The “pearl of Adriatic” is popular for a reason. It’s full of history, culture, amazing architecture, nature, stunning beaches and delicious cuisine. This was my first time in Dubrovnik. When you walk through this romantic city you feel as if you walked into a movie set. It was great to experience this beautiful city without crowds and now I know why people love Dubrovnik so much. Lord Byron on his Grand Tour was said to have called Dubrovnik ‘the Pearl of the Adriatic’ and he was completely right.
Dubrovnik is a small coastal town at the Southern Croatia – the most popular destination in the Balkan region and one of the most popular coastal cities in Europe. Originally called Ragusa, the city was found in the 7th century.
At the beginning of the 13th century, Dubrovnik fell under the control of the most Serene Republic, staying under its control until 1358. It was an independent republic from 1358 to 1808. In 1815, like much of the eastern Adriatic coast, Dubrovnik became part of the Habsburg Empire, where it would remain until 1918, when it became a part of Yugoslavia.
In 1667 a catastrophic earthquake destroyed a large amount of Gothic and Renaissance art and architecture in the city. The Sponza and the Rector’s Palace were the only buildings that survived the natural disaster. They reconstructed the city in the baroque style that has survived intact until today.
The area was attacked during the Yugoslavia war and people here had to stay and fight or flee as refugees. Even the Old Town was completely destroyed.
The best time to visit Dubrovnik
I guess you couldn’t go wrong with any season, but it depends on what you want the most. High summer season (June, July and August) is great if you are looking for a perfect beach weather, but you should be prepared to tolerate massive crowds of tourists. If you are looking to experience Dubrovnik without all the tourism, then going in the off season is a good option. I recommend September – the weather is still nice and you can enjoy at the beach too. May could be a good option too, but the sea isn’t as warm as in September and I’m not really sure if you can already swim (I definitely can’t swim in the cold water). No matter which month you’ll choose, you will enjoy in everything Dubrovnik has to offer, without being annoyed in the crowd.
How many days to spend in Dubrovnik
This is certainly a hard question to answer. I can guarantee you that one day isn’t enough at all. Not even two days. Many tourists think that Dubrovnik is just Old Town, but they’re so wrong. I think you need at least 5 days in Dubrovnik. If you want to explore the Old Town and surrounding area and you want to enjoy and relax for a little bit too, you need one week. Dubrovnik is located next to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and there are several neighboring islands. This is ideal for day trips from Dubrovnik. I’ll recommend you some day trips from Dubrovnik, so don’t stop reading.
I was sure that 5 days in Dubrovnik will be enough, but luckily my mum convinced me that this isn’t enough and I’ve decided for 7 days. Now, I wouldn’t mind if I’ve stayed longer.
Where to stay in Dubrovnik
There are sooo many options in Dubrovnik. You have a lot of different hotels, apartment and Airbnb options and you also have a ton of gorgeous areas to choose from.
You don’t have to stay right in the Old Town, unless your budget is unlimited. There are many areas that are within a short bus ride or 15 minutes walking of the Old Town.
Take some time and do some research about the area – you can save yourself some money and stress.
How to get to Dubrovnik
There are many different options how to do that. It depends on where you’re coming from and if you’re visiting Dubrovnik only. You can fly to Dubrovnik, but direct flights are only from Europe. So, if you’re traveling from the U.S., find yourself a ticket to Europe (London, per example) and they buy a ticket to Dubrovnik.
If you want to visit other parts of Croatia too (which I highly recommend you to), you can travel by car or by bus. Ofcourse, you can take a ferry from other Croatian cities and from Italy.
I’ve decided to take a ferry from Split. It makes a few stops on its way to Dubrovnik – Milna on Island Brač, Hvar, Korčula and Mljet, so this is a great option, if you want to visit Croatian Islands.
What to do in Dubrovnik
There are many things to do in Dubrovnik and surrounding areas. As already said, you should spend at least one day visiting the neighboring areas.
Visit Dubrovnik City Walls
City Walls are the most popular tourist attraction, for a good reason. The walls are long 1940 m and they completely surround the city, along with its forts. They offer you the best views of Old Town and the Adriatic sea. The best time to visit the City Walls is in the morning. Take about 2 hours to complete the full circle. There are 3 entrance/exit gates (Sv. Spas, Sv. Luka and Sv. Ivan). The first one is on the western part of the city, right next to the church of the Holy Savior, the second one is at the eastern part of the city close to the inner Ploce gate and the third one is located at the back side of St John Fortress.
The price is 200 kuna/adult and 50 kuna/children under the age of 18.
Be aware that the walls will be packed with tourists in high season. There is no need to have a guide to visit the city walls, but it may be a good idea if you want to learn more about the history.
Visit Lovrijenac Fortress
Built upon a 37 meter high sheer rock overlooking the sea, fortress Lovrijenac is one of the most impressive locations in Dubrovnik. Fortress of St Lawrence is also known as “Gibraltar of Dubrovnik”. While you are on one, a spectacular view is in front of you – the sea and Dubrovnik city walls. Over the entrance to Lovrijenac fortress an ancient inscription reads as follows: NON BENE PRO TOTO LIBERTAS VENDITUR AURO. In translation: Freedom is not sold for all the gold in the world.
I recommend you to visit the Dubrovnik city walls and then head towards Lovrijenac. With the ticket for Dubrovnik walls, the entrance is free.
Explore the streets of the Old Town
This is my must-to in every city I visit. Doing a tour of the Old Town will give you some historical view of this city, but don’t be afraid to get lost in the streets of Stari grad (Old Town). This city is completely safe and you can wander around without any worries. Climb the steps, discover the areas of town and enjoy in the medieval beauty.
There are several city entrances, one of them is the Pile gate, which is the main entrance. When you enter through this city gate you will find yourself on the 300m long main street called Stradun.
On your right side, you will see big Onofrio’s fountain. On the far left there is Franciscan monastery from the 14th century. At the end of the Stradun is Luza square, that has always been the heart of the city. Some of most the important historic buildings surround this square; St. Blaise church, Sponza Palace or Divona, Rector’s palace.
Ploce Gate is the main entrance to the Old Town from the eastern side which also has a bridge like Pile Gate.
Visit the top of Mount Srđ
Dubrovnik from the top of Srđ is A MUST. The top of Srđ overlooks Dubrovnik and the Adriatic sea. Mount Srđ has protected Dubrovnik from invaders. In the 1990s, the mountain played a strategic part in the War of Independence and was the site of the Siege of Dubrovnik.
I recommend watching the sunset from the top. This was one of prettiest sunsets ever! There’s also the Panorama restaurant on the top, so you can sit down and grab a drink or something to eat and enjoy in stunning views.
You can hike to the top of the Mount Srđ, take a cable car or drive to the top. This scenic ride will cost you 160 kn (round-trip) or 90 kn (one-way ticket). The Dubrovnik Cable Car station is located just outside the city walls.
If you decide to hike to the top, you need to come prepared. You’ll need a good pair of walking shoes, water, sunscreen, hat and don’t forget about your camera – you’ll want to capture the beauty.
If you’re traveling on a budget and the cost of Dubrovnik cable car is too much for you, but you still don’t want to hike, you can save a little bit of money by buying a one-way ticket. Ride the cable car up and hike down to the city. Or ride the bus no. 17 to Bosanka. Just keep in mind that the bus is not running on Saturdays, Sundays and on holidays.
Visit beaches and swim
There are many beaches in Dubrovnik – some more touristy than others. The most popular beach is Banje Beach – also the most touristy one. There are so many pretty beaches to visit and you should visit at least three different beaches. I can’t really decide which one was my favorite one. I didn’t found a beach I didn’t like.
Be careful when going cliff jumping. Many areas may appear safe, but you can easily injure yourself under the water.
Taste the local cuisine
Dubrovnik food combines a rich fusion of flavours. Thanks to the location and history, there is a lot of Bosnian and Italian influence on a traditional dishes. The food scene is not the only one that’s thriving – there is also a strong winemaking culture and you can find some finest red wines in Dubrovnik. Unsurprisingly Dalmatia goes big on seafood. Fish is caught in the Adriatic sea and served on a plate in local restaurants.
The best fish dishes
One of the most famous dishes is crni rižot, which is a squid ink risotto (other seafood such as mussels, clams, and other shellfish are also commonly added to the dish). Another speciality is mušule na buzaru, mussels cooked in white wine, garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs. Oysters from Mali Ston Bay (Mali Ston is a small village on the Pelješac peninsula) are another must. Do not forget to try brudet, rustic stew, prepared with a variety of seafood. General guidelines suggest that at least three different types of fish should be used – always cut into larger chunks and left on the bone.
The best meat dishes
If you need to take a break from seafood, try Dalmatian classics like kopun, pašticada (traditional Dalmatian wine-stewed beef, served with gnocchi), makaruli šporki (simiral to ragu or Bolognese), zelena meneštra or peka (Peka or sać is an ancient technique of preparing various dishes inside the eponymous bell-shaped cooking vessel).
If you love desserts as much as I do, you can’t leave Dubrovnik without trying the most famous dessert rožata. Similar to crème brûlée in texture, this pudding has a secret ingredient – homemade rose liqueur. Another sweet treat is arancini (candied orange or lemon peel). The earliest records or arancini date back to the Romans when it was a popular gift for family & friends. Arancini is still a popular gift, so don’t come home without a pack or two.
Ofcourse, don’t forget about olives, liquid gold – olive oil, Pošip wine, rakija, etc.
Do a day trip
Plan your Dubrovnik visit good and give yourself enough time to do at least one daily trip during your stay. Here are some of my recommendations.
The best Dubrovnik day trips
Dubrovnik is a great starting point for daily trips. One of the most popular Dubrovnik day trips is to Mostar in Bosnia. Mostar is such a stunning place in Bosnia, so this trip is a great option. Another fantastic day trip is down the Adriatic coast to the Montenegro – Budva or Kotor.
Because of the corona situation, I couldn’t take a day trip to Bosnia or Montenegro, but luckily there are many amazing options for daily trips in Croatia too. Like already mentioned, one of the best Dubrovnik daily trips is trip to the Elafites. There are so many fascinating day trips from Dubrovnik to choose from.
Take a boat ride to the Elaphiti Islands
The Elaphiti Islands – Elafiti are the closest islands to Dubrovnik and they are characterized by small fishing towns. Located between Dubrovnik and Pelješac peninsula, the Elaphites got their name from Greek work “elafos”, meaning deer – in ancient times the islands were home to a large deer population. Only three of the islands are inhabited – Koločep, Lopud and Šipan. Bear in mind that Koločep and Lopud are totally car-free.
The most visited island is Lopud with its beautiful sandy beach called Šunj. The beach is located on the opposite side from the ferry port, so you have to walk a little bit. You can walk to the beach, but there is a pretty long walk waiting for you, so I recommend you to take taxi to Šunj beach.
Koločep is the smallest of three islands and it’s perfect for relaxing and taking a walks.
Šipan is the largest island with the most inhabitants. The island is popular for its numerous churches.
I highly recommend you taking a boat ride to visit the islands and spend a wonderful day trip. If you want to visit each island in one day you should book an organized island hopping tour departing from Dubrovnik. The tour will cost you around 45 EUR/person. If you are looking for a cheaper option, there is a Jadrolinija ship (or ferry to Šipan island) departing from Dubrovnik (port Gruž) 4-5 times every day. You can check the timetables and buy tickets online here. This ride will save you a lot of money. The ship is pretty old, it doesn’t have a BBQ or DJ on board, but it’s cheap and efficient, it has a bar with snacks and drinks and it offers you a less touristy experience than standard cruise ship. The round trip will cost you only 5 EUR/person.
Do a day trip to Cavtat
Cavtat is located just a 20-minute drive southeast of Dubrovnik and it is a charming old town with cobbled streets and plenty of historical buildings. Cavtat is one of those very Dalmatian towns where the pace of life is a lot slower, so it is perfect for a relaxing day trip. Also, there aren’t as many tourists here as other places, so that’s something good too.
To get there you can take the local bus no. 10 from Dubrovnik.
Visit the Lokrum Island
Even if you stay in Dubrovnik for just a couple of days, we recommend you to make time to visit the island of Lokrum.
This tiny island is just a 15-minute boat ride from Dubrovnik’s old harbor. During the summer season boats depart every 30 minutes. No cars are allowed on Lokrum, so you should be prepared to walk everywhere. The island isn’t big, but the terrain can be uneven, so it’s better to wear appropriate shoes.
The entire island has maps along all of the walking routes, so you can choose what to see and do. Lokrum is home to a beautiful botanical garden and many peacocks because the island was once the holiday home of Archduke Maximilian Ferdinand of Habsburg.
Visit Mljet National Park
The greenest Croatian island, half of Mljet is a protected national park since 1960. Swim or sail through Odysseus Cave, hike in Mljet National Park, walk through Blato Village, bike around Veliko Jezero or explore the untouched beaches of Saplunara.
Go to the Pelješac peninsula
Are you crazy about the food and wine? If yes, a trip to Pelješac peninsula is a must for you. This is the largest peninsula in Dalmatia and one of the best wine regions in the area. It takes an hour’s drive to reach Pelješac from Dubrovnik. And another hour to reach Orebič, a town located at the southwest part of the peninsula, just across Korčula town.
Visit Korčula Island
If I’ve already mentioned Korčula… If you are dreaming of crystal clear water, pebbly beaches, historic towns and wonderful nature, the island of Korčula is a place to be. Stroll historic town of Korcula, a birthplace of Marco Polo, explore seaside towns and hidden bays.
Moving around Dubrovnik
Driving in Dubrovnik can be a mess, especially when it comes to finding (and paying for) parking. Plus that, the old town is car-free. However, the town is small and it has very good public transport. Buses run from 6 am to midnight. One-ride ticket costs 15 kuna if bought on a bus, or 12 kuna if bought on a newsstand. Daily, 24h ticket is 30 kuna.
If you don’t want to walk or ride a bus, you can take a taxi, but it will cost you a fortune. Cheaper option is Uber – it’s working really efficient in Croatia and it will save you a lot of money.
Best souvenirs to bring home
Croatia is a gourmet destination, so wines, cheese, olive oils and sweet things are definitely a great way of taking some of your experience home. You can also look out for hand-made craft.
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