Ben Sledge 16th May 2019
The plane gives you an aerial tour of the Croatian coastline as it comes in to land. Vast mountains on one side, an expanse of sea on the other. And where the two meet, encased in ancient walls, lies Dubrovnik.
King’s Landing is instantly recognisable if you’ve watched more than an hour of Game of Thrones, and the excitement starts to build. But first, we had to check into our hotel.
Dubrovnik Old Town is where you will want to spend most of your time, but most of the bigger hotels are based outside the walls. This is due to the fact the Old City of Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning that renovations to the 16th century buildings are strictly monitored and new buildings are not allowed full stop.
However, if you want to be close to the action, that’s where you’ll want to stay. There isn’t half as much fun to be had outside the walls, so we’d booked an apartment on the inside.
Where to stay
Perla Apartments are surprisingly modern inside and right in the heart of the city. A two bedroom apartment (sleeps four) costs a very reasonable £250 a night in peak season. When split four ways that really isn’t bad, considering the prime location and the impressive Old City views. You can nip out to a local bakery for breakfast, wander the many food markets and restaurants for dinner, and you’re in walking distance of all the main attractions. Treat yourself.
Perla Apartments are run by Tomas, a Dubrovnik native. Croatians are super friendly and he was no different. Traditional homemade liqueurs and cakes greeted us upon arrival, he texted us tips of the best things to do while in Croatia and he even gave us a lift to the airport at the end of our stay so we wouldn’t have to get a taxi. I’ll repeat, the locals are really friendly. Support their businesses.
It’s worth remembering as you’re stomping about the medieval city, Dubrovnik is gradually being worn away by tourists. As well as the people who have flown in, two cruise ships a day dock in summer. The thousands of people that pour off their decks are rapidly eroding the shining stone floors and iconic walls. Dubrovnik’s mayor Mato Frankovic has imposed a limit on the number of cruise ships and people allowed into the city in order to preserve it, but it goes without saying that you should treat it with care.
That puts even more impetus on finding a local guide to help you make the most of your time here. Whether that’s asking tips from a waiter or chatting to a taxi driver, the locals will be more than happy to offer you tips and advice.
Our very own local guide Tomas had advised seafood, beer, and a cable car (not at the same time). Delicious locally sourced fish can be found at one of the many restaurants inside the city walls, although you’ll pay a premium for it. The average plate will be around £15. It’s worthwhile for the setting and the freshness of the seafood caught in the harbour, but be warned – squid ink stains your teeth black.
The cable car is also a great choice. For around £20 you can get the best views of the city and its surroundings. At the top of the mountain, enjoy the views and check out the history museum situated in the old fort. A relic of the Balkans War, it is an eye-opening and sobering experience, but one that tells the story of a war that shaped the city. It is far too complicated to go into here but criminally ignored by the British education system considering its relevance and recentness.
It wasn’t the beer, in particular, that was recommended to us but a bar. Situated through a hole in the city walls, Bard Mala Buža might be the best bar in the world and I don’t say that lightly. The bar hangs on the cliff face that forms the base of Dubrovnik’s Old City, impossibly clinging on to the giant walls. The white limestone is somehow comforting to lean against as you look out at endless sea. Totalling £20 for four bottled beers, this was one of the most expensive rounds of my life but it was worth every penny.
Game of Thrones
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, Dubrovnik is your Mecca — unless Mecca is your Mecca, in which case, this comes a close second — and the popular tours tell you everything about the show. While you can spot many filming locations on your own, the tours know the exact camera angles, niche spots, and behind the scenes gossip that would have otherwise been impossible to find.
For just over £50, the Game of Thrones Walking Tour of Dubrovnik (not to be confused with Game of Thrones Tour or Tour The Game Of Thrones) takes you in, out and on the city walls. It’s well worth seeing the beautiful views from the 25-metre-high walls, even if you don’t care about swords and dragons, but it’s better as a fan.
We elected to accompany them on a roadtrip to a local garden for more filming locations – Highgarden is a must for the ultimate fans, but doubles the price as it includes a two-hour round trip to Trsteno Arboretum. However, the standard tours take you all over the Seven Kingdoms, from Qarth to King’s Landing, from inside the Red Keep to Cersei’s walk of shame.
If you’ve got a spare day, the ferry to the island of Lokrum (£15-20 inc. island admission fee) will take you away from the city hustle and into a world where peacocks seem to outnumber the people. There are more Thrones filming spots here – and a genuine Iron Throne to sit on – but it is a beautiful spot for a walk, swim, or picnic.
Dubrovnik is a tourist’s paradise but it’s certainly no secret. Whether you’re after a Thrones-esque break of castles and wine, or simply letting life pass you by on a postcard beach, it’s all here. And when you’re exploring side streets or splashing in the sapphire sea, the crowds blend into nothingness. They don’t matter. The city is yours, and yours alone.
Ben Sledge 16th May 2019