10 Things to Do in Dubrovnik to Avoid the Crowds
In this age of mass tourism, it can sometimes be difficult to avoid the tourist crush. And let’s not be coy about the fact that Dubrovnik in Croatia is one of the main hot spots in coastal Europe during the northern hemisphere summer.
The ancient walled city was only ever designed to accommodate 5-6,000 residents maximum, but daily visitors can be well in excess of twice that amount during the summer, especially when there are several cruise liners anchored in nearby Gruž Harbour and in the sheltered water south-east of the city. Ticket purchases to the city walls alone can exceed 10,000 on any one day, causing frustrating bottlenecks as you try to circumnavigate the city from the best vantage points. It’s even reached the point where the mayor has announced plans to limit visitor numbers to 4,000 at any one time.
But don’t let that put you off a visit to this beautiful old city, as we’ve compiled a list of ten things to do in Dubrovnik to avoid the crowds.
1. Don’t Travel There By Cruise Liner!
No matter how much you pay, there’s no getting around the fact that these are glorified prison ships. Some of these colossal vessels carry up to 6,000 passengers, which isn’t anyone’s idea of an intimate getaway, especially when you’re let off for only a few hours at a time. One of the greatest criticisms against these ships is that they disgorge literally hundreds of passengers at a time who flood whichever location they’re anchored in, but who contribute next to nothing to the local economy since they’re not staying overnight. You’ll certainly notice when they’re in town, as there’ll be standing room only in Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street.
2. Get To The Old Town Super Early.
Like any other holiday hot spot, the vast majority of visitors like to lie in and enjoy a relaxed breakfast before setting out on a day’s sightseeing. Daylight hours in Dubrovnik in the summer begin around 5.00am, so why not catch an early worm and have the city all to yourself for a couple hours before the crowds begin to build up? The entrances to the city walls open at 7 am in summer, so if you get there as the first tickets go on sale, not only will you enjoy an uninterrupted and unimpeded view of the city, you’ll also take some top photos when the light is at its best. Plus there’ll still be time for that relaxed breakfast afterward.
3. Hike Up To Mt Srd – Don’t Take The Cable Car.
Another item in our list of ten things to do in Dubrovnik to avoid the crowds is the craggy summit overlooking the ancient port city, which has without any doubt the best panoramic views of Dubrovnik. Nearly everyone takes the orange cable car to the top of Mt Srd, but it gets heavily congested and queues form in the high tourist season in July and August. You can bypass all that, if you’re fit enough, by simply walking up. Not only will it give you an excellent aerobic workout, you’ll also get to explore the back streets and alleyways of Dubrovnik, many of which are comprised of long flights of steps. Once you get to the top of the town and cross the main coastal road that runs along it, you’ll find the zigzag route that leads all the way up to the Imperial Fortress on the peak. You’re guaranteed to be the only ones there and you’ll get an appreciation of the effort involved in supplying the Fort during the siege of Dubrovnik by Yugoslav Federal Army forces in 1991.
4. Go Sea Kayaking.
You’ll find a handful of stands near Pile Gate and Dubrovnik Old Port promoting sea kayaking tours, one or two of which start out from just below Pile Gate at Pile Bay. You don’t need any prior kayaking experience and these tours will lead away from the madding crowds on transparent fiberglass-bottom kayaks toward nearby Lokrum Island. After paddling around the island you continue across the bay until you reach a hidden cove called Betina that’s not accessible on foot, and so you have it to yourself and the other kayakers. Such a trip will provide you with a three-hour respite from the crowds.
5. Chill Out On A Beach Away From The Centre.
This isn’t New Zealand or Australia where you can have the entire beach to yourself, but there are some seaside spots around Dubrovnik that are less frequent than others. Try Sveti Jakov, which lies to the southeast of the Old Town - a 20min clip on foot along the coastal lane. This is a smallish stretch of pebble at the bottom of a cliff, reached by steps which descend from the coastal path midway between St James's Monastery and the Belvedere Hotel. It has fantastic views back towards the Old Town, and it's west-facing, so it catches the afternoon and evening sun. Another good one is Casablanca, a small crescent of pebbles and imported sand on the northwest side of Babin Kuk. The combination of enjoyable cafes and good views of coastal mountains makes it a good place for chilling out. The nearest bus stop is Babin Kuk at the end of the no.6 Pile Gate to Babin Kuk line.
6. Head To Lokrum Island.
The boats that ferry passengers from the Old Port in Dubrovnik to Lokrum Island 15min away admittedly get very crowded, but the island itself is big enough to absorb a lot of people and still seem very quiet. Most visitors immediately head to the southern end of the island where the best bathing is to be found, including a wonderfully placid lagoon called ‘The Dead Sea’. The northern end is usually ignored, but it’s great for a secluded stroll, and there’s an old French fortification on the highest point of the island that you can walk up to. The island’s botanic gardens are also bypassed by day trippers from Dubrovnik.
7. Escape to Cavtat.
Easily accessible during the summer months via water taxi from the Old Port in Dubrovnik (or by public bus in the low season), Cavtat predates Dubrovnik and is the settlement from which the original founders of Dubrovnik hailed. The oldest part of the town on the waterfront is small but charming, and it boasts several works of art by one of Croatia’s most famous painters – local boy made good, Vlaho Bukovac. The ubiquitous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović also left his mark on Cavtat is the form of the grandiloquent Račić Mausoleum in the town cemetery – a lovely tranquil location at the top of a steep, wooded hill at the very tip of the peninsula on which the town rests.
8. Book An Intimate Fish Picnic Cruise To The Elafiti Islands.
From the number of booths selling day trips to the Elafiti Islands from Dubrovnik you might think an entire armada sails there every day, but actually, if you choose your excursion operator carefully, it can be a very relaxing and even romantic day away. The trick is to make sure you select a boat that’s not too large – a maximum of 20 passengers is ideal. Otherwise, the numbers become unmanageable, and communication with the boat crew is kept to a minimum; on larger boats, there’s the risk that the crew won’t bother to even count the number of people on their boat and will leave an island without waiting for everyone to return. Most of these excursions will visit the three largest of the Elafiti Islands – Koločep, Lopad and Šipan – and provide a fish lunch on board along with unlimited alcoholic (wine) and non-alcoholic drinks. It’s also possible to make a day trip to the islands on a public ferry.
9. Catch A Catamaran To Mljet National Park.
The island of Mljet is a bit further from Dubrovnik than the Elafiti Islands, but it’s still close enough for an enjoyable getaway. You can take a public catamaran operated by Jadrolinija from Gruž Harbour which plies the waters to the small settlement of Polače on Mljet Island; the trip takes just under two hours, but it’s well worth it. The National Park borders two saltwater lakes - Veliko and Malo Jezero (Large and Small Lake). Smack dab in the middle of Veliko Jezero there's a small island called Otok sveta Marija (St Mary's Island) where the Benedictines established a monastery in the 12th century. The postcard-perfect monastery building is now café/restaurant and is accessible by boats that sail there from both sides of the lake. Both lakes have a foot- and cycle paths encompassing them, and the clear, blue-green waters are perfect for bathing. It's possible to walk over to the lakes from Polače by road or by a well-signed forest path in about 45 minutes.
10. Take A Bus Or Private Guided Tour To The Oyster Farming Town of Ston.
Only an hour away on the main road north from Dubrovnik, the twin villages of Ston and Mali Ston are hosts to two unique attractions on the Dalmatian coast: the second longest man-made defensive walls in the world after the Great Wall of China, and the best oyster farm in Europe. The walls are 7000-metres long (22,965 ft.), strengthened by 10 round, 31 square flanking towers and 6 semi-circular bastions, and were originally built as the outer defensive wall around Ragusa (Dubrovnik). Oyster farming has an even older history and dates back to Roman times. The 1936 World Exposition in London awarded the Grand Prix and Gold Medal to oysters from Mali Ston Bay. Numerous restaurants in the two villages serve meals with local oysters, which are best served with a glass of good wine from nearby Pelješac vineyards. Public buses from Dubrovnik to Ston are infrequent, and so it’s probably best to pay for a private guided tour to Ston.
If you interested in experiencing these ten things to do in Dubrovnik to avoid the crowds, then Go Real Europe will create a personalized travel itinerary for you upon request that includes Dubrovnik and all these wonderful excursions and activities. Log into the Go Real Europe website or call a consultant today.
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