Cruise ship tourist's guide to Dubrovnik

by rfield

Dubrovnik is one of the world’s top stops for cruise ships. 10,000 visitors a day leave these floating cities to see the Pearl of the Adriatic. Find out how to make the most of your time on dry land.

In his 2007 TV series “New Europe”, Michael Palin was told that cruise ship visitors spend just €13 each on average in Dubrovnik. Even allowing for inflation, this is a pitiful sum and gives ammunition to those who would like to see cruise ships banned.

Follow these tips and you can enjoy the perfect day docked in Dubrovnik while putting a bit of money back in the Croatian economy.

Walk the city walls

If there’s one must-do in Dubrovnik, it’s a walk on the city walls. The whole of Dubrovnik's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it's encircled by these fantastically preserved and immensely thick fortifications. As you enter the Old Town through Pile Gate, the ticket office is on your right and entrance to the walls is on your left. It will cost you 90 kuna and take at least an hour to walk all the way around, a lot longer if you stop to take as many photographs as I did.

From up here, Dubrovnik is at its photogenic best, with views of the terracotta rooftops, boats bobbing in the Old Port area and the lovely blue of the Adriatic Sea.

Stroll down Stradun

The main street in the pedestrianized Old Town is known as Stradun, although its real name is Placa. Start your walk at the Pile Gate end, next to Onofrio's Great Fountain, and stop off at the grand Austro-Hungarian café, Gradskavana (www.mea-culpa.hr) at the other end and enjoy a slice of Macaroni and Chocolate cake on the terrace. This is prime people-watching territory and you'll be amazed at how busy Stradun gets.

Its shiny limestone pavement is polished every day by the thousands of visitors, and it's lined with baroque buildings with green shutters - these were once people's homes, but Stradun is taken up entirely by souvenir shops and cafés now. When you've had enough of the tourist hordes, take one of the sidestreets leading off Stradun and go explore. While not exactly 'off the beaten track', you'll find it quieter and more atmospheric. People actually live here, although admittedly not too many - most rent their apartments out to tourists. There are 4,343 steep stone steps within the city walls, most of which seem to be in the streets north of Stradun, so be prepared to work those legs.

Bask on a beach

You’ve just about got time to soak up some rays on one of Dubrovnik’s urban beaches. Banje beach is within spitting distance of the Old Town dead opposite little Lokrum island. East West beach bar rents out sunbeds and parasols, or you can plonk yourself down on the narrow strip of sand and pebbles. Slightly further away on the same coastal road is Sveti Jakov beach – this is bigger and quieter with the added bonus of having a Game of Thrones set on the cliffs above it on the site of a derelict bombed-out hotel.

Climb a mountain

Take the cable car from just outside the city walls to Mount Srd, the 412-metre high mountain overlooking Dubrovnik for the best views of the Old Town and the outlying islands. The five minute ride costs 50 kuna single or 94 kuna return – if you don’t fancy the ride back down, you can walk down the switchback path that will take you an hour or so to get back to sea-level. (Simonseeks recommends: Dubrovnik Shore Excursion: Explore Dubrovnik by Cable Car )

Booze at Buža

By now, you’ll deserve a beer and Café Buža is the place to go. It has to be one of the most dramatically sited bars in the world, built on to rocks sandwiched between the Adriatic Sea and the city walls. It’s not the easiest place to find but is well worth it – look for signs advertising cold drinks with the most beautiful view. Once you’re there you will have to step through a hole in the city walls (buža means hole in the local Dubrovnik dialect) – grab a seat and watch the boats bob over to Lokrum while you drink. Buža only sells bottled drinks, and they’re not particularly cheap, but necking a couple of 35 kuna Ožujsko beers, preferably as the sun sets, is a Dubrovnik duty. (Ispod Mira; www.cafebuza.com)

Try Croatian cuisine

If you fancy some local food before you go back to your ship, you can’t beat the fantastically named Lady Pi Pi (Peline bb; no website). The tables are all outdoors and the grill is too, so you can smell (and see) the meat and fish barbecuing from all over town. Although it’s within the city walls, it’s sufficiently far away and up-hill from Stradun to deter a lot of tourists – their loss, as prices are low and quality is high. 120 kuna will get you a mixed grill and a drink.

Divine wine

It’s nearly time to get back to the ship, but before you do so it’d be a shame to miss out on a glass or two of local wine from D’Vino – a cracking little wine-bar on a side street running off Stradun. The friendly Aussie owner will advise you what to drink – you’re seriously spoiled for choice, but one thing is guaranteed. After drinking here, Croatian wine will be your new favourite. (Palmoticeva 4a; www.dvino.net).

By my reckoning, you'd be looking at spending around 350 kuna (€45) - not a bad price to pay for what will surely be the best day of your holiday.