Is this Dubrovnik or Disneyland? I admit that I am not (yet) a ‘Game of Thrones’ fan, but do plan to watch the popular series filmed within the distinctive, 16th century walls of Dubrovnik’s old town. I will also preface this post by assuring you that I fully expected Dubrovnik to be a tourist town. It has been Croatia’s most visited tourist destination for years, long before Game of Thrones existed; however, I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of tourism in Dubrovnik… especially the cruise-goers. I didn’t expect hordes of costume wearing, Game of Thrones fans marching the ancient, marble streets at all times of day in a Disney-esque production.
I understand why Dubrovnik remains a popular point for cruise ships making their way across the Adriatic, and why it has gained even more popularity in the past few years – Dubrovnik is drop dead gorgeous. It’s worth a visit, whether you want to live out your favorite medieval fantasy (there are ample guided tours to choose from) or find less-popular ways to enjoy the city (our MO!).
We enjoyed a few days exploring every crevice of the famous walls. We found that most of the cruisers come early in the morning and leave late in the afternoon, making the evenings a better bet for walking the streets without feeling crowded. We also found a few unique spots just outside of the walls, where you can enjoy a cliff-side beverage on a sunny day.
Our personal favorite was Buza Bar, which is known as a “hole-in-the-wall” in Dubrovnik. Quite literally, ‘buza’ means ‘hole’, and in order to access this unique bar you have to go through a hole in the ancient city walls, leading to a relaxing spot for drinking, sunbathing and swimming. If you’re feeling frisky, I recommend climbing up the nearby cliffs for a refreshing jump off the ledge!
Want to experience a more unique, less commercial side of Dubrovnik?
My advice for a trip to Dubrovnik is to roam outside the walls! Here are five suggestions for enjoying a unique experience around Dubrovnik…
Sail the Adriatic Sea.
There are dozens of large motor and sail boats that swarm the port next to Gruz Market, promoting tours to the neighboring islands; however, I recommend booking a reasonably priced, private sail through Dubrovnik Daily Sailing.
This makes for an ideal escape from the tourism of the old city. We relaxed, we swam, and we visited beautiful beaches on the nearby Elafiti Islands.
Scooter to Ston for oysters.
It’s a gorgeous, hour long drive along the coast to the small towns of Ston and Mali Ston, known for salt-works and oysters. I can say, without a doubt, that I had the best oysters of my life in a small restaurant by the water, watching fisherman bring in the daily catch.
To all the oyster connoisseurs out there… you’re welcome. To those who aren’t fans… give Ston Oysters a try and fall in love. Trust me on this. They even won over my oyster-hating husband.
Walk the walls between Ston & Mali Ston.
Mali Ston literally means ‘little Ston’. It lies 20 minutes northeast of its sister village, and is linked by the ‘Walls of Ston’.
I actually recommend skipping the popular walk along the walls of Dubrovnik, and experiencing the beauty of these 15th century stone walls instead. You’ll avoid crowds, and have time to thoroughly enjoy phenomenal views every step of the way.
Roam the winelands.
The road from Dubrovnik to Ston and beyond, leads you through beautiful vineyards with dozens of family owned wineries along the way.
It’s easy to stop at your leisure and sample some of the regions best Plavac Mali.
Take the ferry to Lokrum.
Lokrum is a 15 minute ferry ride from the Old Town Port. This tiny island is known for having exotic gardens, beautiful swimming spots, and breathtaking views of Dubrovnik (especially from the top of the old ‘Fort Royal’).
Lokrum is also crawling with wildlife! We saw cute bunnies hopping along the dirt paths on our visit, as well as dozens of colorful peacocks.
As you can see, my Dubrovnik highlights all involve exploring outside of (or jumping off) the ancient walls, and avoiding the famous Old Town as much as possible…
Your Dubrovnik highlights may be quite different from mine, and I’ve spoken with dozens of people who loved every minute of exploring the Old Town. Either way, I know we share a similar respect for the city’s fascinating history and matchless beauty.
“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.”
– George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones