As so many do, my Croatian adventure began in Dubrovnik.
I had dreamed of exploring Dubrovnik; a walled-in oasis of sorts graced by the likes of romantics such as Lord Byron and George Bernard Shaw. The latter of whom famously said, “If you want to see paradise on earth, come to Dubrovnik.”
They say Dubrovnik is the pearl of the Adriatic, a city on the sea who’s modest terracotta-topped buildings and dramatic history perfectly contrast the white yachts sitting atop the shining blue sea below. It is no doubt that these qualities, coupled by the fact it was a filming location in Game of Thrones (although I admittedly have never seen the show), have made Dubrovnik the most popular tourist destination in the country.
Before I hopped the bus to Dubrovnik, I had a brief stint in Budapest where I spent my time discovering terror museums and ominously lit castles, and though it was a beautiful city, I found myself itching for a place a little less big city and a little more paradise.
That said, knowing that three weeks in Croatia was on the horizon absolutely gave me shivers of wanderlust up and down my spine.
And though I say I was heading to Dubrovnik, in all actuality I was to meet my friend Cailee in a village adjacent to Dubrovnik proper, Cavtat. Cavtat is known to be more of a refuge for the older generations, but Cailee and I thought it would be a quieter, and cheaper, place to stay while we took day trips to nearby points of interest. And on one of those day trips, we were headed to Dubrovnik’s old town.
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Exploring Dubrovnik: The Pearl of the Adriatic
A boat ride from Cavtat
The morning of our trip to Dubrovnik, Cailee and I skipped out of our Airbnb and down the residential hill towards Cavtat’s modest downtown. On the docks, it was fairly easy to find a boat that would take us in our preferred direction; and after a few minutes and a few Kuna, we were on our way.
Walking the walls of Dubrovnik
When we disembarked our ferry, in a move that sent Cailee and I to the top of the tourist totem pole, we made a bee-line to the ticket booth for the walls of Dubrovnik. Walking the walls may be the most popular tourist activity in the country’s most popular tourist city, but how can one spend a day exploring Dubrovnik and somehow not?
Walking the walls is undoubtedly the best way to see Dubrovnik. The walls, which stretch 1.2 miles completely around Dubrovnik’s old town, offer the best views of both the cityscape and the shining blue sea alike.
And while you’re up there, for a recent history lesson up close, pay attention to the two-toned roofs in particular. You wouldn’t necessarily know it if you weren’t caught up on history or took a tour, but Dubrovnik was under siege in the early nineties during the Croatian War of Independence, and was rebuilt shortly after.
Keep in mind too that unless you head to Dubrovnik in the off-seasons (which grant fewer options for tourists), heading up to the walls will be a scorching hot experience.
Cailee and I did this activity in early June, and despite reapplying sunscreen like no tomorrow, we still walked away with sunburns.
Not to mention water. One of the best bits of advice I can offer for not only exploring Dubrovnik, but for Croatia in the summer as a whole, is to bring more than one bottle of water around with you at all times, and refill them every chance you get.
Thankfully, Dubrovnik in particular is no stranger to parched lips, and you’ll be able to refill your bottles at multiple fountains around the old town.
The legend of the stone face
One of my favorite things to do no matter where I go (but admittedly more-so when I’m in places that are decidedly posh or perceptively serious) is to find the weirdest possible tidbit of history or attraction I can.
And while exploring Dubrovnik, we found the Dubrovnik Maskeron.
A slab of stone featuring a gargoyle’s head protruding from a wall, you’ll find the Maskeron in the old town next to the entrance of the Franciscan Monastery and the stairs leading up to the city walls.
Legend has it that if you stand on top of the gargoyle facing the wall and somehow manage to balance yourself there and take off your shirt while doing so, you’ll be lucky in love.
Given that the gargoyle only protrudes about 15cm from the face of the wall though, Cailee and I both lasted maybe 2 seconds standing on it with one foot. And to answer your question, had I been able to keep my balance would I have taken off my shirt in one of the most tourist-dense places on the planet?
I guess we’ll never know.
Dubrovnik’s Old Town
After our time with the walls and the Maskeron were through, Cailee and I decided to spend the rest of our day wandering around the old town and take in Dubrovnik’s unmistakable charm.
While nestled in the cobbled streets of one of the prettiest districts in Europe, we noticed the air to be decidedly cooler and the fragrance much sweeter.
In the old town, pink flowers in baskets hang from windowsills of shops and homes, friendly stray cats laze in the sun expectant for a belly rub, and the abundance of sea-food and refreshing rosé are ever-present in the mind.
While it is no secret that I think Dubrovnik is a gorgeous city, I feel I should mention that it is not necessarily a place to take an authentic, uninterrupted summertime explore. As I mentioned before, it is the number one tourist destination in all of Croatia, and the abundance of cruise ships dropping off hoards of tourists daily do nothing for the aura.
Oftentimes, you will stand in a packed crowd of people just waiting to get through a simple doorway. Children will rush by you and unintentionally dribble ice cream on your sandal-clad feet. You will pay much more Kuna to get a simple lunch in the old town then you would in places like Cavtat. Locals tend to rent out their Dubrovnik apartments in the summertime and escape to calmer locales.
Additionally, because of the tourist overload Dubrovnik currently experiences, they have put a cap on the number of people allowed in the old town per day, and that number is steadily lowering; what was once 8000 visitors will soon drop to 4000 in a year or so.
In fact, the amount of tourists had previously gone so unchecked that the old town was at risk of losing its UNESCO heritage status.
For more information on the impact of tourism and how to be a more ethical explorer, check out this article I wrote for The Plaid Zebra.
Nevertheless, Dubrovnik is a beautiful city seeped in history and is an absolute must-see for any trip to Croatia. Just remember to breathe deeply, bring a pocketful of Kuna, stock up on water and sunscreen, and remember all the amazing qualities of Dubrovnik that made you swoon for it in the first place.
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Have you ever been to Dubrovnik? What did you think?