Sights: Dubrovnik is popular with tourists, cruises and Game of Thrones fans – and rightly so, it is beautiful – but I think it comes in to its own in the early evening, off season when it quietens down and it feels like you have the place to yourself. Also worth exploring are alternative coastal cities: Croatia’s second city of Split and the delightful Kotor over the border in Montenegro.
Dubrovnik’s walls are worth a walk around with an interesting maritime museum part way around, great views to the fort (Lovrijenac) and out to see. It is worth the few pounds to take the cable car up the mountain (Srd) though it can be driven; there’s still evidence of how it was used in the wars in the 1990s. The view over the city at sunset is particularly good but it also makes it a popular time so allow time to queue for the cable car and bar up there. Back in the city, the main street – Stradun – is beautiful (if slippy!) with its marble cobbles and shop fronts.
The Dubrovnik Card is good value if you plan to walk the walls and visit at least one of the palaces/museums. Walls best if you can avoid when the cruise/coach parties are in town (middle of the day rammed). Card doesn’t include the cable car.
Split is a more “lived in” town – larger, noisier and with a busy ferry port. It’s also full of history with the remains of Diocletian’s Palace built in to the modern day homes. We had a lovely afternoon walk in Park Marjan where families & young people come, relax and play in the sea. We also enjoyed driving up and then rambling around Klas Castle behind Split – it offers excellent views of the bay and city.
There are some nice day trips out along the spectacular Dalmatian coast – we enjoyed an afternoon in Omis with ice creams on the beech but head further out and there are some beautiful isolated bays.
Heading in to Montenegro, Kotor is about an hour from Dubrovnik. On the road down the coast, there are several tourist towns: some are charmless (such as Herceg Novi) and some are worth a coffee stop & explore (Perast being a particularly fine example).
When you reach Kotor, it is worth taking a drive up to the Njegos Mausoleum behind for the excellent views of the bay below and the drive through Lovcen National Park. From the town itself, the castle, old town and sea front are worth an explore. As with Dubrovnik, it is better in the evening when the locals appear and the number of tourists releases. But this is a cute town for a night or two.
Travel: A hire car is really useful in this part of the world to get to out of the way bays and the coach connections can be a little slow. Whatever, due to the volume of vehicles, travel along the coast is slow but is improving as motorways are built. However, we were happy to take our time due to the spectacular views. Some of the driving is erratic here but no more of a challenge than in other European countries. The border crossing between Croatia and Montenegro is slow – I believe in Summer it can take a couple of ours but when we visited in September we were through in 30 minutes. Do remember to request cross-border travel from your car hire company as you will be turned away at the border without the paperwork and insurance required. One final tip, petrol stations in remote areas can be a little tricky to find so top up in urban areas.
Accommodation: Our accommodation in Dubrovnik, Kotor and Split were converted rooms in people’s homes. This is quite common and we were largely left to ourselves with private kitchens and entrances.
On my first visit to Dubrovnik we stayed at Guesthouse S&L (Antuna Gustava Matoša 26) – which is 25 minutes walk to the centre but with good views over the bay. The rooms are nicely appointed with a shared kitchen and outside area; the host is welcoming and chatty!
However, on my second visit we stayed within the walls. This meant that car parking was expensive but the overall experience was better. Guest House Tomasi is down a quiet alley a couple of minutes walk into the centre. The apartment is compact but more than adequate as a base to explore.
In Kotor, we were a little off the main square in a small apartment with a kitchen. Royal House was well situated and the host was welcoming but left us to ourselves. Happy to recommend.
In Split we stayed in Hotel Sandra (Nincevica 11), it was a pain to find down some very small back streets but once there it was a few minutes’ walk to the centre. Now it was a little when we stayed but the simple studio flat slept the pair of us well and allowed us to prepare our own breakfasts. It has since been renovated and not available online to book so do check out these options instead.
Food & Drink: I have to admit that this was one of the let-downs of this holiday; the food is not spectacular and very much influenced by the tourist market. There’s plenty of Italian available and some good fish but you have to do a little digging to get off the main tourist path. However, things are improving and here are some of my more recent tips for Dubrovnik:
- The Razonoda Wine & Tapas Bar (Address: Ul. od Puča 1) is in a large vaulted room beneath a hotel, offers lots of excellent local wines & meats/cheeses platters.
- The Panorama bar next to the cable car has some good views and decent local fizz. Food didn’t look great but a drink with the (sunset) view is worth it.
- Buzz Bar (Prijeko ul. 21) is a good bar for a scoop, popular with young people with some local beers.
- Lokanda Peskarija (Na ponti bb) is on the harbour front and has fine views of the walls. A fish restaurant which is mainly aimed at the mass tourist market but it is good for a quick beer as the sun sets.
Further Reading & Listening:
Guide books: The best guidebook I found for this part of the world was the Lonely Planet for South Eastern Europe as it covered multiple countries which could be visited in a single road trip. Instead, I think the Lonely Planet to Croatia is a good bet along with Freytag-Berndt maps.
YouTube: I found knowing a little about the Roman and Venetian peoples which ruled this part of the world at various points. And for some general background I found Rick Steve’s videos a good (if rather American) starting point: Dubrovnik: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiEJJxJLr-o, Split: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4sw6Zasv4U and wider Balkan Coast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5Buk6NPVPg&t=34s
[First Published 09/08/17, Updated 28/04/19]