The first country I ever traveled to alone was Croatia. I was 15 and I can still remember the excitement of boarding a airplane for the first time without my parents. After that the memories are a bit more blurred as I indulged shamelessly in the free mini bar onboard. I even left the airplane with a small paper bag filled with miniature bottles of vodka and jack daniels courtesy of the very attendant flight steward.
I spent two weeks with friends of my parents swimming in crystal clear water, dancing at beach bars until I had to run home to get there by my 11pm curfew and basking in the mediterranean sun. Flying home, which was Norway at the time, I knew I had fallen in love with Croatia’s glittering rocky coastline, and I returned many times over the years. Usually I drove from Italy when I was living there with my first boyfriend, we camped out on the beach and went swimming at night under the stars, we climbed cliffs and argued in the rain, we were penniless and too preoccupied with living to care. But this post will be about when I visited Dubrovnik as a backpacker, older wiser and less inclined to pout at handsome strangers.
Image by Jorge
How to get there
I flew into Dubrovnik airport as it was my first port of call on this trip but there are frequent buses from all the neighbouring countries that arrive at the main bus station, beside the ferry terminal. If you don’t have a backpack that weighs 20 kg and you enjoy a good walk then you can even walk into the centre from the bus station in about 45 min.
From Dubrovnik airport there are a few options for entering the city, you can take the local bus which costs HRK 15 (EUR 2), bus 11 and 27 go into the city centre, and if you are familiar with the city or feel confident following a map then this is the best option for getting into town. Dubrovnik is not a large city and I found that walking around was very straightforward. This link will bring you the local bus website which shows a route map.
The airport bus costs HRK 40 (EUR 6) and has two stops, one at the main gate going into the old town “Pile gate” and one at the main bus station, this is a good choice if you want a fast option to get into town and don’t wish to navigate the city too much after a long flight.
Taxi is the last option and it should not cost more than HRK 200 (EUR 27) into the city from the airport as its only a 20-30 min drive.
Where to stay
You don’t need to stay in the old town to experience the city, and in the summer it can be very difficult and expensive to find accommodation in the city walls. Even the hostels are overbooked and overpriced for a budget traveler. Personally I stayed outside the city walls towards the Lapad area and had a 15 min pleasant walk along the coast to get into the city, I had cheaper food options and paid less for my private room, then I would have for a 8 bed hostel in the city itself. I booked on Airbnb and if you want a EUR 30 discount then use this link. I loved the Lapad area and a recommend taking a walk around the coastline away from the old town where you will find some stunning cliffs and private coves to go swimming in which were a highlight of my trip. perfect for watching the sunset.
I paid EUR 50 for a private ensuite room with own entrance. Split with my traveling partner it was a great deal for Dubrovnik although grossly overpriced for this area of Europe.
If I was traveling alone I would have preferred to pay EUR 30 which is the average hostel price for the opportunity to meet other travelers. Hostelworld or Booking are my favorite sites for booking hostels in Europe.
What to do
There is so much to see and do in Dubrovnik, and depending on your budget you can do most of them. Alisa my travel partner and I spent our time lapping in the gorgeous sites, eating burek by the bagfull and swimming in the crystal clear water. But below are the highlights.
The Old town is of course one of the main reasons why people come to Dubrovnik, not only is it a stunning walled city perched on the rocky beach it is also where Game of Thrones “Kings Landing” is filmed and fans of the series will be pleased to know that it really is very recognizable. You can take a city tour that incorporates the Game of Thrones element complete with pictures of the scene from the show and its corresponding location in the city. I like to tripadvisor everything so here is a link to reviews of the various tours. You don’t need to book in advance though, when arriving at the city there will be plenty of people trying to sign you up to a group.
Although walking around the old town is free if you want to walk to the city walls you will have to pay HRK 150 (EUR 20) which also includes entrance to Fort Lovrijenac (on right side of the photo above) which although not connected directly to the city walls has a beautiful view of the city and is a location for many scenes from the GOT show. I even got to star in my own medieval themed show, “Nina in the red dress” courtesy of a bottle of cherry wine and my dear friend Alisa who played photographer as we ran about the city giggling like school girls down deserted alleys.
The waters around Dubrovnik are crystal clear and when the summer gets underway it’s the only place you will want to be. Because Dubrovnik has a rocky coastline there is a lack of easily accessible beach space around the city, however a kayak rental will easily sort that out. Now that you are mobile the coast is your oyster! You can spend hours exploring hidden coves, tanning on private beaches, exploring Lokum island and even visiting the old town walls, just be careful with going far outside the protection of the coast as the waters can get a bit choppy. But as a novice kayaker I can say that the waters around the coastline are very pleasant, and Alisa and I kayaked easily to Lokum island where there was some amazing private beaches. You can rent kayaks from various locations and we got one at Banje beach for 10 euros a hour.
Climb to the fort
When you go around Dubrovnik you will undoubtedly see a cable car climbing slowly up the hilltop to a fort on a nearby hill round trip it costs HRK 140 (EUR 19) and it offers some great views albeit from a glass box. However if you are on a budget don’t despair you can walk up for free and experience equally beautiful views without the sardine can experience and glass between you and the world.
Getting up is actually very easy, you can find the path marked on Google Maps and the start of the dirt path is
about a 20 min walk from the old town walls. Once you reach the dirt path that will be
marked you have a leisurely climb of about 45 min as you stop and take in the views that get progressively better. Make sure to bring water and if you want to watch the sunset from the top then you can take the Cable car down one way for HRK 85 (EUR 12) At the top of the hill there is a War museum “Utvrda Imperial” and you can do dune buggy tours as well.
Click on the image to see the path marked on Google maps.
Banje Beach has the best sand beach within walking distance from the city, you have to pay to use the sunbeds attached to the bar but beside the beach but there is a free area beside it that you can use although it gets crowded real quick. Beside the limited sandy area there are rocky parts heading away from the city that are not the most comfortable for lying on but the water is stunning and you cant beat the close proximity to the city. The bar is a bit expensive but there is a supermarket just up the road from Banje Beach and I bought drinks there although if using the main bar entrance to access the beach be aware that they will not let you in if you are visibly bringing your own drinks. There is a public access to the beach further down away from the city walls via some steps. On the other side of the city is Dance beach, it is used mainly by locals and is a rocky beach with concreted parts for comfort and the drinks at the bar are considerably cheaper. My favorite beaches however were on the Lapad side of the area, there is no official beach but there is a walkway that goes around the coast with various steps leading down to private ledges where you can swim undisturbed, and on the westernmost point of Lapad there is the perfect rocky outcrop for watching the sun set.
So that about sums up the main things we did in Dubrovnik, it is an expensive city but its worth splurging on one of the fancy restaurants on the street just to get that real holiday vibe, we also went to the famous Cave Bar More where we sat on cushioned couches watching the sky change colours over a glass of wine. But the rest of the time we lived off EUR 2 Burek (a meat or cheese filled pastry) from bakeries and fruit from the market. So it is possible to live on a budget here as well.
Last but not least I have to make a special mention regarding the cats of Dubrovnik, they seem to be everywhere and look like they came from the same mold: skinny scrawny and scared. Take the time to buy some cat food at a local supermarket it will cost only a few cents and it will give you some peace of mind when you see the cats warily eying your lunch when you try to enjoy that Tuna steak at a restaurant. Alisa and I personally made it our mission to love and feed as many as we could.