Now that you know some of my basic tips for traveling to Croatia, let’s get to the really good stuff. The best way to explore a new city is to dive right in – which is easy when it’s situated next to the sea. In order to do that fully, it’s helpful to know where to stay, what to see, the best foods to eat and the secret little details of the place; the ones that truly make a trip a lasting memory. First up for Croatia is Dubrovnik. This was the first town I visited in Croatia, as it was easy to fly into from Barcelona and was an ideal location to be in to travel to other cities. After visiting Dubrovnik, I took a ferry North to Hvar and then on to Split. (More to come on those cities in the coming weeks.)
One thing you may not know about Croatia is it’s history. It doesn’t tend to be a place that is spoken much about in school, so you may think there isn’t much history. You would be wrong! Dubrovnik for example dates back to the 7th century. It’s history became more well known around the 12th century, when became a popular location for maritime trade. It was even ruled by the Venetians for over 100 years.
The old town is a walled city, dubbed the “pearl of the Adriatic” since it shimmers along the sea. Walking inside the walls of the old town is like stepping into a painting. You stroll along beautifully buffed cobblestones, with whitewashed buildings lining the pedestrian only streets, and as you steal a glance upward, you see nothing but blue skies. It’s so pristine in fact, it feels fake. (How a city this old can stay so clean boggles my mind.) Rightfully so, Dubrovnik is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
What you probably really want to know though is what makes Dubrovnik a great place to go today. Number one, it’s gorgeous. Flying in, seeing the walled city from the sky, with the majestic mountains in the background, I already had a sense it would be incredible. Upon landing and enjoying a meal looking out over the Adriatic Sea, my theory was confirmed. Not only is it a gorgeous city, it’s really fun too. There is great music, wonderful people, delicious food and lots of activity (like cliff jumping and kayaking). And of course, if you don’t want all of that, there is plenty of relaxation available too.
- Where To Stay: On this trip to Europe, I actually ended up staying in hotels in most of the cities I visited. Usually in Europe you can get better deals on Airbnb/home rental types of places, but timing with flights and logistics made hotels more convenient for luggage storage. However, in Dubrovnik, hotel prices were quite high and Airbnb won! And it was a great find. My friend and I decided to stay outside of old town, about a mile away in the Lapad neighborhood. It was within walking distance to the walled city, but offered a little bit of peace and quiet. A big plus of this location was that we could easily get our luggage to our suite (not the case in the pedestrian only walled city). Best of all, we had stunning, unobstructed views of the turquoise sea. Our Airbnb host was amazing, the unit was clean and it was a great value. (See it here.)
- If you prefer a hotel, I went into both the Rixos Libertas and the Hilton Imperial, and would recommend either. The Rixos was in Lapad, with stunning views of old town, a gorgeous pool and direct access to the sea. The Hilton is only steps from the old city walls making it a little less quiet, but it’s equally as beautiful.
- Stay & Play Near The Water: If you are visiting in summer, I recommend staying at a hotel with a pool, or at least near one that you can pay to use for the day. It gets very hot and humid in Dubrovnik, so you will be wise to spend the warmest part of the day near the pool and/or the sea. Once it starts to cool down a bit in the late afternoon/evening, make your way to old town. One part in our decision to stay in Lapad was so that we could be close to the Rixos Libertas hotel. You can pay to enjoy the pool during the day, and avoid the expense of staying in the hotel at night. It’s got a lovely pool, a good bar (one of the best pina colada’s I’ve ever had) and gives you easy access to the sea. The fastest way in (unless you are me, who chickened out 5 times before finally making the plunge), is to cliff jump. It’s a thrill you will be thankful you experienced. Just plug your nose – trust me!
- Get “Wander Lost”: When exploring Old Town Dubrovnik, let yourself get lost on the old streets. It’s a walled city, so you can’t truly get lost, as you will at some point hit a wall or the water. This is the best way to explore Dubrovnik and see all the little local restaurants and shops. I recommend going into the beautiful old churches, and any other open buildings you can too. Getting lost in the city is really the best way to see what the locals see!
- Fill Your Belly: There is a lot of good food to be eaten in Dubrovnik. Everything in Europe is incredibly fresh, which helps make every meal incredibly delicious. While the food in Croatia may seem questionable if you Google it, I promise it’s not. They eat a lot of fish, risotto and gelato, and drink some delicious wines. (Even the wine in Europe is better, and is less likely to give you a hangover, thanks to not having any additives in it.) If you pop in to any local restaurant, you likely will find a gem, but if you need some inspiration, below are the places I recommend.
- Mozaik Restaurant: If you want bang for your buck, and I mean a lot of bang, visit this delicious buffet in the Rixos Libertas hotel. My friend and I stumbled upon it going to the hotel for a pool day, and ended up eating breakfast here each day. They offered fresh fruit, homemade breads, custom omelettes, tasty salads, desserts galore, and so much more. And while the food is great, the view is even better. They offer both indoor (in the AC) and outdoor dining.
- Bota Sushi: You might not think of sushi as an ideal choice in Europe, but think again. One visit to Bota and you will know that fresh fish and fresh sushi are top notch in Croatia. It seems to be just as much a staple in Dubrovnik as it is in the states, but in my opinion done much better.
- Buza Bar: For simple cocktails and stunning views, this is your spot. It’s packed around sunset, but as you sip your drink and look out over the gorgeous Adriatic Sea, you’ll know exactly why. It get’s so crowded in fact, you may have to find a makeshift seat, atop a cliff. Not kidding, that’s where we sat! (I was much more nervous than many others and sat where I was in no danger of sliding off. But, some people were pretty bold, climbing cliffs hundreds of feet above the water, just to get a good seat. They don’t have a true website, so Google it when you get there to find it on the map.
- Fat Cats: A great spot, off the beaten path, to enjoy a midday snack, or a drink and an appetizer before dinner. My recommendation, the french fries. Again, you may think “really, you ate fries in Crotia?” But as I was wandering the streets, I passed this restaurant and saw the best looking fries I had ever seen on many patrons tables. I knew I had to try them for myself, and boy was I glad I did!
- Dubravka 1836: A classic Croatian menu (the risotto was yummy), right at the entrance to old town, with great views of the water and the city walls. It’s a casual place with good prices.
- Posat: If you are looking for a fine dining option, this seems like the best place to go. The views aren’t as incredible as many other restaurants, but the decor is stunning and the menu is impeccably put together. It’s close to old town, but being a few steps up a small bougainvillea lined hill, it’s off the tourist path.
Whether you plan to visit Dubrovnik soon or in the distant future, if you use the guides above, you will be in for the visit of a lifetime.
P.S. If you plan to send post cards to your loved ones back home, expect that it will take a while. I recommend finding the post office early on your first day (they close early), so it gives your post card a head start to make it home before you do.
Signed with Style,