View of Old Town Dubrovnik and Lokrum Island from the Dubrovnik Walls

On the southern Dalmatian coastline of Croatia lies Dubrovnik, an old walled city that overlooks a sparkling Adriatic Sea. It’s one of the most popular destinations in Croatia–if not for its breezy seaside charm, then for its famed Game of Thrones filming locations that have fans from all over the world booking their vacations to walk sites like King’s Landing firsthand.

 

 

Dubrovnik’s history goes back to a 7th century Greek discovery in the Mediterranean. It grew into a thriving maritime port, defended from enemies like the Venetians by the tall walls that mark the Old Town’s border today. It then became one of the first republics in the world in 1358. When walking down the narrow cobbled passageways, you’ll bear witness to Baroque, Gothic, and Renaissance designs–and while much was damaged during a devastating 1667 earthquake, the city has been preserved and is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 

This “Pearl of the Adriatic” is the perfect destination for your first time in Croatia. From fresh seaside cuisine with views of Lokrum Island and Mount Srd, to medieval artifacts and sites like one of the first pharmacies in Europe, you’ll get a real feel for Croatian culture and the locals’ peaceful pace of life.

 

Planning your trip

Dubrovnik Cathedral
Photo credit: Megan Kudla

Plan to spend around 2 to 3 days in Dubrovnik if you are traveling around the country and hitting other spots like Split, Zagreb, or the myriad of coastal islands. You can fly right into Dubrovnik by taking an international flight to Dubrovnik Ruđer Bošković Airport (or Čilipi Airport). Since I flew into and out of Split, I got to the city via a bus, as there are no trains. If you go by bus, use FlixBus. Your other option would be to rent a car.

 

 

As for when to go, October was a perfect time to visit. This is right at the end of the tourist season, which means the weather is a bit more mild (but still perfectly warm and pleasant), and the crowds are more manageable when it comes to dodging tour groups and other visitor foot traffic. Despite the popularity of Old Town, it’s a really safe city. In fact, the entire country is great for entire families to visit and feel relaxed in.

 

 

When researching currency, you may see the kuna (HRK) pop up. This was the country’s official currency from 1994 and 2023, but the Euro is now utilized as of January 2023. While credit cards are acceptable in most places, still order some Euro before you go. I ran into a few “cash only” situations, such as when buying a souvenir at a local artisan’s shop in the middle of town.

 

 

Finally, when you are considering where to stay, you may want to find something either inside the Old Town walls or somewhere close by. I rented a quaint and cozy single-room Airbnb that resided at the top of a mountain of steps within the walls and was nestled in the midst of outdoor plants. I was quite pleased with the 10/10 ambience! But there are plenty of other options, and no matter what you choose, you’ll find that you can easily use the public bus system to get to Old Town.

 

 

What to do

 

 

Walking the walls

A woman walking the walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Featured in Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Photo credit: Megan Kudla

The 2 kilometers of walls that were once built to defend the city are now the premier spot to get a 360 degree view of the Old Town and the sprawling city beyond. You should carve out at least 1.5 hours to complete the journey. Along the way, you can sip a drink at a restaurant with a view and climb up Minčeta Tower, the highest point in the wall and a Game of Thrones spot. 

 

There are three entrances: one by Pile Gate (most popular), one by Ploce Gate, and one by the Maritime Museum. The Maritime Museum is located inside Fort St. John, on the edge of the old port. You can easily pair this museum visit with the walls, but it is a separate fee.

 

 

It gets tricky to navigate the walls during the middle of the day when there are bigger crowds who are undoubtedly going to stop en route to take scenic pictures. So, try getting there first thing in the morning or later in the evening. Also important to know is that the price of your ticket to walk the walls also includes entrance to Lovrijenac Fortress–but only if used within the same day.

 

 

Fort Lovrijenac

Fort Lovrijenac, or Game of Throne's King's Landing, in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Photo credit: Megan Kudla

If you don’t recognize it at first glance, this fortress is actually where the Red Keep was filmed in Game of Thrones. To get there, exit Pile Gate, walk toward the tourist office, and follow the signs toward the sea to find the steps that lead up to this towering historical site. Construction dates all the way back to the 11th century; today, it’s where you can go to see a Shakespeare play performed during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.

 

 

Although I went first thing in the morning and had the fortress all to myself, I might also recommend walking the walls during the evening, then enjoying sunset at the fort. To get a more guided experience, other than exploring the hallowed chambers on your own, try booking a tour–some of the Game of Thrones tours include Fort Lovrijenac as a stop.

 

 

The Stradun

The Stradun in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Featured in Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Photo credit: Megan Kudla

The Stradun is the main, wide street that runs through Old Town. It used to be a channel between the mainland and an island, where once only a bridge connected the two parts. Now the Stradun brings the land together and gives Old Town its grand stretch from Pile Gate to the old port. Here’s where you can sit at a restaurant, people watch, and sip a glass of Croatian wine. 

 

This is also a good place to get your bearings of the area. If you are walking down toward the old port, turn left and you’ll begin to ascend steps to an area filled mainly with restaurants. Turn right and you’ll find yourself on what the locals call “souvenir street” (great for shopping). As for the pop culture connected to the Stradun, if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, perhaps Star Wars Episode VIII might ring a bell?…

 

Cable car to Mount Srd

Cable car to Mount Srd in Dubrovnik Croatia
Photo credit: Megan Kudla

This is another activity to consider during the evening: Dine with an aerial view of the Old Town and the Adriatic Sea, which glows a brilliant orange under the setting sun. It’s 27 Euro for an adult round trip ticket on the cable car to Mount Srd, and you can spend as much time at the top as you’d like. 

 

 

To find the location, you’ll need to walk north and exit the walls of the Old Town. Once you buy your ticket, you may find yourself waiting in a line before being able to board the cable car. However, they are quite roomy and fit a lot of people, so the wait shouldn’t be too long. I ended up having a nice conversation with a couple visiting from Portugal, which made the time go by in a flash!

 

 

Day trip to Lokrum Island

The monastery at Lokrum Island in Dubrovnik, Croatia, featured in Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Photo credit: Megan Kudla

I must admit that this was one of my favorite things to do while visiting Dubrovnik. Lokrum Island is a half to full day adventure off the mainland. Buy your 27 Euro adult round trip ticket and depart at the old port. You won’t miss the boat, as loads of others will also be boarding this 10-minute ride. Since I went in October, I found myself sailing with a young school group that journeyed out to play some group sports on the island.

 

 

From the outside, it looks dense with trees. From the inside, it has never-ending pathways to explore, with hidden treasures along the way. It’s no wonder they chose this as the spot to film the city of Qarth in Game of Thrones. For my adventure, I tried to follow the signs and hit as many of the island’s sites as possible (although, not without making a few wrong turns). My top recommendations would be the monastery complex, the Dead Sea, the Fort Royal, and the Botanic Gardens. Oh, and don’t forget to take your picture with a peacock!

 

 

Rector’s Palace & Sponza Palace

Inside Rector's Palace in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Photo credit: Megan Kudla

Right off the Stradun, you’ll turn the corner to find Rector’s Palace, historically an administrative center of the Dubrovnik Republic and where the Rector stayed while holding office. It is 15 Euro to enter, but you can also purchase combination tickets that include entrances to even more Dubrovnik museums, like the Maritime Museum and various art galleries. 

 

Other than wandering between the columns and admiring the Gothic and Renaissance architecture, there are exhibits with antique furniture, collections of art, and objects such as old coins and historical documents. Here is where you will learn more thoroughly about the Ragusa Republic.

 

 

Sponza Palace, just down the street, is where the archives of the city are held. This particular building was not damaged during the 1667 earthquake, and the ground floor is free to walk around. There is a small memorial room you can enter on the left side.

 

 

Franciscan Church & Monastery

old Friars Minor Pharmacy museum in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Photo credit: Megan Kudla

I got referred by a guide to visit this 1317 church and monastery–if I hadn’t, I may have missed it! When walking in from the Pile Gate, turn down a little corridor on your left, and where you may think a side street is, you’ll actually find the entrance. It’s beautiful on the inside, with a central courtyard blooming with greenery.

 

 

Interestingly, this church and monastery is also home to a library filled with manuscripts and books that were studied by people traveling between Europe and the Holy Land during the medieval ages. And for a small fee, just around 5 Euro, you can visit the old Friars Minor Pharmacy. The museum artifacts include tools, scales, and recipes, and it’s quite worth the few Euro to go inside. I was blown away to see everything preserved: a medical center once at the height of its day.

 

 

Old Town Churches

Inside the Church of St. Blaise in Dubrovnik Croatia
Photo credit: Megan Kudla

St. Blaise is the patron saint of Dubrovnik, so the 18th century Baroque Church of St. Blaise is an important site at the end of the Stradun. A 1706 fire ravaged the church, but, miraculously, the statue of St. Blaise stood untouched by the flames and sits on the top of the church today.

 

Then, after finding and climbing the Jesuit Stairs (best known for the “Shame!” scene in Game of Thrones), you can go inside the Church of St. Ignatius. Other religious sites around town include the Dominican Monastery, the Dubrovnik Cathedral, and more. They are all free to enter, so you can spend an afternoon wandering around and finding them, admiring the architecture and art inside.

 

A seaside paradise

The Old Port docks in Old Town Dubrovnik Croatia
Photo credit: Megan Kudla

The number one thing to do, as suggested by a local guide, is to live like the locals do: Drink your café, and watch the people ambling by. Notice towers of gelato in excited hands melt under the sun. Notice the laundry drying on the clothesline up above. Notice the way you can enjoy the breezy afternoon with no worries–your only task is to wander on over to a new side of town and perhaps browse some art or make a new friend in a shop. 

 

 

There’s so much to do, but don’t forget to simply sit and appreciate the beauty of this amiable Old Town on the Adriatic Sea. It’s a moment like this when you catch your breath that you realize how wonderful the people and places of the Mediterranean are. 

 

 

For more information on Dubrovnik, vist https://visitdubrovnik.hr/.

 

 

To learn about cruising through the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, read What’s Superyachting? Luxury Cruising With Goolets.

 

Cover photo credit: Megan Kudla

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