The first time I visited Dubrovnik, Croatia I remember being charmed by the quaint, narrow, cobbled streets and imposing fortresses overlooking the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean. It was a relaxed and, dare I say, quiet old town that you could explore in relative solitude. That was some 15 years ago and a lot has changed. Game of Thrones fever has taken over Dubrovnik – and Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow have a lot to answer for! The old town, which features a number of GoT filming locations, has witnessed a rapid rise in tourism. Largely gone are the quiet (ish) cobbled street scenes; replaced by feverish hordes of GoT enthusiasts and cruise-goers following umbrella-wielding guides in full medieval costume (my wife described it as walking on to a Disney set). But behind the gaggles of tour groups the same old Dubrovnik remains intact; it’s just a matter of timing your visit to avoid the crush (yes, it seriously gets that bad these days; especially on the city’s main Placa). If you can manage that then spectacular Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture, stunning sea views and a charming coastal old town await.
Dubrovnik airport (also known as Zracna Luka Airport) is about 20km from downtown Dubrovnik and you have a few different options in getting from a to b. The first is the airport shuttle bus for which there are two options I know of; Autotrans and Atlas (they stop in slightly different places in old town but within 2 minutes walking distance of each other). The second option is the public bus service which I found more difficult to navigate. At the time of writing bus numbers 11, 27, 31 and 38 all stop at the airport. To check out more detailed timetables and plan your journey you should visit the Libertas website (you’ll want to analyse the Eastern Schedule for the airport). The third option is a taxi; which is probably the easiest and most stress-free but also the most expensive. The taxi stand is located right outside Terminal B (Domestic and International Arrivals) and you’ll find a taxi information stand inside the terminal which has basic price lists.
When it comes to getting around town then most of the legwork will indeed be done by your legs. The majority of the major attractions in Dubrovnik are all contained within the pedestrianised old town. If you want to head out any further then local bus services are provided by Libertas as I mentioned above. Of course, Dubrovnik also has fantastic regional and international bus and boat connections. Most intercity and inter-country bus services depart from the main bus terminal in the Gruz Port Area. I’ve walked from Old Town to Gruz Port and it takes about 35 minutes. Local bus services also plough that same route if you want to save yourself some time and effort. If you want to start looking at potential follow-on destinations (by both bus and boat) then a good place to start is the ‘Absolute Dubrovnik’ Website. Alternatively, you could head straight to the Autotrans Website for bus schedules from Dubrovnik to other regional and domestic cities.
As I mentioned, timing is everything in Dubrovnik these days. Come 2pm in the height of tourist season (the summer months; particularly August) the city can feel like a theme park. If you don’t fancy being herded around then my advice would be to wake up early and get in to the city before the big cruise boat and coach tour crowds arrive. We arrived at Pile Gate (the main entrance to the old town) at 8am and Placa (The main thoroughfare) was still relatively relaxed. It’s the perfect time to wander the maze of cobbled streets in the pink glow of early morning; so it’s also a great time for photographers. Early risers should also take the opportunity to walk the city walls (see below) before the heat of mid-day takes hold. We spent a few hours wandering and taking photos (and grabbing a bite of breakfast) and you can follow that up with a cooling dip in the sea (there are a couple of access doors in the city wall that lead to cliff-side bars with ladders down to the sea). My second piece of advice would be to avoid August and September altogether; in October things start to calm down a bit and the cruise traffic starts to slow down.
If you’re a culture vulture and plan to visit the old town’s many museums and art galleries then you might want to consider buying a 1, 3 or 7 day Dubrovnik card. The card provides ‘free’ entry into most of the cultural institutions you’d want to visit. It also provides varying amounts of free access to public transportation in and around the wider city area (although most of your ‘touristing’ will be done in the old town which is completely pedestrianized). I’ve included the link to the Dubrovnik Card website in the additional resources section below in case you want to check out what it offers. You won’t struggle finding outlets that sell them; they’re everywhere!
There are a whole host of sightseeing companies operating in Dubrovnik. Although seemingly none of the big name tour bus companies like ‘City-Sightseeing’ or ‘Big Bus’ are in town there is a local alternative known as the Cabrio which is run by the public bus company, ‘Libertas’. To be fair, there’s probably a good reason why none of the big boys operate here and that’s because 99.9% of the major sights are in the pedestrianised old town. As a result, the stops that Cabrio Bus makes might not necessarily float your boat. The main stop is for a panoramic visit overlooking old town, but to be fair you can get that by catching the cable car or hiking (see below for more details). In summary, it’s probably not worth your money. On the other hand, if you want to arrange a walking tour of the old-town (yes, including Game of Thrones walking tours) then you won’t have a problem finding them; in fact they’ll probably find you before you find them. Most of the tour company representatives seem to hover around Pile Gate; so just make your way over there.
City Walls: For most people this is probably one of the first things you’ll want to do (it’s a decent way to orient yourself). The climb up the steps to reach the 9th Century constructed wall can be a little arduous (the polite way of saying that it can be a sweat-inducing nightmare) in the heat of mid-day but the views when you reach the top make the effort worthwhile. The walls encircle the entire city; providing photo opportunities at every turn; both outwards towards the Adriatic and inwards over the terracotta roof tiles of the old town. Highlights include Bokar Tower to the west, Minceta Tower to the north and St John’s Fortress to the east; so make sure you check those out. There are various access points to reach the top of the wall; each of which has a ticket office where you’ll need hand over your hard-earned cash (unless you have the Dubrovnik Card as the wall is included in the card price). If there’s one thing I wouldn’t miss in Dubrovnik then this is probably it.
Religious Sites: In addition to wandering the walled city (in itself the main tourist activity) old town Dubrovnik is ram-packed full of religious sites well worth a moment of your time. The Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary should be one of your first tops, where the highlight of the 7th Century Romanesque Basilica is probably the Treasury (which today houses 11th – 17th Century gold and silver relics). Other notable religious sights worth stopping at are the Dominican Monastery, the Church of St Blaise, and the Franciscan Monastery; all are located with the city walls.
Lovrijenac (St Lawrence) Fortress: St Lawrence Fortress is located on the western side of old town, outside of the city wall closest to Pile Gate and is accessed by a set of stairs by the side of the small beach at Pile. Although the Fort is probably best known as a summer theatre venue (with a pretty spectacular backdrop), it’s also worth a visit to tour the fort and Chapel of St. Lawrence. The fort also served as the Red Keep in GoT so you’ll probably find hordes of tourists photographing it from the scenic outlook opposite Pile Gate. The fort itself sits on a steep Cliffside 37m above the Adriatic and was built in the 11th century and, together with Bokar Fort was built to protect Kalarinja harbor (the city’s oldest harbour). It’s worth noting that (because it is a part of the city’s defense system), the admission price of the fort is included in the city wall ticket. It’s also worth noting that fitness might play a part in whether you decide to visit or not as it’s 200 steps to reach the fort’s entrance from the beach!
Rector’s Palace, Cultural History Museum, and Other Museums: The Rector’s Palace is located in the north-eastern corner of the walled old town and used to house the elected governor (Rector) of the city. The building, built in the 15th Century, today houses the Cultural History Museum. Even if you aren’t a massive fan of museums the building alone is worth a visit, as is the Sponza Palace and bell tower right next door. On the contrary, if you are a fan of museums, then you might want to consider Dubrovnik’s other offerings; the Maritime Museum, the Archeological Museum and the Ethnographic Museum. Information about all four museums (including opening times and admissions prices) can be found on the Dubrovnik Museums website (see additional resources section below). Finally, if you love both technology and history then you might want to consider downloading the city’s mobile app which has been developed by the city’s museums and provides handy information on what you’re looking at as you wander the city streets, museums, and churches. The Museums website provides a QR barcode so that you can download the app before you arrive…fancy!
Sunset Cruise: On clear days the sunsets over Dubrovnik are spectacular and one of the best ways to take them in is on a sunset cruise. There are a whole host of different options including those serving dinner buffets, those that visit islands, speed boats, sail boats etc. If you’re looking to keep up the Game of Thrones feeling then you might want to look at the cruises offered on the replica merchant galleon ship, Karaka. As always, the Viator website is a good place to start gathering inspiration and information on the types of tours available. That said, if I were you I’d wait until you arrive to book because you can often negotiate a better deal locally.
Placa (a.k.a. le Stradun): Placa is the old town’s main street and probably the best place to pick up souvenirs. It’s also the first place to become packed with gaggles of tourists; so avoid spending too much time here in the middle of the day. The street is lined with small designer boutiques, gelato stores, local leather outlets and shops selling tacky souvenirs perfectly suited as gifts for grandma. Just around the corner (opposite the Rector’s Palace on Gundulic Square) is a small open-air market selling local products like candied almonds, cheese, olive oil and Sljivovica (plum liqueur). Most of the stalls seemed very keen to hand out free samples which made it like a low budget culinary tour (or alternatively, just a great way for me to uphold my wife’s opinion that I’m cheap).
Sea Kayaking: From the small port beside Pile Gate you’ll find plenty of tour operators offering half-day sea kayak tours (including some in transparent kayaks for the best underwater views). There appears to be some limited variation in the tours offered but most seem to focus on Lokrum Island and Betina cave beach. Many of the tours also include lunch and the opportunity to snorkel; the perfect way to cool down once your arms begin to burn from all of the paddling. You don’t need any experience to sea kayak; the boats are designed to be stable so it takes quite a lot of effort to roll one – just be prepared to have jelly-arms the next day if you haven’t had any upper body exercise in the recent past.
Dubrovnik Cable Car: Dubrovnik’s old town is towered over by Mount Srd which, from the top, offers fantastic views down to the city and the Adriatic. Thankfully you don’t have to hike up the mountain any more as there’s a much more relaxing cable car option. Admittedly, the cable car isn’t a bargain at 120 Kuna (at the time of writing) but if you head up for sunset then you’ll be rewarded with the best views of the city at the most atmospheric time of day; making the price worthwhile (you could always take a flask of G&T with you to make the most of the sundowner opportunity)! If the 120 Kuna is enough to put you off then you can still hike up the mountain (which was the option we took as we were feeling stupidly energetic). The trailhead leads up from the exit of the northern gate in old town. It took us about 1.5 -2 hours to reach the top; by which point I was a sweaty mess.
Beaches: Dubrovnik isn’t all culture, history and sunsets; if you’re a beach bum then there are a few spots to quench your thirst. Copacabana Beach on the Lapad Peninsula is probably the most popular of the beach options and is also where you can get your fix of water sports. However, Cava Beach (also on the Lapad Peninsula) might well be the best of the beach options with its spectacular sea views across to Daksa Island from the Coral Beach Club. The closest to old town is the pebbled Banje Beach from which you can get decent photos of the city walls and Lokrum Island.
Check out more on our Croatia Page.
Atlas Airport Shuttle Bus Website: http://www.atlas-croatia.com/arrangement/dubrovnik-airport-shuttle-bus/
Autotrans Website: https://www.autotrans.hr/en-us
Dubrovnik Card Website: www.dubrovnikcard.com
Dubrovnik Museums Website: http://www.dumus.hr/en/