Dubrovnik is a wonderfully picturesque town, nowadays more popular than ever due to its association with the fictitious King’s Landing. It becomes seriously overcrowded in the peak of the summer season, but even then retains its undeniable charms.
The walled Old City of Dubrovnik ♥♥♥ is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is basically two main streets running parallel to each other, with a dozen narrow alleys running perpendicular to them and then climbing to heights in north and south via staircases. Those northern and southern city areas are the least touristy but also the least easy to navigate.
The wide principal street, Stradun ♥♥, connects the westward Pile Gate ♥ with the old port. Onofrio Fountain ♥ by the Pile Gate is a popular meeting place – and an important refreshment station since the water coming from its faucets is drinkable. It is very hot and humid in Dubrovnik in the summer – you will need to carry a lot of water with you while walking around.
At the eastern edge of Stradun is an impressive cluster of palaces and churches. Tucked around a corner here is the Small Onofrio Fountain ♥, another chance to fill up your water bottles. Both of the Onofrio fountains seem to be turned off at night (I am not sure of the exact cut-off time).
St Blaise Church ♥♥ sports beautiful modernist window mosaics and a great golden altar with an organ above it, but it appeared to be only open for services during the day and closed at other times. However uncomfortable you may be stepping into a church during a mass, it is definitely a visual treat.
The nearby cathedral ♥ is at best the third most impressive church in town, although not without some charms. The most impressive of them all is St Ignatius Church ♥♥♥, headlined by the fantastic marble, gold, and frescoes altar; there is also an unusual grotto-like chapel. The stairs ♥ that you will likely take to reach St Ignatius are the iconic stairs from The Game of Thrones, so there will always be tons of people taking pictures there.
We also stepped into the Church of the Annunciation ♥. Orthodox churches always have a different look from Catholic ones, this one with a magnificent altar screen that takes an appearance of a wall of gold. For cat lovers, the front yard of the church may be the bigger attraction. There are close to a dozen cats that are resting in the shade or sleeping on the stones at all times. Apparently, the city officially takes care of them.
Rector Palace’s ♥ interior spaces are not too opulent, but there are several impressive ceilings. The exhibitions consist of paintings, furniture, vases, palanquins, coins, arms, and art objects – not overwhelming, and not exceptional, but nice to browse. Another palace at the eastern edge of Stradun, the 16th-century Sponza, closes for events with regularity.
The Franciscan Monastery ♥♥ cloister is gorgeous: architecture, frescoes, decorations, and the central garden are all exquisite. The pharmacy museum on the premises exhibits more religious artifacts than pharmacological ones. The working old pharmacy carries the ambiance and the smell – and you can get your prescriptions filled if you need to.
The walls circuit ♥♥, which encloses the entire historic core, is over 2 kilometers long, with plenty of staircases to navigate along the way. There are multiple entry/exit points, so you can choose to walk only a portion of the wall (for the full cost, of course, but the ticket price is not excessive). There is very limited shade along the way, and the passages may get very crowded, so moving along sometimes becomes a very slow walk. It can easily take over an hour and a half to complete the full circuit. On a hot summer day, there is definitely a risk of heatstroke, even though you will come upon a couple of refreshment establishments that provide some respite. Going on the walls is among the unmissable parts of a Dubrovnik visit, but has to be approached carefully. The best views are from the western and northern parts of the wall, which happen to be the starting and finishing segments if you ascend at the Pile Gate; on other sides, there are more views of the sea than the rooftops.
A separate part of the city fortifications, Fort Lovrijenac, can be accessed on the same ticket as the walls.
Cable car ♥♥ to Mount Srd is one of the best of its kind, especially if you manage to stand by the windows looking down. Late at night in high season, the line to go down back to the town may be pretty long, but even so, the waiting time was just about 15 minutes. If you buy tickets to the cable car online ahead of time, make sure that you print them; we observed the person at the ticket desk being entirely unaccommodating with respect to the electronic confirmations on a mobile phone.
Views from the platforms at the top of the mountain ♥ are great, although probably short of worth the cost of the cable car all by themselves. There are a few other activities and points of interest on the mountain, including a very popular restaurant next to the upper terminal of the cable car.
The Elaphiti island group of Lopud, Koločep, and Šipan is a frequent destination for day-trippers from Dubrovnik. You can hire different types of boats for an excursion (or, alternatively use a limited-schedule ferry to hop to one island or another). A traditional Dalmatian boat, for instance, is relatively slow – and pretty loud when running – but also cozy and pleasant to be on; a local skipper, more likely than not speaking excellent English, will take you to a few key places in the archipelago.
The Blue Cave ♥♥ on Koločep is mesmerizing, with the way the light enters the low arch and reflects off the sand on the floor. There are always many visitors throughout the day, so the entrance to the cave may get congested with swimmers.
Also on Koločep are the Three Caves ♥. The sea is often rougher here, so two of the three caves – one dark, and one narrow walk-through – are sometimes not safe to go in. The first cave is usually swimmable, and the water gets pretty warm, even if there are no showstopping features in the cave itself. You can also jump from the cliffs both at the Three Caves and at the Blue Cave.
Lopud ♥♥♥ is just a slice of paradise, good enough that people come here for extended vacations, not just for a day. Sunj Beach ♥♥♥ is definitely among the best beaches in all of Croatia. Sandy, clear warm water, not too shallow, but at a standing depth good 50 meters from the shore. There are all standard amenities onshore. The beach is on the other side of the island from the main village and marina of Lopud. The distance is walkable, but not too enticing – 1.5 kilometers up and down the hills. Most people would take a golf-cart taxi, costing Kn15 per person each way; the drivers try to fill the carts with the maximum number of people (often 6 or sometimes 8), which can be annoying if you are ready to go but have to wait indeterminate time for other people to show up before starting the 5-minute ride.
The waterfront of Lopud invites you to linger; the beaches are not as good on this side but still passable for those who do not want to travel to Sunj. There are several restaurants and a number of shops. The town also has a botanical garden of note and an unusual light show, for those looking for additional diversions.
We ended up not going to Šipan at all. There is not much to see on the near (southeastern) part of the island, and reaching the northwestern-side bay would not be possible at the speeds offered by the aforementioned traditional boat. Anyone renting a faster vessel may be able to visit Šipanska Luka, which reputedly is comparable to Lopud in its charms.
The nearest to Dubrovnik island of Lokrum is a component of the same UNESCO site as the city proper, with several points of interest including a nature reserve.
On our stay in Dubrovnik, we only went to one beach within city boundaries, St Jacob ♥♥. The rocky floor falls off very quickly; the water edge is pebbly, but there are sand areas further back from the shore. All amenities on site, including the ever-present umbrellas and lounge chairs for hire. Brilliant water, but quite a lot of small debris may ebb up when there is a cruise ship anchored off the coast. Steep staircase (~200 steps) to reach the beach from the road above; the road itself is very narrow and may test your driving abilities; parking by the eponymous church above the beach is incredibly expensive (Kn50 per hour), although I did not see many people paying on Saturday (the sign says paid parking is in force daily).
In the “memorable stays” category, Apartment Silente (link, on Google Maps the place is shown as Family House Nožica) belongs to a large family and houses quite a few of said family members; one apartment is for guests. The suite includes 3 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, all amenities, A/C in every room, a garage parking spot, and an outside terrace with sea views (which can be very pleasant at breakfast time). Very clean and welcoming, and the hosts are wonderful people. The way to the Old Town (Pile Gate) is via a staircase street and then a sloping pedestrian street, about 7 minutes going down, but closer to 15 minutes going up for those in an indifferent physical shape.
As far as eating out is concerned, whether you reserve a table in advance based on online ratings or just pick a restaurant at random, it is hard to have a truly disappointing meal in Dubrovnik (although, do be on the lookout for the obvious tourist trap signs). I personally prefer local vibes in less touristy areas, but sometimes sitting down in an eatery on a crowded square can have its rewards.
Worthy of specific recommendations are: Dubravka (outside the Pile Gate), a large establishment with views of the city walls; Konoba Sebastian (on Prijeko, one of the restaurant-heavy auxiliary streets in the Old City); and Panorama, the aforementioned super-popular restaurant at the top of Mount Srd, next to the cable car terminal, where you pay a premium for the location, but still enjoy the impeccable service and excellent food. The only downside here is that you get just a partial view of the town below unless you get a table at the terrace front edge – and those best seats in the house are apparently reserved more than a month in advance, so if you decide to go, plan accordingly. Dubravka and Panorama are “sister” establishments, and you get a 10% discount at whichever one you eat second.
Keep in mind that in high season, many restaurants do not take reservations for seating after 7 p.m. – they apparently expect to be full without reservations and do not want to hold tables. Mildly inconvenient if you do not want an early dinner and want to get into a specific restaurant.
A definite recommendation for Lopud is Restaurant Dubrovnik, directly on the waterfront. Great views over the bay and fantastic fresh seafood. Catch of the day will usually run you a non-trivial expense but this is a clear case when the experience is worth it. Nonetheless, the whole fish portions are pretty large, so sharing one catch for two people is a prudent option.
From this part of the Dalmatian coast, the most interesting nearby locations are actually in the neighboring countries. If you have a car and are not put off by occasional border-crossing delays, you can visit Kotor in Montenegro or Mostar in Bosnia.
Mostar ♥♥♥ is among the most picturesque towns anywhere, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Crowded, too; the area around the Old Bridge is over-commercialized, but still offers great ambiance. The Old Bridge ♥♥ is the principal unmissable attraction in town. Descend to the beach on the west bank of the river Neretva for the best views of it. The souq on both sides of the river around the bridge is very tourist-oriented. Anyone without much exposure to real souqs in the Middle East might still find it pretty interesting.
Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque ♥ is worth a visit. Tourists are allowed in – for a fee, of course – even during prayers, can keep shoes on, and are allowed to take pictures. The interior is basically a single space with beautiful decorations that are nonetheless nowhere near the frequent opulence of Christian churches. Climb up the minaret ♥♥♥ for the million-dollar views of the town. There is also a garden and a traditional washing fountain on the grounds.
Other attractions in the town include mosques and nationally listed historical buildings, as well as monuments and museums related to the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Stolac is a sleepy backwater town about a 30-minute drive from Mostar, with an imposing castle above it. We only briefly stopped by the historic Inat Cuprija bridge to take pictures. Our main reason for being in Stolac was a couple of nearby Stecci Cemeteries that are part of a serial UNESCO World Heritage site. Radimlja ♥ is quite nice, with beautiful carvings on many stones, and could possibly appeal to people interested in history even if they are not expressly interested in the WH sites; you can get a guided tour at the visitor center if you’d like. Boljuni is much less impressive, rundown, and neglected, with practically no discernible aesthetic qualities, and will likely only appeal to the hard-core WH chasers. There are two clusters, a couple of hundred meters from each other. There is no visitor center; the graveyards are free to enter, and a few neighbors were clearly amused by the sight of visitors.
Kotor ♥♥♥ is a relatively small walled town, with no vehicular traffic inside the wall perimeter. Many winding picturesque streets in Kotor are a perfect setting to “get lost” ♥♥. There is definitely a strong Venetian influence underscored by the fact that the defensive walls were built by erstwhile Venice overlords. The walls are part of a serial UNESCO World Heritage site; it is possible to go on them, although if you are coming from Dubrovnik, you will probably just look at the Kotor ones from the street level.
You can also climb the wall path up the mountain, for sweeping views of the town, but I suspect it can only be attempted on a non-summer day.
Quite a number of churches are packed into the small town core. St Tryphon Cathedral ♥ has a fairly extensive treasury and an open platform at the roof level, in addition to a few nice interior features. St Luke is a small Orthodox church, more standout for its physical location as a pivot on the eponymous square. Nearby is a newish and larger Orthodox church of St Michael, with a traditionally impressive altar. St Clare is another church worth a quick look at.
An unusual attraction is the Cats Museum, a two-room compendium of postcards, posters, and paintings devoted to cats. It is a curious collection – those who are into cats may actually spend quite a lot of time looking through hundreds of items. Among other attractions in town is the Maritime Museum.
The town of Kotor sits by the bay which is separately inscribed on the World Heritage list as a natural and cultural landscape. There are shades of Lake Como in the perspectives, but the mountains are higher, and not as lush overall, and the towns are less picturesque on average. You can drive around the bay ♥ or take a quite efficient ferry service ♥ across its narrowest point. The town of Perast, together with two islands in front of it, is among the reputed highlights.
Herzeg Novi is a pleasant and comparatively quiet town at the northwestern edge of Kotor Bay. The orthodox church of Holy Archangel Michael dominates the main square. The old sea fort ♥ is worth stopping by for views over the bay.