Last week I wrote about the first 10 days of our trip to Europe last summer, where we were visiting my husband’s family. As we were on vacation we were really craving some warm beach time with a lovely sea where we could swim and frolic! England really doesn’t offer much in that regard, so we knew we would need to head to the continent. We were originally considering the South of France but this didn’t fit into our vacation budget and several friends and family recommended that we consider Croatia. Neither of us had been before and upon studying up on the country it looked like a great fit for us. I considered various cities and towns in Croatia based on the kid friendly nature of what we wanted to do and set my sights on Dubrovnik. The place is drop dead gorgeous!
Dubrovnik is an amazing city that flourished as a major trading port in the 15th Century rivaling another amazing city, Venice. The City of Dubrovnik is a UN World Heritage site, and as you walk the car-less Stradun (Dubrovnik’s main street pictured to right) it is hard to imagine what this city has seen and been through. A major earthquake rocked the Dubrovnik and southern tip of Croatia in 1667 destroying the majority of the city, it fought against invading armies over centuries, and most recently was bombed by Bosnian forces during the “Homeland War” starting in 1991. The people have amazing resilience and come back from each event stronger. They also welcome children with open arms and they often get a more friendly greeting than their parents do!
Where we lived:
We decided to stay in the Old City of Dubrovnik, which meant we were with in the city walls. This was great because you are in the heart of it all. The Stradun is the low point in the city and after a day of walking, playing in the sea and walking these stairs I felt as though I had earned every bite of the delicious ice cream!
We found our 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment through VRBO, and we loved it. The picture to the left shows our “street”. The apartment we rented for the week was built in the 14th century and had been fully updated. It was very comfortable and the people who own it were very accommodating and nice. We had a kitchen to make our breakfasts and lunches, a nice living room where we could watch movies and plenty of room for all of us to stretch out. It felt very safe and clean. We would highly recommend it and loved living there. The area we were in was relatively quiet and we were 35 steps from the bakery for beautiful fresh bread.
Other options in the city are staying in Sobe, which are private rooms in people’s homes that are rented out. This is a great option for individual travelers or couples. All accommodations are rated and you will see the signs with their ratings on their doors. If larger hotel chains fit your traveling style better, you will find all of them outside the city walls but still close to the action.
Our favorite places to swim:
Hitting the beach was the main purpose of this trip. The beaches here are similar to to other beaches the line the Mediterranean coast and are pebbles. They not the soft sand we are used to on the West Coast of America. The water is warm and lovely to swim in and our favorite beach was only a 5 minute walk from Old Town (picture on the right). We liked this beach because it was close, had a gradual grade into the sea, had some gentle waves with no dangerous under-tow, and there is no way you could beat the view of the Old Town. We made sure to get there no later than 10:00a so we could find a place to lay out our towels. By noon the beach was packed and was difficult to find room. Umbrella rentals are only a few dollars at the beach if you want to have a little shade. There is also a place to buy drinks and they have several beach activities you can register for. We enjoyed the swimming and snorkeling and this area was free from sea anemones which can really ruin your day (be on the look out in and around Dubrovnik!).
We really enjoyed swimming was just outside the Old Town wall at Buza I. We had read about the two Buzas in our tour books (Buza 1 one will be marked with graffiti on the wall), and were able to find them during our walk around the wall of the city (which I will get to next!). Buza means “hole”, and that honestly is what you are looking for to transport you to these relaxed bars where children are welcome. Buza I offers a nice rocky perch to lay on and relax, and when it starts getting too warm, you can jump straight in to the sea. This one felt more relaxed than Buza 2, which reportedly is where Bill Gates likes to hang out when he visits. Buza 2 has many levels and tables with umbrellas. It feels more like a proper outdoor bar. Buza 1 had a lot of people laying out on towels or sitting on the rocks, with a bar up the steps with a few tables. Our son is a bit of a daredevil, and was looking for higher points to jump from. We reckon the highest point he and my husband jumped from was about 10 feet above the water. Make sure you check depths before you jump to stay safe. You will want to get here early as well, to claim a nice spot to relax. Sunset is an amazing time to be here too!
Another excellent swimming place is Lokrum which is a small island just off the coast of Dubrovnik. It is easily accessible via shuttle boats. The shuttle boat runs back and forth between the Lokrum Marina and the Old Town port every half an hour or so, which makes it easy to go back and forth. On our last full day in Dubrovnik we opted to take the 10 minute journey over to explore. The island provides some great swimming spots, a fun exercise and play park, a nice botanical garden, tide pooling, an old monastery, hiking trails, and you get to see loads and loads of peacocks, bunnies, butterflies, and cicadas which are very vocal! It offers a nice little cafe where you can purchase drinks, food and ice cream. We swam at a few locations on the island. There is good swimming for everyone from the smallest and newest swimmers to daredevil cliff jumpers. There is a small lake called the Dead Sea on the island that is recommended for young children and lots of swimming along the coast with ladders to climb out of the sea and showers to wash it off your body. Make sure you are watching your step when swimming along the shore as we saw numerous anemones.We wish we had explored the island earlier in our trip as we would have spent more time here. It was a really nice way to get away and is less populated. Many locals come here to swim. The connection to the sea is hugely important in their culture and this little island allows you to get away from many of the tourist and feel more like a local.
Our Favorite things to do:
The city has a very large festival schedule during the summer and just teems with life. Various performances (theatrical and musical) can be found all over the city in the summer. Many of the shows start around 9:00p we found, so if your little ones are able to stay up that late, it is really fun to watch and participate. The city feels really safe and walking around at night gives a completely different feel than that of day, when the cruise ships are in and the place is packed full of tourists. It feels much more intimate with windows glowing gently, street lights lit, couples walking hand in hand, children dashing hither and yon. It was my favorite time to explore the narrow streets and duck into the small tourist shops. It is also the best time to find a place to eat, stop in for a drink or to get some amazing ice cream (it is more of a gelato). Our favorite gelato was at a shop right on the Stradun. We liked the flavors and textures the best, but even better were the guys working there. They love to play with the customers, making you think you had taken your ice cream but ending up with an empty cone, acting like they are dropping your cone, and creating some amazing ice cream birds. By the end of our week we felt like locals here as they always waved and called hello when we passed by. Try their “Facebook” flavor. It is actually pretty good, albeit very blue!
There are so many things to do and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to stay busy here. We also just loved hanging out on the Stradun, eating ice cream or drinking take away margaritas and watching people and the nightly guard changes. You will know it is happening when you hear the drums beating. A drummer and guards walk the Stradun in cadence dressed traditionally several times a day.
Walking the market in Old Town was great. There were so many wonderful local delicacies and snacks to try as well as many hand-made items. We especially loved these tasty candied orange peels. Fresh, local fruit which was especially tasty after a morning of swimming. Near the market we also found a pizza and sandwich place which offered some of the most amazing french fries we have ever had. We also loved the special french fry box they came in. We don’t tend to eat a lot of fried food, but these we made sure to stop and have – and now we highly recommend them! The Old Town is full of tourist shops, restaurants, churches and lots of places to book your tours. It is fun to just wander, getting lost in the narrow streets and seeing where you ended up, especially since you really couldn’t get that lost and everything always lead back to the main street. By the way, one of our favorite restaurants was called the Taj Mahal and they serve the most delicious Bosnia fare. I don’t think I have ever had Bosnia food before eating here and it was so good we went back a second night later in the week.
After all of those candied orange peels, ice cream and french fries the kids need a place to run. We found a little park with a small playground just outside the Pile Gate where kids can play in the shade of the city wall. There were a few swings, a little slide and some climbing frames. The structures are suited more to small children but our son enjoyed it and got to play with some of the other kids from the area.
Walking the ramparts is a nice way to get your bearings and to pass around 2 hours. We were in Croatia in August and it got hot, so we made sure to do this early in the day to beat the heat. It costs 100Kn per adult and there are two entrances – one at each gate to the city. Arriving early also helps beat the cruise ship traffic that comes into town between 11am and 3pm. The walls will be jam packed during that time. While walking the ramparts you will notice the roofs are different colors – some darker red and others lighter and some will be grey. An interesting fact we learned is that a majority of the houses were shelled during the “Homeland War”. When you look out over the city and see bright red roofs, they are new. If they are faded and orange, the house wasn’t a direct hit.
The Dubrovnik Cable car is not to be missed. The gondola ride to the top of Mount Srd from the city was something we all enjoyed. It gave us such a wonderful bird’s eye view of what we were enjoying, and appreciation for what generations of people have built. The base of the cable car is just outside the City Wall and it costs 100Kn/adult and 50Kn/kid. If you are up for some exercise make the hike up the mountain from the city. There is a nice path that goes up the mountain but it can be hot in summer and it is a steep grade. Make sure you have good walking shoes if you want to hike! Some people take the cable car up and hike down.
While at the top of Mount Srd, we decided to check out the Museum of Croatian War of Independence. The Fort that houses the museum was originally built in the Napoleonic Era but was used between 1991-1995 to defend Dubrovnik against attacks during the “Homeland War”. The museum that has various displays telling the story of Dubrovnik and the losses it suffered during the war and how the people fought to save it. They were very brave and the situation looked absolutely horrific. This is better suited for older kids (ages 9+). We found our 6-year-old son was interested in the videos, but most of this went right over his head.
We spent a little time checking out the Aquarium. I would say this is something to do if you are bored and need something to do indoors. We found the tanks very small for the number of creatures in each and the place was a bit depressing compared to other Aquariums we have visited. They have won many awards for their Marine Institute however and a lot of good work is being done by the people there.
One of our very favorite things to do after dinner was to walk through the marina an out to the pier to watch the sunset. My son loved watching the boats go in and out and kids playing soccer. It was a nice, relaxing way to end busy days. The breeze would pick up and refresh our souls and you really feel like you are out there with the locals. A few people would pack a picnic dinner and bring bottles of wine and sit on the benches enjoying their evening. We opted to enjoy our dinner in restaurants and bring our ice cream with us! Some times we would bring left over bread from lunch or dinner and feed the fish in the marina. It was fun watching schools of fish rush over as soon as the bread crumbs hit the water.
Croatia was a wonderful place to have a relaxing vacation, especially with kids. In the future we want to explore more islands and other parts of this amazing country. Have you been to Croatia and where would you recommend we go?