16 Jun Rediscovering the Joys of Travel and Visiting Dubrovnik
On our first evening in Croatia I stopped to watch the sun from our balcony, and as it sunk towards the black mountains on the horizon, I tried to remember the last time I’d paused to watch this everyday ritual. For me, sunsets and sunrises are entwined with travel. In my ‘ordinary’ life back in the UK I rarely took notice of the sun’s daily rounds, it was travel that made me stop and look properly at the world, inspired me to hike up hills or seek out special spots to witness this simple beauty.
As orange stained the sky that evening, I watched a cruise ship cut its way towards the sinking sun and felt, for the first time in a long while, truly grateful for the simple joys of travel and the freedom Andrew and I have in our lives. I hadn’t visited a brand-new country since Taiwan in 2014, so being in Croatia felt like a new adventure, one I was excited to begin by exploring one of the country’s most famous treasures: Dubrovnik.
From our hill-top hostel overlooking the Adriatic Sea, it was a calf-busting half an hour walk down steep stone steps to Pile Gate, the grand entrance to Dubrovnik Old Town. Tall turrets and watch towers poked out periodically from the thick grey walls which wrap around the town and its seaport, acting as protection against invaders in centuries past. Dubrovnik’s most recent battle was in 1991 during Croatia’s struggle for independence; the town was attacked by the Yugoslavian army and suffered a seven-month siege which killed over 100 people.
Today, Dubrovnik’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Croatia’s most popular tourist destinations, packed with ancient churches, palaces and monasteries. The Old Town has also been used as a film set for Star Wars and Game of Thrones, which has spurred themed tours. The pale stone paving has been worn slippery smooth by years of constant footfall; narrow steep alleys branch off from the wide main street and everywhere you look there are ice-cream parlours, terraced restaurants, souvenir shops, tour agencies, buskers dressed in period costumes and an ever-churning sea of visitors.
On the other side of the Old Town boats rest calmly in Dubrovnik Port, floating on water clear enough to reveal the rocks on the seabed below. Day-trippers line up on the pier to take excursions to nearby islands while others file along the city walls above or take a ride on the cable car up to Fort Imperial overlooking Dubrovnik, a popular panoramic viewpoint.
What to See in Dubrovnik
We had just two full days to explore Dubrovnik, so we started by walking the city walls early one morning. The 120 Croatian Kuna (£12) entrance fee is used to preserve and restore the 1.2 mile stretch of thick snaking wall, its many steep flights of steps, towers and turrets. We spent two hours making our way slowly around the walls, taking a million photos of the Old Town below with its red-tiled roof tops, church spires and bustling, winding streets. On the east side we were able to look out over the sea to nearby Lokrum island.
The ticket for the city walls also granted us access to Lovrijenac Fort, which lies just outside the Old Town and provides fantastic views of the city. We spent the rest of the afternoon on a bench overlooking one of Dubrovnik’s stony beaches with cheese pastries and cherry strudel from one of the Croatian bakeries we quickly fell in love with.
That evening, rather than pay 120kn (£12) each for an eight-minute round trip on the cable car up to the panoramic view point, we caught a number 17 bus to Bosanka for just 14kn (£1.40) per person. It took around half an hour to walk from this tiny village to the viewpoint at the top of the mountain; on the way we passed a group of grazing goats and a billboard displaying photos of Bosanka after it was virtually burned to the ground during the war in the 90s. Although the evening had turned cloudy and cold, we took in the views of Dubrovnik spread below us before making the hour-long descent down a rocky, zig-zag path – I don’t recommend this in flip-flops.
There are plenty of day trips in Dubrovnik you can take; tour reps crowd around the entrances of the Old Town selling popular boat trips to the surrounding islands and sea kayaking experiences. Andrew and I considered buying a Dubrovnik tourist card, which gives you access to some of the city’s famous buildings including the Rector’s Palace and St Saviour Church, but in the end we were content to spend the last of our time in Dubrovnik simply wandering the grid-like streets, trying out a few restaurants (Nishta was our favourite vegetarian pick), sitting in the port and sampling different flavours of ice cream.
We left Dubrovnik on the third morning of our Croatian adventure on a bus bound for Split, the base from which we planned to island-hop and explore more of the stunning Dalmatian coast.
Have you visited Dubrovnik, what did you make of it?