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Both Barcelona and Dubrovnik are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased opinions of Barcelona and Dubrovnik, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Prepare to be wowed by the sheer audacity of Dubrovnik. A castle on the Adriatic, the whole town is ringed by glowing limestone battlements, topped with keeps and turrets, and crowned by Byzantine basilicas. It looks like something plucked from Game of Thrones. Scratch that – it was plucked from Game of Thrones (Dubrovnik is now famed as one of the main filming locations for the hit HBO series).
But put that modern claim to fame aside and there's still a truly enchanting city to get stuck into. From the bustling Stradun walkway (the main drag) to the Gothic façades of the Sponza Palace to the shimmering pebble beaches of the Lapad Peninsula, you can pack your itinerary full of histories of wars and republics, tasty Croatian foods, and a healthy dose of Adriatic sun and sea. Downsides include booming summer crowds and cruise shippers.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Barcelona can be fully seen with two intense days of sightseeing, but if you include the beaches, the mountain viewpoints and a more leisurely pace, this leads to the conventional four-day visit.
A trip could be extended by visiting the picturesque Montserrat Monastery and mountains or the attractive coastal town of Sitges. Barcelona is much more suited for a short city break than a longer holiday, and does lack the diversity of day trips as with other destinations.
Choosing how long to spend in Dubrovnik really depends on what you want out of your city break. A fly-in whirlwind tour of the Old Town can be great if you're on the hunt for culture and history. The museum collections of the Sponza Palace and the Rector's House, walking routes of the City Walls, and sightings of landmarks like Large Onofrio Fountain can all be packed into just a day or two.
But it might be best to allow a little extra time. With all the castles and churches here, it's easy to forget that Dubrovnik is an Adriatic riviera destination at heart. You've got pine forests, olive groves, rakija distilleries and the lost-paradise island of Mljet to think about. You certainly won't want to rush those during the warmer months, so consider staying a week or more to explore the city itself and those stunning surroundings.
Summer might seem like the perfect time to put together a trip to Croatia's castle city. However, temperature highs in the low 30s and strong midday sun can make things a little tiring. And that's not even mentioning the whopping great big crowds. Recent protests by Dubrovnik's locals have really highlighted the problem of summertime tourism – there's hardly an inch to move in the Old Town, especially when huge cruise ships are docked at port.
Things might improve thanks to recent laws barring any more than two large vessels per day, but we still think September and October come up trumps. This southern corner of the Balkans stays pleasantly warm well into the autumn, so you shouldn't have to worry about having the weather to laze on Lapad Beach. What's more, visitor numbers, hotel rates, and flight prices all plummet following the end of the summer vacations.
Barcelona is almost a year-round destination, and the best time of year to visit is either early spring or later autumn as this is outside of the peak season, but the weather is still pleasant.
The peak tourist season is July and August, and we suggest Barcelona is best avoided, as it is just too hectic and crowded. The weather is suitable for spending time on the beaches from May until October. The winter months are cooler and possibly wet but there is a less hectic pace around the city.
Barcelona is flashy, energetic and modern. The city has vibrant tourist attractions and is without the stuffy atmosphere of many other historic destinations. It generally appeals more to the younger visitor with its heady mix of nightlife, beaches and Instagram ready tourist attractions.
It should be noted that Barcelona is not a cheap city, being the most expensive city in Spain. Barcelona great for a short stay or a one-day visit, such as from a cruise ship.
If you're one for enthralling tales of warring republics and battles with the Ottomans, Dubrovnik has you covered. If you're the sort who loves jaw-dropping European old towns with enough castles and churches and cobbled alleys to keep you going for a whole trip, it's also perfect. Oh, and Dubrovnik takes care of globetrotters who come in search of a little Mediterranean sand, sun and sea. You won't have to venture far to find a cove to swim in, a yacht charter, or even a remote island villa where you can crank up the R&R.
If you're not big on crowds, then summer trips (as noted above) to Dubrovnik are surely best avoided. And it's hardly the place for anyone in search of big-metropolis vibes a la Berlin or Amsterdam. For a city, Dubrovnik is relatively small and compact.
Barcelona is a tremendous destination for a 48-hours, and excels as a short-stay destination. Below is an interactive map for 48 hours in Barcelona; day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.
The first morning would start on the La Rambla the authentic shopping street, which is so popular with tourists and locals alike. For the middle of the day explore the Gothic Quarter, which contains the cathedral and Picasso museum.
For the final part of the head towards the harbour and the lively Barceloneta district, that lies the beaches. For the evening both Gothic Quarter or Barceloneta boasts restaurants, atmosphere and entertainment.
The cable car up to Montjuïc Castle provides wonderful views over Barcelona
For the second day begin by visiting the awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia basilica, with is whimsical towers, intricate carvings and masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí. The theme of Gaudí continues with the next sight, the Parc Guell, which was designed by him and includes delightful mosaic-covered buildings and wonderful views of the city.
The final area to discover is Montjuï, where you can ride the cable car to a stunning or visit the MNAC museum housed in the grand Palau Nacional.
The finale for your time in Barcelona is the inspiring Magic Fountain light show, held at the fountain near the MNAC museum (Wed-Sun peak season).
48hours in Dubrovnik
Hopping from crenulated towers overlooking the Adriatic Sea to hidden local swimming spots to soaring summits in the Dinaric Alps, this fun-filled 48 hours could just be the perfect introduction to this awesome city:
Day 1: Start – where else? – on buzzy Stradun. The main artery of the Old Town of Dubrovnik, it runs from the port to Pile Gate (a 16th-century stone gatehouse that's worth a photo stop), passing Irish pubs, coffee joints, and Croatian konoba (taverns) as it goes. Sip a cappuccino and devour a pastry there before making for the Large Onofrio Fountain.
An elaborate water feature that's stood since the 1430s, it still dispenses crystal-clear water for drinking. Fill the bottle and then move to the iconic City Walls. These can be traversed entirely.
Day 2: Kick start the day with a dip in the Med at Banje Beach. This is the closest beach to the Old Town of Dubrovnik and has a free section where you can take a quick swim while gawping at the high fortresses overhead.
Cafés and gelato shops line Frana Supila just above it, where you can grab a bite for breakfast before making for the base station of the Dubrovnik Cable Car – it's less than 500 metres away. Tickets might cost 170 HRK (€22) apiece, but the sweeping 180-degree views from the top station of Mountain Srd are simply awesome. You'll be able to see the red-tiled roofs of the Old Town below, the wooded crags of Lokrum Island, and the remote Elaphiti Islands (perfect day outings by boat if you have some more time to spare) beyond.
Return to ground level and then hop on a bus going over to the Lapad Peninsula. This is great for the evening. A quick splash in the sea can be followed by uber-fresh seafood dinners with crisp Croatian wine in the traditional taverns just by the bay.
Once in Barcelona all of the main sights are close and can be easily walked. The standard of food and service at restaurants in the tourist areas varies dramatically, it’s always advisable to check reviews first.
Dubrovnik is a super walkable city. In fact, getting lost in the Old Town area is one of the best things to do here. Don't go thinking you can use the City Walls to navigate. The ticket for those costs 200 HRK (€29) and is only valid for a single entry.
To get back and forth from districts around the Old Town and the beaches of Lapad and beyond, there's an efficient local bus network. Virtually all routes will either take you to the historic heart of Dubrovnik or terminate at the main Kantafig station. You can purchase fares onboard for 15 HRK but they're a little cheaper if bought from a kiosk in advance.
Try to seek out a place to stay as close to the Old Town as you can if you're coming to see the history sights and enjoy the walking tours. Remember that the district is super compact, so boutique B&Bs with cosy rooms are the name of the game within its boundaries. For extra space and proximity to the Adriatic Sea, you could look to the larger hotels and guesthouses around Banje Beach or Gruz to the north.