As a tourist guide born in Dubrovnik and living in Split, I often get asked to compare the two Croatian cities. Is Split or Dubrovnik better? Let me try to provide an answer based on 4 criteria:
No matter how many categories we add, the verdict may turn out to be biased and totally partial. However, allow me to explain my conclusions.
To Split or to Dubrovnik? That is the question!
Even though I think Croatia is not exactly the Promised Land for shoppers, shopping opportunities may be an important factor to keep in mind, though.
Shopping in Dubrovnik
Shopping in Dubrovnik is very much like looking for truffles. If you have a trained dog and the stars are well aligned, a jackpot is in store. But without a hound, you’re doomed to fail.
It is so difficult to find a good shop, not a tourist trap, and a fine, reasonably priced item in a city devoted to tourism and visitors getting off the cruise ships. Of course, you can accept the challenge and look for the hidden treasure or just go…
Shopping in Split
Sometimes I get a feeling that Split has more shopping centres and malls than are necessary. Apparently, it pays off to open a big shopping mall in Split.
Whereas the city centre may appear deserted, devoid of local people, the shopping malls always seem to be crowded. Locals would sometimes go there just to get a cup of coffee. Or to chat with friends. Over the cup of coffee.
The only problem is how to get there. Most are away from the city centre. But with the help of omnipresent advertising, locating them wouldn’t be a problem.
Croatia is a (relatively!) safe country. Even in the capital city, Zagreb, children go to school on their own. And Zagreb is the biggest city in Croatia. Are Dubrovnik and Split safe?
Safety in Dubrovnik
If you knock on someone’s door in Dubrovnik Old City, an elderly lady (she may or may not be dressed in black) would shout down at you from her attic window: “What do you want?!” Even before you say why you’re there, you can be sure that she knows who you are. Her neighbours know that, too. They know your name, your parent’s name, your shoe size and your marital status.
Even the shutters In Dubrovnik are specially designed to allow the agents of the Croatian Secret Police, disguised as elderly ladies, to watch you without being seen.
…according to the 1272 Civil Code, the windows in Dubrovnik were not allowed to directly face other windows across the street…
What’s enough, it’s enough!
There’s, of course, a downside to this. You have no privacy. But there is an upside: Dubrovnik is safe.
One other reason Dubrovnik could be described as a safe place are the borders. You have to cross the border to come to Dubrovnik. The same goes for leaving. There will be a police check-up at the border.
An acquaintance of mine had a car with the broken lock. And she didn’t have it fixed. She didn’t need to. I have never heard about a car being stolen in Dubrovnik. (Looking back now, the real reason why her car was never stolen was that it was a YUGO!*)
*YUGO: A car that was proudly produced in Yugoslavia and even presumptuously exported to the USA. Eventually, it became a laughingstock.
A word of caution. There are pickpockets in Dubrovnik. There are pickpockets in Split, too. As well as at the Plitvice Lakes National Park. And the Krka National Park.
This is one of the blessings we’ve had since we joined the EU. Pickpockets from other countries of the EU would happily browse through your backpacks here in Croatia, too. Beware of any decent looking person with a hat on!
Safety in Split
Many of the things Dubrovnik is proud of can easily be applied to Split, too. Friendly and pleasantly intrusive neighbours will be there for you when you need them. They will be there if you don’t.
However, the headlines in local newspapers occasionally report of incidents in Split. Apartments being robbed, motorcycles set afire, children crying, bullets flying.
Split is a bigger place than Dubrovnik. And slightly more on the wild side.
Nevertheless, if you keep your senses, you can truly enjoy the spontaneity of Split and its inhabitants.
Even though this has always been an issue, its importance became apparent at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.
Accessibility of Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik has always been “hard to get”. They didn’t built those impressive ramparts for no reason. They made sure that it stays like that. Dubrovnik turned itself into an island. It was a matter of life and death back then.
This confinement is both a blessing and a curse to Dubrovnik. Being effectively an island, Dubrovnik is rather safe. On the other hand, it’s quite isolated.
Dubrovnik is far. The A1 motorway stops some 100 kilometres away. Hence, Dubrovnik depends on airline traffic. That is why, unlike other parts of the Croatian coastline, its tourism was so negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Nevertheless, if you literary went an extra mile to come to Dubrovnik in 2020, you were probably so blessed. You could have Dubrovnik just for yourself. What a delight!
Accessibility of Split
Split can be reached by boat, by train, by plane. An Autobahn-like motorway efficiently joins Split to the rest of Europe. (BTW, Croatians rarely travel by train to Split. Please don’t ask why). If you stay in Split, most Croatian National parks will be within your reach.
For example, it would take some 3 hours by road to reach the Plitvice Lakes National Park. About an hour to reach the Krka National Park.
You can make Split your base station for the exploration of the rest of Croatia. Including Dubrovnik.
I deliberately chose this word. This is the definition of “Gloss” from a dictionary:
- a surface luster or brightness
- a deceptively attractive appearance
(“Gloss.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gloss. Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.)
The Gloss of Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is certainly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Hands down. Such a harmony of nature and architecture, colours and shapes, is really unique.
Dubrovnik is expensive. Dubrovnik is “elite”. Five-star-hotels, exclusive restaurants, celebrity visitors, gold-plated yachts. Dubrovnik is glossy.
The Gloss of Split
There’s something different about the gloss of Split. Split is fascinating. Spontaneous. Unpretentious. Authentic. But glossy?
I have always had an unexplained attraction to Split. Even when I was a child. Even though my picture-perfect perception of Split has been corrected since that time, I still get green light signals when I think of Split.
Split can sometimes be rude. And rough. And blunt. Primitive and impolite. But it has this natural veneer, authentic shine that I wouldn’t call gloss. Which word would YOU use to describe Split? And is Split or Dubrovnik better?