Located on Croatia’s beautiful Dalmatian coast, Dubrovnik is without a doubt the country’s crown jewel. As one of the world’s loveliest walled cities, this “Pearl of the Adriatic” has a fascinating history and remarkable beauty. Dubrovnik’s charming, well-preserved, and traffic-free Old Town is truly a visitor’s delight!
In this blog post, I will share my experience and my recommendations for the key sights to see on your own travels to Dubrovnik. I visited Dubrovnik & Croatia in October 2019, as part of an Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) tour entitled “Crossroads of the Adriatic” – which also visited Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Slovenia (see map).
I was excited to be going back to magical Dubrovnik after almost 30 years from my first visit there in 1990, when it was still Yugoslavia – and it was definitely worth the wait! I fell in love with the town all over again. We spent a total of 3 days in Dubrovnik, but one of them included a full-day excursion to the Bay of Kotor in nearby Montenegro.
Five hundred years ago, Dubrovnik was a major maritime power. Busy merchants, the salt trade, and ship building made the city rich. Dubrovnik’s character reflects its celebrated past as an independent city-state that rivaled Venice.
After World War I, Croatia (and Dubrovnik) became part of the united Yugoslavia. However, in the early 1990s, major conflicts caused the final breakup of Yugoslavia into the 6 individual countries we know today. The civil war decimated tourism in Dubrovnik and sadly, the city suffered heavy damage during this Balkan conflict.
Happily, Dubrovnik has been impeccably restored (under UNESCO supervision) and returned to its former glory. As a result, tourists have definitely returned en masse & Dubrovnik has become one of the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean.
That definitely includes cruise ships, hundreds of which visit Dubrovnik each year, bringing more than a million passengers. On very busy days, there may be four or even more ships in port, sending over 9,000 passengers ashore, massively crowding the Old Town streets. Note: Of course, this was before the COVID-19 pandemic changed tourism & the cruise ship industry in early 2020.
My travel group got lucky with crowds. The day we had our full day of touring within Dubrovnik’s Old Town, there were only 2 cruise ships in port & we had good weather (it had poured the day before!). Yes, it was crowded at times in the morning, but not oppressively so. However, I heard there could be up to 6 ships in port some days, which would be intolerable!
My Recommendations For Visiting Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik’s visitors include a mix of cruise ship passengers (a lot!), independent travelers, and those on packaged tours. Regardless, my advice is to make sure you have adequate time to really enjoy the city – at least two days. If you’re on a cruise or a tour, try to fly into Dubrovnik early or stay late, if your itinerary allows you to add days at the start or end.
That way, you can leisurely explore Dubrovnik’s wonderful Old Town with the time to enjoy the wonderful sights & activities I have listed below. This also allows you to plan your visits in the Old City away from the busiest times when cruise ships will be in port. Not to mention, taking into account bad weather days. You really want to have want nice weather for your City Walls Walk.
Just like Venice, Dubrovnik rewards those who get off the beaten tourist path and enjoy the town early and late, after the cruisers and day-trippers have cleared out. I strongly agree with travel guru Rick Steves’ advice: “While Dubrovnik can be “seen” in one day, a 2nd or 3rd day to unwind makes the long trip there more worthwhile.”
Here’s My List of Recommended Sights & Activities in Dubrovnik:
1) Stroll the Stradun Promenade
Dubrovnik’s popular promenade – the Stradun – traverses through the heart of Old Town. This delightful 300-yard-long pedestrian street runs from the Pile Gate entrance to the clock tower at the other end, which is near the Old Port. (photo above & below left)
The Stradun is packed day and evening with tourists – and some locals too. The street is filled with interesting sights, cute shops, and outdoor cafes – and is the ideal introduction to the charms of Dubrovnik.
Along the way, be sure to pay a visit to the Franciscan Monastery Museum. It houses one of Europe’s oldest, continually operating pharmacies and you can also enjoy a walk around its peaceful cloister. The monastery’s Franciscan church with its pretty rounded bell tower top is one of the city’s landmarks.
2) Take a Walking Tour of Dubrovnik
My group enjoyed a delightful 2-hour tour of Old Town with an excellent local guide Rosie. It didn’t hurt that our Croatia tour leader Martina was also from Dubrovnik. (photo, below right). Even though the Old Town is not very large or difficult to navigate, it’s always helpful to get the historical background & local insights when first getting oriented to a new city.
As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Rick Steves’ guidebooks and his excellent “Croatia & Slovenia” guidebook has great information on Dubrovnik. The book has a detailed DIY walking tour entitled “Stradun Stroll” that you can follow yourself. Plus, Rick has some suggestions for local guides you might hire, in addition to the standard “city tour” offerings in town.
3) Drink From Onofrio’s Big Fountain
One of Dubrovnik’s most famous architectural icons is Onofrio’s Big Fountain. This beautiful 16-sided fountain in St. Savior Square is topped by a cupola. Each side has a unique “maskeron” design (stone-carved masked face) with the faucet projecting out of the mouth.
Built way back in 1440, the fountain was the ending point of an aqueduct system that brought spring water from the mountains seven miles away. Today, this “Big Fountain” near the Pile Gate is a major meeting & resting place for visitors.
My tour leader Martina (who I already mentioned is from Dubrovnik) told us the water was safe to drink. So, after posing for the mandatory photo (to right), I filled up my water bottle & happily went on my merry way.
4) Walk Dubrovnik’s Magnificent City Walls
Taking a long walk on Dubrovnik’s ancient City Walls is definitely the highlight of any visit to this historic city. I know that was true for me and all my travel mates. This incredibly scenic City Walls Walk really is a special experience – and is not to be missed!
The remarkably well-preserved city walls measure 1 ¼ miles in length. And, what great views you will get looking down over a sea of the city’s orange rooftops on one side and the blue Adriatic Sea on the other.
These 15th century fortifications encircle the entire old city. Around the perimeter are several substantial forts, with rounded walls so cannonballs would glance off harmlessly. These defensive walls also protected residents during the 1991-92 siege of Dubrovnik.
There are three entry points for the City Walls Walk – and the route is one way, which is counter-clockwise. Speed demons on a mission can walk the entire wall in about an hour. However, those who prefer to stroll and photograph should plan on longer – which is most of us!
In fact, my friends & I savored the whole experience, and it took us 2 ¼ hours. We started our walk at 2:30pm which turned out to be a good time and not particularly crowded. On the walk, be sure to hike up the extra 63 steps to the top of Minceta Tower to get your highest view of the town below.
5) Explore the Picturesque Old Harbor
Another of Dubrovnik’s many pleasures is its picturesque Old Harbor, which has been bustling for centuries. Of course, today the port is filled with tourists, sidewalk cafes, and small private boats.
Luckily, it has retained its charm by not allowing large, flashy yachts from mooring in the port. Instead, the boats belong to locals – including humble fishing vessels and pleasure craft. This also includes tourist boats offering sightseeing excursions along the coastline or trips out to nearby Lokrum Island.
6) Meander Dubrovnik’s Back Lanes
After you’ve done the Stradun Stroll & familiarized yourself with the key sights of Dubrovnik, it’s time to revel in the simple pleasure of discovery. Wander the Old Town’s many side streets & back lanes that run off the Stradun, seeing what delicious sights you can discover. Not to mention, you’ll be getting away from the crowds that pack the main drag.
You’ll likely find more cute shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, and possibly some local markets. You’ll also see some private homes (yes, locals still live here!) and a variety of tourist lodging – often an apartment or nice room in a private home called a soba.
To me, I love this part of leisurely exploration of a new place – armed only with free time, a good map and a sense of curiosity about what’s around the next corner. This is often where the magic happens in travel! Dubrovnik is also a city filled with cute cats – a joy for cat lovers!
7) Visit the Fort of St. Lawrence For Great Views
Just outside the city walls of the Old City, you’ll find a charming and peaceful cove with a small stone pier. Perched on a hill above this Pile neighborhood cove, you’ll find the Fort of St. Lawrence – Dubrovnik’s oldest fortress.
And, yes, it is definitely worth climbing the 208 steps to get up to the Fort for beautiful views over the Old Town. There’s a small entrance fee to enter the fort. The fort itself is not the main attraction but its vantage point for unique views and great photos is the key reward.
8) Take the Cable Car to the Top of Mount Srd
In my view, this is another must do attraction in Dubrovnik – for the fun of a cable car ride, the spectacular views from the top, and the history of the fortress. Once you make the 3-minute ride to the top of Mount Srd, head up the stairs to the panoramic terrace for an amazing birds eye view back down over Dubrovnik – the Old Town and the larger city outside.
After we took in the views, our group made the short walk to the Croatian War of Independence Museum in Fort Imperial. The Fort was first built in 1810 by Napoleon who had just conquered Dubrovnik. During the 1990s war, the fort became a crucial link in the defense of Dubrovnik – the only high land that the locals were able to hold against the Yugoslav army.
Unfortunately, the fortress was shelled & destroyed in the war, along with the cable car (which was rebuilt in 2010). The old fortress now houses the small but interesting “Dubrovnik During the Homeland War (1991-95) Museum.” Plus, there are more great views from the top of the museum/ fortress.
9) Enjoy a Sunset Drink & View at the Buza Bar
Here’s an activity – having a sunset drink at the local Buza bar – that cruise ship passengers won’t likely be crowding into. Beloved by both locals and savvy visitors, the two Buza bars are tucked into the old city walls. They are a great place to relax, have a drink and perhaps even a swim – as there are stairs down to the water at one of them.
This “hidden gem” experience came highly recommended by my tour guide Martina, a Dubrovnik local. However, she neglected to tell me that there are, in fact, two Buza bars. I was wondering what happened to my friends when they didn’t show up for our 6:30pm meeting time. I later learned that they were at the “other” Buza bar, wondering where I was.
Turns out, I was at Buza bar 1. Drinking alone, I still enjoyed my “virgin” strawberry colada and pretty views of the sunset over the water. Since the Buza bar 1 entrance is literally a “hole in the wall” without signage, it’s not particularly easy to find – so be sure to ask a trusted local how to get there. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a hole in the city wall with “No Toples No Nudist” graffiti! (below right)
Rick Steves, in his guidebook (I didn’t read this part until later!), talks about the two different Buzas, which in Croatian means “hole in the wall.” He says: Buza 1 is mellower, plays hip or edgy rather than romantic music, and has concrete stairs leading down to the beach on the rocks below. Buza 1 is less claustrophobic and often a bit less crowded than Buza 2.
However, Rick says that Buza 2, named “Big Buza,” is the older and more appealing of the pair. He says: it is filled with mellow tourists and comes with castaway views and Frank Sinatra ambience. When seats fill up – as often happens around sunset – you can order a drink at the bar and walk down the steps to enjoy it “on the rocks.” This is me speaking now: Bottom line – you can’t go wrong at either one. Just make sure you “Buza”!
10) Enjoy Talented Street Musicians or a Local Concert
Like in many European cities, there are wonderful street musicians in Dubrovnik entertaining visitors and adding to its festive ambiance. The instrumental duo (in the photo below) is called Duo Libertas – with Marija on violin and Marin on guitar. They were playing beautiful classical music when I stopped to listen. These Croatian artists have been performing in Dubrovnik every summer season since 2015.
In addition, Dubrovnik offers a variety of formal concerts, including their Summer Festival held in July & August. Various historic churches around town also host “touristy but enjoyable” concerts (in the words of Rick Steves). This includes the St. Savior church near the Fountain, with concerts around 3 times each week at 9pm. Unfortunately, my schedule didn’t allow the time to attend.
11) Experience Dubrovnik at Night & a Good Seafood Dinner
You certainly want to experience Dubrovnik both by day and night. In the evening, the crowds have thinned, the ambiance is more relaxed, and the city is bathed in beautiful light. Visitors and locals alike are out strolling the Stradun with its shops, cafes and bars open late.
It’s the perfect time to search out your evening meal. The side streets are filled with outdoor cafes and restaurants eager to provide visitors with a tasty dinner. I enjoyed a delicious seafood meal at the Dubravka restaurant, on a long leafy terrace just outside the city walls. It had been recommended by Martina & I now pass along my recommendation, as well.
12) Take a Game of Thrones Tour
Dubrovnik’s Old Town may well be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. But recently, it’s become internationally famous for its connection with Game of Thrones (GOT), the television series sensation. That’s because Dubrovnik was the main filming location for the fortified port city of King’s Landing, a fictional city in GOT.
As you wander around Dubrovnik, you’ll likely see groups of tourists enjoying special Game of Thrones tours, visiting the city’s different filming sites. If you’re a GOT aficionado, this tour is for you! The guides have a notebook with photos of different GOT scenes to illustrate where they were filmed.
One of the series’ most famous scenes was the “Walk of Shame” season 5 finale in 2015. In that episode, the fallen queen Cersei Lannister is shorn, stripped naked and forced to march for miles through a hostile King’s Landing crowd. As she is surrounded by people shouting obscenities, spitting and throwing things, Cersei hears them shouting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” over and over.
Her gripping “walk of penance” begins at the top of the now infamous Jesuit Staircase (in photo), a beautiful Baroque set of stairs. These days, many visitors flock to the staircase, to take on a far less dehumanizing (and fully clothed) “shame strut” of their own – with cameras flashing, of course. It was a hoot watching them in action!
13) Make a Visit to Lokrum Island By Ferry
This is one good recommendation that I didn’t have the time to do. However, I want to share in the hope you might have the time. Lokrum Island is only a 15-minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik’s Old Harbor. There is an official city-run boat which departs twice hourly.
So, what does this little island have to offer? One main attraction is the chance to get away from the city crowds and hike on shaded paths around the thickly wooded island, plus visit a small botanical garden. There is also bathing & swimming from rocky beaches, many of which are designated as nude. “Shame! Shame! Shame!”– just kidding!
There are ruins of a medieval Benedictine monastery, which was apparently turned into a Habsburg palace and is gradually being converted into a free museum. Some call Lokrum the “Island of Love” because it offers many spots popular with courting couples. So, it sounds like there’s a little something for everyone!
You should probably allow a few hours for your excursion to Lokrum Island. For more details on this protected natural area, check out the Lokrum Island website.
14) Other Activities/Excursions
There are a few other activities and excursions to consider, which I’ll briefly mention. If you’re visiting the Dubrovnik region in warmer weather, of course, there are the nearby beaches of the Dalmatian coastline to enjoy. Plus, you can rent sea kayaks, just outside the city walls in a small cove near the Pile Gate.
In addition, there are a variety of wonderful day trips from Dubrovnik and/or overnight excursions. On my OAT tour, we enjoyed a full-day excursion to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro (photo, right), which was super!
There is also the fascinating multi-cultural town of Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina with its famed stone bridge. Again, I would refer you to Rick Steves “Croatia & Slovenia” guidebook which covers these areas too.
In closing, I hope you will have the opportunity to visit Dubrovnik one day, allowing adequate time to visit the old city and the surrounding regions. As you have seen, Croatia’s “Pearl of the Adriatic” has much to offer visitors. Prepare to be enchanted!
COMMENTS: Have you visited Dubrovnik? How much time were you able to spend? What were some of your favorite things to do? Any tips to share?