I expected to love both these Croatian cities. But did I? Will it be Split or Dubrovnik that will have me scouring Skyscanner flights to return?
Split or Dubrovnik? About Split
I’m a big believer in “vibe” and Split immediately gave me a good one.
The sea-front promenade of The Riva was full to the proverbial brim with locals and visitors alike, partaking in the rhythmical caffeine-injection that is one of Croatia’s favourite past-times.
It’s a city where one of the city’s main attractions, the Diocletian’s Palace, is a living and intrinsic part of life – a home to around 3,000 people – not just as a monument to its tourists.
And where the buses to nearby attractions – Krka, Trogir – are filled with the noises of locals going about their everyday business; rather than solely of visitors click-clacking their cameras as care-freely as the Croatians consume their cigarettes.
The paths of Marjan Hill are as much choc-o-block with fitness fanatics testing the endurance of their cardio skills, as they are of visitors gazing out over the panoramic vistas of the city below.
After four wonderful days in Split, I didn’t want to yet take sides in the Split or Dubrovnik dilemma. I couldn’t wait for more of the same in Dubrovnik.
Split or Dubrovnik? About Dubrovnik
Entering the one-way system above Dubrovnik’s old town; wiping the steamed up minibus windows clear of condensation, Dubrovnik even on a wet day was a sight to behold.
The solid fortifications of the ancient city walls met the sky and my eye-line, encasing the old town within their protective embrace.
Their magnificence made me think the wonderful walls of my home city of York could get a bit of an inferiority complex by comparison.
Wall envy (is that a thing?) continued later in the day, although it had balked at the entrance fee. 100 kuna? (around £10/13€/$15). In Croatia? The land where I can get a good cuppa coffee for less than a quid? Are you having a laugh?
Putting my “the walls are free in York” moment aside, Dubrovnik’s walls were absolutely stunning. Yup, even worth 100 kuna stunning. If walls were the only thing I was going on, Dubrovnik would win the Split or Dubrovnik challenge hands down!
The fading early evening light combined with what felt like a force eight gale made them even more dramatic. Stopping to capture images of swirling seas and the illuminated city streets below meant it took two hours to walk their full circuit.
And the walls were only a part of the deal.
The sweeping entrance to the city through the Ploce Gate, treading cobbles that shone like marble, made me feel as though I was entering into a threshold of Gladiatorial combat.
The expanses of Placa Street were peppered with museums, galleries and churches; all manicured to within an inch of their pretty lives.
Dubrovnik almost felt – dare I say it – too perfect.
Or, as my boyfriend described it, “like Disney”.
Now I have no personal experience of Disney, but any image and ethos of pastel pink superficial glossy unicorned perfection tends to have me running for the hills. Even though there’s a castle.
Intending to spend three days, I hightailed it out after just one.
Split or Dubrovnik? Which should you go to?
Dubrovnik, however beautiful it may be (and it is), felt to me as though it had lost its soul. Yes, it’s glossy and pretty and shiny. It’s also crammed to the rafters with umbrella-wielding tour guides and their charges – even in October. But, more notably, there’s an absence. An absence of local people.
Split clearly caters to the tourist trade too, from the boats plying their daytrips to the Blue Lagoon to the travel agencies round town extolling the virtues of their excursions to Krka National Park.
Split is not a city where you’ll be treading the un-trodden path; or where the piano player will stop when you – an outsider – walk into a bar. But Split felt to me as though had navigated the tightrope walk between showcasing its attractions and its authenticity. It felt true to itself.
Split or Dubrovnik? My verdict
When I go to Croatia (this was my second visit), I WANT to be surrounded by locals imbibing their diet of caffeine and cigarettes. Even though I loathe the smell of nicotine. I WANT to feel as though I’m experiencing even just a small flavour of a country; not a Disney version of it given over to the Gods of Commercialism.
And so, in the Split or Dubrovnik dilemma, it’s to the marginally less glossy but beautifully spirited Split to which I’ll return.
Should you go to Dubrovnik? Absolutely! Just don’t expect to find too much authentic Croatia within the steadfast grip of its walls.