Known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik is probably one of the best-known tourism destinations in the Mediterranean region. The most popular area is Dubrovnik’s Old Town, Stari Grad, defined by its impressive fortifications and a massive city wall, which is recognized as UNESCO World Heritage. Dubrovnik is currently on the bucket lists of many new visitors due to the fact that many parts of the old town feature as backdrop in the HBO show “Game of Thrones”.
WHEN TO GO
When I travel, planning for optimal weather conditions and avoiding tourist crowds is always the priority. I generally prefer early May or early October for Europe when the weather is pleasant (not too hot, not too cold!!!) and there are not many tourists. This is my rule of thumb or key to a successful travel experience. Travel photography is our hobby so it’s very important that our destinations are free of chaotic crowds and have the best weather for our pictures. So when is the best time to visit Dubrovnik?
March – May or September – November
(***July & August are extreme peak season, winter is cold and rainy)
Come to the old city of Dubrovnik on a summer day and you will be overwhelmed by just how clogged the streets are with tourist groups. I’m telling you right now it’s worse than Venice, Florence, Prague, or any touristy town that you can think of.
Walking the walls in the middle of the day, when the hot sun is beating down, the steps are steep and endless, the crowds are thick, you feel like you are melting away. You might compare it to visiting Venice in the summer. But even on the busiest summer days, you can still find plenty of secluded spots in Venice if you walk far enough. That’s not the case in the old city of Dubrovnik. The city center of Venice is much larger compared to the old town Dubrovnik.
During winter months the weather was pretty rainy and cold, many restaurants were closed, the sea was unswimmable and the place was pretty much empty. And photo opps for winter months are not that great!
WHERE TO STAY
Most first time visitors to Dubrovnik stay in or within walking distance of the Old Town which is the historic center of Dubrovnik. The downside to staying in the Old Town is that streets get very crowded in the summer and noise may be a problem at night; few apartments have balconies/terraces and no sea views. Also, it’s not a pleasant experience that you have to drag your luggage through cobblestoned streets and climb those steep steps to get to your hostels/apartments.
Instead, I recommend you stay in quieter neighborhoods where you’ll get to experience modern day Croatian culture, from farmers markets to less-crowded beaches. For our trip in Dubrovnik, we stayed in Lapad, a residential suburb of Dubrovnik that lies about 3km northwest of the Old Town. As it is a primarily residential area, you will not have the impression that you are in the center of tourist destinations. There is a large number of excellent restaurants and cafes. Also, the hotels and restaurants in these neighborhoods will cost less. However, the walk to the Old Town is a bit demanding, but fortunately there are city buses that operate frequently, connecting all parts of the city (10-minute ride on Bus #4 will bring you from Lapad to the Old Town in the blink of an eye)
We stayed at Hotel Lapad (about $150 a night with breakfast). With a quiet location and lovely view of Gruz Harbour, the Lapad hotel is only 2 miles from the old town of Dubrovnik, which is easily reachable by a local bus which runs every 10 minutes. The beach is less than half a mile away. Highly recommended!!!
WHAT TO DO
Here’s my top 5 things to do for Dubrovnik
1. Walk the Old City Wall
Enter the walls near Pile Gate. Admission costs 120 kn per person (about £13). It’s an expensive ticket for sure, but definitely worth it.When walking in through Pile Gate we found the large fountain-style statue and the ticket booth was tucked away on the right side.
Tip: Arrive right when they open.
Dubrovnik’s city walls are open 8am–7.30pm during June and July; 8am–6.30pm during April, May, August and September; 8am–5.30pm during October; and 9am–3pm for the rest of the year. It’s a good idea to get there early or late in the day to beat the worst of the crowds – and the summer heat – and to bring water with you as there’s not much shade up there.
The walls are 1,940 metres long and you can walk all the way around them (it usually takes about 2 hours). However, you can get down half way. If you ask me, there is no need to make a full circle around the town. Half will do just fine. Walking the city walls will give you a good idea of the town’s size, layout and breathtaking setting, but it is also one of the most beautiful strolls you can take.
Views over the town, red roofs, sea and walls themselves are stunning.
Walking the walls also gives you a bird’s-eye view right into the homes and gardens of the city’s residents. You get little snapshots of their everyday life as you pass – drinking coffee in the garden, stretched out on the rocks catching some sun, and hanging out washing from their windows.
2. Explore “Game of Thrones” Locations:
Large parts of the series “Game of Thrones” was filmed in the area around Dubrovnik, and several guides offer tours of the main sights. You can find these guides either at the tourism office in Dubrovnik, your hotels’ brochures/concierge or on guides’ sites. In my opinion, you don’t need to join a tour to explore Game of Thrones locations. I love the show but I’m not quite familiar with all the scenes in the series. However, just by drifting along the city wall and wandering the streets I was surprised that it’s quite easy to identify certain spots and just stumbled upon by accidents.
Here are some of the places you can visit in Dubrovnik to check out some of the Game of Thrones locations:
3. Take a day trip
This tiny island is just 15-minute boat ride from Dubrovnik’s old harbor. During the summer season boats depart every 30 minutes. A return boat ticket costs 80 Kn (approx. 11€). The beautiful Island of Lokrum is a serene place to spend the day with plenty to see across the island, including peacocks,salt-water lake, Benedictine abbey and monastery, and exotic gardens containing over 500 different plants from all over the world.
A town set on the river Neretva in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar is famed for its old bridge, UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. This Bosnian town, about a 2 hours drive from Dubrovnik, is a trip into a storybook, as the architecture brings you back to a time of castles, dragons, and wizards. The most celebrated bridge in Eastern Europe, known as Stari Most, is worth the trip by itself, arcing beautifully across its river between tall towers.
One of the most popular day trips from Dubrovnik is the trip to Kotor Bay. It is a long sleepy inlet off the Adriatic sea in southwestern Montenegro.
Trsteno is a small village just 20 km north of Dubrovnik. The village is a home of a beautiful Trsteno Arboretum. Since the place was used as a set for a popular HBO series – The Game of Thrones, more and more tourists (particularly GoT fans) visit the sight. Many tour agencies offer a combo tour of city walks and arboretum for GoT fans. However, the place is also very easy to visit from Dubrovnik by car or by public bus!
4. Cafe Buza:
Popular among locals and adventurous tourists as the “hole-in-the-wall” bar, Buža Bar is one of the most beautiful bars in Dubrovnik hanging on the cliffs with the jar-dropping panoramic views of the Adriatic Sea, the Island of Lokrum (home to some Game of Thrones scenes) and the Dalmatian coastline. Although Buza is the only bar located on the sea side of the City Walls, most guidebooks still neglect to mention this amazing venue; therefore it’s a more secluded and private corner for locals, swimmers, and cliff jumpers.
5. Stroll through the old city of Dubrovnik and have a lunch/coffee at one of many restaurant in the old town
Although the entire old town of Dubrovnik is pedestrian only, the Stradun St. is the town’s main thoroughfare. Many shops, restaurants and cafes line this street and there is some gorgeous architecture.
Have a coffee at one of the many terraces!
What did you do when you visited Dubrovnik? Share your experience with us and comment below!