With Dubrovnik battling an over-tourism crisis, travelers face a moral decision on whether to visit the “Pearl of the Adriatic.” Still, it’s hard to diminish a desire to visit the historic, walled city. Dubrovnik’s surge in tourism is largely attributed to the popular HBO series, Game of Thrones (which was partially filmed in Dubrovnik), and as a result, cruise ship traffic. Up to 10,000 cruise tourists walk through the compact Old Town on a summer day. Other cities face similar issues (such as Barcelona, Venice and Amsterdam). One complaint against the cruises is that those who only spend one day in Dubrovnik really don’t help the local economy. There just isn’t much time to really explore the city. If you decide to travel to Croatia, aim to spend at least 2 or 3 days in Dubrovnik. With several days on your travel itinerary, you have time to experience all the city has to offer, while also contributing significantly to the local economy.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site really is a gem worth visiting. The historic Old Town is filled with marbled buildings, cobblestone streets and deep history — a history that can still be seen on buildings and felt among locals. Staying a few days in Dubrovnik (or any destination) allows you to spend your mornings in a coffee shop, take a day trip outside the city and relax in the evenings over a glass of wine. This travel itinerary and planning guide ensures you maximize your three days in Dubrovnik!
3 Days in Dubrovnik
When determining how to spend your three days, first look up the cruise ship schedule. Then, plan your activities based on how many cruise ships are in port. If there are a lot of cruises at port on your first day, skip to the activities recommended on day three (which is spent outside the Old Town – where most of the day-trippers hang out). You can then return to a quiet Old Town later in the afternoon (once people are back on the cruise ships). Here is how I recommend you structure your travel itinerary.
Day 1 in Dubrovnik
One of the most popular things to do in Dubrovnik is walking the City Walls. Whether someone is visiting Dubrovnik for one day or spending a week in Dubrovnik, they are likely to walk the city walls. Similar to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland or Michelangelo’s David in Florence, it’s going to be crowded! Wake up super early and walk the walls before the cruise ship traffic comes in.
The entire walk takes between an hour to two hours depending on how often you stop to take photos or rest. However, it’s difficult to stop for too long — the traffic on the walls goes in one direction. I recommend bringing a water bottle and a small snack. But if you forget (or need a long rest), pop into one of the cafes along the way. Head’s up — there isn’t much shade, either. You may want to wear a hat in the summer, as well as comfortable shoes. There are lots of stairs!
Since you are already wearing comfortable attire from the City Walls, spend the second half of the day exploring Lokrum Island. You can easily spend a few hours on the island. Hop on the 15-minute ferry ride from the Old Port. No need to buy tickets in advance. Simply purchase them on the dock.
On arrival, you are greeted by the dozens of bunnies and peacocks who live in harmony on the island. The animals are one of the many reasons I think Lokrum Island is one of the best kid-friendly activities to do in Dubrovnik. Pick up a map as you depart the ferry. There’s a restaurant/snack shop near the dock. If you didn’t pack a water bottle or snacks, stop here before venturing further into the island. Grab a gelato for your walk, too!
Here are a few things to do on Lokrum Island:
- Dead sea: Take a dip in this saltwater lake.
- Rocky coast: Walk along the rock formations on the edge of the island, which offers spectacular views of the coast.
- Fort Royal: Hike up the steep stairs to Fort Royal. Have your water bottle filled – it’s a hike!
- Monastery: Wander through the ruins of the island’s monastery.
- Botanical Gardens: Wander through the island’s lush gardens.
Take the ferry back into the Old Town in time to watch the sunset at Buza Bar. Note, Buza Bar is NOT a hidden gem. It’s very well-known (thanks to Lonely Planet), so go early (4 – 5 p.m.) to get a table with a good sea view. Buza Bar reminded me how much I love coastal cities. There is something so serene about gazing out to the water and sipping a refreshing drink. If you, too, like this kind of adult pastime, consider planning a trip to Lisbon or traveling to Porto (both in Portugal). They are also great cities on the water!
Warning: The “restrooms” at Buza Bar were really, really gross when I visited. I opted to wait it out. I hope it’s not the same for you, but plan for the worst. Stay for a beer or two, take in what many argue is the best place to watch the sunset in Dubrovnik, and then, get out of there!
Day 2 in Dubrovnik
On the morning of day two in Dubrovnik, spend time getting to know the Old Town. Simply wandering through the cobblestone streets is a day well spent. There are ample boutiques, restaurants, gelato shops and cafes along the main street, Stradum. Step off the main drag and get lost in steep stairs and narrow streets. If you prefer guided tours, you can find a plethora of walking tours here — from Game of Thrones tours to historic tours. A guided tour ensures you learn the history of Dubrovnik and Croatia while also seeing many of the iconic landmarks — such as Rector’s Palace, the bell tower, Onofrio Fountain, etc.
However, the Old Town is very small — you can easily do a self-guided tour from online research or a podcast! Dubrovnik’s Old Town is home to tons of museums, too. As you stroll through the Old Town, you may decide to pop into one or two, such as the Synagogue and Jewish Museum and the War Photo Limited.
Power up on a delicious lunch in the Old Town before heading out on a kayak tour for the second half of the afternoon. There are a couple of kayak tours offered, but I enjoyed the tour with Adventure Dubrovnik. Being out on the water allows you to experience Dubrovnik from a different perspective. The guides ensure the group stays together, avoids rough waters and stays clear of big ships, while also sharing the history of the city. Our two guides gave the group a much better understanding of the 1990s war in the Balkans — how horrific it was and how painful it still is today for many people.
The route takes you along the coast, around Lokrum Island and in a cave. If this sounds like a lot, it is! Prepare yourself for a heck of a workout on this four-hour tour. For this reason, kayaking is one of my favorite ways to work out while traveling! Pack plenty of water and snacks (although a sandwich and water are provided by the tour company) and a swimsuit/towel. The tour stops halfway for everyone to swim, snorkel, rest and eat.
If kayaking is not your thing, I still recommend spending the afternoon on the water. Join one of the many boating tours. There are private speed boats and sailboats you can rent for the afternoon as well (with a captain, of course)! Many of the boat tours take you to nearby islands such as the popular Elafiti Islands.
Day 3 in Dubrovnik
Consider taking a trip on your final day in Dubrovnik. The most popular day trips from Dubrovnik are to Mostar (in Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the Bay of Kotor (in Montenegro). Expect both to take a full day.
Day Trip to the Bay of Kotor
I loved spending the day along the Bay of Kotor, which consisted of stops in Perast, Kotor and Budva. The drive along the bay is so serene and scenic! In Perast, take the two-minute boat ride to Our Lady of the Rocks. It’s so lovely!
Day Trip to Cavtat
If you prefer a shorter day trip, take the ferry or bus to nearby Cavtat. This coastal town is a popular spot to stay the night, as well. Cavtat is small, but it’s filled with shops, restaurants and beaches. You can easily spend a couple of hours here, and then head back for a final afternoon in Dubrovnik.
If you opt out of a day trip, spend some time in the sun at one of Dubrovnik’s beaches. Banje Beach is likely the most convenient beach option. Plus, it’s one of many free things to do in Dubrovnik, although you can splurge and rent an umbrella and chairs if you’d like!
While I opted out of the cable car (wine sounded better at the time!), the photos I’ve seen from the top of Srd Mountain certainly look spectacular. Therefore, you may decide to spend the last few hours of day three taking the cable car up the mountain. There are plenty of positive reviews for the restaurant at the top. Panoramic views and a cocktail? It sounds pretty fantastic.
Where to Eat in Dubrovnik
With three nights in Dubrovnik, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample the local cuisine — lots of seafood! Most restaurants located within the city walls do not have views of the ocean unless you are down by the Old Port. However, dining against the city walls or in the marbled streets has a cool, Medieval feel.
There are also a lot of cafes/restaurants by the Old Port that offer great views of the water from the patio. We thought they were a bit touristy, so we popped in one for only one drink. I would have also liked to try a restaurant just outside of the Old Town at Pile Gate (where you enter the Old Town). However, this is where the buses pick up and drop off. It was always so crowded, so we avoided dining in this area.
Here are several restaurants in the Old Town worth checking out (that we loved):
- D’Vino Wine Bar – Very cozy bar that is nice to relax in after dinner. Great cheese plates, too! They serve local Croatian wines such as the Plavic Mali. Bonus: The staff is so friendly!
- LAJK – Choose a table outside in the street. An exceptional dining experience with delicious seafood and wine! They also have a hearty brunch menu if you are craving a big breakfast.
- Tavulin – A great lunch or dinner spot in the heart of the Old Town. Food was outstanding. We loved the black risotto and gnocchi!
- Oliva Pizzeria – Located right next to Tavulin, the pizza here is incredible! You can dine in or order from the grab and go counter.
- Old Town Market – For the frugal traveler, stop by this local Farmers Market, located in Gundulic Square. For the Game of Thrones fans, it’s near the “Shame” stairs. This open-air market is filled with vendors selling lavender oil, fresh vegetables/fruits, marmalade, nuts, candied orange rinds and other sweet treats.
- Congo Bar – A fun place to pop in for a coffee in the morning or a quick cocktail in the afternoon. It’s located on the main drag right in the hustle and bustle of the Old Town.
Where to Stay in Dubrovnik
I personally think the Old Town is the best place to stay in Dubrovnik. However, accommodations can be a bit pricier in this part of the city. There are many apartment/Airbnb rentals outside the Old Town that offer spectacular views of the city and water. But be aware that you will climb a lot of steep stairs to reach them (uber and public transit are available, though).
If you’re looking to stay a little farther outside of the city, check out Cavtat and Lapad. Both are a relatively quick bus or ferry ride into the Old Town. Check out all of the apartment, hotel and bed/breakfast rentals on Booking.com.
How to Get Around Dubrovnik
If you’re flying into Dubrovnik, you will arrive at the Dubrovnik airport. The easiest option to get to the Old Town is to take the airport bus shuttle, which is operated through Atlas. You can buy your bus ticket in advance or purchase on arrival (if traveling during the off-season). This is the most affordable option.
The shuttle stops at Pile Gate (at the Old Town), the bus station in Gruz and the airport. Other options are to take a taxi, uber or arrange a private transfer beforehand. There is not a train from the airport. If you’re staying in the Old Town (or really anywhere in Dubrovnik), you do not need a car. Simply take the efficient and affordable public bus system.
- What currency is used in Croatia? The Croatian Kuna (HRK).
- What is the airport in Dubrovnik? It’s known as the Dubrovnik Airport but is also called the Čilipi Airport. The airport code is DBV.
- What language do they speak in Croatia? Croatian.
- What type of outlet do they use in Croatia? Type F (which is what most European countries use). Purchase a universal power outlet adapter and you will rarely need to worry about adapters again!
- How much do you tip in Dubrovnik? Tipping etiquette is starting to get confusing for many travelers, and tipping is starting to become an expectation in many well-traveled cities. This is partially because generally most Americans will tip when they are unsure. Our tour guides in Dubrovnik recommended 10-15 percent in restaurants if the service is great. In cafes, they recommend simply rounding up the bill.
- The best month to visit Dubrovnik? I recommend avoiding the peak travel season (June – August) as Dubrovnik is very crowded. May and September are nice times to visit, and you will likely have warm weather. Really, though, it comes down to personal preference. If you plan well, you will have a great time no matter when you visit.
- How long to stay in Dubrovnik? As mentioned at the start, many of the cruise travelers only have one day in Dubrovnik, which I can’t even imagine. In the middle of the summer in Dubrovnik, it’s not uncommon to have 10,000 travelers rushing through the small and compact old town. For that reason, I recommend at least three days in Dubrovnik.
What to Pack for Dubrovnik?
Start by packing comfortable and flat shoes, as the cobblestone streets can be slippery. For any trip – whether you’re planning a long trip abroad or planning one week – always pack a reusable water bottle and a quick-dry towel. Many of the beaches in Dubrovnik and Croatia are pebble beaches, so buy a cheap pair of water shoes before your trip. If you forget, there are plenty of vendors in Dubrovnik to purchase them from. Gadget-wise, you may need to purchase a universal power outlet adapter and a power bank for a phone.
There you go! I hope this travel itinerary helps you plan your trip to Dubrovnik. Happy travels!
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