Walking Dubrovnik's Walls
No visit to the Dalmatian Coast is complete without checking a key touristy-things-to-do box: walking Dubrovnik’s walls. Following our stay in Korcula, we continued down the coast to take this stroll around the city’s historic fortifications. But, we made sure to do plenty of eating, drinking, and other exploring in Dubrovnik, too!
A Dubrovnik Overview - Incredible Views and Game of Thrones
Located in an exclave separated from mainland Croatia by a narrow stretch of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dubrovnik arguably claims the title of crown jewel on the Dalmatian Coast. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, if you tell an American you’re off to Croatia, there’s a good chance you’ll get a “Dubrovnik, yeah?” response. It’s just that iconic.
Until the early 19th century, Dubrovnik was officially called the Republic of Ragusa. Today, much of the city’s fascinating history - from Roman to Byzantine to Venetian eras - has been trumped by something far more significant [dripping with sarcasm] - Game of Thrones!
Yes, in addition to its beauty and history, Dubrovnik also claims the title of King’s Landing from the HBO series. Embracing this pop culture status, local guides now lead GoT fans on “scene tours,” walking the old city and pointing out the landmarks featured in the show.
We weren’t there for a GoT tour, but HBO’s selection of Dubrovnik speaks to the city’s stunning nature. The walled old town - significantly larger than the one we’d just explored in Korcula - extends south into the Adriatic and includes its own protected marina.
While a moat system used to separate these walls from the mainland, those channels have been filled and converted to roads, which certainly facilitates car traffic in the city. Outside of the walls, a ridgeline - Mount Srd - towers over the red, terracotta roofs of the old town, with newer construction winding its way from the shoreline up this steep terrain.
For our Dubrovnik stretch, we’d be staying at a home perched midway up this ridgeline. On the plus side, the wraparound patio gave us spectacular views of the old town and surrounding area. Drawback? Climbing up there. Hell of a workout, so more often than not, after a day exploring the city’s sea-level stretches, we’d opt for an Uber through the switchbacked, narrow streets home - beats the more direct push up the Exorcist-esque stairs!
Walking Dubrovnik’s Walls and Drinks Outside of Them
We’ve mentioned it before, but our travels have convinced us that the best way to get an initial sense of a new place is from above. Mountain, church steeple, or bell tower doesn’t really matter - just as long as you can get that Robin-Williams-in-Dead-Poets-Society-esque change of perspective.
In Dubrovnik’s enclosed stari grad, you can’t help but get turned around and, frankly, overwhelmed by the sheer grandeur of its centuries-old structures, sweeping boulevards, and narrow back alleys. Wandering aimlessly - while certainly a must - makes you feel like you’ll never be able to truly grasp the city’s intricacies.
Dubrovnik has a cable car that quickly shuttles visitors to Mount Srd above the city (more on that later). But, the best way to get a from-above appreciation of the city is far closer to sea level - walking its walls.
Surrounded by nearly two kilometers of these massive fortifications - some parts as tall as 25 meters - Dubrovnik just begs to be seen from these walls. Fortunately, the city’s tourist board has embraced this reality, turning the wall walk into one of Dubrovnik’s premier activities for visitors.
After buying entrance tickets (well worth the price of admission!), you can access the wall near either the eastern or western gates into the old town. Closer to home, we headed up from the eastern gate, just inside the fortifications from the stara luka, or old port.
Climbing to the ramparts, you’re immediately hit by the wide-openness of it. In much of the city’s narrow alleys, you only see the sun when directly overhead, leaving you doused in cool shade most of the day. On the walls, you have nothing but stunning views and beating sun, making a bottle of water essential!
For the next couple hours, we strolled the perimeter, stopping frequently to take pictures, rest, and just absorb the surroundings. If someone wanted to really fly, you could probably make it around the two kilometers in 30ish minutes, but what’s the point in that?
Every few meters, you’re rewarded with another view into the old town. From sweeping panoramas to quick peaks into courtyard gardens, there’s too much to see to rush the experience.
So, we took our time, which set up our next “activity.” With a sweat (and thirst!) worked up after two hours in the hot sun, we wrapped up the perimeter walk ready for a beverage and some shade. On the latter half of the walls - the seaward portion - we spotted a bar perched on the rocks between the wall and crashing waves of the Adriatic - perfect place for a beverage!
Exiting the ramparts, we backtracked along the interior perimeter of the walls, hoping to stumble upon the entrance to this little gem. Carved into the wall in a nondescript, residential portion of the old town, a tiny archway leads down some windy steps under the wall and out to the water.
Emerging from this narrow tunnel, we were rewarded with the bar we’d seen from above, almost impossibly wedged against the wall and edge of a rocky outcropping. Concerned less about the feats of engineering and more about the cooler of drinks, we grabbed seats in the shade, relaxed, and enjoyed some ice cold beverages while staring out at the open water - perfect.
Swimming in King’s Landing
During our folks two weeks with us, we lucked out with pretty much nothing but warm, sunny days. Between this weather and finding ourselves on one of the most picturesque shorelines in the world, we decided to take a dip.
Like hotspots throughout the Mediterranean, Dubrovnik has its fair share of “beach clubs,” places for Europe’s jetsetting/yachting crowd. Not really our scene (or price range…).
Instead, we wanted to find a place with true city character, somewhere that you knew existed only in Dubrovnik. After a little research, we found the answer - Sulic Beach. Hidden in a narrow cove just outside the old town, you have to really look for this spot.
As the crow flies, Sulic is only a couple hundred yards from the western gate of the old town, an area crowded with tour buses and thousands of visitors. But, as you descend from that bustling highground and wander back-and-forth through a maze of narrow walkways, the crowds quickly dissipate.
If you know where you’re going, you’re rewarded with an amazing place to swim, one - surprisingly - with only a handful of people. At the top of a narrow, V-shaped cove with towering fortifications on both sides, Sulic Beach’s crystal clear waters make for an ideal place to take an afternoon dip.
And, for the GoT lovers out there, Sulic apparently featured prominently in the show (albeit dressed up with a little CGI). As we lazed around, air drying in the hot sun, a guide walked by with a couple American tourists. In one hand, the guide held a big, poster-board cityscape. With the other hand, she gestured at the fortifications towering over us.
Eavesdropping slightly, we put two and two together - some famous scenes in the show had been filmed here. Unfortunately for the American tourists, the six of us, hanging out in our swimsuits, likely seemed far less entertaining than marauding hordes from an HBO epic…
Still a great day for us!
The Dubrovnik Cable Car, Fort Imperial, and Sunset Cocktails
Rising steeply above Dubrovnik, the really hardcore/motivated can hike to the top of Mount Srd. For everyone else, the cable car from just outside the old town makes far more sense. We fell into the latter category.
Wanting to catch the sunset while also taking in daylight views, we took the gondola up late in the afternoon. On the steep ascent, the more “height-aware” of our group stayed as far from the clear, glass walls as possible - not for the vertically faint of heart!
For historical context, Dubrovnik fell under siege during the Croatian War of Independence in the early 90s. At that time, one of the only fortifications defending the city from the attacking Yugoslav People’s Army, Serbs, and Montenegrins was a Napoleonic-era fort on this ridgeline - Fort Imperial.
Today, Fort Imperial serves as a museum to the siege and broader war for independence - while also acting as a memorial to the lives lost during that period. From late ‘91 into the middle of ‘92, forces surrounding the city unleashed a brutal bombing campaign against Fort Imperial and the rest of Dubrovnik, with particular focus on the old town. This ruthless bombardment of such an iconic cultural and historical site largely turned world opinion against the attackers while driving support for Croatian independence.
After touring Fort Imperial, we transitioned from a historical to culinary focus, posting up at the aptly named Restaurant Panorama. Overlooking all of Dubrovnik’s old town, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to sip cocktails and watch the sun set. While walking the walls gave us a sense of the city’s ins and outs, views from up here provided the no-kidding big picture. Dubrovnik’s entire old town, nearby islands, and surrounding coastline unfolded before us.
When the sun had fully set, we rode the cable car back down to cap the night off with one more unique experience - an outdoor orchestra in front of the Rector’s Palace. One of the largest and most significant buildings within Dubrovnik’s ancient fortifications, this palace apparently also provides an incredible outdoor orchestra venue.
Classical music fan or not, listening to these stirring instrumentals under the stars was, to say the least, a moving experience.
Family Dinners and Cocktails Overlooking Old Town Dubrovnik
Our final night in Dubrovnik - and second-to-last together - we decided to cook at home. With such phenomenal views - and an outdoor dining area, to boot - why not do the local thing?
Trying to replicate a hint of the deliciousness we experienced in Motovun, the two of us attempted a truffle-themed menu for our folks. Armed with paski sir, fresh pasta, and local truffle paste, we got cooking. And, by “got cooking,” we mean opened a bottle of wine, snacked on a cheese plate, and boiled water. With enough butter, truffles, and cheese, any pasta’s going to taste good! (Or so we hoped).
Fortunately, the meal was a hit. Honestly, though, we could’ve bought six Big Macs and the night would’ve been a success. Finally having our parents under the same roof was all that mattered.