Perfectly preserved within massive ancient stone walls, and nestled between mountains on one side and turquoise Adriatic waters on the other, it’s easy to see why Dubrovnik is Croatia’s most popular city.
It may also have something to do with a little show about thrones… but, you know, it’s not that big of a deal. Said no one ever.
Needless to say, it is an impeccably well-preserved medieval city with enough natural beauty, tasty eats, and outdoor activities to keep even the most hard-to-please vacationers entertained. Here’s everything you need to do in the gem of Croatia:
Walk the walls
If there is ONE thing you must do in Dubrovnik, it’s walking the ancient city walls. You’ll get the best views of Old Town, along with an intimate look at local life as you pass by tiny backyards that are dotted with clothes lines and vegetable gardens.
For the little kid in all of us, there are some great ‘holes in the wall,’ so to speak, with secret access points to the sea. These make for a great pit stop, especially if you’re looking to cool off on a hot summer day.
The walk will take about an hour and a half to complete, but you’ll want to double that if a cruise ship in town. Actually, if a cruise ship is in town, my best advice is to wait until sunset to walk the walls. It will be cooler, less crowded, and seeing the city cloaked in the golden light of sunset is truly spectacular.
You’ll pass by 17 towers, five bastions (whatever those are), two corner fortifications… and a partridge in a pear tree. Just kidding. But you will want to make sure to stop and check out the St. John’s Fortress, as it’s one of Dubrovnik’s main attractions along the walls.
Notice the giant mountain behind you? That’s Mount Srd (or Srd Hill, or just Srd – we’re still not sure), and it offers absolutely breathtaking views of Dubrovnik.
You can either get to the top by hiking or taking a cable car. I’m not exactly the ‘outdoorsy’ type, so we opted for the cable car, hiked around a bit (where it was flat), and had a glass of wine at the “Panorama” Restaurant & Bar. The view seriously cannot be beat.
Take a walking tour
I don’t watch Game of Thrones (I can hear you gasping from here), so we opted for a ‘regular’ walking tour. However, if you are a GoT fan, there are about a dozen tours specifically for you.
Either way, I definitely recommend opting for a walking tour of some sort. Dubrovnik has such a complex, rich history, and hearing it firsthand from a local expert will help you truly appreciate the incredible place you’re in.
Lesser-known gems in Dubrovnik
Lapad is a neighborhood that is a 30-40 minute walk from Old Town. The walk itself is stunning, and a great way to work off all the incredible food and wine you’ve indulged in. But we’ll get to that later.
Lapad Bay has a promenade of bars, restaurants, gelato stands and coffee shops. Normally, there is a gorgeous sandy beach (sandy beaches are very rare in Croatia), but it was closed while I was there. Ah, the joys of off-season travel…
Since the beach was closed, we ended up stumbling upon an amazing boardwalk that goes around the entire Lapad peninsula. It’s shaded, and a great spot for cycling or jogging – if you’re into that sort of thing on vacation – or you can hop off at one of the ‘beach’ (aka rock) access points and take in the beautiful ocean views.
Eating and drinking in Dubrovnik
Cave Bar More
As the name suggests, Cave Bar More is located in a cave overlooking the Adriatic Sea, and it has, in my opinion, the best selection of local wines in Dubrovnik. Located in Lapad, it’s part of the Hotel More, but you don’t have to be a guest to visit the bar. It has a quiet vibe during the day – perfect for relaxing and listening to the waves crash under you – but it definitely comes alive in the evening with music and dancing.
Azur is hidden in the backstreets of the west side of Old Town, close to the city walls. It serves up incredible local and seasonal ingredients, with a Mediterranean-Asian twist. It has a great ‘hole-in-the-wall’ vibe, seating no more than 20 people inside, and 40 people on the outside terrace.
If you’re a seafood fan, stop for lunch at Lokanda Peskarija, a café overlooking the Old Port on the eastern side of Old Town. You can order a bottle of wine and a pot (seriously, a pot) of mussels for about $25 USD. Cannot be beat.
As a general note, the southern region of Croatia has some of the most sought-after oysters and mussels in Europe, so definitely try some while you’re there. The Adriatic is extra salty, so it adds its own unique ‘brine’ to the shellfish – or so says my fiancé, who is a chef!
Day trips from Dubrovnik
There is a boat that leaves every half hour from Dubrovnik that takes you to this small yet must-see island. It’s a great way to escape from the hustle of Old Town – enjoy its stunning saltwater lake; pine, cypress and olive trees; and botanical garden.
The water around Korcula is so clear and still, making it the perfect place to swim in the Adriatic. The island also has its own picturesque walled Old Town (nicknamed the ‘mini Dubrovnik’), as well as tons of walking and cycling trails, and fantastic food and wine. Make sure to try the white wine, “Grk”, which is only produced on Korcula!
Montenegro is less than a two-hour drive from Dubrovnik, and boasts jaw-dropping vistas and charming villages round every corner. Check out the World Heritage-listed walled city of Kotor, in addition to Kotor Bay, Europe’s southernmost fjord, and Durmitor, a beautiful national park with swimming, rafting, biking, and plenty of other treats to keep the most active vacationer entertained.
From its natural beauty and rich history to fantastic food and wine, Dubrovnik is a quintessential vacation destination that should be on any travelers’ list of places to go in 2018. Keep in mind, since Dubrovnik is such a small city, it is hard to get away from the crowds, so it is best to avoid peak summer season if you want some breathing room.
My recommendation is to plan your trip in the shoulder months of April, May, September or October, with September and October being optimal for those who enjoy water activities, as the ocean will still be warm from the summer months.
Ready to visit this dazzling city? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours in Croatia.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel, Sarah Tate x2, Intrepid Travel, Sarah Tate x2, iStock/swisshippo.)