I had heard that Dubrovnik was supposed to be a nice place to visit, and after Kotor, I didn’t think I would be overly surprised or shocked by Dubrovnik. Going in with no expectations is always the way to be.
The two hour bus ride north from Kotor winded along the coast, past the rural Croation/Montenegro border, and then finally into the city of Dubrovnik, located in southern Croatia. I walked about an hour from the bus station towards the old town, getting hit with wind and rain. It was a pretty miserable walk as the rain started and stopped for the entire hour of my walk. I got to the old town in a fair mood, nothing great but trying not to be negative. As soon as I passed through the 14th century walls, I felt like I had entered a different world. Just like Kotor, I had went back in time.
The main Pile Gate provides access to the main street through the old town. The wide marble street was already decorated with Christmas, the long street leading to the clock tower and large Christmas tree. I walked around the back alleys trying to find my hostel. If it wasn’t so nice, I would’ve gotten frustrated; luckily, its stairs and small streets are a pleasure to walk around and I was happily lost for a while.
I stayed two nights in Dubrovnik in what I would argue as one of the best times to go if you are more interested in the city than the beaches. In the summertime, hotels and hostels are full, streets are overcrowded, everything is expensive, and you have an entirely different atmosphere. Going at the end of November, my hostel was at 25% capacity, I saw more locals on the streets than tourists, and the prices were lower. Walking around without large amounts of tourists gave a feel that I was visiting an undiscovered gem of a city.
Even though prices were cheaper for the off-season, Dubrovnik is the most expensive city in the Balkans. A dorm room in the hostel cost 19 euros ($25) per night, compared to 10 euros ($13) in other cities like Kotor and Shkoder. The cheapest meal in the old town is a sandwich with fries, and that costs $5.
Dubrovnik City Walls
The must-see sight in Dubrovnik is the city walls tour (100 kunas, or $16). This allows you to walk on the city walls that reach the heights of 80 feet above the old city. For traffic control in the summer, one can only walk counter-clockwise. For my time up there, this wasn’t relevant as it was almost empty. I went up with a guy named Lou, from Austin, Texas. We had met in the hostel and got along great, so we visited the walls together. Typically, one probably walks all the way around the 1.2 mile wall in about 45 minutes or an hour. We took our time, had great conversations, and really enjoyed the views of the old town and the sea; our entire walk took about three and a half hours. Each 100 yards gave us a new perspective on the city or the sea or of the surrounding fortresses. Needless to say, I took plenty of pictures.
The weather while I was in Dubrovnik was the best I had had in many weeks. After the initial rain when I arrived, it was pretty much high 60s and sunny for the rest of my time there. This made a big difference in that it was pleasant to be outside and gave me a break from the rain, of which I had had every day in Albania and Montenegro.
The ticket for the city walls also includes entrance to the Fort Lovrijenac. My last day in Dubrovnik, I visited the fort with Lou. Again, incredible views. One can imagine the protection this fort gave as Venetians and others attempted to attack the city. The city was well guarded by these forts and the strong city walls that it seems like it would be virtually impossible to succeed on an attack.
A unique attraction for someone looking for an alternative site is the now abandoned Hotel Belvedere. It was once a 5-star luxury hotel but was abandoned after an attack by Serbian forces in 1991. Over the years, it has been destroyed and has deteriorated even further. A Russian businessman supposedly has recently purchased the property for $12 million, most likely more for the land than for the building.
My friend Lou and I decided to venture out and see what the hotel was like. Just getting to the gate, the mood changes. The archway looks like something from a scary movie; subsequently walking up to the hotel feels even spookier. Next up, we came to the empty swimming pool smothered in graffiti. Just behind it, walls were badly damaged and things were obviously looted at some point in time. As we went further in, we entered the hotel and caught a glimpse into a few of the former rooms. It is a crazy contrast – the completely destroyed room had one of the most incredible views to the Adriatic Sea.
We only went in for a few minutes, but the darkness and the floor covered in trash and pipes and who-knows-what, we decided to get back out. It honestly reminded me of the destruction caused by Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. However, the Hotel Belvedere had nothing to do with nature.
I ended up really liking Dubrovnik. I would go so far in saying that it’s one of the most beautiful cities that I’ve ever been to. Had I went in the summer, I would’ve had the advantage of being able to spend time at the beach. The disadvantage is that there would be so many more people. I really enjoyed the quieter atmosphere of the city and am sure I would’ve had a completely different experience had I gone in the summer. Plus, I enjoyed the mild weather in comparison to the 100 degree weather in summer.
I would also put Dubrovnik up there as one of the top places to visit in Eastern Europe and Europe in general. Beautiful old town, great views of the city, interesting history, and a relaxing place to spend a few days. Now onto Bosnia and Hercegovina!