I was completely awe-strucked when I first passed through Dubrovnik Old Town‘s main gate, the Pile Gate. I probably looked like a lost little child in a new city — staring at the high walls looming above the town, gawking at the gorgeous baroque buildings, and getting aimlessly huddled along with the sea of people entering the town, all while carrying an oversized backpack. That was how stunning Dubrovnik was to me at first sight; and I was only going to discover more beauty within its walls during my stay.
One of the most touristy cities in Croatia, Dubrovnik is located on the Adriatic Sea, and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It is one of the major locations in the popular tv series “Game of Thrones” — and since then, has only grown in fame and popularity. The amount of “GoT” tours, references and merchandise sold around the city made me feel as if I was transported into that fantasy world!
“GoT” influence and massive crowds aside, I am glad Dubrovnik has managed to retain and (after the 1991 siege) regain some of its ancient charm. These can be seen inside its beautiful churches, tranquil palace courtyards and narrow lanes. My sister and I visited Dubrovnik in the summer, just before the start of its Summer Festival — and spent three wonderful days in this enchanting seaport city. This was our itinerary.
Day 1: Churches and Museums
We took an early morning bus ride all the way to Dubrovnik (from Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, you can read about my trip here), and arrived in the late morning. The Dubrovnik Main Bus Station (Autobusni Kolodvor) is located in the suburb of Gruz, about 2km away from Dubrovnik Old Town, which is the center of the city. Taxis from the bus station to the Old Town cost a fixed rate of EUR10 and can be easily found outside the station.
Arriving in Dubrovnik Old Town
The taxi stopped us right outside the main gate, Pile Gate; one of the two entrances to Dubrovnik’s Old Town. During the ancient times, the entrance’s drawbridge was closed up every evening; but here and now, hordes of people make their way in at all times of the day. Upon following the crowd through the gate, we maneuvered our way across the squares, streets and small lanes in search of our apartment.
The La Musica Apartment
I have to say that we made a good decision to stay inside the Old Town itself — it was convenient, and our attic room in the little La Musica Apartment was absolutely charming. It cost us about EUR350 a night; but I loved that every morning, I just had to walk out of my apartment and be in the midst of so much historic beauty.
After checking-in and freshening up, it was time to explore the Old Town!
Church of St Ignatius
Just a few steps away from our apartment, we climbed up the iconic baroque staircase that leads to one of the oldest parts of Dubrovnik, where the Church of St Ignatius stands. The building next to the church once housed Dubrovnik’s Jesuit College. Both were constructed during the early 18th century. The murals on the church walls depicting the life of St Ignatius are gorgeous, but I was more drawn to the indoor artificial cave dedicated to Our Lady Lourdes.
Walking down the baroque staircase, we walked towards the Dubrovnik Cathedral, seat of the Diocese of Dubrovnik. It was the site of the cathedral funded in part by King Richard the Lion Heart, who promised to build a church in the city when he got shipwrecked off the island of Lokrum in 1192. The current Roman Baroque cathedral was built after the 1667 earthquake, and has survived other earthquakes and a war since. I felt that the cathedral’s interior is more plain compared to the other elaborate ones in the city.
* Entry to churches are usually free.
Lunch at Bota Oyster and Sushi Bar
After a few weeks of traveling around Europe, I was craving for some Asian food! We spotted the Bota Oyster and Sushi Bar just next to the Dubrovnik Cathedral and was instantly drawn to it. It was fun dining on fresh oysters and sushi underneath a small tunnel that runs through the city. The restaurant has an outdoor dining terrace too.
City Museum at Rector’s Palace
After lunch, we headed to Rector’s Palace. The palace is located next to the Dubrovnik Cathedral, and houses the Dubrovnik City Historical Museum. Used by the Rector of the Republic of Ragusa from the 14th century, the palace was built in the Gothic style, but from reconstructions throughout the centuries, has Renaissance and Baroque features too. The palace is gorgeous (and also a prominent filming location for “Game of Thrones'”), and I enjoyed walking through the museum’s collection of paintings, silverware, state documents and restyled rooms… and that grand hall staircase!
* We purchased the City Museum Pass that allows us to visit most museums in Dubrovnik, and several studios and galleries. It costs HRK100~EUR13 for adults and HRK25~EUR3 for students.
Church of St Blaise
The Church of St Blaise stands in front of Rector’s Palace, on one end of the Stradun. Saint Blaise is the patron saint of Dubrovnik, and the church in his honor was constructed in 1715 in the Baroque style. It was built on the site of a 14th-century Romanesque church damaged in the earthquake of 1667. The marble altar and artworks around the church’s interior are beautiful; but there’s also so much to see when sitting by its wide staircase and people-watch on the Stradun.
The Old Dubrovnik Port
We continued our exploration of the Old Town after resting our feet on the steps of the church. From the Stradun, we walked under an arch through the eastern old town walls and arrived at the Old Port. The port is lined by many cafes and restaurants, and can get crowded with visitors waiting to board the boats that head off to the nearby islands. The old town walls, as well as the Fortress of Revelin and St John surround part of the port, and they look absolutely majestic when viewed from below.
Walking the Back Lanes of Old Town
After spending some time at the Old Port, we decided to explore the small lanes and paths around the Old Town while looking for the Ethnographic Museum. It was pretty fun getting lost along the limestone houses with jaggedy pathways that go uphill and downhill, passing by ancient looking doorways and clotheslines hanging above, peeking through holes in the walls and passing by small flower-filled courtyards.
The Ethnographic Museum not only houses collections of historical artifacts from the early 20th century; it is also located in a 14th century building that was once a granary. Browsing through the two floors of exhibitions on Dubrovnik’s local life like costumes, jewelry, agricultural tools, handicrafts and household items was really educational. The deep wells (or “Rupe”) that used to store grain at the old granary have been preserved and can be found on the ground floor. Entrance is included in the City Museum Pass.
Dinner at Poco Loco Cafe and Bar
After spending much of the day exploring Old Town Dubrovnik in the heat of summer, we went back to the apartment to rest in the evening. It was dark by the time we headed out again, and we had dinner and drinks at one of the more popular restaurants in town, Poco Loco. The place was packed, but we managed to find a seat. We had rice again for dinner; and after some cocktails, decided to call it an early night.
Day 2: Walls and Beaches
Second day! We were awake bright and early to conquer the day. I love the morning sun, and thought it’d be a good idea to be one of the first people up the Old City Walls of Dubrovnik. On our way over, the Stradun was completely devoid of people (and shops weren’t opened yet), and there was hardly anyone along the walls (so we could stop for pictures). It was the best decision to be early because we didn’t have to get rushed along by the crowds.
Old Town City Walls
The City Walls encircles the old town of Dubrovnik, wrapping the town within its towering clutches. I enjoyed my lovely morning stroll around its uninterrupted 2km length around the city. It only took about 2 hours or so — and we were rewarded with the most stunning views of the wide open sea on one side, and another sea of orange-roofed buildings on the other. You can read more about my walk around the walls here:- Walking the Old City Walls.
After circling the walls, we were back to square one near the entrance of Pile Gate, where the big Onofrio’s Fountain stands. The fountain is in a circular shape with sixteen sides; and each side has a stone-carved face with water flowing out of its mouth. When we first arrived, the fountain was packed with people touching, drinking and collecting water from its many faucets. This time, there were not too many people around yet — so we got to drink from this 15th century fountain that supplies fresh water to the town till today.
No matter which part you explore in the Dubrovnik Old Town; you’ll always come back to the Stradun, the town’s main thoroughfare since the 13th century. The buildings along the limestone-paved street are all uniformly designed, and so pretty! From Onofrio’s Fountain, we made our way from one end of the Stradun to the other, dropping by the many souvenir and sweet shops along the way. I was also famished from my morning exercise along the city walls, so it was time for brunch!
Brunch at Cele Gourmet and Lounge Bar
Of all the restaurants and cafes along the lanes from the Stradun, we chose Cele because it was directly on the main street, so we could people-watch while eating (and they had cute waiters too). We had fried chicken wings and grilled calamari; and a couple of ice-cold beer to beat the summer heat.
After brunch, we wanted to visit Sponza Palace that is located at the eastern end of the Stradun, adjacent to the Clock Tower. However, it was being set up for a play for the Summer Festival, and had a separate entrance fee (not included in the City Museum Pass) of HRK25~EUR3; so we decided to just admire it from the outside. Built in the 16th century, this beautiful palace had many public functions like a customs office, bank, mint, armory, treasury; and now houses the city’s archive.
Dominican Monastery and Museum
We stopped by the Dominican Monastery and Museum on our way towards the Ploce Gate entrance. This 14th century Gothic-Renaissance building was under construction during my visit, but we still managed to see the remarkable art collection and religious artifacts on exhibition, and admire its courtyard and intricate architecture. The monastery really impressed me, partially because it was also featured in “Game of Thrones”. Entrance fee is HRK30~EUR4.
The Revelin Fortress stands guard just outside the eastern entrance to the old town, Ploce Gate. The fortress is detached from the city walls, and was constructed in the 15th century. The Archeological Exhibition inside the fortress showcases the remains and stone furniture of centuries-old Benedictine churches and cathedrals that once stood in Dubrovnik. We also saw broken tunnels and remnants of some old parts of the fortress. Entrance is included in the City Museum Pass.
Banje Beach is located outside the old town, about 100 meters away from the Revelin Fortress. It is Dubrovnik’s most famous sandy beach facing the Adriatic Sea. It was packed during our visit — everyone wanted some summer sun, sand and sea. We were pointed to the ‘free’ section of the beach after refusing to rent the white (and incredibly expensive) lounge chairs and parasols from the beach club (that took up a large portion of the beach); and found a small space among the other beach goers who were satisfied with a towel on the sand. We didn’t stay too long.
It was back to the apartment for a short nap before heading out again in the evening. The sun sets at about 8pm during summer; and one of the best places to watch the day end is Buza Bar. Known as the “hole-in-the-wall” bar, we literally had to search for a hole in the old city walls to get to this bar that is perched along the cliffs overlooking the sea. We arrived at about 6pm and managed to get a lovely spot to watch daredevils dive off the cliffs and to admire the changing colors of the sky (the sun sets on the other side). The view was spectacular, but drinks are limited (and expensive), and food is not served.
Dinner at Rhea Silvia Restaurant
We went in search of food after sunset, and decided to have dinner at Rhea Silvia Restaurant, one of the many restaurants on Gundulic Square. It just felt like a fun thing to do — sitting with the crowds while enjoying a meal al-fresco, underneath the clear night sky. I was craving for some seafood, so we had grilled calamari and oysters. After dinner, we strolled around the old town to soak in some of its night views before calling it a day.
Day 3: Out of the Old Town
Final day in the city! After almost two days exploring Dubrovnik Old Town, it was time to head a little out of the city and admire it from afar. I heard about the island of Lokrum, and thought it’d be a good way to spend the day.
Gundulićeva Poljana Market
We started out pretty early in the morning, and on the way to the Old Port, we dropped by the morning market located at Gundulic Square. It was fun browsing through the fresh produce, homemade goods and local products on sale; and we even enjoyed some friendly banter with the locals and sampled some of the delicious food.
We took the 10am boat out to Lokrum Island, and had such a wonderful time spending most of the day on the island. Lokrum boasts so much history — with forts, ruined churches, parks, gardens and natural beauty dotted around its landscape. The island is surrounded by high cliffs and rocky coasts, and even has a small salt-filled lake (separated from the sea by a hole in the rocks) called the Dead Sea. Read more about my day in Lokrum Island here: A Day on the Island of Lokrum. We returned to Dubrovnik in the evening.
It was back to the apartment for a quick change before heading out of Old Town and north of the city walls to the base of Mt Srđ. We were headed for the Cable Car Station, but on the way, we passed by the Pizzeria Tabasco and was instantly drawn to the delicious smells wafting in the air. I have to say, we had the best pizza I’ve ever had — a jumbo “Dubrovnik Pizza” with prosciutto, tomato sauce, cheese, mozzarella, parmesan and olives. I’m hungry just thinking about it now!
Dubrovnik Cable Car
After our early dinner, we finally made our way to the station — and paid the HRK140~EUR22 return Cable Car ticket for a ride up and down Mt Srđ. The four-minute ride up the mountain (405m above sea level) ended with the most amazing view of Dubrovnik and beyond. I could see the orange rooftops of the Old Town enclosed within the old walls, the Lapad Peninsula, the island of Lokrum and the vast Adriatic Sea in the distance. Many people were perched on the cliffs of the mountain, so we did the same and escaped the safety of the platforms. We sat on the rocky cliffs to admire the gorgeous sunset; watching the view of Dubrovnik slowly change from the beauty of the day, to the bright lights of the night.
Opening Ceremony of Dubrovnik’s Summer Festival
It was dark by the time we made our way down the mountain and back to the Old Town. We were told by one of the locals that the opening ceremony of Dubrovnik’s Summer Festival was held that night — and it was going to be a grand affair with performances and a fireworks display at the Old Port. The Summer Festival has been held in Dubrovnik every year since 1950; and for more than a month, classical music, theatre, opera and dance performances are held at various venues all around the city.
We joined in the excited crowd to witness the start of the festival, and got a lovely seat by the the edge of the docks with our feet hanging over the waters. The fireworks display was one of the most amazing ones I’ve ever seen (there were all sorts of patterns and colors), and it was the perfect way (it’s as if they knew!) to end our three days in Dubrovnik.