Entering the gates of the well-preserved Medieval town of Dubrovnik means stepping back in time to a fairy tale of epic proportions. This enchanting land will tempt even the most jaded of travelers: marble streets, baroque architecture and the gleam of the Adriatic Sea, just beyond ancient stone walls standing the test of time.
Although the bombing of Dubrovnik during the Balkan Wars in 1991 terrified many, the city has bounced back with vigor to captivate the world once again.I’ll be honest, Dubrovnik is a destination where you can see and do it all in a solid 48 hours, then move on to other gems of Croatia. But a charming coastal town, full of history and wonder, which I am sharing my top experiences not to be missed.
1. Walk the ancient city walls
The defensive stone walls of Dubrovnik have surrounded and protected its citizens since the 8th century, making for one of the best maintained medieval cities in Europe. You are able to stroll the perimeter of the city from above for the most spectacular views of orange terracotta rooftops against the deep azure Adriatic Sea.With an intricate series of forts, bastions, towers and forts, these walls are considered some of the best fortification systems of the Middle Ages. They remained mostly untouched over time until 1991, during the Croatian War of Independence. Yugoslavia was blocked from completely demolishing the Old Town during the siege and bombardment of Dubrovnik. Unfortunately, the walls suffered 111 direct hits and 314 more on the buildings and streets.The walls reach 22 feet wide and 82 feet high at some points. Plan for 1.5-2 hours for the 1.2 mile walk above the city. There are cafes along the wall, conveniently placed to stop for a rest over food or drink.The entrance fee to the walls is 120KN ($17.50 USD). Avoid the cruise ship crowds by visiting early in the morning (as early as 8am) or later in the afternoon (before 7pm).The walls were proudly named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
2. Get lost in Old Town
Enter through the Pile Gate of Old Town (Stari Grad), and cross the drawbridge. You will be greeted by the 300-yard-long promenade of Stradun, running through the heart of the city. Long ago a canal, today this strip boasts shopping, restaurants and cafes. All of Old Town is pedestrian friendly, be prepared to push through throngs of people in peak season. Toss the map and get lost in the back alleyways to find hidden gems away from the tourists. You’ll stumble across beautiful old homes with rod-iron balconies, secret churches and restaurants. Wander around Gundulićeva poljana Market for fresh fruit and veggies, and souvenirs of nuts, olive oil, lavender and local spirits. When you inevitably feel the need to hydrate, refill your bottle with fresh water of Onofrios fountain.
There is much to discover from the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary to numerous iconic churches such as the Baroque-style St Blaise, dedicated to the city’s patron saint. Also pay a visit to The Dominican Monastery and Museum and the Franciscan Monastery, the oldest working pharmacy in Europe. Entrance is 30kn.Sponza Palace is a 16th century memorial room to the defender’s of Dubrovnik. It showcases photos and artifacrs from the Croatian Patriots who lost their lives during the siege of 1991. Entrance is free. If you are intrigued, check out War Photo Ltd, a museum reflecting on the cities turbulent past. Entrance is 40kn.
3. Game of Thrones tour
Dubrovnik flaunts the filming location of Kings Landing from the wildly popular HBO Game of Thrones series. I didn’t personally take part, but my GOT-head friends geeked out super hard for this walking tour. You can reenact Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame, check out Fort Lovrijenac’s Red Keep, or follow a self-guided map of all the hot spots from the show.
4. Ferry to Lokrum Island
Escape the crowds of Dubrovnik for a day by ferrying out to the small islet of Lokrum, akin to Treasure Island. As a protected nature preserve, it is prohibited to endanger the flora and fauna of the island, including tossing waste, bringing dogs, smoking, or lighting a fire. No cars are allowed on the island and there is no option to stay overnight.Savor the peace and quiet of rocky beaches and wander through a botanical garden housing over 500 different plant species from around the world. Don’t forget to make friends with the locals, its only inhabitants vibrant peacocks, brought over from the Canary Islands over 150 years ago, While on the island, pay a visit to the Benedictine monastery complex with an impressive 13th-century Romanesque-Gothic basilica and a newer 15th-century Gothic-Renaissance monastery. The taxi boat takes about 15 minutes from Dubrovnik’s old harbor and leaves every half hour from 9am-7pm daily. The price of 35 HRK (6.30€). Well worth the trip!
5. Cable car ride
For 120 Croatian kn (18 USD), you can embark on a 5min, round trip cable car ride to the top of Mount Srdj for a breathtaking view of the coast. Atop the hill sits the Imperial Fort or Siege of Ragusa, built by Napoleon on his birthday. You can also hike up the plateau if you’re up for a physical challenge!
6. Eclectic bar hop
You will find many unique bars around Dubrovnik tucked away in the walls and alleyways. Enjoy a cocktail at an underground Cave Bar. Sample a local wine flight at D’vino Wine Bar. Sip on fruit brandy rakia while watching the sunset at the seaside bar of Cafe Buza. Živjeli!
7. Make a splash with water activities
Of course a coastal town offers adrenaline pumping water activities such as kayaking and snorkeling in the Adriatic sea. Circle around the Island of Lokrum and explore the private cave beach of Bettina. Half day tours start at 280 kuna ($50 USD).
8. Visit Fort Lovrijenac
Just a few minutes from Piles Gate outside of the walls, Lovrijenac, aka St. Lawrence’s Fortress, is a castle dominating the large rocky outlet. Once a church, it has secretly transformed into a prominent fortress, used to defend the city from attacks by sea.
9. Admire the gorgeous coastline
No words necessary when you take a look at the sweeping coastline along the Adriatic Sea. The ideal time to visit Dubrovnik is March–May or September–November when the sea is warmer. July and August are extreme peak season overrun by tourists and overpriced hotels, whereas winter months it is cold and rainy.Now is Dubrovnik not one of the most magical places you’ve ever laid eyes on? I can assure you the pictures just don’t do it justice. Get out and see for yourself!