Croatia has come a long way in 30 years. From once being part of the Yugoslav Republic and the subsequent war to becoming one of the most popular summer vacation destinations in Europe, the country now attracts millions of tourists every year who come here for the fabulous weather, beautiful beaches, wonderful natural attractions, and the wealth of historical sites. Of all the destinations in Croatia, Dubrovnik is one of the most popular, especially since the city was used as a set for the TV series Game of Thrones. A city filled with history and culture, there is certainly plenty to see and do in Dubrovnik. To give you an idea of exactly what you can get up to on a vacation here, take a look at this guide to things to do in Dubrovnik.
Sightseeing Things to Do in Dubrovnik
Old City Walls
One of the city’s main attractions and certainly one of the best things to do in Dubrovnik, the impressive old city walls are instantly recognisable from both famous tourism photos of the city and their inclusion in many films and TV programmes over the years. Dubrovnik has long had defensive walls in place – since the 600s, in fact – but the ones we see today date back from the 15th century, built to defend the city against incoming Ottoman forces.
It takes around one hour to walk the walls in their entirety, plus you need to factor in any time you want to stop and take photos of the fabulous views. If you take a guided tour of the walls, you will also be able to learn some fascinating information about their history and the events which have taken place here over the centuries. Whether you decide to visit the walls independently or with a guide, it is best to walk them early in the morning before the crowds descend.
Considered to be one of the best-preserved old towns in the world, Dubrovnik’s old town has much to offer in terms of historical sightseeing, including an abundance of churches, palaces and museums. However, unlike many old towns in Europe, Dubrovnik’s biggest selling point is that its old town is still very much lived in, and you are just as likely to see locals strolling and going about their daily business as you are tourists. Because of this, there are also lots of cafes, markets, boutiques, and restaurants to visit within the old town, and they are not necessarily of the extremely touristy variety either.
When it comes to sights, on the edge of the old town is the Rector’s Palace, one of the finest examples of Gothic and Renaissance architecture in the city. Known as Knezev Dvor, the beautiful structure dates back to the 15th century and despite having been renovated over the years due to being damaged by gunpowder explosions, fires and earthquakes, it remains one of the most charming buildings in Dubrovnik. Other highlights of Dubrovnik’s old town include Porporela, the city’s pier; Pile Gate; the Bell Tower; Jesuit Stairs; Stradun, the main thoroughfare; and a variety of monasteries and churches.
One of the top things to do in Dubrovnik, the cathedral takes the top spot as the most important church in the city. It might not seem like much from the outside – although it is undoubtedly stunning – but it is the interior that most people come here to see. Inside you can marvel at lots of exquisite religious paintings, including the famous Assumption of the Virgin Mary, commonly attributed to the famous Renaissance painter Titian. You will also find a number of intriguing and important religious artefacts housed within the cathedral, such as the gold-plated bones of St. Blaise.
Best of all, the cathedral is free to enter, making it one of the few free things to do in Dubrovnik.
The most famous monastery in Dubrovnik, the Franciscan Monastery dates back to the 1300s, although an earlier version of the monastery did exist prior to it moving to its current location. Like many parts of the city, the monastery was destroyed in a 17th-century earthquake and rebuilt in the Baroque style, but Romanesque and Gothic elements and remains still exist throughout the complex.
The main highlight of a visit to the Franciscan Monastery is the pharmacy which opened in 1317, making it the third-oldest pharmacy still operating in the world. The library is also worth checking out, with its collection of over 20,000 books, including some 1,200 priceless manuscripts. Heading down the small alleyway between the monastery church and St. Saviour’s Church will take you to the cloister and the museum. The cloister here is considered to be one of the most beautiful late Romanesque structures in Croatia. The museum, although small, has plenty of interest to see, such as collections of relics belonging to the monastery, including paintings, chalices, and gold jewellery, and pharmacy artefacts, such as medical books and laboratory equipment. Due to its myriad of interesting things to see here, the Franciscan Monastery is one of the most fascinating things to do in Dubrovnik.
Fort St. John
Once an essential part of the city walls, Fort St. John sits at the entrance of the old harbour, still, as imposing as the day it was first built. The fort was initially built to help defend the city against pirate raids; when the warning bell was sounded, a heavy metal chain was lifted between Fort St. John and the Kase Jetty in the port to damage any incoming ships.
As well as being a part of the city walls, nowadays Fort St. John houses an aquarium and the Dubrovnik Maritime Museum. The aquarium features 27 different sections with a variety of marine life found in the Croatian Adriatic. The Dubrovnik Maritime Museum contains a large collection of artefacts relating to the maritime history of the city and you can learn how sea trade was incredibly important to Dubrovnik and how it has had an impact on how the city has grown and developed. With so much to see here, Fort St. John is definitely one of the things to do in Dubrovnik that has to be on your itinerary.
Fun Things to Do in Dubrovnik
Fun might not be the first word which you associate with Dubrovnik – after all, this is a city which people come to experience history and culture – but that does not mean that there is nothing fun to do here. One of the best fun things to do in Dubrovnik is the cable car up to Mount Srd, the mountain which looms above the city, standing at over 400 metres high. As well as being an exciting ride up, you also get spectacular views over Dubrovnik’s old town.
During summer, the cable runs until midnight, so you can admire the fabulous views when the city is all lit up.
Exploring Dubrovnik’s old town on foot is the most popular way of seeing the city’s most famous attraction, but there is actually another means of discovering this beautiful area – sea kayaking. Lots of companies rent out kayaks and there are many routes which take you around the walls of the old town and past Buza, Sveti Ivan Tower, the Old Harbour, and many other significant sights. After you have paddled around by the old town, you can head over to Lokrum Island, a beautiful idyll just off the coast of Dubrovnik. Here you can spend time sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling and picnicking, or if you are still feeling energetic, you can take a hike through the pine forests which cover the majority of the island.
During the summer, the old monastery turns into a restaurant, so you do not need to worry if you have forgotten to take food with you.
Visit an Abandoned Hotel
For those of you who enjoy a bit of urban exploration, a visit to Hotel Belvedere should be high on your list of things to do in Dubrovnik. Opened in 1985, Hotel Belvedere was a five-star luxury hotel with over 200 rooms, a helipad, private harbour, and a myriad of other luxurious trappings. Unfortunately, the hotel only operated for six short years before becoming a victim of the Croatian War of Independence. Since then, it has mostly been left to crumble – aside from a short stint as a Game of Thrones set. Nowadays, while it is technically not possible to enter the hotel, there is a set of steps around the right side of the hotel driveway which will allow you to access the atrium.
But hurry; rumour has it that the hotel has recently been bought and will soon be developed.
Relaxing Things to Do in Dubrovnik
One of the lesser-known things to do in Dubrovnik, Trsteno Arboretum is nonetheless a lovely spot to head to for a leisurely stroll. Dating back to the late 1400s, making it one of the oldest arboretums in the region, the arboretum was founded when the influential Gozze family requested that ship captains bring back seeds and plants from their travels so they could be planted in their summer residence gardens. Today the arboretum is open to the public and spending a morning or afternoon wandering through all the trees and plants from all over the world is a splendid way to get some respite from the crowds which inevitably form in the centre of the city.
Trsteno Arboretum is located a few kilometres from the centre of Dubrovnik. Public transport is available but can be infrequent, so you may prefer to take a taxi. There are no shops in the gardens so it is highly recommended you bring any food and drinks that you need.
While it is true that Dubrovnik’s beaches do not live up to the standards of those in some of Croatia’s more famous seaside resorts, that is not to say that you cannot find any decent beaches here. However, do not expect to find too many sandy beaches; the beaches of Dubrovnik are more famous for their picturesque surroundings and the glinting of the sun on the beautiful aquamarine Adriatic. Uvala Lapad Beach is one of the more tourist-friendly beaches in the city; it is a wide, pebble stretch of beach with a handy pedestrian area just behind it with restaurants and bars. Further along around the bay is an area ideal for swimming.
Other beaches you may want to check out include Dance Beach, popular with locals; Buza Beach; and Sulic Beach.
Excursions from Dubrovnik
Croatian Island Hopping Package Tour from Dubrovnik
If you want to extend your Croatian vacation so you see more of the country than Dubrovnik, consider taking this Croatian Island Hopping Package Tour through TripsPoint.com. This tour allows you to see the best Dalmatia has to offer and to enjoy the stunning scenery of the Adriatic and its islands.
Departing from Dubrovnik, your driver will take you to Makarska where you will jump on the ferry to your first island destination, Brac. You will then spend the first three days exploring Brac, including its most picturesque town Bol, Blaca Monastery, Mount St. Vid, and the chance to have an olive oil and wine tasting in one of the more rural parts of the island. On your third evening, you will then head over to the island of Hvar, one of the most popular islands in the Adriatic. Here you will spend two days enjoying the glamour of Hvar as well as admiring the beautiful Renaissance architecture of Hvar’s old town. On your fifth evening, you will take the ferry to Korcula where you will spend your final two days with the option of taking a tour of the nearby island of Mljet, an almost untouched island with a protected national park and two saltwater lakes. You will end your trip by taking the catamaran back to Dubrovnik.
As a package tour, the price includes your six nights’ accommodation in three-star hotels based on twin or double occupancy, breakfast and dinner throughout the week, private transportation in an air-conditioned vehicle, entrance fees, and transfers. There are optional tours available which would be subject to a further payment.
Day Trip to Mostar
Due to Croatia’s close proximity to the other Balkan countries, it is fairly easy to combine a vacation in one with a visit to another. One of the most popular day trips from Dubrovnik is Mostar, a small town in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar is particularly famous for Stari Most, the iconic bridge crossing the Neretva River. Originally built in the 16th century, Stari Most was bombed during the Bosnian War and collapsed; it was then rebuilt using 70% of the original stone. Other things to see and do in Mostar include the so-called Crooked Bridge, shopping in the Old Bazaar, and the Koski Mehmed Pasa Mosque.
When in Mostar, you may also get the chance to see people diving off Stari Most. This nerve-wracking feat has been an ongoing tradition in Mostar for many, many years, and has seen an increase in popularity in recent decades. However, if you are inexperienced in bridge jumping, it is highly advised that you do not attempt the jump. There have been many injuries – and even fatalities – over the years, especially by those who do not realise how cold the water is in the river, so if you want to be on the safe side, just be content with watching those who are more experienced.
When deciding on whether to take the day trip to Mostar, you should consider that border crossing between the two countries can make the trip a long one, but this should not put you off. Mostar is a delightful city to explore, and the potentially long journey is definitely worth it.
Day Trip to Kotor
Mostar is not the only Balkan gem which is within easy driving distance from Dubrovnik. Kotor is an absolutely stunning city in Montenegro and now is the perfect time to go; not so many tourists have yet discovered Kotor, but that is slowly changing, so you should go now while you can still enjoy it without battling the hordes. Kotor’s old town easily rivals Dubrovnik’s, and you could happily spend most of your day getting lost in its labyrinth of cobbled stone streets and alleyways. A unique feature of Kotor’s old town is the large number of cats which also stroll its streets. No one is quite sure where they came from or why they seem to love Kotor’s old town, but they have become the unofficial symbol of the city, and you will find plenty of souvenir stores selling cat trinkets.
Aside from the old town, you can hike up the Ladder of Kotor, a scenic hiking trail along which you can find a couple of churches, plus you will have fabulous views across the city, and also swim and relax in the Bay of Kotor, the deepest fjord-like bay in the Mediterranean.
It is easy to see why Dubrovnik earned the nickname ‘the Pearl of the Adriatic’. This gorgeous city has plenty of charm and character, and with all these things to do in Dubrovnik and beyond, you will certainly not get too much of a chance to be bored.