October 28-30, 2022
I hadn’t been back to the U.S. since we moved, so I took advantage of a meeting in NYC at the end of September and extended my trip to spend nearly three weeks in Kansas City and Atlanta. It was hard being away from Andy (and the pets) for that long, but it was also hard to go more than a month without exploring a new city or country. After a quiet weekend back in London, we were more than ready to get out of town for a quick weekend getaway to Dubrovnik, a city that had been high on our list for years.
Dubrovnik is an ancient walled city on the Adriatic Sea in Dalmatia, the southeastern region of Croatia. It’s been an insanely popular travel destination due to its notoriety as the filming location for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, so we were quite surprised to learn that it’s actually a very small town with a population of ~40,000. The fortified city walls that make Dubrovnik so recognizable also make it impossible for the city to spread out very far beyond its historical city center, which means that the Old Town is almost always jam-packed with hordes of tourists. It was such a treat to visit the city during the off-season — even though the weather was absolutely beautiful for the end of October, the streets were noticeably empty and we were able to really enjoy Dubrovnik’s unique beauty and history in relative solitude.
It was our first time visiting Croatia aside from flying in and out of Zagreb, and it couldn’t have been a more relaxing and charming experience. We had such a nice weekend eating seafood, sampling Croatian wines, and taking in the stunning architecture of the Old Town. As an added bonus, there were tons of (very well-fed) street kitties lounging in all the sunny spots. I have nothing but positive things to say about Dubrovnik and I would highly recommend it as an off-peak weekend getaway.
If you’re planning a trip to Dubrovnik, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations in Croatia and Slovenia.
Food & Drink
- Proto Fish Restaurant: This chic, family-owned restaurant located just off the Stradun is well known for its fresh seafood selection and excellent wine list. We sat on the beautifully decorated top-floor terrace and although the slideshow of celebrity guests playing on every TV was honestly a bit distracting, it was really interesting to see some of the famous guests who have visited the historic restaurant over the last century. The set menu included seabream tartare, a fettuccine shrimp-and-truffle scampi, grilled sea bass, chocolate mousse, and a cheese selection. Everything we ate was absolutely stellar.
- Bistro Tavulin: The lunch we had at this tavern-style restaurant behind St. Blaise’s church was probably the best meal we had in Dubrovnik and the waiters were exceptionally friendly and helpful. The menu was simple and focused on locally sourced, fresh ingredients. The octopus dish that Andy had was his favorite dish of the trip, and we also really enjoyed the local white wine our waitress recommended to us.
- Bota Šare Oyster & Sushi Bar: We stopped at this seafood restaurant behind the Rector’s Palace for a late lunch because of its fantastic views of the city, but we were completely blown away by the food. We just ordered small plates (fresh oysters on the half shell, amberjack hosomaki, and an oyster roll) and a few glasses of wine, and honestly regretted not being able to try more of the fantastic dishes. If we were to go back to Dubrovnik, I would prioritize having a full meal here.
- Restaurant Zuzori: We had a great (and inexpensive) dinner at this tiny, al fresco bistro in an alleyway off of the Stradun. The menu had plenty of Mediterranean-style options in addition to the prerequisite seafood, but we primarily stuck to the latter category and particularly enjoyed the swordfish risotto, seared bluefin tuna steak, and Istrian ham and shrimp croquettes.
- Cogito Coffee Shop: Although it’s a Zagreb-based specialty roaster, there are two (very) tiny locations in Old Town Dubrovnik and they definitely serve the best espresso in town. We got coffee and croissants here each morning, which was the perfect way to start the day.
- Buža Bar: This bar is quite literally a hole in the wall —a doorway in the southern side of the city walls opens up to a well-worn path leading to a tiny bar perched precariously on a cliff overlooking the sea. We went at sunset, which is one of the busiest times of the day, so we sat on some rocks as we enjoyed our beers and watched the sun dip down over the water. During the daytime, the bar is also a super popular location for cliff jumping and swimming.
- Ala Mizerija: We stumbled upon this cliffside bar/restaurant near the Lovrijenac fortress just outside of Old Town while looking for something else and it ended up being the perfect place to grab a few cocktails while enjoying the gorgeous weather. The views were incredible and it seemed like a great swimming spot, too.
- D’Vino Wine Bar: This cozy wine bar was tucked in an alleyway off the Stradun and offered 60+ wines by the glass. There were wines from around the world, but naturally, the primary focus was on Croatian wines. They offered tasting flights, which was a great way to familiarize ourselves with Croatian wine.
- Buzz Bar: We had a drink or two at this casual cafe/bar on a street that ran parallel to the Stradun and had lots of other great bars, restaurants, and boutiques. It had more of a traditional bar vibe, but the cocktail menu was quite extensive and it also seemed like a good place to watch sporting events, etc.
Activities & Attractions
- Stradun: The main thoroughfare in Old Town is a limestone-paved pedestrian street that connects Vrata od Pila (Pile Gate), the western entrance, to Vrata od Ploča (Ploče Gate), the eastern entrance. Although Stradun has been Dubrovnik’s primary promenade since the 13th century, the beautiful uniformity of its current appearance came after the city was rebuilt as a result of the devastating 1667 earthquake in which most of the buildings were destroyed. This intentional rebuilding also means that the majority of the historic buildings and monuments in the city are situated along the Stradun, including the gorgeous Gradski Zvonik (Dubrovnik Bell Tower) on Luža Square with two human figures (known as Maro and Baro) that strike its bell each hour.
- Knežev Dvor (Rector’s Palace): The beautiful Gothic-Renaissance structure across from the Crkva sv. Blaža (Church of St. Blaise) at the end of the Stradun served as the seat of the Rector (head of state) of the Republic of Ragusa from the 14th century until the republic was conquered and formally annexed by the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy in 1808. Today, the stunning and well-preserved building is home to the Museum of Dubrovnik, which was a perfect way for me and Andy to get the SparkNotes version of Dubrovnik’s history.
- Palača Sponza (Sponza Palace): The finest Renaissance highlight in the Old Town is the 16th-century Sponza Palace, one of the only buildings to survive the 1667 earthquake without damage. The gorgeous building on Luža Square has served many purposes throughout its history and it is currently home to the Dubrovnik State Archive and the Memorial Room of the Dubrovnik Defenders, a somber memorial to Dubrovnik residents who perished in the Croatian War of Independence in 1991. We spent 30 minutes or so walking through a special exhibition of photographs taken during the seven-month period in which Dubrovnik was besieged by the Yugoslav People’s Army and suffered significant damage from shelling. It was incredibly powerful to learn about such a horrifying and relatively recent part of history that I really didn’t know anything about before visiting the city.
- Franciscan Church and Monastery: One of the first buildings after passing through the inner Pile Gate is also one of the largest and most impressive Franciscan monasteries in Europe. and church. The original monastery and church were built in the early 14th century and after the earthquake, they were fully restored in the original Renaissance and Baroque styles. The monastery was absolutely gorgeous and it’s also home to the Friars Minor Pharmacy, which is the third oldest functioning pharmacy in the world.
- Dubrovačke Gradske Zidine (Walls of Dubrovnik): Dubrovnik is famously encircled by an uninterrupted, mile-long series of defensive stone walls and 15 fortresses that comprise one of the greatest fortification systems of the Middle Ages. Primarily constructed during the 14th and 15th centuries, the walls have been incredibly well preserved throughout history and are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. You can buy a €33 ticket to tour the walls, but I honestly can’t imagine that it would have been worth that much money to just walk around the walls, especially since the walls themselves made for a more interesting view.
- Lovrijenac (St. Lawrence Fortress): In addition to the fortresses and towers that make up the city walls, there are also multiple fortresses outside the walls built to offer further protection for the city against pirates and invaders. We walked over to Lovrijenac (St. Lawrence Fortress), an imposing fortress and theater built on a 37-meter-high cliff outside the western part of the city walls that was also used as a filming location for the Red Keep and Blackwater Bay in Game of Thrones. The fortress is triangular shaped with three terraces overlooking the Adriatic and although there isn’t much to look at inside, the battlements offer phenomenal views over Old Town and the city walls.
- Jesuit Stairs: The iconic Baroque staircase featured in Cersei Lannister’s “shame” walk in season five of Game of Thrones sits just beyond the fruit and vegetable market in Gundulićeva Poljana (Gundulić Square) and leads to the picturesque Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Boškovićeva Poljana (Bošković Square). I’m not normally one to go out of my way for a photo op, but it was well worth beelining to the genuinely gorgeous staircase first thing in the morning to see it completely empty (aside from a few friendly street cats) before we ate breakfast.