Located in the Croatian region of Dalmatia, Dubrovnik, which is usually referred to as Pearl of the Adriatic, gained major recognition for being the main filming location for King’s Landing, capital of the Seven Kingdoms, in the popular television series Game of Thrones. But was it the only reason that sparked interest in this town? That’s difficult to answer.
I, for an instance, had never heard of the name Dubrovnik until the moment I watched the show and the statistics do not lie. However, this article is not about the growth of tourism in the region. It is about how I spent a day discovering this amazing town.
Arrival in Dubrovnik
The sun had set by the time we arrived in Dubrovnik. We had ran out of food and we were starving. We parked the car, we checked in at the guest house and then we went outside to search for a place where we could buy food. Thankfully there was an open grocery store not far from where we were staying.
Back in our room, we ate and we prepared everything for checking out the next morning. The room wasn’t that great, but we just wanted a place to sleep for a few hours and have a quick shower before heading out to discover the walled city.
If you’re traveling by car, parking near the Old Town of Dubrovnik can definitely be a challenge, especially if you’re trying to avoid paid parking. I have decided to share with you the name of the street where I parked for free and a map of the area.
Street name: Ulica Kneza Branimira
Walking distance to Old Town: 1.5 – 2.0 Km
City Walls of Dubrovnik
The ancient city walls that surround the Old Town are the main attraction of Dubrovnik. I’d say that 150 Kuna (20 Euros) is a little bit pricy, but it worth it. The walls have a length of 1940 meters and offer the best scenic views of the city.
As soon as we passed Pile Gate, the city’s main gate, we purchased our tickets and we climbed the wall. Our tour on top of the massive walls that encircle the old town of Dubrovnik started from the western wall, where lies the Croatian flag.
The place was not as crowded as I had expected it to be. However, there were many Chinese tourists traveling in group and it ended up being funny to be in the middle of them. I admire them for being always so happy and focused on shooting as many pictures as they can, with their really big camera lenses. We even ended up taking some photographs together. For a moment I felt like a star when I was approached by a Chinese lady requesting to take a photo of my Final Fantasy VII sleeve tattoo and giving me a thumbs-up afterwards.
From the western wall you get a great view of Fort Lovrijenac, a triangle shaped fortress made of limestone, that was built in just three months. Often called “Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar”, it is the real-life setting of the Red Keep in Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik West Harbour, which can be seen from the top of the western wall, was also used as a filming location for Game of Thrones. If you’ve seen the television series, you’ll probably remember Blackwater Bay and the battle that took place in it. In real life, the water is everything but black. Crystal clear water, a rocky beach, and dozens of kayaks which you can rent and paddle on the Adriatic Sea, all the way to Lokrum and back.
Lokrum is the name of the island 600 meters south of Dubrovnik. Just like I mentioned in the last paragraph, you can kayak all the way to the island from the West Harbour. The Adriatic is very calm, there are barely any waves. It is the perfect sea for this kind of activity.
On the southern wall there are a few bars where you can rest for a moment and grab something to drink or eat. Expect it to be very expensive! There’s a particularly different bar, located south of the wall, which can be accessed through a small opening in the wall. You can also sunbath in that area!
As you keep walking, you’ll reach the location of the Old Port of Dubrovnik, which was for many centuries one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean Sea. That’s where you can rent a small boat and sail the region.
The highest point is Minčeta Tower, a circular fort on the north wall ending which offers the best panoramic view of the entire city. This tower also houses the Foundry Museum which can be accessed from the lower level.
Inside the Walls
There are several points of interest in the Old Town of Dubrovnik. All of these can be seen from the top of the walls, but it’s only on ground level that you get to explore them.
Stradun, or Placa, is the name given to the main pedestrian street that runs through the Old Town from Pile Gate to the eastern wall. This is the main shopping street, where most restaurants, bars and historic buildings can be found.
The very first one is the Large Onofrio’s Fountain found at the right side of Stradun as soon as you pass the gate. It was Dubrovnik’s main water supply for five centuries since its construction in the first half of the 15th Century. In the year of 1667, an earthquake hit the city damaging most of the buildings and killing an estimated number of 5,000 people. The fountain’s stone cupola, just like most of the town was destroyed and later replaced.
The tall Bell Tower on the left side of the main street, belongs to the Franciscan Church and Monastery, which we didn’t visit. The entire building consists of a church, a monastery, a library and a pharmacy. The pharmacy is the world’s 3rd oldest functioning pharmacy and dates back 800 years, to the year of 1317.
Stradun ends at Luza Square, where stands the 31-meter tall Clock Tower, one of the symbols of Dubrovnik, the Orlando’s Column, a stone monument that was carved 700 years ago and the baroque-style Church of Saint Blaise built in the 18th Century.
The Old Town picturesque narrow streets are amazing, there’s plenty to explore and many hidden gems to discover. For example, one of the most memorable scenes of Game of Thrones was Cersei’s walk of atonement. The filming location for this scene was the Historic Jesuit Staircase. Those were the stairs that the character Cersei had to walk down, while naked and exposed to the city’s population. This staircase also leads to another point of interest, the Saint Ignatius Church, one of the many churches inside the walls.
A friend of mine had visited the town some months before, and he told me that I should definitely avoid drinking beer inside the massive walls, explaining it was too expensive. I thought expensive could mean four or five euros each beer, so we sat down at one of the restaurants of Gundulic Square, where takes place the morning fruit market, and as soon as I grabbed the menu I understood that a single beer would cost me 50 Kuna! Can you even believe that? Paying 7 Euros for a beer in Croatia? Not even in Belgium! But we stayed, we needed a place with free Internet just for a few minutes to find and book a place to spend the night. I drank my beer, my girlfriend drank her fresh orange juice, which wasn’t cheap either, and we made it last.
There’s a large number of stray cats in Dubrovnik. In the Old Town, we found a small cat community and a shelter created with the purpose of helping our four-legged friends. We’re animal lovers, so it felt great seeing that there’s also more people out there willing to help.
Exploring the Coast
In the summer of 2016 we had a very good experience sailing the Aegean Sea in the region of Thessaloniki. This time we wanted to repeat something similar and explore the coast of Dubrovnik.
We walked down to the Old Port and we quickly found what we were looking for, a boat excursion along the city walls and the Island of Lokrum. Unfortunately it didn’t go as we had expected. I had seen so many glass bottom boats, I just didn’t know we would end up taking the worst looking one. Huge disappointment. But well, just because a boat looks old and the green bottom glass doesn’t allow you to see anything, it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the experience, right?
Smoke was coming out of the engine and it didn’t start. After many attempts it finally started running. Crashing and drowning in the Adriatic Sea was a possibility, I thought to myself.
Circling around the walls was the first part of our tour, all the way to the West Harbour of Dubrovnik and Fort Lovrijenac. As we chartered the small boat along the walls, we could see people swimming in open water.
The beautiful island of Lokrum was the next destination in our boat tour itinerary. It is said that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia, had intended to spend summer vacation in the island, in the year of their assassination in Sarajevo. Unfortunately the boat didn’t stop and we were quickly returning.
A few minutes later we were back on land. I wouldn’t call it a bad experience, but for the price we paid I’m pretty sure we could have found better. If you’re going on one of these glass bottom boats, make sure you know which boat will be taking you on the excursion.
Our short stay in Dubrovnik was now over, from here we headed to the small coastal town of Cavtat, to spend the night.
Stay tuned for the next part of The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip