Dubrovnik: The Catalyst for a Return to the Balkans

Set on the coast of the azure Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik is the jewel in the Croatian crown, with its caramel tones of polished stone, muted greens of Mediterranean cypress, and shifting blues of sky and sea. 

Add  a dash of Medieval-fortress intrigue to the pot and it’s easy to see why it’s been called the “New Riviera.”

For years we’d seen Disneyesque photos of the walled city, and like the rest of the world, had read of the horrors of the Balkan War. Then when we heard that it was a filming location for the Game of Thrones, our curiosity was piqued and we had to see it for ourselves.

We visited Dubrovnik a few years ago – it was the magical catalyst for our first trip to the Balkans. So when we read about Kotor, Montenegro, also a Medieval fortress town on the Adriatic, we knew we would be heading there this trip.

We’ve read complaints about both cities being overrun with cruise ship tourists, and as always, crowds are a concern. We spent a week in Dubrovnik during the shoulder season (a perfect time to visit), and while there were a few pulses of cruise ships, it wasn’t a problem. Plan your trip to avoid the busiest times, and don’t let these complaints prevent you from visiting the amazingly preserved Dubrovnik. It’s a unique, fairy-tale city and you won’t be sorry. We’ll let you know what we find on Kotor Bay in Montenegro.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri


Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

51 thoughts

  1. You really do need to plan around the cruise ships. The last time I was there I had to queue to get into the old town and reach my apartment, but the second day it was very quiet. My (originally unplanned) visit was dictated by the bus schedules, but those with more flexibility should consult the cruise ship arrivals here: http://www.portdubrovnik.hr/girica1.php

    1. Kathy, we visited in the shoulder season, and the cruise ships weren’t too much of a problem. We tried to time our wanderings either before or after their arrival. But, after being there, I can see that in the high season they could definitely be a problem. Some of the ships that stop there are absolutely huge, and I can see how having more than one in port could inundate the small town. ~James

      1. Oh, I was there in shoulder season all right! October 19-21. In fact, it was so far into shoulder season the place I stayed in Kotor had stopped serving breakfast because they were moving to their winter house. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a choice of dates because of the way the bus schedules worked out.

  2. Nearby Korcula is worth a visit. Similar to Dubrovnik but smaller and quieter. I just know that you are going to like Kotor, hopefully you will see it without a monster cruise ship visiting at the same time.

    1. We didn’t make it to Korcula Andrew, but we were just in Kotor (and will be posting soon) and really enjoyed it. Some travel writers put Kotor on a second level from Dubrovnik, and I don’t really agree. Yes, Kotor is smaller, but it has its own unique feel. Also, while we were in Kotor, the cruise ships weren’t nearly the problem we saw in Dubrovnik. I had never seen cruise ships as large the boats we saw in Dubrovnik. ~James

      1. Durovnik gets top billing but I agree with you and really enjoyed Kotor.
        What was your experience of crossing the border? I remember telling people in Croatia that we were going to Montenegro and, presumably on account of the fact that it was theMontenegran army that laid siege to Dubrovnik, they were not very impressed. There was also some tedious queues getting in and out.

      2. Other than a routine passport check, we didn’t have any problems crossing the border. We’ve been moving around a fair amount, and luckily, so far haven’t had any border crossing issues. And I’m really glad that we didn’t plan on traveling from Serbia into Hungary. ~James

  3. While we only got to visit Split and Krka National Park (thanks to our cruise), I would return to Croatia is a heartbeat. The scenery, the people, everything about it made me want to see more. We were there before they joined the Euro and found it to be very inexpensive. Has that changed now? Enjoy your visit, can’t wait to read all about it.

    1. Laura, we really enjoyed our time in Croatia as well, and it inspired us to visit Bosnia and Slovenia. We were just in Kotor, Montenegro, which is another wonderful Medieval fortress town. We’ll be posting about it soon. Montenegro isn’t part of the EU, but strangely, they use the euro as their currency, I’m sure how that works. ~James

  4. Don’t forget the islands either in Croatia. They are a dream to visit. We enjoyed Kotor just as much!

    1. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to any of the islands, but we heard very good things about them. We’d never visited such a well-preserved fortress town before, and we were totally smitten with Dubrovnik. We rented an apartment for a week, so we had lots of time to throughly explore the city. It’s truly unique. ~James

      1. We only spent a day in the Dubrovnik and would really like to go back. Dubrovnik must change completely when the hordes leave in the evening!

      2. You’re right. It changes radically, and for the better. The streets, bars and restaurants are nearly deserted, and it’s a joy to wander the city. ~James

    1. Planning time at individual stops is always tough Martha. We always try to keep the flexibility to stay longer or leave early, but it doesn’t always work. But a week in Dubrovnik was fine. ~James

  5. We visited Dubrovnik a very long time ago when there was still a country called Yugoslavia, and before earthquakes and other upheavals as well as cruise ships. My memories are of honey-coloured buildings basking in the heat, turquoise waters, washing strung across narrow cobbled streets, and a market selling mountains of red and yellow peppers.

    1. Dorothy, what you remember about Dubrovnik is the way it is today, except probably with more tourists. Even with the crowds it’s still a very cool place, and I’d hate to think that I missed it because of a few (other) tourists. ~James

  6. I love your description of that beautiful polished stone (“caramel tones”) – perfect word choice! I think I may have used the term Disneyesque to describe Dubrovnik as well (and I am very much not a Disney person), yet Dubrovnik attracts those hordes precisely because it is so picture-perfect! I was there in high season and was still totally able to plan our activities in the Old Town to avoid the cruisers. In spite of its popularity, I adored that place and very much want to go back someday to share it with my husband.

    1. Lexie, we’d seen a few Medieval villages in Europe, but nothing that comes close to the state of preservation of Dubrovnik. Even with the crowds, we loved it as well. We had a funky little garret apartment in an ancient building, and avoiding the cruisers was no problem. In fact, truth be told, they were a great source of people-watching entertainment. We’d sit in a cafe down by the water, beer in hand, and say things like: “Poor bastards, having to queue for a boat to go home for the night.” 🙂 ~James

    1. Darlene, now that you’re there in Europe you’ve got ready access to so many wonderful places – and cheap airfares, too. I bet your wish list is a mile long. 🙂 ~Terri

      1. We are starting on that ever growing list next week, with a cruise stopping in France, Italy and Malta. It will give us a taste!

  7. I think I have bee non of the promoters of the tourist packed stories. However I agree that Dubrovnik is well worth the visit. Your suggestion of shoulder season is a great one. I would add early morning and late afternoon and evening before and after cruise ship high tide.

    1. Sue, as you know, everybody wants to discover the best “new” place, and they want it to stay exactly as it was when they were there. But in these days of package holidays, cruise ships and cheap airfares, new places become overcrowded places very quickly. As I said to another commenter, even with the crowds it’s still a very cool place, and I’d hate to think that I missed it because of a few (other) tourists. ~James

    1. With its long history and architecture, it doesn’t surprise me that you love Dubrovnik Curt. BTW, we were just in Kotor, Montenegro which is just down the coast, and it was fabulous as well. When I get my butt in gear, there will be a post or two. ~James

  8. Thank you for the beautiful pictures! I always look forward to reading your posts because they can introduce me to beautiful, beautiful places I have never visited, all in the sphere of my own home. Dubrovnik is incredible; I will make it a point to visit it!

    1. Thanks Sophia, and thanks for reblogging this post on your blog. Dubrovnik is unique, and if you get to this part of the world it’s a must see. BTW, Singapore is also a beautiful place and one my faves. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment Sophia and for reblogging this post on your blog. Dubrovnik is unique, and if you get to this part of the world it’s a must see. BTW, Singapore is also a beautiful place and one my faves. ~James

    1. The Adriatic coast is beautiful JoAnne, as more and more visitors to Croatia are discovering. We were just in Kotor, Montenegro which is just down the coast, and it was fabulous as well. Watch this space for a post or two. ~James

  9. We’ve long since concluded that there’s no reason to avoid a place because it’s popular with the cruise ships and over run with many tourists besides ourselves. One of the best things about being slow travelers is the opportunity to visit during the shoulder season or take advantage of early morning and sightseeing in the late-afternoon. Dubrovnik has long since intrigued us and your pictures make it even more tempting! Anita

    1. That’s exactly our feeling as well Anita. Popular spots are popular for a reason, and sometimes it’s impossible to avoid the crowds. Like you, we have the luxury of time and can choose when we travel. And we love the shoulder season as well – in the Balkans right now for instance. Dubrovnik is unique and an excellent starting point for a trip to the Balkans . ~James

  10. I was one of those day cruisers going from Venice to the Greek Islands, few years ago with my husband and children. We all loved it there so much, I vowed to return for a longer visit, thanks for bringing back such good memories. I am looking forward to hear about Montenegro.

    1. A cruise from the Venice to Greece sounds nice Gilda. I’m sure it’s just luck, but we’ve never seen the Adriatic be anything but beautiful. Did you make other stops along the way? And BTW, our Montenegro posts start tomorrow. ~James

  11. Hi, thanks for stopping by my blog and liking one of my posts. I’m doing a bit of reminiscing looking at the photos of Dubrovnik. The colour of the water always stays with me. Happy travels
    ms mary p

    1. Thanks for the comment Mary and for dropping by the blog. We spent a week in Dubrovnik, and had a blast. We had a small apartment and it was really nice to be able to settle in and really have a good look at the city. ~James

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