Croatia’s top tourist spot and the undeniable queen of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik is really all it’s hyped to be. The walled city with its soft stone that seems to simultaneously soak up and radiate the warm sun is without exaggeration like walking through a fairy tale, or the set for Game of Thrones. It’s a beautiful place that I think everyone should visit. That being said, based on my two trips there I can say that there are do’s and don’ts to seeing this remarkable place for yourself, ways to make your experience enjoyable instead of a pain.
About half of Dubrovnik’s 1.7 million annual tourists come off of cruise ships. For an Old City with only 1,000 permanent residents, that’s a lot of people. Walking along the beautiful streets and alleys of Dubrovnik mid-day in the height of tourist season can be an exercise in frustration and near hatred for your fellow man. That’s why I think it’s important to see Dubrovnik not as a cruise passenger (although I’m not against that) but to spend a few nights or longer in the city. By staying at a nearby hotel, like the amazing Hotel Excelsior, you get the opportunity to see the city as a city and not just as a tourist site. Strolling along the quiet streets in the morning or early evening, it’s just you, locals and other folks who have learned the secret to exploring Dubrovnik – by staying local.
Time of day
Those same cruise passengers also make it not just nice, but crucial to visit in the off-peak hours. I love Dubrovnik and I want people to visit, but there is no denying that in the middle of the day the city is overrun, to the point of claustrophobia, with tourists. It’s just too much for me. Not only that, but in the summer the temperatures get pretty high making the mid-day hours really unpleasant for walking around town, scaling the city walls and whatever else you want to experience there. So my suggestion is to use that time to check out the beach near your (hopefully) well-situated hotel, go kayaking along the city walls of the Old City or go on a day trip to wine country that is oh so close. The best time of day to put your tourist hat on is later in the afternoon when most of the cruisers have gone back to their ships and the temperatures have started to drop. You’ll still be able to see and do everything, but the experience will be a lot more enjoyable.
Where and what to eat
Let’s face it, tourism is THE business in Dubrovnik and so it’s hard to follow the normal advice of ‘get off the tourist path’ when it comes to food. Even so, there are some things to keep in mind. First, take advantage of the unique beauty of Dubrovnik. There’s an amazing cliffside café that while may be a challenge to find, is well worth it. Cafe Buža sits on a cliff just outside the city walls, found through a small alley and hole in the massive stone. With views of nearby Lokrum Island, this is THE spot to relax. Also, contrary to normal travel advice, restaurants in Dubrovnik with good views actually do serve excellent food. At the top of the cable car ride up to the hills overlooking Dubrovnik is the Panorama Restaurant, named for its incredible and unparalleled views of the city. Oddly enough, the food is excellent there and eating there is something to do once on your trip. Finally, be sure to explore the small and narrow alleyways of Dubrovnik. A labyrinth at times, getting lost in them will reveal small restaurants, cafes and bars that you would never have found ordinarily. One such find is the D’Vino Wine Bar, run by a gregarious Australian-Croatian named Sasha, this is a fun place to relax, try some great wines and just enjoy the evening.
A few remarkable experiences
The beauty of Dubrovnik, for me at least, is built upon a foundation of a few remarkable experiences. They are things you can only see and do there and define the travel experience. Be sure to walk along the city walls. It may sound hokey, but the views and the perspective of the city will change your perception of Dubrovnik. Remember though, do not do this in the middle of the day and be sure to wear the right kind of shoes. I’m also a big fan of seeing things from the water, I think that the change in perspective is an important one. I loved going on a kayak tour of the city walls, paddling around and discovering little alcoves of the city that would be impossible to discover otherwise. If kayaking isn’t for you, then take the 10 minute ferry over to nearby Lokrum Island. The views of the city are great and the island is fun to explore too. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, I heartily recommend going on a special themed tour. In recent seasons, the Kings Landing scenes have all been shot in and around Dubrovnik but can be hard to find on your own. Even if you’re not a fan of the show, the tour is a great way to see more of the city and to learn of its impressive history as well.
Dubrovnik is a stunning, remarkable place, but you’ll enjoy your experience much more by seeing it ‘the right way.’
What other tips would you add to this list?
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