No matter if you are planning a one-day trip or a week’s holiday, Dubrovnik has a lot to offer for both kinds of travelers! In addition to exploring the surrounding areas (Albania and Montenegro are only a short drive away) here are my tips for what to do in this Croatian paradise.
The obvious thing is to participate on the Game of Thrones tour but if you couldn’t give a rat’s fart about the TV phenomena there’s a lot more to do and see in Dubrovnik. Fact is that most of the tourists come to Dubrovnik because of the TV series, but its attraction as a holiday destination is growing every year. Here’s why:
Dubrovnik Old Town
Dubrovnik was once its own state and its history is checkered with changing kings and emperors up to the civil war in the 1990’s, which is still visible here and there in and around the city. It was once one of the busiest trading ports in Europe and is to this day one of the best preserved medieval cities.
Because of its rich history the city is full of museums, churches and cathedrals, and interesting places to experience. For example, Dubrovnik has the oldest still operating apothecary in Europe, which has resided inside a beautiful Franciscan Monastery for over 700 years.
The Old Town is surrounded by a set of heavy walls, which you can climb and walk on. There are couple wider main streets and an amazing array of teeny, tiny side streets and alley ways where you can find the most interesting restaurants, wine bars and loads and loads of stairs to climb.
The main attractions in the Old Town, in addition to the Old Apothecary and city walls, are the clock tower and cathedral on the main square, plus the Fortress towers (Bokar, Lovrijenac, Minceta, Revelin and Sveti Ivan). In the port you can also find an aquarium.
Boat Trip To Surrounding Islands
Croatia has some of the most amazing archipelagos on the planet. A lot of the islands have intriguing caves into which you can fit with a boat or where you need to dive. Some of the islands are inhabited and some of them don’t have any infrastructure at all.
It was interesting to hear that the Scandinavian way of having a summer house where to hide during Summer was a popular thing in Croatia as well. A lot of the locals rent out their apartments on the mainland for the tourist season and move to their summer houses on the islands for some peace and quiet.
Some of the must see islands are Lokrum and the Elafiti Islands. Lokrum resides right in front of the Old Town and can be reached by a ferry or by renting a boat or a jet ski of your own. The Elafiti Islands, on the other hand, are sort of “behind” Dubrovnik and best reached by renting a motor boat with a skipper who knows which way to take you so that you get the most out of the caves and little towns on the shores.
More on renting a boat and on the Elafiti Islands coming up later.
Towering over the city is the Srd hill. On top of the hill you can see a colourful mast, which is surrounded by a historic fortress, now a museum, and multiple restaurants and terraces littering the steep hill. The temperature can easily climb over 30 degrees in Summer so if you want a little escape from the heat, this is a great activity for you! Unless you’re scared of heights…
Once upon a time there might have been a road leading up to the top but these days the way to get there is by a cable car. The orange bug-like vehicles fly over the city and up and down the hill every 10 minutes from their station just outside the Old Town walls.
It is possible to buy a ticket from the entrance to the car, but the ones who have bought a ticket from a vendor at the foot of the Old Town gates can pass the line. The queue to the cable car can get very long at times and there is no shelter from the stifling sun, so I recommend you to avoid the busiest times (12pm – 16pm).
It’s an exciting ride and the views from the top are breath-taking.
There is a fine dining restaurant inside the station building but we wanted to enjoy the fresh air and amazing scenery and chose to sit on a terrace perched on the very edge of the steep hill. I got some super tasty Greek salad for lunch and my boyfriend got a kettle full of huge prawns. And a children’s bib so that he wouldn’t mess his shirt with the tomato sauce :D
Day At The Beach
Dubrovnik, like the rest of Croatia, has a lot of beaches littering its coastline. Very few, if any of these beaches are sand beaches. Instead they are quite rocky and covered in little pebbles so swimming shoes might be the more comfortable option when going to swim.
But there are always sun chairs available, a bar nearby and probably a rock from which you can jump into the beautifully clear turquoise water. So, pack up some sun cream, a towel, bikinis and a hat and make your way to the sea.
Note that the Adriatic Sea is very salty and at least my delicate, Scandinavian skin needed a proper wash and layer of the greasiest lotion after a day of swimming. But saltiness also means that you can float almost like a cork and the clear water makes it a dream for scuba divers and the like.
Croatia has a perfect climate for producing wine. My boyfriend happens to be very much into wines so of course we had to go for some wine tasting. You can book a guide who will lead you through some of the best wine bars in the Old Town and gives you interesting information about each of the producers. But we felt a bit lazy and decided to just pick couple places and try them out ourselves.
An interesting fact: Communism was a very bad thing for quality wine production. For that abysmal period there was only one company (the state) that was allowed to produce wine so everything that was produced by the farms was collected into one place and distributed to the people. Talk about taking enjoyment out of life…
Probably because of this Croatians are very proud and particulate about their wine production. There are only private farmers/companies, no big distributors. Each farm has their own wine bar where they display their products with well-deserved pride.
I was actually surprised about how great the wines in Dubrovnik were. The selection in restaurants was always good and I have to mention two wine bars, which I recommend everyone to visit:
Wine Club Matuško (on Prijeko ulica) and Malvasija Wine Bar (just behind the corner from Matuško on Dropceva ulica).
Matuško made an immediate and lasting impression on us on our first visit there with their signature wine Dingac. The bar itself was quite small but had a lovely atmosphere with some tables outside on the narrow alley way. Turns out we got very lucky: the owner of the place is a real character but very rarely seen at the bar.
We were casually sitting there enjoying a glass of the amazing Dingac when a man stepped in, clapped his hands loudly and then stepped outside again. I commented something around the lines “Well, wasn’t he cheerful” and we had a little chuckle. Apparently he was the owner, self-proclaimed Emperor of Wine in Croatia and a great lover of luxury cars and yachts.
We learned all that in the next bar, Malvasija, situated along the stairs leading to the Old Town main square. No, do not stop at the Irish pub but take couple more steps down and have a seat. The waitress was (of course) the daughter of the producer. She was absolutely lovely and knew a lot about wines! She even showed us a book with an article about the aforementioned self-proclaimed Emperor of Wine in Croatia.
Top tip: when you go to a wine bar strike up a conversation with the owners/waiters (usually they are the same thing). You learn interesting things about, not just wine, but Croatians overall, and their way of life. And don’t forget to buy a bottle of your favourite wine to take home as a souvenir.