The sun is setting over the medieval walled city of Old Town Dubrovnik turning it golden, and I can’t tear my eyes away from the kaleidoscope of color spreading across the slowly darkening sky. This fairytale city on Croatia’s southern Dalmatian Coast has become one of Europe’s hottest destinations in the last decade, and now that I’m here I can see why.
Besides its fortified Old Town, filled with polished stone streets and gleaming buildings, Dubrovnik also has a gorgeous locale on the Adriatic Sea. Here you’ll find beautiful turquoise and aquamarine-hued water that is warm enough to swim in. There is also much to do in this region beyond the small city.
Here is how I recommend exploring this stunning part of the Dalmatian Coast. Renting a car here is affordable and easy, parking in Dubrovnik itself is difficult; but for exploring outside of the city, a car is your best bet.
Old Town Dubrovnik
You only need half a day to explore the pedestrian Old Town. It is a small place that is easy to walk around. Encircled by the city's old walls, which date back to the 16th century, this part of Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If the well-preserved medieval architecture looks familiar, and you are a fan of the popular mythical drama, Game of Thrones; Old Town served as one of the set locations for Kings Landing. Many companies offer set-jetting tours to top locations where the show was filmed including the Spanish Steps, the old city walls, and Fort Lovrijenac.
The main street is lined with shops, restaurants, churches, and palaces in polished stone, baroque buildings. Alleys wind off the main street to many bars, dining spots, and boutiques. Walking the city walls is a top activity. You’ll need to grab a ticket to do so (around $26), which can be purchased online.
Just outside the city walls is Banje Beach. In summer, it is a popular swimming and sunbathing spot with fabulous Old Town views. It is also a great place to watch Dubrovnik’s superlative sunsets. Note, that like many Dalmatian Coast beaches, Banje is a pebble, not sand, beach. The pebbles are not very comfortable to walk on, but once you are in the clear blue sea, you’ll forget the momentary pain.
Lokrum Island, which is just a short boat ride from Dubrovnik, is another popular beach destination. Surrounded by lush green woods, it is a tranquil spot with lots of hidden coves and rocky shores from which you can access the sea.
Salt and Oysters in Ston
Located about an hour outside of Dubrovnik, Ston is worth a visit. It also has ancient walls, running for more than 5 kilometers that have been referred to as the “European Wall of China.” The walls, which can be walked, were built in the 14th and 15th centuries. Although climbing up to the walls of the city is a trek, the views from them are well worth the effort.
While streets lined with polished stone houses are typical in this region, this small town is most famous for its salt pans and oysters. Salt has played an integral role in Ston’s economy for centuries now. It is harvested from a series of shallow pools through an intricate process involving evaporating seawater. If you are interested in learning more, guided tours about the traditional harvesting methods are offered. You can also purchase the famed product at shops around the town.
My favorite part of my Ston visit was sampling its other most famous product, the oysters. Considered among the world’s best, they were truly delicious with an intense umami flavor. You’ll find fresh oysters at most of the local restaurants.
Another easy day trip from Dubrovnik, Cavtat is about a 30-minute drive down the coastline. If you arrive in Dubrovnik by plane, the airport is located by Cavtat. Less expensive than Dubrovnik, Cavtat has some great restaurants and the relaxed vibe of a timeless seaside town. Like other towns, its charming Old Town dates back to medieval times and has cobblestone streets, beautiful squares, and hundreds of year-old stone houses.
The picturesque waterfront is lined with al fresco restaurants serving up everything from fresh seafood, Croatian fare (try the black risotto!), and pizza. Spend some time relaxing over drinks and a meal here and feel the stress of the modern world melt away.
Where to Stay
My two favorite Dubrovnik hotels are the Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik and the Hotel Bellevue. If you are spending more than a few days in the city.
Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik
Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik is just a 5-minute walk from Old Town and even less to Banje Beach. It also boasts amazing sunsets over the medieval. The boutique property dates back to 1913 and has hosted everyone from American celebrities to European royalty over the years.
The hotel sits on a hillside and has nine floors, with reception on the top floor and beach access on the ground floor. The interior style is refined and elegant. Many of the 158 rooms and suites have fantastic views of the Adriatic, Lokrum Island, and the Old Town from furnished balconies.
There are three restaurants onside. Sensus is the fine dining restaurant, and its menu features unconventional and creative takes on fresh local delicacies. Opt for the tasting menu if you want to sample the chef’s favorite creations paired with local wines.
Hotel Excelsior does not have a beach, but it has sun-loungers for guests on the promenade by the sea and direct access to the clear waters from ladders. It also features a delightful spa with personalized massages, a large indoor swimming pool, a sauna, and steam room.
Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik
If you want direct beach access, Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik is the place to book. Built into the side of a cliff with floor-to-ceiling windows in guest rooms and public spaces, it is one of the top hotels in the city. Also, a boutique property, it isn’t quite as close to Old Town as Hotel Excelsior, but still offers easy access. It lacks beautiful sunsets due to its location, but does offer panoramic Dalmatian coast views.
Its best asset is its location on Bellevue Beach. Guests have elevator access to the pebble beach and calm water set between cliffs, perfect for swimming. You can even swim into the wide mouth of a cave set in the cliffs to the left side of the beach. While the beach itself is public, the hotel has a section with sun loungers reserved just for guests, so you will have comfy seating.
The luxury hotel also has a nice spa with a small, heated, indoor free-form pool and hot tub set behind floor-to-ceiling windows facing the sea. Cushioned loungers surround the pool, and the air is heated a few degrees warmer than the pool, so you feel as if you are in a tropical locale. There is also a fitness center, Finnish sauna, and steam room.