The Dalmatian city of Dubrovnik is probably one of the best known tourism destinations in the Mediterranean region. Its largely unchanged traffic-free old town, which is surrounded by impressive fortifications and a massive city wall, is recognised as UNESCO World Heritage.
Wandering through the streets of Dubrovnik you can easily sense the power and influence that this free city had during its heyday in the Middle Ages, rivalling such other maritime powerhouses like Venice and other Italian republic cities. In contrast to many other traders and explorers of their time, the people of Dubrovnik settled with the use of diplomacy and the concept of freedom.
Dubrovnik is currently on the bucket lists of many new visitors due to the fact that many parts of the old town feature as backdrop in the HBO cult show “Game of Thrones”.
I experienced Dubrovnik as part of a Mediterranean cruise (the cruise ship port is just a short shuttle bus ride away) but many tourists will seek out Dubrovnik as a stand-alone city trip, as part of a road trip or maybe just as a day trip from one of the beach resorts along the Croatian coast. Either way, a visit to Dubrovnik is well worth the effort.
The old town of Dubrovnik is surrounded by medieval city walls, and most visitors will enter the city through the main gate, the Pile Gate. Right behind the gate you will see the first of many attractions in the old town, the Large Onofrio’s Fountain. Straight ahead is the Placa, also known as Stradun, the main thoroughfare of the city. At the end of this street you will find the most prominent buildings such as the Church of St. Blaise, the Rector’s Palace, and the Sponza Palace.
Other tourist attractions include the oldest still operating pharmacy of the world in the Franciscan Monastery, the beautiful old port and the Dubrovnik Cathedral.
Game of Thrones locations can be found all around the city, most notably Fort Lovrijenac, the Minčeta tower and the steps leading up the Cathedral. There are many companies offering Game of Thrones walking tours but if you are more of the happy-go-lucky type you will be surprised how many places seem to look very familiar.
If you feel like hopping into the blue Mediterranean Sea, you may be a bit disappointed that there are no sandy beaches in close vicinity to the old town. However, there are a number of hotels in Dubrovnik that are located close to the beach, so you may want to take a closer look at Banje Beach to the east, Lapad Bay to the west, and curiously named Copacabana Beach to the north of the old town.
Just like with any other Mediterranean destination Dubrovnik awakes from a long siesta after sunset, and there are a number of bars, restaurants and cafés that will cater for late-night diners and patrons. Try for example Malvasija Wine Bar in Dropceva 4, D’Vino Wine Bar in Palmoticeva 4a, and Cave Bar More (a little bit outside in Hotel More) in K. Stepinca 33. If you are looking for something different, try the Ice Bar near the Onofrio Fountain.
Recommended day trips from Dubrovnik include a trip to the enchanting city of Mostar with its fabled bridge, boat tours to some of the secluded beaches along the coast or to some of the islands, a trip to the rocky Peljesac Peninsula, and a tour to one of the other Balkans states such as Bosnia, Montenegro or Herzegovina.
Facts at a glance:
What I like most about Dubrovnik:
Dubrovnik’s old town is free of traffic, making it such a hassle-free experience. The best way to explore Dubrovnik is by buying a Dubrovnik Card from the local tourism office which is not just a concise guide to the city but also gives you discounted access to many of the important sites.
What I don’t like about Dubrovnik:
Too many people are not actually visiting Dubrovnik at the moment, they are visiting King’s Landing. What a shame, there is so much more to discover!
If there is just one thing you are going to do it should be a walk on the ancient city walls. This walk offers you the best views of the city, access to the elaborate fortifications and some intimate insights into private backyards. Just make sure you one of the first visitors in the morning to avoid the crowds and the worst heat.
What to pack: I found the stone surfaces of the streets rather slippery, so it makes sense to discover the city in a good pair of sneakers rather than fashionable sandals. If travelling in summer, prepare for heat and lots of sunshine.
When to go: The European school holidays start some time in June and end towards the end of August, early September for all countries. If you want to avoid the crowds try the shoulder seasons (spring, autumn) instead.
Best beaches: Dubrovnik as such doesn’t really offer beach experiences close to the old town but I have seen people jumping into the water from the rocks below the city wall. You can reach this spot by following the waterline from the old port. Alternatively, take a ferry to Lokrum island right off the coast.
Good to know:
We had the best bar experience when we found a small opening in the city wall to the sea side. There was only one sign saying “cold drinks” – it couldn’t have been more inviting. We ended up on a stone plateau under the wall and right above the water in a daring, semi-legal looking alfresco bar set-up called Cafe Buza. The drinks were pricy but the sea views outstanding.
What to eat: Dubrovnik offers a mix of Balkans food as well as great Italian food (thanks to years of cultural interchange and influence). Try a pizza here, and I don’t think you’ll regret it. Other than that, the usual fare of salads, fresh fish, olives, won’t disappoint either.
What to buy: Croatia is a gourmet destination, and wines, cheese, olive oils and sweet things are definitely a great way of taking some of your experience home. Be on the look-out also for hand-made craft such as herby soaps, leather goods, ceramics, embroidered table cloths and jewellery.