Anyone who has visited Dubrovnik during the summer will be all too aware of the challenges that the tourist season can pose. The high temperatures, hordes of cruise boat tourists, and inflated peak season prices mean that many visitors fail to get the best of the city. Most tourists are in Croatia for the beaches and the sparkling Med, and only visit the cities for a few photo opportunities.
This is, of course, rather a shame. Dubrovnik in particular has a lot to offer, but summer tourists rarely manage to appreciate all there is to do and see here. In order to do Dubrovnik properly, winter is the only time to visit. Temperatures are mild, rarely dropping below 13°C during the day, you will not be fighting with the crowds just to take a photograph, and the off-peak prices are much more reasonable. Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do during the quieter months.
City walls and old town walking tour
The old town of Dubrovnik is surrounded by 24m high walls, going back as far as the 13th century. Built to protect the inhabitants from attack by land and sea, the walls make a 2km circuit round the distinctive red rooftops of the old town buildings. This is the perfect vantage point to see not only the beautiful architecture, but the stunning natural surroundings and the clear Mediterranean Sea.
A walk around the battlements can also be paired with a guided walking tour through the streets at ground level, or the two activities can be spread across a couple of days. No matter how you choose to do it, these tours are far more enjoyable during the cooler season. In July, temperatures can soar to 30°C and you will be fighting with the cruise ship crowds. For a relaxed visit, the best photographs, and to learn the most about the fascinating history of the town, winter is the only time we recommend doing this particular activity. If history doesn’t thrill you, then you can do a Game of Thrones filming location tour instead.
Another great walk, more of a hike really, is up the small mountain behind the city, Mount Srđ. The views are second to none, taking in the whole of the area’s coastline and some inland mountain views as well. The top of the mountain is also accessible via road and cable car.
Restaurants, bars and casinos
Dubrovnik is a real hotspot for great food and cool hangouts. Some of the more iconic restaurants are booked solid throughout the busy period, so there is no chance of getting a reservation unless you do it well in advance. One such restaurant is situated at the top of Mount Srđ (use cable car to get there), appropriately named Panorama, serving excellent food with the most spectacular views in the region. During winter there will be no problem securing a table next to the window, and you can take all the time you need to enjoy the food, wine and incredible vista.
Winter is also a great time for bar-hopping in the old town, when things are quieter and more relaxed than in the summer. Unlike the busy season, you will be guaranteed to find a seat in most places, and the whole vibe is just much much more laid back. Wander at your leisure through the narrow streets and find hidden gems where you can sample some fantastic local beers and wines. It’s usually still mild enough to sit outside on one of the sea-facing bar terraces.
For a change of pace, the city also has a couple of casino establishments that are worth a look. A picturesque, less than half hour walk north along the coast from the old town will bring you to the best of these, the Merit Casino Libertas. This is the best location if you fancy a mix of machines and live gaming tables, as most other establishments provide slot games and not much more. Merit is open daily between 4pm and 4am, so this is a night spot to be certain. If the weather turns really sour and you experience those strong “Jugo” winds with gusts fo rain, you can still enjoy reliable Croatian Internet connections and play casino games online. In Croatia you can also get PaySafeCard anywhere if that is your preferred payment method.
Winter markets and festivals
The month of December has its own particular charms in Dubrovnik. During advent, the run-up to Christmas, the whole city is alive with celebrations including concerts by the city’s symphony orchestra and other cultural festivities. Market stalls line many of the streets, selling everything from food and drink to local produce and handicrafts.
With the streets of the old town festooned with twinkling Christmas lights, there is no more magical time of year to see the city. Stick around for New Year’s Eve and you will be guaranteed a great night of partying as well.
Local day trips
Dubrovnik is a great base for some interesting day trips in the local area. Get out of the city for a day and go to nearby Neretva Valley for the end of the mandarin harvest, if you visit in October or November. There are also wine tours of the vineyard region on the Pelješac Peninsula that run year-round.
As a hopping-off point, Dubrovnik is very convenient for some of the most beautiful locations along the Adriatic coast. The area is dotted with islands, many of which are served by regular ferries year-round. A wonderful day trip for some hiking and exploring nature during the cooler season. Stay very local, or take a bit longer and visit the national park on the island of Mljet.
Hotels and spas
Winter is also the time to bag a bargain in Dubrovnik. The city is full of luxury and boutique hotels, all of which have special off-peak rates. A beautiful room with a view may be extortionate during the summer, but shop around and you may find something that is well within budget during the quieter months. Even if you don’t want to stay somewhere so fancy, some of the bigger hotels have spas which do day passes for visitors, again much cheaper in the winter season.