Dubrovnik, Croatia is a magical place to travel with kids or without. We had the pleasure of spending a month in Dubrovnik with our kids during the off season and felt like we were given a special gift through the beauty and mystery this city expels. Here are some of our highlights.
First, getting to Dubrovnik is no easy task! Though it’s near to Europe, there’s no train system to or through Croatia. Flying is the best option. There are overnight ferries that take you from Italy to Croatia but only through certain months. We ended up flying from Rome. It was a bit stressful figuring out how to make our way to this beautiful city, but in the end it was worth all of our brainpower to figure out how to make the trek.
Traveling to Dubrovnik with Kids
Dubrovnik is totally a kid friendly city. There are many fun playgrounds around the city as well as sights to see (like forts, parks and churches). But where its really at, for us at least, was the beach. We could sit for hours, playing in the sand, throwing rocks into the sea, or just allowing our minds to be mesmerized with the vastness of the water.
Our kids enjoyed the small aquarium in old town, the Maritime museum, and the big park by Fort Lovrijenac called Gradac Park (a must for exploring with kids). They also loved chasing pigeons with the local kids, taking the bus around town, peering into the old churches, exploring the kids section of the public library, going to the farmers market to taste local dried figs and candied orange peels, and just exploring the city (ice cream in hand). Be prepared, Dubrovnik is a city of many stairs (snacks help). Our kids required lots of shoulder rides around town. There is a stroller friendly entrance to old town on at Ploče Gate (Eastern entrance).
Best Playgrounds in Dubrovnik
• right outside the main gate (Pile Gate) of old town
• along the promenade of Babin Kuk there are a few
• at the Main Harbor (across from the big farmers market)
• across the street and up some stairs from the Ploče Gate entrance to old town.
Dubrovnik in Winter
If you really want to see get a local taste of Dubrovnik, go in the Winter. We had Stradun, the main street, all to ourselves on some rainy early mornings, and empty beaches for picnic lunches (in our sweaters of course). I will say that many shops and restaurants are closed as are some of the island boat trips but we thought it was worth it to enjoy this amazing city without the crowds. There were a lot of rainy days and a snowy day, but we were able to reserve the sunny days for being outside or walking the city walls.
Souvenirs to buy in Dubrovnik
While the Main Street, Stradun, is lined with souvenir shops, a legit souvenir is actually hard to find. Most products in the common shops are made in China, cheap thrills for day trippers or folks needing a quick fix. But if you’re really looking for something special and memorable, here’s what I recommend:
Outside of the walls but close by is KAWA, this modern shop sells products all made in Croatia, from jewelry to olive oils to modern ceramics. They even have a lounge area where you can have a cool drink and take in all of the fun things. They also sell Croatian beer, liquors and cookbooks.
My favorite shop inside the walls is Kokula. This hidden gem sells handmade lace (a tradition protected by UNESCO), handmade dolls, and traditional handmade Christmas ornaments. All made in and around Dubrovnik area.
The historic pharmacy (Ljekarna Male Braće) in old town sells fragrant orange or rose skin cream which closely guarded secret recipe remains from the 13th century.
Keep your eye out for a good tie in Dubrovnik (did you know the Croatians actually invented the tie?).
Best Beaches in Dubrovnik
We stuck to Banje Beach while we were in town because it was so close to where we were staying. It was literally empty when we went but I can imagine that during a busy season that it would be packed. There’s also a beach with slide at the end of Babin-Kuk, near a promenade of lots of cafes and playgrounds. There’s a little hidden beach near Fort Lovrijenac. Besides this, there are plenty of spots to jump in the cool water from the rocks! Or head to a nearby island for some less touristy beaches.
Day trips from Dubrovnik
We took three day trips while in Dubrovnik: the island of Lopud, Ston and Mali-Ston, and Mostar, Bosnia.
The island of Lopud is only an hour away and you can take a cheap workers’ ferry from the main harbor to get there. Lopud is nearly uninhabited so don’t expect many luxuries but the locals are kind. There are a couple of beaches and one or two cafes (if you’re lucky), but it’s stunningly beautiful and quite interesting to visit.
Ston and Mali Ston are an hour bus ride away from Dubrovnik. You can get to them by going to the main bus station and catching the Ston Bus. This is the area for great seafood (for a good price) AND amazing wines. These small towns are located in the region of Croatia where many up-and-coming wines are being made. Also, you’ll quickly learn about the salt trade and just how precious salt was to this area when you see the giant wall (2nd only to the Great Wall of China) that surrounds Mali Ston. Make sure to order the Crini Rizot (squid ink risotto) if you visit here.
Mostar is a little journey from Dubrovnik but worth it to see a totally different culture and country. We took a local tour bus to get there and got to stop by Kavice Falls on the way. Mostar’s beauty and heart are shown throughout the city and when you see their famous bridge you won’t be able to take your eyes off it. Eat lunch at Urban Grill for a perfect view of the bridge and some Cevapi (Bosnia’s most famous dish of chewy bread and sausage with adjvar red sauce). Order Bosnian coffee and baklava to make your meal last a little longer with that view.
Must see sights in Dubrovnik
The old-town of Dubrovnik is the sight to see. The city walls give you an aerial view that’s worth every penny of their steep ticket price. If you’re staying in old town soak it in and enjoy this historic town, and if you’re staying outside the city make your way in and get lost on the walls wondering up and down the stairs and imagining the of folks who lived here, defended their city, and made business in Dubrovnik for generations. If you’re here for a short time you may want to take a walking tour or buy a book so you can really sink in deep to the history and culture. Here are some other sites we loved.
While we went to our fair share of Dubrovnik museums I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them unless you’re staying for a longer stay like we did. Our favorite with the kids was the Maritime museum with all of the model ships. All of the museums seem like what could be fragments of what would be great as a larger whole museum. The City ticket will get you into most of the small museums, so that’s a good option. Overall, I’d take a day at the beach or even wandering old town over a visit to the museums. But make sure to get the full scope of history while visiting Dubrovnik and pick up a book or watch a film to broaden your horizons as you enjoy the city.
The Lazaretto near the Eastern walls was the first quarantine (in the world) and is interesting to walk past as your headed to Banje beach.
Look up and around you as you walk around old town to find bullet holes and remnants of the affects of war on this beautiful city.
Best Restaurants in Dubrovnik
Since we were here for a month we were able to discover that the best restaurants were out of the touristy areas (as they usually are). While old town serves up ‘good’ traditional fare, our best meal was at Pantarul which is just a short bus ride from old town. They serve up Dalmatian cuisine with a modern spin and fare prices.
If you’re in Dubrovnik in a non-touristy season, you’ll quickly notice that the locals don’t eat out but they do drink their coffee out. We enjoyed our daily coffee at Gradska Kavana Arsenal, while it’s in a prime beautiful spot, the cappuccinos are good and the staff are extra hospitable. You can sit outside here, even in the cold season, as they have blankets and heaters. If you stay long enough for some food, try their grilled squid!
We also enjoyed the Bosnian restaurant, Taj Mahal, inside the city walls.
For traditional Croatian countryside-style food go to Konoba Dubrava. You must try their meats that are cooked under the iron bell. To get there its easiest to take a taxi and you must pre-order if you want something slow cooked under the iron bell , and you do! There’s a swing set outside the restaurant for the kids to enjoy as the food cooks.
There’s a little cafe tucked in old town called Pupica Pattisserie that has wonderful cheesecake and chocolate cake (homemade my the owner) and sells coffee for much cheaper than the cafes along Stradun. On rainy days I camped out here, reading about Dubrovnik history and sipping a kava s mlijekom.
Tips to live like a local in Dubrovnik
Pack a good picnic for the beach… hit up farmers market stands for fruit or dried fruit in season, and go to the deli and the grocery store and they’ll whip you up a good sandwich to go. The local grocery stores also sell klipići, small savory rolls that resemble croissants and make great snacks.
The best farmers market is at the main Harbor, only a few bus stops away. Get their early for the best fish and produce. Take note of the small details of the market like how they use the old scales to determine prices.
Carry day-old bread with you to feed the local pigeons or cat food for the local cats.
Try some regional staples from the grocery store like Lino Cocolino, a chocolate porridge that all kids grown up eating. And pekmez od šljiva, a plum jam, that every household is stocked with.
Order your coffee in Croatian by saying ‘kava s mlijekom.’ When you do, you may even get a discounted price, as many of the cafes discount locals. This coffee drink is like a short cappuccino or sometimes a cafe o’le.
Find a local water polo match to attend and teach your kids about the rules of the game.
Fill up your water bottle at the old city fountain right at the main entrance to old town (pictured below with the dog on top).
Overall, I would say that though Dubrovnik is full of sights, it is even better as a place to just be. Soak it in, smell, taste, and learn about the city, this is the way to do Dubrovnik. Please message me with any questions about our trip or an upcoming trip you’re planning!