Dubrovnik Old Town and the Walled Fortress

We had one more major destination, on our journey in Croatia, and, that was to probably, Croatia’s most well-known city, Dubrovnik.  The bus from Makarska to Dubrovnik takes about three hours and 30 minutes and costs 100 Kunas (AUD$20) each. This bus journey though is unique in a few ways. Firstly, you follow a simply stunning coastline, filled with ocean and mountain views. Then secondly, you cross the border into Bosnia and then twenty kilometres later you cross the border again and re-enter Croatia. Bosnia has access to the coast and the ocean for twenty kilometres near the Croatian town of Klek and the Bosnian town of Neum. The holdup going across the border twice was not extensive and you, as a bus passenger, simply stay in your seat and handover your passport at each border as a way of checking your identity.  This is a novel little experience and Croatia is split into two parts.

Our host in Dubrovnik met us at the bus station and took us to our apartment. Again, the apartment was very clean and had all that we required. We paid AUD$75 per night for our ten day stay.

Dubrovnik is an old port city on the Adriatic Sea, but most of its wealth today comes from tourism. The tourists come to see Dubrovnik’s walled fortress Old Town and, let me tell you, this is one very impressive fortress indeed. You also catch the ferry from Dubrovnik to the outer islands.

I found Dubrovnik a bit of a beauty and a beast location. The beauty of the harbour and the walled fortress is certainly something special. The beast is the tourism and all that tourism brings with it. I need to make it clear that we were there in November and, as such, the off-season has advantages and disadvantages in regards to tourism.

The advantage of going to Old Town when a cruise isn’t in

Dubrovnik is probably two to three times more expensive than the rest of Croatia. I will use the ‘beerometre’ as a guide here. Throughout our travels in Croatia; Zagred, Varazdin, Zadar, Split and Makarska, we could purchase Tomaslav Dark Beer in the bars of the tourist spots, for between 18 Kunas (AUD$3.80) and 22 Kunas (AUD$4.20) for a half litre bottle, with lager being 15 Kunas to 18 Kunas. The cost in Dubrovnik Old Town bars for 500 ml bottles of lager is between 44 Kunas (AUD$8.80) and 48 Kunas (AUD$9.60) and Dark beer is more starting at 50 Kunas a bottle. The bars outside of Old Town are slightly cheaper. Tourism brings higher prices.

Our apartment was a comfortable two kilometres walk from Old Town which was a walk of twenty minutes. The Old Town is magnificent and we went there several times. We did try to time our visits to Old Town when the cruise ships were not in port – you see we could dangle out of our apartment window and see the cruise ship port and see what ships were in – 90% of our stay in Dubrovnik there was at least one cruise ship in port – imagine what it would be like in peak cruise ship season when daily there are several!!

Our view from the balcony. Note the cruise ship in the distance – DO NOT GO TO OLD TOWN

The must see place in Dubrovnik is the Old Town and, in particular, the walled fortress surrounding Old Town. In the off-season you can walk around the fortress walls from 9am to 3pm, it is a much greater time period in summer. The cost to walk the wall is 150 Kunas (AUD$30) each – so it’s not cheap!

There are three or four entrances to the wall throughout Old Town. We arrived at the main gate, Pile Gate, only to see several busloads of cruise ship tourists unloading.

One entry into Old Town and to the Fort

The time was 9.25am and we had hoped to beat the ‘tourist shuffle’! Luckily, this surge of tourist humanity had to wait for everyone to be ‘ready’ so they could advance on the walls as one – Di and I slipped in front of them.

The walk around the wall is one way – everyone goes the same way, but this information is only written in Croatian and English and several of our Asian friends had trouble with this instruction.

Once on the wall many of the walkways are very narrow and it is single file, this made us so relieved we were ahead of the large bunch and not coming up behind it. There are many small and narrow passageways leading up to the various watch towers – which often meant waiting, if a couple were going up or down, and you were going the opposite way.

The first, and possibly the best fort you encounter on your walk around the wall, is Fort Bokor. Fort Bokar protrudes from the wall and has magnificent views over to the fort on the opposite headland, Fort Lovrijenac. Wedged in between these two forts is Pile Bay and Fort Lawrence (you cannot go onto Fort Lawrence), which is home to many locations from the TV series Game of Thrones (view our Facebook page for photos). The rugged coastline, the bay and the two grand old forts make for some of the most magnificent scenes on the Dalmatia Coast.

The day we walked the wall, it was very windy with sweeping rain showers. This meant the sea was very rough. I personally felt that the cold wind and surging waves all created a rugged ‘time gone by’ atmosphere, a rugged adventure, as it were.

The total length of the wall is 1940 metres and takes as long as it takes for you personally to walk around – it took us nearly two hours. After leaving Fort Bokor you walk past the open sea and this is where the wind picked up significantly and one of us thought this was fun. I was amazed to see us walking past the ocean on one side and a school on the other side of the wall – such a contrast.

As you round the wall to St. John Fort you get very good views of Lokrum Island. From Fort John you walk above the ferry terminal, which goes to Lokrum Island, and the Old Port – the new port is out at Port Gruz, some three kilometres away, where the cruise ships dock and where the main bus terminal is. As we continued our walk along the wall we could see a ‘wall’ of rain heading our way from the ocean. There is virtually no cover on the wall and you are at the mercy of the weather.

We reached Fort Revelin and saw the ominous sheet of rain advancing quickly – a few quick photos and we quickened our pace looking for shelter. We had nearly made it to Fort Minceta and the downpour swamped us – the wind howled and the rain pelted us. Fort Minceta was one of the few locations on the wall with shelter.

Sheltering from the rain

Fort Minceta is a must visit part of the wall, especially for Game of Thrones fans as it plays a significant part in the series, but it is also the highest fort on the wall, and the fort that defends the city from land attack. There is a narrow staircase up to tower which means you have to be patient going up and down.  Fort Minceta was completed in 1463. The view from the top is magnificent, especially the view over the Old Town.

We sheltered below Fort Minceta for about twenty minutes as the rain threw it down. It was only a passing shower and the rain ceased allowing us to emerge from the watchtower and take the views in.

Looking down into Old Town from the Wall

With the wall now wet the floor became very slippery as the well-worn wall passage ways are very smooth and we really had to watch our step. We were now approaching Pile Gate and we had completed our lap of the fortress wall. The Dubrovnik Fort would have to be the greatest fort we have visited on our travels, it is an absolute must do in Dubrovnik, regardless of the cost.

We then wandered Old Town.

From the Pile Gate you enter the main street of Old Town, now I will let you into a little secret, a few metres down the right hand side of the main street past the fountain, on the right hand side, is an ice cream shop that sells the most divine ice cream – Di had two scoops TWICE!!!!

The main street has many shops, in particular souvenir shops. Many, in fact most, of these souvenir shops sell every Game of Thrones trinket, t-shirt, action figure, ……. Whatever. The place is a GoT overdose and sadly, I think it takes some of the charm away from the Old Town.

There is a lot to see in Old Town. There are fountains, churches, bell towers, squares and monuments everywhere and it is real treat just wandering around the many narrow cobblestone streets. There are also numerous museums, art galleries, theatres and even an aquarium.

I was only minding the ice cream for Diane whilst she took the photo – no, really!!

If you are a Game of Thrones fan, many famous scenes have been filmed in Old Town, for example Ceisei walk of shame down the Baroque Staircase – did I also mention there are many souvenir shops with GoT memorabilia – lots and lots of them!!!

Ceisei Walk of Shame through the streets

Old Town Dubrovnik is probably the most expensive place in Croatia, it has many tacky tourist shops and it gets swamped with tourists. It is a great place to visit with ancient and modern history oozing throughout it and it is visually stunning.

Once leaving the Pile Gate you head left to Pile Bay for great views of Fort Bokor, the bay and Fort Lovrijenac.

Pile Bay.

You then head down to walk to the bay and then up to Fort Lovrijenac. The day we went it was all a matter of timing, as the narrow walkway up to Fort Lovijenac is only just above the waters’ edge. This meant with the rough seas, the swell was crashing over the walkway – you had to time the swell to make it across dry and in one piece.

Trying to get to the stairs up to the fort from Pile Bay

If you pay the 150 Kunas to walk the main wall, then that ticket will get you into Fort Lovijenac for free. If you have misplaced, or you do Fort Lovijenac first, then the entry fee is 50 kunas – do the wall first and save your ticket.

Fort Lovijenac is also the Red Keep in GoT. It is a small fort that protects Pile Bay. Fort Lovijenac does though have the best and most breathtaking views of the walled fortress and Old Town. On the day we were there these views of the walled fortress were magnified by the waves crashing on the rocky base of the wall – it all looked so treacherously dangerous.

Whilst wandering Fort Lovijenac a GoT tour was being conducted nearby, so I casually slinked over and eavesdropped – I travel a lot I am broke, okay!!! There are many tours in Dubrovnik claiming to take you to all the GoT filming locations and often the tour guide will have been an extra on the show so they can share their 2 and half seconds of fame and fortune with you. The cost though for these tours starts at around AUD$100 or 500 Kunas. During our stay in Croatia I simply googled Game of Thrones scenes, in whatever, city I was in and, with a bit of research, found lots of them – I searched most of them out myself for free – if you are time poor though the tour may be your best option. Fort Lovijenac has many GoT scenes but it has amazing views to go with it.

The bay on the other side of the fort

Fort Lovijenac is only small and really you are there for the views. I found it was interesting getting to it, with the waves and then I enjoyed the long steep stairs up to its entrance. You need to visit Fort Lovijenac when you visit Dubrovnik.

We also had a lovely walk out along the coast on the other side of Old Town. We exited the Ploce Gate and then followed the lower path out to the headland. This path takes you through the ‘wealthy’ area and you get to ‘sticky beak’ (a nosy look) at the more expensive homes. There are also some quaint churches and you get some great views back to Old Town and Lokrum Island.

From Ploce Gate

This road ends at a church but there is a footpath past the church. At the back of the church there is a set of stairs that takes you down to the most gorgeous of beaches with views to Old Town.

Old Town on the point

There is a path to the left of the beach that runs around the rocks to The Belvedere Hotel. The Belvedere Hotel was completely destroyed during the Croatia/Serbia war in 1991. What remains of the hotel though is where a famous GoT fight scene was staged and filmed – The Viper vs The Mountain – so if you are fan it is worth the walk, if you are not a fan, the views are worth the walk.

There are lots of other little walks and short bus trips to take in Dubrovnik all for super low prices so stay tuned.

The adventure continues………………………….

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