Traveler: Danielle Gervalis
When: May 2015
Overall Experience: I have no idea how Croatia has flown under the tourist radar for so long. Not only does it have a quintessential medieval city, Croatia has grown in popularity as a more affordable coastal destination for European vacationers. The country is more than just beautiful beaches, it has a complex history, delicious food, gorgeous national parks, and a growing wine industry.Logistics:
Flight: We took an overnight flight with Lufthansa airlines to Dubrovnik with a layover in Munich. On the way home, we flew out of Split with the same layover but extended it for 8 hrs so we could hang out in downtown Munich for the day. Lufthansa airlines is one of my favorites. It feels like first class but is actually affordable. You get a human being amount of space, the seats are comfortable and they keep you fed and entertained. I swear a meal came out every two hours. I highly recommend this airline for long flights (no they didn’t pay me for this, but I’m open to that if they want). Once we arrived at the airport in Dubrovnik, we exchanged dollars for kuna, which was about 7 kuna per $1. While Croatia joined the European Union back in 2013, they haven’t adopted the Euro yet so you will need to get the local currency during your stay. Good news is that credit cards are widely accepted so you shouldn’t need as much cash on hand. We grabbed a cab from the airport to the hotel which cost about $25 plus tip. There are also buses you can take from the airport to the main gates, Pile Gate, of the old city or the bus station outside of town which costs around 15 Kuna per person. The ride takes about 30 minutes and will drop you off at the Pile Gate if you are staying within the Old City walls. You’ll have to grab your bags and walk from there. It’s pretty easy to find transportation out of the airport and the majority of people speak English if you need directions or assistance.
Hotel: Hotel La Pad – The hotel is located outside of the walled part of Dubrovnik but in a quaint neighborhood across the street from the harbor with a picturesque sea view. The hotel has a beautiful terrace and pool area where you can sit outside for drinks and meals or just lounge with a book. La Pad does have a breakfast buffet which had a nice variety of foodstuffs to choose from. The rooms are modern, we had a room with a balcony and the “side sea view” which was lovely. There is so much to see and do in Dubrovnik that you won’t be spending a ton of time in your hotel room so if you are looking for areas to save money, this is definitely where I recommend being frugal.Activities:
Wandering within the Old City of Dubrovnik is an absolute delight. It’s been called the “Pearl of the Adriatic” and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. You can spend countless hours walking through the alluring winding alleyways, exploring the Cathedrals, and learning about the city’s ancient and modern history. The main street, which runs east to west, is called the “Stradun”.It dates back to the 12th century and today is lined with cafes, bars, and shops. Even the street paving is elegant here! You’ll see lots of locals and tourists hanging out here in the evening. You’ll notice numerous figures of St. Blaise throughout the city , he even has his own dedicated church and feast day on February 3rd. He’s considered the patron saint of the city as he once appeared as a vision to a resident to warn the citizens of an impending attack by the Venetians. Have you heard of a little HBO show called Game of Thrones? If you haven’t stop reading and go catch up on the existing six seasons, this will be here when you get back and that show is far more important. Or read the books, I don’t want to get a bunch of hate mail from the George RR Martin purists out there. In any case, King’s Landing scenes are filmed around the city as well as on Lokrum Island. Dubrovnik takes full advantage of their new claim to fame so you’ll see tons of Game of Thrones themed souvenirs available for purchase.
The City Walls Tour – I get that this is super touristy but I don’t care. Embrace it, I promise it’s fun! You get such a unique bird’s eye view of the impenetrable city from this hike it’s worth the heat and steps. There are a few strategically located places to stop for refreshments during your walk but I recommend bringing plenty of water before you begin. The entire route is a little less than a mile and a quarter. The walls are as high as 82ft in some parts and date back to the 10th century. It costs 100kn (less than $15) and you can start near the Pile Gate and Big Fountain of Onofrio which are both noteworthy in their own right. The gate was built in 1537 and is the main entrance to the fortified city. The fountain dates back to 1483 and once had two stories but the upper was destroyed in the massive earthquake of 1667.During the walk, you’ll get to see gorgeous views of the Adriatic Sea, colorful rooftops of the city, hanging laundry of everyday people and elevated basketball courts which seem out of place amongst the cathedrals from the 15th century. You’ll want to stop at the famous Minceta Tower and the Fort of Saint John for city and sea views (and photos!), respectively. You’ll notice the roofs vary in color from bright orange to a lighter brownish/faded color. The roofs with bright colors means those buildings were bombed during the Croatian War of Independence in the early 90s and have since been replaced. It starts to dawn on you how much damage was done and how terrifying it must have been to live through that period of modern warfare. After the war, a special commission was established to repair the damaged city and it’s made a remarkable rebound since the 90s.
Cathedral and Treasury – The Cathedral has an interesting history, it sits on top of an old Roman Cathedral built in the 14th century with funding from King Richard the Lionheart. Apparently, after surviving a shipwreck near Lokrum Island, he vowed to pay for a church to be built wherever his feet set upon land. Unfortunately, his efforts didn’t last forever as it was completely destroyed in the earthquake of 1667. The current amazing domed church was constructed post-earthquake and was designed by Italian architects. I recommend visiting inside as the interior is filled with priceless religious artifacts, gold objects, and paintings which showcase the wealth, influence and early life of Old Dubrovnik. Of particular note is the arm of St. Blaise (patron saint of the city, remember?) and a cross which is thought to contain a fragment from the cross Jesus was crucified on.Lokrum Island – This forested small island is just a 15 minute boat ride from the Old City and definitely worth exploring. There are multiple ways to get to the island and you can negotiate your price with waiting boat captains who will take you and pick you up at a predetermined time. We paid $10 per person for a roundtrip ride. There are actually quite a few things to see here including a botanical garden, an old monastery, and fort with 360 degree views of Dubrovnik. If you are sick of seeing amazing old buildings and insane architecture, there are a few popular swimming holes to relax around if you are so inclined. However, make sure you bring a towel, etc. as none of these amenities are available and there aren’t changing rooms or lounge chairs. The water was a bit too cold for me during our visit but that didn’t stop a few other tourists from taking a dip. Exploring the edges of the island you will get a welcome breeze and see some interesting rock formations clashing against the sea foam. Even just walking the well-marked routes can be a welcome break from hustle and bustle of Dubrovnik, just watch out for the friendly peacocks who roam freely!
Homeland War Museum – Located in the Imperial Fort on Srd Mountain outside of the city, it documents the Croatian War for Independence (which I think many Americans would remember as part of the Bosnian War). The museum graphically documents the siege of Dubrovnik during this horrific period of recent history (91-95), when the term “ethnic cleansing” became part of the English language.I can’t speak to the accuracy of the information presented but I would love to know what an independent historian thinks of the museum. If anything, it is a sobering reminder of the atrocities of war and runamuck nationalism. It’s heavy material for just a day trip to the city but if you are spending a few days in Dubrovnik I recommend learning more about this period of time in the country and the people who lived through it.
Food and Drink:
Dubrovnik is a foodie city, complete with rich ethnic dishes, fresh seafood and sweet treats. You will savor every meal here, especially since it’s in such a beautiful setting. Now that I think about, I don’t think I ate a meal inside the entire time I was in Croatia. The temperature is absolutely perfect in the evening and you won’t want to miss the exciting nightlife while you eat.
Bistro Teatar – Located near the church of St. Blaise in an alleyway, this restaurant has a line of tables set up outside, which are shaded and have comfortable chairs for a long dinner. They have a variety of seafood and classic Dalmatian cuisine. We tried the octopus salad, monkfish, and Dalmatian pasticada, which is like a savory pot roast in a plum sauce. Everything we tried was superb and the prices were reasonable. The service was wonderful as well and they made sure to keep our wine glasses full. We didn’t need reservations but it could be difficult to get a table to if you arrive at the same time as a cruise ship full of hungry people.
Orsan – In Lapad around the harbor, the ambience is wonderful. You are outside along the pier, listening to the waves gently knock against the concrete and the boats swaying along. The meals themselves are equally pleasing. The waiter will bring out a massive tray of all the available fresh fish for the day. We tried the mussels and prawns as well as the squid ink gnocchi, which was probably the favorite dish. Helpful hint: Bring your toothbrush if you are eating this because your mouth will turn black.Café Bar Kase: Near the Cathedral, this place has extra-large coffee, cocktails, beers and take away sandwiches. We stopped here to grab food to take to Lokrum Island. While the drinks were good, I can’t say the same for the sandwiches….. Hunger is the best sauce.
Buza Bar 1 and 2: This rakish establishment can be a little tricky to find as the entrance is a literal hole in the wall. The bar is set against the sea side of the city walls and delivers an unencumbered view of the Adriatic. It’s a beautiful spot to watch the sunset and the brave cliff divers. I do not recommend attempting this once you get some liquid courage, leave it to the locals! It’s great for a few drinks but doesn’t have food or a bathroom so your time here is limited. When I went there was a combination of tourists, locals, young and old patrons. It’s a welcoming and fun atmosphere and hope you will exert the effort to find it.Azur: Located on a side street in Old City, this dark and hip restaurant is absolutely delicious. It’s an Asian and Croatian fusion spot with interesting combinations of local favorite dishes. It has shaded outdoor seating and small plates with rich flavors. It wasn’t the cheapest place we tried but the food is worth it and I encourage you to try the meatballs if you visit!
Dalmatino: If you are craving a traditional Croatian meal in a traditional setting, then look no further. The food and service in this Old City establishment was superb. They have an extensive wine list consisting of mostly Croatian wines and are happy to make recommendations. It is a popular spot but they do take reservations if you plan ahead. The portions are generous, you could probably feed an entire football team with their Dalmatia platter. The prices match what you would pay for a nice meal in a city, but they offer 10% off if you pay in cash and if you have a flyer from the tourist office. You’re welcome.Katie O’Conner’s Irish Pub: There’s always an Irish pub. Always. Located in Old City, referred to as the “cave”, this place is the premiere sports pub in town. It’s set in a stone basement and makes a nice escape from the summer heat, especially if you are hoping to catch a score.
- You will need sunscreen, especially if you are doing the “walk the walls” excursion.
- Cabs can be expensive, so take advantage of the bus.
- When you are walking through Old City, don’t be afraid to ask for directions! We had a lot of help finding Buza Bar.