Croatia is an up-and-coming travel destination.
It was not on my bucket list yet (not anywhere near the top at least), but we'd heard great things from friends who'd come here.
I still didn't really know what to expect (
unknown is unloved, as we say) but I kept an open mind and booked us a trip to Croatia.
It didn't disappoint!
First stop: Dubrovnik! I knew little about Croatia, but I'd heard about it's capital: Dubrovnik. What do you mean, Dubrovnik is not the capital of Croatia? No, it's not, but it's one of Croatia's biggest cities with a lot of fame. What, not even in Croatia's top 10 cities?
I can barely name 5 Croatian cities, but the most prominent name is definitely Dubrovnik and I'm sure everyone has heard about this
Pearl of the Adriatic.
So what makes this town with only 40k inhabitants so special?
The walled historic center.
Dubrovnik has had a long and prosperous history, and it was an independent republic for a century or 2. Walls were needed to protect the city, and they've never been breached. Those walls are now Dubrovnik's main attraction, and you can walk them for 2 km (1.25 km) around the old town. We had been advised to do that either in the morning of evening since it can get too hot during the day, but we ignored that advice. I can now confirm that I does indeed get too hot during the day!
The historic center is inside the walls and it's the prettiest little town I've ever seen. It's really small, and completely pedestrianized. You may recognize it from Game of Thrones. This is the filming location for King's Landing scenes and they're proud about it: there are multiple Game of Thrones tours available, and you won't have to look for long to find Game of Thrones memorabilia.
Nowadays, there are 3 gates where you can enter the old town: Pile, Ploče and Buža Gate. All 3 will lead you to Stradun, Dubrovnik's main street. Via Pile & Ploče Gate, you'll arrive at respectively the west and east end of Stradun, with Onofrian fountains on either end (the large one near Pile Gate.) Buža Gate (in the north) will place you in the middle of Stradun, after having descended the steep narrow streets perpendicular to Stradun.
Near Buža Gate is a cable car that'll take you to the top of Srđ mountain (or you can hike) where the most spectacular view of Dubrovnik can be found, and where my favorite restaurant was. You don't necessarily need to eat at the restaurant to enjoy this view, though, but if you're looking for a romantic dinner in Dubrovnik, this place can not be beat! There's also an imperial fort and war museum at the top, neither of which we visited.
Most of the historic buildings and monuments are somewhere along or near Stradun. It's also the densest area in terms of restaurants and bars, but there's plenty to be found throughout the rest of the town - around the old port, for example, another great place to relax. Or Cafe Buža, a cliffside bar just outside of the walls in the south of Dubrovnik with a spectacular view of the Adriatic Sea & Lokrum, the island south of Dubrovnik.
Lokrum island, just off the coast of Dubrovnik, is also worth a (half) day trip.
Especially if you want to relax on a hot summer day.
Boat tours depart from the Dubrovnik port every 20 or 30 minutes, and it takes about 20 minutes to reach the island.
Bring your swimming gear and head south-west to Mrvto More (
the Dead Sea), a little cove with salt water.
But unfortunately, you won't be able to float like in the Jordan Dead Sea.
North of the cove is a cosy cocktail bar and the field in between Mrvto More and the monastery is perfect for some sunbathing. Grab a drink and make friends with some of the peacocks, the island's only inhabitants (you're not allowed to spend the night in Lokrum.) Lokrum's other main attraction is the botanical garden, but that didn't really impress me too much.
Like every other tourist, we spent most of our time in Dubrovnik's old town. While there's no escaping the tourist crowd, the Lapad peninsula has a very different atmosphere. The old town is all about history & culture; Lapad is where Dubrovnik's best beaches are. And take a walk around the Lapad promenade or the Šetalište kralja Zvonimira, a charming, pedestrianized street full of bars & restaurants.