By now you’ve seen images of Croatia; in guidebook, in articles about “Must-See Destinations”, fleeting glimpses of it standing in for King’s Landing on Game of Thrones. But no matter what you’ve seen or heard, it’s impossible to overestimate the stunning beauty of the walled city. With so many things to do in Croatia, here’s Intrepid Travel’s guide to a perfect 3 days in the Pearl of the Adriatic.
Start your day as early as possible. First thing in the morning is when Dubrovnik is most magical, when you have the gleaming white city all to yourself, empty and unbelievably picturesque. You’ll have plenty of time for a siesta later when the afternoon is at its hottest and the crowds roll in.
Breakfast options are limited in the city but you can stock up on fresh fruit at the Gundulićeva Poljana market, or if you’re staying near the neighbourhood Gruž, at the more local market there.
It’s also best to walk the City Walls as soon as soon as they open (if you’re not an early riser, you can also save them for late in the day, a couple of hours before they close). Dubrovnik has the world’s best-preserved fortified walls, encircling the entire Old Town. They stretch for over a mile and an unguided walk will take a couple of hours, with plenty of stops to check out the towers, bastions and 360-degree views of the Old Town below and the sea and mountains beyond.
After disembarking the walls, head to Azur for an al fresco lunch – high up in the Old Town, this breezy Asian-inspired restaurant is one of the best in Dubrovnik and a wonderful place to spend an hour over a leisurely meal.
Pack your bathing suit because the best swimming spot in Dubrovnik is just down the road from Azur. Look out for a sign indicating “Cold Drinks”– this will lead right through the City Walls to one of two secret “Buža” Bars, where you’ll find incredible views, a perfect place to swim and, yes, cold drinks.
Later this afternoon, take a local bus or taxi down the coast to a charming town called Cavtat. Along the way you’ll pass some of the most exclusive hotels in the region; make sure to look back for the best view of the walled city as you drive away. Cavtat is the largest town in the Konavle region, known as the breadbasket of Southern Dalmatia. Here you’ll find a nice waterfront to stroll along and one of the best restaurants in the area: Bugenvila, known for its high-quality ingredients and sophisticated dishes. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time, as this restaurant is extremely popular. This is your chance to treat yourself!
This morning, have breakfast at Lady Pi-Pi, another restaurant best-enjoyed in the morning, when the shady terrace makes a fine spot to gaze out over the Old Town. You can enjoy a hearty breakfast here, perfect to fuel up for an active day on Lokrum Island.
Lokrum is the dark island – shrouded in mystery, legend, pine and cypress trees – that you probably spotted from atop the City Walls. You can take a half-hour boat ride from Dubrovnik’s old harbour, but if you’re up for it, the best way to get there is by kayak. There are as many touts offering kayaking excursions as there are braided characters offering Game of Thrones tours; choose one that allows you a couple of hours free time on Lokrum to swim, search for peacocks and rabbits, visit the botanical garden and Benedictine Monastery, and for GOT fans, take a photo on the original throne.
Back in Dubrovnik, leave the Old Town to explore the more modern neighborhoods. Make your way to Lapad, where you’ll find a bustling summer resort atmosphere. Take a sunset stroll around the bay, stopping at the gorgeous Cave Bar More for a sunset cocktail. When you’re ready for dinner, head back to nearby Gruž. At first glance this neighbourhood, home to the bus and ferry terminals, isn’t much to look at, but it’s home to the best restaurant in town: Amfora. The tuna steak alone is worth the trek.
Back in the Old Town, have a nightcap at one of the many wine bars around town for a taste of delicious Dalmatian wine – D’Vino Wine Bar is one of the best. Or check out what’s playing at one of the two outdoor cinemas for a unique local experience.
Depending on how many glasses of Dingač you had last night (if you haven’t heard of this local wine varietal yet, you will) you might really need a day at the beach. The tiny Elafiti Islands stretch out between Dubrovnik and Mljet Island. The most visited are Koločep, Lopud and Šipan, and many tour operators around Dubrovnik will take you island hopping to all three; a better option is to take a public ferry directly from Gruž harbour to one of the islands so you can enjoy it without the day-trippers.
We recommend Lopud; once the summer residence of the noblemen from Dubrovnik, now a quiet, car-free island where the only mode of transportation is golf carts. It has the most facilities, the only sandy beach in the region, and a handful of excellent restaurants. You can crisscross the entire island in a couple of hours along its network of pine-covered roads and empty trails: visit the interesting Your Black Horizon Art Pavilion hidden in the middle of the island (owned by a member of the Habsburg family), spot the ruins of summer residences and old churches scattered around the hills, and once the tour boats have left, visit Sunj, the sliver of sandy beach. There are several options for lunch or dinner but you can’t go wrong at Obala, a lovely waterfront restaurant where the waiters exude black-tie professionalism and the seafood is as fresh as it gets.
Take a late afternoon ferry back to Dubrovnik, quickly freshen up back at your hotel, then head to the cable car station in time to be whisked up to the top of Mt. Srd for sunset. The view over the city and the islands makes a perfect way to finish your trip.