Our bus ride from Mostar to Dubrovnik — known locally as the ‘Pearl of Adriatic’ — takes around four hours.
The lush, mountainous countryside of Bosnia and Herzegovina gradually gives way to the glistening beauty of the Dalmatian Coast. Those lucky enough to have snared a seat on the righthand side of the bus ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at a stunning coastline punctuated with hidden bays and craggy bluffs.
Dubrovnik or Kings Landing? This centuries-old city has attracted a cult following from the television series Game of Thrones. I admit I am naïve to this phenomenon (I have never watched a single episode), but for my travelling companion, finding locations is an obsession! Abandon the script and create your own fantasy as you explore the old city centre, wind your way around Gundulic Square, walk the steep steps of the old city walls, or just relax at one of the many Italian-themed cafes and restaurants.
Here’s a guide to some of the top things to do in Dubrovnik.
I am here in the peak of summer and Europeans love to holiday in coastal locations. The streets are crowded and the heat is beaming off the cobblestone pavements. The glistening waters of the Adriatic Sea look more than inviting, so we decide to escape the ‘Thrones throng’ by booking a kayak tour and paddling out around the old city walls to nearby Lokrum Island. Our half-day tour starts beneath Fort Lovrjenac in Dubrovnik’s small port of Pile.
Situated a mere 600 metres from Dubrovnik and spanning an area of just two hectares, the island has a surprisingly rich history — which dates back to 1023 when a Benedictine abbey and monastery was founded here. In 1808 the last Benedictines vacated the island and the legend happily relayed to us by our tour guide is that on their last night, the monks put a curse on anyone who should try to settle on the island in the future. We are surprised to encounter a prancing peacock. These birds are a popular feature of the island. They’re a legacy of the short-lived Emperor Maximilian, who had a holiday home here.
On the eastern side of the island is a botanical garden that was founded by the National Academy of Science and Art in 1959. Although my horticultural skills are limited, I’m surprised to see many Australian native plants growing here. Our tour guide tells us that most of this vegetation was sourced from Australia and South America to establish whether tropical and sub tropical plants could adapt to this climate.
It’s time to explore the ruins of the Benedictine abbey and monastery — for those with a keen eye and an obsession for Game of Thrones — the ancient port-city of Quarth. My companion is up for staging a re-enactment, but thankfully our guide moves us on.
Suddenly in the middle of nowhere we discover a beach bar where people are lounging around reading books and enjoying cool drinks. After a refreshing dip, we head back to the kayaks for further exploration of the Adriatic waters. Imagine our surprise when we encounter a nudist beach on a cliff on the south-eastern side of the island! The passing tour boats and kayaks are clearly of no concern to these sun worshipping naturists! We paddle our kayaks into the Purple Cave (which derives its name from the purple-coloured seaweed that covers the rocks), before backtracking past the nudists and on towards the mainland.
After a relaxing morning on the water, it’s time to head for the hills. There are two options to get to the top of Mount Srd (pronounced ‘surge’): walk or take the lazy alternative of gliding up in a cable car. In less than four minutes our ears pop and we step out at 412 metres above sea level. I am instantly mesmerised by the panoramic view that sweeps across the sea of terracotta roofs, towards the old medieval wall, and beyond to the Adriatic Sea.
Looking down the north facing side of the mountain, I can see Fort Imperial. The French built the fort in 1808 during the Napoleonic Wars to hold back any attacks by the Austrian forces. Fascinatingly, it never saw combat until 1991 when it played a major role in the city’s defence during the Croatian War of Independence. A small museum inside the fort will give you a glimpse of the destruction the city suffered during the nine-month Siege of Dubrovnik.
After our history lesson in the horrors of wartime destruction, we head for the nearby Restaurant Terrace to sip a cocktail and watch the setting sun sink slowly beyond the horizon.
Do you have any tips for top things to do in Dubrovnik? We would love to hear from you. Please a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Vanessa O’Hanlon is an Australian television news presenter with the Nine Network and an avid traveller. Her travels began with a flight to Egypt, a visit to the pyramids and a camel ride, and she knew there was no turning back. Since then, Vanessa’s backpack has seen a thing or two — from exploring relatively untouched Bhutan to braving the cold on the peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro.