Dubrovnik has been a top destination for tourists since the first hotel was built here in 1890. It is no surprise, the city is a beautiful, fairytale ringed in stone. As cruises increased in popularity scores of daytrippers descended upon the Old City. However, people on such fleeting visits really miss out. Those in the know organise at least a 3 day Dubrovnik itinerary. So, if you have a long weekend in the area, how do you see the best of Dubrovnik in 3 days?
Dubrovnik sits far to the South on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast and is the jewel in Croatia’s tourism crown. Popular with holidaymakers, cruise-goers and backpackers alike, it has something for everyone. Most of the activity is concentrated around the Old Town. The limestone streets are pedestrianised and worn shiny by thousands of feet a day pounding their way around. (seriously, they are quite slippery!) Shops, cafes, churches and bars line every square and small alleyway. You could spend your entire time sitting around and people watching but you only have 3 days in Dubrovnik so let’s get it into it!
Day One – Taking it Easy
Having arrived in Dubrovnik either this morning or the previous night, take a little time to relax. We will hit the streets of the Old Town tomorrow for some hardcore sightseeing.
A Spot of Sunbathing
Dubrovnik isn’t famed for its beaches but there are a few beautiful Dubrovnik beaches to lay down and enjoy the sun. Shores are rocky/stony so if you plan to do this independently, bring a decent beach towel or picnic blanket to protect your bottom from being too uncomfortable.
Danče Beach is on the coast west of the Old Town. Visitors need to walk up the hill and then take the stairs down through the park to the coast. The clear water which looks perfectly blue from above washes up on the jagged rocks. To make the area suitable for sunbathers, they have carved flat areas into the rocks. It feels slightly like lying in a car park but it is gloriously warm, so perfect for spring and autumn sun worshippers.
There is a small cafe here but if you want a full picnic, bring something down with you. We brought some food but purchased a lovely cold drink at the cafe.
The closest beach to Old Town is the most popular place for tourists. It is quite a small beach so we would recommend getting there early to reserve your sunbed or grab a free spot on the shore. The sunbeds are quite pricy at around €25 for two and an umbrella.
There are plenty of bars and cafes that back the beach so there are lots of choices for food and drink. Banje Beach Club serves full meals and fun cocktails all day and way into the night. They run watersports and island trips if you fancy something a little more thrilling than the day beds for those who want to chill out
Sunset Above the City at Dubrovnik Cable Car
Mount Srd is the vast wall of green that backs the Old City. The most spectacular sunset in Dubrovnik can be taken in at the top. There are two options:
- Dubrovnik Cable Car – check out our full blog post about our experience on the Dubrovnik Cable Car.
- Take the path from Old Town It is a reasonably steep climb with some loose stones so don’t do it in your fancy shoes. It is quite hard to find the trailhead so keep asking until you get a nod in the right direction.
Don’t plan to arrive just at sunset, as you won’t find a good spot and the queue for the cable car could make you late. Mind you, once you are in the gondola, it is only a four-minute ride.
Heading up early also gives you a chance to look around the area. The communication tower looks like something out of a sci-fi film. The Napoleonic Fort Imperial overlooks the city but it wasn’t really used for its original purpose until it was drummed into defensive service in the early 1990s. It is now home to the museum dedicated to the defence of Dubrovnik during the Homeland War.
Once you are done looking around, walk along the hill until you find a spot looking northwest. Prepare for a gorgeous sunset!
Day Two – The Old City
Dubrovnik’s Old Town is a large fortified, mini-city. It is entirely pedestrianised apart from a few delivery vehicles so you will only be dodging fellow travellers, not traffic. It makes exploring the streets, alleys and stairways totally relaxing. Only around 1000 residents live within the walls so it really does cater to tourists.
The city has taken some abuse. There has been many an earthquake, including a major quake in 1667 which destroyed much of the Old Town. Its reconstruction created the lovely, uniform low rise accommodation and beautifully redesigned major buildings.
The second biggest strike on the city was the war of the early 1990s. Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia and the city was put under siege for seven months. It was hit with over 1000 shells but rebuilding has taken place and it looks as good as ever.
Getting entirely lost in the backstreets is lots of fun (especially when you make some of the local feline friends). However, if you want to tick off the major sights, follow along with these ideas:
Start your day at the northern entrance to the Old City, Pile Gate. This 16th-century gate is the link between the main city and the walled interior. Above the arch, you will see a carving of the patron saint of Dubrovnik, Saint Blaise.
Walk The Walls of Old Town
Walking the Dubrovnik city walls is at the top of everybody’s list. If you only had half a day, THIS would be our recommendation. The walk is around 2 kilometres, takes you around the edge of the Old Town,and allows you to take a stroll without getting lost. It is lovely to take a look at all of the beautiful places you’ll be seeing later today and get a little context. There are a lot of stairs and later in the day, not much shade so we recommend doing this first thing so it isn’t roasting hot and it sets your sense of pace up nicely for the day.
The views all the way around are beautiful, whether it is of the azure sea or the terracotta tiles inland. Theoretically, the walk takes an hour but. with several stops for photos and taking in the view, we recommend 1.5-2 hours. Bring a hat/shade of some sort, sun cream and water.
The main thoroughfare running between Pile Gate and Ploce Gate is called Stradun and it bisects the Old Town on the north to south axis. It used to be a canal that ran between the mainland and the separate island that is now the seaward half of town. The road is lined with shops (mostly tourist-friendly options like crafts and souvenirs), bars and restaurants. The floor is rather shiny and if it gets wet, is almost an ice rink so do be careful. …it’s very pretty though.
Just inside Pile Gate is the most famous of Onofrio’s architectural additions to Dubrovnik. The polygonal fountain is the end of a complex water transportation system, bringing in water from the Dubrovačka River, around 7.5 miles away. It was completed in 1438 and although it has suffered damage by war and earthquake, it has been lovingly restored. Around the fountain’s edge are different faces, each with their own tap pouring out perfectly clean, cool water. It is a saviour on a hot day.
Franciscan Monastery and Pharmacy
The Franciscan monastery is one of the oldest buildings in the Old Town, as building began in 1317. It experienced some damage during the 1667 earthquake and much of it had to be rebuilt but there are a couple original surviving details.
Within the monastery, the beautiful cloister is surrounded by octagonal columns and every capital (the top bit) are different. You can spot faces, animals, flowers and gargoyle-ish monster faces. The chapels contain alters dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. See if you can find the graves of Ivan Gundulić, Croatia’s most famous poet, and Mihoje Brajkov, the designer of the cloister columns.
The Friars Minor pharmacy is thought to be the third oldest in the world (the oldest in Europe) but it wasn’t a pharmacy as we know it. Herbs and were turned into poultices ointments and drinks designed to cure those in the monastery and the surrounding city. It is still a working pharmacy where locals can pick up their prescriptions and now creates gorgeous skincare with the local herbal ingredients.
As you walk south, you will come to Gundulic Square on your right-hand side. Named for the famous poet buried within the Franciscan Monastery, Gundulic Square is the location of the best market in Dubrovnik. Artisans from the surrounding areas bring traditional Croatian sweets, fresh fish, flowers plenty of fruit and veg, cheese and souvenir friendly alcohol, carvings and textiles. It is all watched over by a large statue of Gundulic. The market starts at 07:00 every day and then peters out at around 13:00 as the restaurants set up their outdoor tables for lunch.
The Jesuits’ Stairs leads from Gundulic Square up to St Ignatius Church and the little square in front of it. It may be hard to tell from the square below, but if you can look beyond the umbrellas and restaurant tables you will see the Jesuits’ Stairs is designed to look like the famous Spanish Steps in Rome. It is no surprise as the architect, Pietro Passalacqua, was from Rome.
Saint Ignatius Church
Saint Ignatius is the most classically Baroque church in Croatia. The planner Andrea Pozzo based the intricate church on Rome’s Gesù, the famous Jesuit home in Italy’s capital. It was constructed between 1699 and 1725, next to the Jesuit College. The altar sits within a semi-circular apse, decorated with beautiful frescoes of the life of St Ignatius.
Outside the church, as the bell tolls for noon, a flock of pigeons descends. They are fed at the same time every day and it seems like every bird in the city arrives. It is cool to see but bring a hat!
Dubrovnik Clock Tower
Back down the stairs, and continuing south, you reach the sophisticated 31m clock tower. It stands watch over Luža Square. The tower was rebuilt in 1929 after the original tower developed a terrible lean. It was feared that it would crash into the square below. At the top, you will see two bronze figures, the Zelenci (the green men), known locally as Maro and Baro. These figures have been striking the bell since 1929. The original twins are now kept in the Cultural History Museum next door in the Rector’s Palace. The nicest chimes happen at noon when they play a tune, known to all who live in Dubrovnik.
The clock itself has a distinctive octopus form which was designed by a monk who was renovating the ageing clock face in the 1700s. Underneath the clock itself, you will find an early kind of digital clock that marks every five minutes in roman numerals.
Sponza Palace has been used for a wide variety of things but now serves as home for the city archives. There isn’t much to see inside but do check out it’s interesting blend of Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles. It dates back to 1516-1522 when it was first built as a customs house, so it has a slightly different style to most of the buildings that surround it.
Just before you enter the courtyard is a small room to the left with a display of black and white photos, the Memorial Room of the Defenders of Dubrovnik. It shows the photos of those who died defending the city in the early 1990s. It is very moving.
The Old Port
Head out through the Ploča Gate, and across the stone bridge to take you out of the Old Town. This leads to the port full of small leisure craft. Theres not a lot to do hear other than marvel at the clear water and have a little walk in the shade of the city wall.
Church of Holy Annunciation
Church of the Holy Annunciation was built in 1877 as a base for Serbian Orthodox Christians. It is a little different to the Catholic churches elsewhere in town so see it as a little palette cleanser. It sustained damage in the siege of Dubrovnik but was fully restored.
Church of Saint Blaise
Saint Blaise (pronounced blaze) is the patron saint of the city. This church is dedicated to his life. It is another Baroque stunner. It was designed by Venetian architect Marino Gropelli, basing it on another famous church in the Italian city. The stained glass windows are a relatively recent addition, only being added in 1971. The alter is built around an original gilt statue from the 15th century of Saint Blaise. He holds a model of Dubrovnik in his hand. If you are in Dubrovnik in February, a festival celebrating the saint takes place on the 3rd of the month.
Outside the church is Orlando’s Column, a square column with a carving of a knight on one side. Legend has it, Orlando (or Roland) worked with his fleet to save the city from a siege that had lasted over a year. To say thank you for banishing the Saracen scurge, they erected this statue in 1418. That may not be entirely true but one thing we know for sure is that when the area was full of tailors and fabric producers, they used his forearm (at 51.25cm) as a standard measurement for cutting fabric.
The Rector’s Palace has been many things. It started as the home for the ruler of Dubrovnik. This was mainly a ceremonial role as it was changed every month and during you month in power, you were not allowed to leave the building It’s a wonder anything got done.
Since the power structure changed, the palace has been a prison, an armoury , a powder magazine (leading to two explosions) and now it is the Cultural History Museum. Thourhgout the museum you will find reconstructions of the palace’s former glory, its rooms, coats of arms and portraits.
Marin Držić Statue
Marin Držić is a famous Croatian playwright, especially now for his tragic masterpieces. This statue was moved into the Old Town and his enigmatic facial expression captured the iganiation of visitors to the area. His nose developed a myth of its own. Touch his nose and you will have good lucky and return to Dubrovnik one day….but where this idea came from, no local could tell you! The contact tweaks of his large beak, and people hopping onto his lap for a photo has turned some of the statue yellow.
Dubrovnik Cathedral – The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
A superb Baroque church that is another beauty built after the 1667 earthquake. This is not the first church to be built on the site. An original church was probably first here in the 7th century, and it was possibly rebuilt 300 years later.
The next was supposedly bank rolled by Richard the Lionheart on the way home from the third crusade in 1192. He was almost shipwrecked but took refuge in the lee of Lokrum island (the small island you can see just off the coast). The city welcomed the crew in with gifts and food, encouraging them to rest up until they felt better and the weather improved. He wanted to say thank you and when the city refused a cash payment, they requested he buid a church and so that is what he did.
The current cathedral is very bright and airy inside. The natural light really sets off the shine of the gold and silver in the famous treasury. These relics include golden parts of Saint Blaise himself. You will also find stunning paintings including the namesake of the cathedral, Assumption of the Virgin Mary that is thought to be by Titian (shown above the alter in the photo below).
Buza Bar for Sunset
After a long day pounding the streets of the Old Town, you have earned a drink. Although many British people think it is a play on the word “boozer” it is actually pronounced “boosha” and means hole in the wall. How apt that to find it, you need to walk through an actual hole in the wall! The bar is at the very western edge of the city so you have to climb some stairs and get lost in some back alleys to find it. Look for the yellow sign that says, “Cold drinks with the most beautiful view”. You may have to arrive pretty early to find a spot for sunset in high season (at least 2 hours) but why not take the time to relax?
If you don’t fancy paying the inflated drink prices, find their second location Buze II and keep walking down towards the water. You can just relax on the concrete or rocks down here but it can make your bum a little sore
Yes, they are tourist traps but who cares, you only have 3 days in Dubrovnik!
Day Three – Further Afield
Today you can take things at a slower pace and either explore Dubrovnik outside of the Old Town, or take an excellent day trip from Dubrovnik. The walled city of Kotor, the glorious Stari Most in Mostar and the magical waterfalls of the Plitivce Lakes are all within reach on a full day tour.
A Boat Trip to Lokrum
The island that seems so close but a little too far to swim to is called Lokrum. Boats traverse the small straight between the town and here every half an hour. The journey takes just 10 minutes but it feels like you are a million miles away from the crowds in the Old Town. The green trees that cover the island are a truly exotic European blend of cyprus trees, pines and palms. There are plenty of walking trails that take you through this forest and some wind their way down to gorgeous rocky coves, perfect for swimming. You may encounter some gorgeous peacocks, brought to the island in the 19th century. These were the pets of the Archduke when this was part of Autro-Hungarian empire. The family used the island as a summer getaway building the pleasure gardens.
A Boat Trip to the Elaphite Islands
Through out the Old Town, you will find vendors selling boat tours to the nearby Elaphite Islands. You can opt for half or full day tours. You will be blown away by just how glorious the water of the Adriatic Sea can be. Blue from afar, perfectly clear up close (and surprisingly cold until summer rolls in properly). Most tours stop at Kolocep and Lapud, include swimming or snorkelling time and longer tours have food included.
Fort Lovrijenac (St Lawrence Fort)
Atop a 38m high rock, Fort Lovrijenac is known to Game of Thrones fans as the Red Keep. The fort was built in a hurry by the city in the 11th century. The Venetians wanted to construct a fort here to strengthen their grip on Dubrovnik but to thwart them, Dubrovnik built its own fort in just three months!Head north from the Pice Gate and follow the coast around and up to the fort. Visit in the afternoon for wonderful views of the Old Town in the sunshine.
Kayaking for Sunset
As you sipped your drinks at Buze Bar, you may have noticed groups of adventurous types out on the waves. Taking a kayak out in front of the Old Town is the most gorgeous way to take in the sun. The red light, bouncing off the waves is magical. Plus, you really feel like you’ve earned it. Check out these sunset tours. They all offer something slightly different but obviously, we are fans of the companies who offer a wine tasting, or just a nice glass to glug.
How to Get to Dubrovnik
With Croatia’s long, thin shape and it’s location on the coast, flying is the most convenient way to reach Dubrovnik. Flights from across the world, and especially Europe arrive at Čilipi Airport, commonly just known as Dubrovnik Airport. You will find an increase in charter flights over the high season in summer.
From the airport, catch one of the coaches into town that leave every 30 minutes. These are run by Atlas and stop twice, once by the Pilè gate (the old town) and once at the main bus station. It costs 40 HVR (£4/€5/$6). The drive down to Dubrovnik is glorious. Try and get a window on the left-hand side of the bus (as you are looking forward) to get the best views of the Adriatic coastline.
Alternatively, a lot of visitors arrive by sea. Giant cruise ships dock at the large port along the coast and then bus their tourists in on coaches. Smaller boats can dock much closer to the Old Town.
The main bus station is located around 2.5 miles away from Pile Gate. You can walk it in around 40 minutes but there are local buses (1A, 1B, 3, 8) you can hop on, which makes the journey around 15 minutes.
Where to Stay in Dubrovnik
Find a Sobe
A Sobe is a privately rented room or apartment and is the most common form of tourist accommodation in Croatia and a wonderful way to meet residents of the city. They have a blue plaque outside to denote that they are official. Sobe’s can be booked independently or through booking websites like Booking.com, Homestay or AirBnB. Some places require cash on arrival or a bank transfer in advance so see if you can find a review for the place you would like to book, just to be on the safe side.
It is possible to hunt out a room once you arrive, but in busy seasons (Easter, summer) you may be left without somewhere to stay unless you book in advance.
Save Some Pennies – Old Town Hostel
A spot for the flashpackers of the world, Old Town Hostel Dubrovnik offers linens, a breakfast with no time limit, hot showers with towels hairdryers, a kitchen full of helpful spices and utensils and fun things like game boards and guitars. Guests can choose from dorms or private rooms. They also offer great value tours so you aren’t left running the gauntlet or touts.
Splash the Cash – Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik
Located just outside of Pile gate, this beautiful hotel is has lovely, large guestrooms flooded with light all day. The Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik has a gorgeous front terrace, perfect for soaking up the sun and a spa, perfect for soaking up some aromatherapy oil. Throughout the hotel, the decor is simple and modern in muted light shades. It’s all very calling, a great place to unwind after a long day of sightseeing.
Where to Eat in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik has an abundance of eating and drinking spots but here are a few we enjoyed during our tie in the city.
Walking down the road from our room, we came across a bakery that had a steady stream of people through its door. We picked a couple of things for brunch, a spinach filo pie and a cherry pastry. The idea was to take them down to the beach that our host had told us about and picnic. We had a large slice of filo pie filled with “fresh cheese” and spinach. It had bits of feta in it and tasted delicious. This was followed by a sour cherry strudel, oozing and sticky.
Burger Tiger – Fast food without a giant corporation behind it. The burgers at Burger Tiger are surprisingly good for the price and the chips are salty and more-ish. Alongside the burger menu are wraps, fish and chips and chicken wings. The attached Pasta Lab is not of the same quality…strange word to use for fast food.
Soul Caffe – Tucked down a thin alley, the coffee here is top notch and there is a nice selection of sandwiches, bruschetta, cakes and other light lunches. Later in the evening, silent movies are shown on the wall and they often have live music.
Ding Dong Korean Restaurant – For something a little different, this Korean restaurant does a great blend of Korean dishes from the traditional bibimbap to an excellent plate of Korean Fried Chicken. The sweet, spicy palette does break up the monotony if you have become bored of European flavours.
Pile Sandwich Bar – For those on a budget, or just keen to picnic on the beach or perched on a wall in the Old Town, the baguettes in this cheap and cheerful sandwich shop are a great option.
Pizzaria Oliva – The pizzas at this pizzeria are crispy and delicious. There is a good variety from the classic Margarita to the Piquant that will set your mouth on fire. Tables spill across the street and it can get busy here as it is a very popular spot. Order a glass of sparkling rose and enjoy a little people watching.
Kamenice – Kamenice is a seafood restaurant with tables outside in a square. This place is recommended in both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide’s Europe on a shoestring/budget. It has slightly lost its budget credentials, but its still great value for the Old Town. The seafood here is unswervingly great, with perfectly cooked calamari, splendid whitebait and plump fresh oysters. Even the pasta here is wonderful so ordering anything from the menu is a pretty safe bet.
Dolce Vita – Dolce Vita is an ice cream shop up an alley off the main drag. They have lots of different sundaes, pancakes and other delights. Mr Fluskey got a caramel and peanut cup, and I got a tiramisu. Both just hit the spot!
Final Thoughts on Your 3 Day Dubrovnik Itinerary
Forget the one-day cruise stops that dominate Dubrovnik, to really experience the best the city has to offer you’ll need these few extra days. Dubrovnik is a glorious place to get lost in, finding a serious dose of culture, delicious dinners and some seriously cute kittens along the way. This is truly the best way to see Dubrovnik in 3 days.