A fantastic week in Iceland was done, but I wasn’t done traveling yet in May. In fact, it was just the beginning, as I would be spending the next two weeks in the Balkans. Home to countries such as Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia, this particular region of Europe has drawn in a notable crowd in the past decade, due to its stunning beaches, being inexpensive and, of course, Game of Thrones references.
My first destination for the Balkans would be Dubrovnik– I’d actually visited it over eleven years old as a teenager, as a day visit for a cruise. I don’t remember much, but I did recall that it was really hot (in July) and that there weren’t as many tourists as I saw when I returned this time around. Perhaps it’s the fact that Game of Thrones hadn’t been such a huge cultural phenomenon, and now its popularity has exploded. I’ve never seen the series nor read the books, so I didn’t get the references to certain landmarks in Old Town. All the same, though, I still found the city gorgeous and worth visiting.
Returning to Paris from Reykjavik, I stayed in the French capital with a friend for two nights to recover and get the energy to fly once again. I caught a direct flight from Charles de Gaulle Airport– granted, it was fairly pricey when I’d booked it (around 150€), but it was direct, and it would save me time to explore more of the town upon arrival.
I landed in Dubrovnik around 14:30, and I quickly exchanged currency at the airport before buying a shuttle ticket to get into the city center, notably its Old Town. The shuttle dropped me off at Pile Gate, the main entrance into Old Town, and from there I walked about 10 minutes to my hostel. Although my hostel was outside of Old Town, it was only a few minutes away on foot and a pretty good deal for the three nights I’d be staying there. Even better, I was the only hostel-goer in the four-bed dorm for the entire stay, which allowed for privacy!
As soon as I checked in and dropped off my bags, I decided to go into Old Town to explore. I kept the itinerary simple, as I’d just arrived and didn’t want to over-exert myself. I strolled along Stradun, the pedestrian-only promenade, which isn’t very long at about 300 meters, and filled with restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, and gelaterias. Within 15 minutes, you can cover the entire promenade, and it’s the very heart of the Old Town.
Afterwards, I headed up alleyway stairs to the entrance of the cable car– along the way, I saw more souvenir shops, many which catered to Game of Thrones fans. After paying and queuing up, I took the cable car to Srđ Hill, some 400 meters above sea level, where you get the iconic views of the entire walled city and Lokrum, a nearby island. The views were incredible, and I must’ve snapped at these 100 photos of the same shot– really, photos can’t do justice to the architectural and natural beauty of Dubrovnik!
I hadn’t bought a return ticket to go down, and at first I tried walking back to Old Town– after all, it was heading down. But I didn’t know exactly the path to head down, so after getting a bit lost, I ended up taking the cable car down to Old Town.
By the time I returned, it was around 18:00, and I was fairly hungry. I opted for an early dinner in Old Town, at a konoba (traditional Dalmatian restaurant) that my hostel had recommended and offered a 10% discount for the meal. I got an excellent squid-ink risotto, a local specialty. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of risotto, but I found the rice to be plump and chewy, along with a rich, oil-based sauce that made it a deep ebony color. The seafood was also fresh and, paired with a glass of good table wine, I had an enjoyable meal and lovely finish to my first day in Dubrovnik.
Thing was, even though I kept my first day minimal, I’d already seen much of the Old Town that afternoon! Really, Dubrovnik is that small, and it’s absolutely crazy when there are hordes of tourists inside the Old Walls– even in May (which isn’t considered peak season yet), it’s already really warm and packed, although I’d say still manageable. Can’t imagine how insane the weather and crowds are in the summer!
The following day, I took a day trip to Montenegro (more on that in a later post). I had a full day in Dubrovnik the day after, so I had the time to pay and walk the Old Walls. Certainly isn’t cheap at 250 kuna (about 20€), but I would say it’s worth it, especially if you don’t plan to return to Dubrovnik one day. The walls are about 2 kilometers (or 1.2 miles) around, and it took about an hour to walk its entirely– I could’ve gone faster, but I was stopping every two minutes for photos. From red rooftop views to the turquoise sea, it was impossible not to capture them on camera!
As I’d heard that the walls can get super crowded between the hours of 9:00 and 16:00, it was a good strategy to go either early or in the evening. I opted to go once it opened at 8:00– there were still plenty of people walking the walls, but I was still able to move freely without having to join a slow herd. It was already hot when I started, but all the same, the walk and views made up for it– by the time I completed the circuit, it was even hotter and the crowds started coming, looking like ants in the distance.
I was done with the walls by 9:00, and I decided to take the bus to the main bus station near the port to purchase my ticket in advance to my next destination in Croatia. I returned to Old Town afterwards, where I headed up to the Restaurant Lady Pipi, apparently a popular, well-known joint known for its grilled meats, fantastic views of the walls, and of course, a very NSFW statue right outside its doors. I opted for the catch of the day, which was fresh and tasty. Like with the rest of Dubrovnik, the food certainly wasn’t cheap, and I would say that the restaurant was just average, in terms of food and service.
Afterwards, I decided to check out Buza Bar, which I’d heard was a cool bar built into a cliff with lovely views. Likewise with the restaurant, I didn’t find it particularly special, as the drink options were limited and overpriced, all the while the ocean views pretty, but nothing to write home about.
By then, it was around 14:00, and I was feeling pretty tired from the heat. I returned to my hostel to rest a bit before heading out again to get gelato at Peppino’s. I got pistachio and tiramisu flavors, which were rich, creamy, and bold in taste. Considering that Croatia is neighbors with Italy, they also have some pretty good Italian food!
I wandered along Stradun, checking out the Rector’s Palace and Sponza Palace. Soon enough, I was pretty much done seeing the places I’d wanted to see in Dubrovnik and, after grabbing a takeaway mojito (really!), I returned to the hostel to rest for the evening. I would be leaving the next day, and I wanted to rest to prepare for the journey.
Overall, three nights in Dubrovnik was plenty– aside from the day trip to Montenegro, the Old Town Dubrovnik is so small that a day is enough to see pretty much everything. I found it beautiful, but also unnecessarily expensive, particularly if you know about the Croatian economy and wages. I think Dubrovnik is one of those places where you only need to visit once, but all the same, it’s a pretty destination worth going in one’s lifetime.
More to come soon. Next up: Montenegro!