Dubrovnik is a city that needs no introduction, but because of its popularity it can sometimes feel chaotic. That’s why you MUST visit this “Pearl of the Adriatic” in the shoulder season!
It’s both a popular and unpopular opinion but… I! Love! Dubrovnik!
I can’t help it. I know it’s crowded. I know it’s cheesy. I know there are a few too many Game of Thrones characters touring people around. But the citadel is so goddamn beautiful I just can’t be mad at it!
I do understand why some people can be, though. The “Pearl of the Adriatic” calls to tourists in the summer like this Swedish girl kulning-calls to her cattle…And they come running in droves!
Which is why you MUST visit Dubrovnik in the shoulder season!
During May and September/October this dazzling port town takes half a chill pill, making the streets less flooded, the sun less scorching and the walls less… okay the city walls are still busy any time of the year. But having seen Dubrovnik in both the summer and in the fall, personally, I can vouch for the fact that the shoulder season offers everything the high season does. Just without the stress!
There are so many reasons to plan your visit to Dubrovnik in the shoulder season. Here are just a few:
1. Eat Sans Reservation
Dubrovnik is arguably Croatia’s most popular city. It has its own airport like Split. It has its own cruise terminal. And when we arrived by car one sunny October morning, we passed three ships already docked for the day. This should give you an idea for how many fellow tourists with which you should be prepared to share the city!
And the thing is, Dubrovnik isn’t even that big! In fact it feels even smaller somehow because it’s contained within a perimeter of high city walls beyond your wildest medieval dreams. With so many visitors and only so much space, you can imagine the difficulties around lunch and dinner times trying to find an empty table.
Tip: In the high season, CALL AHEAD for a reservation. A few days in advance would be ideal. In Dubrovnik the locals speak great English, so there’s nothing to be afraid of 😉
Because this city is so popular, Dubrovnik has attracted some truly great talent who have opened unique, world-class restaurants. And if you go in the shoulder season, you may just be able to snag a last-minute table!
*Our Dinner Recommendations:
During our wanderings Boyfriend and I passed quite a few restaurants that caught our collective eye: Bota Šare Oyster & Sushi Bar (yes, the same one from Mali Ston), Taj Mahal (Indian), Dingdong (Korean), Nishta (Vegan) (okay, Boyfriend veto’ed this one pretty quickly), Lady Pi-Pi (Croatian grill).
But the one we unanimously chose as soon as we saw it was Azur. This fusion “Cro-Asian” place was tucked away from the tourist track almost all the way back to the southeastern wall. Still each time we passed it the tables were always full. So when we strolled by for a third time around 6:30, hungry and searching, and saw an open table we lunged for it!
Usually this place is booked out for days, but because we were a bit early and in the off season the owner (a super cool Indonesian transplant, so obviously I loved this place even more) waved us over for dinner. Rich seafood laksa (one of my favorite dishes of all time), fresh pork belly tacos, tangy chili shrimp, velvety curry meatballs… if you’re looking for a change from grilled fish and cevapi (and even if you’re not) Azur is the place for you!
2. Walk the Walls with Fewer Tourists
The last time I was in Dubrovnik was the first summer I was solo-traveling. I remember being absolutely entranced by the city that felt like it’d been drawn from the pages of a fantasy novel. I remember the sun being ever-present the whole two weeks I raced around the country. In the same vein I also remember finding as many excuses as possible to jump in Croatia’s cool, clear waters with new friends!
Dubrovnik’s city walls were the last thing I did before moving on to the much-quieter Serbia. I still had my student ID from university, and even though I looked much, much older than the freshman in the picture (which I was), that little plastic card was enabling me to do so many things I couldn’t have afforded without it. The city walls of Dubrovnik were one of them.
Because, DAMN, those walls are EXPENSIVE!
But here’s what I’ll say about them: They are magnificent. If you’ve been dreaming of the view from the walls, perhaps picturing yourself as King or Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, they can be everything you want them to be. So if they’re worth the USD$30 (adults)/USD$8 (students) to you, by all means climb up and spend a couple of hours high above your subjects 😉
Just keep in mind that they are also super hot, especially in the summer. Pack water. They are VERY crowded, though it’s of course possible to carve out your own little space (at least for a minute). They can also be quite noisy from all of the tourist groups speaking different languages.
Which is why the shoulder season is the IDEAL time to visit Dubrovnik: The walls are significantly more manageable! The amount of people on the walls is halved. Still busy, especially after lunch and at sunset. But much less so. You have less tours, so less chatter. You feel less rushed with less people pushing past you to finish so they can make their afternoon Game of Thrones tour. There are less people/tour flags/selfie sticks in your photos. And the weather is so pleasant you’ll want to stay up on those walls all day.
3. Snag A Seat at the Cliffside Bar
Dubrovnik’s popularity comes with the price of crowds and higher prices. Nowhere does this become for apparent than at either of Dubrovnik’s “hole in the wall” bars (as they’re advertised on signs clearly marking their presence).
So, yeah, these bars are technically accessed through literal holes in the city walls. Ha, ha. I get it. But they’re far from small, secret dives. Bard Mala Buža and Buža Bar are fully stocked, cash-only bars built on the cliffs between the walls and the sea. And because they have the city’s best views of the Adriatic (off the walls), they are priced accordingly.
But they’re lovely. Yes, you’re gonna pay ~USD$8 for a bottle of cheap Croatian beer. But after you’re done complaining about it (which I did, and felt better for it, thank you very much ;)) you’ll settle in for an hour of sun, breeze and ocean sounds in one of the most gorgeous settings ever.
That is, if it’s shoulder season! In high season you’ll be lucky to get a table after an hour, and you’ll be waiting on your beer for just as long (the service at these bars is, admittedly, lacking).
Tip: Buža Bar feels more upscale. The bar has a bunch of white umbrellas and a sort of thatched tiki roof to shade patrons, wood tables and wicker chairs. Bard Mala Buža’s tables and chairs are aluminum. BUT. If you want to sunbathe or go for a swim, Bard Mala Buža is more equipped with several wide flat areas for laying on and a handful of pool ladders for climbing into the water. Not that you can’t swim at Buža Bar: You can, and a lot of people enjoy jumping off the high cliff into the water below!
4. Wander the City Peacefully
Did you know that, mathematically, traffic is actually inevitable? It can happen any time, without any major provocation. Even if every car is cruising along at the right speed, one driver will break just slightly, or take her foot off the gas, and it will cause a chain reaction that leads to a “phantom traffic” jam.
In the high season Dubrovnik is full of just such jams! But not with cars, with people.
You can hardly blame them! Dubrovnik is stunning and deserves to be wandered slowly and thoroughly. The streets are tiny, and yet there is so much to see. It’s virtually impossible not to stop for photos every few minutes: around every corner is another surprise. And so the traffic must slow, and slow, and slow some more until eventually there’s a pile up, causing some brusque tourist to gather up his family and power-steer them past who he believes to be the cause.
But in shoulder season, as I said, the number of tourists in Dubrovnik virtually halves. The city’s arteries clear and you’re able to walk at your own pace. You can turn without bumping shoulders with a stranger. You can stop on wherever you want and people have room to go around you. You can purchase a water bottle from a convenience store without having to wait in a ten-person-long queue.
Anyone I talk to who was disappointed by his or her experience in Dubrovnik cites loud, pushy crowds as a key reason for it. Don’t let this happen to you! This city, usually the last stop on a Croatian coastal road trip itinerary, is truly the icing on the big beautiful cake that is this country. Savor it 🙂
5. Enjoy A Private Romantic Sunset
Psst. You can get this “money shot” of Dubrovnik without climbing the walls.
Yes, you heard me correctly. Babedoll and I were walking along the north side of the city beneath the walls, minding our own business, when we came across a doorway next to the northwest tower. We thought, “What’s this? A residence? Can we go in?” We poked our heads through, inching forward in case it turned out we were trespassing…
And found a spacious, newish basketball court with the. best. view. in. town. (Off the walls.) It’s easy to find if you know where to look, and we highly recommend you go looking for it!
Now I have no idea how many people know about this secret spot. It’s possible it’s no big secret at all. It isn’t on Google Maps, if that’s any indication (though it is on Maps.Me). But, like I said, it’s easy to find. And if I had to guess, there would be more people searching for it in the high season — maybe not for “it,” specifically, but certainly for “a less-crowded sunset spot off the walls.”
Yet since it was shoulder season we had the place, the view over Dubrovnik, and the quiet to ourselves. So we watched the sky fade to pink from our little romantic spot before heading back into town for dinner.