Dubrovnik is the jewel of Southern Croatia. Most famous for its distinctive old town, you can’t help but think this place must have been carefully painted by a talented artist. The rugged landscape of the Croatian coastline is in stark contrast to the clear, deep blue waters of the Adriatic – I could spend days just marvelling at this stunningly beautiful scenery.
But there is so much more to do and see. Here are some ideas on how to spend one week in and around Dubrovnik and the best places to visit.
Exploring Dubrovnik, Croatia, and its surroundings
Dubrovnik itself is as picturesque as you expect, albeit mercilessly overcrowded. Nonetheless, if you avoid the high seasons and time your visit a little in line with the cruise timetable, you might just be able to enjoy a quiet drink in one of the many little ‘konobas’ dotted around the old town. There are even a couple located within the old city walls, Busa I and Busa II, precariously spilling onto the cliff edge.
The number one attraction in Dubrovnik are of course the city walls. You can walk around the city walls almost in their entirety and enjoy the lovely views over the old town, coastline and neighbouring islands. Below lies the heart of the old town. If the maze of dark alleys, steep steps and narrow tunnels seems oddly familiar, you might be thinking of King’s Landing. Dubrovnik provided the setting for the capital of Westeros in Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik from up high and the water
For an even better panorama of the entire city, take a hike up Mount Srđ (or alternatively the cable car). On top of Mount Srđ you can visit the remains of the Imperial Fortress, which was built in this strategically important location during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. It now houses a museum commemorating the Siege of Dubrovnik during the Croatian War of Independence in the early nineties.
As we got very lucky with the weather for October, we joined one of the many Kayak tours around the island. We had a fantastic morning paddling all around Dubrovnik and the island of Lokrum. We even visited a couple of caves on the way and stopped on the nearby Betina beach (lovely of course!) for a dip, which is only accessible via the sea.
We stayed in a little apartment at Villa Lanterna, in Štikovica, 8km north of Dubrovnik. The place was clean, with nice views over Zaton bay and fantastic value for money. There was even a little swimming pool, although freezing cold in October.
Štikovica provided not only a little respite from the hustle and bustle of the old town, but also a peaceful little beach and the perfect evening hangout. Konoba Gusar is set right on the beach and serves cold beer and simple, tasty Croatian food. Further along the bay towards Zaton is a bakery as well as a handful other restaurants and konobas.
Daytrip to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegowina
You can easily keep yourself entertained in and around Dubrovnik for a week – although I’d recommend hiring a car so you can explore a little further afield.
Around 140km north-east of Dubrovnik, is the historical town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegowina, whose diverse history is reflected in its multicultural urban architecture and society until today.
Stari Most – The symbol of Mostar
Mostar’s most famous landmark is Stari Most, a reconstructed medieval bridge crossing the river Neretva, whose long history is explored in the Old Bridge Museum. The city suffered severely during the war following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the historic bridge fell victim to heavy bombing.
You’d be inclined to approach Mostar with a sense of tragic and solemn seriousness. And, given the unmissable traces of war all around you and the difficulties with ethnic division the city still suffers from, this is certainly somewhat appropriate. Beyond that however, Mostar is a beautiful historic town, with cobbled streets, wonderfully situated on the emerald green Neretva river. There are bustling markets, tasty food stalls and intriguing museums.
You can climb the minaret of the Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque for stunning views over the old town. Mostar is a place bursting with history and so worth a visit – an ideal day trip (or more) from Dubrovnik. On route about 30 km south of Mostar, you pass the UNESCO world heritage site of Počitelj, an urban settlement and fortress first built in the early 15th century.
Daytrip to Kotor, Montenegro
In the opposite direction, around 100km or 2 hours scenic drive from Dubrovnik, hidden in a unbelievably pretty fjord like bay lies Kotor, a small coastal World Heritage town in the young state of Montenegro. Full of beautiful medieval structures, Kotor is a wonderful place for a stroll with its many churches, narrow alleyways and cobbled streets.
Like its neighbour in Croatia, Kotor is a popular stop for cruise ships and the crowds of yellow-hatted tourists can be a little overbearing for this quiet historic town. But, only few of them take on the steep hike up 1350 rugged steps to Sveti Ivan, also known as the San Giovanni fortress. Views from its ruins high above old town and harbour are simply breath-taking.
The drive around the oddly shaped Bay of Kotor in itself is worth the trip to Montenegro, along the way you’re spoilt for choice of beautiful spots to stop for coffee or cool off in the water.
I’ve only spent a week in the Balkans so far, but I fell in love instantly – even the drive from the airport is magnificent! I cannot wait to go back and explore more of Croatia and its fascinating neighbours.