There’s a reason Dubrovnik is known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic Sea”… With its white stone and walled city, this top tourist destination in the Mediterranean sparkles like a jewel in the sapphire waters, beckoning you and making it very hard for you to leave! If you adore clean blue water, medieval towns, fresh produce and European vibes then this is a city you need to visit! I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days exploring this Croatian wonder in September 2018 and am looking forward to returning for a longer stay in 2019 as there is plenty to admire and explore here.
Dubrovnik which is now one of the world’s top tourist destinations, is a city located on the southern “Dalmatian coast” in Croatia and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1970’s. The history of this city dates way back to the 7th & 8th centuries when it was known as “Ragusa” and is thought to have been discovered by Greek sailors or refugees. So it comes as no surprise that Dubrovnik also has the nickname of the “Croatian Athens”! There’s so much history here which is evident as soon as you glimpse the Baroque, Gothic & Romanesque styled architecture. Being in this walled city transports you out of the 21st century back into the times of kings, queens, castles and, maybe even dragons!
This Croatian destination is currently enjoying an unprecedented boom to its fame worldwide for being known as “Kings Landing” (the capital of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms) in the epic Game of Thrones series, which is due to wrap up its last ever season starting in April 2019. In fact a Google of search of Dubrovnik will bring up Game of Thrones as the second option in search engine results! It’s not difficult to understand why the producers selected this beautiful city to be the real star of the show, so let’s look at the different things I loved here!
A medieval city
Arriving from the airport and on the way to my air bnb, I vividly recall the taxi driving down a two- lane road along the coast, the gorgeous sea out to the left and the sunshine illuminating glimpses of an old city. Dubrovnik is a medieval city which was fortified by walls and I was already aware that passing through the wall gates are still the way in which you enter the city.
Looking up at the impressive Minčeta Tower, with the Croatian flag flying proudly in the sunshine, was an exciting moment for me as I came closer to entering the city. It wasn’t until I walked up to the main entrance of Pile Gate, with inner and outer doors on each side of the wall and massive drawbridge, that I realised this truly was going to be unlike any other destination I had ever experienced.
Exploring the Old Town
Once you’re through the Pile gate entrance and inside the wall surrounding the city, you’ll find yourself in love with the charmingly pretty and picturesque vibes of Dubrovnik’s Old Town. From architecture to cafes, museums to palaces, monasteries to shops – there is plenty of culture and sights to keep you entertained! This pedestrian only city provides a myriad of architectural styles from Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance periods, with these styles reflected in many sights, like the entrance to the city of the Gothic styled Pile City Gate which connects to a wooden drawbridge.
Dubrovnik’s patron saint is St Blaise, so it comes as no surprise that the Church of St. Blaise is adored by the locals. Another iconic sight is the city bell tower which looks onto Orlando Column and the Sveti Vlaho Church. The 31 metre bell tower dates to the 15th century and still chimes beautifully around noon every day. Close to St Blaise’s Church and the Orland Column is the Rector’s Palace, a Gothic and Renaissance architecturally designed building which now serves as the history department of the Dubrovnik museum.
Take a walk down Stradun
Whether you’re a local or a tourist, the 300-metre-long limestone paved Placa main street, or “Stradun” as the locals call, it is a must see. Along this esplanade, apart from many architectural sights you will be able to find many bars, cafés and the expected touristy stores including the official Game of Thrones shop. I also discovered one of the most amazing lolly shops I’ve ever seen in my life with barrels full of sugared goods but managed not to buy anything as I was saving my appetite for lunch!
As there are no vehicles allowed inside the old town, you’re free to roam, take selfies, explore the historical buildings and admire the local cats who regally decorate the steps outside shops or restaurants here; it’s almost as if they are waiting for their turn to be featured on your Insta feed! Little laneways filled with shops, hotels, restaurants and cafes spread off from the main street and it is these passageways which really provide that old town feel to Dubrovnik. One of the things I noticed was that each restaurant, cafe, shop or hotel had its own lantern outside with its name on it out the front. During the evenings the laneways are magically alive with the soft glow of lanterns, clinking of wine glasses and the hum of laughter from locals and tourists.
Amazing views from the Wall
Travelling with one of my best friends who is also Croatian has its advantages in Dubrovnik! Apart from being like a sister to me, Irena knows the language and the best things to see in this city that has a population of less than 50,000 people. The top touristy experience is to take a walk along the city walls where Dubrovnik and its beautiful old port & coastline shimmer before your eyes amidst the Adriatic Sea.
You will need to buy a ticket to enter up the steps that lead you along the top of the wall and we started our exploration of this fortification marvel early in the morning. I’d suggest to set aside half a day here to walk the entire length of the wall, so I recommend starting as soon as the entrance opens at 8am as it gets very hot by midday, even during Autumn. Also, ensure you take plenty of water with you and wear comfortable walking shoes. This is not a walk for the faint hearted as the steep incline and countless steps will provide you with a workout!
One of my most vivid memories now of Dubrovnik was walking along the wall and looking over the city towards the sea where terracotta orange tiled rooftops spread out. The old town laneways meandered off in different directions, church domes and belltowers proudly towered above buildings and the azure sea sparkled in the sunshine. It is from here on the wall where you can view the entire city with its forts, bastions, ships in the old port and Lukron Island in the distance.
Relax by the Old Town Port
At the southern end of the city you will be able to view the beautiful Old Town port, with it’s lovely harbour dotted with private sailboats owned by locals and ferries. This medieval port at the eastern end of the city is protected by the Porporela breakwater outside St John’s fortress and the Kase breakwater.
I was lucky enough to be able to take a seat on the front terrace at the stunning Gradska Kavana Arsenal Restaurant which has open air views looking over the harbour. This restaurant was once the location of Dubrovnik’s arsenal which dates back to the 12th century, repairs & storage of ship galleons were conducted here. At Gradska Kavana Arsenal you will find Mediterranean cuisine and fish at it’s very best, with attentive and friendly waiters! Not only were the drinks, food & service at the restaurant amazing but it was also the perfect place to chill, people watch and enjoy the relaxing Dubrovnik seaside vibes in a historical location.
Gradska Kavana Arsenal Restaurant – Mediterranean Cuisine
Address: Pred Dvorom 1 – Old Town, 20 000 Dubrovnik, Croatia
Opening Hours: 8am to midnight
Top things to do on my next visit:
Ride the cable car
Take the four-minute cable car ride to the peak of Mr Srd to admire the spectacular city and sea views. I’ve heard this is also one of the best spots to view the sunset and there is also a panoramic bar & restaurant up there which would be the perfect place to have drinks whilst the sun goes down. Also located here is a museum, the Orhid pearl shop and the coin blacksmithing shop.
*Traveller tip – the cable car & restaurant are closed from 1st February 2019 to 1st March 2019 for annual maintenance works.
Visit the cable car website for operating hours which change depending upon the month. During Summertime the cable car ride operates from 9am until midnight.
Cost (kn = Croatian kuna):
adult round-trip ticket–150,000 kn; adult one-way ticket–85,000 kn
Explore Lokrum Island
One of the most popular things tourists enjoy is a half day or day trip to Lokrum Island, only a 15 min ferry ride away, which overlooks the city of Dubrovnik. The island has an abundance of forest vegetation with lemons & oranges growing here as well as beautiful beaches. It’s easy to get there by boat or via ferries which depart from the Old Port approximately every half an hour, you can also rent a sea kayak if you’re feeling adventurous!
Franciscan Monastery Complex
Belonging to the Order of the Friars Minor, this 14th century monastery complex is located just past the Pile Gate, at the entrance of the walled city. There are two cloisters here, the upper one being built in the Renaissance style with arches and the lower cloister built under the Gothic- Romanesque architectural influence. With hundreds of columns, frescoes, a fountain, a library featuring over 20,000 books, a church and a pharmacy that has been operating since 1317, there is an abundance of history to be explored here.
9am to 6pm – April to October; 9am to 5 pm – November to March
Game of Thrones Tours
I didn’t take one of these tours on my first stay in the city however being a huge GoT fan myself there’s no way I couldn’t mention this in a guide to Dubrovnik! Any Google search will provide a myriad of tour operators and guides ready to help you explore the many parts of the city where this epic show is filmed, with memorable sights such as the Lovrijenic Fortress, Blackwater Bay and the staircase from the “Walk of Shame” in Season 5. Not only are there tours for walking around the city to key locations but there are also options to board sailing ships (such as the one Daenerys Targaryen sailed on into Kings Landing) as well as a visit to the Trsteno Abroretum where the Kings Landing Palace gardens are set.
When to visit?
The best times to visit Dubrovnik are from April to mid-June and September to mid-October. During the Summer season from mid-June to August, the weather here can get very hot and the city is overcrowded with tourists. I visited in early September 2018, the weather was still quite warm and there were a few tourists around but not too many that I wasn’t able to get a seat at a restaurant or wait too long in queues.
When I reflect upon my few days in Dubrovnik, the images that spring to mind are the Old Town vibes with laneways, the medieval wall with it’s amazing views over the city and the dazzling water. I remember saying to my friend Irena that I just felt vibes of happiness in this city… The weather in September was amazing, the locals are friendly and it’s a very beautiful place to not only explore but to also relax. If I was travelling solo, then this Croatian city is a place which I could return to on my own and feel completely at ease doing so.
If you adore natural beauty, history and soaking up Mediterranean culture then I would recommend Dubrovnik as a bucket list destination. Whilst there are a lot of places in Europe (and across the world) that I have yet to explore, this city is one I am planning to return to again for a second visit as well as a longer stay! I hope you enjoyed this article on my experience in Dubrovnik, so let me know what you think and if there are any other sights, experiences or things you would recommend I could do on my next visit to this gorgeous city!