A FIRST TIMER'S GUIDE TO DUBROVNIK, CROATIA

July 20, 2020

 

Dubrovnik truly is a medieval wonderland. Most visitors spend a mere day in King's Landing, but I could easily spend an entire week on this stretch of Croatia's Adriatic coast. The region is absolutely stunning, and I'd be hard-pressed to find a more perfect summer destination in Europe. The country has become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks in part to HBO's Game of Thrones. On a summer day when cruise ships are in port, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in Old Town are quite common. As you plan your visit, consider spending three or four days in Dubrovnik. The main tourists sites can be covered in a day, but with careful planning a longer stay affords you the time to experience the city without crowds, and the luxury of soaking in the dreamy coast at a relaxed pace. I've put together a complete guide to Dubrovnik below - it covers all my favorites spots in and around the city, as well as tips for sighseeing, beaches, daytrips, photos, hotels and restaurants.

 

Banje Beach is one of the loveliest in Croatia. 

 

So much atmosphere tucked away Old Town's corridors. 

 

THINGS TO DO IN DUBROVNIK

BANJE BEACH

Dubrovnik's main beach is one of the prettiest in the country, thanks to its spectacular views of Old Town. Banje Beach sits just south of the city walls, a five-minute walk from Ploče Gate. The beach is large, but it does get busy, especially during the summer months. For a spectacular view of Old Town and the Adriatic, stop for a photo at the top of the steps that lead down to the beach. It's one of my favorite views in Dubrovnik.

 

BUZA BAR

Built into the cliffs below the medieval walls, Buza Bar is an idyllic spot to grab a cold beer on a summer day. The bar sits tucked away in Old Town, almost impossible to find in Dubrovnik's maze of alleyways without directions or Google Maps. A hole in the wall (literally) leads to a small passageway that opens up to sweeping views of the Adriatic Sea where white umbrellas are scattered up the cliff. Grab a table and watch the cliff jumpers plunge anywhere from 20 to 60 feet into the water. 

 

CAVTAT 

A charming seaside village located approximately 18 km from Dubrovnik, reachable via a 45-minute ferry ride. The historic waterfront is lined with picturesque churches, al fresco dining and tiny shops - a vibrant spot to grab dinner on a summer evening.

 

CITY WALLS

The 2 km stroll along the medieval walls of Old Town is a highlight of any trip to Dubrovnik. The topside panoramas of the city are sweeping along a path that leads through Minceta Tower, Bokar Fort, Revelin Fort and Pile Gate. The walk takes approximately 1.5 to two hours, and there are three entry points at Inner Pile Gate, St. Lucas Fortress and St. John's Fortress. 

 

LOKRUM ISLAND 

Lokrum Island is a lovely daytrip destination for travelers with extra days to fill in Dubrovnik. Ferries leave twice an hour from Porporela, located just outside of the Old Town walls, and it's about a 20-minute journey. The island is small, home to a Benedictine Monastery, Dead Sea swimming hole and botanical garden all reachable on foot. If those sound underwhelming, the real reason to visit is the Adriatic coastline, riddled with rocks and swim ladders for an idyllic day of sunbathing. 

 

LOVRIJENAC

Also known as St. Lawrence's Fortress, Lovrijenac is a spectacular fortification that sits atop jagged cliffs 37-meters above the sea. The fortress peninsula faces the city walls, providing a great vantage point for photos of Old Town. Lovrijenac has been featured in the HBO series Game of Thrones

 

OLD TOWN 

Spend a day exploring Dubrovnik's Old Town. A stroll through the pedestrian maze of limestone alleys is like stepping back in time. The medieval city is home to plenty of sights, easily discovered by aimless wanders including Loggia Square, Onofrio Fountain, Rector's Palace, Dubrovnik Cathedral, Pile Gate & Ploce Gate and the Stradun (main boulevard).

 

SULIC BEACH

Sulic Beach is far less popular than Banje Beach, but it's much more atmospheric. The tiny beach sits in a medieval nook, tucked away outside the city walls. It feels like taking a dip in 13th century Croatia. 

 

The dreamy coastline of Lokrum Island, a popular daytrip destination from Dubrovnik.

 

Onofrio Fountain sits near Pile Gate.

 

For this viewpoint head to the Lovrijenac Fortress. 

 

Hello, King's Landing!

 

WHERE TO STAY IN DUBROVNIK

HOTEL EXCELSIOR DUBROVNIK

For travelers looking to splurge in Croatia, this is the place to do it. Like most properties located along this stretch of coast, Hotel Excelsior is built into the rocks, and the seaside location is incorporated into almost every aspect of the hotel. The rocky sunbathing area is perched just above water where guests are treated to dreamy views of Old Town. Additionally, the on-site restaurant Prora seats guests beneath medieval archways that open up to the sea. The hotel interior is modern, minimalist chic, but it's the location that makes splurging worth the stay. 

 

HOTEL KOMPAS DUBROVNIK

Hotel Kompas is beautiful modern property that overlooks Lapad Bay. It sits just three miles from Old Town, but that translates to a 45-minute walk or 20-minutes by public bus. Not ideal for tourists that want to be within a stone's throw of the city, but a quiet retreat for those that want an escape. The hotel is equipped with a pool and dozens of sunbeds and umbrellas on neighboring Lapad Bay.

 

LA VITA E BELLA 

La Vita e Bella sits in the heart of Old Town, a short walk from the Stradun and other Old Town sights. The cozy three-story space houses two bedrooms and two bathrooms, but can accommodate up to six guests. It's a classic Croatian structure - white building, green shutters and an orange tiled roof. 

 

VILLA DUBROVNIK

Located just down the street from Hotel Excelsior, Villa Dubrovnik is a five-star property just 15 minutes walking from Ploce Gate. The hotel's location is stunning, built into the cliffs overlooking idyllic views of the Adriatic. The sunbathing area is particularly lovely with white loungers and white umbrellas scattered along the rocks. Rooms are spacious and modern, all with views of the sea.

 

This part of Lokrum Island is one of my favorite spots to lounge near Dubrovnik.

 

Most Dubrovnik daytrip ferries leave from the Porporela, along the harbor.

 

​Cliff jumpers at the iconic Buza Bar.

 

Croatia is one of the best countries in Europe for fresh mussels.

 

WHAT TO EAT IN DUBROVNIK

There is not shortage of food options within the city walls of Old Town, outdoor dining spills onto the plazas, alleys and streets of Dubrovnik. Below are just a handful of recommendations.

 

FISH RESTAURANT PROTO

I remember trying to get a table at Fish my first time in Dubrovnik, and it was absolutely impossible. This family-owned restaurant has been around for more than 100 years, and sits in the heart of Old Town. The food is Michelin reviewed and the speciality is seafood, of course. While the menu changes based on availability, offerings often include fresh fish, mussels, shellfish, crab and scallops. 

 

FOURTY FOUR RESTAURANT

Romantic restaurant setting located just off of the Stradun in Old Town. Forty Four Restaurant is indoors, so not much in terms of views, but there are a handful of alleyway tables. Artful dishes include a range of fresh seafood, pastas and meats. Reservations recommended. 

 

GRADSKA KAVANA ARSENAL

Gradska Kavana Arsenal sits on one of the main square's in Old Town - the perfect setting for outdoor dining during the summer, especially in the evening. Menu includes Croatian specialties like mussels, sea bass, seafood risotto, oysters and more.

 

LADY PI-PI

One of my favorite meals was a seafood feast on the Lady Pi-Pi rooftop terrace. It's a bit of a hike up to reach the restaurant, but the delicious food and views over the city make it well worth the extra effort. The restaurant is tiny, and they do not take reservations. 

 

NAUTIKA RESTAURANT

This two-star Michelin restaurant sits outside the city walls near Pile Gate with sweeping views of Bokar-Festung and the Lovrijenac Fortress. Nautika is a fine dining experience with a menu that serves up local fresh seafood cuisine, as well as some meats. It's been previously named one of the most romantic restaurants in the world by Conde Nast Traveller.

 

To get this view over the Dubrovnik, walk the city walls. 

 

 Medieval details.

 

Lokrum Island. 

 

GETTING TO DUBROVNIK

Dubrovnik is accessible by land, sea and air, making it an ideal city to fly into for island hopping, or road trips through Croatia and neighboring Montenegro (I've done both). The international airport connects Dubrovnik to domestic destinations, as well as dozens of cities throughout Europe and the Middle East. The easiest way to town from the airport is the Dubrovnik Airport Shuttle Bus. It sits parked just outside the terminal exit and stops at Pile Gate before continuing onward to the main station in Gruz Port. It's a 30-40 minute journey, and tickets can be purchased on the bus.

 

GETTING AROUND DUBROVNIK

Dubrovnik is a pedestrian friendly city with most sights located within the Old Town city walls, or just outside. For visitors interested in daytrips, there are ferries that connect Dubrovnik to nearby Lokrum Island or neighboring Cavtat. A car is not necessary while in Dubrovnik. 

 

The charm of Old Town.

 

 Dubrovnik looks like a painting in the early morning when the streets are empty.

 

 Banje Beach offers incredible views of the city walls.

 

A typical summer day in Dubrovnik.

 

 Farewell, Dubrovnik.

 

 

 

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