GoT might have dropped off our radar but Dubrovnik in Croatia, has much more to get excited about.
Hardly anyone had heard of Dubrovnik till about 10 years ago. Even as the Croatian islands a bit further north such as Hvar had begun to establish themselves as party destinations to rival Mediterranean favourites Ibiza and Majorca, this gem of a town on the Adriatic coast was only beginning to get noticed.
Then the phenomenon called Game of Thrones came along and made Dubrovnik the location of its primary setting of King’s Landing, and the rest is history.
Dubrovnik-Neretva is the southernmost county in Croatia separated from the rest of the country by a narrow stretch of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dubrovnik’s old town is actually quite small despite which it is now firmly amongst the top Mediterranean tourist destinations and a UNESCO Heritage site.
Accommodation in the old town can be quite scarce and cramped, so it is worth looking for your hotel outside the town walls. This has the added benefit that these hotels are located on slightly higher ground and can offer amazing views of the old town with the backdrop of the sea from the comfort of your balcony. There are plenty of self-catering apartments and Airbnb options which also offer the same.
The old town itself is full of interesting sights. The biggest feature is the massive walls encircling it and a walking tour of these cannot be missed. Not only do they offer you an aerial view of the distinctive tiled roofs that have come to be known as a characteristic of the city, but they also offer you glimpses of the life that currently goes on inside this historic town as the town is still a living and breathing home to a few thousand residents, and far from being just a relic for tourists.
There are a few hidden bars and cafes hanging off the cliffs overlooking the sea outside these walls. It is a lot of fun to stumble upon one with a feeling of joyful discovery and adventure, but for those who would rather organise their visit, Buza Bar is a favourite with tourists and locals alike. Get there for a late afternoon drink, and you are likely to be sipping it watching a bunch of local men cliff jumping from daredevil heights into the sea far below. It all adds to the spirit of adventure.
The town has plenty of well-preserved historic buildings ranging from baroque to renaissance to gothic styles. The Cathedral, Sponza Palace and St Blaise Church are great examples of this diversity.
There is plenty of location hunting for Game of Thrones fans, a number of locations in within the walls including The Rector’s Palace, St Dominic Street, the Dominican Monastery, Ploce Gate, Jesuit staircase by St Ignatius Church, Minceta Tower, Pile Gate, Pile Harbour and Fort Bokar were all prominently featured in the popular show.
The Lovrijenac Fort in a distance as well the West Pier and harbour will also be easily identifiable as landmarks that were featured. It is easy to book a guided tour focussed on pointing these locations out to fans if you are so fancy.
Otherwise, it is simple enough to just walk out on to the main Stradun (street) lined with shops and restaurants and take as many detours as you possibly can during the course of the day to discover these treasures. Break your day by having a cool drink by the harbour watching the boats come and go. There is a cable car which is quite popular with tourists as it takes you to the top of the cliff for panoramic views of the town and the Adriatic. If you decide to take it, consider going early when the sun is shining on the town and the turquoise sea from the east for the best picture-perfect moments.
There is no dearth of art galleries, museums and orchestra and concert venues in the city if you want to get out of the hot summer sun during the day. And the late-night bars and beachside clubs come into their own and are especially buzzing during the summer months.
Being right by the sea, Dubrovnik has its share of beaches though these are pebbly, with Banje being the main beach with deck chairs and refreshments and facilities all available.
For a quieter half-day trip away from the tourists, Lokrum Island just off the coast of Dubrovnik is well recommended. It has a monastery and a nature reserve, and quieter though rockier beaches including the only naturist beach in the city. Though just a 10-minute boat ride away, the island does feel very different to the unrelenting buzz of the old city, and of course, was also a Game of Thrones location.
There are a number of day-trips possible from Dubrovnik, the most popular of those ends up being in other countries due to its unique location. Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina is 2.5 hours away, and famous for its iconic Old Bridge with multiple historic attractions and markets. Kotor in Montenegro is 2 hours away and is a beautiful town backed by limestone cliffs with winding medieval streets and charming buildings. It is also possible to do half-day wine tasting tours that take you along the Adriatic coast and explore wineries and seafood restaurants around the Ston area.
For a small city, Dubrovnik has a lot to offer as a destination by itself. But it has to be said that if feasible, it can easily be considered as a starting point for a magnificent road journey along the Adriatic coast taking you all the gems of this very special area of Southern Europe all the way until northern Croatia and beyond.
Fact file & Tips
Dubrovnik old town is about 30 mins from the International Airport, with direct links to many destinations in Europe. Indigo and Turkish Airlines now offer a very good and fast link directly into Dubrovnik from Delhi and Mumbai.
You do not need a car in Dubrovnik itself but a road trip with Dubrovnik as the starting or end point is highly recommended. All major car hires are easily available at the airport or in the city.
Climate in Dubrovnik is relatively mild year round though summers can get very hot in the afternoon and winters can be rainy. If you are after the nightlife buzz and beachside clubs, they mainly operate to full capacity from June till October. Early October is a good time to consider as tourist season is tapering down but the climate is still great and the sea is at its warmest.
Do carry the Croatian currency Kuna as Euros aren’t really widely accepted. There are plenty of bank machines available in town.