Emma Higgins takes on Dubrovnik’s slow moving tourists to bring us her guide to the city. In recent years a shift has come about in the number of backpackers heading deeper into Eastern Europe in the summertime. The bachelor parties of Prague are migrating further south to find cheaper beer, and the average gap year student takes one look at Western Europe prices and turns to run. And it seems that Croatia is one of the places they’ve all started running to.
Dubrovnik has had a recent influx of two very different kinds of visitor: geriatric cruise ship tourists, and the young, wild, adventure-seeking backpacker looking for the next bar crawl. It is safe to say that Dubrovnik is able to accommodate for them both. Inside the walls of the Old Town by day you will find numerous walking tours making their way round the slim streets. If you come across someone holding up a flag and talking into a microphone, there is no doubt a group of people hobbling along behind them, and your best option is to head in the opposite direction. The gleaming white stone streets of the Old Town are undeniably beautiful, but just be prepared to be unable to enjoy them alone.
The Stradun, the main street running through the middle of the Old Town, is the central hub of activity for businesses. If you’re after the hidden spots though, dive down the small alleys which are crammed with tiny shops and restaurants, giving you plenty of options to find something special. If you head away from the centre towards to the outskirts near the walls, the residential areas form a safe haven away from chaos, and an opportunity to feel what it would really be like to live there in the Old Town, which has stood strong for hundreds of years.
The walk around the city walls is a very popular attraction in Dubrovnik; the views of the Adriatic and the Old Town within are unbeatable. Beware, this is what most of the cruise ship tourists will be doing on their short stop-off in the city. Therefore, from 10am onwards you will get stuck behind huge groups of people, making it hard to enjoy the views at your own pace and in solitude. Get up early and head for the walls at opening time (around 8am) and you won’t regret it.
As expected of a city situated next to the Adriatic Sea, there is plenty of great seafood to tuck into. Down by the harbour you will find numerous restaurants where you can sit with a bucket of mussels and admire the boats and yachts. If seafood isn’t your thing, Croatians make some impressive pizza, and you’ll find dozens of restaurants throughout the Old Town serving it. Oliva Pizzeria is a popular choice amongst backpackers as it serves good quality pizza for the price you’re paying, which is relatively cheap.
The beaches of Dubrovnik are a big draw for many tourists. If, like me, you’re not much of a beach person and figure that if the streets are busy, the beaches will be too, then take a stroll over to the harbour for an alternative place to soak up some sun. This spot is tucked away around the corner from where the boats are moored – follow the city wall around you’ll find the pier. There were just a handful of people sitting here when I was visiting, which made it a haven for relaxing and dipping your feet in the ocean or even going for a swim – there is plenty of space to dry yourself out on without getting sand in those annoying places.
In the evenings, as the lights are turned on and the sun goes down, the Old Town remains as beautiful as in the day. That feeling of creeping down the little streets as if in a fairytale is magnified by the illuminating light spilling from the buildings. Stroll around and you will find plenty to amuse you; restaurants with outside tables allowing you to people watch, chic (and pricey) wine bars tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the walls, and pumping music coming from the more lively cocktails bars. A favourite spot of mine was a bar called Troubadour, just off the main street of the Old Town, and signposted with their name written across a double bass. They play al-fresco live jazz every lunch time and in the evenings, with a cheeky four hour happy hour in between.
Accommodation can range in prices, but you will be looking at around 25 Euros a night for a hostel in the Old Town, of which there are only a couple. You might expect to pay less in Eastern Europe, but Dubrovnik is one of those places that can shock with regards to prices. I stayed at Fresh* Sheets hostel, which was just inside the Old Town walls. It was a perfectly agreeable little place, though perhaps not quite the best value fore money – however there aren’t too many options if you want such a perfect location. Staying outside of the Old Town will be more cost effective if less convenient for some.
Dubrovnik is a must-see for those making their way through this part of Eastern Europe, the Old Town being one of the most spectacularly situated in Europe (and fantastically restored following the damage of the Balkan Wars). My advice is that one or two nights might be enough, as the booming popularity can grate on you, and the streets don’t seem quite as magical as they should when you’re stuck behind a crowd of sightseers!