May 26, 2021: Welcome to Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is known as Croatia´s top tourist attraction. Almost everyone I know who visits Croatia visits Dubrovnik.
The city was founded by Byzantines in the 7th century. It then became part of the Kingdom of Venice. In the 1300´s, Dubrovnik became the capital of the independent Kingdom of Ragusa that controlled the entire Dalmatian coast for 500 years.
During the Croatian War of Independence from 1991-1994, Dubrovnik was shelled by the Yugoslav army. It is estimated that 80% of the roof tiles were destroyed.
Today, Dubrovnik is a city of 45,000 residents. Despite its long illustrious history, it is really known for one thing: Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik was the real-life King´s Landing for the first few seasons of the wildly popular HBO show. The fame brought on by the show caused Dubrovnik to rapidly become a global tourism destination. During the middle of the 2010´s, Dubrovnik (and Croatia as a whole) became one of the world´s hottest tourism destinations.
The fervor has died down a little bit, but Dubrovnik is still wildly popular and the Game of Thrones vibe is still very visible. In fact, there are more Game of Thrones walking tours than normal city walking tours.
After a long journey from Barcelona and Split, I arrived in Dubrovnik in the evening. Due to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and it being the month of May (just before “the season” begins in June), the town was empty. The famously crowded streets were wide open.
I checked into my hostel where I was just one of two guests. Two things stuck out to me. 1. The hostel was expensive: €27 which is the third-most I think I have ever spent on a hostel after Reykjavik, Iceland and Portland, Maine, USA. 2. The hostel was cash only. It appears that everywhere in Croatia is cash only, but this was still surprising considering I am in the top-rated hostel in the most touristy city in the entire country.
Anyways, the check-in was easy and I set out to find some dinner.
Unlike most old cities of Europe, the streets of Dubrovnik are on a grid, which makes it easy to navigate. Eventually, I wandered my way to a Bosnian restaurant called Taj Mahal. The owners have never been to India, but felt that the name invoked good vibes that they wanted at their restaurant. I ordered a sampler plate for a pricey 150 kuna (about €25). The food was delicious, but wow everything in this city is expensive!
I went to bed early to rest up for the big full day in town.
May 27, 2021: Dubrovnik and Lokrum
I started off my day by purchasing the Dubrovnik Day Pass which includes admission to most of the key sights in town including the famed City Walls. The pass cost a shocking 250 kuna ($45 eeeeek). The walls themselves cost 200 kuna a la carte, so the pass was admittedly a good deal given the situation.
As Dubrovnik has gotten more popular, the price of the walls has increased exponentially. Just a few years ago, the walls were only 50 kuna. And before Game of Thrones, the walls were free.
The walls of Dubrovnik completely encircle the old city. It is about 3 kilometers to walk around the whole thing. The walls have stunning views of both the city and surrounding area. Is is worth the 200 kuna? Absolutely not, but it is nice and well-maintained.
The Dubrovnik pass also includes entrance to a few other museums including the Rector´s Palace. This palace was the home of the ruler of Dubrovnik. The highlight was the railings which looked like a hand grasping the bannister.
Also included in the ticket is access to the Lovrijenac fort, better known as the Red Keep in Game of thrones. The fortress was supposedly used in many battles to defend the town, but nobody cares since it was a Game of Thrones filming location. The inside of the fortress was empty but the views of the city from the roof were spectacular.
The rest of the attractions included on the Dubrovnik Pass were small museums scattered around the city including an ancient pharmacy and maritime museum.
For lunch, I got grilled squid with a side of Swiss chard. The meal was delicious!!
For the afternoon, I took a boat to Lokrum Island. Normally, the 10-minute boat ride costs 200 kuna ($32), but they were running an early season special for half off.
Lokrum is a nature reserve full of pine forests and hiking paths. It takes about an hour to walk around everything. It also contains a visitor center that has a big exhibit on…. you guess it: Game of Thrones.
The room contains the actual Iron Throne prop which was gifted to the city by the show´s creator George R. R. Martin. There are also videos of the cast saying how much they love Croatia. I have been to many Game of Thrones filming locations around Europe, but nobody loves the show more than Dubrovnik.
For the evening, I set out to visit the famed viewpoint above the city. The easiest way to get there is the cable car, which costs 170 kuna ($30). Having spent way more money than I would have liked, I instead decided to find a cheaper way up. It turns out that the public bus (included in the Dubrovnik Pass) has a route that gets you 10 minutes from the viewpoint. The bus only runs twice a day, but that second trip was at 19:30- perfect timing to watch the sunset.
I got on the bus as the sole passenger and it sped around the suburbs on its way up the mountain. 15 minutes into the ride, the bus stopped and I stood up. The driver then opened the door and I stepped outside…only to discover that I got out too soon! By that point, the driver had sped away.
I was now stuck in the middle of nowhere and had to find out my way back. I decided to run back in the direction of town. The run took me through stunning countryside and onto a cliff overlooking the town. Wow!!!!
I then found a hiking trail that took me back into town.
As I was walking back, I discovered a new problem. My bus ticket for tomorrow had to be printed and all the stores were about to close. When I got back to town, I asked the hostel receptionist who was very helpful.
For dinner, I wanted to go somewhere cheap and was recommended a burger spot from the receptionist. I got a burger for 70 kuna (€10 which is NOT cheap) and took it home. Luckily the burger was incredible. I spend the evening chatting with the receptionist in the hostel kitchen.
The next morning, I took the public bus to the bus station and headed to Split on my 8am bus. For some reason the only buses were at 8:00 or 20:00. Also, a group of Americans did not print their boarding pass and ran into some big issues with the bus driver. Good thing I printed it out!
Dubrovnik is certainly the most beautiful town in this part of the world. However, its fame has caused it to be too popular for its own good, which has caused the prices to become insane. The town can charge crazy prices because the people keep showing up.
Are the prices worth it for the average traveler? No. I think there are other towns nearby that are almost as good for way cheaper such as Split. Spend your time there.
Dubrovnik is also out of the way from other cities in Croatia. It is, however, close to Kotor in Montenegro and Mostar in Bosnia. Therefore, I would not visit Dubrovnik as part of a Croatia tour but rather when visiting those other countries.
I think that one full, active, day is the perfect amount of time to see everything but you can definitely stretch it to two.