Rising majestically from the edge of the Adriatic Sea, encased by 25-metre high walls is Dubrovnik. Inside, a maze of narrow streets and steps are punctuated by bars and restaurants, while houses line the unassuming backstreets with laundry lines draped between them. This is the old town. Over the years it has withstood battles and sieges but now in more peaceful times it is the gem of Dalmatian coast.
Just under three hours from Bristol Airport by direct flight, Dubrovnik in Croatia offers a tempting mix of sand, sea and city. If you’re lucky enough to fly in on a clear day, you’ll see the old town on your approach. Does it look familiar? It might well do for fans of Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik’s old town has been a favourite for external shots of King’s Landing.
A short taxi ride from the airport (approx. 250kuna) and you’re into the city. We opted for an Airbnb this time – a short walk from the old town. There are plenty of accommodation options but plump for somewhere just outside the old town and you can’t go far wrong. Lugging cases through the old town is not advised (though fun to watch with beer in hand) as there is limited vehicle access.
When we visited in mid-October, the air is warm and the Adriatic an inviting azure blue so off we went to Banje Beach. The locals may scoff at temperatures at around 22 degrees C but as Brits on holiday we’re stripping off, slapping on the factor 30 and running into the sea as fast as our knobbly knees will carry us. The sea is warm by UK standards and the swimming opportunities along the coast are vast.
As we swim in the sea, we notice an island close by and place various bets about whether it’s possible to swim to it or not. My non-adventurous side wins out and we opt to explore by ferry.
The small island we see is Lokrum; from a distance it looks wild and untamed which thankfully, bar a couple of cafes and playgrounds is true. The short ferry ride across (100 kuna return- every hour from the old town harbour) lands you on the only harbour. From here you can explore the natural lagoons of the island and find ample opportunities to throw yourself into the sea. A fort at the top of the island is a worthwhile 20-minute walk for some fantastic views back to the mainland. Game of Thrones fans- on Lokrum you will also find an old monastery, which is where Khaleesi meets with a warlock from Qarth in season two… so I’m told.
Back to the mainland and it’s time to do a Dubrovnik staple – the city walls walk. For 120 kuna, you can walk on top of the imposing walls around the entire perimeter. It’s a perfect chance to take in the scale of the walls with fantastic views out to sea.
There’s a beautiful sense of preservation in the old town – probably thanks to strict planning and development regulations that have kept the old streets aesthetically pleasing. The bars spill out on the paths with a pleasant mixture of locals and tourists. This far from a party town in October but you can’t knock it for pleasant serenity. Each narrow street feels like an adventure as you twist and turn to find out what’s around the corner. For the less able, the steps in the old town may present a problem – they are steep and numerous but there are flatter, albeit longer ways round.
The final trip of our tour takes in the city’s cable car for yet more stunning views along the coast. The car whisks you up the 800 metres in a few short minutes and on clear days offers views of the surrounding area of up to 60km. The restaurant and bar at the top offers great views with excellent cocktails. Despite my cynicism – the bar prices are reasonable and the views across the old town and out to sea are stunning and worthy of your time.
As a half-term option in October or May, Dubrovnik is a great opportunity for some sun and culture without the associated crowds. Families will find much to enjoy with islands to explore and beaches to play on. Couples will soak up the culture and enjoy romantic cocktails overlooking the sea. And Game of Thrones fans will wander wistfully humming the theme tune as they go. Dubrovnik – something for everyone.