Overcrowded tourist cities: 'Don't send any more tourists to Dubrovnik' - city considers limiting number of visitors

"Please, please, don't send more tourists to visit Dubrovnik." This is my taxi driver speaking and we're stalled in the traffic along Obala Stjepana Radica, the main artery at the start of the journey from the port to the Old City of Dubrovnik. Two big cruise ships are berthed behind us and we're blocked in by passenger coaches carrying the ships' passengers to the Old City.

The driver asks me what I'm doing here, and I tell himtravel writer on the beat – and now he's formed the impression that I am about to send yet more tourists to add to the deluge that is already besieging his city.

I was meaning to catch a public bus. After waiting at the bus stop at the quay while two jam-packed buses rolled past me and the crowd of about 25 gathered there without stopping, it was either a taxi or a long hot walk to the city walls.

The reason they come is easy to see. Added to UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1979, the Old City of Dubrovnik is known as the "Pearl of the Adriatic". The stout walls that encircle the city, 20 metres high and several metres thick, come straight from the castle builder's textbook. Within those walls there arose a rich and sophisticated independent republic with a treasury of Baroque churches, fountains and squares, its streets paved with limestone now shined to a glossy sheen by centuries of foot traffic. No wonder the travel writers gush. Adding yet more fuel to the fire, Dubrovnik's time-warped architecture has won it a starring role in Game of Thrones as King's Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms.

Dubrovnik is expecting 2 million visitors this year. Almost 750,000 of those will come from the 538 ships planning to visit the city in 2017, and the city's mayor, Mato Frankovic, wants to put the lid on.

UNESCO has advised that no more than 8000 people should be within the Old Town at any one time to prevent damage to some of the city's oldest buildings. Armed with that ammunition the former mayor, Andro Vlahusic, installed security cameras at the city's gates to monitor the number of visitors. The intention was that once visitor numbers rose above 8000, city authorities would ask coaches transporting passengers from cruise ships to delay in the port area.

The Dubrovnik Visitors website provides a live count of visitor numbers inside the city walls. On Monday, August 21, the visitor counter hit the red zone with over 9100 visitors at 1.30pm, with no sign of any move from the city authorities.

See also: 'Go home': Overcrowding causes angry backlash against tourists in Europe's hottest destinations

Each cruise ship brings a flush of visitors to the city and if you happen to visit when several vessels are tied up, you're possibly not going to enjoy Dubrovnik's Old City. At Pile Gate, one of the main entrances, barriers have been erected to separate exiting from incoming pedestrians and at busy periods it can take several minutes to squeeze through. Once past the gate you're in Stradun, the broad main street which becomes a slalom run between tour groups. In the middle of a busy day it's hard to stand and admire the baroque façade of St Blaise's church amid the weaving antenna of selfie sticks.


Dubrovnik's Old City now has a permanent population of less than a thousand and it risks becoming a theme park, a hollowed-out Disneyland on the Adriatic, inhabited by shuffling hordes of tourists dribbling gelatos and shopping for Game of Thrones souvenir t-shirts.

The problem is that tourism has become Dubrovnik's drug, and weaning the city off it is a tough call. Tourism provides thousands of jobs for waiters, chefs, bed makers, boat drivers, guides and gelato dispensers. For the city authorities, who could limit the number of visitors, there's a conundrum since each new visitor also shovels a few more euros into the city coffers.

For entrepreneurial locals with a bus, a boat or an apartment to rent out on Airbnb, there are plenty of reasons to cheer. With just a few thousand euros of start-up capital you can set up a scooter-hire agency or a kayak business, work hard for a few months each year and take it easy for the rest of the year. The guide who takes me on a tour of the city walls works four months in Dubrovnik and heads to Thailand's Phi Phi Islands, where he can live more cheaply than in Croatia for the rest of the year. Without tourism that's off the table, and Dubrovnik's goose is cooked.

Dubrovnik is not grappling with this problem alone. Venice and Barcelona are also cursed with spectacular beauty, and suffering from an excess of love from the cruise industry in particular, and the locals are kicking back.

Along with the vast injection of cash there is also collateral damage from tourism, and it's locals who are not participating in the tourism industry who pay the real price. Among the crowd of tourists at the bus stop where I wait in vain for a bus is a local, an elderly woman with full shopping bags from the Gruz market across the street. After the second full bus goes by without stopping she slumps into a bench for a few minutes, then hoists herself to her feet and starts walking.

See also: The alternative destinations to Europe's most crowded tourist cities

See also: Countries where tourism is growing (and dropping) the fastest: The top six

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