Solo and light travelling in Dubrovnik.
I feel a sort of reverence and respect when I think of the Old Town in Dubrovnik. The city has experienced so much heartbreak in recent times (25 years ago is recent).
Yet with amazing resilience the city is a thriving tourist destination and the locals are the most down to earth people if you take the time to talk to them.
It is a stunning city with old and renewed architecture, cream stone walls and terracotta tiled roofs.
The turquoise ocean laps up against the walls and the white stone beaches, and the historical fort watches over a now peace-filled city.
A fabulous view point from outside the Old Town.
My second attempt to visit Dubrovnik.
My first visit to Dubrovnik never happened. We were on a trip through Europe in 1991. We were approaching the border and were alerted that the border into Yugoslavia was closed. Closed? “There’s a civil war there.” In Europe? In my day and age? Really? It was a war that was shown onscreens all over the world with utter disbelief. The atrocities are now well known. So it was with this ‘knowing’ that I finally made it to Dubrovnik 25 years later in peaceful times.
So on my visit in 2017, I was travelling by myself. The first trip alone for many years. While I was nervous arriving in Croatia, once I was on the bus to Dubrovnik I knew I would be fine.
My Airbnb host was a former Croatian soldier. I didn’t ask, he didn’t talk. We left it at that. Each day he would ask me where I had been. Mostly tourist stuff, but when I mentioned the Croatian War of Independence Museum and the disturbing War Photo Limited (focusing on the Croatian War and the wars still ongoing) he quietly looked appreciative that I’d taken the time (my words, not his – he just looked sad).
Beautiful terracotta rooftops.
Inside the Dubrovnik walls
You need sturdy walking shoes or sandals as you get lost amongst the cobblestone streets of the Old Town. If I’d mapped the routes I took inside the city it would look like a doodle – completely wandering around taking it all in. You barely need to go off the pedestrian only main street (Placa Stradan that runs from Pile Gate to Sponza Palace) to find quiet lanes and walkways.
In comparison the main street is like a main water pipe bursting with tourists, with the odd tourist going off-piste and finding themselves in quiet deserted side streets. I was there in May so this may not be the case in high summer!
In amongst my wandering I found cafes where I could sit with no rushing to move on, shops selling cravats, scarves and ties (they originate from here). I loved exploring the cafes and bars perched precariously outside the walls. I loved getting glimpses of the sea below through a window in the thick, rough, exterior walls.
Off the main street I found a small supermarket that had its own bakery selling boreks. These pastries filled with feta, spinach and nuts were my favourite meal. I think they had a surge in sales the week I was there! They were absolutely divine. One was never enough. The joy of travelling solo
was that I could have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner!! (You think I’m joking?)
The Old Town has a large range of museums. I’m not a lover of museums, but with pretty torrential downpours one day I found myself checking them all out. The apothecary (the first pharmacy), the War Photo Limited (harrowing but a must-do. I needed a coffee and a borek after that), the Maritime Museum (this was pushing me to my limit!).
Peering through the ancient walls to the sea below.
Stunning scenery outside the walls.
Outside the Dubrovnik walls.
Outside the walls was a bustle of tourists and tourist buses. Getting through these crowds you then walked to parks and beaches. My favourite spot was looking back at the walls with the beach and sea in the foreground. I sat and ate many a borek here! There were more ancient buildings and gardens – I love gardens – and it was a lot quieter outside the Old Town.
My first encounter with the beach was with a sense of relief that I had brought my jandals (thongs, flip-flops). As pretty as the white stony beaches are, they are bloody hard on my delicate wee feet, so my jandals were a welcome find in my bag.
On top of the walls.
It was a great walk atop the walls of the Old Town. Looking down over the city watching the daily comings and goings was a treat to observe life just going on. The pretty terracotta roofs range from a weathered brown (these tiles survived the bombing) to bright orange tiles that dominate the rooflines.
High up on the walls you could very clearly see the extent of the bombing damage. Huge areas of reconstructed white stone alongside the older, weather-beaten historical stone, was a constant reminder of the vast amount of damage done to the city. So much was destroyed. And it was from up above that I saw parts that still hadn’t been fixed. Broken walls on homes, churches and backyards. It was pretty sobering.
Dubrovnik and Lokrum Island from the top of the cable car at the fortress.
The best view of Dubrovnik!
Taking the cable car up to the fort where the local soldiers defended the city during the war, you get a spectacular view of the city, sea and islands below.
The museum itself was sombre and it didn’t take too much of an imagination to think what it must have been like for the soldiers living up here. It was full of strategic war game information which was a bit beyond me, but my husband would have really enjoyed seeing this.
Further beyond the fort were trenches along the hilltop. While grown over and slightly precarious to walk around, they too were a reminder of such a recent war. It was lovely to sit here and watch over the busy city below and looking out over the Adriatic sea. I had to pinch myself that I was actually here!
A daytrip to Lokrum Island.
Just a short (like 45 minute) ferry ride from Dubrovnik is the island of Lokrum. From the hustle and bustle of the Old Town this is a paradise – especially for garden lovers and those in search of stunning, stunning views. While there were plenty of visitors we were spread all over the island so it never felt crowded.
White, blue, turquoise, yellow, green, pink, red – the whole spectrum of colours were there. I spent half a day wandering around the pine tree covered island. This was a taste of the next week I would spend on the two Dalmatian Islands, further out in the Adriatic, Hvar, Korcula and Mljet. Lokrum Island was a welcome escape from the busy streets of Dubrovnik.
I loved it so much I went back there! Now that`s the joy of travelling by yourself!
The rugged beauty of Lokrum Island.
Ready to set sail to the island of Hvar in the Dalmatian Islands.
Travelling light in Dubrovnik.
Travelling light in Dubrovnik was very easy. I arrived by plane the first time and caught a local bus to Pile Gate - the entrance of the Old Town. From here it was probably a 15 minute walk to my accommodation inside the city.
It was pretty busy with a lot of tourists, so I was pleased that I was able to carry my bag on my back and make my way through the crowds. I was also relieved not to be lugging a suitcase over the cobblestone streets and up the many steep stairs.
Arriving and departing by ferry was also very easy. I caught a bus from just outside Pile Gate that took me to the port. I did manage to get myself a wee bit lost, but backtracking wasn`t an issue since my load was light.
I was in Dubrovnik on May 1st, so it was still spring. I needed all my layers and my rain poncho. An umbrella would have been helpful, but I survived. The days were generally fine and warm but extra layers were needed early morning and later in the day.
If Dubrovnik is on your list of places to visit, don`t put it off. It is a lovely city to explore for two to three days, and you can easily add daytrips to other regions close-by. Dubrovnik is a safe city for a solo female traveller.
It's definitely a place I'd love to go back to and just sit at one of the bars perched on the wall edges, watching the cruiseliners coming in and out, listening to the babble of conversations from languages around the world, and the sun setting over the Adriatic Sea. Heaven!
Next stop? The Dalmatian Islands... click on the link below to follow more of my travels.