My first encounter with Dubrovnik was of course when watching Game of Thrones, Season 2. As soon as I laid eyes on Kings Landing, I was obsessed. We spent 4 days here in 2013 and it remains one of our top destinations till date. Dubrovnik sits of the edge of the Adriatic coast and has been painstakingly preserved to maintain the old world charm. Beautiful coastal landscape, fascinating old town and great food is a lethal combination that will not fail to entice you.The stunning old city of Dubrovnik
Our Top Things to do in Dubrovnik
The main attraction in Dubrovnik is the Old Town. This tiny fortified town built on a rocky peninsula manages to pack tonnes of things to do. Beautiful cobbled streets, baroque cathedrals, palaces with high vaulted ceilings and ornate staircases packed nicely within small fortification! We spent many glorious hours just strolling up and down the Stradun exploring every nook and cranny.
Quick orientation: If you enter through the main gate, Pile Gate, one of the first things to see is the Onofrio’s Fountain. From there you hit the main thoroughfare of the city the Stradun. Keep walking ahead the more touristy sites - the Rector's Palace, the Sponza Palace and Church of St. Blaise.
The Stradun itself was fascinating - paved with polished stone blocks and flanked on both sides by stores, it seemed to the favourite hangout for both locals and tourists. Stray off the main Stradun into the alleys and up the staircases for more quaint finds that will make you fall in love with the city. Here are some of our favourites:
Visit one of the oldest Pharmacy in Europe
The pharmacy in the Franciscan monastery right at the beginning of Stradun is one of oldest functioning pharmacy in the world. The monastery itself is quite beautiful with vaulted ceilings and intricately decorated cloisters. It also houses a pharmacy museum where you can see ancient tools of the trades. In the pharmacy you can buy great skin creams made from local herbs (and following ancient Franciscan recipes!).
Walk along the City Wall
The fortifying walls provide excellent views of the Old Town as well as the sea beyond. The best time to walk is early morning (the walk opens around 8AM) when there are not many tourists and take a leisurely walk. The whole trail was very picturesque - the view of the red roofs were spectacular as was the Stradun view. Climb up the Minceta Fortress – the highest vantage point to get the most expansive view of the walled city.
Visit Mount Srd
Mt. Srd located just behind the walled city offers fantastic aerial views of Dubrovnik and Lokrum island. We had used the cable car just outside the old town for the ascent but later find out that you can drive up too (definitely the cheaper option, though I am not sure about the ease of the drive). If taking the cable car, choose your seat carefully to get the ascending view. Its quite popular to go to the restaurant/cafe on the top of the hill for a sundowner to accompany the spectacular sunset view. Since we were feeling adventurous, we took the cable car for the ascent only (a little more than half the price of the two way ticket) and took a more leisurely walk down the mountain to enjoy the view for more time.
The War Photo Museum
Though morbid and definitely not everyone's cup of tea, the War Photo museum gives a glimpse of the long conflicted history of the region. There were collections of iconic photos from the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo when break-up of former Yugloslavia took place. They also had images from more recent wars (elaborating on war photo techniques). It was a sobering experience and definitely shows a different side of the city (besides the beautiful views that attracts most tourists).
There are many tiny islands dotting the Dalmatian coast close to Dubrovnik. Easiest one to reach is Lokrum - a 15 min ride on a water taxi from the old Harbour. The island is a Nature Reserve with idyllic salt-water lakes, botanical garden, shady walkways and even peacocks! Visit the Benedictine Monastery (side note for the Game of Thrones fan, this location was used for scenes that take place in Qarth!). Lokrum has no beach so you will see people jumping of the rocky shores for a quick dip. We recommend swimming in the "dead sea" though - the salt water lake in the midst lush greenery with a very tiny beach. Stop for lunch at the restaurant at the monastery - they make a mean Octopus Salad (in fact it is a speciality of this region).
Kayak the Adriatic
As kayaking novices, kayaking in the Adriatic was quite exhilarating. The half day tour started from a small port just outside the Pile Gate. The route went around the Lokrum island before heading across the bay to a hidden cave beach where we had lunch and did snorkelling (all snorkelling gear was provided). The instructor accompanies you (and helps you too when you are stuck) during the tour. By the end, our arms were killing us but every time the cool breeze and spray of the sea water hit our faces, we felt wonderfully refreshed!
Buza bar was definitely not a new find - there were already paeans about it on the internet. However in spite of the troves of tourists, the sunset view accompanied with a glass of wine is too good to miss.
When to go to Dubrovnik?
Over the last few years, Dubrovnik's popularity has grown exponentially. Best months to avoid crowds are September - October, which most tourists often overlook. Lesser number of cruise ships dock during these months so you can enjoy the perfect vacation without the boisterous crowd. Hotels are cheaper during the shoulder season and it also provides the perfect opportunity to enjoy the region's grape and olive harvests.
Where to stay in Dubrovnik?
We had chosen to stay in the Old Town so that we had all the time to explore the Old Town - especially early in the morning and late nights when the crowd has thinned down. In case you plan to do the same, find out exact directions to your hotel (it took us quite a while to find our B&B) and be prepared to lug your suitcases up the stairs. If you want to stay away from the madding crowd (and pay lesser as well), check out the nearby fishing village of Cavtat.
What to eat in Dubrovnik?
Fresh seafood is definitely the way to go in Dubrovnik. We often found great octopus salads and mussels in wine sauce in the smaller restaurants and cafes in the side streets off Stradun. Visit Lokanda Peskarija just outside the wall at the Old Harbour to taste the exquisite squid ink risotto. The local produce of figs, berries, oranges are also very good. Grab some along with some bread and cheese for a mini picnic when visiting Lokrum.
Is it Stroller Friendly?
The Old Town in Dubrovnik sadly is not very stroller friendly. Other than the Stradun which is flat, for most things you will need to navigates a series of steps with jostling tourists while carrying your bundle of joy and the stroller. Noise levels are definitely high in the old city and tourists hang around till wee hours. Staying in Lapad is probably the better, which is much quieter and much more stroller-friendly than the more hilly neighbourhoods closer to Old Town.