LOCATION: DUBROVNIK, CROATIA
What does the Venetian Republic, hoards of cruise liners full of elderly passengers, and Game of Thrones all have in common? You’ll find them in Dubrovnik! If Dubrovnik were a virtue it would be patience, yes patience, to deal with the imposed rulers, the crowds, and American Game of Throne fans who have and are currently wandering about its cobblestone roads. So I won’t bore you with Dubrovnik’s esteemed history, nor use any cliche ‘pearl or the Adriatic’ references, because you’ll hear it everywhere here along with this mantra: Dubrovnik is expensive. But does it have to be? Let’s find out.
To be completely honest with you, yes, Dubrovnik is an expensive destination and it is probably the most expensive city to visit in Croatia; although by European standards I’ve spent a whole lot more traveling through other places such as Scandinavia. My first word of advice with visiting Dubrovnik is to budget higher for your stay here than you would for other Croatian cities. Where you can save money on will depend on your circumstances and will generally revolve around accommodation, food and sights.
Where to Stay
Accommodation is your biggest expense so if you know someone who can offer you free accommodation, milk that for all it’s worth. Siu On and I decided to stay within the Walls as we planned to get up early for photos and wanted to be able to duck in and out of our digs when it got too hot or too busy, and went with a mid-range self catered apartment (825 Kuna per night on weekdays). Otherwise the further outside the walls, the cheaper it gets.
Getting there and away
Catching the bus down will be your easiest and most cost effective mode of transport, otherwise you could catch a ferry or plane over as there is a ferry terminal and airport on the outskirts of town. I’ve only caught the bus down and the price will vary depending on where you get on (for example a one way bus ticket between Sibenik and Dubrovnik set us back 174 Kuna each and took seven hours). Also factor in the local bus to take you from the station to the Pile Gate, buses 1A and 1B will take you direct and cost 15 Kuna.
Tip: If you’re going by car or bus, be aware that you will cross through to Bosnia and Herzegovina, so have your passport or EU ID card on hand to show the boarder guards on the way out and back into Croatia.
Highlights of Dubrovnik’s Sights
Let me get the pink elephant out of the room and up first:
1. Walk the walls
Dubrovnik’s Walls are what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, the Colosseum to Rome, the Empire State Building to New York – you get my drift. Normally I’d say wear shoes with good grip but since Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, many historical sites including Dubrovnik have received funds towards restoration and upgrades. Ten years ago I slipped and fell from the highly polished surface of the stone, but found that they had fixed this completely so you can wear the worst shoes you have (though I would still wear sensible shoes). To avoid the worst of the crowds, get on the walls early in the morning. And lastly, a walk along the walls costs 120 Kuna and the ticket also grants you entry to Fort Lorvjenac, which is located on the outside of the walls. Yes it’s super touristy, but it is pretty amazing – and I’ve walked them four times now!
2. Museums of Dubrovnik
There are many museums here and if you plan on visiting any of the ones listed below then bypass the Dubrovnik Card and buy your ticked from your first museum or gallery. 100 Kunas will give you entry to seven museums and two galleries within a seven day period and include:
- Ethnographic Museum
- House of Marin Drzic
- Dubrovnik Natural History Museum
- Cultural History Museum and Rector’s Palace
- Dulcet Masle Pulitica Gallery
- Maritime Museum
- Archeological Museum
- Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
- Studios Pulitica
Siu On and visited the Cultural History Museum and Rector’s Palace and the Maritime Museum to learn more about the city’s past. If you only want to go to one museum and aren’t fussed on any particular one then I highly recommend the Cultural History Museum for a good city overview.
3. The Cable Car
I’ve missed going up the Cable Car four times, but this time I made it! A round trip costs 120 Kuna each and is located just outside the Buza Gate. The view from Mount Srd looking down on the cluster of terracotta roof tops and out to the azure ocean was stunning. I also enjoyed wandering around the grounds of the Imperial Fort, which was built by Napoleon 200 years ago and used to defend the city during the 1991 Siege of Dubrovnik.
4. Franciscan Monastery
We chose the Franciscan Monastery (30 Kuna each) as it was nearest to the exit from the walls, and it had a gorgeous little open air courtyard that we could see from the top of the walls. Inside is a small museum housing religious icons and artefacts, an old working apothecary and the courtyard. Many tour groups come through here, though they tend to move on very quickly so you can wait them out and get the area to yourself before the next tour comes through.
And I know what you’re wondering: I did not do a Game of Thrones tour. I’ve never even seen the show! However, if you’re a fan and want to do one, see if you can get the guide that dresses up in a Robin Hood-like outfit because we followed his tours around on two separate occasions and he was really into it!
5. War Photo Limited
If you’re interested in the more gritty and recent history of Dubrovnik a visit to War Photo Limited‘s stark gallery walls should be on your itinerary. The Gallery costs 40 Kuna each and is open til late, and includes a rotating exhibition of war photography from numerous conflicts. During our visit we perused Eddy van Wessel’s Road to Caliphate exhibition and the permanent collect of images documenting the ex-Yugoslavia conflict. It is a reminder that this part of the world has only known peace for a relatively short time, despite the appearance of the city outside of the gallery, but a very good and different photography gallery none-the-less.
Eating and Drinking
Our rule of thumb for eating on a budget was to avoid any bar, restaurant or cafe that Beyonce graced with her presence. Beyonce = I can’t afford it. A self explanatory equation. Additionally, avoid eating and drinking on the Stradun (the main street) as the prices were very high due to the location. To save on food we bought breakfast and lunch from the Konzum in Gundulic Square since our accommodation had a mini kitchenette, and shopped around the back streets for cheap eats, which included the burgers at Fast Food Presa (around 80 Kuna for two people) and the kebab wraps from Tutto Bene, and local beers from the supermarket.
Siu On and I did splurge on one expensive meal at Zuzori and had pricey espresso (19 Kuna) at probably one of the best drinking spots on the Stradun at Cafe Festival, purely for the people watching and view up and down the main strip from the Pile Gate to the Astronomical Clock. YOLO.
For a cheaper and more local coffee option look for Caffe Bar Libertina which is just off the Stradun, here an espresso in its old interiors will set you back an affordable 8 Kuna. This small and atmospheric cafe is full of mostly locals talking loudly in Croatian, and was one of the popular meeting places during the 1991-92 Siege of Dubrovnik; if you check out any of the war photographic exhibitions around the city you’ll recognise it’s unchanged interior – only the owner Luci is a little older and the fashions of the locals a lot more modern. This place was my favourite in Dubrovnik as it reminded me of the little cafe my father used to frequent back home in Fremantle, it definitely had a comfortable and homey feel to it and we ended up coming back here again and again.
So how was my fifth time in Dubrovnik? Surprisingly after five visits to Dubrovnik, I still enjoy coming here. Even over the time I’ve been here (the last was ten years ago) I’ve seen the Old Town restored to a state that it was no where near on my first visit. The mortar bomb and bullet marks are harder to spot, and there are less locals hanging around within the wall, but remarkably it still retains it’s charm despite the mass tourism that’s present. What also made it special was watching Siu On see Dubrovnik for the first time, it helped me to see it with new eyes and his curiosity was infectious – it really opened up the city more than any of my four previous visits. My stand out experiences were walking the Walls, sitting in Cafe Bar Libertina and taking the Cable Car up Mount Srd. Would I return a sixth time? I’ll leave that one up to the universe, but if I did, I probably wouldn’t mind.
For more articles on Croatia you can have a read of them here. And as always we’d love to hear from you so give us a follow on Instagram (@thetravelleur) or a like on Facebook! We hope this give you hope that there are still some affordable options in Dubrovnik for whatever budget you’re travelling on.
Jelena and Siu On
Second photograph by Auyeung Photography, all others by Jelena Stipanicev.