Experience Dubrovnik 4 ways
“If you want to see Heaven on Earth come to Dubrovnik.”
George Bernard Shaw
As a full-time travellers since March 2016, I’ve learnt many things from my Travel teacher. One big lesson is being honest about what we experience on the road; for better or for worse. We are privileged to be able to explore the world so intimately and we have come to appreciate all faces that Travel reveals. So let me say it out loud; we are not great city fans. As introverts we find their size overwhelming, their structure claustrophobic and their presence often intimidating. We though, at the same time, accept that city life draws its own unique perspective. And this, in its own right needs to be relished alongside the things that we love most about our explorations.
So when the prospect of a visit to Croatia’s southern city Dubrovnik teetered on the horizon, we faced it with inevitability. Of course we would go, it is iconic and it is one of those places that needs to be ticked off the list, given its reputation for being one of the finest cities in the world. It certainly wasn’t though on my Bucket List, like our visit to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina had been. Yet I have learnt to face all my adventures with a sense of curiosity with which comes a humility for all things. And that is how I embrace cityscape visits these days.
With a little research it became clear that there were a number of ways to experience Dubrovnik. I wanted to be sure that if this was a ‘one and only’ visit, to make it as 3D as possible. I realised that it would be an investment as, with most cities, a trip to their inner sanctums brings with it a price tag. We are tourists after all. There was though something about Dubrovnik that subtly gave me permission to make that investment, given all that the country and her neighbours have endured over the last thirty years. Of all places in which I am happy to spend my hard-earned cash, it would be in these western Balkan lands.
I googled Dubrovnik’s highlights, being cautious not to feed my FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. Yet I soon concluded that it would be far richer an experience if we just trusted our instincts once we arrived. From a practical point of view though, we did make some conscious choices about how best to experience the city. My sense was that seeing it on arrival from the sea was going to be one special aspect that we couldn’t miss. Especially given I am a water baby. Then wandering within its city walls another. And surely a bird’s eye view was on the cards?
Before we launch into how best to experience Dubrovnik, let me reveal a little secret; I completely fell in love with this southern belle. Of all the major cities and capitals we have visited, it will feature in my Wall of Fame alongside Ljubljana, Bratislava, Zagreb and Seville. It can proudly sit shoulder to shoulder with these other compact and characterful cities that haven’t lost their souls to commercialism.
From the minute we approached this iconic Games of Throne film set, I fell in love. There was something embracing, warm and homely about this walled settlement that subtly drew me in. After five hours exploring, I can honestly say that Dubrovnik has a place in my soul and I felt her heart-beat in every alleyway and around every corner, despite clusters of tourists compliantly following those Holiday Rep flags. With this affirmation I find it easy to now write practically about how to make the most of your visit here and share my passion for this resilient and courageous city.
A historical context
Let me offer a brief backdrop to Dubrovnik’s canvas, by sharing a little of her historical landscape. After all, it is not on UNESCO’s list without good reason.
Dubrovnik was founded as Rugasa in 600 AD by a group of refugees from Cavtat, just 40 minutes away by boat. From that point it grew in importance thanks to its oceanic position. It was its sea-faring trade that put the city on the map. As a medieval settlement Dubrovnik has grown from strength to strength. Despite a fire that burnt it to the ground in 1296 and the 1667 earthquake that destroyed most of its important buildings, its resilience has surged. Add to that the tragedy of the seven month Dubrovnik Siege that attacked the very heart of the old town from October 1991 until the end of June 1992. Knowing just a little of its backstory you can begin to feel the soul of the city beyond the facade that awards its oohs and ahh from its visitors.
Now we can begin to focus on how best to introduce yourself to Dubrovnik and get the best experience from your visit here.
1. A watery perspective
Armed with a rough plan, my camera and a steadfast protection for my introverted personality, we put Phase One of our Dubrovnik Sightseeing Strategy into action. Based at Camping Kate in Mlini, we decided, with the weather pretty calm, to head by water taxi. Our dues paid, a mere £6.80 (€7.95 or $8.37) – we excitedly boarded our vessel.
There’s a certain thrill for me about being on the water, whether pootling on my paddleboard or speeding towards some exciting destination. The views of a place from the water are always so different from a land-based perspective. So like an eager child I sat up at the front of the taxi watching intensely, as this stunning Riviera coastline passed before my eyes. First was the haunting view of Kupari’s Ghost Town, bombed and left to rot after the Homeland War in 1991. Next the captivating azure bays, lined with pine trees and their craggy bedrock beaches still attracting sun worshipers even in October.
Within 30 minutes, the horizon offered my first glimpse of Dubrovnik’s old town, a scene I am sure must have featured in Games of Thrones more than once. As we inched ever closer towards the harbour, the city walls enveloped us. Surrounded by boats of every shape and size buzzing around the nearby islands, this city loomed large. It was fantastic to see it from the sea and imagine what it must have been like for historical sea-farers entering the city in their galleons.
Click on our Gallery below.
2. Walking through the city’s soul
Having witnessed our first glimpse of Dubrovnik intimately from the sea with no more than 20 people, we were suddenly thrown into the masses. Like ants, suddenly there were people everywhere. Yet we had primed ourselves for it, so courageously set off. Most unlike me, without a route map, we just wandered, finding as many back streets as we could, to feel the city’s soul.
Ladies sat with their lace and crochet, children played football like the genius that was, Pele and, being a Monday, washing hung out between the alleyways. We caught a side of Dubrovnik that is not on most people’s itineraries; watching cats lazing, dogs guarding and through the open windows, dinners simmering. What a privilege it was to see the city this way. Private, personal and every day life being played out in front of us. Behind the security of the towering walls around us, we strolled up and down the steep and shiny limestone staircases that have been climbed by hundreds of generations before us. This was a fabulous way to experience a tourist destination and, once again felt like a private tour, removed from the route of the cruise-liner visitors. Although it would be inevitable at some point that our route would bring us into the main hub of the city.
The cultural epicentre of Dubrovnik offers you some iconic views; Sponza Palace, the Cathedral, Onofrio’s Fountain and the devastated and iconic Stradun Street. It was here we were greeted with throngs of visitors and it was a matter of skilfully dodging the crowds in order to maintain our soulful edge. Which was I can tell you a bit of a challenge. Yet you cannot miss this part of the city as it holds so many memories, tells so many tales and, reborn from the embers of war, is as much a fibre of the city as its back streets.
Click below for our Street Gallery.
3. A bird’s-eye view
There are two arial perspectives on offer in Dubrovnik.
The first is to encircle the Dubrovnik hub by buying a £28, (€35, $35) ticket to walk the magnificent city-walls. An intrepid tootle of around 1.2 miles, which is just short of 2km, rewards you with a priceless Dubrovnik experience like no other. Whilst it is without doubt expensive, we saw it as an investment; both in ourselves as explorers and to the Croatian community. We have a philosophy that if the price we pay for something is good value and reaps a special or unique bounty, then it is not an ‘expense’. This is how we felt about touring Dubrovnik’s walls. It is such a different way to see and feel this incredible city and we loved it. Even Myles enjoyed it, despite nurturing his vertigo in some places where the tumbling cliff falls away seemingly beneath your feet.
Being able to scan your eyes across the rooftops of this historic city, the first thing you notice is the contrast between the old and new. Destroyed buildings that have yet to be rebuilt, are clearly evidenced by their darker orange roof tiles and pallid facias. Whilst the newly loved properties and historic real estate have a vibrant makeover in both the clean, cream brickwork and the iconic orange roofs. This is a stark reminder that whilst the battle is won and independence secured, the war still leaves scars for all to see.
Your 360º experience of Dubrovnik old town, the coastline and the islands will leave an indelible mark on your heart with complementary colours of rich golden hews, sparking blue seas and a mountain backdrop that holds it all together in a seamless canvas of delight. Looking down at the city you can see figures scurrying along the cobbled streets like something out of a Lowry painting. The enormity of Dubrovnik’s scaling steps hits you as you see them from a whole new aspect where puffing people steadily climb their unforgiving ascension. Then in the blink of an eye the chimney pots shape the horizon as a replica Schooner sails into the iconic port.
Life above Dubrovnik’s beating heart, is truly a magical and addictive experience and well worth the entrance fee.
Click on our Gallery below.
4. The view from heaven
The second arial view-point you can take is in the Cable Car. You can find this just five minutes walk outside the main Ploče Gate on the main road. The pods run regularly, taking you up 778m up to the gods for what must be a stunning view on a good weather day. There is a restaurant up at the top, which on good authority is meant to be excellent. We decided not to take the Cable Car as with the investment of Water Taxis, buses, the walls and lunch, we thought that the cost was one step too far. After a good four hours in the city, to adding this to our one day visit would have been been too overwhelming. If you are in the city for longer than a day, then you could add it to your second day itinerary for sure.
The Motoroamers’ Top tips for Dubrovnik
- Plan your visit in one of three time periods; 1. Go early whilst the cruise-liners are eating breakfast. 2. Go around lunchtime as most cruise goers want to return to the ship for their all-inclusive lunch. Or 3. Go after 3pm when many of the cruise boats will be planning to set sail for their next destination.
- If you have budget constraints, choose either the Cable Car or the Walls. They are both the same price and will give you an arial view. We would recommend the walls over the Cable Car, if only because the weather can turn quickly and your view could be hampered by clouds or even worse cancelled because of an incoming Bora Bora wind (depending on the season). Of the two we chose to do the walls which gave us a great perspective. I know the views are incredible from the Cable Car, although if you had to choose, then the walls would win every time for me. It has an intimacy that just let me feeling so connected to the city.
- If you have mobility issues then Dubrovnik is not very user-friendly given all the steps. And the walls are also not great if you suffer from vertigo or need a walking aid, as you have to climb steps to reach the wall walk. The Red Cross do offer some support if you need a walking aid and access to their details can be found here.
- Dogs in Dubrovnik. We did see pets both on the Water Taxi and in the city. Our only thoughts would be to watch the crowds and your low-to-the-ground pooch and of course, keep a watchful eye over their deposits.
- Eating in Dubrovnik. Like any city, there are plenty of eating options with an extensive option of styles catered for. You are though, a captive market, so the prices are not cheap. We spent £34 (€40) on a pizza, beer, water and a salad. So not out of the question budget-wise, depending on your constraints, you just need to shop around. Restaurants will be vying for your business so don’t feel obliged to eat if you are only looking at the menu.
- There are lots of accommodation options. If like us you are with your camper, then there are a few options. You can stay at Camping Bambo in Slano which is 21 miles (36km) north of Dubrovnik to which you could catch the bus. Alternatively Camping Kate at Milni, which is where we stayed, open from April to the end of October allows easy access to the city. You have the water taxi and the number 10 bus or both if you fancy taking the route we did. Otherwise there are plenty of hotels, AirB&B’s and guest houses in the area so you really are spoilt for choice.
- If you are staying around Dubrovnik for a couple of days, then it is worth considering the investment in the Dubrovnik Pass. It entitles you to up to 50% discounts on many Dubrovnik attractions and public transport. You can buy either a one, three or seven day pass which is an investment of between €35 and €55 depending on the duration. With the discounts you receive, the card will have paid for itself. We found out about this too late, although it is worthy of passing on to you.
Check out our YouTube video where we capture the best bits from our short visit to this remarkable city. Click on the image below.
Whichever of the four perspectives you choose to take of Dubrovnik, you will be spoilt with its quiet charm, its low-key vibe and its deeply entrenched history. This is so much more than a city Tick List. This is a full on adventure that takes you into the past whilst leaving your present changed by the soul of this beautiful, resurgent city.
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