Itinerary: Six things to do in Dubrovnik
By Helen Wright
Dubrovnik, Croatia is one of those places that seems to be on most people’s must-do list and it’s easy to see why. The wonderfully preserved medieval city is surrounded by perfect blue waters and the sun always seems to be shining. Just across the sea from Italy, Croatia has the same picture-perfect cobbles, gorgeous beaches and reliable weather but somehow feels more chilled out and less in-your-face than its Italian neighbour. There is plenty to do in Dubrovnik. Hen and stag dos are on the rise thanks to the buzzing nightlife, but it is also a gem for history buffs, great for families and, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, it has become a real life movie set to explore.
Our 48-hours in Dubrovnik itinerary:
Where we stayed:
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik, it’s absolutely stunning! The building sits on a hill right by the entrance to the old town and looks over the medieval walls to the Adriatic Sea. The iconic hotel originally opened in 1897 and secured Dubrovnik as the ‘it’ destination in Europe, attracting guests from King Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson (who apparently drank tea and danced in the hotel gardens in the summer of 1936). I was also excited to find out that George Bernard Shaw stayed here when he wrote “Those who seek Earthly paradise should come and see Dubrovnik”in 1929. And he was spot on.
The best thing about this hotel is its location. It’s so central that it feels as though Dubrovnik was built around it. From here, we could easily explore the best things to do in Dubrovnik. Rooms at the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik start from £103 per night. Read our full review here.
Six of the best things to do in Dubrovnik
We were visiting Croatia with our toddler but we found we were able to do almost everything we wanted to, even though we had a little person in tow. This isn’t intended as a specific guide to visiting Dubrovnik with kids per-se but I do highly recommend Dubrovnik as a family destination. We found it easy to navigate, very walkable, relaxed and with lots of fun things to do. Plus, I had heard tales of Dubrovnik being a bit on the pricey side but we found there are ways to save money and do Dubrovnik on a budget too. Here is our pick of the six things you must do in Dubrovnik.
Walk the old city walls
We started with a walk of the city walls because it’s a great way to get your bearings on a new city and views across the water and rooftops are stunning. It’s recommended to do early in the morning before more tourists arrive and it gets too busy, as the paths are quite narrow. Plus, if the weather is hot, remember you’ll be taking a lot of stairs so the cooler the temperature, the better.
There are various places to enter and exit the path along the wall, but I recommend going the whole way around (it’s just over a mile). The Dubrovnik City Wall entrance fee is £17.50 (150 HRK) and we entered via the long stairway at Pile Gate. This drawbridge is the main passageway into the Old City and also happened to be closest to our hotel. I have to admit, at first, the fee did seem quite a lot but the wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and having completed the walk, I definitely think it was worth the money. The walls are well-looked after with no litter and little graffiti and there are staff intermittently placed if you do have questions or get lost.
Walking around, you can really imagine what the fortress must have been like in the 13th century when it was built. There is the occasional gift shop and cafe along the way but it is mostly just the ancient stones, hidden lookouts and glorious views. I’m told not many locals still live inside the city walls, it is mostly hotels and restaurants now. But we did pass apartments that looked like people’s homes with plant pots, washing hanging out and garden furniture on the terrace. I couldn’t help but think what a cool, but weird place to live. I’m not sure I would want tourists peering in my window day in and day out but I bet it never gets boring!
Originally, we were not sure if the walk would be suitable for a toddler (it definitely isn’t pram friendly due to the narrow spaces and stairs!). We had our Ergobaby carrier but Finn was eager to get out and explore. He loved climbing the stairs and running along the paths – the historic site was another exciting playground for him. The walls sit mostly at adult chest height so there was no danger of him falling off. From the walk he loved being able to spot boats on the water and there were lots of curiosities for him to look at along the way.
With plenty of opportunities to pause and take photos, a quick stop for a coffee and a toddler to contend with, the walk took us just over an hour. I noticed as we made our way down that the walls and the city had become a lot busier than when we arrived, so the earlier you can get there the better! In my research I read the walls are also fantastic to walk at sunset so when I go back to Croatia (without Finn) I think I will try a romantic walk as the sun goes down. I can imagine it would be lovely.
Play the Game of Thrones [Tour] in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik was already popular with tourists, but since Game of Thrones exploded onto our screens, fans have been flocking to the city to get a glimpse at iconic spots from the epic TV show (and sometimes the actors if you’re there during filming). As soon as you arrive in Dubrovnik you will see signs and adverts everywhere offering Game of Thrones tours. These can range from £25 – £120 so it’s a bit of a gamble which is going to be best for your party.
Keen to keep our budget down, we decided to create our own Game of Thrones self tour to have a look at some of the best Kings Landing filming locations as well as taking in the other beautiful and sometimes hidden parts of the city. Often, you might pass them without even realising anyway! Pile Gate, where we entered for the wall walk, was actually the setting for angry villagers to scream ‘kill King Joffrey’ when he returns to the Red Keep in series two. It’s hard to miss the Rector’s Palace, which is on the main square. In real life it now serves as the Cultural History Museum but in Game of Thrones it was transferred into the atrium for the Spice King’s palace in Qarth.
Most fans will instantly recognise King’s Landing Harbour, which is actually the Blackwater Bay, which sits between Bokar Fortress and Fort Lovrijenac, next to the drawbridge at Pile Gate. This is right in the centre of Dubrovnik where all the big coaches drop off and can be seen from all across the square. In Blackwater Bay we saw people fishing and swimming and you can also rent kayaks to get out onto the water. Fort Lovrijenac, to the right, you may also recognise as The Red Keep itself. One location that fans often miss (and we did first time!) are the tiny doors embedded in the rock below the fort. This easy-to-miss spot was in the background when the Gold Cloaks were ordered to murder King Robert Baratheon’s ‘bastards’ in season two.
As you walk through the old city, the 16th Century Ethnographic Museum doubles up as Littlefinger’s brothel (ooh er). And the dramatic Jesuit Staircase, which was modelled on the Spanish Steps in Rome, lead up to the Dubrovnik Cathedral and mark the start of Cersei’s infamous naked Walk of Shame through the streets. Along St Dominic Street, which is one of the main thoroughfares through the city, you will find the Dominican Monastery. You have to be there early to capture a picture of the stairs with no one one else in it but this pops up quite frequently in Kings Landing, most memorably in the market scenes and when commoners protest against the Lannisters. That should give you something to be getting on with anyway!
One thing we didn’t do is visit the Game of Thrones Fan Shop (Dubrovnik City Shop), which is located at the third entrance to the old city. Here, fans line up to be photographed sitting in a replica of the Iron Throne. Just note, in order to get your photo you have to buy something from the shop. Great business plan! Cersi would be proud.
Need more travel inspiration on where to go in Europe? Check out our recent guide to Lake Garda in Italy.
What to do in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Explore Lokrum Island
Lokrum is around 15 minutes by boat from Dubrovnik harbour and regular ferries take you from the mainland for 150 HRK (£18) and this includes access to the island, which is a protected nature reserve. Be wary of people on the port trying to sell you competitive rates to get to the island on smaller boats. These tickets do not include entrance fee (or,usually, returns) so you will have to pay 120 HRK once you reach the island and travel back by ferry anyway. Those who feel fit enough can also kayak or even swim to the island – unsurprisingly we didn’t fit into that category!
The whole of Lokrum island is a nature reserve, which makes it a peaceful and relaxing place to spend the day. There are no cars (making it ideal for kids) and no one lives on the island, meaning it is largely unspoilt by tourism and modern life. Since Dubrovnik is very busy, especially when a large cruise ship arrives in port, this place almost feels like a secret island that ONLY those in the know can escape to. There are hidden beaches around Lokrum Island which are ideal to sunbathe and swim in the crystal clear waters. On the island itself there is a botanical garden with 500 different kinds of trees, flowers, plants and bushes from around the world, many planted when Maximilian of Habsburg bought Lokrum and made it his summer home in 1859.
There isn’t loads to do on the island but we spent the whole day there just wandering around, beach hopping and stretching our legs. We were surprised to find Lokrum’s main residents are wild peacocks which inhabit the island after being brought over from the Canary Islands 150 years ago. These guys rule the roost and seem relaxed and indifferent to the daily visitors. Finn was fascinated and loved following them around laughing his head off at them. The trails are mostly smooth but not all are pram friendly (and definitely not wheelchair-friendly, sadly). A couple of times we just locked our pushchair to a fence (we carry a bike lock with us) and went to explore wheel-free, which was much easier.
There are a few cafes, a restaurant and a random cocktail bar on the island but that’s about it. So if you are planning to go for the whole day, bring your own supplies such as swimwear, towels, picnic, water, toys for kids etc. As an animal lover, I was delighted to see cute rabbits dotted around too! But I later discovered they have become pests and are causing damage to the plants so I’m not sure how long these guys will be here…
When visiting Lokrum, it’s best to be prepared for a bit of cheek – there is a nudist beach on the southwest of the island (you will see signs for FKK which stands for Freikörperkultur or Free Body Culture). Croatia is known for its naturist culture on specific beaches around the country and this one has to be one of the most secluded there is. It’s also handy if, like us, you forget all your swimming stuff and you can improvise by going for a skinny dip and drying off in the sun. Finn had no problems with the naked swimming but Simon came over all shy when the time came…
Another place you can swim on Lokrum is the Dead Sea lake, an idyllic salt-filled water hole on the southern part of the island. It’s named the Dead Sea because the deep lake is fed from a series of underground caves leading from the sea. The deep water means jumping from the cliff or diving in is a popular pastime and the salt water means you can easily float on the surface. Alongside the lake is an alfresco cocktail and snack bar and we enjoyed a fruity drink while people-watching for an hour or so.
One of the main attractions on Lokrum island is the imposing Benedictine Monastery, which was built in the 11th century. You can tour the monastery and there is a cafe restaurant for food and refreshments. Those still on the look out for more Game of Thrones locations may recognise the monastery and the botanical gardens as the fictional city of Quarth. There is currently a pop-up Game of Thrones exhibition in the visitor centre, which is slightly naff but they do have (another) Iron Throne on which you can pose. With gorgeous weather and so much natural beauty to explore, we didn’t bother with this. One last thing – you can’t stay overnight on the island so don’t miss the last ferry back!
Sample modern Croatia
There is no shortage of places to eat in Dubrovnik. In fact, there are literally restaurants everywhere! Classic Dalmatian eateries with street seating and tablecloths are two-a-penny, and honestly, the quality and service was pretty much the same everywhere. I’m sure there are the classic ‘need to book in advance’ recommended places but since we were not organised enough for that, we did what most tourists do and wandered around until we saw something we liked/got hungry and stopped there.
With our toddler with us on this trip, dining wasn’t a huge priority but National Geographic Traveller just tipped Dubrovnik as Europe’s next great dining destination and this is largely thanks to a trend for young, interesting pop up restaurants and a hipster food scene that has been slowly growing. As is often the way with young, fresh ideas, you also get competitive prices and this is one of the ways you can find cheap eats in Dubrovnik. One such place is Barba Sea Food. A tiny place that serves ‘sea food-street food’ and is one of the best budget restaurants in Dubrovnik. You can sit inside on casual benches or cushions placed on the stone steps outside. The restaurant only uses freshly-caught ingredients (so be aware they close early if they sell out) and the menu changes daily. However, the octopus burger and the tempura prawns are the most popular items. Inside they have a fun activity where you can design your own wooden fork and use it to decorate the walls.
Another place we enjoyed was Pink Shrimp Street Food. A casual cafe recently opened by celebrated Dubrovnik chef Ruđer Jelavić. The small menu is made up with interesting tapas-style shrimp dishes, including shrimp carpaccio and crispy shrimp tempura on shredded courgette. It’s very small and hard to find in a narrow street off the main Stradun.
As well as having its own identity, Dubrovnik has a strong Italian influence and happily this also includes ample places to find delicious gelato. One of our favourites, which was opposite our hotel and in the main tourist square (usually to be avoided at all costs!) was Dubravka. Their ice cream was reasonably-priced with large helpings and friendly staff. Conveniently located at the entrance to Pile Gate and the ideal way to cool off after a morning in the Croatian sun.
Click here to discover a hidden side of Croatia
Go to the beach in Dubrovnik
As Brits in hot weather we could not resist a beach day. There are a lot of beaches around Dubrovnik, some more idyllic than others. If you are not staying at a luxury beachfront hotel, I do think the nicest ones are on Lokrum Island, but you are more isolated there. Our requirements were a family-friendly beach where you can walk into the sea (rather than jump from rocks, a popular pasttime in Dubrovnik) and with places to get food and drink nearby. We settled on Cococabana Beach, a half moon bay on the Babin kuk peninsula. We took the number six bus from Pile Gate, which took around 25 minutes, or you can take a taxi in ten minutes. It’s not the nicest beach I have ever been to, it’s more pebbles and gravel than sand, but it ticked all the boxes and we had a lovely day.
Around the beach is a cafe bar selling beer and pizza and a nicer, sit down restaurant where we had a delicious squid ink pasta and spaghetti alle vongole with a lovely glass of wine under a shady terrace. The water is ideal for younger kids as it remains shallow for a while before getting deeper. Older children will also enjoy the floating inflatable obstacle course at the end of the beach. We were gutted to miss out on that!
Croatia, and Dubrovnik especially, isn’t blessed with sandy beaches and so we were advised to bring sea shoes to wear and it was a great tip! Sexy they are not, but we would have struggled on the sharp stones without them. This is not just for the beach we’d chosen but common across the beaches and coves.
Be a tourist
Some places you want to mingle and blend in with the locals but Dubrovnik is actually a really good place to just enjoy being a tourist. There isn’t loads to do but there is a lot to see. Sightseeing and people-watching were our top activities. Each evening we would start with a glass of fizz in the executive lounge at our hotel, Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik, which had sea views across the terracotta roof tops. In the Old City there are plenty of places to stop and have a quick drink and watch the world go by. Generally, we didn’t find Dubrovnik wildly expensive when it came to food and drink but, like anywhere, it does depend on where you go.
A lot of our four-day trip focused on the Old City as we just wanted a chilled out week and to get a little feel of what Dubrovnik is all about. If you plan on staying in Dubrovnik for longer, you can explore the coastline by boat on a varied choice of sea excursions, or get panoramic views of the whole city and the Adriatic sea on the Dubrovnik Cable Car. The cost to ride the Dubrovnik cable car is quite steep (excuse the pun) at 150 HRK (£18) for an adult round trip and and 60 HRK (£10) for children 4-6 years. The entrance to the lower station is around 8-10 minutes (uphill) from Pile Gate.
Another super touristy spot that we actually liked is the Cave Bar More in Lapad, a bar/coffee shop built into the rocks. We didn’t go out of our way to go here but as we were walking around the north west area of Dubrovnik we spotted it and went in. The huge cavern is situated under the Hotel More and was discovered during the construction of the hotel. The unique design means it can be reached by a lift from the hotel or by stairs through the tunnel from the coastal walk. As well as the bar, there is an area with a glass floor that shows what the cave looked like before it was transformed.
I could have spent days just wandering around Dubrovnik, winding through the alleyways and taking photos of the cute streets and buildings. It really is very pretty. And if you want somewhere to take lovely pictures to post online, almost everywhere you look is an Instagram-worthy spot in Dubrovnik. Flat, comfy shoes are a must. The whole city is made up of cobblestones and stairs.
If you are visiting Dubrovnik with a baby and want to bring your pram, we did find it easier than other European cities (such as Lisbon). If you have a buggy or if you have limited mobility, you will have to stick to the lower streets around the old city, but helpfully the incline begins with a slight hill before turning into steps for the steeper places. When booking your hotel in Dubrovnik, remember that the Old City is pedestrian-only so taxis and coaches will drop off at Pile Gate (or another gate of the city) and you will need to carry your own luggage through.
Initially I wasn’t sure if Dubrovnik would be ideal for a toddler but it turned out to be just fine. The traffic-free streets of the old city meant Finn could run around and have a bit of freedom without us worrying about him getting run over. I do recommend child reins as they came in handy for us when the streets started to get busier. Most restaurants in Dubrovnik are kid-friendly and offered kids meals and most have access to high chairs. Probably one of the best things about Dubrovnik is that almost everything is walkable (or reachable by buses – which are pram accessible) and so we didn’t have to worry about renting a car or taking taxis which kept costs down for us as a family. Plus, it’s laid back, picturesque and historic. We had a great time.
Getting to Dubrovnik city from the airport
One of my biggest tips for Dubrovnik is to get the bus transfer from Dubrovnik Airport to the Old Town. The coach, which is 70 K (£8.50) for a return, leaves once passengers have cleared customs on each flight. It was very well signposted and organised. Tickets are purchased on the bus and the journey takes 30-40 minutes. The thing with this airport shuttle is that is takes the same, single lane road almost all the way from the airport to Pile Gate (it also stops at Gruz Port) as all cars including private taxis. So you’ll find it is just as fast as going in a taxi which costs between 252 HRK (£30 each way). Since the only road to Dubrovnik is along the coast, the views are stunning however you travel.
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