Croatia's Tourism Grows Thanks to Festivals and "Game of Thrones"

Igor Tomljenovic_Dubrovnik
Croatian National Tourist Board // Igor Tomljenovic _ Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik bills itself as the “city of festivals” and that’s certainly true during the summer. Right now, the 66th annual Dubrovnik Summer Festival is in full swing. Last year’s edition drew some 60,000 people to an eclectic mix of classical, jazz and other music performances, as well as dance, theater and film. This year’s lineup is even more extensive.

Not that Dubrovnik is hurting for visitors this summer. On the contrary, it’s at the center of an unprecedented tourism surge. According to the latest quarterly report from the European Travel Commission, Croatia is enjoying a 25 percent growth in both foreign visits and overnights year-to-date.

That’s no surprise to Alex Datsev, custom travel manager for Exeter International in Tampa, FL.

“Croatia is booming; almost out of control. We had a real challenge to find hotels this year,” Datsev tells Travel Agent.

Janet L. Anderson, director of national accounts, west, for Insight Vacations, says the company’s Croatia offerings are especially popular. 

“We have something called ‘Country Roads of Croatia.’ It’s very much in demand. It includes Zagreb and Split, where the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s palace is. We visit some amazing cave systems, UNESCO World Heritage Lakes and waterfalls, and the island where Marco Polo was born. We also have a Dalmatian Coast cruise itinerary that tours Croatia’s islands on a 38-guest yacht,” Anderson tells Travel Agent.

Croatia’s islands are a prime selling point, according to Ed A. Jones, east coast sales manager for Europe Express.

“With 1,000- plus islands, crystal clear waters and centuries-old villages rich in history, Croatia continues to close for us strong as the Mediterranean’s fastest-growing destination. It lures travelers in with beautiful national parks, adventure sports and UNESCO World Heritage sites.” Jones tells Travel Agent.  

Another major attraction, especially for Millennial clients: “Game of Thrones” filming location tours. 

“For the ‘Game of Thrones’ fans out there, it all comes alive in Dubrovnik. You will walk the same paths, touch the same walls and soak up the views you see on the show,” said Jones. 

Indeed. The hit HBO series is the gift that keeps on giving to Croatia. “Game of Thrones” tours have been popular since Croatia was first used as a filming location in season two.

Dubrovnik’s medieval Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, doubles for the fictional King’s Landing on the show.

A number of operators offer tours to key settings for the show. They include Fort Lovrijenac and the Trsteno Arboretum, which was used as the palace gardens. Other recognizable locations are on the island of Lokrum, right off the mainland, as well as Minceta Fortress (Tomb of the Undying, of course).

Fans will also recognize a number of film settings amidst the Old Town’s narrow streets, majestic stairways, stone houses, squares and vistas. “Game of Thrones” tour guides are usually experts in the series, and some have even worked as extras.

Additional “Game of Thrones” locations in Croatia include Split, where filming took place at Diocletian's Palace; Klis and Sibenik. Croatian trade officials recently announced that the series will return to film in country for the next two seasons.   

Of course, one needn’t be a fan of the HBO series to enjoy Dubrovnik at the moment. The Dubrovnik Summer Festival takes place through August 25.