Ahhh, the Mediterranean. It’s easy to love the gentle twinkling blue sea, lazy sundrenched islands, and some of the best food and wine around.
No wonder millions of vacationers embark on Mediterranean cruises every summer bouncing between dreamy ports.
One of those ports in high demand is Dubrovnik, Croatia.
However, if you ask me, it’s an entirely futile attempt to explore this walled city’s seducing history, taste Michelin-recommended dishes, visit Game of Thrones filming locations, and swim at nearby islands, on a single day cruise stop.
You simply can’t fit it all in.
And besides, you want some time to relax by the sea, right?
I recently spent 3 days in Dubrovnik and left feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and inspired by the city’s seaside vibe. I also left 5 pounds lighter thanks to the copious number of steep stairs. You can skip the StairMaster at the gym this week.
The fruit of all that sweaty stair-climbing is this carefully crafted itinerary that will make your trip to Dubrovnik completely effortless... apart from the stairs. You’ll probably curse those.
Hey, on the upside I guess we’ll be able to fit in an extra cocktail!
7:30am (or later if you’d like a sleep-in) – Take a Walking Tour with a Local Guide
My favourite way to explore a city is to wander around with a local. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a friend from Dubrovnik, I suggest booking a Withlocals walking tour. I chose an early morning walking tour with local guide Mia, since I wanted to get some photos of the picturesque walls and streets before the cruise ship crowds descended.
I was impressed by how well Mia knew the background of her city, and it’s no short, simple history either. Life in Dubrovnik dates back to a 7th century settlement, possibly older, although its golden years were 1358 to 1806 AD when it was a profitable trading city operating as an independent republic. Dubrovnik then became part of the French and Austrian empires, amalgamated in Yugoslavia and is now a bustling city in modern Croatia. Mia shared a handful of stories from each era highlighting differing architecture styles to reflect historical events.
Mia isn’t a Game of Thrones fan (can we still be friends?) but she still knew a thing or two about the filming locations of Kings Landing. She pointed out a couple of spots, like Cersei’s walk of shame, while we meandered along the smooth cobblestone streets.
Mia kept to the backstreets as much as possible to show us parts of the city we’d never have found by ourselves. She highlighted her favourite photo spots and pointed out a few of her favourite restaurants and cafes. By the end of the 3-hour tour, Mia had a pretty good feel for what my wife and I would enjoy in Dubrovnik and suggested a few places to visit, many of which we tried and are included in this itinerary.
11am – Reflect at the War Memorial Room at Sponza Palace
Our tour ended just outside Sponza Palace, which contains a small museum to commemorate the 1991 Yugoslav War, of which Dubrovnik fought front and centre. According to Mia, Dubrovnik had no army to defend itself so local citizens stepped up to fight with little training and few weapons. It was a bit of a David and Goliath story, as she put it.
The War Memorial Room brought these heart wrenching stories to life with portraits of 300 young men who lost their lives fighting for their home.
Hours: Daily 8am – 7pm. Cost: Free.
11:30am – Explore Rector’s Palace
Walk 1 minute south to Rector’s Palace. As the name implies, this 15th century palace was the former home of the Dubrovnik Republic’s Rector (a bit like a governor). The palace is now the Museum of Cultural History and tells of Dubrovnik’s glory days as a wealthy trading city. Exhibits include religious paintings, portraits and coats of arms of nobles, furniture, coins, silverware, weapons, and restored palace rooms like the courtrooms, and prison chambers.
Inscribed on the palace entrance is a Latin phrase which roughly translates as “forget about your private interests”. This apparently reminded the Dubrovnik Republic officials to lay aside their own interests and focus on the good of the people whenever they met to govern. I think some of today’s politicians and public servants could use a bit of that philosophy!
Hours: Daily 9am – 6pm. Cost: 100kn for adults, 50kn for children.
12:30pm – Dine in Luxury at Above 5 Rooftop Restaurant
You’ll probably be hungry by this point so walk 4 minutes west to Above 5 Rooftop Restaurant, one of Dubrovnik’s few Michelin-recommended restaurants. Climb the stairs to a chic small dining area with fabulous views over the old city. This restaurant serves a 3-course menu with limited options, all of which the chefs have expertly mastered using fresh, local ingredients wherever possible. I enjoyed Dalmatian pogača, homemade pasta, and basil apple sorbet.
Bookings are required for dinner but we snuck in without a reservation for lunch. Be warned, this is a relatively expensive lunch but since you’re on vacation – treat yourself!
Hours: Daily 7.30am – 11am, midday - 4pm, 6pm – 11pm.
2pm – See the Reality of War at War Photo Limited
After lunch, take a short 1 minute walk east to War Photo Limited, a gallery featuring photography from the front line of modern wars. While the quality of photography is out of this world, what makes the gallery extraordinary is the bravery of the photojournalists who risked their lives in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia to capture the turmoil of war, touching both soldiers and civilians.
It’s a sobering exhibit that reveals the destruction and loss of war but also how life goes on despite it. Babies are still born, children still play, people still laugh. These images showcase humanity’s hidden resilience that we don’t know we have until we need it.
Hours: Daily 10am – 10pm. Cost: 50kn.
3pm – Window Shopping
Dubrovnik offers unique shopping opportunities like artisan lavender stores, boutique fashion stores, local jewellery stores, and, of course, 2 official Game of Thrones merchandise stores. Take an hour to wander around the shopping streets and pick up a souvenir or two. Serious GoT fans might like the shoulder-mounted realistic dragon!
4pm – Walk Along the City Walls
An essential part of any visit to Dubrovnik is climbing the city walls – one of the best preserved in Europe. Learning about the city’s history during the morning walking tour gave us a deeper appreciation and understanding as we walked along the walls. There are 2 main entry points to climb the walls, Mia wisely suggested we enter at the south-east entry near the old port where queues are shorter on the ground and the walls are less crowded.
It can get pretty hot on the walls, as shade is minimal. While it should be okay by 4pm, I suggest bringing a hat and sunscreen. Unless you’re super-fit, I recommend just doing half a loop – to the west entrance/exit near Pile Gate.
Hours: April & May: 8am – 6:30pm, June & July: 8am – 7:30pm, August & September: 8am – 6:30pm, October: 8am – 5:30pm, November to March: 9am – 3pm.
Cost: 200kn for adults, 50kn for children and students, free for children under 7.
6pm – Climb Fort Lovrijenac
Just when you think you can put your feet up, there’s more steps to climb! But the views are worth it, I promise. Fort Lovrijenac is located outside the city walls, a 4-minute walk west from the Pile Gate. Make sure you still have your city walls ticket handy as you’ll need it to enter Fort Lovrijenac.
GoT fans should immediately recognise this fortress as the filming location for many scenes set inside the Red Keep, like Joffrey’s Name Day tournament in season 2.
Hours: April & May: 8am – 6:30pm, June & July: 8am – 7:30pm, August & September: 8am – 6:30pm, October: 8am – 5:30pm, November to March: 9am – 3pm.
Cost: included in your City walls ticket (if used within 72 hours).
7:30pm – Dinner at Restaurant Lanii
Walk 8 minutes east to Restaurant Lanii, one of my favourite restaurants in Dubrovnik. The restaurant serves local, Dalmatian dishes like risotto, pasta and seafood, using local in-season ingredients. The staff here are always professional, friendly and very accommodating to dietary requirements like vegan and gluten-free.
I suggest booking a table online in advance, requesting an outdoor table to enjoy the refreshing summer breeze.
Hours: Daily 8am – 2am.
9pm: Drinks at Café Bar Fontana
Take a short, 1 minute walk south to enjoy a drink at trendy Café Bar Fontana. It’s popular with locals and tourists alike. Try a glass of Croatian wine (my favourite is Posip) or a summer cocktail like Aperol Spritz.
Hours: Daily 7am – 2am.
9am – Volunteer at Zarkovica Animal Shelter
Unlike most cities in Europe, you won’t notice any stray dogs roaming around Dubrovnik as they’re all safely kept at Zarkovica Animal Shelter. Zarkovica is a large, yet simple complex with only 3 employees and negligible government funding, so they rely on volunteers to keep the place running. Volunteers typically help exercise dogs in the mornings and clean out cages in the afternoons, but there are several other ways to lend a hand like repairing fencing and kennels and taking dogs to the vet. I helped out by photographing some friendly pups to assist in finding their forever homes.
I was impressed that most of the dogs are kept in large, open outdoor areas where they can run and play instead of being restricted in cages. I chatted with Tom, one of the shelter’s employees, who knew every dog by name and by nature. He pointed out one dog who would be the perfect companion for a laid-back senior, and a litter of puppies who will struggle to be find homes in Croatia as locals believe black dogs are bad luck.
According to Tom, many of their dogs are re-homed outside Croatia. European citizens can easily take their new fur-baby home via train or car, and some dogs have even been flown home with their new families to Canada or the United States.
If you’d like to volunteer, I suggest calling or emailing in advance to learn where you’re needed and the best time to arrive. You can also donate funds which are primarily used for vaccinations and sterilisations, or even better, adopt a dog. The best way to get to Zarkovica is by Uber or taxi.
12pm – Freshen up at your Hotel
As loveable as the shelter’s dogs are, you’ll probably need a shower and change of clothes after volunteering. I suggest grabbing your swimwear as we’ll be heading to the beach later.
1pm – Lunch at Nishta
Nishta is Dubrovnik’s only vegan restaurant and serves delicious vegan twists on classic dishes like nachos, moussaka, burgers, and pasta. The menu changes each day of the week so I suggest scoping out your favourite dish online and visiting the day its served. There’s also a salad bar if you’d prefer a lighter lunch to go.
Bookings are essential for dinner and highly recommended for lunch.
Hours: Monday to Saturday: 11:30am – 10pm
2pm – Admire the views from Srd
The best views of Dubrovnik are from the top of Srd (pronounced like “surge”) which you can reach by cable car. Dubrovnik Cable Car is a 7 minute walk northeast from Nishta. Alternatively, take a 20-minute Uber or taxi from outside the city walls to the top of Srd.
Srd has a series of lookout points over Dubrovinik and nearby islands. You can even see Croatia’s borders with Bosnia in the east and Montenegro in the south. While you’re up on Srd, I recommend visiting Homeland War Museum to learn about the 1991 war, followed by a drink or snack at Restaurant Panorama.
Hours (Cable car): December-January: 9am – 4pm, February-March: 9am – 5pm, April: 9am – 8pm, May: 9am – 9pm, June-August: 9am – 12am, September: 9am – 10pm, November: 9am – 5pm.
Return cable car cost: adult 170,00kn, children 4-12 60,00kn, children under 4 free.
Hours (Homeland War Museum): November 3rd - March 21st 8am – 4pm, March 22nd – November 2nd 8am – 6pm.
4:30pm – Relax and Swim at the Beach
There’re a few places around Dubrovnik where you can swim in the ocean, but I recommend going to Bellevue Beach, a 12 minute drive or 25 minute walk west from the cable car exit. Take your time as you sunbathe on the pebbly beach and splash in the crystal-clear sea. An alternative beach (if you don’t want to walk so far) is Banje.
7pm – Dinner and drinks at beachfront restaurant Komarda
I suggest enjoying dinner at Komarda, a beachfront restaurant outside the city walls that specialises in seafood, but also serves meat and vegetarian dishes. It’s absolutely magical to sit here and watch the sun set over Dubrovnik’s old city with a glass of Croatian wine. The peaceful, seaside atmosphere makes this a perfect place to stay back for a drink or two after dinner.
10am - Catch the Ferry to Lokrum Island
Day 3 is all about getting away from the old city and relaxing in the sun on Lokrum Island. The island is a national reserve so no cars are allowed and the only things to do are explore, sunbake, swim, and eat (AKA “relaxation bliss”). Ferries to Lokrum leave from Dubrovnik old town port every half hour and cost 150kn return (no need to fix the return time – just jump on any ferry).
I arrived on Lokrum around 10:15am and spent an hour or so wandering through botanical gardens, and monastery complex that doubled as the filming location of Qarth in Game of Thrones. Keep an eye peeled for resident bunnies and peacocks (with babies!), and then get comfy on a nearby rocky beach for the ultimate chillax and a swim. When hunger calls, wander over to Lacroma restaurant for lunch.
After lunch, it’s time for another swim, this time at the Dead Sea - a small salt lake formed by a series of caves and surrounded by rocky cliffs. After a swim, we stopped for a drink at Lake Cocktail Bar before walking back to the pier for the 4pm ferry to Dubrovnik.
4:30pm - Drinks at Buza Bar
From the old town pier, walk 5 minutes southwest to Buza Bar, one of Dubrovnik’s 2 south-facing cliffside bars that you’ll be able to find by following an unsuspecting “cold drinks” sign that seemingly points off the edge of the city walls (here’s the 2nd one). It actually points to a bar built into the city walls where you can enjoy a bottle of beer, wine, or cider while looking out over the ocean (no cocktails, sorry). Wander down onto the rocks to watch people swimming and cliff-jumping, although I highly recommend against trying this yourself if you’ve been drinking.
Hours: Daily 8am – 2am
6:30pm - Dine in the Sky at Stara Loza Rooftop Restaurant
When you’re ready for dinner, walk 5 minutes north to Stara Loza, a rooftop restaurant inside a former medieval palace that’s recognisable by its balcony statues resembling Romeo and Juliet. Take in nostalgic final views over the old city as the sun sets, while enjoying an expertly crafted Dalmatian-inspired meal.
Reservations are required so either pop in during the day or call to book a table.
Hours: Daily 8am – 11pm
8pm - Drinks at Beach Bar Dodo
After dinner, head outside the city walls for drinks Beach Bar Dodo, a 7-minute walk west from Stara Loza. This bar, a favourite for locals, is carved into a stone cliff with a casual atmosphere and uninterrupted views over Fort Loverijenac.
Hours: Daily 9am – 12am
The Bottom Line
If you’ve previously visited Dubrovnik on a Mediterranean cruise, you may have climbed the city walls or briefly wandered around the old city, but it’s safe to guess that you’re hungry for more.
This time do it justice. With my 3-day Dubrovnik itinerary, there’s no need for FOMO. You’ll get a little taste of everything this city has to offer from medieval history and local culture, to 5-star food and relaxing beaches. But it will be at a pace that leaves you refreshed.
Speaking of refreshments, I think its cocktail o’clock. What do you say?