Since the break-up of SFR Yugoslavia in 1991, Dubrovnik has emerged as the absolute jewel in the crown of Croatia’s flourishing tourist industry. Yes, there are crowds and yes, it can be cripplingly expensive, but go at the right time and you’ll quickly see why. Every stone inch of the city’s crumbling walls exudes a history so compelling you’ll never want to leave.
A stroll through the old town’s gridiron of narrow streets and alleyways will present some alarming truths about what actually went on in the Yugoslav war. Some houses that were badly damaged during the first siege on the city have since been reconstructed, with shocking images of that hellish morning nailed to the outer walls, allowing tourists to stare open-mouthed at the staggering differences between then and now.
Plaza Stradun, a 300m long marble-paved walkway, is located at the heart of the medieval city. Here, scores of restaurants and cafés serve customers all day long under the backdrop of some quite magnificent architecture. At its onset, tourists queue unwearyingly for the opportunity to secure those essential take-home snapshots of the oceanfront from the zenith of the famously fortified wall, while at the other end the city’s grandiose cathedral looms over more camera-wielding tourists. The price of a coffee or a quick bite to eat along the Stradun is frankly outrageous, though if you enjoy a spot of people watching then this is definitely the place to do it. Blinged up millionaires; German, sandal and sock wearing families; penniless whippersnappers and burly-looking Balkan men all saunter through side by side as the day wears on. The harbor beyond Plaza Stradun teems with deep sea fishing vessels, stately yachts – some as large as small ferries – and titanic-sized cruise ships.
If you’re one for postcard perfect vistas then a hike up to Mount Srdj is well worth doing. In front, the summit overlooks the Old Town and miles of Dalmatian coastline, whereas to the right you’ll see the darkened peaks of the Herzegovinian mountains clambering over one another in the distance. If your not much of a hiker then the city’s 9am-til-late cable car might be more appealing. The ride takes just 4 minutes and costs around £9 for a round-ticket.
You don’t have to be a Russian oil tycoon or the son of an obscure, wealthy Arabian prince to be able to spend a little in Dubrovnik. Thankfully, there are plenty of budget-friendly bars around town, which often stay open until late. The clubs are expensive though, and lean heavily on the cheesy side, as I discovered first-hand. Galerie and Sky Bar, both located in the old town, are great places to enjoy a better soundtrack with a refreshing cocktail at a reasonable price. However, wander a little further along the coast just east of the main dock and you’ll find Lazareti, which offers punters a real insight into local art, music and theatre. There is no given theme, and the genres of live music and art exhibitions vary greatly. A night out here is recommended if you are keen on avoiding the tourist-trafficked bars and nightclubs.
Top Hostel: Dubrovnik Backpackers Club
4 Bed mixed dorm with private bathroom: €15 – €23.50 pp pn. Click here for reviews.
Top Hotel: Hotel Dubrovnik
Standard double bedroom: €105 pn. Click here for reviews
Top Apartments: Dubrovnik Centre Apartments
2 Bedroom apartment with private bathroom: €28 pp pn. Click here for reviews
Finding traditional fare – at a reasonable fare – in Dubrovnik is no easy task. Most of the time, when I wasn’t cooking for myself, I just settled for a pizzeria or a fancy, takeaway baguette. I did, however, splurge on occasions (two to be exact). The first was at a beachside restaurant where the aroma of fresh fish filling the air was just too hard to resist. I went for the bakalar na bijelo, which, when translated into English – salted cod and potatoes – doesn’t sound particularly exotic, but this meal was absolutely spot on. The second instance involved me haggling (badly) for a some red mullets (trlja in Croatian) at a local fishmongers. I had stumbled across a recipe on this fantastic Dalmatian Cooking Blog, and wanted to give it a whirl myself back at the hostel. Thankfully, the fishmonger volunteered to do all the gutting and beheading himself, and I had further help in the kitchen later on. It turned out well, and was every bit as delicious as I had imagined.
One way flights, if booked a month or more in advance, can cost anywhere between £45 and £120 to or from London/Manchester, with either Easyjet or Monarch Airlines. BA operate flights in and out of Dubrovnik roughly three or four times a week, though seats are dearer at around £110 – £180 one-way.
There is no rail connection to Dubrovnik so if you don’t have a car then travelling by bus is just about the only way of getting there, unless you plan to take a long-distance ferry. A one-way bus ticket from Split costs around £10.
When to go
Dubrovnik is rarely quiet; its matchless majesty keeps tourists coming in by the boat-load all year round. Inevitably, the summer months are extremely busy though this is when a lot of the city’s other benefits are best taken advantage of. A day trip out into the Adriatic Sea for instance, where it is possible to go snorkelling, deep-sea fishing and cliff-jumping etc, are a lot more fun if its hot and sunny. June and September are slightly less hectic and a little cooler.
Whether you’re travelling solo, with mates or a partner, Dubrovnik is simply somewhere you cannot afford to leave out of your itinerary. Bearing in mind the effect the city is likely to have on your budget, it’s probably sensible to end your trip here, so you know exactly how much you have to spend. Besides, you should always save the best for last.