DUBROVNIK, Croatia -- "This tour won't be a Game of
Thrones tour," our guide, Tanja Bosnic, informed us before we entered the
gates of Dubrovnik's Old Town. "Just wanted to let you know, in case that
was what you were expecting."
While said partly in jest, the disclaimer was apparently a
necessary one, as tours centered around the filming locations of the hit HBO
television series have proven incredibly popular in recent years. Bosnic has
learned that it's better to be upfront than risk disappointing an excited fan.
A tourist takes a photo while sitting on an Iron Throne replica at a souvenir shop in Dubrovnik's Old Town. Photo Credit: Christina Jelski
I was touring the medieval city as part of a press trip with
Adriatic Luxury Hotels, which operates a dozen high-end hotels and villas
throughout the city. The group's Hotel Dubrovnik Palace has likewise benefited
from the Game of Thrones halo effect, with the property gaining media buzz
after serving as home base for the cast during filming of the series' eighth
and final season in 2017.
The show has left an indelible mark on Dubrovnik's tourism
landscape as a whole, with many crediting Dubrovnik's recent tourism boom in
part to Game of Thrones' widespread appeal.
Indeed, Game of Thrones-themed souvenirs are ubiquitous
throughout Dubrovnik's Old Town, and at one particularly enterprising souvenir
shop, a replica of the Iron Throne is marketed to great effect as a free photo
op with any purchase. Right next door, one can indulge at the Game of Cones ice
cream shop. Several streets down, a life-size statue of Game of Thrones
character Tyrion Lannister stands watch by the door of a novelty shop.
Dubrovnik's streets feel a little less crowded after 5 p.m., when cruise ship passengers head back to their ships. Photo Credit: Christina Jelski
Iconic Old Town destinations are also commonly referred to
by their fictional Game of Thrones counterparts. For example, Fort Lovrijenac --
a Dubrovnik citadel visible from the northern end of Old Town -- has become so
synonymous with the series that it's been nicknamed the "King's Landing
Fort," according to Bosnic.
With Dubrovnik seeing visitor numbers surge past the 4 million
mark last year and overtourism an increasing concern, I wondered if the city's
locals were at all critical of the sudden rise in Game of Thones-related
Bosnic insisted, however, that most locals embrace the Game
of Thrones connection, in part because many were hired and brought on set to
serve as background actors during the show's filming.
Instead, she said, it's the big cruise ships that have borne
the brunt of the blame.
Zrinka Marinovic, public relations manager for Adriatic
Luxury Hotels, agreed, while lauding that Dubrovnik Mayor Mato Frankovic has
cracked down on the cruise industry with new regulatory efforts.
Larger ships are no longer to dock directly in the historic city center, and
just up to two cruise ships are allowed to dock in Dubrovnik per day.
Marinovic views the moves as a step in the right direction.
Tourists crowd around to snap a photo of Fort Lovrijenac, a filming location featured frequently on "Game of Thrones." Photo Credit: Christina Jelski
"The large cruise ships have certainly been a big part
the problem," she said, adding that the influx of ships -- whose
travelers are known for spending less than other visitors -- have altered
Old Town's retail landscape, resulting in an inordinate number of shops catering
to cruise customers and selling only "cheap souvenirs, ice cream and
Despite the recent changes, Old Town can still become
unbearably crowded from morning until the early evening, when the cruise
passengers head back to their ships. Marinovic recommended opting for
accommodations outside of Old Town's walls, preferably at a hotel with beach
"It's so important to choose quality accommodations in
Dubrovnik," she explained. "Because you don't want be in Old Town in
the morning, or arrive there too early. Instead, it's better to spend your
morning at your hotel, go for a swim and wait until 5 p.m. or so to come into
Old Town, when the cruise ship passengers have left for the day. You can really
have a much better time that way."
It was sage advice. After a morning and afternoon spent at
Adriatic Luxury Hotel's recently renovated Hotel Bellevue, we met our tour
guide outside Old Town's city gate at 5:30 p.m., just as crowds within Old Town's
narrow, winding streets began to thin. We were able to cover plenty of ground,
and when dusk fell, our tour concluded at a prime spot overlooking the sea and
As the sun set behind the fort, we joined a throng of people
jostling to snap the perfect selfie in front of the landmark.
Cruise ship passengers or not, it was clear that Dubrovnik
tourism isn't likely to be on the downswing anytime soon.