“If you want to see paradise on Earth, come to Dubrovnik.”

–George Bernard Shaw

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Nearly two years ago, I visited Croatia for the first time. I fell in love instantaneously with Dubrovnik, the coast, the scenery, the sea, everything. I knew that tourism would only increase in the upcoming years: this jewel of the Adriatic is no longer a hidden secret, but a popular tourist destination—particularly for the cruise ships that bring in hordes of groups every day. Two years later, despite the crowds, Dubrovnik is still one of my favorite destinations in Europe.

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But a lot has changed in the last two years. Prices have gone up and everything, from food to hostels to tours, is more expensive. A slice of pizza that used to be 15 kuna (~$2.20 USD) is now 20 kuna (~$3). There are so many more tourists, even in shoulder season. There are more options for accommodation in the Old Town, whereas two years ago I stayed at the only hostel within the city walls. It’s safe to assume everyone will speak enough English to get by in the Old Town. And of course, Game of Thrones has inundated the tourism industry in Dubrovnik as the city’s fame as King’s Landing has skyrocketed.

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With so many other travelers to compete with, here are 10 tips to help you make the most of your trip to Dubrovnik!

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1. You absolutely can’t miss walking the City Walls on a trip to Dubrovnik. While it’s pricey (120 kuna, or $18 USD), if you do just one thing in Dubrovnik, it should be the walls. I recommend going very early in the morning (between 8:00am and 9:00am), or later in the afternoon (around 5:00pm) once the daytrippers have left. You should enter the walls from Ploce Gate, instead of the more popular Pile Gate—you’ll have a big chunk of the walls to yourself until you pass the Pile Gate entrance.

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2. Both the Dominican Monastery and the Franciscan Monastery are nice, but neither are worth the admission fee of 30 kuna (~$4.50). You can visit the “hall church” of the Franciscan Monastery for free from the entrance on the main street, Stradun.

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3. The Dubrovnik Cable Car whisks you up the mountain in less than 5 minutes for amazing views of the Old Town, the surrounding city, and the sea. The expensive cable car ticket (120 kuna/~$18) is worth it for the incredible views—but if you have the time (and the courage), you can walk up to the viewing platform for free. Make sure to bring snacks and plenty of water, since everything is outrageously overpriced at the top of the mountain.

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4. The Dubrovnik in the Homeland War museum offers an insight into the siege of the city during the war in the 90s, and is housed in the old Fort Imperial. It has a great collection of photographs from the war. If you’re already up on the mountain, I’d recommend checking it out—you can also walk up to the top of the roof for great views.

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5. Banje Beach is the closest public beach to the Old Town (just east of Ploce Gate). While there is a beach club and restaurant/bar, the beach is free and open to the public as long as you don’t use the chair loungers.

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6. If you’re interested in Dubrovnik architecture, you can see the interior of Sponza Palace for free—the Defenders of Dubrovnik memorial room is open during the day and free to visit.

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7. The Dubrovnik Cathedral and the St. Catherine Convent are beautiful Baroque buildings. Both are free to enter.

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8. My favorite spot for a picnic with a view is just west of Fort Lovrijenac, with views overlooking the fort, the city walls, and Lokrum and the sea. Look for Sesame’s Cuisine restaurant, and follow the road up to the parking lot. Explore the rocky hills until you find your perfect picnic spot!

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9. If there’s one thing I want to do next time I’m in Dubrovnik, it’s sea kayaking. You don’t have to go on a tour (and pay the hefty tour prices)—you can rent a kayak by the hour.

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10. Dubrovnik has some of the best ice cream I’ve had in Europe. Hit up my boys at the ice cream place on Stradun (it is the one closest to the Orino Fountain). For 10 kuna (~$1.50) you get a heaping scoop of delicious, soft, gelato.

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If you’re visiting Dubrovnik, definitely spend a day exploring the island and nature reserve of Lokrum! You can read all about this Dubrovnik highlight here.

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The Basics: Croatia is a member of the EU but still uses their own currency, Croatian kuna (HRK). The capital is Zagreb, but the country is more well-known for the beautiful Dalmatia region and its stunning coastline along the Adriatic. Croatia is probably the most popular of the destinations in the Balkans, due to the popularity of festivals and Yacht Week. Dubrovnik is on the Adriatic coast and is most frequently connected with Mostar (Bosnia & Herzegovina) and Kotor (Montenegro). Dubrovnik has a population of about 43,000; the Old Town has a population of roughly 1,000.

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Getting Around: The Old Town is completely pedestrian—everything is within about 10 minutes. Be prepared for a lot of stairs (A. LOT. OF. STAIRS.). Dubrovnik has a bus network: Bus 1A and 1B run from Pile Gate to the bus station (which is a trek out of the Old Town). It’s cheaper to buy bus tickets from a nearby kiosk (12 kuna) instead of from the bus driver (15 kuna).

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Where I Stayed: Following the closure of the amazing hostel I stayed at on my previous trip to Dubrovnik, I stayed at Hostel Angelina Villa Old Town. I had a nice stay, but my room was a bit narrow and cramped, and the lockers were too small to fit a lock through (so they were basically useless for security). There are also only 2 toilets/2 showers for the whole hostel, which meant a lot of waiting in the morning and evening. I also seriously struggled to find a garbage can anywhere besides one of the toilets. The staff were really helpful though, and the hostel has a nice terrace and kitchen/common room area. The location is also excellent, a 5-minute walk to Pile Gate. Overall, I would stay here again—but I’d look for somewhere else with more bathrooms if I was paying high season prices.

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Dubrovnik has changed a lot in the two years since my first trip. I can only imagine what it’ll be like two years from now! If you’re heading to Dubrovnik, prepare for lots of other tourists and high prices for the region. I would avoid visiting during the summer high season (June, July, and August) if possible—the crowds have been bad enough in April and May, I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer. While Dubrovnik is probably one of the most expensive cities in the Balkans, it is a beautiful city and I think it truly is the jewel of the Adriatic.

Have you ever been to Dubrovnik? What did you think?