Last week I wrote about the first 10 days of our trip to Europe last summer, where we were visiting my husband’s family. We were really craving a warm, beach vacation with a warm ocean or sea to swim in. England really doesn’t offer that, so we knew we would need to head to the continent.We were originally considering the South of France so we could visit my husband’s best friend, but this didn’t fit into our vacation budget. several friends recommended that we consider Croatia. Neither of us had been before and upon studying up on the country, it looked like a great place for us to relax. I considered various places in Croatia based on our requirements, and the kid friendly nature of what we wanted to do, and decided to take us to Dubrovnik on this trip. The place is drop dead gorgeous so how could anyone say no to this!
Dubrovnik is an amazing city that flourished as a major trading port in the 15th Century. It’s rival, another amazing city, was 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 of the past, and more recently was bombed by Bosnian forces during the “Homeland War” which started in 1991. Based on all of that, you might not think this is a great place for kids, but it welcomes children with open arms (and they often get a more friendly greeting than their parents do!).
There are so many things to do and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to stay busy here.
We loved hanging out on the Stradun and watching the nightly guard changes (where a drummer and guards walk the Stradun in cadence).
The city has a very large festival schedule and the city teems with life all summer. 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 you littles are able to stay up that late, it is fun. The city itself 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 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, or stop in for a drink or to get some amazing ice cream (it is more of a gelato). Our favorite gelato was in 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!
Hitting the beach was a big purpose of this trip. Like most of the beaches in the Mediterranean, the beaches are pebbles and not the soft sand like we are used to in 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 (which makes it great for kids), had some waves but no dangerous under-tow (like we are used to), and you had an amazing view of the Old Town. We made sure to get there relatively early (no later than 10:00a) so we could find a place to lay out our towels. By noon the beach will be packed and it will be difficult to find room. You can also rent an umbrella for a few dollars at the beach if you want to have a little shade. That was really handy. There is also a place to buy drinks and they do tube rides behind motor boats here. 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!).
Another place we really enjoyed swimming was just outside of 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!
Walking the ramparts is a nice way to get your bearings and to pass 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 a little. It costs 100Kn per adult and there are two entrances (one at each gate to the city). The other advantage of going early is to beat the cruise ship traffic that comes into town between 11am and 3pm. The walls get jam packed. While walking the ramparts you will notice the roofs are different colors in the city. One thing we learned is that a majority of the houses were shelled during the “Homeland War”, so 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 also a favorite for all of us. It gave us such a wonderful bird’s eye view of what we were enjoying, and appreciation for what generations of people have built. It was a short walk to the base of the cable car from our apartment and it cost 100Kn/adult and 50Kn/kid. If you prefer, you can also make the hike up the mountain from the city. There is a nice path, but it can be hot, and it is a steep grade. Some people take the cable car up and hike down. We considered that until we double checked the shoe situation and called it off. Make sure you have good walking shoes if you want to hike!
While at the top of Mount Srd, we decided to check out the Imperial War Museum. The Fort was originally built in the Napoleonic Era. More recently the fort was used to defend Dubrovnik during the “Homeland War” and the attacks between 1991-1995. The Fort now houses a museum that has various displays telling the story of Dubrovnik and the losses it suffered while being attacked and how the people fought to save it. They were very brave and the situation looked absolutely horrific. This might be better for older kids (ages 9+). We found our son was interested in the videos, but most of this went right over his head.
Back in town we checked out the Aquarium one afternoon. 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.
An excellent activity is to take either the shuttle boats or ferries to neighboring islands. We decided to pack our swim gear, lunches, and sun screen before boarding the shuttle boat to Lokrum. The island is just off the coast of Old Town. The boat ride takes 10 minutes or so. The island provides some great swimming spots, a fun exercise and play park, a nice botanical garden, tide pooling, an old monastery to explore, hiking trails, and you get to see loads and loads of peacocks, bunnies, butterflies, and cicadas. It also offers a nice little cafe to get drinks, food and ice cream. 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. 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 be with fewer people. It allows you to get away from many of the tourist and feel more like a local. Many locals come here to swim, their culture is very sea and swimming oriented from what we saw. I will say the island can be quite loud due to the Cicadas. It is constant noise that you will not escape until you leave. We swam at a few locations on the island. There is good swimming for everyone on the island 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, for example. We couldn’t help taking one last swim before heading to the boat, dropped our towels and swam at the area next to the marina. It is a great place to swim as you can see the boat coming in and get down to the dock quickly, but watch your step as we saw anemones there.
Walking the market in Old Town was great too. There were so many wonderful local delicacies and snacks to try as well as many hand-made items to see. We loved these tasty candied orange peels especially. It was really neat to see what the different vendors had and there was also 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. It just made us happy (doesn’t it look like a smiley face?). We don’t tend to eat a lot of fried food, but these we made sure to stop and have (and highly recommend!).
After all of those candied orange peels, ice cream and french fries the kids might need a place to run. We found a little park with a small playground just outside the Pile Gate. There were a few swings, a little slide and some climbing frames. I think there was a little see-saw too.
Lastly, one of our favorite things to do after dinner was to walk through the marina and out to the pier to watch the sunset and see the boats go in and out. 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.
Some times we would bring extra bread with us that was left over from lunch or dinner and feed the fish in the marina. It was fun especially for the Lad and schools of fish would rush over as soon as the bread crumbs hit the water.
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, but the Stradun is the low point, and after a day of walking and playing in the sea, the stairs seemed like a lot! I got my steps in every day and was working off all of that ice cream!
We found our 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment through VRBO, and it was awesome. The picture to the left shows our “street”. The apartment we stayed in was built in the 14th century and had been fully update. It was very comfortable and the people who own it are very accommodating and nice. We had a kitchen to make our breakfasts and lunches, a nice living room where we could watch movies, and it felt very safe and clean. We would highly recommend it and loved living there for the week. The area we were in was relatively quiet and we were 35 steps (honestly) from the bakery.
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 people travel as a couple or as an individual. All accommodations are all rated and you will see the signs with their ratings on their doors. All of the bigger hotel chains are outside the city walls.
Croatia was a wonderful place to have a relaxing vacation, especially with kids. In the future, if we head back to Croatia we want to explore more island and other parts. Have you been to Croatia and where would you recommend we go?