• Leslie

Should You Be A Game Of Thrones Tourist in Dubrovnik?

Updated: Aug 1, 2019


Tourists surround the 15th century Onofrio Fountain in Dubrovnik. Image source: Ana Opalic


Winter is Coming: Tourist Hordes

On a recent summer trip to Dubrovnik, I was struck and more than a tad annoyed by the enormous crowds, noise, and general disorder of the place.

To be sure, Dubrovnik was still stunning, its ancient city walls rising above the azure blue Adriatic. It was just difficult to walk them without being bumped, jostled, and poked by people, cameras, and rucksacks. Dubrovnik's narrow streets were clogged and it took at least 30 minutes to walk the Stradun, the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare. Selfie sticks bobbed above the crowds like disembodied heads.

The fear was not being run over by a car, but by tourists.

Between the heat of the crowds and the heat of the sun, I was sweat drenched and exhausted. But it was too crowded to get water at the Onofrio Fountain.

I had to wonder, was Dubrovnik still the "Pearl of the Adriatic"?


Game of Thrones "Set Jetters"

Part of the problem is that Dubrovnik is a popular cruise ship stop. Cruisers pour through Pile Gate in endless droves in a hurry to experience the UNESCO city in a few short hours. Even worse, they don't spend any money in Dubrovnik because they're eating and sleeping on the cruise ship. They just walk around, crowding the streets and polishing the pavers.



Tourists from cruise ships crowd Pile Gate in Dubrovnik


But cruise ships aren't the only culprit. A significant source of the problem, I think, is the relatively new phenomenon of screen tourism or "set jetting." People travel the world in search of the real-life location of their favorite fictional universe.

There is no more powerful lure than the Game of Thrones locations. In fact, Game of Thrones is the most obsessively tracked pop culture franchise in the world, and Dubrovnik was heavily featured in its first five seasons. There, tourists can find King's Landing, the capitol of Westeros, and re-trace the steps of Tyrion Lannister, Ned Stark, and Jon Snow.



Lord Varys and Tyrion Lannister on the city walls. Image source: HBO

In a quest for psychological identification, tourists seek to reproduce, personalize, and experience the phantasmagorical Game of Thrones narrative. It is a partly symbolic experience; they want to grab a sneak peak at Dubrovnik and call it "my GOT place." It is partly pure escapism and an attempt to connect to the exotic otherworld up close and personal.

I know. I love Game of Thrones and booked a tour in Dubrovnik. And I feel a little guilty about it now. Shame, shame, shame!

I did not, however, don a Game of Thrones costume.


Tourists in costume on a Game of Thrones tour in Dubrovnik. Image source: experitour.com


Is Game of Thrones a "Poisoned Apple"for Tourism?

In 2017, there were over 4500 Game of Thrones related tours in Dubrovnik. That staggering number is now up 180% according to the New York Times.

Will the unchecked growth in tourism devour Dubrovnik? Has it already?

Is Dubrovnik in danger of becoming the next Venice, where tensions over tourist hordes have led to protests and anti-visitor sentiment? Is overcrowding threatening the reputation and authenticity of the city and turning it into another Disneyland-type tourist trap?

Sadly, right now, the answer is yes.

Bozo Benic, president of the Dubrovnik Association of Architects admits that Game of Thrones tourism is a "monster that is increasingly difficult to control."




Even at night after the cruise ships have left, Dubrovnik is packed with tourists


UNESCO Status At Risk

While tourism has been an unquestionable boon to the Croatian economy, there may be a price to pay.

Natives of course are angry. Overtourism alienates and drives out local people. Everyday life is impacted by the presence of thousands of tourists swamping the streets by day and partying by night. Some without shirts. This careless and borderline unsavory behavior angers some Croatians.



shirtless tourists who are sure to anger the locals


More importantly, in 2016, UNESCO threatened to review Dubrovnik's status as a World Heritage Site unless it curbs tourist numbers. UNESCO's concern is about “the maximum number of tourists in regard to the sustainable carrying capacity of the city” and a lack of adequate “management of cruise ships.”


Dubrovnik's Mayor Weighs In:

There is clearly a tightrope to walk between encouraging revenue generating tourism and protecting the integrity of Dubrovnik both as a UNESCO site and as a quality tourist experience.

But Dubrovnik’s mayor, Mato Frankovic, is ready for a reset, taking radical measures to address overcrowding.

Recently on CNN, he discussed limiting the number of cruise ships that can dock in Dubrovnik, capping the number of tourists on the city walls, removing tables from outdoor areas, and more.






Frankovic says:

“We need to cut some things down ... We actually lose some money because of that, but we were ready to do that in order to gain the future success of Dubrovnik tourism. We want all of the tourists to come to Dubrovnik, but we need to give them information [as to] what is the best time of arrival ... I guarantee that Dubrovnik will change."



What Should You Do?

Given the current state of affairs, should you be a Game of Thrones tourist?

CNN, for example, recently put Dubrovnik on its list of places to avoid.

Personally, I would not visit or tour Game of Thrones sites again in the summer months. The density and intensity of the tourism diminishes the overall experience.




Dubrovnik in the winter, unblighted by tourists. Image source: Culture Trip

But if you must go to Dubrovnik, follow these 10 simple guidelines:

1. Go in the off season or winter and avoid the tourist crush.

2. Be respectful, not loutish, so the city doesn't have to hire "respect wardens" like

Venice.

3. Don't contribute to a freak show atmosphere by dressing in Game of Thrones attire.

4. Focus on the history. Dubrovnik exists apart from Game of Thrones.

5. Don't cruise to UNESCO sites or you are part of the problem.

6. Explore independently without a formal Game of Thrones tour.

7. Don't ask stupid questions. Dubrovnik is not in Italy. HBO didn't build the walls.

8. Put down the selfie stick or at least be sure not to block other people's views.

9. There is more to life than Instagram. Experience the place, don't spend half a day

trying to get the perfect photo.

10. Explore hot spots like the tiny old town at the beginning or end of the day.

Dubrovnik's popularity has become its curse. Perhaps the mass tourism will diminish once Game of Thrones and its outsize influence is well in the rear view mirror.

If not, try Zadar, or Sibenik, Rovinj, or Cavtat.


-- Leslie

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