Few can fathom the bewitching, anachronistic vista of the walled city of Dubrovnik. Those familiar with the hype probably hold it in the same category as Hogwarts, or any other mythical place the mind watermarks as ‘unreal’. But make no mistake: Dubrovnik is real, and two days in this Croatian seaside stunner offers just enough time to get a sense of what the city’s about. 48 hours in Dubrovnik takes in the Old Town, a nightclub in a castle, and a visit to Lokrum Island.
Sneak in the back door and walk Dubrovnik’s historic walls
Every visit to Dubrovnik starts with a problem that’s befuddled many visitors — friendly and otherwise — over the last few centuries: how to get in. Dubrovnik’s main entrance throughout most of its history was the west-facing Pile Gate. Yet the hordes of tourists crowding the city’s entrance have turned ‘Pile Gate’ into a synonym for ‘logjam’. If you’re staying in accommodations just outside the Old Town (as you should), plan to leave early so you can reach the city by 8am at the latest. Instead of entering via the Pile Gate, hang a left and walk along the Ulica Iza Grada (the Street Behind the City). The thoroughfare hugs the Old Town’s outer edge, putting the complexity and grandeur of the walls on full display while keeping you in the shade.
Then enter Dubrovnik through the east-facing Vrata od Ploča (The Doors of Ploča). The entrance offers a bucolic view of the quay from a stone bridge, passing under stunning limestone arches, around the massive Dominican Monastery to finally land on the town’s main street, the Stradun.
While there, stop by one of the cafés lining the street and people-watch over a cup of coffee, with the most popular local choice being a macchiato with a glass of cold water. Others may start the day with a shot of rakija, a kind of grappa that’s often flavoured. Pro tip: If an establishment is offering homemade rakija on the house, always accept it if you can.
Finally, make your way toward the Pile Gate via the Stradun. The entrance to the walls will be to the right, just after the Franciscan Monastery. Climb to the top and walk along the walls, enjoying a view of the terracotta roofs and crystalline Adriatic Sea. There are only a few shops clumped together on the city walls, so be sure to bring a bottle of water and a snack with you.
Grab a bite and avoid a sunburn
Depending on when you’re visiting, high noon in Dubrovnik can reach unpleasant temperatures. Thankfully, the city offers plenty to see indoors. After you come down from the city walls, head over to the nearby Franciscan Monastery. Walk through the tranquil courtyard, then stop by its pharmacy. It’s one of the oldest in Europe, still selling medicines to local residents alongside a museum showcasing older wares. The city boasts a host of other museums within its walls, two of the best being the Maritime Museum, or War Photo Limited, where the photographic exhibits illustrate the city’s siege during war in the 1990s and the realities of war more widely.
You’ll probably work up an appetite after this exploration. Grab a solid lunch at Dalmatino, arguably one of the best eateries for local food with a modern twist. Try Žrnovski Makaruni – a traditional handmade pasta – with beef cheeks and cheese.
See the city’s other historic walls
Once you’ve had a meal, cut through the Old Town and Stradun, grabbing an ice cream along the way. Then make your way to the Pile Gate.
Just outside, you’ll see Fort Lovrijenac (St Lawrence Fortress), overlooking Dubrovnik atop a large jutting rock. Pass along Dubrovnik’s oldest harbour, the Kalarinja, which will be recognisable to even casual Game of Thrones fans. Your tickets to the city walls will give you access to the fort, which has been Dubrovnik’s first line of defence during its long history of attempted invasions.
Party in a castle or at the water’s edge
Dubrovnik’s small size and historic designation limit the number of night clubs available, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. End the day where it started, at the Ploča entrance in Dubrovnik’s east. There, just past the stone bridge and inside the historic ramparts, you’ll find Culture Club Revelin. The night club has a knack for drawing local celebrities and famous footballers, though it can be pricey. For a more subdued and authentic experience, head around port to the Porporela, the pier jutting east out of the Old Town. There, locals put up a makeshift bar with fully-stocked fridges and a workable sound system. Grab a glass of wine and dangle your feet over the edge and into the water.
Get your Game of Thrones fix on Lokrum Island
While most of the Game of Thrones-themed offerings in Dubrovnik (e.g. King’s Landing) are the epitome of ‘tourist trap’, there’s one location offering a GoT fix while also keeping non-devotees interested: Lokrum Island.
This nature reserve is about 600m (1,967ft) from Dubrovnik and accessible via 15-minute boat rides, which run several times a day. It’s a favorite among locals as well, including cookbook author Jadranka Ničetić. “You’ll enjoy every minute in the shadows of the thick pine forest,” she tells Culture Trip, adding it offers everything from people-watching to nature walks. The island has a rich, 1,000-year-old history that includes Benedictine monks, a castle and Austrian archdukes. What’s more, it was a filming location for HBO’s hit series, and has its own Iron Throne.
Avoid the climb and stay at seaside
Unless you’re determined to get a photo of the Old Town from a great height, avoid the crowds and skip the cable car ride to the top of Mount Srđ. Instead, stay at the seaside and enjoy a seafood lunch at Lokanda Peskarija, located on the site of Dubrovnik’s historic fish market.
Find a hole in the wall and swim
Croatia’s coastal cities are renowned for their western-facing views of the Adriatic Sea — and therefore sunsets. The golden hour at sunset draws Instagram-happy tourists to the walls like flies to sugar. Don’t worry, there’s an alternative.
Once lunch has settled, grab some swimming gear (weather permitting) and get over to Buža Bar, a cliffside establishment accessible through a literal hole in the city’s walls – the word ‘buža’ means ‘hole in the wall’. Get there early, snag a spot with a good view and have some local lager – Karlovačko or Ožujsko. You may need a few beers to work up the courage to take a jump off the cliff and into the water.
Indulge in Croatian wine
End your stay with a relaxing and enlightening look at Dalmatia’s vaunted winemaking tradition. The city has several wine bars offering well-regarded local vintages, but Malvasija is arguably the Old Town’s best. The locale offers wine made in the Konavle vineyards, which is just south of Dubrovnik. It’s as authentic as you could get. Malvasija also offers your standard mix of sharing boards with cheeses, prosciutto and other local snacks to match your choice of wine.