Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Old Town Dubrovnik
More than any other trip I’ve taken since social media even existed, after seeing all my pictures on Instagram all anyone wants to hear about is our city break to Dubrovnik. We flew out for J’s birthday having missed a big one during lockdown, and after one of the best meals of our lives at 360 Dubrovnik, a wonderful Michelin star fine dining restaurant built into the Old Town walls, we set about exploring the old town. Here is everything we did, and everything I think you need to know about planning your trip!
Flights & Airport Transfers
We caught a very reasonable EasyJet flight from London Gatwick to Dubrovnik Airport, which is roughly a 30 minute drive from Dubrovnik proper, depending on the traffic – there are plenty of taxis at the airport, but check with your accommodation, like ours did, most places arrange their own transfer services right to your hotel (or to the Old Town gate if you’re staying in the Old Town which, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is entirely pedestrianised).
If you can try to get a window seat, flying from London to Dubrovnik there are some stunning views from the sky, including the Alps, Lake Como, Venice, and the beautiful Dalmatian coast.
Local Currency and Tipping
The local currency in Croatia is the Croatian Kuna, but I’d recommend carrying both Kuna and Euros in cash – a few things like our airport transfers and how our accommodation wanted us to pay the city tax was in Euros, most places are Kuna only, but a lot of other places will take both – tips are not included in the bill when you go out for dinner, and tipping in either currency is acceptable, though Kuna seemed to be preferred.
Do make sure you have something like a Monzo card or a new Chase bank account that don’t charge you for foreign transactions (between us we have both and either notifications with currency conversions were super helpful) as almost everywhere takes card – though we did use Amex for larger purchases like that incredible meal at 360.
Dubrovnik was hot! It must have been all that old stone and the reflection off the water but shorts for the day, and skirts and dresses for dinner are a must – according to the weather forecast it did not go higher than 26 degrees whilst we were there, but honestly you’d not want it any warmer.
Most restaurants are outdoor dining if the weather calls for it so do take a jacket or a good cardigan out with you in the evenings for when the sun goes down – quite a few of them have blankets and heaters, but a few don’t.
I’d highly recommend booking accommodation in the Old Town, as you’ll be a stones throw away from most of the bars and restaurants, though the Hilton Imperial is just across from one of the Old Town gates. Whilst there are a couple of really luxe hotels (the Stari Grad Boutique Hotel, where we ate at their rooftop restaurant, for example) to keep things affordable I’d recommend you do what we did and book an apartment – there are many in the Old Town.
So, a few things to keep in mind, the first of which is the location. Stradun is the main street in the old town you’ll recognise from Game of Thrones which serves as the main thoroughfare. After the first street on the new town side it becomes very, very steep so if you book somewhere near the walls on this side you’ll have a killer climb in the heat, so stick to the first street or two, or somewhere nearer the sea.
Second, is that apartments vary wildly in quality, so do your research! There is something for everyone, from 20-30 something couples like us to backpackers. We stayed at Scalini Palace which was in a better location than we could have hoped for, just off the Stradun which was modern, comfortable, and whilst not the cleanest, clean enough not to complain about! The staff are really helpful if not a bit ditzy (double check your airport transfer times!) though with those caveats I’d not hesitate to recommend staying there – we also got a choice of free breakfasts delivered to our room on the first day, great as we’d not yet got our bearings, and all their restaurant recommendations lined up with places I’d already researched, and we later loved!
It seems a little touristy, but I honestly recommend the first thing you do in Dubrovnik is head to one of the tourist offices (or ask at your hotel front desk if it’s on this list) and buy a 1, 3, or 7 day Dubrovnik card which gets you free entry to 9 different museums and attractions (including the city walls), discounted entry to a few others including the boat out to the Lokrum island nature reserve, and also includes discounts at several shops and restaurants, and a few free travel passes if you wish to head into the new town.
Honestly, it will save you a tonne of money if you want to soak up the local history. Honestly, the only place we visited that was not included was Dubrovnik Synagogue and museum, which I would still recommend as well worth the visit. It is the oldest synagogue still in use in Europe, and holds the three oldest Torah scrolls in Europe, which are simply stunning to look at, because they’re never touched by human hands they’re the best preserved manuscripts I’ve ever seen anywhere.
Walking the Old Town Walls
Beyond a doubt, the very best thing to do in Dubrovnik is walk the Old Town Walls. They’ll take a while at approximately 1,940 meters, but there is so much to do with stunning views out over the Old Town, into peoples back gardens to see how they live, the Adriatic, out to Lokrum island and over the new town it will be a morning well spent.
A few tips for visiting: go early in the morning to avoid the crowds (especially cruise ship groups!) and pick the entry point up onto the walls nearest where you’re staying or a good bar, as you’ll need a rest afterwards!
I was worried there would not be things like toilets up on the walls – your ticket only gets you up on them once – but happily there are a couple, as well as bars and gelato shops set at strategic points for fresh orange juice, cold Croatian beer or a pistachio gelato at strategic points so you can easily stop in the shade to take in the view!
Churches, Monasteries and Museums
I warn you, aside from a bit of sea swimming and island hopping (more on that in a moment!), what else outside of mealtimes and time spend at the bar are an art history geek (me) and a religious history PhD (him) going to do on holiday except visit old churches and monasteries, so this guide is very geared towards that sort of trip!
After doing the city walls and going to the beach on our first day, going to Lokrum island and relaxing on the second, we reserved our final day in Dubrovnik to church hop through the Old Town. All the churches are beautiful inside and out, as I mentioned the Synagogue is well worth a visit, and there are two beautiful Monastery’s to visit – each have their charms, but if you’re pressed for time you can just see one to get an idea of the tranquility and the architecture.
Remember when visiting the churches to wear proper shoes not flip flops, trousers not shorts, and to cover your shoulders. It is also respectful to be quiet and not to talk inside the church buildings, but quiet whispers or prayers are okay.
The Rector’s Palace, included in your Dubrovnik card is a lovely space to have a wonder around. I loved the architecture in particular; it is a beautiful building, but it houses lots of art work relating to Dubrovnik, has some beautifully decorated rooms, a fascinating collection of lockboxes from across Europe if you’re into engineering and lots of household goods from the old Republic to examine, from lavish sedan chairs painted with aristocratic coats of arms to pharmacy jars, household silver and exquisite tableware.
The Franciscan Monastery doubles as a museum of pharmacy, but also carries a lot of interesting church regalia, and of course has stunning cloisters enclosing a tranquil garden overrun by orange blossom. As I mentioned, if you’re into this sort of thing we loved visiting both monasteries, but if you’re there for the architecture, not the church history, you only need to visit one – remember if you take a trip to Lokrum there is a monastery there too.
One word of warning about the religious museums and sites we visited: be prepared to see human body parts, or in one case (though you won’t believe it because it looks like a sculpture until you Google it afterwards) an actually preserved human body. There are a lot of Reliquaries on display – decorative vessels to hold body parts of dead Saints, pieces of the cross, etc. – and you will see pieces of human bone, skulls etc. on display.
The Dominican Monastery was my favourite of the two: my tip is to go about 45 minutes before closing right at the end of the day and take a moment to sit in the tranquil gardens. And, casually there is a casual, rather excellent Titian hanging in one room where you can get way closer to it and could touch it (not that you should) unlike how they’re all roped off in most European museums.
You’ll run into the Maritime Museum up on the city walls, and it is free to enter with your Dubrovnik Card. Whilst I know most people are not as into boats as J is (!) I loved seeing all the Ancient world (Dubrovnik was a major trading port, once) they’ve dredged up from wrecks in the Adriatic, and it actually gave me a good grounding in the history of the town and why the walls were built, so worth a visit whilst you’re up there, probably on your first day.
Sailing to Lokrum Island
There are so many different islands around Dubrovnik that you can visit by boat, but if you want to visit just one, make it Lokrum Island (boat tickets are discounted with the Dubrovnik Card). It’s a nature reserve featuring stunning views and trails, an old monastery and botanical gardens – just take sturdy shoes and plenty of water as it is quite the hike and very hilly – we had to spend several hours in a beach bar after we returned to the main land with several ice cold Croatian beers to recover!
You can buy boat tickets at the Old Port (it is the kiosk built into the walls, not the ones on the quay vying for attention) and boats leave every half hour between the port and the island until early evening.
Make sure when you arrive on the island to head into the pink office just by where the boat docks to pick up a trail map, which will mark all the important sites, as well as give a little history – for example, the island is supposedly cursed, and it also holds the ruins of a never used quarantine centre whose stone was taken to build the town walls. If you’re really keen, in high season it might be a good idea to Google some more history before visiting Lokrum, as a problem I found all over Dubrovnik even in May just before the season starts lots of leaflets in English had already run out – I had to translate a lot of our history on the trip from the French ones, and J from leaflets in German!
Some more things to look out for: there are some beautiful old olive groves on the island that are beautiful to explore, inside the monastery ruins – and indeed throughout the Dubrovnik Old Town – you’ll be able to smell the orange blossom on the air, orange trees in bloom and fruiting are everywhere, and of course the wild peacocks. Majestic, but very noisy!
Where to Eat
My biggest tip visiting Dubrovnik is plan where you’re going to have dinner in advance, and make a reservation if it is possible to do this online – most restaurant websites have English language booking systems! As well as making sure you don’t miss out on somewhere you really want to go, it will also help you avoid one of the bigger cultural differences that bothered us in Dubrovnik: vying for business.
I know it is a cultural thing, but it can get really stressful in the evenings in the Old Town, looking for somewhere to eat where each restaurant has someone outside it designed to pull you in and try and get business. Its a popular area and they’ve got to make a living, but it is a bad mix with British politeness having to pretend to be interested over and over again, and will make the whole experience a lot stressful! I’ve experienced worse in the Middle East, but book to avoid this!
Bars to Visit
Whilst yes, we wanted to pack a lot into our Dubrovnik trip, we’ve been working non stop for so long we could not remember our last proper holiday – it was certainly the first time we’d been somewhere together that was not my parents old home in France in the five years we’ve been together – so we also wanted to relax. We both love to try local wines and beers, so these are the places we’d recommend (plus one popular spot we don’t think you should bother!) for a drink or two.
An Instagram deep dive find of mine slightly off the beaten track, Ala Mizerija is a brilliant little beach bar with delicious, affordable snacks and a lovely view off the beaten track. 5 minutes walk out of the Old Town it is hidden in a little cove, and has a great selection of bruschettas, salads, spring rolls, fried fish and some excellent fries. The service is warm and helpful, and you’ll want to budget a good few hours to just sit there in the sun and take it in – or, in our case, recover from our Lokrum hike! You can also swim in the bay beneath the bar and there are cubbies to change in, so bring your swimming things if you fancy it (I’ve written a bit more about sea swimming in Dubrovnik below!)
Buza Bar is the bar everyone recommends you visit to watch the sunset from, which I’m sure is stunning, but honestly, I don’t think it is worth it – you need to get there about two hours early to get a seat – do it at Ala Mizerija instead. Built outside the walls on the rocks it looks so magical from up on the Old Town walls, but once you get down there the beer is only bottled, wine only comes in plastic cups, it is all a bit warm, they only take cash, and the staff are very rude. Also, even though you can’t seem to book, you might, as we were, be turfed off your table before sunset for a ‘booking’. Seriously, there are much nicer places to enjoy a drink before dinner!
Restaurant Poklisar is in the Old Port, and as well as being one of my food picks for a casual meal (and including a Dubrovnik card discount) before dinner it is also a great place to grab a people for a nice glass of Croatian white (Croatian white is excellent, red good, sparkling wine also rather good, and rose not worth bothering with!) and a people watch – you’ll be able to see everyone coming and going off of the various boats to and from the different islands – both tourists and locals – as well as the sun set on all the beautiful stone buildings. If you’re a little hungry, the calamari (pictured above) with a mango chilli salsa is among the best, freshest, crispest calamari I’ve ever tasted.
Additionally, if you want a buzzing vibe and to catch the last rays of sun twice we just picked the first bar with a seat on Stradun and we had a lovely time on both evenings, especially after we’d abandoned Buza!
Swimming, Sailing and Kayaking
If you’ve had enough of the history, there is loads to do out on the water. If we’d stayed a little longer, or if we’d been less interested in just recharging on the trip we’d have booked a sunset kayak trip around the Old Town out to some of the islands, or a sailing trip for a half day to do the same – rates for these are really reasonable, just do some Googling and book ahead if this sounds good to you!
One of my best experiences in Dubrovnik was sea swimming. If this is for you you have the option of just climbing down to the beach or onto the rocks wherever you can like the locals do either along the stretch of coast, or heading to a beach bar like we did – it is all pretty safe as all the sea is roped out where you can safely swim to avoid boats, but I’d leave rock climbing and jumping to the locals who know the spots – it all looked pretty perilous!
As it was only me who wanted to swim we went to Banje Beach & Bar just outside the walls where you can rent a sun longer for 150 kuna (about £16) each and which has table service for some pretty fantastic cocktails in the sun. J chilled with his book, and after my drinks I heading into the water. In May the sea is wonderfully refreshing – gloriously warm for the first meter – then cool and crisp underneath, in total not cold at all. There is also a good balance of areas where if you’re not confident you can splash about, or if you’re a stronger swimmer like me and don’t mind the waves from yachts it is easy to swim right out to the safety barriers for stunning views back over Dubrovnik. You can also shower and change in outdoor cubicles at Banje, too.