Dubrovnik is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean Sea. Historically known as Ragusa, it is situated on the southern Adriatic Sea coast and is considered the most picturesque city on the Dalmatian coast. It is referred to as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic.’
The old city of Dubrovnik was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its exceptional medieval architecture in 1979. Due to this, the old town has been featured in several Hollywood shows as a filming location, most notably, Game of Thrones.
As of the 9th of April, Croatia has abolished practically all restrictive Covid measures. EU citizens can now enter Croatia without any requirements. Those arriving from other countries must show a Covid certificate or a negative PCR or Antigen test before arriving at the border.
A local’s guide to Dubrovnik
What can you expect to get out of your visit as the city prepares to welcome back tourists? I visited Dubrovnik a few years back now, so to get a feel of what it’s like right now, I spoke to, Ivan Vukovic, a Dubrovnik tour guide. Ivan has been featured in several major media outlets for his work, such as CNN, BBC, and National Geographic, to name a few.
Ivan has lived in Dubrovnik his whole life and has traveled to 125 countries, yet he told me there is no better place to live than Dubrovnik. “Dubrovnik is my home. With a great climate all year round, it is a tourist mecca where I run my business. It still gives me chills and a wow effect every time I return home from my travels.”
What makes the city unique from others in Croatia, then? Ivan explained, “There is much more to Dubrovnik than the old town, and I hate to see people come for a day or two and not get the vibe. It is a walled city, rich in history from ancient to modern times, and it was the Republic of Dubrovnik for 450 years until the arrival of Napoleon.”
“We have a specific dialect that can remind you of the Italian language as Venetians have influenced us. We are also an exclave still, which means we are separated from the rest of the country by part of Bosnia & Herzegovina.”
This is set to change as a bridge is being built so people can bypass Bosnia & Herzegovina in the next 2-3 months and travel from Dubrovnik to other parts of Croatia by road without stopping at the border.
Dubrovnik has seen a change over the last decade, with an influx of tourists. I wanted to know the key reason behind this and its impact on the city.
“We had been stigmatized by the war which happened during the 1990s. And the fall of Yugoslavia was followed by the aggression of Serbs and Montenegrins on Croatia. People did not think that Croatia was a safe holiday destination.”
“Then it was a reversal. Cruise ships started coming back with tour groups and independent travelers. The filming of Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Robin Hood, and Bollywood movies removed that war stigma in the last ten years. It has now become overcrowded with tourists and cruise ships that have not been limited and controlled.”
When Covid hit, Dubrovnik was one of many cities worldwide to hit the ground as it had become so reliant on tourism. For this reason, Ivan believes the city needs to be more diverse in the future in terms of economic growth and not rely solely on tourism.
There is plenty to see and do when you visit Dubrovnik, but what are the must-do’s, whether seeing a landmark or doing an activity? “I love kayaking during hot summer days or a full-day tour to the wine region Peljesac to try some Zinfandel as Croatia is its homeland.” Zinfandel is a variety of black-skinned wine grapes. “If you are more adventurous, rent a scooter, not a bike, as it’s a bit hilly, and drive through local roads to see more of the city.”
“Hiking up to Srd mountain is an amazing experience. In an hour, you will be atop the mountain and rewarded by fantastic sunrise or sunset, depending on when you climb. I would avoid walking mid-day.”
“Dubrovnik Card is a great scheme, so when you buy one, you can visit most museums and other city highlights like city walls and fortresses. If you are a history buff, you have to do a city tour with me!”
Are there any hidden gems Ivan can let us in on, unknown to the public? “There are many things you cannot find in brochures. Visiting the park Orsula, which overlooks Lokrum Island, is fantastic; you can also walk there and see the abandoned hotel Belvedere where locals go for a swim. Local experience at its best.”
“Visiting charming Cavtat and breaking away from Dubrovnik crowds. It’s a 45-minute boat ride from old town Dubrovnik with breathtaking views. You can swim in the source of the Ombla river, one of the shortest rivers in the world.”
Ivan continued to tell me, “Island hopping is great. Elaphiti Island by private speedboat or traditional wooden boat where local fishers catch fish is a day trip option. If you want to see more, another option is to go to the national park Mljet.”
Where to eat and drink in Dubrovnik
After a long day of exploring, I am sure you would like to hit the town to experience the city’s ambiance. I recall the nightlife in Dubrovnik being pretty jazzy, although I wish I had known Ivan before I went as I asked him where people should go if they wanted to have a good night.
“To start, you can have some cocktail drinks on the rooftop bar at Love Bar in the port of Gruz, watching the sunset and enjoying the live music. If you are a beer lover, you should check Dubrovnik Beer Company and do some tastings in the same Gruz port.”
“The night continues in bars which are situated in the side streets of the old town like Karaka, Buzz, Glam, or D’vino. The finale is in Revelin Club, a huge medieval fort transformed into a nightclub. Sunrise is amazing from their top terrace.”
One thing I love about traveling is trying out the food! Whilst I was there, I thoroughly enjoyed what Dubrovnik had to offer in terms of cuisine. So, where are the best places to eat in Dubrovnik, and are there dishes that people must try out?
“Most locals go to restaurants we call Konoba, like a cozy tavern. The local food is seafood as we love our fish from the Adriatic. Anchovies in olive oil or sardines and oysters to start. Your main dish can be black cuttlefish risotto or fish on the grill like seabass, seabream, john dory, or scorpio fish. We also love to prepare mussel Buzara as something traditional.” Cuttlefish are firm and white with a mild, slightly sweet, almost nutty flavor. Buzara-style cooking usually involves shellfish or crustaceans cooked with olive oil, wine, garlic, breadcrumbs, and fresh herbs.
“There is a ‘meat under the bell’ if you do not like seafood. It’s traditional to put veal and some other meat together with potatoes under the iron bell in a fireplace, cover it with coal, and slowly cook it for 2-3 hours. Something similar to Shuwa in Oman.” Shuwa is a dish of slow-cooked marinated lamb or goat.
“For those with a sweet tooth, there is always a dessert called Stonska Torta (cake from Ston).” One of the ingredients in this dessert includes pasta.
Ivan also made some suggestions on coffee. He made it crystal clear about one type. “Please do not order Americano because it’s not coffee! Cafe latte, cappuccino, macchiato, all of that works but Americano, no!”
When to visit Dubrovnik
In terms of visiting Dubrovnik, when should people consider traveling over there. “Pre-season like March/April. You won’t be able to swim as the water won’t be warm, but you will be crowd-free. I also prefer October.”
“Meeting locals is the best from December to February. It is a bit cooler but sunny. You can be a part of our tradition of how we celebrate Christmas, and we have the Dubrovnik Winter Festival and festivity of Saint Blaise in February. All rounded up with delicious local cuisine.”
How expensive is Dubrovnik?
Since the pandemic affected the city’s economy, and I remember it being expensive when I visited, how cost-effective is Dubrovnik right now?
“Beware, Dubrovnik is not a cheap destination as it is mostly open to U.S. and U.K. markets. However, Dubrovnik has it all! Various offers from fine dining restaurants to more leisure ones. The most expensive dining experience is inside the walled city. I prefer those Konoba, taverns, where you can eat local food as travel is learning about someone’s culture through food.”
“Same with accommodation. From five-star hotels to private villas with butlers to Airbnbs. If you want that medieval feeling, stay at least one night inside the walled city as there are many Airbnbs to rent. Outside of the city, there are many villas on the seafront. If you want a hotel stay, the Lapad area is a great part of the city. Honeymooners love Dubrovnik as the location is very photogenic and very romantic.”
How long to stay in Dubrovnik
So what will be the overriding experience when people leave Dubrovnik? Ivan told me, “When you wake up early and stroll over main Stradun street, you will feel that somebody has kicked you back by 500 years. That’s the experience. I suggest staying for at least seven days. Dubrovnik needs slow travel, and you will then leave Dubrovnik with a great experience.”
Dubrovnik was just a majestic place for me when I visited. I am looking forward to going back there very soon; as Ivan has said, he will take me around off the beaten path.
I will leave the final words for Ivan to sum up Dubrovnik and why it’s such a unique place in his heart. ”I am pretty sure that I will never move from Dubrovnik. I will travel, but I will always return. Dubrovnik is my home, where my heart is. I will always be in love with it.”