We had heard such wonderful things about Croatia. Because we had booked a cruise from Dubrovnik to Split back in 2020, we left Prague a few days early to check it out. The view you usually see in pictures is from the top of the hill between the airport and the old town. Since we only made the trip from the airport once, we got a very brief glimpse of the entire city and its walls from the car. My first impression was that the city was stunning but small.
There have been many changes to Croatia since it joined the European Union in 2012. As of January 1, 2023, the Croatian Kuna will be replaced by the Euro. Most people we talked to felt that overall the conversion was a good thing. They also know there would be some additional inflation and pain for the first few years. Apparently, this is a common cycle when countries change currency.
Overall, the people are very nice and helpful and they are acutely aware their primary business on the Dalmatian Coast is tourism. Mike found a really cute and funny video on YouTube with cartoon figures explaining the entire history of Croatia. Even after seeing the video, we didn’t know much more about their history because it is so long and complicated.
Old Town Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is a beautiful walled town in the southernmost part of Croatia on the Dalmatian coast. They really did breed the first Dalmatian dogs here but no one told us why.
This town is difficult to get to because there are no trains and the roads until very recently all went through Bosnia & Herzegovina. Apparently, there is a new bridge so that you don’t have to leave Croatia to get to Dubrovnik by road.
Dubrovnik and its formidable walls are still here because the inhabitants managed great feats of diplomacy in the past. The Dubrovnik city-state, called Ragusa, was part of the Venetian territory for 400 years, becoming rich in trade with Venice. The city also managed to avoid destruction by the Ottomans through diplomacy and trade. The most damage to the town came in the Balkan civil war in 1991 because of modern armaments. Most of the buildings in the old town have new roofs because they were damaged in the civil war.
Walking the Old Town
The old town is completely pedestrian and the walkways are very slick limestone paving stones. I would not have wanted to walk our bags through the town or be there when it rains. The old town is actually quite small, you can walk from one side to the other in about 10 minutes. If you aren’t on the hill above the town, the best views are from the city walls. It costs $35 and a few hours to walk the walls and once up there you can’t leave. That said, the views and perspectives are fantastic and I would definitely recommend walking the walls. The ticket for the walls also gets you a free bus pass that we were able to use to get back to our hotel.
There are only about 1600 people living inside the walls but the town hosts 22 million tourists per year. You can imagine what happened to their economy during the pandemic. Today, they are back to their pre-pandemic tourist numbers but they are limiting the daily cruise ship docking to two per day to relieve some of the congestion. Dubrovnik is clearly not undiscovered anymore. To prove that point, everything is 3 times more expensive than anywhere else in Croatia.
The harbor is filled with super expensive yachts, water taxis that can take you to a nearby island, and even a water polo court. Apparently, they were going to play some club matches so they had set up bleachers right at the harbor for viewing. In fact, Croatia just won the European Water Polo Championships.
Where We Stayed in Dubrovnik
When we chose to go to Dubrovnik a few days before our cruise up the coast, we elected not to stay in the old town. I think we made a good choice. We decided to stay at a beachy resort about 15 minutes from the old town. From our Royal Neptune hotel, we could take an Uber or the bus to the old town so it was quite convenient.
The room was nice with a balcony and a sea view. The coast definitely feels like the Dalmatian Riviera, complete with chic hotels, captive guests, and mediocre food. We did find a wonderful restaurant that we were able to walk to where we ate the best piece of fish I have had since Hawaii. But, for the most part, the seafood was surprisingly expensive. On another night, we went to a traditional Croatian restaurant where we ordered a meat platter that would feed at least four people.
There was a walkway along the water that went all the way from our hotel into the closest little beach town, so we could walk all the way to restaurants and grocery stores.
Along most of the coast, there are no sandy beaches. There are large rocks that you can lay on or there are small rocks that people lay on too. In fact, all along the walkway, there were small places where there were a few chaise lounges and people enjoying the nice hot days or swimming in the beautiful clear water.
Game of Thrones Tour
Game of Thrones is a very popular Netflix series set in an imaginary world. We had heard that lots of Game of Thrones were filmed in Dubrovnik so we thought a GoT tour would be a fun introduction to the town. We did watch the entire GoT series, but it has been a few years. They took us to several filming locations and showed us pictures of the scene along with the real location, which was quite helpful for refreshing our memories.
It was a fun thing to do but the most interesting part was how our tour guide described what it was like during filming. Some people were happy because they could work as extras but others just wanted money for their inconvenience. For example, for Cersei’s Walk Of Shame, the film company wanted the windows and shutters closed. But the residents wanted to be paid to keep their windows closed. The locals cleaned up, receiving $500 per window each day of filming.
The tour took us all around the town that was used for King’s Landing. Originally, the film crew was given great tax incentives for filming in Croatia. This worked well for the first few seasons, but by season 4 the tax incentives weren’t as good so the crew found other places to film.
I would definitely recommend a visit to Dubrovnik if you plan to visit Croatia or any place nearby. There are other walled towns, but Dubrovnik is the most complete and original that we have seen yet. That said, the city only warrants a short visit because it is so small, but do take the time to walk the walls.
A special note to our nomadic friends: bad news, in addition to changing to the Euro on January 1, 2023, Croatia is joining the Schengen Zone soon. That means that you won’t be able to escape to Croatia to spend your time outside of Europe then. We were very sorry to hear that.
When will you visit Dubrovnik?