Here’s Why You Should Visit Dubrovnik

Travel Features Dubrovnik
Here’s Why You Should Visit Dubrovnik

While beaches like Amalfi, the Greek islands, and the French Riviera take the headlines in Europe, places like the stunning Dalmatian Coast in Croatia deserve equal praise. This slice of the Balkans has breathtaking islands, crystal clear waters, compelling architecture, and outstanding sights in addition to being slightly more affordable.

Dubrovnik, the most popular destination in this part of Croatia, stands out with its impeccably preserved Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is impossible to miss with its antiquated towering walls that have repelled invasions dating back to the 11th century. A stroll along the medieval facades is the perfect way to get acquainted with the city, as its numerous access points and elevated vantage points come with countless photo opportunities of the rolling, fiery terracotta rooftops that contrast nicely against the bright blue Adriatic Sea. As you enjoy the walk, look for the imposing cliffside fortress of Lovrijenac dominating the scenery. If the structure seems vaguely familiar, you might otherwise know it as The Red Keep from Game of Thrones. Indeed, all of Dubrovnik is the real-life King’s Landing, with other landmarks such as Blackwater Bay and the notorious “shame” Jesuit Stairs discoverable as you explore the historic streets. Lovrijenac has a fascinating history in its own right—dating back to the 11th century, the fortress is famous in local history for its role in preventing Venetian dominance and today doubles as one of the city’s most extravagant open-air theaters. 

Like many similar pedestrian districts in cities around Europe, Old Town is filled with several maze-like footpaths and beautiful backstreets presenting a captivating window into Dubrovnik with the added bonus of alley cats being a frequent fixture of the walkways. Discovering these peaceful limestone streets can often feels like being transported to a different world, with the tan shades of the astonishing Baroque architecture, the warm Mediterranean climate, and leafy palm trees dazzling the senses. Be sure to dress appropriately, as the numerous staircases around town can be quite taxing in the warm sun. Also, remember to wear good shoes—the weathered stones, polished over countless years of foot traffic, can also be slippery.

In the morning, follow the noise of the bustling crowd to the Stradun, the main street of Old Town. Sit on the steps of the ornate St. Blaise’s Church, admire the meticulous artistic reliefs etched into Onofrio’s Fountain, taste a tasty cappuccino from Festival Cafe, and marvel at the majestic Gothic architecture of Rector’s Palace. Head to animated Luza Square at the edge of the street under the magnificent Clock Tower, and people watch the energetic crowd surrounding the gaze of Orlando at his eponymous Column, dedicated to a Croatian hero from the Middle Ages who, according to legend, helped Dubrovnik remain free in the face of invaders. In the summer, watch the area come to life during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, where upwards of seventy open-air stages fill Old Town with the vivid colors and merry sounds of vibrant music, dance, and live performances from renowned local artists.

If you’re looking for an affordable place in Old Town and some new friends to see Dubrovnik with, you can’t go wrong with Hostel Angelina. Centrally located around the corner from the Jesuit Stairs and boasting an attractive rooftop patio, the cozy lodgings also include nightly excursions for guests ranging from bar crawls to beach parties to memorable evening boat trips. The hostel is also steps away from the spirited Gundulic Market, filled with vendors in the daytime and providing a fresh taste of Croatia to start your day right.

As you explore, you might discover the hidden path in the walls leading to the perilous steps down to the cliffside Buza Beach Bar. The bar is notable for its cliff jumping, a common pastime for daring souls wandering the precipices frequently found around Dubrovnik. Watch the enchanting sunset over the Adriatic and watch the daring dives while enjoying one of the establishment’s tasty drinks in hand, or don your best swimsuit and try the thrilling activity for yourself.

If you’re looking for something fun at night, you can’t go wrong with Culture Club Revelin near the eastern edge of town by the Ploče Gate. The club, housed within the imposing stone walls of a former medieval fortress, has impressive acoustics and promises a wild experience dancing the night away to world-class DJs.

Of course, a trip to this slice of Croatia would only be complete with a bona fide beach stop. Just east of Old Town lies an idyllic stretch of shoreline comprising Banje Beach. With delicious meals, a lively nightclub, and plentiful seating to watch the rolling waves, Banje Beach is fantastic for a first dip into the inviting Mediterranean waters. Keep heading east, perhaps stopping at the gorgeous Betina Cave Beach along the way, to Sveti Jakov Beach facing due west and boasting another incredible sunset. For a more unconventional option in the evening, walk to the nearby Hotel Belvedere, a former five-star hotel deserted since the early 1990s during the Croatian War for Independence. Traces of the conflict and eerie, abandoned opulence can be found throughout the complex in its quiet spiral staircases, empty swimming pools, and derelict balconies delivering a nice juxtaposition and vantage point for the unforgettable, fiery orange hues that melt into each other as the sun meets the sea.

To the west of Old Town, beyond the Pile Gate and at the opposite end of the Stradun, a different, more modern part of the city can be found in Lapad and Babin Kuk. Occupying a small peninsula at the edge of town and providing a welcome respite from crowds, the area also offers romantic beach boardwalks perfect for evening strolls and endearing seaside hotels with adorable views of the Dalmatian coastline. If you’re looking for a pleasant green space to get lost in, hike the leafy trails filled with Mediterranean flora within the twin hills of charming Velika and Mala Petka Forest Park. Grab a drink within the subterranean scenery of the Cave Bar More, and then take in yet another excellent evening sky at Copacabana Beach and the Coral Beach Club, the latter providing creative cocktails and bumping rhythms to greet the night with.

If touristy crowds aren’t your thing but you want to have more of a local’s experience, you can’t go wrong with the nearby neighborhood of Gruž. Have a brew from the Dubrovnik Beer Company and relish some fresh produce, seafood, and Croatian delicacies in the massive, daily Gruž Market. Within the peaceful streets of Dubrovnik, it can often be hard to believe that Croatia was at war only 30 years ago. This tragic part of Dubrovnik’s story can be experienced in the Red History Museum, housed in the TUP factory that was not only a relic of the country’s communist era but was also an essential weapons repair and manufacturing site during the struggle for independence. In addition to the museum, the factory doubles as a stimulating cultural center with something for everyone, including recording spaces for musicians, the underground, art-filled Klub Dubina, stand-up comedy and film screening events, and a yoga studio.

The ubiquitous beauty of the sea can often distract from the fact that Dubrovnik lies at the foot of the majestic Dinaric Alps. Consider taking the brief four-minute cable car ride to the top of Mount Srd and survey the spectacular summit presenting an unbeatable scene of Dubrovnik, the Adriatic, and the rolling mountains separating Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you’re looking for a workout, you can also earn that view by taking the strenuous hike to the top.

The mesmerizing blues of the Adriatic practically demand immersion, and there’s no better way to do so than hopping in a kayak and seeing Dubrovnik’s waterways close-up. Set out for the alluring shores of Lokrum Island (also accessible via ferry from Old Town), where one can spend an entire day uncovering its relatively isolated corners. Sit in the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones in the welcome center, laze in the sun at the nude FKK Rocks Beach, experience floating in the salty “Dead Sea” swimming hole to the south, visit the mysterious Pigeon Cave (one of several grottos lining the perimeter of the island), or check out the hilltop from Fort Royal, a defensive structure dating back to the 19th-century. Of course, remember to plop down on a clifftop beach facing west at the end of the day and soak in those legendary, picturesque shades of dusk.

If you enjoyed Lokrum and are craving more of the lovely Dalmatian Coast, then a day trip to the nearby Elaphiti Islands is a must-do. Stop by the medieval ruins in Lopud and then groove to the fantastic DJ beats found on Sunj Beach, one of the rare sandy beaches around Dubrovnik. Snorkel amongst the fishes and aquatic wildlife before indulging in a five-course gourmet meal at BOWA Beach Club in Sipan. Finally, balance it all out with some colorful hikes in Kolocep to the mysterious Three Green Caves before immersing yourself in the alluring azure hues of the magnificent Blue Cave. Dubrovnik is one of the world’s most striking cities, and its beauty and charm shouldn’t be missed.

John Sizemore is a travel writer, photographer, yoga teacher, and visual entertainment developer based out of Austin, Texas. Follow him on Instagram at @sizemoves. In his downtime, John likes to learn foreign languages and get immersed in other worlds, particularly those of music, film, games, and books in addition to exploring the world.

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