The phenomenal classic coastal city of Dubrovnik has one of the most impressive and photogenic old towns you’ll ever see, and the walls are shockingly intact, not a common occurrence for fortifications built to withstand the best bit of violence enemies can throw at it. There are many good reasons Dubrovnik was chosen to model for / star as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. Along with Lake Bled in Slovenia, Dubrovnik is a highlight of any Balkan holiday and after our first visit I had declared it my favourite city in the world. We only had 24 hours in Dubrovnik on this visit, as it was number 3 on our “re-visiting our favourite European cities for a very short period of time” tour. At this point, we were quite pleased with ourselves for deciding to add in nostalgic stops in Paris and Venice, with Edinburgh hopefully on the itinerary soon (there are some really cool places to stay in Edinburgh we are hoping to try out soon).
Is One Day Enough in Dubrovnik?
We have found that there’s something about not really leaving yourself enough time to do see everything that is weirdly freeing – since your time is very limited you feel no obligation to run through a long list of sights and attractions. We thought back to our previous visit, then prioritized our time based on returning to the places we loved the most, checking out the things to do in Dubrovnik that we have always regretted missing. And that’s it. Simple, and enjoyable. Here are the best things to do when you only have one day in Dubrovnik.
What to Do in Dubrovnik in One Day
Wander the Old City
Since we arrived in the late afternoon our list starts with going straight to the old city. We recommend getting ice cream and wandering its picturesque little alleys while seeing the highlights like the Franciscan Monastery and making up your own walking tour. Make sure to get off the main pedestrian streets and explore the nooks and crannies. Our favourite spots were away from other people and up the edges of the walls. As the afternoon wears on there will be fewer and fewer people in the old city. If you decided to visit some of the museums or the monastery consider buying the Dubrovnik Card to save money.
See the Best View of the Dubrovnik City Walls
Next on the list is enjoying late day views of the old city and its stunning walls from nearby Fort Lovrijenac. We grabbed a couple beer and climbed up an hour before sunset to settle in and watch changing colours of the city and walls. Unfortunately, despite the fact this would be (note the foreshadowing in the way I worded that) the ideal place to be as the sun goes down, the fort inexplicably closes and kicks everyone out just half an hour before sunset. There is a 50 kuna ($C10) entrance fee but you can buy a combo ticket with the City Walls and save money.
Have Dinner in the Old Town
We think it is worth going into the old city to have dinner. There is a completely different feeling in the evenings with the small alleyways lit up. The restaurants are definitely more expensive than outside the walls so another choice is to eat elsewhere and come back to stroll the streets in solitude before getting a good rest to be up early to finish your 24 hours in Dubrovnik.
Grab a Breakfast to Go
The next morning stop by a bakery or café and get a pastry and coffee to go to save time and get wandering early.
Walk the City Walls
Check the opening times for the City Walls and try to get there as close to opening as possible before the crowds finish their buffet breakfasts and pile in. The walls can get really crowded so if you get there early you will be able to take your time to appreciate the views and get pictures without other people in them or dodging selfie sticks. The walls go around the old town in an irregularly shaped polygon so you end up back where you start. There are three entrance to choose from – at Stradun by the Pile gate, by Fort St. Johns and by Fort St. Luke. The Stradun entrance is the most obvious and the one that most people use. The walls are only about 2 km in length but it takes most people an hour or two to finish walking around them because of all the photo stops. Remember to bring water with you. There will be amazing views out to the sea and the fortress and in over the red-roofed old city. The tickets cost 200 kn p/Person and you can buy them online to skip the line.
See Dubrovnik From Above
Once finished walking the city, head over to take the Dubrovnik cable car up to the top of Mount Srd, or you can walk up if you have the time and energy. It will take most people about an hour. Tickets are available in several places in town or you can buy them at the entrance to the cable car or online. The viewpoint over Dubrovnik and out to sea is impressive from this vantage point. There is a restaurant up here but it is overpriced so I would head back down for lunch.
Relax on a Beach
There are lots of great beaches around Dubrovnik. After lunch, if you still have time head to a beach to relax and go for a swim. Banje beach is right by the old city that is very convenient. Even if you don’t want to hang out on the beach you should still go for a walk along the beach just for the views of Dubrovnik and the old port.
Bonus Thing to Do
If you have extra time in your Dubrovnik itinerary, head over to Lokrum Island. It is only a 15 minute ferry ride and has nice hiking trails and a great spot for swimming.
Best Time to See Dubrovnik
We went in October, which meant that we didn’t experience the extreme crowds of summer but there were still plenty of people around. If at all possible, try to visit in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall when the weather is still nice.
As we’ve mentioned, try to see the main highlights either early morning or late afternoon. We got moving early in the morning and were thrilled to be able to wander the streets of Old Town virtually alone until almost 9 am. Most of the time it was just us and a girl doing an Instagram photo shoot – her hired photographer leading her around to all the best spots and carrying a variety of flowy, eye-catching dresses to switch into in each location. As you can see, Laynni went another way, sticking with her most flowy pair of jeans.
Where to Stay in Dubrovnik
A good midrange choice is Villa Sigurata II located in the old town which makes it very convenient for the recommended evening and early morning strolls around the old town. It is in a traditional building but the rooms have all the modern conveniences including a mini fridge.
Probably because we were visiting in what passes as “off-season” in Dubrovnik, we were able to find a great deal on a small but modern hotel room in an insanely great location just outside the Pile Gate, with views of Fort Lovrijenac right out of our window. Very cool.
Getting from Dubrovnik to Kotor, Montenegro
After our one night in Dubrovnik we moved on to picturesque Kotor in Montengro. The easiest way to get there is on a bus but you also have the options of hired car, renting a car, or a day tour.
Getting to Dubrovnik From Mostar
We spent a night in Mostar, Bosnia seeing the Old Bridge from every angle before coming to Dubrovnik. We took the bus, which wasn’t as straight forward as one would hope due to the border divisions in this part of the world and the strange route the buses take from Mostar to Dubrovnik. Even though the two cities are just over 100 kilometres apart as the crow flies, it took us over 4 hours to get from one to the other by bus, making 3 separate border crossings, with 2 passport checks at each, meaning we had to stop 6 times. We actually entered Croatia, then went back to BiH for a while, had lunch, then entered Croatia again. Fun stuff. And, before you theorize, there are roads that would allow a vehicle to make the trip making just a single border crossing. But what fun would that be? I’m sure there is some rationale, like road quality or a second-cousin who runs the lunch stop restaurant or discount cigarette smuggling, but we certainly weren’t privy to the details.
Back to Dubrovnik, we always knew it would be unlikely to live up to our expectations the second time around (I have, upon occasion, referred to it as my favourite city), and there are so many details specific to time and place that influence the overall travel experience – mood, weather, expectations, pillow effectiveness, ice cream lines – that return visits rarely match the original. Plus, in Dubrovnik’s case, not only has Croatia become more and more popular as a tourist destination, but there is also the rather large, looming spectre of Game of Thrones to consider. The last time we were there, the 2nd season had just finished, which was the first time Dubrovnik had starred as King’s Landing. So GOT mania had not yet hit full throttle there yet. Well, it definitely has now. It doesn’t take long to recognize the two different types of group you see – 20-30 people means bus or cruise ship tour group, 5-10 means Games of Thrones filming locations tour. All over Old Town you now see these smaller groups huddled around a young guide with an iPad (or, in some cases, a laminated 3-ring photo album, old-school, yo), showing these eager fans screenshots from the series that match up with the very ground they are standing on. Then occasionally posing for photos with a little toy dragon on their shoulder. Pretty interesting, in many ways, but not quite so interesting that we wanted to spend several hours in a group seeking them out. The main ones are pretty obvious, anyway – the walls, the Fort (Red Keep), the Spanish Stairs (Great Sept of Baelor), the small wharf (Sansa and Shae watching the ships come in), the Bay of Dubrovnik (Blackwater Bay) and basically the length of Old Town (Cersei’s Walk of Shame). Ok, clearly I am just as much of a GOT nerd as the rest, I just don’t have the patience for an actual tour.
Costs in Dubrovnik
The results of this spike in popularity have been, firstly, massive crowds and, secondly, some pretty significant price increases. Along with the big increase in the cost of the fort, a ticket to walk on the walls now costs 200 kuna (nearly €30) and cheap restaurants are thin on the ground. We found a good, reasonably inexpensive pizza place but even they “don’t serve tap water” and charged us $C6 for a bottle of water (had I known the beer were cheaper my choice may have been different). On the bright side, while walking there we were treated to one of the most amazingly colourful sunsets of the entire trip so far (I swear this photo has not been filtered or adjusted in any way).
No, it didn’t blow us away like it did the first time but, realistically, return visits never do. They lack the surprise factor that is so crucial for a true “wow” travel experience. But it is unquestionably a very beautiful place, with plenty of real history to go along with the very popular fictional stuff, and is still one of the most photogenic stops you’ll find anywhere in Europe. We give “Dubrovnik: The Return” two enthusiastic (although sadly unmatched) thumbs up.
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