Leisurely and unhurried—that’s exactly how we planned to see Dubrovnik. When I was researching about how to spend our four days in Croatia, I was surprised by the amount of people who suggested that Dubrovnik should be treated as a day trip. ‘Don’t spend too much time’ was a popular advice—go in, spend a few hours walking the Old Town’s fortification walls, then get out. Apparently, Dubrovnik’s tiny, tiny Old Town gets flooded by cruise ship passengers docking for the day. In one of the horror stories I read, two cruise liners disgorged close to 10,000 passengers on the same day. Ten thousand. And every single one will have the same check box at the top of their agenda: Visit Old Town. Imagine a deluge of human bodies taking over a small, walled city—it’s like a scene from World War Z. Instead of zombies, the beautiful medieval town is overrun by camera-clicking, sunscreen-wearing tourists—just as scary.
I thought the advice did not make sense. Most of the cruise ship passengers are day trippers who will be in-and-out between 9AM and 5PM. Why then would I join in the mosh pit of selfies and do a day trip, too? So I made my own plan and went the opposite direction of a quick day trip: We decided to linger.
LINGERING IN DUBROVNIK
We arrived in Dubrovnik past 9PM on a Wednesday night. I knew from the Dubrovnik Port’s website that earlier that day, 2,995 cruise passengers arrived at 6AM, and a whopping 12,087 arrived at 9AM. But by the time we actually reached the Old Town, all of them have gone.
What welcomed us, instead, is a quaint medieval town—its polished stone floors shimmering in the evening light, cafes abuzz with just a handful of diners. Tourists spending the night in the city walked about the main street, Stradun, most of them with ice cream in-hand. But there were no crowds. No walls of people. It was actually quite nice—nowhere near my visions of World War Z.
Our hotel, Hotel Stari Grad, is inside the old city walls and just a few steps from Pile Gate where the bus from the airport stops, so we were checked-in in no time. We dropped off our luggage, went out for a quick bite, and walked around the town which was so serene save for the odd boisterous tourist taking a selfie with her ice cream.
We made our way back to the hotel just after midnight. Booking at Hotel Stari Grad is a critical part of the plan; although there are hundreds of hotels in Dubrovnik, there are only two within the walls. I wanted to sleep in the heart of the Old Town because I also wanted to wake up in the heart of Old Town. And when I did, the following morning, this view pleasantly greeted me together with an amazing breakfast:
While having breakfast, we had a good view of the Old Town walls—the top attraction in Dubrovnik because of the spectacular views you’d get to see. From our rooftop vantage point, we noticed that only a handful were walking at 9AM. But by the time we reached the walls at 10AM, the day trippers had already started to pour in.
Since we had no cruise ship to go back to at 5PM, we took our time walking the old city walls. The walls wrap around the Old Town just shy of two kilometres. Though most people complete the full circle in under two hours, we took our time and spent over four. I never hesitated to stop to take photos of the beautiful vistas seen from the wall and I let the columns of tourists side-step past me as I peered into my camera’s viewfinder. I was unhurried and I took my time, and my patience was rewarded by these beautiful photographs:
It was early afternoon by the time we sat down for lunch. And since there’s no rush, we even managed to go back to the hotel for a quick afternoon nap just as the maddening mob of tourists in the Old Town hit critical mass for the day. At around 5PM, we headed out again to see the rest of the Old Town. The crowd was noticeably thinner so we were able to explore all the other attractions in town unhurried and stress-free—doing things that I’m certain the rushing day-trippers were not able to do: We walked up and down the narrow streets of the Old Town uncovering every nook and cranny. We stopped to buy way too many pastries at a local bakery. We sat by the port to feed the pigeons with said pastries. We watched the water change colours at sunset outside Pile Gate. We sat down to listen to live music. We savoured a three-course dinner al fresco at Nishta. We bought ice cream, and we listened to some more free live music with fellow tourists spending the night in the Old Town.
We spent our second morning in Dubrovnik shopping around for souvenirs. After lunch, we caught the bus that took us to Split for the second leg of our Croatia trip. En route, I could not sleep—I did not feel tired at all. I realized that if planned well, Dubrovnik doesn’t need to be the hectic, crowded tourist town it’s notoriously known for. It can be slow and sleepy, serene and intimate, and ultimately, it can pleasantly surprise you.
SOME PRACTICAL TIPS:
- Stay. There’s something magical about seeing Dubrovnik at night.
- Stay inside the city walls. Apart from two hotels, there are a lot of hostels and apartments available.
- Climb the walls early in the morning, or late in the day.
- Do not let the crowds rush your photography. They will either walk past you, or wait for their turn.
- It will be hard to identify non-tourist-trap restaurants since the entire Old Town is catered to tourists. We ate at Nishta—a vegetarian restaurant with amazing food targeted not towards the regular tourist but that discerning vegan.
- If it’s warm enough, take time to get in the water.
- Sit and take in the view—Dubrovnik is too beautiful for a quick look.