Ah, Kings Landing.
The funny thing (not to locals) is that ‘Kings Landing’ is now tagged more often across social media than Dubrovnik.
Thank you, Game of Thrones.
I went to Dubrovnik for a few various reasons: it was relatively low-cost, it was new and unknown to me, I love history, and Im a huge Game of Thrones fan. The latter reason didn’t hold any sway over my decision to go to Dubrovnik, but it added a fairly cool element to the 4 days I was there.
There are no words than can truly describe this city to its full potential. It had everything you could possibly imagine, and somehow more.
A Brief History Lesson
The city of Dubrovnik became very prosperous through maritime trade, and it achieved a high level of development throughout the 15th and 16th centuries as it became notable for its wealth and skilled diplomacy.
In 1991, after Yugoslavia broke, Dubrovnik was brutally attacked by the Serb and Montenegrin soldiers apart of the Yugoslav Peoples Army and suffered significant damage. Today you can still see some of the aftermath throughout the city and surrounding area, from burned roofs and collapsed homes and buildings.
After years of repair and restoration, Dubrovnik re-emerged and solidified itself as one of the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean.
While the city averages around 10-15 thousand tourists a day, no amount of people can take away from the beauty and tranquility that truly make it seem like it’s straight out of a Robin Hood movie.
5 Reasons Why Dubrovnik Needs To Be In Your Travel Plans
1. History & Culture
Thats it. Thats all. History.
But seriously, Dubrovnik is enriched in so much history its almost hard to comprehend. From its prosperous rise to becoming a trade leader, from the break of Yugoslavia and the chaos it endured to Napolean Bonaparte’s quest to conquer Europe and other sieges by various conquerers, plagues, earthquakes and inner turmoil.
Dubrovnik Old Town joined the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1979.
You can literally feel the history walking through Old Town.
There are many city tours that you can take throughout Old Town that will allow you to jump back in time and experience a place that has seen and been through so much.
Old Town is home to roughly 800 permanent residents who, in a lot of ways, still live the same way the city always has: with dignity, prosperity and kindness.
Im not one for ‘tours’ and other ‘tourist’ activities, and in Dubrovnik you don’t need to be. While a city tour would still be an enlightening and educational trip through time, you don’t necessarily need it.
I found myself a handful of times just sitting, looking, and thinking about what it would have been like in this marvellous city hundreds of years ago. What its been through and what its blossomed into.
And thats the beautiful part of Dubrovnik: so much is as it was.
The cobblestone streets and stone steps, the stone buildings and handcrafted facades and the triumphant walls. The handmade trinkets and fresh fruit and vegetables and exquisite cuisine plucked right from the sea next door.
If you love history, you will love Dubrovnik.
2. To Walk The Wall
While this could probably be included in the first reason to visit Dubrovnik, I felt it needed to stand alone because the wall around Old Town is that incredible.
Take yourself back in time and feel what it would have been like to defend this seaside town from a soldiers perspective. The wall runs roughly 2km around the Old Town.
It took anywhere from 400-500 years to build, constructed mainly between the 12th and 17th centuries, and have long been a source of pride for Dubrovnik. The moat that ran along the outside of the city walls provided exceptional city defence systems, armed with some 120 cannons.
Here’s a quick 20 second video to give you a sense of just a few of the aspects you can see and experience during the wall walk:
It took me almost an hour and a half to walk the entire wall, stopping every moment I could to revel in what it was I was actually doing and where I actually was.
It opens at 8am, and while I got there around 8:15 there were already people walking in. Im glad I got there early though, because by the time I was finished it was packed.
I mentioned earlier that Im not usually one for the touristy stuff, but this was well worth it. It cost 150 Kuna, or roughly $30, but the views and experience it provided are something I won’t soon forget.
3. The Adriatic, The Beaches And Water Sports
Swimming in the Adriatic Sea was yet another thing I was able to cross off my bucket list in Dubrovnik.
The hostel I stayed at had a great discount on a 3 hour kayak around Old Town, Lokrum Island, a cave, and ended with snorkelling and cliff jumping at a secluded beach and cove area. I originally wanted to SUP around Old Town but kayaking seemed to be not only more prominent and popular, but much cheaper. There are many different kayak tours you can take from various different tour companies.
And boy, did I ever get more out of it than I thought I would.
There was a group of 10 of us. We met at Banje Beach, just outside the Old Town walls, got situated and embarked on an arm-burning ‘yak. Our guide was great, stopping every 10-15 minutes for not only a much needed break, but some story time.
He took us through some of the history of Dubrovnik, where it used to be and where it is today. He provided some very insightful facts about the city and what it has been through, including a few cool (but unnerving) stories about Lokrum Island.
Lokrum is the closest island to Dubrovnik, just a short ferry ride away or about a 15-20 minute kayak. I don’t know all of the details to the legend, but basically the island is said to be cursed. In the 19th century Dubrovnik faced one of its most difficult situations in its history: Napolean Bonaparte.
Long story short (and no doubt with missing elements), the island was home to Benedictine monks who lived and worshiped on the island for centuries. When they were forced off the island, on their last night, they went to the Church of St. Mary to pray. That night, dressed in hooded cloaks and circled the island almost methodically, singing a quiet hymn and turning their candles upside down, dripping the wax all the way around the island. Three times. Various representatives from different aristocratic houses soon met their fate – from drowning in the sea, becoming mentally unstable and jumping from a tower to their death to being killed by servants.
Legend states that the curse will live-on until every drop of wax is plucked from the ground of the island.
To this day no one is allowed to stay overnight and its said that if you take something from the island (such as peacock feathers, as the island is home to many) you will face an uncertain and unkind future. The last ferry leaves at 6pm and you must be on it. Ghosts and spirits are said to be aplenty.
We ended the 3 hour kayak at a secluded beach and cove area just down the shoreline from Dubrovnik where we got to do some snorkelling and cliff jumping. Well, I was the only one who jumped off the cliff. But why wouldn’t I? You only live once.
Needless to say, Dubrovnik has lots of activities on the water, in the water or at the water. I only did the kayak tour, but you can also rent SUP, jet skis, boats and go parasailing, to name a few.
Here’s a little video I quickly put together of the cliff jumping and snorkelling part of the tour:
4. Game of Thrones
This isn’t for everyone, but with the popularity of the show and the fact ‘Kings Landing’ is now a more popular search term for Dubrovnik, its a pretty damn cool experience for us Throners.
Dubrovnik acted as Kings Landing throughout the first 7 seasons. Kings Landing in season 8 is apparently being filmed at a different location in Spain
A word to the wise: do a little bit of research about the tours before you book and don’t book online.
There’s anywhere from 10-15 Game of Thrones tours run by 10-15 different tour operators. Outside Pile Gate (the main gate to the Old Town) you will see stands lining the curb side, manned by 2-3 people who work on commission. They will no doubt be all up in your face trying to get you on their tour.
I mentioned above to not book online. While you most definitely can, paying in cash just allows you more freedom and flexibility; maybe you end up doing something else or show up late. Its not worth the hassle of trying to get a refund.
I did a little lookin’ the day before and ended up going with Dubrovnik Walking Tours. We met at the fountain outside Pile Gate, shared some theories back and forth and embarked on our tour of Kings Landing.
Our guide was amazing. She had insightful facts, behind the scenes stories and, most of all, was a HUGE Game of Thrones fan, so she knew what she was talking about (as much as anyone can know or talk about a fictional television series).
We got to see Blackwater Bay, the Red Keep, the Spanish steps where Cersei started her walk of shame and the area where the town folk started their riot against Joffrey, among other spots. Our guide had a photo album with specific scenes from the show at the various locations we stopped at which allowed for a much more engaging tour.
She had lots of little insightful tips as to the use of CGI throughout the seasons, pointing out in her photo album the various locations they had the Red Keep in the background. Details you would never know or even think to look for, like the crew forgetting to take out ‘The University of Dubrovnik’ from the top of the Spanish steps when Cersei began her walk of shame.
All in all it was well worth the 150 Kuna, or roughly $30, for a 2 hour tour that took us throughout the Old Town, got us entrance into St. Lawrence Fort (the Red Keep), and almost acted as a little history tour of Dubrovnik itself.
Note: the video below wasn’t from the Game of Thrones tour. However, I stumbled across the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra my first night playing a free concert for world tourism day, and as you can see from watching it, IT WAS UNBELIEVABLE. What better way to begin my time in Kings Landing than this?
Quick story: our guide, I think her name was Doris (she didn’t look like a Doris, though), was telling us about the actors and how liked they were among the locals (all of the extras were from the area). They didn’t act like Hollywood movie stars needing constant attention and everything done for them, but rather paid for most of their own meals and hung out in Old Town during their time off as most tourists would.
Except for Margaery. Needless to say, as she got locked in the Great Sept during the season 6 finale, the locals in Dubrovnik were, well, more than pleased. (Fist pump)
And then there was Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Apparently Tyrion didn’t act too differently in real life than he does in the show. The God of tits and wine. He was drunk the entire time. So much so that one night he couldn’t find his way back to the hotel and ended up staying with two random locals in their apartment. The crew couldn’t find him the next day so they had to cancel the entire day of shooting. There were some rules put in place after that I can imagine. What a beauty.
Those two people who’s apartment he stayed at now advertise it on AirBnB with a caption that says, ‘Tyrion Lannister stayed here!’
I guess it isn’t too different from the cocktail bar at the base of the Spanish steps that now sell a ‘shame’ cocktail… for twice the price as a regular one.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan and are in Dubrovnik (Kings Landing), your trip won’t be complete without a GoT tour.
5. The Food
My oh my. The dang food was incredible.
The Croatian diet doesn’t consist of too much meat, but predominately fish, fruit and vegetables, and pasta. Even still, there’s no shortage of restaurants, bars and cafes inside Old Town where you can find almost anything that your appetite is craving.
They also love their coffee, beer and wine. In no particular order.
While the restaurants weren’t too pricey, they were a little above my budget. I still ate out for dinner twice because thats what travel is all about: trying new things and expanding your horizons. I couldn’t not.
Handmade pasta. Fresh seafood. Locally grown fruits and vegetables. Amazing pizza. Mouthwatering Gelato. Warm pastries. And so, so much more
That pasta with mussels meal above, with a beer, was about 125 Kuna, or roughly $25. The other night I grabbed a seafood platter for about 90 Kuna, or roughly $18.
And they were worth every cent.
Part of what makes eating in Dubrovnik so incredible is the fact you have one the most beautiful settings to do it in. Sitting there and indulging in a meal with seafood that was undoubtedly plucked from the sea not long before it was cooked provided such a memorable, and filling, experience.
Whats better than sitting within the Old Town walls and soaking in the history of the cobblestone streets and exquisitely crafted statues while enjoying a meal that won’t get any fresher or taste any better?
I ate a lot of pizza. A lot of pizza. In part because you could get 2 huge pieces for pretty cheap, but also because it was so dang good. Like, some of the best pizza Ive ever had.
The temperature in Croatia in September and October are still quite nice, staying around 20-22 degrees celsius for the most part, so eating outside each night was more than enjoyable.
If I can give one tip about eating at a restaurant in Dubrovnik, its this: don’t choose the first restaurant you come across, or even the second or third.
You can always come back to them but there are so many different options throughout the city. Each one ranging in menu but each one with its own unique and elegant charm.
Get lost (Old Town isn’t that big, so its tough to actually get lost) in all of the alleyways that hold hidden cafes and bars around each turn. It will not only give you a grander experience to the city but you can compare options and prices. I spent almost 20 minutes each night just wandering the city before deciding on a place to eat.
There are also tons of bakeries with unbelievable pastries, gelato bars everywhere and little markets with fresh fruit and vegetables all over the city.
Dubrovnik will not only leave you full, but more than satisfied. I was pleasantly surprised with how incredible the food here was.
The Future Of Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik has had a major surge in tourism over the last 5-10 years, with the popularity of Game of Thrones playing a major role. Over the next few years Dubrovnik has plans to drastically reduce the number of visitors aloud into Old Town to help prevent the city from harmful overcrowding.
UNESCO has warned the city thats its heritage status could be in jeopardy and recommended they cap the number of daily visitors at 8,000 (today they average anywhere from 10-15,000 per day). Dubrovnik mayor Mato Franković went even lower in an effort to do everything he can to preserve the stunning city as best he can, capping the number of daily visitors at 4,000.
They have expectations of losing, potentially, millions of euros over the next few years with decreased tourism. But the quality of the city will grow making it even more of a premier and sought-after destination.
To put all of that in a clearer perspective, last August on one day alone, over 10,000 visitors bought tickets to walk Dubrovnik’s walls. In one day! Couple that with over 600 cruise ships bringing in almost 1,000,000 visitors each year.
You must visit Dubrovnik, sooner rather than later. Not just because of the decrease in tourists being allowed to visit the Old Town, but because the city is that incredible and should be experienced by anyone and everyone who enjoys travelling.
A few additional reasons to visit Dubrovnik
- Affordability. Dubrovnik is more expensive than other cities in Dalmatia, but Croatia as a whole is relatively cost-efficient. You can get more for you money versus similar destinations such as Venice.
- Old Town isn’t the only place you should see. A 30 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride can take you to Babin Kuk, one of the greenest parts of Dubrovnik with restaurants, hotels, bars and beautiful beaches.
- Lokrum Island. I mentioned Lokrum a few times throughout and it is a short ferry ride from the old port. Beautiful walking trails, churches, peacocks everywhere and numerous areas to swim in the Adriatic.
- Its proximity to other destinations. Dubrovnik is situated perfectly in that its – literally – a hop, skip and a jump to other sought after destinations. Italy, Greece, Montenegro, and Austria to name a few.
- The weather. August is the hottest month with temperatures that can rise to above 30 degrees celsius. I was there in late September and each day didn’t go below 20 degrees. Hot enough to lay on the beach and soak in the sun, but not hot enough that you’re sweating constantly and uncomfortable.
Have any questions about Dubrovnik before you go? Let me know and I will give you my low-down.