Dubrovnik, Croatia: Incredible Scenery, History, and Hospitality

Looking out across the red-tiled roofs in Old City Dubrovnik toward Lokrum island

Looking out across the red-tiled roofs in Old City Dubrovnik toward Lokrum island

Whenever I mentioned I’d be spending part of my honeymoon in Dubrovnik, Croatia, the most common reply I heard was, “Why?” True, the Eastern European country on the coast of the Adriatic Sea is nearly 6,500 miles from my home in Los Angeles as the crow flies and took us five flights to reach, but my husband and I had seen the photos of red-tile-roofed buildings cascading down the hillside toward a shimmery blue sea and heard the stories about a medieval walled city with a fascinating history and couldn’t resist. Dubrovnik is far away from home in more ways than one and that was exactly the point: to take this travel opportunity to discover the wonders of a city very different from our own.

There are certain must-dos when visiting Dubrovnik’s Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. First and foremost, you must “walk the walls”—the stone fortification that runs 1.24 miles around the city. There are three entrances—Ploce Gate, Pile Gate, and Sveti Ivan Fort—at which tickets can be purchased. I recommend making this activity one of the first things you do in the Old City, as it’s a great way to take it all in and get a sense of the town. Just make sure to plan your wall walk in the early morning or evening (hours vary by season) to avoid the cruise ship crowds.

Looking down at the main street in Dubrovnik’s Old City while walking the walls

Once you’ve walked the walls, descend into the maze of narrow cobblestoned streets that crisscross through the Old City. There seems to be no end to the souvenir shops, craft markets, bars, and restaurants found throughout the town. When it came time to eat, we moved away from the more touristy-looking cafés on the wider main thoroughfare and got lost in the side streets to find two excellent establishments: Pizzeria Oliva and Defne Terrace at the Pucić Palace. If you visit Dubrovnik during the warmer months, be sure to bring your swimsuit so you can take a dip in the water just outside the walls. There’s a great swimming spot out past the port and around the corner at Sveti Ivan.

Swimmers enjoy the cool water just outside the Old City walls

Nearly 2,000 feet across the sea is the island of Lokrum, which was declared a natural forest reserve in 1976 and is home to a botanical garden and monastery. Regular boat service takes visitors on the 10-minute ride to the island each day. Activities here include swimming, walking through the garden, and hiking up to Fort Royal for views of the Old City and surrounding islands.

A tall ship glides past the island of Lokrum

Another activity that should be high on your list: taking the Dubrovnik Cable Car to Mount Srđ. Here you’ll find a fantastic perspective of the Old City and the Adriatic, which can be enjoyed with refreshments at Restaurant Panorama. A historical highlight on the hill is the Museum of Croatian War of Independence, located in one wing of Fort Imperial. The museum details the fort’s history as well as the city’s devastating experience during the war that lasted from 1991 to 1995.

A cable car takes passengers from Mount Srđ back to Old City Dubrovnik

If you’ll only be in Dubrovnik for a couple days, I advise staying in the Old City (or as close to it as possible) so as to maximize your time to explore. However, if your plans allow for an extended stay in the area, I highly recommend doing what we did and booking a room at the Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Dubrovnik Sun Gardens. This modern, comfortable, and welcoming resort offers 201 guest rooms stretching along the Adriatic Sea coast, as well as premium residences, 16 restaurants and bars, a market and souvenir shops, three pools, beach access, and a spa. Our Club Room included sea views and access to the Club Lounge for complimentary breakfast on the top floor overlooking the resort grounds.

Looking through the doorway into a Club Room at the Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Dubrovnik Sun Gardens

Our favorite restaurant at the resort was the Mediterranean-style Cilantro, though we also enjoyed excellent dinners at Italian-inspired La Pasta and The Butcher steakhouse. During high season, all restaurants and bars are open for business, but as occupancy wanes heading into fall opening times will vary. We were unable to visit the Vino wine bar during our stay, but thankfully every restaurant we patronized at the resort had excellent Croatian wines on the menu and a knowledgeable staff member who was happy to offer a recommendation.

Lunch with local beer and a view at Cilantro restaurant at the Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Dubrovnik Sun Gardens

With five days to explore Dubrovnik and its surroundings, the Radisson Blu was the perfect home base. Just 20 minutes from the Old City, the hotel offers regularly scheduled shuttle and boat rides into town for a small fee (which can be booked in advance to ensure your spot) and even has its own marina. The resort’s location made it an easy central point for day trips to the Old City and beyond and an excellent spot to relax by the beach or pool whenever we needed to take a break from exploring.

Looking out over the Radisson Blu Dubrovnik grounds and pools toward the Adriatic Sea

Though we were lucky to have gorgeous weather for the majority of our trip, we did experience one rainy, dreary day. It just so happened this was the day we had booked a custom tour to Ston (about an hour north of the Old City) and the Elaphiti Islands, based on a Dubrovnik itinerary my friend SJ posted on her Croatia travel blog, Chasing the Donkey. We intended to spend the day partly in the car and partly on a boat, but the bad weather created choppy, unfavorable conditions at sea. Fortunately, our wonderful driver and skipper with Tureta Travel were able to split our full-day trip into two half days, with our boat tour to Lopud and Koločep islands pushed to the next morning when the weather would be much nicer.

Our driver picked us up at our hotel and drove us to his favorite oyster farm across the bay from Mali Ston (“Little Ston”). Upon our arrival, one of the workers pulled a net full of oysters out of the water, shucked a few, and handed them to us with a squeeze of lemon. They were extremely fresh and incredibly delicious—truly the best oysters I have ever had. The gray skies and cooler temperature created a moody atmosphere that fit right in with the quiet bayside dock and diligent farmers tending to their mussel and oyster harvest.

Floating bins at the mussel and oyster farm in Ston

Next it was on to Ston, which boasts a great wall that snakes up and around the adjacent mountain to Mali Ston. The town is known for its saltworks, and salt has been a major part of Ston’s economy since the Middle Ages. Despite the rain we made the climb up the stone steps of the wall, motivated by the promise of breathtaking views of Ston and the saltworks. We were not disappointed.

Looking out over the walled city of Ston toward the salt mines

Our last stop was one of my favorites, a winery called Vinarija Miloš. We were introduced to the owner, who explained how his wines are produced from terraced vineyards on the Pelješac peninsula and gave us a glimpse of the Slavonian oak barrels in the wine cellar. Then it was time for a tasting, a lovely sampling of dry and sweet reds. We took home a bottle of the Stagnum Dry 2003, which was cellared for 10 years before going on sale to the public—and which the owner told us can age for a few more years before being opened. We plan to enjoy it on our second wedding anniversary.

I cannot say enough great things about our time in Dubrovnik. The history, the people, the food, the wine—all of it combined to create an unforgettable experience. Our goal was to get out of our comfort zone for a honeymoon adventure, and we returned home with many happy memories, a zillion photos, and one cherished bottle of wine. No matter how far away Dubrovnik might be it is absolutely worth the trip.