Europe

Hidden Gem: Dubrovnik in December

Chris and I had a pretty crazy December. We did a lot of traveling. Like 4 countries worth of traveling. We had just moved to London at the end of September and we were so excited to take every possible opportunity to go somewhere new. Well, of all the places we’ve traveled to since we left the states back in September, Dubrovnik, Croatia was by far the most surprising and my new favorite. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, especially since we were going at an off-peak time, but I did a little planning ahead of time to find out what we could do while we were there, and it turned out to be quite an amazing weekend getaway.

We flew into Dubrovnik on a Friday in mid-December and took the airport shuttle to the gates of the Old Town (the old part of the city, although we learned later that a lot of it was rather new, as it had been rebuilt after the war in the early 1990s). From there, it was only a 2-minute walk to the Hilton Imperial. (Reason #1 why you should go in December: hotel prices are waaaay cheaper. We stayed in an awesome location for a really good price and racked up points for our next trip!). We dropped off our bags and walked back in through the Pile Gate, one of the few entrances into the walls of the Old Town.

Cue the jaw drop.

What an incredible place! I couldn’t get over the architecture. The walls and buildings were so beautiful. Side note: I took about a thousand photos on this trip because everything was just so amazing… so in order to save you from scrollitis – what I’ll call the act of having to scroll down a mile’s worth of photos, I’m going to post photos gallery-style this time, and you can click to enlarge and enjoy them. (…Actually guys, I just looked it up. Scrollitis is a real thing.)

Chris had to take some work phone calls for a bit, so while he talked on the phone, he followed me around the city as I looked for some of the places I had starred on my Google map of Dubrovnik before coming. We checked out the Dominican Monastery (very cool architecture), Dubrovačka Kuća (a neat little shop with locally made gifts), Sponza Palace (cool architecture), the Old Port (with a very cool view of the harbor from outside the walls), Gunduliceva Poljana (a pretty square), Rector’s Palace (a Gothic-Renaissance style mansion and museum), the Dubrovnik Cathedral, and St. Ignatius Church.

At one point, Chris needed a quieter spot to work, so I dropped him off at a cafe and continued walking through the streets. I climbed up countless staircases, walked through narrow alleys, and searched for the best views. They were everywhere. After every corner I turned, each new scene absolutely took my breath away. I especially loved the laundry hanging from apartment windows, balconies, and drying lines. It made it all feel so charming!

After exploring on my own for an hour or so, I went by the cafe to find Chris. As he continued his work phone calls (poor guy!), I led him toward the water. In my trip research, I had read about a cool spot by the wall outside the city, overlooking the water, called Bard Mala Buža. While it didn’t appear to be a bar, as I had expected (at least it wasn’t at this time of year), the views were incredible and I was selfishly glad we had the view all to ourselves!

After taking what felt like a million photos of the beautiful view, I decided we should move on. With the sun starting to set, I thought we could jump over to another spot I had read about: another Buža Bar. We walked along the city walls, followed the signs, and chased the dwindling sunlight though a hole in the wall (according to Dubrovnik-Guide.net, “buža” means hole, as in a hole in the wall… the name Buža Bar makes sense now!).

The views from this spot took my breath away, too! …And this one did have a bar! I bought two Croatian beers from the bartender, who had been relaxing in a lounge chair, with his feet up, gazing at the sun on the horizon. (UMMM how do I get HIS job??) While Chris continued his conference call, we sat at a little table on the edge of the rocks, sipping our beers and enjoying this little slice of paradise. The sunset was absolutely beautiful.

(Side note: One thing we had noticed about Dubrovnik was that there were cats EVERYWHERE. As we sat there on the rocks, a little stray kitten came over and started pawing at Chris’s chair. It even hopped up onto it when he got up at one point!)

Once the sun had set and we started to feel the chill of the December night air, we decided to head to D’vino Wine Bar to warm up. We weren’t too surprised to find that we were the only ones there, too! We chatted up the friendly woman who was working there and she told us about some fun events going on in the city that weekend. We tried some different Croatian wines – all pretty amazing. Chris had to convince me we didn’t have room to take any bottles back. (But who needs clothes and shoes when you can have wine??)

We grabbed dinner at one of the few places that was open at this time of year, Restaurant Horizont, just outside Ploce Gate. We could not have had a better experience! Yet again, we had the place all to ourselves. There was no one else in there besides the one man working there, so he was extremely attentive haha! He was so nice and brought over some complimentary hors d’oeuvres for us to enjoy while he prepared our meals. We had some more delicious Croatian wine and the food was simply delicious.

On the way back to our hotel, we explored the Old Town a little more, enjoying the festive Christmas and New Years decorations. Then, after a full day of traveling and exploring, we were ready for a little shut eye. We had a big day coming up… we were going to the neighboring country of Montenegro!

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On Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early, grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and headed outside to catch our van for our Montenegro day trip… In order to keep this Dubrovnik post to a (somewhat) reasonable length, you can read all about our day trip to Montenegro here.

When we got back to our hotel at the end of our full day tour, we thought we’d head out for some food and drinks. We were about to walk into the Old Town but heard some fun music coming from the area just outside the wall, on the other side of a Christmas market. We decided to check it out and found there were a bunch of people hanging out, dancing to some clubby music being played outside by a DJ! There were cool colored lights flashing and it felt like a party, so we grabbed a beer and joined in! My favorite part was that everyone was dancing. It wasn’t like some places you go to in the U.S. where all the guys stand around awkwardly (or creepily)… everyone was busting a move, whether they were there with friends or by themselves haha! These were my kind of people!!

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When we started to get hungry, we figured we’d see what we could find to eat inside the Old Town. We walked through Pile Gate to get to the main busy street in the Old Town and were excited to find that there was a concert going on! There were people everywhere!

We grabbed some dinner – a sausage from a food hut in another Christmas market area – and chatted with some locals who were surprised to find Americans here at this time of year. They were all too happy to practice their English with us haha! It was funny, actually… as the night went on, we felt like we may have been the only tourists in Dubrovnik! Everyone around us was speaking in a language we didn’t understand, including the band that was performing in the square! It was such a cool experience to be in a new city, where we didn’t understand the language, but could take part in the festive culture during the holidays.

Finally, at the end of a long and happy day, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel. Only one more full day in Dubrovnik! 😦

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On Sunday morning, we woke up early, had a quick breakfast in the hotel, and headed back into the Old Town. We bought tickets to walk along the raised Dubrovnik City Walls and quickly started up the steep stairs. Best kunas (Croatian currency) we ever spent! The views from the walls were absolutely stunning!

We walked the entire perimeter of the walls, walking up into towers and peeking though windows when we could. We saw amazing views of the city, the Adriatic Sea, the harbor, and the hills. We even saw where Game of Thrones is filmed (King’s Landing) and the building of a set for the new Robin Hood movie, starring Jamie Foxx.

When we finally finished exploring the walls and all the amazing views they had to offer, we made our way back down the stairs, left the Old Town, and walked up the path to the Lovrijenac Tower, a fortress just outside the Old Town walls on the other side of a small cove, for some more breathtaking views.

When I had been researching what to do in Dubrovnik, one of the top attractions I had come across (besides walking the city walls), was checking out the views from Fort Imperial on Mt Srđ. You can take the Dubrovnik Cable Car, for a quicker and easier trip to the top of the hill, but we figured we could handle the hour-long hike up to the top on our own. We’d save some money, get some exercise, and have more time for photo ops! 

We grabbed a bottle of water and started our hike up to the top, stopping here and there along the switchbacks to take some photos of the amazing landscape. There were some pretty spectacular views of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea. We saw up the whole Croatian coast and saw lots of mountains. Once we got to the top, we looked at some mountains on the other side of Mt Srđ and realized it was the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina! So cool!

We thought about grabbing an early dinner at Panorama, but wanted to watch the sunset from further down the hill, closer to sea level, so we started making our way back down. We basically ended up RUNNING down the mountain in order to make it to the water in time to see the last colors of the sunset! Whew!

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Slightly exhausted from all the walking, hiking, and stairs we had done, we decided to take a ten minute bus ride to the “New Town” part of Dubrovnik for some dinner and – you guessed it – another glass of local Croatian red wine. We ate at Pantarul and, once again, had an amazing dining experience. The waiter was extremely nice and professional. The food was absolutely delicious (I had vegetable risotto with mascarpone and Chris had some local fish). And yes… The wine was incredible.

We walked around Dubrovnik New City for a while, then headed to what we thought was going to be an amazing bar. It was a cave bar, carved out of the side of a cliff, that had looked amazing online. Turns out, it was closed for the season… oops… So we took an Uber back to our hotel, thinking we’d call it a night, but we ended up heading back into the Old Town, yet again, to look for a little more fun on our last night in Croatia.

We were walking around looking for a place to grab a glass of wine, when we heard some music coming from around the corner. We turned and found a group of men, singing loudly and deeply in Croatian and playing stringed instruments (like small guitars), in a narrow alleyway outside a wine bar. There were people sitting and standing all around them, singing along passionately. It didn’t seem as though the group was performing for money, but rather they were just a group of friends spreading Croatian cheer all around (in a space with pretty incredible acoustics!). It felt like there was a huge air of Croatian pride all around us. It was such an amazing and special way to end our last night in Dubrovnik!

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On our final morning, we packed up our suitcases and headed down for our last Croatian breakfast. We trudged to the bus stop to catch the shuttle back to the airport, not yet ready to leave this beautiful and unique place. We caught our last views of the city from the cliffs, winding along the coast. Just when I thought I had seen all the beauty Croatia had to offer, it had surprised me yet again.

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