Text and Photo: Sarah Ricks, Philadelphia TravelingMom
“Game of Thrones” is a popular TV show for many reasons, including its beautiful filming locations. Wonder what Kings Landing is like in real life? Then visit the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. Explore Dubrovnik’s real history during the Venetian and Ottoman empires, and later as part of Yugoslavia. Eat delicious seafood, and enjoy beautiful views of the Old City, the sea, and the surrounding mountains.
Walk the Dubrovnik Wall
The Old City of Dubrovnik is a walled medieval town that once was a thriving commercial trading center. The fortress wall that surrounds the city juts out into the Adriatic Sea, and cradles its scenic harbor. Climb the stairs to the medieval stone wall that surrounds the city for breathtaking views of the orange-topped roofs of the Old City of Dubrovnik, the Adriatic Sea, islands, and the mountains beyond. You might recognize the wall from scenes in Game of Thrones. The wall surrounds the Old City and you can walk its full length. Allow at least 75 minutes. Allow two hours if you are travelling with little ones or, like me, are blown away by the views and stop for pictures every few minutes.
Practical tips for the Dubrovnik wall:
- Bring water if it is hot. Before you climb up, make a pit stop. There’s a bathroom in the tourist office at Pile Gate (pay about $1).
- To avoid crowds – and the midday sun in summer – walk the wall either before 9 am or after 4 pm. In June, we walked during the golden hours of 5-7 p.m., when the crowd had thinned and the stone buildings and orange tiled roofs glowed against the blue sky.
- Stairs are the only way up to the wall. No elevator and no way to bring a stroller up the stairs other than carrying it. We did not have our kids on this trip, but saw tired parents carrying toddlers and babies. Realistically, Dubrovnik might be best for kids comfortable with lots of stairs, about age 7 and up.
Dubrovnik is used to film “Game of Thrones,” particularly scenes in Kings Landing. It’s fun to turn a corner and realize you are climbing the same stairs as Cersei Lannister or that you’re in the spot where Tyrion played a key scene. Hardcore fans can even take a walking tour of Dubrovnik spots used in shooting “Game of Thrones.”
Cable Car View of Dubrovnik
We enjoyed a 3-minute cable car ride to the top of a nearby mountain. In June, the line to get on was not long and moved fast; expect bigger crowds in July and August. During the ride and at the top of the mountain, we had views of the layout of Dubrovnik and the sea. At the top of the mountain is Restaurant Panorama, with lovely views, but a dodgy spot for little kids or toddlers because of its steep drop off and minimal fencing.
Explore Dubrovnik’s real history
Dubrovnik was independent for 450 years, until Napoleon. Dubrovnik fended off and then traded with the Ottomans, was dominated by Venice, then became part of Yugoslavia. In the 1990’s, Croatia fought a war to leave Yugoslavia.
For a one-hour historical walking tour of Dubrovnik by Dubrovnik City Tours, look for the person with the red umbrella in front of Big Onofrio’s fountain 15 minutes before the 10 a.m., noon, 1:30 pm, and 5 pm tours, and pay 12 Euros. Our excellent guide, Ana Vrtikapa, was a Dubrovnik native who was raised speaking the Dubrovnik dialect, a mix of Croatian and Italian, lingering evidence of the city’s past domination by Venice.
The Homeland War Museum, located near the top of the cable car, is inside a fort built by Napoleon and used in the 1990s war. The museum has graphic images of the Serbian shelling of Dubrovnik, which could be upsetting to kids under 10 or so.
Our favorite spots to watch the stone buildings of Dubrovnik glow in the early evening sun were from the wall, from Restaurant Panorama at the top of the cable car (both mentioned above), and from the Dubrovnik roof terrace restaurant, Above 5. The Above 5 restaurant is located on top of the Boutique Hotel Stari Grad. Dubrovnik’s Old City does not have elevators, but your climb to the 5th floor of the hotel is rewarded with a panoramic view of the walled city and the sea beyond.
The Top 5 Restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner. If you stay in Boutique Hotel Stari Grad – a splurge – an elegant breakfast on the roof terrace is included. Breakfast with that view was a wonderful beginning to every day of our stay in Dubrovnik.
Truly nutty places with great views of the sea are Buza Bar 1 and Buza Bar 2. Both are open-air bars located just outside the city wall, where customers sit directly on the rocky cliff facing the sea. While my husband and I sat on the upper rocks to sip wine, hardier customers climbed down the cliff – or jumped into the sea – to swim. These are fun places we enjoyed visiting during the day, but they are not for little kids or anyone with unsteady footing, and I would not have wanted to navigate in the dark.
Practical Tips for Dubrovnik
You don’t need to speak Croatian. People in hotels, restaurants, and other places you’re likely to visit speak English. While they are cheerful about it, we found thanking people for speaking English was appreciated. This was also true in another Croatian city we loved, Zagreb.
Be prepared to climb stairs. Cars are prohibited inside the narrow streets of Dubrovnik’s Old City, so be prepared to walk. Elevators are not allowed within the Old City. Sidewalks are sometimes stone staircases. Wear comfortable shoes with good tread, since the highly trafficked main stone street is slippery when wet. The Old City is small, so distances are short, but I’m sure the stair climbing justified at least one of my two daily gelatos.
The Old City in Dubrovnik gets overcrowded with cruise passengers between about 10 am and 4 pm. If you can, explore the streets of the Old City before the cruise passengers arrive and after they leave, and use the middle of the day to take day trips, or to visit museums, which are less crowded.
Save money by taking the bus from the airport. We flew from our home in Philadelphia to the airport near Dubrovnik. For about $6, an air-conditioned bus with plush seats took us from the Dubrovnik airport to the Old City (stop is Pile Gate). Since cars are prohibited inside the Old City, whether you take a taxi or the bus, you will need to carry your bag to your hotel door.