Jake here with another guide to exploring and photographing Dubrovnik, Croatia (See others Dubrovnik, Croatia guides). Because winter is coming, and because people are looking for the best winter travel destinations, we’ve been getting a lot of interest in our experience there. We spent the entire month of January enjoying the off season in Dubrovnik, and to this day, we think it was one of the best travel decisions we have ever made. Of course, our main mission there was photography, and my primary target was also Dubrovnik’s most popular attraction - the towering city walls. I climbed the walls three times during our stay, and I can tell you that if you are a photographer in Dubrovnik in the winter, you are in the right place at the right time.
We’ve never been to Dubrovnik at any other time of year, but from what I have read, the small medieval city can be a mob scene. During the Summer, the walls are so crowded that one can hardly move, much less focus on their composition. If you are shooting out at the surrounding coastline, or inward at the red rooftops, this might not be much of a problem. But if you want a shot of the wall stretching out into the distance ahead of you, it will look a bit crowded. Unless you climb the city walls during the off season! Like the rest of Dubrovnik in January, the walls were deserted. Here’s our photographer’s guide to the city walls:
Accessing the Dubrovnik City Walls:
We found three tourist access points to the walls. They all have ticket booths nearby where you can buy your ticket. When we visited the price of entry was 100kn (about $15), but I have read it’s going up to 150kn ($23).
- The Pile Gate: This is the most popular stairway to the wall because it is the most visible. Most people enter the old town through the Pile Gate, and the stairway is right there. If you are scared of heights, this might not be the best entrance for you, since the stairs here are steep and they feel a bit exposed. Of course, if you are afraid of heights, the walls might not be for you at all. Another reason this entrance is popular is because it places the wall’s only restroom halfway through the tour. The walk is long (especially when it’s crowded), and once you start, there’s no way to get down and then get back on.
- Near the Ploče Gate: The Ploče is the other main entrance to the old town. Because this stairway is poorly marked, it can be very hard to find. If you are coming from the Ploče Gate, walk for a few hundred feet down the main road, and there will be a small gate on your left with a ticket booth a short walk within.
- Near the Aquarium: This entrance is by far the hardest to find. Not only do you have to make several turns down small alleyways to get there, the ticket booth is at the top of the stairs instead of on the ground level, which makes it even harder to spot. I just climbed the stairs out of curiosity and found myself on top of the wall. I was looking around when I heard a whistle from behind me and finally saw the ticket window. I couldn’t even begin to give directions to this entrance, except to say that we stumbled upon it while walking home from the harbor.
Walking Dubrovnik’s City Walls
Once you are on the walls, it’s a one way affair. To prevent congestion during the busy season, there are signs telling you which way to walk (counterclockwise). Normally we try to follow the rules, but since we were the only ones up there during the off season, we would occasionally double back when we saw a good photo opportunity.
Be ready - there are a lot of stairs. Walking the entire loop is probably the equivalent of hiking a small mountain. And just like hiking a mountain, the views are very rewarding. You can photograph classic shots like the red rooftops and cathedral domes rising up on the inside. But our favorite shot from up on the wall was a photo of Dannie looking out at the ocean. It really captured the beauty of the white walls, the natural splendor of the environment, and the stillness and serenity of the near-empty medieval city.
Enjoying the Walls From the Ground.
If you don’t want to climb the walls, either because they are crowded, because you don’t like heights, or just because you don’t want to buy a ticket, have no fear. Some of the best photos of the wall can be taken from elsewhere. As I’ve written previously, you can get a great view of the walls from just outside the Pile Gate, or from the hillside by Fort Lovrijenac. From inside the old town itself it’s hard to get a good view of the walls, but you can follow along their base as a way of exploring the city. Just be ready to take some detours and climb some pretty intimidating (if really pretty) staircases in the alleys.
Dubrovnik’s city walls don’t open until well after sunrise, and they close before sunset (probably for safety reasons), so if you want to get good lighting, these terrestrial locations might be your best bet anyway.
Exposed to the Elements
There’s very little shelter on the wall, so make sure you are ready for the weather. Most people will visit in the Summer, so make sure you have sunblock and water (remember, it’s hard to get down once you start). Likewise, in the winter make sure you dress warmly. The wall was closed on the highly unusual Dubrovnik snow storm during our visit, but even when we made it up there the cold and wind were more intense than on the ground.
So be safe and enjoy your climb. There is a reason Dubrovnik is a world heritage site. The entire city, walls included, are a remarkable treasure, and there won’t be a moment you’re up there that you regret making the trip. Bring your camera, and be prepared for some of the most amazing scenery you’ve ever laid eyes on.