Croatia Europe

Croatia Pt. 2: Dubrovnik

Fun fact, I watched Game of Thrones for the first time in 2022. Partially in preparation for this trip, if we’re being honest, and partially because I was finally ready to commit to learning all the character names. It was cool sitting at a café and drinking coffee and working my way through one of the books! Especially because the Game of Thrones tours were happening literally around me as I did so. I did accidentally spoil one plot point for myself while I was doing research for this trip, but that’s on me because the books and show have been out for ages. (Me: “what do you mean the _____ stairs?” *watches more show* “Ohhhhhhh….”)

I had about a week in Dubrovnik, which was amazing. It was important to me to stay in Old Town, and while that meant slipping through throngs of tourists when I wanted to get groceries or go back to the apartment where I was staying, I could also feel the history all around me. I loved wandering through the twisty passageways and climbing the staircases to try to find new areas to explore.

The first item on the list of every single “what to do in Dubrovnik” list is always the city walls. They are absolutely spectacular. After buying your ticket, you take a flight of stairs up and then walk along the edge of the entire old city. The views of the town and of the Adriatic Sea are unparalleled. I went just after breakfast, but there are also some nice (if touristy) cafés up there for the people who want to enjoy a coffee or an ice cream while looking out over everything. I would definitely recommend going here if you’re in Dubrovnik, and ideally early before it gets too hot!

One of the mornings I was there, I also went hiking up to the top of Mount Srd! It was kind of a haul to get to the trailhead, I honestly think I went up more stairs on the way to the trail than I did once I got to the mountain, but it was my first foray into Dubrovnik outside of the Old Town and it was nice to get a taste of the rest of the city. The trail cuts through some forest and then, once you’re out of the trees, it becomes a series of switchbacks. There’s not a lot of shade so definitely go early and bring sunscreen! The bird’s eye view of the city was worth it, though, and there were a few museums and cafés at the top to make a day of it.

Croatia hugs almost all of the coast in this region, so there are some fun excursions you can do to various islands nearby. I ended up signing up for a trip to the Elafiti Islands, so for $50 they shuttled me around to all three islands and gave me lunch and unlimited glasses of wine. All the time on the islands was free time, although they did provide suggestions of what to do. The amount of time on each island was perfect, with enough time to explore and relax but we still got to see quite a lot. My only big error on this one was not bringing very much cash, so I felt like I was rationing throughout the day because most places did not take card and also didn’t have ATMs.

The other island day trip I did was to Lokrum Island. This one shows up as one of the Game of Thrones filming locations, which was fun – they have a whole exhibit with an iron throne you can sit on if you want to, but you also don’t need any GoT background to enjoy it. It’s a very easy 15-minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik, and they leave every half hour or so. There’s an old monastery that was fun to explore, as well as a botanical garden, and there are a lot of nice areas to swim just off the coast. As I look back through my pictures, quite a large number of them are images of the baby peacocks, which were wandering around freely. They were adorable! It was definitely a good inclusion on the itinerary.

All in all, Dubrovnik was wonderful. So beautiful, and it was really nice to be able to see multiple facets of Croatia throughout this trip. It’s worth spending some time to be able to really explore the country! I have a few places I would love to go back to, and others that I didn’t get the chance to see while I was here. Looking forward to my next visit to this region.

Croatia Europe

Notes on Northern Croatia

Once I was done exploring Slovenia, the rest of my week was spent in and around Zagreb! Zagreb was charming. My Airbnb was about a block away from a lovely park and it was easy to walk into the city center, where there was a nice central street with tons of bars and restaurants. Zagreb is also home to the Museum of Broken Relationships, which is one of the most interesting museum concepts I’ve seen and very well executed. They asked people to send them items from broken relationships – most were romantic breakups, but it also included loss of family members, broken friendships, and even the occasional metaphorical loss, like a food allergy diagnosis that didn’t allow the sender to eat one of their favorite foods anymore. Some of the stories were funny and some were heartbreaking and it was such a cool way to spend one of my mornings there.

I was initially planning on doing day trips to some of the smaller towns that are within about an hour of Zagreb, but a friend of mine convinced me I should go see Split. I booked a last minute hotel and bus tickets and headed to the coast! It’s a longer bus ride, about four hours, but it was very beautiful and it was fun seeing the point where the towns started to look less medieval Europe and more Mediterranean. The coolest aspect of Split is that about half the old town is built on the ruins of an ancient palace. I didn’t have anything specific I wanted to see. I just wandered around, ate delicious risotto, and soaked in the city. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area!

The last stop on my tour of Northern Croatia was Plitvice Lakes. It’s one of the most well-known sites in Croatia. It’s a gorgeous national park full of waterfalls and this amazing turquoise water. I think a lot of people do it as part of a road trip or via a tour, but I went on my own and that worked really well! It’s about 2.5 hours by bus, so I booked tickets on the Flix Bus app to and from Zagreb and it was very doable as a day trip. The bus drops you off a short-ish walk from either of the park entrances. 

I had apparently done my research when I’d booked the tickets – I chose Entrance #2 and did Route H. This one starts with a short “train” ride to the start of the Upper Lakes trail. The Upper Lakes were much less crowded and I got to experience them in the morning, so I got that magical experience of feeling at least somewhat alone on the trail as I looked out over the lakes! As with any touristy activity, the earlier you get there, the better it is.

Once I’d wound my way through the Upper Lakes, there was a boat to get to the Lower Lakes. Even as I stepped off the boat, there were already so many more people. That side has a nice area with restaurants, so I had lunch there and then continued through the Lower Lakes. I think those were cooler waterfalls, but it was much more crowded on the trails, especially as it got later in the day. Even with the crowds, though, it was one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever seen, so it is absolutely still worth a visit! I made it back through the entire loop back to Entrance #2 and had plenty of time before my bus to Zagreb. I was glad that I figured out how to do it independently, as it was so much more fun to go at my own pace in the park. And with that, it was off to Greece!