I knew Croatia was going to be pretty, but I hadn’t expected to fall in love with it as much as I did. I figured Dubrovnik would feel like another Santorini — photogenic but crowded with bloggers and college students on their spring break. Turns out, April is an ideal time to visit; in fact, every Croatian we met told us how lucky we were for not visiting in the summer, when it’s miserably hot and crawling with cruise ship passengers.
Just like in Palermo, transportation from the airport into the center of town was remarkably easy. We bought Atlas Shuttle Bus tickets from the counter and took a comfortable 40-minute bus ride along the Adriatic coast to Old Town, the walled medieval section of Dubrovnik. After lugging our suitcases across cobblestone roads, Anthony gallantly carried them up the 176 stairs required to reach our apartment. It was worth it! Our apartment had a little balcony and unobstructed views overlooking the entire Old Town.
Once we dropped off our luggage, we rushed out to ride an expensive cable car up to the top of Mount Srđ (pronounced “surge”), where I had booked dinner at Panorama Restaurant. We came specifically for the view, but the food and service ended up being surprisingly satisfying.
The sunset during our cable car ride back down, over the serene Adriatic Sea and Elafitski Islands, was one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. What a way to make an impression on our first night!
Much like in Venice, my favorite time to wander around Dubrovnik is at night, when Old Town becomes much more charming and romantic. Dubrovnik and Venice used to be maritime rivals, so it makes sense that there are some similarities between the two cities. However, Dubrovnik is full of juxtapositions — it’s part of the Mediterranean yet connected to the Balkans; it’s majority Catholic yet surrounded by Islamic and Orthodox neighbors. In fact, its proximity to such diversity explains why its buildings, while lovely, lack the ostentation of Venice’s. Venice had to impress the Italians, Austrians, and Germans, while Dubrovnik preferred to downplay its wealth.
Stradun (pronounced STRAH-doon) is the main drag of Old Town. The wide, limestone-paved pedestrian lane is lined with souvenir shops, boutique stores, restaurants, and ice cream shops. You can find both tourists and locals strolling down it day and night. The shop entrances along Stradun have a distinct “P” shape, which allows for maximum window shopping, but controlled entrance and exiting.
Part of Dubrovnik’s incredible popularity — especially among Americans — is due to The Game of Thrones, which filmed entire seasons here. A few scenes from The Last Jedi were also filmed here, so we took a Star Wars tour since Anthony is more of a Star Wars fan than Game of Thrones. If you recall from the movie, Dubrovnik was the inspiration for Canto Bight. Our passionate tour guide printed out photos of each scene and took us to the corresponding location.
One of our favorite activities was walking the walls that surround Old Town. It took us about an hour and a half, and we were stopping for photos every few feet. I was in awe of the contrast between the shades of orange terra cotta roofs and the azure sea. Apparently Dubrovnik’s iconic roofs were almost completely destroyed in an earthquake in 1667 that killed 5,000 people, and then again during the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s. More than 70% of the tiles were destroyed, and finding a similar color was difficult. Fortunately, Toulouse, France, makes similar ones, and with help from UNESCO, Dubrovnik has been able to reconstruct itself.
While walking the walls, we passed Fort Lovrijenac (St. Lawrence Fortress), a fortress perched on a cliff above the sea on the edge of Old Town. In the 11th century, the Venetians attempted to build a fort on the same spot. If they had succeeded, they would have kept Dubrovnik under their power, but the town beat them to it.
On our last night, we stumbled upon a hidden viewpoint to watch the sunset — my vote for the most romantic spot in Dubrovnik. I cannot recommend Dubrovnik more. All you need is two or three days in this picturesque town to be impressed by its mighty history and appreciate its undeniable beauty.
Tips for future travelers:
Book a table (and request a window/outdoor seat!) at Panorama Restaurant. The prices were reasonable, service was phenomenal, and you can’t really say no to the view.
Eat gelato at Dolce Vita. They have interesting flavors, give huge scoops, and you’ll feel just like you’re in Italy!
While touristy, you have to eat at one of the sidewalk restaurants near the Stradun at least once. I recommend Gradska Kavana for breakfast. Most restaurants start serving breakfast at 8am, so if you need food earlier, pick up pastries from Mlinar the night before.
The night before your flight back home, check the bus schedule online. The website provides an accurate daily schedule of the bus times, which are determined by flight departures. Be aware that the departure bus station is not the same as the arrival bus station.
Croatia uses Kunas, not Euros 😦
Stay at a soba (private room), which you can find easily on Airbnb. These are cheaper and more centrally-located, while hotels are all overpriced and located outside Old Town, requiring a bus to get into town.