If I’m being honest, Croatia was never on the top of my “must-visit” list, but when my husband’s company presented us with the opportunity to travel there, I was instantly intrigued!
In many ways, Croatia still feels under the radar when it comes to tourism. Unlike the luxurious, yet highly trafficked Greek Isles or Amalfi Coast, Croatia is less developed with fewer high-end resorts and ritzy shops, and features more local chef-driven restaurants and lesser known hotels. While I’m generally drawn to the upscale resort towns, there is definitely something to be said about feeling like you’re “discovering” a new place and capturing images of it, instead of just recreating the photographs that you’ve seen in countless books and movies!
We focused our trip around the ancient city of Dubrovnik. “Game of Thrones” fans will delight in Dubrovnik’s architecture and landscape, which is nearly identical to the show; while history lovers, like me, will appreciate the pure uniqueness and age of this 16th century walled city. While the island of Hvar is gaining popularity with partygoers and putting Croatia on the map, I thought Dubrovnik was quite impressive and definitely worth a visit!
If you’re planning a trip to Dubrovnik, I’ve rounded up my top five things to do in and around the city.
What to Do In and Around Dubrovnik, Croatia
Visit an Oyster Farm in Mali Ston
The oysters from Mali Ston, along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, are widely considered some of the world’s best, so as a self-proclaimed oyster connoisseur, I had to give them a try! The local restaurant, Bota Šare, is one of a handful of farmers who have permission to grow shellfish right in the Bay of Mali Ston. The conditions of this water are ideal for growing oysters for a few reasons. It has a high salt content (seriously, it is the saltiest water I’ve ever been in!), the bay is filled with mineral-heavy water from a nearby spring, and its sea floor is packed with phytoplankton. The combination of these factors create a delicious raw oyster when shucked. If you contact the restaurant, you can make a reservation to be taken by boat to the nearby oyster farm (…literally a floating bar/pavilion in the middle of the bay!), watch them retrieve the oysters from the farms in the water, and shuck them for you to enjoy right then and there. We enjoyed fresh oysters and mussels from the farm as well as refreshing wine as we listened to the farmer share details about the famed Mali Ston oysters. I’ve never had oysters THAT fresh and the experience itself was so cool! The Mali Ston oysters were meatier and saltier than my New England favorites, like Wellfleet Oysters or oysters from Catuma Bay, but they were still delicious and very much enjoyed.
Rent a Boat and Tour the Elaphati Islands
One of the best ways to enjoy the natural beauty of Croatia is by water! During our trip to Dubrovnik, one of the highlights was renting a boat for a day. We traveled towards Old Town to see the walled city from the Adriatic Sea and then began our tour of the Elaphati Islands, a small archipelago of islands northwest of Dubrovnik. The small islands are incredibly lush, featuring beautiful vegetation as well as beaches, not to mention cool caves you can swim if you choose to anchor your boat. In fact, out of the 14 islands, only three are permanently inhabited! My favorite island was Šipan, which is home to a small beach and a sexy island chic restaurant, BOWA. You can take a break from the water by docking here for cocktails and a meal in one of their wooden huts. I loved the fact that it felt so far off the radar, only being accessible from the water!
Explore Old Town Dubrovnik
Wear your walking shoes, as Old Town Dubrovnik can only be explored by foot! Taxis can drop you off at one of the gates, but the rest of your time within the walls will be spent walking – getting lost on one of its many charming streets – and seeing the beautiful blue Adriatic Sea from countless amazing vantage points. If you pay 200 HRK (roughly $30.00) you can access the actual wall and walk the perimeter of the city. It will typically take around two hours and you can go at your own pace, stopping to take in the vistas and history along the way. If you prefer to explore the actual medieval town, which is a UNESCO Heritage sight, I’d recommend walking up one of the windy streets from the main area, Luža Square, to really see the beauty of Old Town. I found the main area to be overly commercial (think souvenir shop after souvenir shop) and not the best representation of all that Dubrovnik has to offer. If you get off the beaten path, I promise you’ll be charmed by the snapshots of every day life for those who live within the city walls. Think laundry hanging from clothes wires, cats roaming freely, the smell of homemade dinner paired with music and laughter trickling out from someone’s house. It’s easy to get lost within the city because of the height of the main wall as well as other walls within; at times it really feels like you are in a maze (but a really charming one)!
For food recommendations within Old Town, we had a delicious meal at 360 Dubrovnik, which is the city’s first and only Michelin-starred restaurant, as well as a memorable lunch overlooking the marina at Gradska Kavana Arsenal.
Enjoy Sunset Cocktails (and Cliff Jumping!)
We enjoyed several beautiful golden hours and sunsets during our time in Dubrovnik. Before the sun goes down, head to Old Town and grab a beer or glass of wine at Buža Bar (beware, cash only!). This bar is literally built on the exterior of the wall and into a cliff, which means a few things: stunning views of the water and cliff jumping! If you’re a dare devil, bring your bathing suit and take a swim break from bar by jumping off one of the nearby cliffs. When we went to Buža Bar, the water was rougher than normal, so only a few brave souls made it in, however, when conditions are calmer, it’s literally a party on the cliffs and in the sea! My favorite place for viewing the sunset was at Panorama Restaurant, located on Mount Srđ. The views from this restaurant are absolutely breathtaking and you truly feel like you are in the clouds as you dine with jaw-dropping scenery of the mountains on every side of you. If you want to skip dinner, you can still enjoy the sunset from the outdoor observation deck, which is next door to Panorama and free of charge. TIP: There is a cable car that you can take to the restaurant, but as of late, it has not been running. Instead, you’ll need to drive or take a taxi and I’d recommend heading there early, as the road to the restaurant and lookout point is narrow and traffic will be jammed with other sunset seekers! Finally, if you want to enjoy the sunset at the beach, the Coral Beach Club is an ideal setting. You can spend the day there at the beach, and at sunset, you’ll have an unobstructed view of the sun going down, paired with a lively ambiance and your toes in the sand!
Visit Ston on Your Way to Croatian Wineries
About an hour outside of Dubrovnik near Ston and Mali Ston are several family-owned wineries, producing a number of delicious red and white varieties. As we headed to our first winery, we stopped in the village of Ston, which is an interesting little village because located in the hills above it are the Walls of Ston, which date back to the 1300s! It is the largest defensive wall in Europe and was built to protect the area’s salt pans, which contributed to its wealth. If you’re up for some exercise, you can actually walk the wall! After exploring the small village of Ston, we stopped at a wine bar in the center to kick off the day. I thought it was really cool that one of their prize wines is aged underwater for up to two years in an underwater wine cellar in the Pelješac Peninsula. You can buy the wine and take home the actual amphora it was put in to go underwater (with seashells and barnacles still attached)! Next, we visited Miloš Winery where we enjoyed a tasting of wine and olive oil from one of the owners and learned all about his family’s winery and it’s rich history in Croatia. To round out our wine tasting experience, we visited Marlais Winery for another tasting. Collectively, we enjoyed the Miloš tasting better, but bought wines from each winery to enjoy during the rest of our time in Croatia. I had never really considered Croatia as a wine region and I was pleasantly surprised with the history of the area’s vineyards and taste of the wines.
The A-Lyst is a Boston-based lifestyle blog curating the very best of style, beauty, food, and travel.