There’s a reason why a day in Dubrovnik is on so many Mediterranean cruise itineraries. Widely known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik Croatia has stunning tile-red roofs and ancient medieval stone walls jutting into the sparkling, azure blue Adriatic Sea. It’s the top destination in the country, ranking among CNN’s list of the Ten Best Medieval Walled Cities, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to do near Dubrovnik
Cruise ships dock far from the walled city, and plenty of taxis are waiting whenever they do. In our case, we’d made friends with another photographer and his wife, Celia and Jim, who suggested we share the ride.
Then the driver offered to give us a tour of the area, and we agreed. Heck, who knew when or if we might be back?
Our driver began at a 412-foot-tall mountain that overlooks the city. Mt. Srd always makes the”things to do in Dubrovnik in one day” shortlist. And it’s easy to get to from the city, because a cable car runs to the Napoleonic-era fort at the top.
Mt. Srd played an important role in the Siege of Dubrovnik, one of the fiercest battles of the 1991-1995 Croatian War of Independence. It offered the perfect vantage point from which to bombard the city.
For some reason, one of their main targets was the terminal for the cable car. The result is that now there’s a new terminal, that’s much nicer.
The long queue for the cable car is worth it. Look at the spectacular views from the top!
If you have the inclination and the energy, you can walk down to town from the top. (You can climb up, too, but unless you’re craving a serious workout, it’s probably not the best use of your time if you’re only in Dubrovnik for one day.)
We had the rare chance to glimpse a bit of Croatia’s stormy recent history as our driver took us to Kupari, a once-thriving tourist destination nearby. Doesn’t this look like an inviting resort?
Get a little closer and you’ll see what Croatia’s war for independence cost her.
Fifteen minutes was plenty of time for Kupari, but the same couldn’t be said for our next destination. If a day in Dubrovnik doesn’t appeal to you, Cavtat (TSAV-taht) would make a refreshing alternative to Dubrovnik, and is only 30 minutes away.
Trade offs. Exploring this quaint Croatian town meant we would have less time in Dubrovnik itself. Still, it was worth it to see what a typical Dalmatian tourist resort might be like. We were enchanted.
ⓘ TIP: European tourists will spend their entire holiday Cavtat and other nearby resorts. Seems that there’s enough to do that going into Dubrovnik for one day is all they need. Check Dubrovnik-to-Cavtat transportation prices here.
What to see in Dubrovnik in 1 day
Obviously, one day in Dubrovnik has to include some city sights. Cars aren’t allowed inside the city walls, so our driver dropped us off at the city gate. The defense construction includes a bridge as well.
We began with a walk through the city, just to get a sense of its size and atmosphere.
Dubrovnik has been a major seaport since the 13th century and even survived severe damage from an earthquake in 1667. They managed to restore their beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains, which to my mind only adds to its appeal.
I’m a sucker for medieval walled cities, old churches, and cobbled streets. And so is Dan. He has a “thing” for interesting old doors and windows and has the copious photos to prove it.
He also never misses a chance to photograph people in interesting dress.
Unlike Cuenca, Ecuador, which shows its half-millennium of use, Dubrovnik wears its age well. Its streets are polished through centuries of use, its people are friendly and polite, the buildings are in good repair (even after the war), and we saw no litter anywhere, even though the place was crawling with tourists.
ⓘ TIP: It was fun exploring the city on our own, checking out inviting doorways and intriguing nooks and crannies. But in retrospect, we would have made better use of our time if we’d hired a private guide to show us around. There are guided wall walks, city tours, food tours, and even tours that will take you to Game of Thrones film locations. For sure, we’d have seen the sights that were important to us. SEE AVAILABLE TOURS HERE.
Beautiful Orthodox churches
Religion is a huge part of Eastern European culture and it seemed there was an Orthodox church at every turn. Being Greek Orthodox, Celia knew that most Orthodox churches have the same setup, worldwide. Regardless of which country they’re in, you will always find:
- an overhead dome with an image of Jesus,
- Jesus’ disciples standing alongside him,
- a golden front wall, the Iconostasion, between the congregants and the altar.
- On the right-hand side of the Iconostasion you’ll always find the icons of Christ and John the Baptist.
- On the left-hand side are always the icons of Mary and the patron saint of the church.
- The Iconostasion always has three entrances to the altar: a center entrance which is called the Royal Door, flanked by a Deacon Door on either side.
I really appreciated the beautifully crafted ikons and intricately painted portraits I saw in the churches … but I have to confess that, as beautiful as it was, the phrase “graven images” kept popping into my head. Go figure.
Still I was quite impressed by both the excellent craftsmanship that was used and even more by how much silver I saw. This was surely a testament to how much the people desired to demonstrate their love for their god in their offerings of talents and wealth.
Walking Dubrovnik’s walls
Walking the walls is #1 on the list of things to do in Dubrovnik. Just as in the Middle Ages, you can walk all along its walls and see the city and ocean from some 80 feet above ground level. Let me tell you, it makes for spectacular views of both the city’s interior and the Adriatic.
ⓘ TIP: If you are in Dubrovnik for more than one day, walk the walls early in the morning or later in the afternoon, when cruise ships are not in port. In the hotter months, the walls can get very hot and bright at midday as well, so dress coolly and remember your sunglasses.
Swimming in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is also a good place for sea, sun, and beach, and there are several nice beaches around the town one can enjoy. If you are tired of historical sites, you can spend a day in Dubrovnik lying on the soft sand, soaking up Adriatic rays, and swimming in the clear, blue waters. Just don’t forget a towel and your sunscreen!
Eating in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik has more than 60 sidewalk cafes and restaurants, so there’s no problem finding a place to eat. The hardest part was deciding where. Everything looked good.
Why travel to other parts of the world just to eat food we can get at home? We all wanted to sit outside in the beautiful October weather, but our lunch spot must serve local food and we had to see locals eating there. They also had to accept Euros, because that was all Celia and Jim had.
Anyway, we soon found ourselves outside a little cafe on a narrow side street. Like most restaurants in a tourist destination, ours had bilingual menus. (Well, actually they were multilingual; besides Croatian and English they were also in French and Spanish.) Jackpot! They were serving local cuisine.
ⓘ CROATIAN CURRENCY. Croatia’s official currency is the kuna, but many hotels and restaurants will accept euros as a courtesy to foreign patrons. Take it from us: their exchange rates aren’t very good. It’s best to stop at an ATM and get some Kuna. If you’ll be in Croatia for a few days, (our ship would also dock at Split), you’ll use them up.
Foods to try in Dubrovnik
Glad you asked. Croatian cuisine differs depending on the region. Dubrovnik lies on the Dalmatian peninsula, that little sliver of Croatia that runs south along the Adriatic coastline. Dalmatian cuisine includes the best of the Mediterranean diet: fresh seafood, flavorful olive oils, fragrant herbs, and local red wines.
Being a seaport, elements of other regions’ cuisines have contributed to its uniqueness. We ordered grilled fish while Celia and Jim ordered an octopus dish. Our meals came with the traditional side of boiled potatoes drizzled with olive oil. (Swiss chard is also a traditional accompaniment, but alas, all we got was a salad.)
ⓘ TIP: For a rare treat, try Croatian wine. If you’d like to immerse yourself in Dubrovnik’s gastronomy, consider this 3-hour food and wine tour. Stroll down the ancient cobblestone streets of the city’s Old Town, stopping to visit some of its great sights and to taste the local specialties over a glass of local wine.
Plan a day in Dubrovnik
See more: Enjoy more photos in our Dubrovnik photo gallery.
Want to hire a local guide? Get Your Guide offers unique tours and experiences, many priced per group, instead of per person. CHECK PRICES HERE.
Dubrovnik guide book and articles to read
- Lonely Planet Croatia (Travel Guide)
- Rick Steves Snapshot Dubrovnik
- City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas
- 10 Reasons Why We Loved Dubrovnik
- How NOT to Do Dubrovnik
- The Budget Traveler’s Guide to Dubrovnik
Day trips from Dubrovnik
Maybe a boat to nearby Adriatic islands would be to your liking. Or perhaps you fancy a day trip to another UNESCO site. Four sites to consider are historic Split and Trogir in Croatia, Montenegro’s awe-inspiring Bay of Kotor and rustic Mostar, in Bosnia.
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