The best destination comparison site!
The best destination comparison site!
Both Dubrovnik and Istanbul are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Istanbul and Dubrovnik, hopefully making your choice that little easier.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the links:
• Introduction to the cities
• Scores and ratings
• Which one should I, friends, or family visit?
• When to visit and weather
• Who is the city suited for?
• The perfect 48hours (with map)
• 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.
With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul is the bridge between two continents. As much of a cliché as that might sound, this really is a place where you can wander between spiked mosque minarets on one street and be gazing at a Byzantine cathedral the next, and where shisha smoke mingles with the smells of falafel;
Most travelers aim for the north-western portion of the city, and separated from Asian Turkey by the Bosphorus Strait. Its districts include enthralling Sultanahmet – the home of the iconic Topkapi Palace and the legendary Hagia Sofia – and vibrant, youthful Galata.
Those who prefer off-the-beaten-track adventures can go over to Asian Istanbul, for atmospheric areas laced with hookah plumes and bazaars.
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!
Don't think you can distil Istanbul into a few short days. Even with weeks to explore, this vast metropolis (it's one of the largest in the world, let alone Europe) will surely still hold secrets. That said, a fly-in jaunt for a weekend is always going to be fun. You'll just need to pick your side of town and focus on the sights you want to see the most. So, choose between the Old City streets and Asian Istanbul before arriving, and plan accordingly if time is limited.
For those with longer to spare, this great Turkish town is your oyster. You'll be able to cross the Bosphorus to explore districts of steamy hammams and mosques. You can have whole days in the Grand Bazaar and Ottoman palaces. You might even be able to head over to Agva (for beaches) and the islands of Marmara (for wild hikes in pine woods). Basically, having too much time is rarely an issue.
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.
When things get hot in Istanbul, things get really hot. In fact, it's not uncommon for summertime temperatures to creep over 30 degrees. What's more, June to August is when the crowds come, packing out sights like the Grand Bazaar.
The upshot here is that spring and fall reign as the top times in the calendar to plan a visit. March, April, September and October tend to be cooler, less busy and less expensive.
Winter can bring snows. Photographers will adore the city when it's blanketed, as the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque look simply stunning under a sheen of the white stuff. However, the months from November to February can be bitterly cold, so off-season visitors will need to wrap up warm and forget having al fresco Turkish coffees on the street side.
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.
There's no doubt that Istanbul is one of the more adventurous and unusual breaks for European travellers. Most folk come to Turkey on package holidays, with pre-booked hotels by the sea. But this destination forgoes all that in favour of enthralling Ottoman history and heady bazaars.
It's a place that will help you break out of the comfort zone and push your boundaries a little.
Those keen on seeing a city that's walkable and compact should certainly steer clear of Turkey's largest. At 15.5 million strong and covering two separate continents, this isn't a bitesize destination by any stretch.
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. For a city, Dubrovnik is relatively small and compact.
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.
You can unearth some seriously jaw-dropping sights, taste some unforgettable food, and get a grounding in Turkish history with only 48 hours to spend in Istanbul.
Day 1: There's really nowhere else to begin but Sultanahmet. This is the Istanbul you will have seen on the postcards; the land of minarets and mighty mosque domes. The kingpin of it all is the colossal Hagia Sophia.
In its long life of more than 1,500 years it's been an Orthodox cathedral and a mosque. It's now a museum containing gorgeous mosaics and frescos, although the star of the show is still its dome, flaunting an amazing 30-metre diameter.
Sitting opposite just to the south is the majestic Blue Mosque. Built in the early 1600s, it's still in working order. And even more history awaits in the Topkapi Palace Museum, which is a few blocks northwards. That sprawling complex reigned as the home of the Ottoman sultans. It's now a UNESCO site and occupies a stunning perch above the Bosphorus.
Day 2: Big, modern Taksim Square starts day two with a sighting of what 21st-century Istanbul is all about. Be sure to take a glimpse of the honorific statue at its heart.
That's the Republic Monument, made to celebrate the foundation of the Turkish state in 1928. Nearby Istiklal Street has abundant choices on the food front, no matter if you're craving a gritty Turkish coffee or a regional breakfast spread of mezze cheeses, flatbreads, and olives.
It's also a busting artery of the city, with high-street shopping and a classic trolley car running its length. One thing you can't miss – literally! – here is Galata Tower. Built by the Genoese to protect their European strongholds from the east, it's a mind-blowing fortification that boasts sweeping panoramas from its top floors.
Your afternoon session should be dedicated to exploring the Bosphorus. There's really no better way to do that than on a boat. Some cruises even offer stops in Asian Istanbul and meals with the sunset to boot.
The modern Istanbul New Airport is the main hub serving this big city. It handles the largest amount of air traffic in Turkey, so expect to find lots of connections in from Western Europe and beyond. Regular shuttle buses link the terminals with the downtown in around 50 minutes to one hour, but, be warned, travel times can vary greatly depending on traffic. The smaller Sabiha Gokcen International Airport hosts most of the services coming in from across the Middle East. It's over on the south side of the metropolis.
Istanbul's tourist areas suffer from the same scams as many other European cities. Fake guides, pickpockets and unregistered taxis are particularly common, so be sure to have your wits about you when sightseeing. Be wary when converting cash in the Old Town area too, because extortionate commission rates and even fake banknotes have been reported.
Choosing a hotel in Istanbul really depends on what you want. Sightseeing in Sultanahmet is what most people come for and there are loads of hotels to pick there, even if paying a premium is normal. Beyoglu is better if you're after chain hotels and boutique stays, and it's right on the more modern and happening part of town. Asian Istanbul will likely be cheaper, but also a ferry ride from the most famous attractions.
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.