. Our Airbnb host advised us against using taxis. Uber rates seemed reasonable though – around 6.50 Euros to get most places centrally. But we prefer walking when reasonable distances are involved, so never used Uber in Dubrovnik.
Enjoy The Coast
Now, let’s start taking a look at some of the other things to do when visiting Dubrovnik that aren’t Old Town.
One of our favorites was hanging out along the area’s beautiful coastline – that’s #7 of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips.
Our apartment in Lapad was only 15 minutes by foot from Lapad Bay Beach. We went there often. Here you’ll find a small pebbly beach with deck chairs and beach bars, but it was the nearby coastal walks that we loved most.
Along its length, you’ll find lots of places to descend a few steps to the rocky coastline and sea, for either swimming or just hanging out. And a multitude of benches as well. Plus a few restaurants and bars scattered along its length.
And it’s a great place to watch the sunset…
Learn About Yugoslavia at The Red History Museum
#8 of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips is to take the time to learn about the area’s Communist history.
The Red History Museum is a relatively new site in Dubrovnik, and is a great way to spend a fascinating hour or so. It’s located right across from the main ferry terminal in Dubrovnik’s Gruž neighborhood. We’d already learned quite a bit about Yugoslav history while on a Communist Walking Tour in Ljubljana Slovenia earlier in our trip, but I jumped at the chance to learn more.
This museum is housed in what was once a former government-owned factory. Inside are a variety of displays that take you through the history of Yugoslavia and its Communist government under the authoritarian rule of life-long president Josip Tito.
The displays are very well done and the information presented in both Croatian and English do a great job educating visitors about not only Yugoslav history, but also what life was like in Communist Yugoslavia.
These include re-creations of apartments from the time, using mostly State-produced wares…
Displays explaining some of the injustices inherent in the political system…
And a fascinating photo alleyway of individual stories telling about daily life during that period of time….
The Elaphiti Islands Are a Must
#9 of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips is to absolutely take a day trip to the Elaphiti Islands.
Taking day trips is always a focus of mine wherever we travel (like these day trips in Seville Spain). You’ll find lots of great day trip opportunities in Dubrovnik, but visiting the Elaphiti Islands is one of the most popular. The Elaphiti Islands sit in the Adriatic, just north of Dubrovnik. Three of these islands are populated and can be visited.
Because I am a do-it-yourself traveler, I generally try to do day trips on my own using public transportation. And that had been my original intention for the Elaphiti Islands prior to our arrival in Dubrovnik.
However, once I started to look closer at putting a day trip together, I found that the ferry schedule to each island is somewhat limited. This made it difficult to visit more than one island in a day. And required a longer stay than I wanted on any one island.
Wherever you roam in Dubrovnik, you will see advertisements for daylong 3 Island Elaphiti Tours that include lunch and unlimited drinks. I generally avoid these types of tours as too touristy. However, this time, I decided it was the only practical way to see all three islands. So I signed us up with the tour company our Airbnb host recommended – Dubrovnik Boat Tours.
And I’m glad I did. Our experience with this small family-run business was outstanding and the highlight of our time in Dubrovnik. And at 50 Euros per person, I thought it was a bargain in overpriced Dubrovnik. The lunch alone would have cost us more than half that amount anywhere in town.
I’ve written an entire blog post all about our Elaphiti Island Boat Tour, so check it out to learn more.
If you would like to know what other tours are available in the Dubrovnik area, then you can always find plenty of options on Viator:
Do You Know Cavtat?
As we were traveling from Kotor to Dubrovnik, and shortly after passing the Dubrovnik airport, our very friendly driver Njegos suddenly changed the topic of conversation and asked me…Do you know Cavtat? I said…Cavtat? He said…Cavtat. Not fully understanding, I again said…Cavtat? He said…Cavtat.
It was quickly escalating into a comedy routine and so I asked… Is that a person…a place…what exactly?
He pointed. We were just passing the turnoff to Cavtat. Ohhhh…It was a place! I did not know Cavtat.
He told us it was one of his favorite locations in the whole area. And so of course, we ultimately took a day trip there. We wanted to know Cavtat.
Cavtat is a small town located about 20 km south of Dubrovnik, spread across two small scenic bays with a small peninsula in between. It’s easy to reach via bus (more frequent, faster, and cheaper) or by water taxi (from the small port at Old Town).
We used the bus from Dubrovnik’s main bus terminal. It cost 4 Euros and the ride lasted 45 minutes along the very scenic highway connecting the two places. It does make several stops along the way (including one very close to Old Town), and we learned where to get off closer to our apartment for the return trip. Unlike the buses within central Dubrovnik, this bus was not crowded. Here’s a link to the schedule.
And Njegos was right. Cavtat is very beautiful. So, #10 of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips is that you should also know Cavtat.
You won’t find lots of specific things to see in Cavtat. It’s just one of those places to wander – stroll the promenade, eat a seaside meal, explore the town’s scenic backstreets, walk the coastline along the peninsula (with views up to Old Town in the distance).
Our Airbnb host later told us that Cavtat is a very popular place for Dubrovnik visitors to stay. And I can see why. It’s far less hectic than Old Town. And a direct water taxi ride away. If we ever return to the area, I think we’ll stay in Cavtat.
Seafood Lovers Can Rejoice in Dubrovnik
As you probably would expect in a coastal city, the cuisine in the area skews heavily towards seafood.
And eating seafood in coastal Europe is one of my very favorite things to do. So I was in heaven.
#11 of my Dubrovnik Travel Tips is that if you are a seafood lover like we both are, order the Seafood Platter for Two. It’s a common menu item at many restaurants, and you won’t be disappointed.
Our favorite neighborhood seafood place in Lapad was Fish Bar El Pulpo , and here’s their version….
And this is their version of a classic Croatian dish – a (slightly) spicy fish stew called Brodet…
Two of my very favorite southern European fish dishes are Chargrilled Sea Bass and Deep-fried Small Fish. They are both easy to find in Dubrovnik. These are from a restaurant near the main ferry terminal called Bistro Glorijet...
As you can see, despite the over-tourism and surprisingly large October crowds, we still very much enjoyed our week in Dubrovnik. And while spending time in Old Town is definitely a must, hopefully these Dubrovnik Travel Tips will give you some additional ideas for having your very best possible experience in this beautiful part of the world.
If you would like to learn about some of my other travel tips from around the world, then feel free to check out these posts: