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Hidden Gems in Old Town Dubrovnik

When folks come to me for Dubrovnik recommendations, I first assault their eardrums with too many enthusiastic exclamations. Never one to play it cool, that's me.

But I quickly take it down eight notches and do my best to temper expectations.

Not because Dubrovnik isn't gloriously beautiful and not because it isn't the medieval town of your dreams with its terracotta roofs and water as electrifyingly blue as Chris Pine's eyes. But because it's the sunny, beachy medieval town of everyone's dreams. In the last decade, Dubrovnik has experienced a tourism boom that continues to skyrocket, largely thanks to Game of Thrones fans and Pinterest browsers.

For many, this is their first impression of this little town:
Feeling a bit claustrophobic?

I got you.

After a three-week stay in 2015 plus 4 more wonderful days the following year, Cassandra and I feel that we are well-equipped with tips & tricks on navigating Dubrovnik. Our tactic:

1. Get Out Of Old Town

The epicenter of Dubrovnik is, yes, the walled medieval city. But it really takes one day (or less) to meander through its maze-like streets and alleyways. If you're lingering for more than a day here, I highly recommend day trips like oyster- and wine-tasting in the Peljesac peninsulachartering a boat to take you island-hopping, checking out Marco Polo's birthplace of Korcula, or visiting the tiny haunted island of Lokrum. Staying in a neighborhood outside of Old Town also allows for a much-needed reprieve from the crowds, and for access to beaches that are more local haunts than tourist favorites. We like staying in Lapad, which is a 10-minute bus ride from Old Town!

2. Avoid Old Town During Peak Hours

  • Show up e a r l y: like, 7:00am or earlier. We discovered this trick by accident. We used to roll into Old Town around 10am or in the afternoon... only to be confronted with cruise ship folks streaming into town by the hundreds. One day, Cassandra and I forced ourselves to go to Old Town at 7am to finish a class project and there was literally no one there except for a nun and some delivery guys dropping off the day's goods at restaurants and cafes. Once there...
  • Hit up the Gundulic Square farmers' market: this farmers' market is open every day until 1pm and you can find all sorts of delicious treats (try figs & candied orange peels & brandy!) and cute trinkets to bring home. Before 8-9ish, this is where locals go for their fruits & veggies. Definitely a more authentic vibe, and excellent for people-watching to your heart's content! When tourists begin to arrive, vendors will throw a tarp over the produce and uncover the prettier, packaged goodies. Once you've had your fill...
  • Walk the City Walls right when it opens: if it's your first time in Dubrovnik, you have to walk the City Walls. The views are unbelievable (as will be your Instagrams). Again, this is something that literally every tourist will do. So make sure you're at the entrance of the City Walls before it's open so that you can be one of the first ones up (hours & additional info here). This is also crucial in the summer because the heat up there is CRAY, and you'll want to be done before the sun's at full force. 

  • Return to Old Town at night: there will still be a lot of people out and about, but the cruise ship crowds will have disappeared. The vibe is a lot mellower. Walk up and down Stradun with a gelato in hand, or stop at a wine bar for a chill evening. 

3. Lose Yourself In The Labyrinth & Stumble Upon Literal Holes-In-The-Wall

In Dubrovnik, Cassandra and I love practicing the art of "drifting," which is essentially just walking around aimlessly, allowing the geography to dictate where your foot falls next. In other words: stash away your Google Maps and itinerary, and poke your head into any alleyway or corner that calls out to you! You'll soon stumble across eclectic stores and quiet cafes, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets. A couple of personal favorites include:

  • Buža Bar - you enter this cliffside cafe / bar with dazzling views (in the picture below, you'll see Buža Bar from the City Walls) by ducking into a literal hole in the wall. I'd skip drinks here as it's a bit on the pricier end, but follow the flocks of tanned youths down to the cliffs, from which you can dive into the Adriatic! 

  • Ivona's House - a jewelry store full of the most whimsical designs. I drooled over all the lovely pieces during my first time in Dubrovnik, and insisted we re-visit so that I could pick out something special. We almost weren't able to find the store again, but literally just walked around in circles until we came across it again.

4. Grab An Icy Treat Or A Glass Of Wine

More than likely, you'll be in Dubrovnik during the summer... fair warning: it's steamy there from May all the way through early October. But that's the perfect excuse for a treat! My go-to's are generally ice cream, a nice coffee, or red wine (Croatia is also likely the only place in the world I'll allow myself to enjoy a chilled white wine, which is typically not my cup of tea). My top choice for each:

  • Dolce Vita: the best ice cream in Old Town, 100%. Approved by locals as well as yours truly. My favorite is a scoop of Jaffa and a scoop of hazelnut or chocolate, a DREAM. You can enjoy your ice cream on the cushions they place along the steps outside for a quiet moment, too.
  • D'Vino Wine Bar: conveniently close to the main street of Stradun, but perched just far enough so that you'll have some peace too. I'm a huge fan of the wine selection found here - and they offer wine flights of varietals local to the region. Try the Plavac Mali - my favorite, or a Dingać - Cassandra's favorite!
  • La Bodega Wine Bar: more of a people-watching spot, it's right at the Clock Tower end of Stradun. Grab a glass of wine at the seats by the open windows, or at a table outside & make up stories about the parade of people streaming by.
  • Bijela kavas & fjaka: "fjaka" is a state of mind, of being absolutely content and at peaceful with doing nothing and just being. Croatia completely embodies this idea, and the best place to reach that fjaka state is ordering a bijela kava (basically a latte) at any sidewalk cafe, making no plans, and just staying idle there for hours. If it's too hot for a coffee, try any number of icy, frothy, sugary Nescafe drinks!

5. Approach Tours with Caution

Upon arriving at the main gates of Dubrovnik, you'll see lots of tour vendors: those offering to take you out on boats, those wanting to take you around to show you Game of Thrones locations. I have conflicted thoughts about these tours. While I do think it's awesome to support local tourism and it's great to not have to worry about an itinerary, I also think that taking one of these tours can be overwhelming and you might feel like you walk away having only glossed over the main sights.

With that said, if you're a diehard Game of Thrones fan - look up a reputable Dubrovnik tour! If not, I suggest Googling key locations and mapping out your own guide; for day trips and whatnot, you can then opt to splurge a bit more on private drivers or skippers.

My friend Hanna is a huge Game of Thrones fan, so we hunted down top filming locations for her. Did the above look familiar?


it's from the Walk of Shame scene!
... and this tidbit I did learn from a private walking tour:

if you balance on the little guy below, take your shirt off, and turn around in a circle, you'll find your true love! None of us did the whole ritual, so looks like we'll be spinsters for life. Oh well.

6. Hide Out & Fuel Up At A Restaurant

Perhaps my solution to every problem in life is eating. Overwhelmed? Exhausted? Angry? Needing a place to evaluate the day ahead? Time for a snack. Although most of the restaurants in Old Town are catered towards tourists, there are a couple of standouts. Most of my restaurant recommendations for for the Lapad neighborhood, but in Old Town my favorites include:

Lokanda: for the ambiance as well as for the fresh seafood! Situated right at the Old Port, the outdoor tables are prime location for the scenic view. A wide selection of fresh seafood is served up in pots that they bring straight to the table. My picks: girice (itty bitty fried fish), mussels, and calamari of course.

Barba: I remember discovering Barba with a couple of my study abroad friends - we entered the trendy space, ordered a couple of ice cold Bitter Lemon Schweppes, and their famous octopus burgers. Delicious!

Poklisar: this is another one with a fantastic view if you choose to sit outdoors, and also has plenty of tasty menu items.

7. Discovering Secret Beaches

Because we tend to stay in Lapad, we're most acquainted with Lapad Beach. But there are tons of amazing beaches in Old Town and surrounding neighborhoods, as well. One of your gamechangers will be to hunt town the more hidden ones in Old Town so that you can hide away there at high noon and in the early afternoon when the heat becomes unbearable.

This inlet, Šulić Beach, is a total gem. It's nestled away against the far wall of King's Landing (which means that your view while swimming is King's Landing!); the waters are calm, there are locals aplenty. We brought an inflatable donut and floated away for hours!
Et voila!

You'll have a beautiful day in Dubrovnik.

When Cassandra and I brought our best friends with us back to Dubrovnik, we heeded our own advice. We set our alarms for extra early, took the bus into Dubrovnik and walked straight to the farmers' market - there, it was a sidewalk cafe, two large baskets of fries, and bijela kavas for all. Then, Cassandra and I dropped Leah and Hanna off at the entrance of the City Walls so that they could soak in these views; the two of us made a beeline for jewelry-shopping D'Vino instead and stayed cool & hydrated.

After a quick Game of Thrones tour led by... Google... ice creams were had, and then a leisurely lunch at Lokanda was enjoyed, quickly followed by a brisk walk to the beach and a long afternoon of floating and snoozing. Finally, we took one last lap up and down Stradun, and then headed home to Lapad for a nap.

All in a day's work!

Let me know if you're headed for Dubrovnik, and I can share even more!

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