Dubrovnik: A “How to” Guide for First Timers
I used to think Venice was the most picturesque place in Europe – until I visited Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Due to the popularity of Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik has become immensely popular with tourists, and it’s for good reason. Besides the fact that the city is home to King’s Landing, it’s also host to rich history, the sprawling Adriatic Sea, numerous tours – on both land and sea, and beautiful, cheer-worthy sunsets.
Let’s start with the basics!
How to Get to Dubrovnik
If you are flying into Dubrovnik, the easiest way to get to the city is by shuttle bus. There are three bus companies that operate out of the tiny airport (Atlas, Elite and Autotrans), and they run based on when flights get in. Once you exit customs, head to either of the counters to grab a ticket. If one bus is already sold out, simply walk down to the other end of the airport to get a ticket for the other company. The bus will then make two stops: the main bus station in Gruz and the Pile Gate. The total cost of the trip is 40,00 Kn one way or 70,00 Kn return and it will take about 30 minutes depending on how many tourists are around the Pile gate. Make sure you check the timetable for the return trip. We walked up the hill with our luggage only to find out we missed the bus by 15 minutes and the next one didn’t come for another hour.
The shuttle bus system is the easiest method, but if you don’t want to deal with public transportation or if your accommodations are not near the two stops, you can arrange for a private transfer (in advance) or grab a taxi.
When to Visit Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is a current hot spot; so, avoiding large groups of tourists is going to be near impossible. However, if you want to visit when the crowds are slightly smaller, I would suggest going April-June or September-October. By April, temperatures are starting to heat up again and it gets into the 70s around June. Try to avoid Dubrovnik in July and August. That is when it experiences the highest temperatures and the biggest crowds. In the winter months, it may not get Chicago cold, but many of the best attractions are closed and most of the Old Town shuts down.
I visited the last week of September, and we were still able to swim and lay out. At night, it got a bit cooler, but you didn’t need anything more than a light jacket. The temperature was perfect!
Where to Stay in Dubrovnik
In general, there are three areas people recommend staying when in Dubrovnik, and each has its own pros and cons.
Pros: You are right in the heart of the city. Everything is within walking distance, and if you’re here for a short time, you’ll be able to make the most of your time.
Cons: It can be noisy and pricey.
Overall, the Old Town would be my choice of where to stay. You are in close proximity to everything, and the tours/cruises don’t usually come in till the afternoon so it doesn’t get that noisey. There are also great Airbnbs, hostels and sobes (a private room in a house) to stay in outside of the main square. I stayed in the Old Town and we walked to dinner and drinks and enjoyed the music in the streets. Afterwards, we were able to walk five minutes back to our Airbnb. The best part? We had the streets to ourselves! No crowds, not tourists. Just us and the illuminated streets of Dubrovnik.
Probably the second most popular destination to stay – the area is right outside of the Dubrovnik walls.
Pros: It is a close neighborhood to Old Town, depending on where you stay walk times can vary from five minute to 15. The area generally is less noisy. It provides the best views of the Old Town. This neighborhood is located on the side of Mt. Srd. Those views from apartments overlooking the Old Town? They’re taken from Ploce.
Cons: It’s located on a hill. This may be a pro for some, but after walking around the Old Town all day or after having a couple of drinks, the last thing I want to do is then walk up hundreds of steps to my apartment. If your fitness level is low, but you want to stay outside the city, consider renting an apartment at the lowest level of the neighborhood.
Pros: If you want to live like a local, Lapad is for you. You won’t experience any crowds here. You’ll be close to Lapad beach. If you have a car while staying in Dubrovnik, this would be an ideal location as it’s more residential. Cars are not allowed inside the Old Town.
Cons: The distance. If you have a short stay in Dubrovnik, I would not recommend Lapad. It’s a far walk to the city center. Buses do operate to the Lapad and will bring you to the main entrance. Additionally, the airport shuttle does not go here. You will have to transfer to a bus.
What to Wear in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is a warm weather spot, even in months like September and October. Make sure to pack items like shorts, dresses and tank tops. Comfortable shoes are a must as you spend a lot of time walking around – the wall itself takes about two hours. During the nights, the temperature cools down so make sure you have a cardigan.
And of course, make sure to pack a swimsuit. I would recommend wearing it no matter what you have planned for the day. Many bars have ladders that lead to the sea and almost any rock can be transformed into your own personal sun tanning spot.
What to See in Dubrovnik
There is so much to see and do in Dubrovnik, but below are a couple of my favorite spots:
- Lokrum Island
- Walk the wall
- Stradun: the main street in Dubrovnik. Make sure to check it out night when it’s illuminated
- Take the cable car up to the top of Mt. Srd
- Gunduliceva Poljana Market
- Go seakayaking
- Grab a drink at La Bodega Dubrovnik and listen to live music in the square
Where to Watch the Sunset in Dubrovnik
This is the real reason to visit Dubrovnik! Oh the sunsets in Croatia. I could watch them over and over again never get bored. The sunsets are so beautiful people literally clap as the sun sinks below the Adriatic Sea. There are two places I would recommend watching the sunset:
The Top of Mt. Srd
View from Mt. Srd
Taking the cable car up to Mt. Srd, or hiking up the mountain, are both necessary on your trip to Dubrovnik. Schedule this trip during sunset and you won’t be disappointed. You can either bring some drinks up with you to watch the sunset or grab a seat at the Panorama restaurant. The restaurant is definitely on the pricier side but I thought the food was actually pretty decent for what I was anticipating, which was a tourist trap. They have blankets and heat lamps so you can enjoy dinner and drinks as the sunsets and the town below begins to light up.
The sunset from Bar Buza
This is the cliffside bar that probably pops up on your Pinterest when you search Dubrovnik. Simply follow the signs for “Cold Drink” and you’ll find it. You enter through a hole in the wall and emerge in another world. The sun beaming down, people lounging in chairs or on the rocks and a cold beer in your hand – nothing beats this spot. Get there early because people begin grabbing spots early. The drinks can be a bit pricey, but I’ll let you in on a little secret – you can bring in your own alcohol! You can’t sit in the bar seats, but there are plenty of rocks that you can safely scale and grab a seat.
Additionally, remember that swimsuit you should always be wearing? Here you can go to the bottom of the cliff and use the ladder to take a swim while waiting for the sun to begin setting. Or take part in the cliff jumping if you’re brave.
As the sun begins to set, everyone will turn to watch and as it completely sinks out of view, take part in the clapping and cheering for another successful day in Dubrovnik.