Drum roll please… I’m about the drop the ultimate knowledge bomb full of insider travel tips to one of the world’s trendiest destinations: Dubrovnik, Croatia. Trust me when I say you won’t find these tips in any Lonely Planet Guide or one of the various “36 hour travel guides” on Pinterest.
Why? Because I didn’t just visit Dubrovnik; I lived there. I first came to study abroad, then fell in love, literally, with a local. I then returned to live for another 6 months. I’m one of the lucky few Americans that actually were immersed in the culture and Dubrovnik mentality.
No tourist traps. No sponsorships. Only my genuine tips (and a few of my boyfriend’s recommendations too) about a destination that turned into my second home:
(Click Either Image below to pin it for later!)
Background and history
Population: Around 50,000
Language: Croatian, but almost everyone speaks English
Dubrovnik, also known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, is a small coastal town with big character. It’s nested at the Southern tip of Croatia between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. Dubrovnik’s tumultuous history, breathtaking architecture and seaside landscape make it the most popular destination in the Balkan region, and one of the most popular in Europe.
Dubrovnik was first established around 7th century, and was an independent republic for 450 years (1358-1808). The city remained independent throughout the rule of the Roman, Napoleon, and Turkish empires as a seaport with open trade. Dubrovnik then became a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and then finally Yugoslavia.
The secession of Croatia from former communist Yugoslavia in 1991 is a sensitive subject for many Dubrovnik locals. The area was attacked during the war, and people had to either stay and fight in the war or flee as refugees. Even the famed Old Town, a UNESCO heritage site, was completely destroyed. Today most of the area is restored, and is one of the safest places in the world.
Dubrovnik locals take pride in their identity and are very much a product of their past. Many will consider Dubrovnik separate from the rest of Croatia, as if it still is a republic. The local economy depends heavily on tourism, and has tactfully marketed Dubrovnik’s unique features. Dubrovnik is very welcoming towards foreigners, but locals share a special bond that is harder to explain than it is to break.
When to go
Shoulder season: April, May, September, October
High season: June, July, August
Off season: November-March
I recommend: May or September
There’s really no bad time to visit Dubrovnik, but it depends on what you want most. If you can tolerate massive crowds of tourists for perfect beach weather, then visiting in the summer during high season is for you. If you’re looking to experience more of the authentic Dubrovnik without all the tourism, or maybe even want to visit the Christmas festival, then going in the off season is a good option.
I’ve been in Dubrovnik for all three tourism seasons, and I would recommend visiting in the shoulder season. May and September are my favorite, because it is still warm enough to swim and enjoy everything Dubrovnik has to offer, without being trampled by tourists.
How to get there
Plane, bus, or boat.
Getting to Dubrovnik depends on if you want to visit other parts of Croatia before or after (you totally should if you have time). You can easily fly into Dubrovnik, but the only direct flights are from Europe.
Sometimes flights can be expensive, since Dubrovnik is more isolated from the rest of Europe. If traveling from the U.S, I would recommend finding a flight into London or Amsterdam first, and then buy a separate ticket into Dubrovnik (use Google Flights). You may have to go out and get your bags in between connecting flights, but this is the secret that has saved me hundreds of dollars.
Otherwise if you are traveling elsewhere in Croatia, you can take a bus to Dubrovnik. You can also take a ferry from various other Croatian cities, and even a few places in Italy.
Where to stay
Rental apartment through Booking.com, airbnb.com, or directly through the seller’s website (often cheaper).
Near the Old Town, Lapad, or Zupa
Honestly there are so many gorgeous hotels in Dubrovnik, but the best place to stay is in a rental apartment. Upscale and glamorous rental apartments are scattered throughout the Dubrovnik region, mainly through booking.com or airbnb.com. These can be anywhere between $35-$150 a night.
Staying at a rental apartment is one of the best ways to directly impact the local economy. Almost everyone in Dubrovnik rents apartments, with some living solely off of renting apartments during high season. Locals are extremely accommodating and are genuinely happy to help you enjoy Dubrovnik. Some apartments have websites, and it’s actually cheaper to go directly through them instead of paying a booking fee with a host website.
If you decide to stay in a hotel instead, I would recommend the Hilton Hotel, Excelsior, or Sheraton Hotel. All of these have a reputation of being extremely professional and upscale. Also, shout out to Sheraton for always letting me use their Wi-Fi when I needed a place to write my blog posts.
There are so many beautiful areas in the Dubrovnik region; it’s hard to pick one. If you want to be closer to the center of action, it’s best to be closer to the Old Town. Look for the Pile or the Ploche region, which is just outside the Old Town. Otherwise anything within a 15-minute walk to the Old Town will be very central.
The Lapad region is gorgeous, and only a few kilometers outside the city center. Otherwise, I love the Zupa region, because it’s extremely scenic, on the sea, and a little more authentic. It’s only about 7 kilometers from the Old Town, which is a short boat or bus ride away. I lived in the area of Plat for 7 months, which is full of serene and untouched nature. (You can check out the apartment I stayed in here.)
What to do
Though the Dubrovnik area may seem small in size, there are seemingly infinite things to do in the surrounding area. Staying any less than three days would truly not do Dubrovnik any justice. Not only is the city itself beautiful, it is conveniently located in close proximity to Bosnia, Montenegro, other coastal towns, and various Croatian islands. So ideally, you should spend at least a few other days visiting the neighboring attractions
Here are the top things to do around Dubrovnik:
Visit the City Walls
Of course, the most popular tourist attraction in Dubrovnik is the City Walls. It’s one of the best ways to experience the Old Town as well as those dreamy Adriatic views. The City Walls are open year round, and take about an hour and a half to complete the full circle. I would recommend visiting in the morning or the late afternoon, but be aware that the walls will be packed in high season.
Exploring the Old Town
Sure, you could do a walking tour of the Old Town, but I find that you can see most of the monuments yourself (the Old Town is very small). It sounds so simple, but wandering polished cobble-stoned streets is truly magical. I seem to always find new nooks and crannies along the quaint side streets, and there’s never a shortage of stray cats.
People watch along the Stradun
Do as the locals do in Dubrovnik and have a coffee and people watch along the famed Stradun Street, which goes through the Old Town. You’ll spot locals dressed like they’re coming off a runway, and some interesting tourists from all over the world.
Hike to Mount Srdj
Seeing Dubrovnik from the top of Srj is a must. You can either hike or take the cable car to the top. I would recommend the latter in hotter summer months, but hiking is much more scenic. The top overlooks Dubrovnik and the Adriatic, and there is often horses and goats roaming around. There’s also the Panorama restaurant on the very top, which is perfect for dinner or a drink.
Visit the local beaches
There are too many beaches in Dubrovnik to count, and some are more touristy than others. Banje Beach is the most popular, but there are so many others that many tourists don’t even know about. My favorite beach is Dance near the Old Town.
I also really love Pasjaca Beach (pictured above), which is hard to get to if you don’t have a car. If you can find a way, or even befriend some locals, it is 100 percent worth it for the incredible view.
Safety note: You don’t have to worry about sharks or really any dangerous fish in Dubrovnik, other than sea urchins, so watch where you step. However, please be careful if you decide to go cliff jumping. Several tourists have injured themselves in recent years (especially by Buze Bar), because there’s often many rocks under the water you can’t see from above.
Visit the island of Lokrum
Lokrum is the island directly across from the Old Town, and is full of gorgeous gardens, exotic animals, and nude beaches. The island itself has a unique history, and it is supposedly cursed for anyone who stays overnight on the island.
Go Kayaking or snorkeling
Kayaking is one of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in the Adriatic Sea.
Stroll through Uvala in Lapad
Lapad is actually one of my favorite areas in Dubrovnik, and is often more of a mix between locals and tourists. The Uvala Street is a popular place to walk, which has restaurants, shops, live music, and beaches. It is about a 20-minute walk outside the Old Town.
Cavtat is another one of my favorite places, which is just as beautiful as Dubrovnik, but is more quaint and serene. It is about a 30-minute bus ride from the Old Town.
Places to visit outside Dubrovnik area:
Dubrovnik is the ideal location for taking multiple day trips to neighboring islands and countries.
Visit the legendary Korcula Island full of wineries and gorgeous beaches
Stay a night on Mljet and experience untouched nature in it’s fullest
Visit the gorgeous town of Budva in Montenegro
Explore Balkan history in Mostar
Where to eat
There are so many wonderful restaurants in Dubrovnik, but I wouldn’t suggest eating out for every meal. I would recommend buying some food at Konzum, DM, Tommy or Pemo for your stay, especially for breakfast (since they don’t do breakfast so much in Dubrovnik).
Here are a few of my favorite restaurants.
Note that I am gluten free and don’t eat meat, except fish. These restaurants below are very accommodating. Please make sure you tell your server about any dietary restrictions beforehand in Dubrovnik.
Nishta (gluten free, vegan, vegetarian) *highly recommended
Presa (fast-food style)
Tutto Bene (fast-food style)
Ragusa 2 (seafood, various items)*highly recommended
Restaurant Dubrovnik (upscale Mediterranean cuisine) *highly recommended
Above 5 (upscale local cuisine)*highly recommended
Poklisar (Mediterranean cuisine)
Sesame (Croatian and Mediterranean, also has brunch)
Where to go out
Whether it’s the Christmas festival or summer along the Stradun, there are always some evening happenings in Dubrovnik. Most bars turn into café bars at night, so don’t be surprised if where you sipped coffee by day is now a club by night.
Here are my favorite café bars and clubs:
Art Café (funky décor with upbeat house music)
Exit (rock and roll vibe)
Karaka (Irish style pub)
La Bodega (hip and one of the most popular)
Revelin (The legendary Castle club)
Lazareti (Funky dance music)
Banje Beach (club on the beach)
Depending on the time of year, you can always ask around to see if there are any types of beach parties or student nights in other local bars.
How to avoid tourist traps
Though you really don’t have to worry too much about your safety in Dubrovnik, you should watch your back for tourist traps. Here are a few tips:
- Any restaurant where someone is trying to lure you in from the street is crap. (I actually know the restaurants that do this. They have the worst ratings on Trip Advisor).
- Avoid restaurants that have literally everything on the menu (pizza, Mexican food, fish, burgers…).
- Always pay in kunas instead of Euros
- Always ask the taxi drivers how much it will be before getting in. You may be better off taking the bus or an Uber.
How to meet locals
You’re truly missing out on a huge part of the Dubrovnik experience if you don’t take the time to befriend some locals. For one, everyone speaks English so you don’t have a language barrier. And locals are genuinely happy to meet you, and likely will be really interested in talking with you.
Locals love to sit and have coffee with friends, or have a barbeque on the beach. They also really love to sing Croatian songs.
Locals are usually in the smaller cafes or bars, and usually outside the Old Town (here are some hidden gems locals love). Do make the effort, because it will only your enhance your experience of Dubrovnik and Croatian culture.
Have I convinced you to visit Dubrovnik? Comment below!
If I can assist you in your travel planning for Dubrovnik, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org