Dubrovnik, Croatia is one of the most well-preserved medieval cities in the world. It’s quickly growing as an international tourist destination due to its sparkling, crystal clear beaches, beautiful mountain scenery, and historic town center with red roofs that mark it as uniquely Mediterranean.
Croatia joined the EU in 2013, however the country doesn’t use the euro. In fact, it’s illegal for shops or restaurants to accept euros, but most still do. Before you leave the airport, try to exchange some money for the Croatian kuna ($1=6.50kn). There are ATMs all around Dubrovnik where you can take kuna out without a fee as well. Most restaurants and stores accept credit cards.
Because mountains that slope into the sea line the Croatian coastline, there are few sandy beaches. Many luxury hotels have their own private beaches, but the most famous sandy beach is Banje Beach (pronounced Banya Beach, from the Italian word “bagno” meaning to have a bath), also called East-West Beach. While Banje Beach is considered a “sandy beach,” it still is more rocky than what you may consider a sandy beach. You can swim in the crystal clear waters, lounge on the sand or rocky outcrop, rent a kayak, or have lunch at the East-West Restaurant located right on the beach (and turns into a dance club at night). Banje Beach is just outside the old town walls, about a five-minute walk into the old town itself.
The old town of Dubrovnik, located within the city walls, is pedestrian only and has a Venice feel to it with narrow, cobblestone walkways. There are many churches and a monastery with the third oldest functioning pharmacy in the world. The streets are a labyrinth of restaurants, cafes, shops, and square. It’s easy to wander through the walkways and get lost admiring the architecture and history.
Small islands dot the coast of Dubrovnik, which you can visit during a day trip. You can even find a hotel on some of these islands if you want to stay a while.
Lokrum is the closest and most visited island for tourists and locals alike. There is a daily ferry from the Dubrovnik old harbor to Lokrum that runs hourly. The Benedictine abbey and monastery were founded in 1023 on Lokrum and the monks lived here until 1808. Local legend has it that a French army general ordered the monastery to close and expelled the monks, the message conveyed to the monks by three aristocrats. The monks tried to prevent this but failed, so on their last night on the island they pulled their hooded cloaks over their heads and walked around the island single file three times with lit candles upside down so they left a wax trail around the island and chanted a terrible curse for anyone who tried to buy the island for their own personal pleasure.
The curse started with the three aristocrats who conveyed the general’s message to the monks; one drowned, one was killed by his servant, and the last jumped out a window. The wife of Austrian emperor Maximilian bought the island with part of her marriage Dowry and Maximilian had a mansion built on the island for them. Later, a firing squad killed Maximilian in Mexico and his wife went crazy. Misfortune followed every new owner of the island for centuries: aristocrats and monarchs went bankrupt, were shipwrecked, or were killed in strange ways.
During the war, several grenades hit the island but fires would not start. Even covered completely in trees and dry foliage, a spark would not ignite and Lokrum was spared of any devastation or destruction during the siege and bombardment of Dubrovnik. The legend is that Lokrum will always be safe to visit by day, but don’t stay overnight!
On Lokrum you can find the Fort Royal Castle (also known as Maximilian’s Castle) at the highest point of the island, the old abandoned monastery, the Heavenly Garden with 500 kinds of flora, a large meadow with parks and fields, wild peacocks from the Canary Islands that wander free all over the island, a small salt-water grotto called the Dead Sea, a naturist beach (that’s code for nude beach), and the Purple Cave, only available by boat.
The island of Koločep is one of the Elaphiti Islands and the closest island to the north of Dubrovnik. It has an area of 0.94 square miles. It’s the southernmost inhabited island in Croatia with a population of 163. Koločep is accessible by ferry, taxi boat, or an island day trip boat to the Elaphiti Islands.
Šipan is the northernmost island of the Elaphiti Islands with an area of 6.3 square miles and a population of 500. It’s the largest island of the group. There are more shops in the port area of Šipan than Koločep. Šipan is accessible by ferry, taxi boat, or an island day trip boat to the Elaphiti Islands.
Lopud is a small island of 1.79 square miles and a population of 220. Lopud is famous for its sandy beaches on the opposite side of the island from the port, accessible by golf cart. Lopud also has the most hotels for those who want to get away from the mainland and have a quiet, relaxing getaway. Lopud is accessible by boat from Dubrovnik, Trsteno, Orasac, and Zaton, or an island day trip boat to the Elaphiti Islands.
Things To Do
Because tourism is the major industry in Dubrovnik, there are so many activities available!
The kayak tour takes you around Lokrum Island and the guide points out fun facts and trivia about the island. Then, we go into the Purple Cave on the far side of Lokrum, accessible only by water and named for the purple seaweed that covers the rocks. The water in the Purple Cave is the clearest water around and you can see every pebble at the bottom of the ocean floor even though it’s over 150 feet deep. After passing quickly by the nude beach on Lokrum, the guide tells stories about the buildings located on the water just south of old town.
Then, the kayakers paddle to a private rocky beach accessible only by water and have a sandwich for lunch, snorkel, and cliff jump. After about 45 minutes, everyone heads to the old harbor of Dubrovnik for one last lesson about the town, and after a 3 hour tour, the kayak trip is over. It’s a workout and not for the weak armed, but it’s fun and worthwhile! The kayak trip cost 230kn (about $35) per person.
Boat Day Trip to the Elaphiti Islands
A day trip to the Elaphiti Islands is pricey but a nice getaway. Out of season you can get this deal for around 250 kn ($38) per person including lunch on the boat and unlimited drinks, but in season it will be closer to 350 kn ($53) per person. It’s not worth negotiating the price because all the stands work for the same company. On this trip, you visit Koločep for 30 minutes, Šipan for 40 minutes, and Lopud for 2 hours. The entire trip runs from about 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Be careful, if you’re not on the boat on time, it will leave without you (yes, this happened to us!)
The cable car up the mountain that towers over Dubrovnik is a must-do while in town. You can find it just outside the city walls on the main road coming into Dubrovnik near the airport bus stop. It costs 100 kn (about $15) per person and takes about 3 minutes to get to the top. Alternatively, you can take a taxi up the mountain, take a scooter up the mountain, drive yourself up the mountain, or hike up the mountain for cheaper, but the view from the cable car is nice.
Once at the top, there is a souvenir shop, restaurant, vendors selling trinkets, and quads to go four-wheeling. In front of you, you can see Dubrovnik’s red roofs, Lokrum, and the Adriatic Sea blending in with the sky. To the right is Lapad and the Elaphiti Islands (Koločep, Šipan, and Lopud). To the left is the Croatian coastline and you can see the small village of Cavtat (also offered as a day trip by boat). Behind you is the border to Bosnia-Herzegovina, only 8 miles away. The small village Trebinje is the closest town to Dubrovnik in Bosnia and offers cheap, quality food (and gives you a reason to get your passport stamped). Though it’s only about 20 miles away, it wouldn’t be wise to attempt visiting by scooter.
Walking the castle walls is a definite when in Dubrovnik. The old castle walls date back to the 7th century AD since the city’s founding. The walls have a unique story that date back to the time when people were fleeing to Dubrovnik. Men entering the city had to bring a stone for the wall, and women entering the city had to bring two eggs. In this manner, every male resident contributed to building the wall while the women fed them. By looking at the walls now, you can see how many men moved to Dubrovnik throughout history.
There are two parts to walking the walls: the land side and the sea side. Many people don’t or can’t walk the entire thing and only do the sea side. In my opinion, this is a mistake. If you can only do one side, choose the land side. You will still be high enough above the town to see the sea but you will also be lucky enough to see the harbor and the beaches along the coast as opposed to just the sea and islands. By walking the land side, you will also be amazed at how beautiful the old town looks from above when the sun shines on the matching red roofs. The Minčeta Tower is on the land side and is worth the climb. Bring lots of water because it is hot and when it’s crowded, the going is slow. If at all possible, try to walk the entire wall. If you have any kind of ID that says you’re a student somewhere and isn’t expired, bring it! The price to walk the wall is 100 kn per person (about $15) but with a student ID, the price drops to 30 kn ($4.50).
Game of Thrones Walking Tours
Dubrovnik is a big filming location for the tv show Game of Thrones. It’s the site for King’s Landing and some scenes with Daenerys Targaryen. There are Game of Thrones walking tours for around 50€ per person ($57). This is interesting but completely unnecessary. The website https://moviemaps.org/movies/aa shows updated filming locations and will tell you exactly where you need to go to see the filming locations in Dubrovnik!
Trsteno Arboretum is the oldest arboretum in this part of the world. It dates back to the 15th century and covers 255,000 square meters. It includes a Gothic Renaissance park surrounding the 15th century summer residence, which is a monument of garden architecture, and the 19th century neo-Romantic park at Drvarica. The arboretum is about 30 minutes from Dubrovnik by car, but excursion companies will drive you there and wait for you for a fee. Thought we didn’t get there during this trip, the locals recommended it to us and I wish I could have seen it.
Cavtat is a town 9 miles south of Dubrovnik and very close to the airport. It’s a popular tourist destination and there are boat day trips to visit Cavtat from Dubrovnik. We didn’t get to visit Cavtat during our trip but saw it from our apartment and passed it going to and from the airport.
Mostar is a city and cultural capital in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It’s one of the most important cities in this region. Though we didn’t get here during our trip, another couple said it was a very beautiful city. There are day excursions to Mostar that are worth looking into (you need a passport to visit here and will add a stamp to your collection).
Montenegro is a country just south of Dubrovnik. There are 2 airports in Montenegro about two and a half hours from Dubrovnik which offer other options for flying into or out of Dubrovnik. We didn’t get to Montenegro during our trip, but there were day excursions available to Montenegro (you will need your passport to visit Montenegro and get another stamp in your collection).
I think I got all the activities offered in or around Dubrovnik, but if I forgot anything, please let me know! I hope to visit Dubrovnik again very soon and see everything I missed during the first trip!
Where To Eat
Dubrovnik is famous for its fresh seafood! There’s no real local Croatian cuisine but neighboring regions and cultures influence the cuisine. The food is fresh and excellent and decently priced, and you can find very good food at very cheap prices. My recommendation would be to order some type of seafood since it was probably caught that morning.
Konobo Lanterna is one of the best restaurants in Dubrovnik, although it’s somewhere in the maze of alleys of the old town so it can be pretty hard to find or describe where it is. If you’re lucky enough to find this place, there are daily specials for incredibly cheap prices (for example, I ordered grilled chicken, salad, and chips for 55 kn ($8.50)). There is indoor and outdoor seating, and sometimes a friendly cat looking for a handout.
Kamenice is in the main square of the old town, which you can spot from its blue and white striped chairs. They have a small menu of mostly seafood; locals recommended this place for its black risotto. I had the shrimp risotto, which was a big plate, and it was fantastic! Not bad at 76 kn ($11.50). It’s a little easier to find than Konobo Lanterna and if we had time, we would have gone here for a second meal.
Even though it’s not in the old town, Komarda is very hard to find because it’s disguised behind a row of shops just before the city walls outside of Ploče Gate, but if you can find it, definitely go here! It has a romantic atmosphere and beautiful view of the old harbor from the seaside tables. The prices here are a little higher than the other two, the seafood risotto was one of the cheapest dishes at 79 kn ($12), but you’re paying for the view and atmosphere. It’s a really wonderful little spot and I recommend going in search of it!
Poklisar is on the dock of the old harbor. We avoided this restaurant for so long because we thought it would be touristy and overpriced but we ended up here for a drink on our last night to enjoy the beautiful piano player. We had already eaten but took a look at the menu anyway and it was pretty reasonably priced! We only ordered a liter of wine for 90 kn ($13.70) and sat on the dock for over an hour. It’s very romantic and picturesque! If we had another night for dinner, that would have been the spot.
Dubrovnik is a small town and walking everywhere is easy. From the picturesque area of houses south of the old town, you can walk to the beach in about 20 minutes and the old town in about 25 minutes. There is also a bus that will take you to the old town in about 3-4 minutes. From Lapad (the peninsula above the old town), you will need to take a bus, car, or scooter to get to the old town.
If you rent a car or scooter, scout around and negotiate for the lowest price: they are in competition and not always the same price. The cheapest we found was 38€ per day for a car and 25€ per day for a scooter (insurance included). If you want to drive far, like to Trsteno Arboretum or Bosnia-Herzegovina, I recommend renting a car. If you just want to get quickly around Dubrovnik or Lapad, a scooter is your best bet since parking in the town south of old town and traffic north into Lapad can both be a big problem. Remember that because Dubrovnik is built up the side of a mountain, you will be walking up many steps to get to an apartment or hotel if it’s not right on the beach and if you tire easily or aren’t in good health a scooter can be much more helpful.
Where To Stay
*For $30 off an Airbnb booking, feel free to use my link: www.airbnb.com/c/aacree
There are different areas of Dubrovnik that offer housing. The old city is close to everything: restaurants, shops, nightlife, tours, activities, excursions, etc. It’s a little more expensive and the views aren’t as impressive as some other areas, but if convenience is important, this is a good choice.
The area south of old town is one of the richer areas of Dubrovnik with big houses and amazing views. Since the houses are built up the mountain, it’s like stadium seating for houses and almost every house has a picturesque view of the island Lokrum and some even have a view of old town Dubrovnik from above. The only downside here is that you will be climbing a lot of stairs to get up to the apartment or hotel, although there are buses that will take you part of the way. I stayed in this area and I would recommend this area because the incredible views that you wake up to just can’t get old.
Lapad is the peninsula north of old town. You can find most of the cheapest, and most expensive, hotels here. It’s a little far from old town and out of the way from the bustling area of the city, but things are more spread out, less claustrophobic, and there’s less traffic out there. Most of the beaches here belong to hotels so if you’re not staying in that particular hotel, you have to pay to use their beach facilities. There’s another port area in Lapad so lots of cruises pull in here. We took a scooter ride out to Lapad just to see this side of Dubrovnik and it felt like a different world. Before we booked an airbnb in the south part of Dubrovnik, I had booked a hotel on Lapad and I’m glad I changed our itinerary to stay in the south!
The Elaphiti Islands have a few hotels on them, mostly on Lopud. The islands are all beautiful but very small with not much going on. If you’re looking for a very quiet, private, do-nothing vacation, these might be a good bet, but the ferries don’t run all night so if you’re looking for a late dinner or nightlife, it might not be a good choice. There are boat taxis that can take you back and forth to old town. If you want to visit the islands without staying on them, you can do a day trip out there, or even stay for one night.