Croatia has steadily been climbing back up the holiday charts as one of the most popular destinations for holidaymakers looking for fantastic beaches, historical cities and beautiful scenery. As part of what was Former Yugoslavia, Croatia was always a hugely popular choice of holiday destination but the war in the 90s meant that tourism in the country dive-bombed until holidaymakers slowly started to return in the early noughties. Eager to find out what all this renewed interest was about I ventured over to Dubrovnik for a 5 night trip and I was not disappointed with what I found…
Dubrovnik is located on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, almost at its most southerly point. It borders Montenegro (another country set to become a huge tourist spot over the next few years) and Bosnia which is now in the position that Croatia was in 10 years ago after their troubles, with tourists slowly returning and finding that the country has lots to offer at very cheap prices (you heard it here first!) Although Croatia is now part of the European Union and you will see some prices quoted in Euros you really need to still take Croatian Kuna as currency as this is accepted everywhere.
Dubrovnik is famous for its walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site but I chose to stay 10 minutes’ drive from the city in Lapad, a small resort with a nice promenade lined with restaurants, a few nice pebbly beaches and hotels and apartment aplenty. I’d advise anyone visiting Dubrovnik to stay in this area for a few reasons. Number one, it was nice to get out of the walled city after a day of sightseeing and feel the cool breeze of being near to the coast. Number two, the prices in the restaurants and shops in Lapad were generally cheaper than in the city.
Dubrovnik is not a particularly cheap holiday destination but for a holidaymaker from the UK it wasn’t extremely expensive either. The recovery of the economy in Croatia and the rise in tourism has meant that you can’t find the bargains I’m sure you would have done 10 years ago, but if you find the right places to eat and drink you won’t break the bank. A meal for two with a bottle of wine will cost you around 300 Kuna, which is roughly £32.
The food and drink in Dubrovnik is good. If you like seafood you are in luck as fresh fish and shellfish are on offer everywhere in this coastal city. The food is also heavily influenced by neighbouring Italy with great pizza and pasta places all over. You will not walk more than one metre down the street without seeing someone eating an ice cream either! Make sure you try the local ice cream as it really is fantastic. For something different try Bosnian cuisine which is very meat-heavy with lots of veal and lamb on the menu. The Taj Mahal restaurant is the only place serving Bosnian cuisine in Dubrovnik despite the close proximity to the country but the restaurant has two locations. There is one inside the city walls (that apparently gets extremely busy) and one located in Hotel Lero, on the main road between Lapad and the old city. I dined at the latter one and I can thoroughly recommend it.
The local beer in Croatia is Karlovacko and Ozujsko (don’t ask me to pronounce them!) and both are really nice, light beers. A large beer will set you back about 40 Kuna which is around £4 so it’s not incredibly cheap but it is very refreshing after a day in the sunshine! The Croatian wine was also surprisingly good; although I only tried the white so I can’t vouch for red wine over there I’m afraid. For a drink with a difference visit the ‘Buza’ bars in the old city which are precariously perched on the cliff-side. Its best to visit these in the daytime so you can jump into the sea off the cliffs, or at sunset if you want a spectacular view. Expect to pay through the nose for drinks here but you will see why.
For another special bar experience visit the Cave Bar More in ‘Hotel More’ in Lapad. The cave makes up the ground floor of the hotel and was only discovered when they started to build this 5 star residence. You can enjoy great cocktails in here surrounded by stalactites and there is an area with a glass floor where you can see right down to the sea below.
There is so much you can do in Dubrovnik it really is quite over-facing. Wherever you turn you will find excursion organisers trying to sell you a boat trip, kayaking tour, cable car ride, walk around the city or one of the many other things on offer. All I can do is tell you about those things I decided to do…
Cable Car over the City
For 100 Kuna you can take a cable car from the top of the old city right up to the mountains over the city and to Fort Imperial which also houses the Museum of Croatian War of Independence. The cable car ride is pretty quick but you get fantastic views of the city with its ancient port and Lokrum Island that is just off the coast. The views from the top are breath-taking and there is a lovely restaurant up here too if you fancy a spot of lunch.
I also visited the War Museum which is built inside the old fort the Croatians used in the war. The museum is filled with photographs, film and memorabilia that tell the story of the war. The atmosphere in the fort is eerie and it is worth a visit for this alone. Climb up to the top onto the roof and you can see across to the mountains where the enemy attacked from.
Walking the City Walls
You cannot visit Dubrovnik without taking the 3km walk around the old city walls. This also costs 100 Kuna, around £11 each. You can take an audio tour around the walls but as we wanted to do it at our own pace I did it alone and it was really enjoyable. We were advised not to walk the walls in the midday heat as it gets very hot but we did it at 3pm and there was a lovely breeze up there so it was fine. There are rest stops along the way and a few cafes where you can get refreshments. I wouldn’t advise walking the walls if you have young children or if you are infirm as there are lots of steps. We were unfortunate to witness an elderly man sliding down a flight of stairs on his bottom after falling so you have been warned!
Take a Trip to the Elaphite Islands
You can take a ferry from Port Gruz, Dubrovnik’s main harbour, over to the Elaphite Islands several times a day. Only 3 of the islands are inhabited; Kolocep, Lopud and Sipan. The ferry we took stopped at Sipan and Lopud and you can hop on and off the ferry to take in these islands. The ferry cost 23 Kuna each and it was extremely crowded so arrive early if you want a seat on the open top deck. We hopped off at Lopud, an island famous for its white sandy beach and headed out sea kayaking for the afternoon…
We booked our trip with Adria Adventures before we arrived in Croatia but you will find when you get to Dubrovnik that there are hundreds of companies offering the same tour. A day sea kayaking cost us 400 Kuna each which included the ferry to and from Lopud. I had sea kayaked before and was really looking forward to the day but we were very unfortunate that we got a very windy day. We were on the water for 3 (fairly torturous) hours and we were unable to visit the ‘Green Caves’ I had so been looking forward to as we were in danger of being slammed up against the rocks if we tried to enter them. We kayaked to the tiny island of Ruda but only spent half an hour there washing salt water from our eyes and recovering from shellshock before getting back into our kayaks and spending a very long 2 hours battling the sea back to Lopud! I’m sure this can be fun on a calm day but I cannot say I’d recommend it based on my experience.
The islands are well worth a visit though and taking the last ferry back at 6pm meant we saw a beautiful sunset over the islands on our return to Port Gruz.
East West Beach Club, Banje Beach
Banje is Dubrovnik’s only ‘city beach’ and East West Beach Club occupies half of it with its luxury loungers, restaurant, nightclub and lounge bar. If you want a day relaxing on a lounger with waiter service then this is your place. We paid 300 Kuna (around £30) for two luxury loungers, two parasols, use of a towel and a bottle of water. We spent considerably more on drink but it was worth it for the lovely chilled out day we had here. Tip: if you want to get the best beds here arrive before 11am and don’t go at the weekend unless you like extremely busy beaches as all the locals flock here too.
I’m sure Dubrovnik has so much more to offer than I could see in 5 days but from what I managed to squeeze into my time there it is a truly beautiful, fun and interesting city. It has something for everyone. The locals were also incredibly friendly and always willing to help. I have only one piece of advice following my trip… if you haven’t been to Dubrovnik, GO!
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