The historic walled seaside city of Dubrovnik in Croatia has been renowned for centuries for its beauty. Most recently it’s found a new kind of fame as a TV star, making it even more in demand and a favourite port of call for cruise ships. Peak months of July and August are famously busy, but we discovered quiet streets and warm seas in June this year. Here are our essential Dubrovnik Things to Do.
Earlier this summer my son finished his uni term and hopped on a plane with a friend to Dubrovnik. So this is not strictly a ‘family travel’ review as he left his mum at home (sob). But they came back full of enthusiasm for this beautiful and historic city and with lots of tips that are perfect for families planning a hols with teens or young adults. I figured you’d appreciate the info!
- UNESCO medieval walled city in Croatia
- Pristine sea, saltwater lakes
- Kayaking, swimming, walking
- Islands to explore
- Consider visiting in June to beat the crowds
Where: Dubrovnik, Croatia
When: middle of June for one week. June is generally term-time and public exam season in Britain but it’s still an option for university students or those sitting the IB.
How: Easyjet from Luton to Dubrovnik. Return to Stansted.
Dubrovnik Things to Do
Explore the Old City
Nick: “We arrived in the evening and walked across the drawbridge at Pile Gate into the medieval streets. It’s a grand entrance! There aren’t any cars inside the city walls and the polished limestone paving shines in the lamplight. It feels like walking into a film set.
On our first day we just wandered and got a feel for the city. It reminded me of Venice with its narrow streets and medieval stone buildings. We began by exploring the Old Harbour, which was bombed heavily in the war during the 1990s but has now been restored. You can see how much was damaged in the difference between the old and new roof tiles.
Dubrovnik is famous for its role as King’s Landing in the TV series Game of Thrones so obviously we spotted a few locations. The Jesuit Staircase is a sweeping flight of stone steps that’s used as the approach for the Sept of Baelor and also the scene of Cersei’s walk of atonement.
We also looked into the Rector’s Palace with it’s beautiful open-air atrium and staircase that doubles as the Palace of Qarth.
At lunchtime Fort Lovrijenac aka The Red Keep, was quite quiet, perhaps because it’s slightly off the tourist beaten track. It’s a steepish climb but has amazing views.
Walk the City Walls
We waited until late afternoon to walk the city walls as there isn’t much shade up there. It’s a 2 km walk as the walls encircle and protect the whole of the medieval city.
It only cost 50kn* with an international student card to explore the Fort and City Walls. Both are must sees and the views are incredible.
You probably don’t need to join a Game of Thrones tour unless you are a major fan, but we overheard plenty of them on our walk!
Stradun is the main thoroughfare in Dubrovnik, lined with shops and cafe tables. On Sunday morning we embraced cafe culture and walked its length, stopping off for ice-creams, coffees and window-shopping.
At one end of Stradun is the pretty Church of St. Blaise, Dubrovnik’s patron saint.
On the second day we went sea kayaking. We took the Adventure Dubrovnik Sea Kayak Tour and set off at 10am in a group of around 20. First our guide took us to explore a couple of caves on Lokrum island.
Then we turned back to a beach on mainland Dubrovnik that’s only accessible by kayak. It was the perfect place for a spot of lunch.
The water was incredibly clear and the paddling wasn’t too taxing as there was no wind. The only real danger for us was the sun! We spent around three hours on the water, and the tour company provided us with water, lunch and waterproof barrels for our valuables. We’d highly recommend it!
Visit an Island or Three
Lokrum is only 600 m offshore from Dubrovnik. We caught the ferry from the Old Harbour which takes about 15 minutes. A 120kn ticket gives you access to a return boat and the island itself.
We took a picnic and wandered around, taking in a number of phenomenal views.
We rambled round the old monastery and finally settling at the saltwater Dead Sea lake. It’s fairly busy and fairly touristy, but the lake is a must see! The water is clear and warm and although there isn’t any sand there are rocks to sunbathe and lay your stuff on.
The lake feels quite secret with an overhanging cliff to one side and lush vegetation all around. Get your cameras out for this and watch out for some cheeky peacocks in the trees.
After lunch, we gallivanted across to The Rocks, a huge array of flat rocks looking out towards the Adriatic. It’s a brilliant spot to catch the rays, and a bit less touristy than the lake. However, there is no shade, so careful of the sun. We did a spot of cliff jumping here too – it’s a lot higher than it looks when you get up there!
Lopud is one of the Elaphiti Islands off the coast of Dubrovnik. Some companies in the Old Harbour offer panorama cruises which visit all three islands in a day. But that only allows a couple of hours max at each island. Instead, we grabbed a bus from Pile Gate to Port Gruz, which is the main Dubrovnik ferry port. From here we took a Jadrolinija ferry to Lopud, the second Elaphiti island, which is famous for its beach. Our return tickets cost an absurdly cheap 46kn per person, not bad for an hour long ferry journey.
Lopud itself is a beautiful little island, with an incredible set of restaurants, ice cream booths and small shops by the promenade. We wanted to visit Sunj beach which is about half an hour’s walk away. Since Lopud is car-free the only other transport options were rickety bikes at 70kn each or electric buggies with drivers, 45kn each way. We took the bikes, and although quite fun, get the golf buggy! There are hills in Lopud, something we hadn’t bargained for.
Sunj is one of the few sandy beaches in the Dalmatian region of Croatia, and it’s beautiful. It’s a long shallow sweep of sand and there were at most 150 people on the beach when we were there. Two sunloungers and an umbrella were a steep 150kn, but we stayed for hours enjoying the beautiful views and pristine sea.
On our final day we headed to Mljet, one of the larger islands that’s accessible from Dubrovnik. We took the Nova Ana catamaran from Port Gruz to Polace, so we could visit the National Park at the western end of the island. At 140kn each it cost a lot more than the ferry to Lopud, but it’s further and the boat is faster. On that day we were able to set off at 9.15am and catch a 5pm ferry to return. The timetable varies by day and season so it’s important to check the times in advance. The journey takes about 1hr 40.
Once we landed at Mljet, we bought a ticket for the National Park, at 70kn per person with student cards. This was a great saving for us, as it’s 125kn without one (sorry non-students). Free minibuses run from Polace to a drop-off point near the little settlement of Babine Kuce.
From here we walked to Mali Most, a point where two saltwater lakes meet. It’s a brilliant vantage point and was quiet when we were there. The water is incredibly clear and much warmer than the sea! After swimming we hired a canoe to paddle out to look at the beautiful 12th century Benedictine monastery on an island in the middle of the lake.
Swim at the foot of the city walls
Some days we stayed close to home inside Dobrovnik’s city walls and did our sunbathing and swimming from the rocks around the corner from the Old Harbour. It wasn’t touristy but there were enough locals there for us to not feel too isolated. Again the water is incredibly clear and not too cold. Beware of rocks though, the shores are stony and we’d recommend wet shoes or just swimming in flip-flops. The light there was lovely in the evening with reflections of the sunset across the sky.
Catch the Cable Car for an Aerial View
One afternoon we took the Zicara cable car to the top of Srd hill. It sets off from the northernmost point of the city walls and climbs steeply to a vantage point overlooking the city and sea. We bought one way tickets for 80kn each.
Highly recommended, along with the walk back down the winding paths, stopping to take in the brilliant views of the Old City, Lokrum and surrounding islands. It takes 30 to 40 minutes to walk down, but is definitely worth it.
At the top of the mountain is the Fort Imperijal, a 19th century fortress built to take advantage of the long panoramic views. This was the site of the heroic Dubrovnik resistance against the Yugoslav People’s Army in the 1990s. The Homeland War Museum, just 15kn entrance with a student card, is incredibly well priced. It is dedicated to the Siege of Dubrovnik and the efforts of the Croatian fighters to retain their city in the early 1990s. It sets out the historical context brilliantly, and we spent an hour here wandering round the exhibits.
Eating out in Dubrovnik
Nick: “Be wary, and definitely check Trip Advisor before picking a restaurant. There are hundreds of places catering for tourists, many with expensive menus but fairly lacklustre food. Our top tips are to choose somewhere with a short menu, and to avoid the ones with annoying waiters asking if you want a table outside.
One evening we found a beautiful little restaurant called Stara Loza, at Prijeko 24, just down the road from our apartment. We ordered locally caught mullet and a vegetarian dish. I’ll be honest, vegetarian isn’t really a thing in Croatia, but the hazelnut and vegetable gnocchi was incredible. Both of us would recommend this place in a heartbeat.
NB Stara Loza is attached to a boutique hotel called Prijeko Palace. It looked fancy and it’s in a great location!
Nishta, which is also on Prijeko is the vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Dubrovnik. This is a must-go! We ate pasticida, a local Dalmatia stew with polenta squares and greens, and tasty falafel with homemade flatbreads and hummus. Definitely recommend, along with the local, organic San Servolo Blond beer.
Finally for sunset drinks the justly famous cliff-side Buza Bar, overlooking the sea, is a must-do.
Where to stay
We stayed in a cute AirBnB on Prijeko. It’s secret charm was that the bedrooms overlooked a side street so it was actually very quiet. You can’t beat staying within the city walls for atmosphere and convenience. But – we visited in June and can’t vouch for the experience during the busiest months of July and August.
Cruise ships stop regularly at Dubrovnik and we could tell immediately by the crowds when a cruise party came on shore. The town was quietest and nicest in the early morning and evenings.”
Map and Family Verdict
Nancy: I asked Nick if he thinks Dubrovnik would be a good choice for families. He said yes, particularly if you can visit a month either side of the peak busyness of July and August. He reckons they struck it lucky by going in June, the sun was hot, the sea was warm enough to swim and it wasn’t too crowded.
His verdict is that it’s a stunning city irrespective of the Game of Thrones connections. Like Venice there’s a real sense of history and drama, and it really helps that it’s car-free. Plus after sightseeing you can jump straight into the sea to cool off!
*Currently there are 8.45 kuna (kn) to £1
All photos are all rights reserved. Photos may not be reproduced without prior written permission.
Dubrovnik Things to Do
If you enjoyed this post please PIN this to save and share to Pinterest🙂
Click here to read about our family trip to Venice another magical European city that’s also fun to visit outside peak season