Both Madrid and Dubrovnik are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This website will provide our unbiased opinions of Madrid and Dubrovnik, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit. The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Prepare to be wowed by the sheer audacity of Dubrovnik. A castle on the Adriatic, the whole town is ringed by glowing limestone battlements, topped with keeps and turrets, and crowned by Byzantine basilicas. It looks like something plucked from Game of Thrones. Scratch that – it was plucked from Game of Thrones (Dubrovnik is now famed as one of the main filming locations for the hit HBO series).
But put that modern claim to fame aside and there's still a truly enchanting city to get stuck into. From the bustling Stradun walkway (the main drag) to the Gothic façades of the Sponza Palace to the shimmering pebble beaches of the Lapad Peninsula, you can pack your itinerary full of histories of wars and republics, tasty Croatian foods, and a healthy dose of Adriatic sun and sea. Downsides include booming summer crowds and cruise shippers.
Which city would I go to? Madrid
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Dubrovnik
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Madrid
Which for my food obsessed friend? Madrid
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.
Choosing how long to spend in Dubrovnik really depends on what you want out of your city break. A fly-in whirlwind tour of the Old Town can be great if you're on the hunt for culture and history. The museum collections of the Sponza Palace and the Rector's House, walking routes of the City Walls, and sightings of landmarks like Large Onofrio Fountain can all be packed into just a day or two.
But it might be best to allow a little extra time. With all the castles and churches here, it's easy to forget that Dubrovnik is an Adriatic riviera destination at heart. You've got pine forests, olive groves, rakija distilleries and the lost-paradise island of Mljet to think about. You certainly won't want to rush those during the warmer months, so consider staying a week or more to explore the city itself and those stunning surroundings.
For Madrid, the length of stay greatly depends on how much you want to devote to visit the three famed art galleries (Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía), or immerse into Spanish culture. The city can be seen in two days of sightseeing, and a third day is often given to the galleries.
There are many outstanding day trips from Madrid and a trip can be easily extended to 5 or 6 days. A selection of the best day trips includes the medieval town of Segovia, charming Toledo, and the magnificent El Escorial. Madrid makes for a good base from which to explore the region, and is served by inexpensive public transport
Summer might seem like the perfect time to put together a trip to Croatia's castle city. However, temperature highs in the low 30s and strong midday sun can make things a little tiring. And that's not even mentioning the whopping great big crowds. Recent protests by Dubrovnik's locals have really highlighted the problem of summertime tourism – there's hardly an inch to move in the Old Town, especially when huge cruise ships are docked at port.
Things might improve thanks to recent laws barring any more than two large vessels per day, but we still think September and October come up trumps. This southern corner of the Balkans stays pleasantly warm well into the autumn, so you shouldn't have to worry about having the weather to laze on Lapad Beach. What's more, visitor numbers, hotel rates, and flight prices all plummet following the end of the summer vacations.
The major consideration for Madrid, is to avoid August, when the entire city shuts down (most restaurants, cafes and independent shops) and everyone heads to the coastal towns. Late spring and early autumn (Jun/July and September) are the best seasons.
Madrid can be surprisingly chilly in the winter, but is comparatively dry to the rest of Europe. As Madrid is in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula it tends to get more extreme weather than the coastal cities.
Madrid is one of the finest cities in Europe. The city may not have the iconic monuments and attention-grabbing tourist attractions, but in reality, there is a lot to see during a city break.
Much of Madrid’s tourist literature focuses on the museums and galleries (which are world-class), but this should not deter you; this is a fun-loving city, which has the best nightlife in Europe. No matter your style of trip, there will be something to love about the Spanish capital.
Madrid excels as a long-stay destination, and if you are able to work here, the city offers perfect work/life balance.
If you're one for enthralling tales of warring republics and battles with the Ottomans, Dubrovnik has you covered. If you're the sort who loves jaw-dropping European old towns with enough castles and churches and cobbled alleys to keep you going for a whole trip, it's also perfect. Oh, and Dubrovnik takes care of globetrotters who come in search of a little Mediterranean sand, sun and sea. You won't have to venture far to find a cove to swim in, a yacht charter, or even a remote island villa where you can crank up the R&R.
If you're not big on crowds, then summer trips (as noted above) to Dubrovnik are surely best avoided. And it's hardly the place for anyone in search of big-metropolis vibes a la Berlin or Amsterdam. For a city, Dubrovnik is relatively small and compact.
48hours in Dubrovnik
Hopping from crenulated towers overlooking the Adriatic Sea to hidden local swimming spots to soaring summits in the Dinaric Alps, this fun-filled 48 hours could just be the perfect introduction to this awesome city:
Day 1: Start – where else? – on buzzy Stradun. The main artery of the Old Town of Dubrovnik, it runs from the port to Pile Gate (a 16th-century stone gatehouse that's worth a photo stop), passing Irish pubs, coffee joints, and Croatian konoba (taverns) as it goes. Sip a cappuccino and devour a pastry there before making for the Large Onofrio Fountain.
An elaborate water feature that's stood since the 1430s, it still dispenses crystal-clear water for drinking. Fill the bottle and then move to the iconic City Walls. These can be traversed entirely.
You can choose to do them on a guided tour (a Game of Thrones tour is available) or by yourself. In all, the whole stroll takes around two hours from start to finish, covering two kilometres of fortifications that include glimpses of famous citadels like Fort Minčeta (1319) and the dungeon-like Fort Revelin (now home to an EDM nightclub – remember that for later!).
For the evening, retreat to the legendary Buža Bar. It gazes straight out southwards across the Adriatic Sea. You can watch locals diving from the rocks into the water as you sip your sundowner beer.
There is no more of a stunning setting for a beach than Banje beach, with its clear waters and views over fortified Dubrovnik
Day 2: Kick start the day with a dip in the Med at Banje Beach. This is the closest beach to the Old Town of Dubrovnik and has a free section where you can take a quick swim while gawping at the high fortresses overhead.
Cafés and gelato shops line Frana Supila just above it, where you can grab a bite for breakfast before making for the base station of the Dubrovnik Cable Car – it's less than 500 metres away. Tickets might cost 170 HRK (€22) apiece, but the sweeping 180-degree views from the top station of Mountain Srd are simply awesome. You'll be able to see the red-tiled roofs of the Old Town below, the wooded crags of Lokrum Island, and the remote Elaphiti Islands (perfect day outings by boat if you have some more time to spare) beyond.
Return to ground level and then hop on a bus going over to the Lapad Peninsula. This is great for the evening. A quick splash in the sea can be followed by uber-fresh seafood dinners with crisp Croatian wine in the traditional taverns just by the bay.
48 hours in Madrid is not just the sights but also the atmosphere of the city. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.
Begin in the Puerta del Sol, then wander through charming streets of the El Madrid de los Austrias, which is the oldest section of the city. This leads to the Palacio Real, surrounded by its formal gardens and the Catedral de la Almudena to the south.
For the last part of the day explore the La Latina district and have a delicious tapas meal at one of the restaurants along the Cava Alta or Cava Baja. La Latina boasts numerous bars and is always a great place to start a night in Madrid.
The Gran Vía is the bustling main avenue of Madrid
The morning of the second focuses on the three art-museums, the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía. Close to the museums is the pretty the El Retiro Park.
For the afternoon head down the Gran Vía, the main shopping street of Madrid, and visit the Malasaña district, with its artisan vibe, independent shops and trendy nightlife. For sunset watch it at the Templo de Debod, and then head back to Malasaña for a memorable meal and evening.
For your first visit, you would want to be based in the Centro or Retiro districts, and this will limit accommodation options. If you do wish a more remote, budget option always ensure it is close to a metro station. While exploring Madrid, you will do a surprising amount of walking.
Dubrovnik is a super walkable city. In fact, getting lost in the Old Town area is one of the best things to do here. Don't go thinking you can use the City Walls to navigate. The ticket for those costs 200 HRK (€29) and is only valid for a single entry.
To get back and forth from districts around the Old Town and the beaches of Lapad and beyond, there's an efficient local bus network. Virtually all routes will either take you to the historic heart of Dubrovnik or terminate at the main Kantafig station. You can purchase fares onboard for 15 HRK but they're a little cheaper if bought from a kiosk in advance.
Try to seek out a place to stay as close to the Old Town as you can if you're coming to see the history sights and enjoy the walking tours. Remember that the district is super compact, so boutique B&Bs with cosy rooms are the name of the game within its boundaries. For extra space and proximity to the Adriatic Sea, you could look to the larger hotels and guesthouses around Banje Beach or Gruz to the north.