It’s not hard to see why Dubrovnik is one of Europe’s most popular destinations. With its impeccably clean stone streets, to its picturesque mass of orange terracotta rooftops, to its massive stone walls that have been used in so many films, there aren’t many old towns left in Europe that are as grand as this.
The bad news? Dubrovnik isn’t anyone’s best kept secret anymore. People have been coming for years and Game of Thrones has only added to its appeal. The old town is gridlocked with an impossible amount of tourists during the summer months and cruise ships swarm down on the city like locusts. Like every city in Europe that draws in tourists, visit in the fall and you’ll quickly see why it’s as special as it is.
Dubrovnik was one of the many places I visited on my Balkans trip. Read about it in my perfect two week itinerary for the Balkans.
Where we stayed
As Dubrovnik is an incredibly popular tourist destination, you’d be right to assume there is an incredible amount of accommodation options available. Whatever your budget, there are options to be had in Dubrovnik. Originally, I planned on staying in the old town but quickly learned that old town + summer equals a complete zoo so that option went out the door. Airbnb is very popular in Dubrovnik and there are some absolutely amazing options to be had.
We ended up booking an apartment in the Ploce neighborhood directly behind the old town. Ploce is the closet neighborhood to the old town and is famous for its houses that are located on the mountain with direct views of the Adriatic and the old town. While the hotel options are limited in this neighborhood (Excelsior Hotel looked amazing), there is an abundance of guesthouses and Airbnbs.
We stayed in an Airbnb with perhaps some of the best views of Dubrovnik (I suppose all their neighbors could make the same claim). Our apartment had a deck with 180 degree views of the Adriatic, Lokrum island, and the old town. The room itself was nothing to write home about, but the views more than justified the $100/nt we paid.
We would make it a priority to wake up early in the morning to enjoy the sunrise with bread, cheese, and salame from the nearby grocery store as well as be home in time to enjoy the sunset with Croatian wine. The owner of the house was a very nice Croatian woman (forget her name) that made sure we always had what we needed. It’s not hard to see why the locals are so happy when they get to wake up to that view every morning.
To stay in Ploce, be prepared to walk up many stairs. These neighborhoods have been around for centuries and stairs are the only mode of transportation. From our apartment to the old town, it was almost 400 stairs! The location is also perfect because the stairs literally took us directly into the old town. Coming home from a big meal was tough I have to admit. Our amazing views were paid for by sweat and sore calves. Well worth it in my opinion.
Where to eat and drink
Having just come from Belgrade, Serbia and Kotor, Montenegro, I had grown accustomed to the ridiculously cheap prices of the former Yugoslavian countries. I was not prepared for Dubrovnik. Restaurants and alcohol are shockingly expensive. The city has really learned to capitalize on its tourist craze. The prices of drinks and food in the old town is roughly the same as prices in New York City.
Among the countless restaurants in the old town and surrounding areas, 90% of them serve the exact same menu. Octopus salad, Risotto (hugely popular in Dubrovnik) with different offerings, grilled seafood dishes, and simple meat dishes are on every single menu. Prices are roughly the same with risotto priced around 100 Kunas, and seafood/meat dishes between 150-200 kunas. A glass of wine is 25-35 kunas, and beer is 20-30 kunas. Delicious gelato can be had for 10 kunas however!
After I got over the sticker shock, there is top notch dining to be had here!
Lady Pi Pi
At the recommendation of our host, this place serves some of the best grilled meats in Dubrovnik. Located inside the old town near the Northern entrance, this restaurant serves up delicious seafood, chicken, beef, and of course cevapi all on a grill. I could smell the restaurant from 100 meters away and it was intoxicating indeed. There is always a queue so make sure to arrive early and prepare to wait. There’s nothing bad on this menu, seriously. But if you must need recommendations, get a bottle of the house wine and the mixed seafood platter and enjoy. The food and service here are top notch, as evidenced by its high ratings on TripAdvisor so make sure to eat here!
Also, come here for lunch and enjoy an amazing view of the old town with your copious amounts of meat and wine. Doesn’t get much better than this!
Horizont was also recommended to us by our host. Located right outside of the old town, this restaurant is actually located on the stairs leading up into the Ploce area. The restaurant’s main draw is its outdoor seating set on the steps, with views of the sea. The food here is absolutely fantastic. Although it offers the same generic menu every other restaurant offers in Dubrovnik, I thought all of their “generic” items were delicious.
Cafe Bar Buza
One of the best happy hour options in Dubrovnik. This ultra unique bar offers sits at the base of the Dubrovnik walls and offers some of the best views in Dubrovnik. It’s a naturally formed cave that spans three stories and while not much in the way of foods, this place has all I needed for beers, wines, and cocktails. Buza translates into “hole”, which is crazily appropriate as this bar is literally a “hole in the wall”. This place is perfect for a drink at sunset or immediately after the city walls tour!
What to do in Dubrovnik
Walls of Dubrovnik
In my opinion, the fort walls of Dubrovnik’s old town is the best attraction in town. Not only is there an immense amount of history to be learned but it also offers some of the best views of this picturesque UNESCO world heritage site. I’d highly recommend taking a tour of the walls. There are plenty to choose from but I thought my guide from Dubrovnik Walks was fantastic.
The cost of the tour is ~120 kunas and lasts for 2.5 hours. They’re offered two times a day, once in the morning, and another around sunset. There is also an additional admission cost of 150 kunas that is separate from the tour price and tickets can be purchased after entering from the west gate.
I thought our guide did an amazing job explaining the history of Dubrovnik. The walls were first built in the 9th century AD. Since then, the walls have been damaged, repaired, restored, and fortified many times. Dubrovnik never had much of an army throughout its history so the walls were its most important defense. During the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, shelling from the Serbian army camped on the Herzogovina mountain side damaged the walls and many of the houses within the old town.
The views are absolutely fantastic from the walls. It’s hard to take a bad picture because you have the blue Adriatic on one side, mountains on the other, and ultra quaint buildings with their iconic orange rooftops. Orange rooftops which in fact, have only been around since after the war ended as UNESCO provided Dubrovnik with funding to replace the rooftops on the buildings damaged during the war!
The walls do get packed during the day so I would recommend visiting in the early morning or for the sunset. There is no shade on the wall and it gets very hot during the summer months, which is another reason why I recommend visiting during those times.
Day trip to Lokrum
Everyone in Dubrovnik kept telling me to go to Lokrum, especially during the summer months when tourists are everywhere. Lokrum is the nearby island which also happened to be the film location for Game of Thrones’ Iron Throne and Qarth.
It’s a short 20 minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik with ferries leaving from the Old Town dock every half hour. Roundtrip tickets are 100 kunas.
The island itself offers hiking trails, and “beaches” as the locals like to refer to it. Beaches in this part of the Mediterranean mostly constitute rock beaches. While I’m not a fan of rock beaches, it was nice to escape Dubrovnik, especially as there is only one semi-public beach in town. This island also does see its fair share of tourists, as everyone else seemed to get the same memo as me: “escape the city by going to Lokrum”. This island doesn’t allow overnight stays or cars. In fact, the only permanent residents of this island are the abundant amounts of peacocks that roam freely and interact with visitors.
Ride the cable car
One of the most popular sights after the old town is the cable car that goes to the top of the city. The cable car is located just outside of the old town a few blocks inwards into the Ploce district. The 778 meter journey gives you breathtaking views over the Old City. The upper station has two panoramic terraces equipped with binocular telescopes, a snack bar, a panoramic restaurant, a souvenir shop and more. The lower station is at the beginning of King Petar Krešimir Street where tickets can be bought for 120 kunas.
Not only are the views spectacular but the Restaurant Panorama at the top of Mount Srđ is fantastic for its food. The tram leaves every 15 minutes and runs until 10pm. I met plenty of people in Dubrovnik that did the cable car to rave reviews. Since we stayed on the hill in the Ploče district with amazing views of the old town on our front porch (for free), there really was no need to go on the cable car. Highly recommended otherwise however!
Day trip to Korcula
There are plenty of day trip options to be had in Dubrovnik. The most popular ones are day trips to the nearby island of Korcula, or a day trip to Kotor, Montenegro, and a day trip to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since I was already in Kotor before coming to Dubrovnik, I elected to check out Korcula for the day which was an amazing time. I would highly recommend if time warrants to visit Korcula for the day. It is much more relaxed and has far fewer tourists than Dubrovnik.
We also went on a day trip to Mostar, stopping in the Kravice waterfalls, but we stayed the night in Mostar as it was amazing and totally warrants at least one night!
Tourism problem in Dubrovnik
I made the time old mistake of visiting Dubrovnik in the summer. The crowds were endless and the old town felt more of an amusement park than a historical center. The fault is not all on the tourists either. Tourism is the biggest industry in Croatia, especially in Dubrovnik. Cruise ships bring in thousands of people at once, and businesses take advantage by catering to them. After spending a few days here, it’s not difficult to see why it’s such a draw for visitors.
Our guide for the Walls tour told us UNESCO paid a visit to Dubrovnik a few years ago. The same UNESCO that helped the cit rebuild after the war by providing entirely new roofing for most of the buildings in the old town. Yes, the iconic orange stucco of the old town is in fact only 20 years old! UNESCO told the town of Dubrovnik that there were far too many tourists for the old town to sustain. They recommended no more than 8000 visitors a day. Cruise ships alone bring in almost 8,000 people a day in the summer months! Anyway, I’m sure it won’t be long before Dubrovnik follows suit with the popular Italian cities and does something to curb tourism.
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