In Roman times, there was already a settlement on the site of today’s Dubrovnik. However, it was not until the 13th century that the city grew into a seafaring city of note. Dubrovnik has been able to defend itself well against invaders from the west and the east for centuries. In the Middle Ages, it was even the only city on the Adriatic Sea that could compete with Venice. In 1979, Dubrovnik became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, the city was badly damaged during the Yugoslavian wars in 1991. But in the following years, the medieval city was fortunately fully restored and repaired. Since then, Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful European destinations for a city break.
The highlights of Dubrovnik
You can easily spend two days in Dubrovnik. Do you have more time to spend in this part of Croatia? Then plan some days for some of the many highlights in the area. Below, you will find all the highlights that you should not miss during a two-day visit.
Walk on the city wall
Dubrovnik is surrounded by a two-kilometre-long, continuous city wall. Over nine centuries the city wall provided protection from uninvited visitors. Today, it is one of the main attractions of the medieval city. The city wall not only looks impressive but you can also go for a full walk on it. The average height of the wall is 24 metres and it follows a rather hilly terrain. Therefore, it is sometimes quite a climb. But the ever-changing, incredibly beautiful views of the city and the sea make up for everything.
There are three places where you can enter the city wall. Firstly, at the 15th century Pile Gate, the main entrance to the old city. The second entrance is at the 14th century Ploče Gate, the eastern main gate. The third possibility is at the Maritime Museum. Insiders gave us the tip to go up the wall at the Ploče Gate. It is least crowded there, especially in peak season. We were there at the end of September and were able to get up quickly at the Pile Gate without queuing.
Our most important tip is to buy the “3-DAY DUBROVNIK CARD” in advance. This card gives you three days of free admission to many museums and the city wall. It also allows you to travel with public transport six times. As it turned out, the card also gave free access to many other places of interest. Even to the more distant fortress of Sokol grad. But apart from that, you have the convenience of not having to queue up for a long time.
The Old Town
The old town of Dubrovnik is one big open-air museum. For culture lovers, there are so many highlights that you can easily spend half a day here. At many of these sights you have to pay an entrance fee. But with the Dubrovnik pass, you have free access to most of them.
There are several ways to explore the beautiful city centre of Dubrovnik. Perhaps the best way is to book a tour. For relatively little money, you can go on a guided walk along the most important highlights. You will learn much more about the history and you will get the juicy details. One of the options is the one-and-a-half-hour Discovery Tour. Another option is the two-hour city walk that goes over the city wall, among other things. Please note: you do have to pay the entrance fee yourself, so in fact you only pay for the guide. Especially for Game of Thrones fans, there is even a Game of Thrones tour. The guide introduces you to a different side of the city. And of course, the guide will tell you a lot about the filming locations.
If you prefer to go out on your own, that is also possible. In that case, prepare well, for example by reading up on it. A visit to the local tourist information office can also help you enormously. If you go on your own, be sure to visit the beautiful cathedral but also the Franciscan monastery and the Sponza palace. Be amazed by the beautiful houses of the Patricians and the impressive city gates.
Fort Lovrijenac is one of the sights that served as a backdrop to Game of Thrones. We ourselves have hardly watched the popular television series. For us, therefore, the fort was just a beautiful fort. For most people around us, the place looked more like a kind of pilgrimage site. With the map of the shooting locations still under their arms, they took one selfie after another.
The fortress was built at the beginning of the 11th century on a 37-metre-high steep rock. From this particularly impressive location, the garrison had a view of the sea and the city. The free-standing fortress was of great importance for the defence of the western part of Dubrovnik. Not only against attacks from land but especially from the sea. Legend has it that Venice planned to entrench its troops on this rock. The Venetians wanted to build a fortress there in order to conquer the city. However, Dubrovnik heard about this plan. Its citizens were mobilised to fight the Venetians.
To visit the fortress, there is a path just outside the walled city to the rock. At the rock the path turns into a staircase. It is a bit of a climb but the reward is an unparalleled view of Dubrovnik. Once inside and on the terraces which vary in height, you will notice the thickness of the walls. On the sea side, the walls are almost 12 metres thick. You really had to be prepared to conquer the fortress. In case this should happen, there was a plan B: the wall on the city side is only 60 centimetres thick. This thin wall could easily be destroyed by the nearby Bokar fort if necessary. Fortunately, it never came to that.
The hilltop of the Srđ
The 415-metre-high Srđ rises just north of the old city. From the top you will be treated to unimaginably beautiful views. On one side you have the Pearl of the Adriatic Sea. The sea water looks particularly beautiful from above in turquoise and dark blue. Almost as though you were in the tropics. Looking inland, you can see Montenegro and Bosnia.
However, it is not only for the views that the mountain is a popular attraction. The Srđ played an important role during the Croatian War of Independence. For that reason, there is a Croatian war museum on top of the hill. Furthermore, there is a large fortress that was built by the French at the beginning of the 19th century. Even more popular is the trendy panorama restaurant. On the edge of the precipice, you will find small terraces with a few tables and bar stools. This is the place where you want to be after the climb of Srđ. Is it because of the strong wind a bit too chilly for you? Then the excellent service will provide you with blankets and terrace heating.
We think that the Srđ is one of the highlights of Dubrovnik that you should not miss! But how do you get there? There are different ways to climb the hill. The easiest way is by cable car. The station is right outside the walled city. In a few minutes, the comfortable gondola will take you to the top. Another way to get there is by private (rented) car or bus 17. A third possibility is to book a tour. You will then be conveniently picked up at your hotel, and also brought back again.
The fourth option we as passionate hikers find the most beautiful: climb the Srđ on foot! The walk starts just northwest of the old town, on the other side of the Jadranska Cesta. Afterwards several routes lead to the top. The unpaved path begins in the fragrant forest. It is especially nice when it is sunny and warm. As soon as you leave the forest, the sandy path turns into a gravel path. You then continue in a zigzag fashion to the top. Depending on your hiking condition, it will take you between an hour and an hour and a half. Take plenty of water, stay hydrated and wear good footwear.
Practicalities for your city break to Dubrovnik
The best time for a city trip to Dubrovnik is September and October. It is not so hot then. More importantly it is a lot quieter. Yet the sea water is still pleasantly warm in that period and the many terraces are also a great place to be.
For a relatively small city, you can find a lot of accommodation in Dubrovnik. Most hotels and flats are located outside the old town. We ourselves stayed in a suburb, at the very pleasant Apartment Seven. In contrast to the area around the old town, we could park our car here for free. Furthermore, it was a quiet neighbourhood within easy walking distance of the old city.
The old town is completely car-free and compact enough to explore on foot. Keep in mind that it is quite hilly. Except for the main street and some adjacent squares, you are constantly climbing or descending. Navigation is also different from what you might be used to. The whole centre consists of a maze of little streets. To avoid getting lost, have Google Maps on your phone ready. Or use a paper map, available from your accommodation or the local tourist office.
The old centre is easily accessible from the suburbs. We always walked to the walled city, but there are also many buses going that way. Wherever you are staying. Another option is by bike. You have several places in Dubrovnik where you can hire a bicycle. Like Biking Croatia. But you certainly do not need to do this for the old town.
There is a wide range of restaurants in the old town. Most offer a similar menu of fish and some meat dishes. Not always imaginative and not cheap, but usually of good quality. Unfortunately, there are (of course) also restaurants where you are turned away. This happened to us once: we were given a plate of salt with some food added. The advice is to look carefully at the menu and the general entourage. Another tip we can give is to avoid the restaurants on the Stradun (main street). Instead, look for the more secluded restaurants. There are plenty of them in the narrow streets higher up the hill.
There is no lack of bars and cosy terraces in Dubrovnik. Again, avoid the cafes on the Stradun as much as possible although it is fun to watch people here. However, if you walk from Stradun in the direction of the Ploča Gate, you will come to a tiny square with outdoor seating. Live music is often played here. A nice place to relax. An even better tip, however, is Café Buža. You will find this terrace at the Ul od Margarita. Follow the sign 'cold drinks' and go 'outside' through an opening in the wall. The terrace is located on the edge of a cliff. This is the place to be for a beautiful sunset. By the way, it is not cheap and you have to pay in cash.