Vibrant, historical and the setting for ‘Game of Thrones’, Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities along the Adriatic. Christine Karan visits the renowned city, which is now a UNESCO world heritage site
Dubrovnik, nicknamed as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, but known more popularly these days as the “King’s Landing”, after it served as the key location for Game of Thrones, is a vibrant city where the past and present beautifully co-exist.
Sitting majestically at the strategic edge of the Adriatic, overlooking the calm blue waters on one side and protected by lofty mountains on the other side, Dubrovnik is justifiably one of the world’s most magnificent walled cities and you will agree when you have been there yourself. Wandering around the city, nobody would believe this was a city under siege for several months when it was part of former Yugoslavia.
Now a UNESCO world heritage site, Dubrovnik is also Croatia’s upmarket tourist destination as it offers best of both worlds – a historic old town with its well preserved, medieval walls, public squares and churches as well as a modern city with all the paraphernalia of entertainment and refined luxury – top notch eateries, stylish pubs, azure sea, pristine beaches and adventure water sports.
The airport itself is perched on a mountain top and your excitement starts as you exit the airport and drive to the city on the road along the cliff… the views are incredible!
From 5 star hotels to dormitories, from furnished apartments to B&Bs, in old town or posh and leafy neighbourhoods, you have plenty of choices to pick from. Like most European cities, Dubrovnik also has the all-day or multiple-day transport pass – the Dubrovnik Card. Get yourself one and be on your own.
Day 1: Begin the day with a sumptuous breakfast in any of the scenic waterfront cafes along Lapad harbour. A great place to people-watch as well as the many tiny boats and fancy yachts of all sizes pass by. Take a leisurely walk to the old town (did I say 3 kilometres?) along the leafy streets marvelling at old stone buildings and classic Croatian villas or take bus no 4 for a jiffy ride. Visit the Museum of Modern Art housed in an amazingly beautiful villa converted in to nice museum. Spread over three floors, this excellent gallery showcases Croatian artists’ works of art, paintings and sculptures. Its lunch time and you are literally spoiled for choice with eateries in the old town area serving Croatian, Mediterranean, Italian and many more. And …don’t forget to grab a chilled Croatian Karlovačko brew.
Take the Swiss-built cable car to reach the top of Srd Hill to take in a 3600 stunning view! This IS the place from where you can get the best bird’s eye view of the walled city, the mighty Adriatic dotted with islands such as Lokrum and Elaphti. The Cable car station at the top also has an upmarket Panorama restaurant. The view is amazing and so is the food. Depending on the time of the day and year, it could be cloudy, windy and cold. Take a table at the edge of the glass pavilion and take in the scenery as well some fine food or grab a coffee and go out to the terrace to watch the sun disappearing slowly on the horizon. I promise you will be treated to a dramatic sunset!
If you are an early diner, the restaurant is also a good choice as you have a double whammy of watching Dubrovnik glowing at night against the backdrop of moonlit ocean! Or choose a restaurant by the cliff (yes there are a few like the Buza Bar or Restaurant Levanant) or one of the several eateries along the beach for an al fresco dining.
Day 2: Do the most-important walled city tour that begins from the historic Pile Gate. The nearly two-kilometre long and winding medieval wall with several ups and downs offers panoramic view of the city and the sea- a photographer’s delight! Stand at a vantage point, close your eyes, switch back in time and visualise armed soldiers and canons guarding the city from marauders; weather-beaten sailors, hard-bargaining merchants and shrewd traders at the harbour; street pedlars and performers at the squares. Don’t forget to make a quick visit to the small but well-kept maritime museum within the fort with artefacts and remains from the days of yore!
When you are done with the wall, go straight to Placa also known as Stradun, the main promenade of the walled city. Fully pedestrianised with shiny limestone, today it is full of souvenir shops, gelato bars, cafes and restaurants with the exception of the most prominent buildings such as the Church of St. Blaise, the Rector’s Palace, the Sponza Palace and the Franciscan Monastery with its oldest pharmacy in Europe still operating! Stradun is also one of the major locales of the Game of Thrones! The best way to enjoy Stradun is to take a walk up and down the street visiting the attractions of your choice and when you get tired, sit in front of one of the cafes, get your drink and enjoy watching people of all colours and characters until the sun goes down.
Day3: If you like off-the-beaten-track places, engage a private taxi for a day trip to visit Vjetrnica Caves in the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina – a very unique cave that is out of regular tourist circuit. An hour a half drive from Dubrovnik along the scenic Dalmation coast and into Bosnia’s vast outback of Popovo Polje karst plains, the Vjetrinica cave is home to monstrous stalactite deposits and stalagmite outcrops as well as the elusive and endangered Proteus, a white Salamander with arms and legs that can live in the darkness for hundreds of years and go without food for 10 years. An out-of-the world experience is guaranteed! After the cave tour, don’t miss your lunch at Hotel Stanica Ravno – a 15 minute drive from the cave – sitting in the middle of the vast Bosnian wilderness. The hotel was once a busy train station during WWW II that has been now beautifully converted into a boutique hotel with a nice bar and a restaurant. The food and drinks are amazing! The perfectly grilled meat platter and vegetables from the local farm and the local wine under their own label were simply delicious!
Post-lunch, continue on a 2-hour drive to Mostar, a 16th century Ottoman frontier town, strikingly different from the rest of Bosnia’s landscape with its old Turkish buildings spread over the old town. Walk along the narrow, historic old streets, climb up the famous Old Bridge – Stari Most – the high point of Mostar town that has seen several wars and conflicts. Collect a souvenir for remembrance from one of the numerous souvenir shops flanking the narrow lane to the bridge and then return to Dubrovnik in time for your dinner.
Day 4: Another day out. Take a scenic ride along the coast of Bay of Kotor to Montenegro-another neighbouring country. Visit the Roman Catholic Church Our Lady of the Rocks located in a small island in the Kotor bay at the scenic town Perast. The small but impressive church with its sky blue dome and bold and colourful paintings and sculptures inside is piece of history and art. Continue your journey to Kotor -a historic town with its archway entrance to the old town with its cobblestoned narrow streets, medieval museums, churches, buildings and squares (now filled with cafes and souvenir shops).
Next is Budva, a seaside party town popular for nightlife and beach parties than its interesting old town quarter. The beachfront is literally packed with jet skis, speedboats, cafes and cafes – all aimed at tourists. Budva seems to be a money-churning hotspot for Montenegro’s tourism. Spend a couple of hours and then return to Dubrovnik on a shortcut.
Day5: Keep it for island. With a late start, catch the big passenger ferry (every 20 minutes) from the fort harbour for a 10-minute ride to Lokrum Island. Take a walk through the well-maintained botanical garden with lots of pine, cypress, olive and other leafy trees and bushes to reach the Benedictine Monastery at the other end of the island. Built during the medieval era, the monastery is still operational and recently it was one of the filming locations of the Game of Thrones. Choose a convenient place and spend as much time as you want swimming and/or sunbathing in total tranquillity and peace.
The other option is visiting one of the islands of Elafiti Archipelago- the nearest one Kolocep, is a 30-minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik. With well-preserved pine forest, olive gardens, crystal clear sea, sandy beaches and traditional Adriatic homes you can spend a whole day in absolute peace.