With Game of Thrones filming many of its most popular scenes in the city and the influx of cruise tourism to southern Croatia, Dubrovnik is seeing increasingly huge crowds. However, there is still a ton to see and experience in the city and with some guidance, you can escape the crowds. Here are the top, can’t miss sights and experiences in and around Dubrovnik.
What to See
Historical Old Town
Dubrovnik has an incredibly interesting history that is perhaps too complex to easily explain to tourists, much like Croatia in general. Until the 1900s, Croatia was often split between northern and southern (Dalmatia) and under different rules and even different empires. Venice often coveted Dubrovnik and the south and while ruling it, exerted a large influence on the culture and architecture. There’s also a Turkish / Ottoman influence here that you’ll notice in the architecture.
Start with a walk around town to get oriented. The old town is very walkable and small, but feels much bigger due to the winding alleys where you can escape the crowds. Many of the King’s Landing scenes of Game of Thrones were scened around these alleys, so you can take your own walk of “Shame” here.
Cable Car to Mt Srd
Mt Srd was the traditional gateway to Dubrovnik, also my Alt rock band name. From here, you get great views of the city by the bay. You can also take the hike back down to the city.
Walk the Town Walls
The absolute most tourist packed, but worthwhile experience in Dubrovnik is a walk along the old city walls. There are three entry points around the city and the most convenient are the Pile Gate, where you enter the city, or the harbor. From the top of the walls, you get great views of the entire city, the bay, and Fort Lovrijenac, also used for the Red Keep in Game of Thrones. It gets very packed, so be prepared to have to wait for pictures and for some lining up just to continue walking. Go early or late in the day to avoid crowds as much as possible.
Kayak the Bay
There’s no better way to escape the crowds and heat than by heading out on a kayak adventure on the bay. The water is mirror smooth and there is often a nice breeze. You’ll get great close up views of the walls and forts and might even see some dolphins. Tours are available right outside the Pile Gate.
Stroll the town with gelato or coffee
Croatia may not have Italian levels of gelato, but I think they make a good case for the title. Dubrovnik has a large number of stands through the old town, so pick one with some interesting flavors. Or, grab a coffee at one of the great sidewalk cafes and enjoy watching the tourists. A gelato is the perfect way to stay marginally cool while hitting up the warm marble, sunlight reflecting streets of the town.
Explore some Cloisters, Cathedrals, and Churches
Dubrovnik has no shortage of churches, there’s pretty much no corner where you can turn and not see one. The cathedral and churches are interesting, but blend together on the inside. For a little variety, check out the cloisters in the old pharmacy, which also has a neat little museum.
The churches are worth a quick peek inside, but are most interesting from the street where they feel more majestic.
Escape the City to Kotor, Montenegro
To really get away from the cruise ships or insanity of Dubrovnik, you may have to leave. Luckily, there is a perfect destination about an hour south right on the highway in the small neighboring country of Montenegro. Kotor is called the only fjords outside of Scandinavia, the landscape here is stunning with huge mountains alongside a beautiful bay.
The people in Montenegro are a bit less friendly to tourists than Croatia, which isn’t exactly a high bar either. Both cultures are more reserved and not as used to tourists yet, so expect a little coldness. Still, they aren’t unfriendly and the landscape is the main draw anyway.
Kotor city itself is also worth a quick stop with beautiful churches, a huge wall, and even fortresses that are accessible with a hike up the mountain for great views. The best way to spend time here though is to just slowly meander around the bay and enjoy the views.
Concert at the Rector’s Palace
The perfect end to a great day in Dubrovnik is a bit of culture in the Rector’s Palace. The Dubrovnik orchestra hosts a summer series in the courtyard of the medieval palace (the rector ruled the city, a bit like the Doge in Venice). Be warned that air flow isn’t great in here and it gets a bit steamy, but the acoustics are surprisingly awesome and the ambiance can’t be better. We met some cool people from around the world here and loved the music and singing.
What to Eat
Dubrovinik isn’t really awash with a large selection of affordable or simple food. It’s hard to find something that isn’t touristy or a big seafood place, so Skola is a nice alternative for a fairly light lunch. Their sandwiches are made with delicious meat and cheese on a thick bun. My only complaint was the bread to inside ratio is a bit off. This makes a great traveling companion for exploring the city. Cash only.
Let’s be honest. You came to Dubrovnik and Croatia to have some seafood. You’ll find plenty of touristy seafood hawkers around town, but the least touristy one and the one that is most consistent according to the locals is Orhan, located just outside the city walls. You’ll probably have to ask for directions, or use a phone to find the restaurant in the winding alleys under the town. When you find it though, you’ll be rewarded with this awesome view.
Load up on the seafood here, it’s worth it. Trust the waiters for suggestions, and definitely go for the octopus salad. I think we had octopus every day in Croatia and never had a bad one. It’s like all the best tasting octopus crawl their way to Croatia just to be enjoyed at restaurants.
The catch of the day is also highly suggested. You get to pick your fishy friend from a tray. I suggest the ugliest looking one, they always taste the best. Plus you’ll feel less bad about eating him. Croatia loves garlic and potatoes, just like me, so you’re guaranteed to have a delicious meal.
When you get sick of the endless seafood restaurants around town, head to Azur, a unique mix of Asian and Croatian food where spice is definitely always on the menu. Eastern Europe doesn’t do Indian or Thai level spice, so don’t worry about a lava hot meal, instead you’ll get a great balance of spice and delicious food. The seafood (surprise!) is delicious here, but go for some of the land based meats as well and you won’t be disappointed. The meatballs were incredibly tender and swimming in a delicious sauce. Dubrovnik has figured out the tourism business much better than the rest of Croatia due to the crowds, and you’ll get great service here.
Do you enjoy meat? A little bit seafood-ed out from the city? Hit up Taj Mahal, Dubrovnik’s premier Bosnian restaurant. You may have driven through a small coastal portion of Bosnia (a concession from the Yugoslav wars) on your way from Northern to Southern Croatia, but you won’t find food as awesome as this there. At Taj Mahal, the service was a bit spotty (and dresses like Abu from Aladdin) but the food is awesome and spans the full meat gamut. The Ghengis platter is a wide selection of multiple types of meat and could probably feed a family. Try some of the Bosnian wine as well.
Where to Drink
Lokanda is more of a seafood restaurant, but looking at the plates of fellow patrons, didn’t look super exciting. Instead, enjoy the awesome ambiance and people watching with some wine or a beer. It is smack in the middle of the harbor and you can also enjoy the cruise ship passengers alighting and heading out on their excursions. You’ll also enjoy a nice sea breeze and shade from the surrounding immense city walls.
D’Vino Wine Bar
D’Vino was featured in the New York Times as a great bar for getting familiar with Croatian wine. This is absolutely true, but they didn’t talk enough about the great selection or the amazing staff here. We came back every night for three straight nights because it really felt like home. this is partly from the Anglophone staff, but also just the warmth of the place. They have several Croatian wine tasting flights but are equally happy to suggest a wine based on tastes. They even suggested each of the restaurants on this list.
Bar Buza isn’t something I’d recommend if it weren’t for the location. It’s perched on the side of the walls and is basically a beach bar without a beach. You’ll find American and Australian teenagers sunning in swimwear and sometimes working up the courage to jump into the water from the rocks. The drinks menu isn’t that exciting, but it’s worth the view and people watching with a lager.
Where to Stay
The Hotel Bellevue kicked off the luxury hotel movement in Dubrovnik and arguably a portion of the new tourism. We didn’t feel it was worth the price compared to other luxury hotels, but compared to the competition in Dubrovnik, is a good place to stay. The location is nice with a 10 minute walk to the Pile Gate and the old city. You also get access to this “private” beach which is great. The main portion here is not actually private but public and fills up with screaming children during the day. The hotel’s portion is to the side and also fills up, but is much more relaxing, make sure to find the right section.