The first time I came to Dubrovnik, I knew there was something special about it. I’d never been to the country of my heritage, through my grandfather, but on a whim I decided to spend six months abroad in Dubrovnik. I knew no one and barely knew the language. I had never been so far from my comfort zone. And yet, I had a strange feeling I was coming home.
Four years later, this is the place I officially call home. (You can read more about my story here). While many consider the pearl of the Adriatic a dream destination, I’m one of the lucky few foreigners that live here. I also am technically the only Dubrovnik travel blog based here. For such a small destination, Dubrovnik is filled with so much culture, nature, and cuisine that it can be overwhelming.
As your local insider (and Croatia travel consultant!) this is my Dubrovnik travel guide.
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My local Dubrovnik travel guide
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 by the Yugoslavian army, 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.
The best time to visit Dubrovnik
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 many days to spend in Dubrovnik?
Isn’t this the million dollar question? I can tell you that you surely cannot see what Dubrovnik has to offer in only a day. Not even two. The thing is, many people don’t understand that Dubrovnik is NOT just the Old Town. Going to Dubrovnik and only seeing the Old Town is like going to Paris and only seeing the Eiffel Tower.
I truly think you need at least 4 days in Dubrovnik, preferably 5 if you want to explore the surrounding area. The reason is because you should give yourself one or two days to explore the Old Town, another day for the surrounding area, and ideally two day trips. Dubrovnik is conveniently located right next to Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Montenegro, and several neighboring islands.
Where to stay in Dubrovnik
There are many equally beautiful pockets of Dubrovnik, which means you don’t have to confine yourself to the Old Town. This is actually the biggest mistake I see tourists make, because staying in the Old Town isn’t for everyone. You can often find more affordable and scenic options if you widen your search to various surrounding areas.
Booking.com is the most popular platform in Dubrovnik and has the widest selection of the hotels, apartment and villa rentals online.
If you’d like to stay in close proximity to the Old Town, I would recommend staying near the Ploce or Pile areas right outside the Old Town. They usually have a great view of the city and the sea.
If you don’t mind walking 15-20 minutes, perhaps stay in the Lapad or Gruz area of town. Gruz does get a little busy with cruise ships near the port, but the Uvala region of Lapad is full of gorgeous beaches, restaurants, and hotels.
Alternatively, if you’d like to stay in an equally beautiful and less busy area of town, check out the Zupa area of Dubrovnik. Here you’ll find the Sub City mall, dozens of beaches, seaside walkways, restaurants and bars. It’s only about a 15 bus-ride into the Old Town, and you can also go by boat roundtrip for less than $10!
Dubrovnik and the surrounding area is also a great place to camp. I recommend this option if you are road-tripping, traveling with kids, or on a budget. If you are interested in camping, check out my “Insider Guide to Camping in Dubrovnik” here.
The best way to get to Dubrovnik
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.
The best things to do in Dubrovnik
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.
Visit Dubrovnik’s city walls (morning is best)
Of course, the most popular tourist attraction in Dubrovnik is the City Walls, for good reason. Believe me when I say it may be the best views of Old Town and the Adriatic you’ll get. 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. You don’t necessarily need a guide to visit the city walls. However, if you’re interested in learning more about the history it may be a good idea.
Get lost in the side streets of the Stari Grad (Old Town)
Sure, doing a tour of the Old Town would help give some historical context of this city’s complex and fascinating history. However, I do recommend you carve out time to simple just get lost in its’ vastness. Climb the cobblestone steps and discover the quieter areas of town. I seem to always find new nooks and crannies along the quaint side streets, and there’s never a shortage of stray cats.
Just make sure you are respectful since yes, people actually live here.
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. The photo above was taken at a friend’s wedding, the parents of the couple dancing to traditional Dalmatian music.
Take the cable car, or hike to Mount Srd
Seeing Dubrovnik from the top of Srd 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.
You also don’t need to take a tour of Srd, as you can simply hike or take the cable car. I do recommend visiting the war museum at the top if you are particularly interested in the history of the Homeland war.
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. You don’t have to worry about any sharks or dangerous fish in the sea, other than sea urchins, which is why I recommend wearing water shoes or jelly sandals while swimming in rocky areas.
Also, make sure to be careful going cliff jumping. Many areas appear safe but tourists end up injuring themselves with rocks under the surface (especially near Buze Bar).
My favorite beaches are Pasjaca Beach, Dance, and Sveti Javoc beach.You can read about how to get to these beaches in my “Dubrovnik Beach Guide” here.
Kayak or Snorkel on the Adriatic
Kayaking is one of my favorite activities to do in Dubrovnik. I think it is one of the best ways to experience what the seaside landscape has to offer and uncover the hidden areas of Dubrovnik.
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.
Take a boat ride over to Cavtat
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. You can also take a boat from the Old Town, or many other ports in the Zupa region, like Srebeno, Mlini, and Plat.
The best Dubrovnik day trips
Dubrovnik is the ideal location for taking multiple day trips to neighboring islands and countries. These are my favorite places to take day trips from Dubrovnik.
Visit the peacocks and beaches on the mysterious Lokrum island
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.
You can easily take a day trip to Lokrum for 120 kunas from Dubrovnik’s main harbor, near the Ploce gate within the Old Town. There are a few restaurants and small stores on the island, but packing a picnic is also a good option. Make sure to bring a towel, swimsuit, and sunscreen!
Explore the walls of Ston and delicious wine and oysters in Peljesac
If you love wine, oysters, or BOTH, you need to make sure you take a tour of the Peljesac peninsula. Much less crowded than the Dubrovnik area and only about an hour away, the Peljesac area is home to some of Croatia’s best wines, seafood, and beaches. Oh, and you can climb the Great Wall of Europe in Ston, which is an absolute must.
I truly think that this area is going to be the next Tuscany ( I think it’s even better), so this is one of my favorite trips to take from Dubrovnik myself.
Visit Marco Polo’s “birthplace” on Korcula Island
Korcula is one of the most popular day trips from Dubrovnik and also the Peljesac peninsula. It is also known for it’s gorgeous beaches and legendary wineries. There are some remarkable beaches in the Lomarda area of the island. Is it also ideal for renting a bike. Oh, and Marco Polo was apparently born here, but that’s still up for debate.
Experience Croatia’s untouched on Mljet Island
If you want to escape the crowds for the day and experience the best of the Adriatic, head to the island of Mljet. Named the Croatian island with the best nature by Lonely Planet, Mljet is home to a national park with a lake, and yes, an island within the island. It’s a great place to go for the day to rent bikes or scooters, visit the national park, and relax on the beaches.
Border-hop to Montenegro for the day
You can’t come to Dubrovnik and not visit Montenegro. Only about an hour away, the popular towns of Kotor and Budva are right across the border. Some tours offer the possibility of seeing both towns since they are so close, which is a full day tour. If you’d like to spend a little more time, I recommend going to just Budva. The photo above is in the Sveti Stefan area outside Budva, which you can get to if you have a car or take a small private tour.
Historically, it was this area that attacked Dubrovnik during the war, but it’s good to take a tour here to get their perspective. Plus, you’ll find Montenegro is significantly cheaper than Dubrovnik.
Experience the colors and culture of Mostar
On the other side of the border is the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is significantly different than Dubrovnik. You’ll immediately notice the Turkish and Muslim influences in the culture and cuisine. Mostar is a popular day trip from Dubrovnik, which is under three hours away. The town itself has a very ripe history after being destroyed during the Homeland war. Not to mention, you’ll find cheap food and trinkets all throughout the town.
Kravice Waterfalls is right on the way to Mostar, which is a great alternative if you don’t have time to make it to Plitvice or Krka waterfalls. Unless you have a car and are comfortable navigating in Bosnia on your own, I would really recommend going with a tour. Bosnia is an incredible country but can be difficult to navigate and definitely not as safe as Dubrovnik is for tourists, let’s just see. It really is an incredible city worth seeing, none the less.
The best restaurants in Dubrovnik
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)
Best Bars in Dubrovnik
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 in Dubrovnik
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.
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If you haven’t already, make sure to check out all of my Croatia travel guides for my insider tips!