In July we had our summer holiday in Dubrovnik for 10 days. We stayed in the Sun Gardens Dubrovnik, and ventured in to the city a number of times. It was a fabulous holiday and these are our Dubrovnik Highlights.
1. Explore Old Town Dubrovnik
Obviously a trip to Dubrovnik would not be complete without exploring the old city. I defy anyone not to be overwhelmed by this majestic jewel of the Adriatic. Marble streets, baroque buildings, 6 metre wide city walls, a bustling city port and rocky shore amongst other things create this unique city. Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town for good reason.
Depending upon the length of your stay, (and the patience or culture tolerance of your children), there are loads of historic sights to visit.
Unfortunately our childrens threshold for cultural sights is low, so we limited our exploration to a walking tour of the city. There are many guided tours available, all reasonably priced, but we preferred to do our own. We Explored the Stradun (main city street), harbour, and many squares, back streets, alleys and lanes that make up the old town.
The city is very small and can only be covered on foot. During the day the crowds coupled with the mid day sun can make the city unbearable. Aim to visit early in the morning or after 4pm to avoid the main throng of the crowds. In particular tourists disgorging from the enormous cruise ships that dock in the main harbour.
The old harbour is teeming with nautical activity. On the docks touts sell boat trips to the nearby islands, or glass bottomed boats for just outside the harbour walls. Our kids were seduced by the red and yellow submarines. I especially wanted the yellow one, so I could annoy the kids by singing Beatles songs – but the red ones are newer and apparently have a much larger glazed area under water.
It was fun and a great way to get an alternative view of the city walls, but anyone actually wanting to see marine life would have been very disappointed.
2. Panoramic Views from the Cable Car
The cable car offers a 4 minute ride to the station at the top of Mount Srd, 405 metres above sea level, with unrivalled panoramic views over Dubrovnik.
Mount Srd has been a strategic defence location for centuries. The Imperial Fortress that still dominates the site, was built by the French in the early 19th Century, extended by the Austro-Hungarians, and served as a vital shelter for local fighters during the homeland war in the early 1990s. Today it houses the Museum of Homeland Security.
A cable car has been on this site since 1969, but the original was destroyed during the homeland war. The current operation reopened in 2010, and is clean, modern and efficient. The station at the top now has a fabulous two level viewing platform as well as a shop, restaurant, and toilets.
The strategic importance of this site is explained by the breathtaking views it provides. Over the city and down the coast on either side as far as the eye can see. These views are now the star of the show, and rightly so.
Our cable car journey started around 5pm. We spent around an hour and a half enjoying the view, and visiting The Homeland War Museum. We hadn’t booked, so were very lucky to get a table with only a 20 minute wait. The food and service were both fantastic. Despite the prime location, prices were reasonable.
Tips and advice
Tickets are available one way, with a winding path up the side of the cable car for those wishing to hike up or down. We were far to lazy to walk.
Even in the height of summer we were able to walk straight on. We travelled around 5pm. It wasn’t too busy, or too hot. The weather was amazing when we travelled, but given that the view is the star of the show, check the weather before you travel.
Book a table at the restaurant to avoid disappointment.
3. Museum of Homeland Security
Dubrovniks Homeland Security Museum is housed in the Imperial Fortress, at the top of the cable car on Mt Srd. It’s also accessible by road.
The museum celebrates the successful defence of the city by the Croatian Army following the Serbian Montenegrin aggression in 1991. It honours and the bravery and suffering of the people and city while it was under siege.
Exhibits include over 500 documents, equipment, and pieces of war memorabilia from the 1991 – 1995 war of independence. Hugely interesting, the museum provides very detailed accounts of the defence strategy of the war. This level of detail made it difficult for the kids to stay focussed.
Translation to English is a little stilted, unfortunately it reads as if its been written in the Borat style.
There are some interesting video displays, and a number of rooms displaying photos that were taken during the war. Only photos taken by Croatian photographers and journalists were on display, and they very clearly demonstrate the difficult conditions that the Croatian people lived through.
Candid shots of soldiers relaxing, and in combat are alongside children growing up in a war zone. The photos make a very powerful statement, and are my favourite part of this exhibition.
This is a recent war, and it was obvious from the people we spoke to during our trip that the scars are healing, but still tender.
I would recommend a visit to this museum for anyone with kids over 12.
The museum is housed on the ground floor. We wandered up to the roof – The stairway is covered in graffiti from when the soldiers sheltered here during the war. Then on the top floor, a view to rival the viewing platform – but without any crowds!
4. Walk The Old Town Walls
No list of Dubrovnik highlights would be complete without a walk of the walls in this Medieval city. Learning from a previous experience, we came into the city late, had an early supper, and ventured on to the wall around 6.30pm. Perfect timing, as the walls were almost clear of tourists, and the temperature was cooler.
It takes around an hour to walk the circuit – more if like me you stop to photograph almost every building you see. The city has been largely rebuilt following the war of independence, shiny new terracotta grooves giving the city and almost disneyesque appearance. The views from wherever you are on the wall, either looking in, or looking out are nothing short of spectacular.
There are a number of spots to stop and take a drink on the wall. We were lucky enough again to be walking as the sun set, and managed to get a beautiful spot to watch it finally disappear.
Then as it set, a huge apocalyptic electrical storm rolled in, with an amazing thunder and lightening show. We along with many other ridiculously tried to catch it on our iPhones, before we were chased off the wall by the caretaker, shutting the gates. Look at this spot for a bite top eat. Its the fabulous 360 degree restaurant.
Damage from the war has been now largely been repaired. Evidence of the historic turmoil is seen in the newness of the terracotta roof tiles.
Every square space has been utilised – including this creatively shaped basket ball court.
There are a couple of places along the wall to stop and have a drink.
With ringside seats.The Hole In The Wall pub is the most famous of the bars. It gets very busy, and has an overwhelming odour of toilets!
5. Charter a Boat around the Elaphite Arcahepelago
Chartering a boat was beyond doubt the stand out activity in our Dubrovnik highlights. We loved being out on the water for the whole day – sun bathing on the front of the boat, whizzing over the water, dropping anchor in secluded bays, jumping in to crystal water and accessing sights we wouldn’t otherwise have got to. It was a huge hit, and worth every penny.
Our boat was organised through the tourist agency operating out of The Sun Gardens Dubrovnik. We could probably have negotiated a better deal if we had pre booked from the UK, or shopped around with charters in Dubrovnik, but we made the decision to charter at short notice, so took the easiest option. Initially we rented the smallest boat, but we were advised later that a boat we can “walk around” would be far more enjoyable, so we upgraded. We were very glad we did.
Not really walking about the boat while its moving, but shuffling between the front and back was very useful. We could get cold drinks, shade, and just generally move about without needing to “pull over”!
The whole day charter including skipper and fuel was £450. Not cheap, but we felt it was ok value for money. Hiring a jet ski each for an hour and a half at the beach would have been £300.
Doing a private charter meant we could dictate our own timing and schedule. One of the stops not on the standard itinerary is a trip to Copa Cabana beach, added no problem.
A brief 20 minute hop across the water from our hotel, and the first stop on our itinerary was Sudurad – a small fishing village on the island of Sipan, the largest of the Elafiti archipelago. Historically Sipan was a get away for wealthy 15th Century Dubrovnik families. Apparently there are over 30 churches on the island, dating back to the middle ages, and we saw signs for them everywhere. The harbour was quite pretty, with a few nice places for a coffee of a quick snack, but after a brief 20 minute wander, we were itching to get back on the boat.
Port of Lopud
Back on the boat, and we whizzed the 15- 20 minutes across the water to the Port of Lopud. Our skipper suggested an hour here, and if we had been hungry, it would have been a great place for lunch. Bigger than Sudrad, there are souvenir shops, and bars and restaurants line the sea front. The botanical gardens was suggested to us, and we took a quick wander round. But we preferred to have a coffee and watch the activity on the water.
Sunj Beach, Lopud
Finally we were back on the boat and headed out to Sunj beach for a swim.
Famed for the best beach in Croatia, Sunj beach has fine white sand, a rarity in this area. We chose here to drop anchor and have our picnic lunch. The whole of Dubrovnik may have made the same decision, as the water along the front was teaming with boats of all shapes and sizes. It didn’t detract from the experience, and despite our picnic being fairly rudimentary, it was great lunch stop. Finally we could jump in the water and cool off.
The kids in particular loved jumping off the boat. Repeatedly.
Lunch done we were on our way.
Under Water Caves
Next on the itinerary was the underwater caves. Not as impressive as they sound, they are accessible without swimming completely underwater. Its surreal swimming through a gap around a meter or two wide, and emerging inside the cave. Not for the claustrophobic, it takes a while for eyes to adjust to the light.
While we were there, just as we were starting to feel like Indiana Jones intrepid adventurer. We were swiftly brought back to earth by the arrival of some Australians pushing a 6 month old baby is a baby pool float! So not quite adrenalin pumping, but fun none the less.
Before we arrived in Croatia, Abbi had seen pictures on instagram of beach trampolines. Forget culture, fine dining or quality time with the family. Abbis main aim during our stay was to find aqua trampolines.
As luck would have it, the Beach at Copacabana Beach has a water adventure playground !
The kids were dropped at the jetty, while I stayed on the boat to take pictures.
Our final jaunt was exploring the coast line around the islands. Finding small secluded coves to swim in, and generally just enjoying being on the boat was a great way to end the day.
Enjoying the coast at sea level provides a different perspective to the coast road we had driven numerous times before. We certainly had a much greater appreciation for this stretch of coast line.
All too soon, it was time to head back to our hotel