Dubrovnik Without the Crowds—Even During High Season

A recent five-day trip to Dubrovnik and its surrounding area had it all: boating, beaches, amazing food and wine, and historic villas to call home.

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Dubrovnik Old Town and the City Walls at sunrise, from Fort Lovrijenac.

Matthew Williams-Elli/© Matthew Williams-Elli

We weren’t sure how this trip was going to go: Dubrovnik in July, the highest of high seasons, with a toddler? Sounds like we’d be battling a crowd of Game of Thrones tourists in Old Town, using a stroller as our shield.

Thanks to some fantastic hotels, the patience of Croatians (who, to a person, were so good with kids), and a detour to the place where locals go to escape the crowds, we had a trip to Croatia’s coast that I can’t stop talking about. Here are four ways to make the most of a visit to Dubrovnik, high to low season.

1. Don’t be afraid to splurge on a hotel near Old Town.

There isn’t a better hotel to make your home base than the Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik—an iconic landmark hotel (c. 1913) that’s just a five-minute walk from Old Town. You can take advantage of its location—and peacefulness, and incredible service—for rates that are relatively affordable. (Think $300-$400 a night compared to $1,000 for comparable European stays.)

There are floor-to-ceiling windows when you walk in, overlooking the Adriatic. The hotel has two parts—one is more modern, the other a more classic, traditional wing—and sea-view rooms come with beautiful decks where you can sit and watch the day go by (perhaps with a bottle of Croatian wine).

It’s kid-friendly, which was cool to see. Kids can run around; Croatians are just like, this is the way it is.

Celebrity guest: The prime minister of Croatia. A new bridge connecting Croatia’s mainland to the Peljesac peninsula opened the weekend we were there, sealing the fate of Croatia becoming part of the Schengen area in 2023.

About a mile from the western edge of Old Town, the Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik is set atop a 90-foot cliff, right on the Adriatic. The five-star boutique hotel was completely redone in 2019 and now serves up chic style and vibes for a young, hip crowd.

But the thing that really caught my eye? The pebbly public beach where locals and hotel guests swim together, but has a private section with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and one of the hotel’s bars. It’s beneath the cliffs, so this is one of the places local boys coming of age hang out to prove their mettle. They’re jumping off these 20-, 30-, 40-foot cliffs into the water. I didn’t join, but it was fun to watch.

Lesson learned: Even into late September it can get hot during the day (high 70s), so plan to do Old Town in the early morning or evening.

2. Island hop around the Elaphites.

Croatia is all about the sea—all about being near the water. In the lazy days of summer, everyone seemed to be hanging out at a pool, a beach club, or boating around between islands.

With help from Adriatic Luxury Hotels (the properties at which we stayed), we chartered a boat for a full day to visit some of the Elaphiti islands, a small archipelago northwest of Dubrovnik. You can also take a ferry to the islands of Koločep, Lopud, and Suđurađ.

This was a highlight of the trip: Some islands have beach clubs, which you can visit for a day or even just a meal; other islands are more about the restaurants, where you hop off at the dock and eat at a great restaurant right there. We had lunch at a quaint spot on Lopud, Restaurant Dubrovnik. (We ate lots of seafood on this trip and one quirk of the area is many of the restaurants are named Dubrovnik.) The fish was so fresh—just simply prepared, grilled—it was memorable.

3. Make time to visit the Peljesac peninsula.

Drive 60 minutes from Dubrovnik’s city center to the Peljesac peninsula, where the new bridge is, along with lots of beaches, wineries, and oyster farming. It’s where folks who live in Dubrovnik go to escape the summers. It’s not as touristy. It’s probably where we would rent a house on a subsequent trip: start in Dubrovnik, and then spend another week on the Peljesac.

4. Hang out near the airport—seriously!

I’ve been to Croatia multiple times, but never knew about the village of Cavtat, 15 minutes from the international airport. You can get to Cavtat from Old Town easily, by bus or water taxis, in 20 minutes for about 18 euros (give or take). Beautiful yachts and ships are anchored in Cavtat’s bay. The waterfront promenade is lined with palm trees, churches, monuments, outdoor restaurants and cafes. It’s all very relaxed yet sophisticated. We heard it described as “St. Tropez without the crowds,” but Cavtat is just its own special place.

We toured the newly renovated Hotel Supetar Cavtat in the town’s historic center. It’s housed in a villa from the 1920s—just 16 rooms, all of them individually designed. The Restaurant is called Restaurant, with an outdoor terrace overlooking the water and a nearby church. And the food is paired with local, world-class Croatian wines! We had one of the best meals of our entire trip here: amazing swordfish carpaccio, a 24-day aged beef filet, homemade breads and butters. Everything is very locally sourced. I now daydream about buying out the whole hotel for a big celebration.

How to get there: United flies nonstop (a roughly 8-hour flight) from Newark-EWR to Dubrovnik through late October.

As told to Laura Dannen Redman.

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