Off season travel is something many people consider, but most (by definition) opt out of. In Dubrovnik, like most of Europe, winter is considered the off season. But if you travel for a year you have to do winter somewhere, and Dubrovnik’s mild climate and timeless beauty made it the perfect starting point for our year abroad.
Closed for the Season in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is rich in history, but it remains a small city. In the old town in particular, tourism is the dominant industry. During the off season – January for us – this becomes very apparent. Everything was closed except a few shops on the Stradun and a number of grocery stores used by the locals. This suited us just fine since we cooked our own meals. Dannie did start to feel a little cooped up with no place to do any boutique shopping, so we had to make a few trips into the city to look around. There were only a few restaurants open in the old town, which really limited the selection. The only vegetarian restaurant we saw was closed, and when we ordered the “vegetarian plate” in another restaurant, it had fish in it. Home cooking was the norm for us!
The only thing that hurt us, since we were there for photography, were renovations. The famous Rector’s Palace was closed for the duration of our trip. We peeked inside and saw construction equipment everywhere. There was also a beautiful stairway in front of the Sveti Sebastijan church that we saved for the last week to shoot, only to find that they had covered it in scaffolding the morning we finally got around to it. We heard from another traveling family that a few days after we rode the cable car the city decided to shut it down for repairs.
Locrum Island, which our Airbnb host described as “Heaven on Earth” was also closed for the entire season. Near the end of our trip someone told us that there was one man who would run people out there anyway, but we couldn’t find him and we kind of started to worry it might be illegal (but mostly we couldn’t find him). If you want a laugh, picture me walking up to men near the harbor who looked like boat captains (whatever that means) and saying, in a hushed tone “do you go to Lokrum? Do you go to Lokrum?” as though I were buying illicit goods.
Most of the major attractions were still open, though, and that’s where the off season got really good.
The tourists we did see came in the form of Asian flash mobs – tour groups from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China – lured by Dubrovnik’s Game of Thrones connection. Though they were numerous, they never stayed in one place for long, and we only had to wait five minutes for the street to empty out again.
In the Summer, we read that it gets so crowded you can’t even move. In January we had no problem getting unobstructed photos, even at the most popular attractions like the city walls, the fortress of Lovrijenac and the Minceta Tower, the beaches and the cathedrals. The Stradun, the crowded Main Street in Dubrovnik, was so uncongested you could see the streetlights reflecting off it’s glassy stone surface.
Off Season Holiday Decorations and Movie Magic
When we first arrived in Dubrovnik the streets and buildings were decked out in beautiful Christmas decorations. Even though it gave us a charming and magical view, we had just finished shooting Christmas decorations in the U.S., and we were hoping for something a little less seasonal. Luckily we saw that they were in the process of taking them down, and by a day or two later the city had been returned to it’s medieval glory.
It’s well known that Game of Thrones films in Dubrovnik during the Fall, but this winter (January, 2017) they were building sets for the new Robin Hood movie. It’s kind of weird to think of Dubrovnik as Nottingham, but I guess they think it will work. There was open casting for extras while we were there, but unfortunately we had work to do and we knew we’d be gone by the time they started filming anyway.
Though the sets will no doubt look amazing when they are finished, they were a little bit of an eyesore from a photographic standpoint. Most of the city was unaffected though, and I was glad that it snowed before they began construction so we had a chance to get some photos in. Which brings us to our last point:
Off Season Weather & Travel:
Generally speaking, I would rather do photography in the cold than in the heat. Blushing cheeks look better than sweaty foreheads, greasy sunblock and runny makeup. But we weren’t totally unaffected by the weather. During our stay we experienced what the locals said was the “worst weather in 50 years.” Freezing temperatures and winds that shut down the airport for days. Luckily it only lasted for a few days, and though flight cancelations extended our travel time by nearly 2 days, most of our stay was blessed by comfortable temperatures and partly cloudy skies.
Visiting Dubrovnik in the Winter also gave us a chance to get some photos that few other travelers get to take. Seeing snow fall in this magical city felt, well, magical. It was a rare event, even for the winter, and we could tell that we were seeing something special. If it had been an especially hot summer day during the high season, I just don’t think it would have felt the same.
Read Our Tips for Snowy Weather Photography
Dubrovnik really felt like our home while we were there, and having the city to ourselves had a lot to do with it. Sure not everything was open, but everything that was open felt like it was ours. We never felt like tourists, and we even got to know a few of the locals. It’s one of the perks of being the only outsiders in town. Having a cute baby with us didn’t hurt us any either.