Best Things to Do in Dubrovnik, Croatia – Itinerary for First-Time Visitors
- 1 Best Things to Do in Dubrovnik, Croatia – Itinerary for First-Time Visitors
- 1.1 Day 1 in Dubrovnik
- 1.2 Day 2 in Dubrovnik
- 1.3 Day 3 in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is surely one of a kind. It is one of the most unique places in Europe and I have to say – Dubrovnik did not disappoint.
Was it busy? Yes. Was it expensive? Yes. Was it touristy? Yes. Do I recommend visiting Dubrovnik? Yes.
I have traveled extensively in Europe and I have seen a good number of old towns – Dubrovnik, however, plays in a different league. In addition to the old town and the stunning city walls that were its fortification system, you will find beautiful scenery that includes beaches, islands, and mountains. Dubrovnik is a small city but there is so much to do and see – it has quite a lot of attractions and highlights and there is no shortage of points of interests.
Before talking about the best things to do in Dubrovnik, and discussing a Dubrovnik itinerary of sorts (it is not a real itinerary, but close), here are some important travel tips for Dubrovnik.
So, before finding out about what to do and see in Dubrovnik, about the most beautiful places to visit and the best attractions, etc., here is a quick overview of its history, how to get to the city, where to stay, and so on.
DUBROVNIK TRAVEL TIPS
Dubrovnik is the most southern city in Croatia – it was an independent republic for a long time and even today, it feels different from the rest of Croatia.
Located on the Adriatic Sea, it is also known as the Pearl of the Adriatic and has been a tourist magnet for decades – given the amazing old town and its city walls, this is no surprise.
While it was partly damaged in the war in the 1990s, it is almost completely rebuilt and is a super safe and clean city.
Did I say city? I am not actually sure if Dubrovnik qualifies as a city, as it has less than 50,000 inhabitants.
How to Get to Dubrovnik
Before talking about what to do in Dubrovnik, let´s discuss how to get there first.
By Car: Getting to Dubrovnik from other parts of Croatia is not as easy as one might think, especially if you are not aware of the geography. The area of Dubrovnik is separated from the rest of Croatia by another country – Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In the late 17th century, when Bosnia-Herzegovina was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, Dubrovnik was an independent republic. Dubrovnik, known for its trade and lacking experience in warfare, was scared of an attack by the Venetians, so they agreed to give up some land to the Ottoman Empire. By doing this, they hoped to be protected from attacks – and it worked (until Napolean came, but that is another story).
So, this is just a short explanation for the unusual geography and why, now, about 20 km of coastline still belong to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
So, you cannot easily drive from Split to Dubrovnik. Do not get me wrong – Bosnia-Herzegovina is a wonderful country, beautiful and safe, but you have to cross borders. And unlike crossing borders within the European Union, you will be controlled at the border (Croatia is part of the EU, but Bosnia-Herzegovina is not).
One day, there might be a bridge connecting Dubrovnik to the rest of Croatia, but for now, make sure to bring your ID/Passport with you.
PLUS: The views are scenic and you might want to stop many times along the way, if you drive the D8.
Driving in Dubrovnik is okay, but finding a parking spot that does not cost you an arm and a leg is difficult. You cannot drive in the old town (it is car-free), but you can pay a high price to park your car there.
Some hotels offer parking for about 40€ a day. Parking in a garage next to the old town is around 40€ a day, too. I found a parking spot next to the Pile Gate for 10€ – AN HOUR. For Europe, this is a LOT of money. If you do not want to pay 240€ for parking, then either park in the garage or look for a free parking spot about 3km outside the old town center (I saw many more free parking spots when driving up Srd Mountain, where you can park and take a bus to get to the old town).
I parked in Babin Kun (just type that in your GPS) and then took the #6 bus to the Pile Gate (about 15 minutes, price is about 2€ one way). When I wanted to get back, I was denied admittance to the bus because apparently dogs are not allowed on, and since I had some luggage with me, I had to take a taxi (about 15€ for a three-kilometer drive).
However, if you stay longer in Dubrovnik, free parking is the way to go. And yes, it is actually quite safe to leave your car on the street, if you do not leave valuables on display.
By Plane: Dubrovnik Airport is located near the village of Cilipi, 20 km south of Dubrovnik. There are many flights within Europe from April to October.
An airport shuttle bus departs frequently, after every scheduled flight. They also stop at the Pile Gate, at the main entrance to the old town.
It takes 30 minutes (one-way ticket costs 40 Kuna, or about 5.5€). You can also reach the town by public bus.
By Bus: You can easily reach Dubrovnik by bus from many places in Croatia. Public transportation to main destinations like Dubrovnik is good, and the bus network is reliable in Croatia.
It takes about 9 hours by bus to reach Dubrovnik from Zagreb, and around 4 hours to reach Dubrovnik from Split. Tickets from Zagreb are around 32€ (one way) and 17€ from Split to Dubrovnik.
Check out schedules on the Dubrovnik Bus Terminal website.
By Ferry: You could also take a ferry from Split: This catamaran takes four and a half hours each way (including several stops on the islands of Brac, Hvar, Korcula, and Mljet en route).
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How to Get Around in Dubrovnik
The old town of Dubrovnik is car-free, and it is also small, so you can easily walk around the main sights and landmarks in Dubrovnik. If you want to visit other places, or if you stay outside the old town, you can use public transportation, which is quite extensive and cheap (warning: dogs are not allowed on buses). However, to see the best places in Dubrovnik, you can mostly walk.
In Dubrovnik, you will not need a car at all. My tip: if you want to rent a car, get it after the days in Dubrovnik (or return it before your trip to Dubrovnik).
To get up Srd Mountain, you can use the cable car (more on that later), hike up, or drive up.
If you plan to use public transportation and do several activities, a Dubrovnik Card might be a good idea (you can get unlimited rides on public transportation and entrance to the city walls, etc. for 1, 3, or 7 days).
Best Time to Visit Dubrovnik
I always say, there is no reliability when it comes to seasons and weather. Even in the Balkans, weather cannot be predicted. It is not always warm and sunny – not even in May.
However, I recommend visiting during the shoulder season, meaning April, May, and early June, or September and October.
I visited in May. The weather was moody, but it was not too crowded (though busy) and probably would visit again around this same time of year (weather was moody all over Europe, so this year is just crazy).
Where to Stay in Dubrovnik
I suggest staying in the old town – it is more expensive and you do not have free parking, but you can easily stroll the old town when day tourists are gone, which makes it much more pleasant.
I stayed in Dubrovnik for two nights. I normally book spontaneously, but it was actually not easy finding something good last-minute in Dubrovnik (and it was just early May). After staying at my hotel for one night, I wanted to book another night, but it was fully booked, so I had to switch hotels.
So, here are my two recommendations:
Villa Flora: A good choice in the old town, just a minute from Stradun. Not super modern, nor extremely fancy, but a nice hotel if you do not want to spend a fortune. Click here to check out prices for Villa Flora.
Rector´s Villa: Located just outside the old town (one minute from the Pile Gate and next to Fort Lovrijenac). This is great for those who want to self-cater, as it provides a little kitchen in each room. Find out about the rates for Rector´s Villa here.
Hilton: If you are looking for a more luxurious hotel near the old town (just 200 meters outside the old town, then you may want to check out the Hilton in Dubrovnik.
Where to Eat in Dubrovnik
Nisha Restaurant: A vegan restaurant on a side street with really, really good food (a bit expensive though and had very limited seating, so my tip is to avoid getting there between 1 pm and 2 pm, and head there earlier or later for lunch.
How to Book Tours and Activities in Dubrovnik
You can buy your Dubrovnik Card at the tourism center right outside the old town and also in some shops in the old town.
The tickets for the city walls can be bought at the entrance gate of the city walls.
For tours, I normally use GetYourGuide – they are great. You can visit most places in Dubrovnik independently and explore the city on your own but there are some fun tours and with GetYourGuide you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance without any cancellation fee and they are very helpful with questions.
Bring cash. Cards are accepted in some restaurants and stores, but I had to pay cash once in a while. Also, euros and dollars are not accepted widely, so change some money to Kuna.
BEST THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN DUBROVNIK IN ONE OR TWO DAYS
Day 1 in Dubrovnik
Here is how the first day in Dubrovnik could look like.
There is no way around it – my favorite activity and probably the very best thing to do in Dubrovnik is to walk the city walls. I love medieval towns and cities and have walked many walls – but the city walls in Dubrovnik are one of the best-preserved and most amazing city walls/fortification systems to walk.
They include three forts (Minceta, Bokar, and St. John), 16 towers, 6 bastions, 2 corner fortifications, and 2 citadels. Some of the walls are as high as 25 meters – and the views are as impressive as these stats.
Even if you are on a budget, this is an activity I highly suggest. Yes, about 30€ is way too expensive, but if you have only a limited time in Dubrovnik, you will have seen the stunning old town from a great perspective.
The city walls are almost 2 km long. You will walk along the whole old town, and while it is “only” 2km, it took me about 3 hours to walk them. This included many breaks to take pictures and also have a coffee – and then some more short breaks.
While “medieval” normally means narrow streets and city walls, this city wall is actually quite wide.
There are definitely some stairs you have to climb – but if you are not very fit, you can always skip the fortress, which has even more stairs (but keep in mind that there are still some stairs to climb, but I think that they are doable for everyone).
It is not very stroller-friendly though (but at least it was dog-friendly and they can get up there for free).
The walls open at 8 am. There are several entrances (but there is no way to get up without a ticket – you will have to show your ticket at every entrance) that you can start from, but the most common is probably from Pile Gate.
It gets busy here quite quickly, so I really recommend getting here at 8 am (or around 5 pm).
Okay, this might sound a bit weird and is a quite unique thing to do (but luckily also a free thing to do)- you can easily find your true love in Dubrovnik. You do not have to do much.
All it takes is finding the gargoyle head protruding from a stone wall next to the Franciscan Monastery (near the Pile Gate). Get on the head (while not falling), take off your shirt while facing towards the wall, and voila… the love of your life will come into your life.
Okay, the head sticks out only fifteen centimeters and its top surface is polished like marble, so it is almost impossible to succeed, but you won‘t know if the myth is true or not if you do not try!
After walking the city walls (about 1.5-3 hours), head to Fort Lovrijenac.
King´s Landing! That is probably the unofficial name of this fort that is located outside the city walls and is also known as the Dubrovnik Gibraltar.
It is also part of the fortification system and offers beautiful views of the Adria and also parts of Dubrovnik.
I will be honest, I have not watched any episodes of Game of Thrones (yet), but I realized that many people at the fortress tried to recall which scene was filmed in which part of the fortress.
So, it is a must-see in Dubrovnik. The good news: If you have a ticket for the city walls (or the Dubrovnik), you do not have to pay an additional entrance fee here.
If you are ready for a break, sit down at the “beach section“ that you will find between Fort Lovrijenac and the city walls. It felt great to listen to the waves and take a break before jumping into the commotion of the old town.
Stradun (or the Place) is the main street in the old town and one of the most beautiful places in Dubrovnik, and according to reviews, even one of the most beautiful streets in the world. I am not sure about that, but it is impressive to stroll the Stradun, sit down in one of the (overpriced) cafes and have a drink, and enjoy watching the crowds of people admiring the various beautiful buildings.
If you enter via the Ploce Gate or Pile Gate, you are right at the street – so, no way to get lost here. You have the Onofrio Fountain at the western end of the street and the Bell Tower on the eastern end of the street.
I, unfortunately, did not witness people dancing here, but if you are lucky, you might see people showing off local dances and you can enjoy a bit more of the local traditions.
Of course, strolling the streets in the old town is another one of the top things to do in Dubrovnik and that is actually a good free thing to do. Not all streets blew me away – actually, I missed some colors (I probably spent too much time in Italy and my craving for colorful buildings/decor is immense) at the beginning until I found them further away from the main streets.
The residential streets were actually quite picturesque and less visited (head towards Za Rokum – the most colorful street I found – and then get lost in the streets on that side of the old town).
But you will also find the Rector´s Palace, the Church of St. Blaise, the Dominican Monastery, and the beautiful Dubrovnik Cathedral in the old town – beautiful buildings that are well worth a visit (entrance fee for Rector´s Palace).
I am a repeat offender – but I cannot help it. I love boat cruises! So, my advice should not surprise you – in Dubrovnik, you should go on a boat cruise! And the good news: boat cruising can be comparatively affordable (around 10€ for a 45-minute cruise), but you will see the city from a different perspective.
Plus, on a warm day, this is the best way to cool off!
The cruises start outside the city walls at the old port and you can buy tickets there (they run quite frequently).
The above-mentioned activities will most likely fill a full day in Dubrovnik – of course, it depends how fast you are, what time you start your day, and when you end your day.
As stunning as the old town of Dubrovnik is, the old port is beautiful, too. So, make sure to leave the old town at the end of the main shopping street – Stradun – and stroll the port.
You will find restaurants, boats, and yachts, and also a lively and fun atmosphere here.
This is also where the boats sail from.
This bar is probably one of the most famous spots in Dubrovnik – and though I have not checked Instagram for my Dubrovnik trip, I guess it is one of the main Instagram spots in Dubrovnik, too.
What makes the bar so popular is the location: It sits on a cliff, outside the wall. You will probably have to use GPS to find it. Stroll the old town and then go through a little door/hole (it is outside the city walls, so there is no entry fee or anything like that). Now, you have the ocean in front of you, plus a few seats to have a drink (and cliffs where many people sit and enjoy their drinks and the view).
There are several bars like this, but this is the most popular one – especially if you want to watch the sunset (in that case, come a bit easier to be sure to get a spot, as it gets busy for sunset).
Srd Hill / Mountain
Last, but not least: I am all about the views when I travel. So, of course, if you ask me about what to do in Dubrovnik, I will tell you to add a trip to Srd Mountain to your Dubrovnik itinerary.
It stands at 413 meters high and the views are incredible – the red roofs, the ocean, Lokrum Island. Even Elaphite Island is kind of a million-dollar view. There is also a panorama restaurant where you can have a drink or dine (you also get the views for free if you don’t sit at the restaurant), and there is a museum next to the restaurant where you can find out more about the war in the 1990´s, as well as information on the Dubrovnik Republic.
There is – normally – a cable car that takes you up. The cable car station is just a stone’s throw from the old town. However, it is closed atm (apparently, the owner did not pay his taxes for a couple of years, so the city shut it down), but it might open again in summer 2019.
However, you can also hike up (it should take between 45-90 minutes to get up), take a taxi, or even drive in your own car. I drove up there, and though I do not recommend it for inexperienced mountain drivers, there are much worse streets in the Balkans, Italy, and other parts of Europe to drive on. And if I can do it, you can do it, too.
Day 2 in Dubrovnik
However, for day 2 in Dubrovnik, I suggest the following activities.
Whether you want to start your day relaxed or want to come here during the day (when it gets warmer), spending some time at the beach in Dubrovnik is big.
I am not much of a beach person and it was definitely too cold for laying out at the beach at the beginning of May (when I visited), but Dubrovnik does have some nice beaches – many close to the old town.
Banje Beach is the most popular, which is just a few minutes walk from the old town, but there are apparently some more that are less busy and a bit farther away (including Pasjaca Beach).
Tip: Be aware that the beaches in Croatia and Dubrovnik are mostly pebble beaches, not sand beaches.
Kayak or Snorkel
Do you want to be more active? Then, kayaking is the right activity for you. Kayaking is one of the three sports I hate the most – yes, I did it and disliked it, but others seem to enjoy it and it is a big thing in Dubrovnik. It seems that it is a popular water activity in Dubrovnik – and you can see the city from the other side and can even kayak to Lokrum Island.
You can book kayak tours in advance – click here to find out more and get prices.
Your eyes will probably catch this small, green island quite quickly when walking the city walls. This little, uninhabited island can actually be visited. Lokrum Island covers 72 hectares and is located on the eastern Croatian coast, near the city of Dubrovnik, and you can get there either via boat or by kayaking.
On the island, you can discover the botanical garden and visit the Benedictine Monastery.
Apparently, some garden scenes in Game of Thrones were filmed at the botanical garden and the former monastery (of course).
This is also where you will find the Iron Throne (at the monastery) – Game of Throne fans know what I am talking about.
There are Game of Thrones tours showing you the Iron Throne and King´s Landing – click here for more information.
Though I wish that I could be a walking encyclopedia, I often learn about the history and culture of a place in depth only when I do a walking tour – whether it is a free one or not.
And while the city is small (there are only 50,000 inhabitants), there is a lot of history and information that a local guide can best convey to you.
Tours take about 60-120 minutes and you can get valuable insights. So, if you are in Dubrovnik for more than one day, then book a tour to complete your itinerary for Dubrovnik.
Game of Thrones Tour
Dubrovnik was a tourist magnet long before the war in the 1990s, and long before the TV show Game of Thrones.
However, apparently, 30% of visitors now come because of the show. Knowing how busy it gets in Dubrovnik, this means a lot of people are coming because of GoT. And so, it is no surprise that a guided “Game of Thrones” walking tour is one of the most popular activities in Dubrovnik. To find out more about Game of Thrones Tours click here to get the prices and more information.
Day 3 in Dubrovnik
If you stay longer, you could add one of the following activities to your itinerary for Dubrovnik.
A less-visited area, this street is great for escaping the crowds. I cannot say that I was totally in love and smitten, but I enjoyed walking the street and seeing the different and more unique views of Dubrovnik. From here, you can also spot the pretty Franjo Tudman Bridge, which is an eyecatcher.
If you enjoy walking, you can just walk from the old town, or hop on a bus to get there (bus number 6).
You can hike up to St. John´s Fortress and enjoy amazing views of the Bay of Kotor and you can stroll the old town of the town in one day.
For guided tours click here and find out more about a day trip to Montenegro to Dubrovnik.
I have become a fan of Bosnia-Herzegovina – and Mostar, close to the Croatian border – is a good idea for a day trip from Dubrovnik. While one day in Bosnia-Herzegovina is surely not enough this day trip gives you a good idea of Bosnia´s beauty.
Make sure to take your ID/passport and check visa regulations for Mostar (and Kotor) as both countries are, unlike Croatia, not part of the European Union. You can easily drive to Mostar yourself or check out guided tours.
So, I was totally smitten when I visited Dubrovnik – despite the crowds and the price-tag – and I hope, you will have a great time in Dubrovnik!
Visiting Split? Then check out my Split guide
Rovinj is completely different than Dubrovnik- find out more about this Croatian city here