Dubrovnik has been on our destination list forever. I’d visited Dubrovnik as a child and remember well the imposing walls and red roofs of the old city. Dave had never been and it was primarily for this port that we chose to take the Windstar cruise – Italy and the Dalmatian Coast. As our ship would be in port for a limited time, we decided to maximize our day in Dubrovnik with a private tour. Research on Trip Advisor led us to Dubrovnik Shore Tours.
Why we book a private shore excursion: Most cruise passengers tour with the official ship’s tours. These are great and guarantee the ship will wait for you before leaving port. However, the tour groups are large, and the speed of the tour is dependent on the slowest participant. We’ve been delayed on a bus tour in Greece twice, once for a prolonged bathroom stop, and once for a couple who stopped too long for drinks. So, though private shore excursions seem a luxury travel expense, we believe there is value in our time. We do choose excursions that guarantee a return to the ship on time however!
Looking for what to do with one day in Dubrovnik on your own? Follow our walking tour of Dubrovnik to see the sites of the Old City without a guide. It’s a compact walled city and you’ll have fun exploring on your own!
Dubrovnik, the Old Town on a Walking Tour
We tendered to port much earlier than expected but there was our guide Stjepan holding a welcome sign. He brought us out of the sun into a quiet spot to introduce us to the city and a bit of its history. Stjepan was born in Dubrovnik and his family still live within the walls.
After the introduction, we walked through the walls into the Old Town, a UNESCO world heritage site. First the outer wall, before the original inner wall. This fortification system kept Dubrovnik a wealthy, independent city when the ‘barbarians’ conquered the rest of what is now Croatia. It was again a protection after the 1991 breakup of Yugoslavia when Dubrovnik was attacked by the Yugoslav People’s Army.
Coming through the gate, we found ourselves before the Assumption Cathedral (where Stjepan was baptized, and where his ‘Mama’ currently works). He took us into the cathedral, and, away from the big tour groups, where he showed us the relics of the church. Stjepan also described the more valuable relics and collections held in the church archives. The loin cloth from Jesus’ crucifixion is here, within the cathedral.
We exited the Cathedral, took the short walk down to the church of St. Blaise, where we admired the rooftop statue of the patron saint holding a model of the town in his arms. Here also saw Orlando’s column. Traders in Dubrovnik used to use the forearm of this statue as used as a measurement standard.
Stjepan timed our tour well. We walked the Stradun, the main street of the Old Town, before it became thick with tourists. We had time to wander a few side streets and enjoy Onofrio’s fountain where water still flows from an aqueduct.
Then we headed outside the walls to the water where kayakers explored and Stjepan pointed out film locations from Game of Thrones. As tour-bus after tour-bus rolled up to the city, Stjepan loaded us into his luxury van and drove us away.
Cavtat and its Harbor, a great addition to our shore day in Dubrovnik
It was a gorgeous day for this panoramic drive and we were thrilled to be in a comfortable, air-conditioned, vehicle. As he drove, Stjepan talked about the history of Croatia, the dictator Tito, and the conflict of the 90s. (Chatting with a local guide is a great way to learn more about other countries’ histories.) We had read about Tito but hadn’t understood how the citizens of his country saw him – a smart man, balancing Yugoslavia between the demands of the USSR and the western world.
Eventually we came to the gorgeous town of Cavtat. This town is a favorite vacation destination for the yachting crowd, as evidenced by the spectacular boats lining the harbor. We strolled along the promenade, enjoying the sea breezes, and watched kids playing water polo.
At the end of the harbor sits the chapel of Our Lady of the Snows. Tradition holds that when the town of Cavtat was attacked, the Virgin Mary sent a rare snow storm to repel the attackers and save the city. The church contains an important piece of art, the polyptych of Saint Michael by Vicko Dobricevic (d. 1510)
Stjepan gave us some time to explore the town and the 15th century church of St Nicolas while he went for the van. Just enough time for an ice cream.
As we’d had an informative tour of Dubrovnik and a refreshing interlude in Cavtat, Stjepan decided to up the game with a crazy cliff side ride to the top of the mountain. The road was narrow and steep, with signs warning of wild boar. All well and good, until big busses and trucks came in the other direction. I had to close my eyes when Stjepan pulled to the infinitesimal side of the road.
But there was a reason for the drive. At the top of the mountain, we drew off the road (more space here fortunately!) and walked to the side where we had the most incredible view of Dubrovnik, its harbor and the sea beyond.
Afternoon in the Old Town of Dubrovnik – on our own
Back to Dubrovnik, we bid goodbye to Stjepan and explored the city on our own. At this point it was staggeringly hot, but we’re not ones to back down from our plans, so we walked the walls of Dubrovnik, entering at Minčeta Tower near the Pile Gate. The length of the walls is about 1.2 miles but includes over 1000 steps up and down. By the time we reached our planned refreshment stop, a terraced cafe on the outside of the walls, we were exhausted and steaming. To this day, we marvel that the staff allowed us into the restaurant as hot and sweaty as we were.
Feeling better for the break, we strolled once more down the Stradun in search of Game of Thrones souvenirs (hint: buy them on Amazon. Same things at better prices…) before catching the tender back to the ship. The Wind Surf’s water sports platform was open, so we enjoyed a quick jump into the welcome blue waters of the Adriatic. All in all a perfect day in Dubrovnik.
What to do with one day in Dubrovnik: Book a private shore excursion, explore on your own, or take the ship’s tour?
You can easily explore the UNESCO listed Old Town of Dubrovnik on your own. Pick up a guidebook and happily spend the day discovering things yourself.
We were very happy we had booked a private shore excursion as touring quickly with our guide allowed us to see the historic Old Town before the crowds. And then, when the tour groups arrived, we escaped to the charming town of Cavtat. The private tour also allowed us to talk more freely with the guide. He focused on our interests and shared stories of his upbringing in the Old City.
We still had half a day left to wander Dubrovnik and get a sense of the city without a tour guide. We were fortunate to be able to share the tour with another couple which made the expense quite reasonable.
Ships tours or private? Which would you choose?
Where have you traveled that you’d like to return to? We’re always looking for new adventures!
For more ideas to plan YOUR ideal trip read: How to Plan the Perfect European Vacation.
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