In July we took our first trip abroad since January and spent a week in the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik. While we were there, we teamed up with the city’s tourism board, Experience Dubrovnik, who kindly gave us both a 3 day Dubrovnik Card for our trip.
We love city passes! These cards are such good value and help you to pack lots into your trip while also saving you money. You can get a 1, 3 or 7 day Dubrovnik Card – we’d recommend getting the 3 or 7 day ones if you’re there for long enough, as this way you can spread out all the activities over a few days, and enjoy a slower pace in the hot Adriatic sun.
The Dubrovnik Card covers all of the main tourist attractions, plus free public transport on the local buses (very useful for the steep hill back to our apartment each night!) and discounts in lots of shops and restaurants – here is our trip itinerary to show how we got the most out of our cards.
NB we activated our city passes on day 3 out of 7 to ensure we had 3 consecutive days to use them without other planned excursions to get in the way. Also most museums are closed on Mondays, so avoid starting your pass around that day too!
Day 1 – explore the old town on foot and from above
We set out in the morning for a recce of the pedestrianised Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re doing any sightseeing, we’d recommend starting early. Even by 11am the summer sun was beating down, and the white limestone paving stones of main street Stradun (called Placa by the locals) only amplify how much heat is bouncing around!
We walked through the magnificent Pile Gate and spent the morning strolling the narrow alleyways and exploring the beautiful churches. In the cooler early hours it felt like stepping back in time, and you can see why Game of Thrones chose this Medieval walled town for the location for Kings Landing. But the beauty is also harshly contrasted with the buildings still scarred by bullets and shrapnel, the visible evidence of the conflicts that took place here only 30 years ago.
Wind your way around the magnificent Church of St Blaise and through the handicrafts market behind until you reach the sweeping Jesuit staircase. Inspired by the Spanish Steps of Rome, the steps have reached a cult status amongst Game of Thrones fans – this is where Cersei began her naked walk of penance in season 5, and surrounding cafes have caught on – keep your eyes peeled for menu chalk boards advertising Shame Burgers and Shame Margaritas!
At the top of these steps, head into the shadowy Church of Saint Ignatius to admire the stunning painted interior. Once you exit, cross the square and follow the city walls round to the right until you find a doorway seemingly out over the cliff. This leads to Buza Bar, a lovely spot for a drink nestled against the rocky coastline with uninterrupted views overlooking the blue water. You’ll pay a bit of a premium for drinking here -the beer prices are higher than in town, it’s worth it for a pit stop.
A set of steps leads down to the water where you’ll find a roped off swimming area and big flat rocks to haul out and sunbathe on while you look up at the walls. This is a real hidden gem – we saw so many heads peering down at us from the City Walls wondering how we had got down there!
Top Tip – always have your swimsuit and towel in your day bag, Dubrovnik is full of hidden swimming spots!
Once you’ve cooled off, retrace your steps down the Jesuit Stairs and visit the beautiful Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Cool and elegantly white with a striking orange and white floor, the Cathedral contains art works by Italian Masters and a triptych by Titian behind the main altar.
Walk through an archway to the Old Harbour and watch the boats coming and going in the glass clear water. You might even see some fish (and a few cats hanging around)! Round on the far side, past the ticket booths for tours of the Elaphite Islands and the Lokrum ferry we stumbled upon the blue and white striped Ice cream Dubrovnik stand. If it is still there when you visit, definitely treat yourself! It was only about £2 for a massive double scoop in a proper waffle cone, and they had so many amazing flavours! We ended up going back 3 times on our trip, it’s that good. Our favourites were whiskey, banana split and fig cheesecake. Yummm...
We spent the afternoon on Banje Beach, a short walk from the Old Town through the eastern Ploce Gate. It’s very popular and has a bar and sun loungers to rent, lovely calm waters and a great view of the Old Town.
For the evening, pack a picnic from a local shop and take the cable car up to the summit of Mt Srd. You’ll get amazing views of the Old Town and Lokrum Island as you go up and from the viewing platform, and if you turn 180 degrees and walk past the old fortress you can camp out on the hillside to watch the sun set over the Elaphite Islands. Very special. We stayed up here until it was dark to look for the Neowise comet that was visible in July 2020 – back home in the UK we’d had too much light pollution, but up on the hillside was perfect- very exciting to see an actual comet with just our eyes!
While you’re up there, be sure to visit the small but informative museum located inside the Napoleonic Fortress. We vaguely remember the conflicts between Croatia and Yugoslavia from the news of our early childhoods, and the sobering exhibition focuses on the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991. It was shocking to see photographs of the streets and harbour that we had just walked around bombed and burning. The fortress itself was an integral part in the defense of Dubrovnik during that siege and is covered with bullet holes and the black burns of grenade explosions.
Day 2 – Get out on the water for an Elaphite Islands Tour
Taking a boat around this small archipelago is a lovely way to spend a day while you’re in Dubrovnik. Three of the islands, Kolocep, Sipan, and Lopud, are permanently inhabited, and have lovely restaurants and sandy beaches. Book a tour that allows for snorkelling, visiting the Blue Cave and some beach time. We have a whole blog post about our amazing private tour with Dubrovnik Boats HERE – possibly one of our favourite travel days EVER.
Day 3 – Walls, Monastery and Sveti Jakov Beach
Today we activated our Dubrovnik Cards by starting our day at the 12th century City Walls. Start here early to miss both the crowds and the heat of the day – we got there at 8am when the walls first opened.
It’s about a 2km walk around the whole of the magnificent walls, and it took us about 2.5 hours. You can do it faster of course, but it’s so photogenic up there we reckon you’ll take as long as us! This was one of our trip highlights- the views over the red roofs and narrow streets are stunning and the sound of swifts swooping overhead will now always remind us of Dubrovnik. Entry isn’t cheap, 200 HRK or about £23.50, which made our 3 day cards seem very good value at £35 – just do a couple more things on there and your card has already paid for itself!
Be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat and take water, by half 10 the sun was pounding down on the walls and it was very exposed!
You’ll exit the walls back by the domed Large Onofrio’s Fountain which has been providing clean spring water since the 15th century and is the perfect place to refill your water bottle and cool down.
Next stop is the Franciscan Monastery and Pharmacy Museum. Also included on the Dubrovnik Card, the cloisters and garden are a beautiful calm oasis – a great escape from the hot bustling main street just outside. The pharmacy museum is really interesting. Founded in 1317, this is one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe and you can see old pharmaceutical containers and tools, as well as religious relics and a shell hole in one of the walls. On the way out you’ll see a working chemist that still serves the local community. I (Emma) bought some cream for mosquito bites (darn allergies!) and it’s honestly the best I’ve ever used.
By lunch time the sun was too hot to carry on sight seeing so we spent the rest of the day at Sveti Jakov Beach. Half an hour’s walk from the Old Town, with hindsight we should have got a taxi as we got far too hot… the walk back is much easier as it’s mainly downhill!
Sveti Jakov is a slice of paradise accessed down a steep flight of stairs. For about £6 you can rent a beach brolly for the day and it even has a tiki cocktail bar! Relax on the pebbly sand or swim in the calm clear water with views across to the red roofed Old Town. As a bonus, it’s usually much quieter than Banje Beach nearer to town.
We’d recommend having dinner in the restaurant at the beach before making your way back into town and home. The outside seating allows for lovely views and balmy breezes as the sun goes down.
Day 4 – St Lawrence’s Fortress and Rector’s Palace, plus 2 beaches and a special dinner
Today we hit up two sites with our Dubrovnik Card- the imposing Lovrijenac, or St Lawrence’s Fortress, and the Rector’s Palace. Known as Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar, Lovrijenac towers above the western walls of the Old Town, guarding the Pile Gate and western harbour. Often used for theatre performances now, it has been described as the perfect venue for Hamlet, and we can see why- it’s literally Elsinore! Take some time walking the battlements and exploring the shady interior, but again, arrive early before the sun gets too high. Another Game of Thrones filming location, the fortress also offers great views of the walls and Old Town.
If you don’t have a Dubrovnik Card, your ticket for the City Walls also covers Lovrijenac, so be sure to keep it safe and visit both!
As you walk through the western harbour (also a GOT location, this time Blackwater Bay) towards the fortress, don’t miss the two mysterious little doors set into the rockface. They look like something out of a fairytale – we half expected a hobbit to walk out!
Stop for a cool down and a water top up at the Large Onofrio Fountain again, and walk the length of Stradun to the Rector’s Palace (you guessed it, another GOT location! This time the Spice King’s palace in Qarth ) or Cultural Historical Museum as it’s also known. Enter with your Dubrovnik Card and explore offices and state rooms full of rococo and Baroque furniture. You can even go in the dungeons, complete with prisoner’s graffiti. The central staircase where the handrail is supported by actual marble hands is striking, if a little creepy. We are particularly grateful to this museum because they kept my Raybans safe after I left them in the ladies and didn’t realise for half an hour… d’oh!
By now it should be about lunchtime, which means beach time!
Head to the newer district of Dubrovnik, Lapad. You can either use your Dubrovnik Card to catch the bus or walk for half an hour. First spend some time at Bellevue beach, accessed down a narrow tree lined path and steep steps (turn left down the side of the Belle Vue hotel to find the path as it curves left round the headland). This beach is sheltered in a bay surrounded by high cliffs, with a cave that you can swim into.
We then moved onto Uvala Lapad (Lapad Bay Beach), the most popular beach in the area. Pebbly, with a huge sweep of beautifully clean sandy bottomed water, shops and facilities very nearby and an inflatable water play area for the kids, you can easily see why this one is so popular!
We always try to have one special dinner on every trip, so this time we had made reservations at Orsan, the restaurant at the yacht club. With crisp white table cloths and impeccable service, we were served fresh seafood and delicious local wine seated right on the harbourside as the sun went down and the gentle breeze made the rigging of nearby boats clink.
The harbour is a little out of the way so we caught an Uber back to our apartment.
Day 5 – Lokrum Island and Dulcic Masle Pulitika Gallery
We caught the first ferry of the day from the Old Harbour (back where we had our Dubrovnik ice creams!) to the pine scented island of Lokrum. Use your Dubrovnik Card to get 20% off the price, or 30% with a 7 day pass.
Even though it’s only a ten minute boat ride, Lokrum feels a million miles away from the city. A plant lover’s paradise, Lokrum is lush and green, with a botanical garden of interesting plants and cacti, long allees of trees and interesting ruins to explore. You can wander the remains of an 11th century Monastery amongst peacocks or climb to the highest point to explore the circular 19th century Fort Royal.
The island is compact enough to walk all
the way around and there are lots of interesting things to see - we stopped at the old harbour of Skalica where you can jump into the sea to swim and sunbathe on the warm concrete slabs overlooking the Old Town across the water (remember what we said about always carrying your swimmies?), and wandered amongst the olive trees in the Lazaretto.
The irony of this particular location wasn’t lost on us, travelling during the Covid-19 pandemic… the Lazaretto was built in the 1500s when plague was ravaging Europe as a place to quarantine. As Dubrovnik was a bustling port, by law sailors and their goods arriving from areas with plague had to spend 30 days essentially self isolating before they could enter the city if they could prove that they were disease free. The old ways are the best, hey?!
Fun fact – the 30 day isolation period was called a Trentine. When it was extended to 40 days as 30 wasn’t deemed enough, it became called a Quarantine !
For the Game of Thrones fans reading this, you can take your photo on an Iron Throne tucked inside part of the old Monastery where there are multimedia displays about the filming that took place in Dubrovnik, as well as other exhibitions about local myths and legends and the Crusades.
We spent the last couple of hours of the visit swimming and sunbathing – there are some fantastic spots with swimming pool style ladders down the rocks into the sea, big flat rocks to sunbathe on, and shallow tide pools warmed by the sun perfect for little ones.
We got a boat back at about 5pm, and headed back into town from the harbour, past the Rector’s palace to tick off one last sight on our Dubrovnik Cards - open until 8pm, we had time to visit the tiny Dulcic Masle Pulitika Gallery. This gallery displays works from the 1950s and 60s by three important Dubrovnik artists, (Ivo Dulčić, Antun Masle and Đuro Pulitika) and has a changing art exhibition on the second floor. It took us about 20-30 minutes to look around, and the ground floor houses the Ronald Brown Memorial House, dedicated to the US Secretary of Commerce who died in a plane crash near Dubrovnik in 1996.
Day 6 – Banje Beach
With a tea time flight home, we packed up our apartment [add Booking.com link] and got a taxi to Banje Beach where we spent a few hours swimming and relaxing before heading to the airport.
There are so many other fantastic museums included on the Dubrovnik Card that we would have loved to have visited had the weather been worse – the Maritime Museum looked really good but we just didn’t have time in 3 days to fit it in. If we’d had one more full day and a 7 day pass, we’d have also loved to do a day trip to Cavtat – the Dubrovnik Card includes return bus fare to this pretty resort town which has some interesting sights like a monastery, and mausoleum that you can get a 30% discount off entry with your Dubrovnik Card.
Many thanks to Experience Dubrovnik for our Dubrovnik Cards, they not only allowed us to see all of the sights we wanted to visit, but also inspired us to try a few that we wouldn’t have necessarily tried normally, like the Dulcic Masle Pulitika Gallery.
Disclaimer: We were gifted two Dubrovnik passes in return for an honest blog about using them on our city break, but we were not paid to post and all opinions are our own!