I had no idea what to expect from Dubrovnik.
Tourists seemingly have an overwhelmingly positive opinion of the place but everyone I know who has been fails to pinpoint why that is, a problem I’m currently sharing as I try to sum up my time there.
My personal experience was influenced heavily by the context of my trip: I arrived in Dubrovnik after living in Belgrade for six months and spending the first few days of my vacation in Sarajevo, a much smaller and less well-known city.
At first glance, the most apparent distinction between Croatia and many other Balkan countries is the consistent presence of infrastructure- both Belgrade and Sarajevo function well, but are notably less modern and cared for than many European cities, likely in part because Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia are not members of the European Union. Croatia joined the EU in 2013.
Dubrovnik specifically can be distinguished by the presence of a sizable old city, complete with medieval walls.
Another notable difference is the price point- for example, as this humorous article brought to my attention, tourism significantly drives up prices: a coffee in Belgrade costs about 150-200 dinar (about 2 USD), in Sarajevo coffee is usually 1 KM (0.57 USD), and in Croatia it is between 30 and 50 kn (4 to 6 USD), depending on the season. But it isn’t just coffee: hotels cost more than twice as much as in Serbia, Bosnia, and even Romania which has been an EU member since 2007.
Even with the damage to your wallet, a Croatian vacation is well worth it. While Dubrovnik is certainly not as folksy as other cities in the Balkans, the old city is charming and easy, a perfect place to have a low key weekend by the water.
Ah, the water.
Croatia boasts a huge amount of coastline along the Adriatic Sea and has become famous for its ocean views. And rightfully so. The ocean is at your doorstep just about anywhere in Dubrovnik and the water, just the right temperature, is impressively clean.
For an impressive view of the sunset over the new part of the city take the cable car up to the panoramic view of the city, it’s well worth the small ticket price.
For something more athletic, check out the kayak tours. Many of the companies can be found right near the Piles gate into the old city and run similar routes. A pro tip from our guide: morning and afternoon tours are not as busy so the cave beach you visit along the way will be less crowded.
In an effort to remove some ambiguity from everyone’s infatuation with Dubrovnik, I’ll share just one more thing.
After living in the Balkans for six months I had a pretty good handle on the country-specific stereotypes- not that they are ever really true, but you can always see where they come from. In Dubrovnik, though, these hardly exist, likely because it is such a tourist hub.
Everyone I met in Croatia was incredibly friendly, similar to many European destinations, except that I never felt like they wanted anything from me. In Italy or Paris or even Greece, it is rare that shopkeepers talk to you without the sole intention of getting you to buy something. While that goal exists in Dubrovnik, of course, people had a genuine interest in who I was and what I was doing there. From strangers to guides, to locals, and so on, everyone was excited to hear that I loved the region so much and wanted to share with me why they felt lucky to call it home.
So, while Dubrovnik’s main distinguishing feature may simply be its appearance, its other aspects are not to be discounted. There are hints of that particular Balkan charm all over the city and it’s a lovely alternative to more expensive and crowded locations along the water such as the Cinque Terre or the French Riviera. It’s easy to get to, easy to get around, and just plain simple which is somewhat rare nowadays. And since simplicity allows relaxation Dubrovnik might just be the best place for your next vacation.