Our first stop on our Croatian adventure: Dubrovnik. Way down in the Southern tip of the Croatian coast along the stunning turquoise waters of the Adriatic sea, this ancient walled city is one of the most beautifully preserved medieval cities in all of Europe.
Dubrovnik has become an increasingly popular tourist destination in the past decade (thanks in no small part to its portrayal as Kings Landing on HBO’s Game of Thrones), and it certainly has the crowds to prove it. But don’t write off this city as an over-crowded tourist trap; it is truly a spectacular place that everyone should see at least once in their life. There’s a reason it’s called the Pearl of the Adriatic!
Dubrovnik is charming in the same way that Venice is charming, despite the hoards of tourists. Maybe it is the fact that the old town itself is completely car free (not that it has a choice, other than the main promenade none of the streets are wide enough for cars anyway!) Still, I really wish more cities (in the US especially!) would go car free; it just makes them that much more enjoyable for tourists and locals alike.
Most people who have issues with Dubrovnik cite the crowds as the main reason they dislike it; and they’re probably the same people that dislike Venice for the same reason.
Considering how crowded it was when we were there during the shoulder season, I can only imagine what it’s like during the peak summer months. It’s a popular European cruise ship stop, so the crowd volume can vary wildly depending on how many ships are in port. (It’s a bit hard to navigate, but this site has information about how many cruise ships will be in port each day. Try to plan around the highest traffic days if you can!)
That said, even with the crowds it’s not impossible to escape them, despited being walled in (literally). Most of the people cluster on the main promenade and walk around the city walls. Head a few blocks on either side, or venture outside of the walls, and any anxiety you may have felt will slowly fade away.
Dubrovnik a small town, so unless you plan to take day trips to islands or other attractions nearby, two days is the perfect amount of time to get to know this ancient city.
(If you’re interested in seeing on overview of our entire 2 week itinerary in Croatia, I’ve written up a summary of our trip here. I’ll be posting more detailed accounts of each location in the coming months!)
True story: as we were wandering the cobbled streets cooing at the cute street cats that seemed to be everywhere, two young girls ran by carrying a plastic bag full of raw fish.
They dashed up and down alleyways and peered around corners, calling out “Meowmeow!” as they searched for any cat they could find.
Once they found one, they threw down a whole fish (yes, an entire fish) in front of the creature, who promptly picked the whole thing up in its mouth and bounded off to a dark corner to enjoy its meal, as the girls bounded off looking for another lucky feline.
Needless to say, the cats of Dubrovnik are very well fed.
The Bitter and the Sweet
There are beautiful orange trees everywhere in Dubvrovnik, their fruit I’m sure tempting many a weary traveler. I would have loved to see someone try to sneak a bite, as all these beautiful trees are in fact bitter oranges, which aren’t exactly pleasant for eating (to put it lightly).
Bitter oranges are an integral part of Dubvrovnik’s long culinary tradition, and you’ll definitely see proof of this as you explore the city and its many shops, selling everything from bitter orange-infused sea salts to bitter orange gelato to more traditional bitter orange jam and candied orange peels.
Speaking of gelato… the Italian influence is front and center in Dubrovnik, and the ice cream is no exception. We found a few really excellent gelato shops during our short time there, and certainly made the most of it.
Overall we found Croatian gelato to be noticeably lighter than its Italian counterpart, more dairy-forward without the rich custardy feel of the Northern Italian stuff. From what I’ve read, it’s probably more like Southern Italian gelato (which I don’t have much experience with), which is thickened with starch as opposed to eggs.
But lighter gelato doesn’t mean less delicious gelato; in fact I’d argue it’s better, as you can eat more of it!
Our favorite shops were Peppino’s (pictured above, and a dangerously close location to our apartment) as well as Dolce Vita and their famous Dubrovnik bitter orange gelato (YUM!)
Here on the Wall
If you do decide to walk the city walls (and this is what Dubrovnik is known for, so I’d highly recommend it!) definitely go first thing in the morning. You’ll beat the cruise ship crowds as well as the weather (there is little to no shelter on the wall, so you are completely susceptible to the elements. In the summer I imagine it can get quite hot, however on the day we did it it was windy and cold).
If you can’t make it first thing in the morning, wait until after 3pm or so when, again, the cruise ship crowds start to diminish. Just make note of the closing time, as the full circle does take a solid 2 hours to complete, and you don’t want to get stuck in the middle when the wall closes for the night.
You can also buy tickets online ahead of time – helpful if you want to skip the ticket line entirely! You have to pick a date ahead of time, but there is no fixed time for advanced tickets, so you can head up any time you want.
Dubrovnik was heavily bombed in the 1990s, and from the vantage point of the city walls you can definitely see the aftermath. While the majority of the city rebuilt (you can tell the new roofs which contrast starkly to the old ones), there are still visible reminders of this violent period in Croatian history.
Planning your own trip to Croatia? I’ve compiled some of our favorite eats and activities for your convenience! I know trusted recommendations are critical when I’m planning our travels, so I hope you find this useful!
Where to Eat:
Peppino’s – Our favorite gelato in Dubrovnik. The gelato in Croatia has a much lighter texture than Italy, which makes it different but no less enjoyable (and the fact that it is less rich just means you can have more, right?) We wandered in here after their display stopped us in our tracks. And the ice cream itself didn’t disappoint!
Dolce Vita – Our second favorite gelato in the city. Their signature flavor is a Dubrovnik bitter orange that is utterly fabulous! It also serves a full menu of crepes, pastries and beverages.
Poklisar – Great seafood right on the harbor. The squid ink risotto was amazing!
Panorama restaurant – Located at the top of Mount Srd, this restaurant boasts absolutely amazing views of the city and the whole coastline. Worth the splurge for the view alone, but definitely make a reservation! Also, it’s windy up there, so bring layers (they do have headers and blankets, which was much appreciated).
Beach Bar Dodo – fun bar right on the water, between fort Lovrijenac and Gradac park. Take a seat in one of the bar swings if you dare!
What do Do:
City Walls – A must when visiting Dubrovnik. I recommend buying your tickets ahead of time and starting first thing in the morning as the walls can get very crowded with day trippers from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.
Fort Lovrijenac – Outside of the walls, this fort sits up on a hill and boasts one of the best views of the old town center. Entrance to the fort is included with your city walls ticket.
Gradac Park – Keep walking past Fort Lovrijenac and you’ll find yourself in Gradac Park. The park itself is wooded and not terribly interesting, however from the edge of the cliffs you’ll find some of the best views of the gorgeous turquoise waters (some of my favorite photos came from this spot!)
Mount Srd – Take the cable car up to the top of Mount Srd for incredible views of the city and the entire coastline.
Where to Stay:
We opted to stay in an AirBnB within the old town walls. It turned out to be a perfect central (yet quiet!) location and was very reasonably priced for two couples.
From Dubrovnik we hopped a high-speed ferry and made our way 4 hours North to Split, where we spent 3 days eating and exploring and island hopping.
More on that soon! ;)