We spent the first week of our recent Best of the Balkans trip exploring the Dalmatian Coast, a stunningly scenic region of southern Croatia. In today’s post, I’m sharing the Top 10 experiences you’ll want to check out when visiting this area.
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The Dalmatian Coast is best visited between May and mid-October. During the winter months, many restaurants and attractions close. I personally feel the shoulder season is ideal. It offers warm temperatures, mostly clear skies, and blessedly fewer tourists. In the peak summer months, crowds can be overwhelming and temperatures uncomfortably hot.
1. Walking the Walls of Dubrovnik
While some might find it cliché, a walk along the walls of medieval Dubrovnik is an activity that should not be missed! The different vantage points this walk offers as well as the glimpses into the daily lives of people who actually live in Dubrovnik are memorable.
TIPS: If you plan to walk the walls, go ahead and order a Dubrovnik pass online. It costs the same as the walls themselves and gives you entry to a host of other sights and discounts. Start your walk early to avoid crowds and the mid-day heat, which is amplified by the stone walls. Wear comfortable shoes – there are a LOT of steps!
2. The Views from Mt. Srd
What can I say? Dubrovnik is all about the views and the ambiance. For a different perspective from what the walls offer, take the cable car outside of the Buza Gate in the old town to the top of Mt. Srd. All the King’s Landing feels, am I right? Stop for a drink or meal at the Panorama Restaurant (stunning at sunset – reserve well in advance).
3. War Photo Unlimited
While not a light attraction, a visit to the War Photo Unlimited exhibition is incredibly worthwhile. It offers a realistic and unsettling perspective on the consequences of war, both in this region’s battles and across the globe.
4. Bay of Kotor Circle Tour
The Croatian border with Montenegro is less than an hour from Dubrovnik. Get a rental car, hire a private driver or join a scheduled tour for a day trip to Perast and Kotor. Perast is a delightful little town located on the Bay of Kotor en route to Kotor. Take a half hour to walk the main drag and another hour or so to take a boat out to Our Lady of the Rocks church.
From Perast, continue on around the bay to Kotor. Enjoy lunch in one of the shaded squares and then explore the walled town, stopping at the Cathedral of St. Tryphon and Church of St. Luke’s, among others. If you’re feeling energetic, hike up to the fortress for views over the town and bay. On your way out of the Stari Grad (old town), stop at the farmer’s market for delicious honey, rakija, etc. to take home as souvenirs.
5. Ston Oysters
The town of Ston is located approximately mid-way between Dubrovnik and Split, the two major tourist bases on the Dalmatian Coast. Ston can be worth a visit in its own right – it boasts a protective wall even longer than the one in Dubrovnik, extensive salt flats which contributed to the wealth of the Republic of Dubrovnik, and the famous oyster beds.
Mali Ston Bay oysters are often cited as among the most delicious in the world. Try them in Ston or at one of the many restaurants in Dubrovnik or Split that have them on offer. Bota Šare Oyster & Sushi Bar has a restaurant in Mali Ston as well as an outpost in Dubrovnik and a smaller location in Split. Super fresh and excellent quality!
Cross into another country today to explore Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. This historic city is about 2-2.5 hours from both Dubrovnik and Split. You can travel along the coast, crossing the Pelješac Bridge or you can venture up through the mountains and see a bit more of the Bosnian countryside. We opted for that plan and enjoyed the different perspective. On this drive, you will come across buildings that were shelled during the war as well as many roadside memorials to young fighters lost in the ’90s.
Take the time to explore both old (Serb/Muslim) Mostar as well as a bit of new Mostar (mostly Croats). There are pronounced differences. A walking tour is well worth your time here. Oh, and wear very good walking shoes! The cobblestones in Mostar are more like small boulder stones and are very slippery. Enjoy lunch with a million-dollar view at one of the many restaurants terraced along the hillside.
7. Diocletian’s Palace in Split
Diocletian’s Palace isn’t just one of the best sights on the Dalmatian Coast, it’s one of the best sights in Europe, maybe even the world. It’s unique in that modern Split is built within and around the palace, as well as outside of it!
This 4th-century wonder was built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian as a retirement palace. After the Middle Ages, the palace largely fell off everyone’s radar until a Scottish architect had the site surveyed in the mid-1700s. Today it stands as the world’s most complete remains of a Roman Palace.
The cellars or basement halls of the palace will seem familiar to Game of Thrones fans. It’s where Daenerys Targaryen housed her dragons. These halls are one of the best-preserved areas of the palace. It’s hard to imagine that at one time they were filled to the ceiling with garbage. Note one of the holes that townspeople would throw garbage through marked by the red arrow below.
What’s good by day is simply magical by night! Be sure to return to the peristyle after dark. Grab a seat on the steps, order a drink from the Luxor Cafe Bar and enjoy the music and people-watching.
8. A Day of Island Hopping
A visit to the Dalmatian Coast wouldn’t be complete without a little island-hopping. Doing so highlights the best of what people come here for – sun, saltwater, and seafood. Along the riva (harborfront) in Split there are countless tour boats offering a variety of island trips, as well as ferries to the most popular islands.
We opted to take the ferry to Brač and spend the day at Zlatni Rat beach. Lounge chairs are available for rent and there are a number of bars/cafes along the left-hand side of the beach. For dining options, there are several food trucks in the park area behind the beach and Ristorante Rosmarino a bit further up the hill.
If you are interested in seeing even more islands, the most popular excursions consist of 3 or 5-island trips, usually with lunch provided mid-day. We had considered a tour with Polaris, as it was a bigger boat with plenty of shade, a slightly shorter tour (7 hours instead of 11-12), and gets great reviews. Book ahead once you have a date in mind.
9. Tiny Trogir
Tiny Trogir is only a 30-minute drive from Split. It’s also reachable by ferry and a stop on some of the day cruises mentioned above. It’s a cute little town to wander for an hour or two with a wide seaside promenade, obligatory church, and even a castle!
10. The Zadar Sea Organ
The town of Zadar is located about an hour and a half from Trogir. While a charming place in its own right, it’s best known for its Sea Organ. Built as part of a reconstruction effort by Nikola Bašić, it opened to the public in 2005. The waves interact with tubes installed under the steps to create haunting yet harmonic musical tones. The Zadar Sea Organ is one of only three of these types of installations worldwide.
Eating & Sleeping
In Dubrovnik, we stayed at the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik. While a chain hotel may seem a bit bland on a European trip, it offered a great location and subsidized on-site parking (€27/night as opposed to €100. Yes, you read that right – €100). Less than a 5-minute walk from the Pile Gate this Hilton felt more like a boutique hotel. Set in a historic building that dates to 1897, our room was up-to-date, spacious, and offered a great view!
We stayed at the Time Hotel Split, again chosen for its proximity to the old town and on-site parking. The hotel was modern and had a fantastic spa but the rooms were definitely on the snug side. A walk into town was about 10 minutes or a cheap 60-cent Uber ride to avoid some hills. I highly recommend you book a massage with one of the excellent masseuses on-site!
With regard to dining, we enjoyed a great meal at Bokeria and if you missed Bota Šare in Dubrovnik, you can check out Mini Bota in Split. And by all means, try the amazing gelato everywhere!
Hope you enjoyed this Top 10! There are many more lovely towns, foods/wines, and experiences to discover in this area. What makes it to your Dalmatian Coast Top 10 list?
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