Discovering the Magic of Croatia (Part 3): Historic Dubrovnik and Modern Zagreb
Mrs. Enchumbao here, your FI-friendly travel agent. Now that we’ve discovered Zadar, Trogir and Split in Part 1, and Hvar Island in Part 2, let’s continue our journey of the magical Croatia.
In this Part 3 of our 18-day visit to Croatia, I’ll give you a tour of Dubrovnik and Zagreb. To get oriented, you can see our full itinerary on the map below.
Days 12 to 16 – Dubrovnik
Getting to Dubrovnik
From Hvar, we took the ferry back to Split. Once we arrived at the Split Ferry port from Hvar, we found the local bus station, which was right along the pier. We bought the bus tickets to Dubrovnik and took about a 4-5 hour journey to Dubrovnik. Interestingly, we ended up needing our passports, because at some point, we crossed over the Bosnia border.
When we arrived at the Dubrovnik bus station, we realized that we had to take a local bus to the Pile Gate, near which our lodging was located. It was quite an adventure, since the bus driver didn’t speak English, and for the first time in my travel experience, I ended up benefiting from my native mother tongue – Russian. Turns out that it’s close enough to Croatian to be understood, kind of, sort of. Lots of hand gestures were involved too. 🙂
Lodging in Dubrovnik
When researching apartments, we quickly realized that Dubrovnik is an expensive place to stay compared to all the other cities we visited, especially inside the Old Town. The Old Town has two entrances into the center of history: Pile Gate – the western one, and Ploce Gate – the eastern one.
We settled for slightly outside Old Town to save some money. Our apartment at Guesthouse Peter was within a one minute walk from the Pile Gate, which was its best feature. We had a room with a separate bath down a flight of stairs, which was a pain. Room was very bare, just two nightstands, a table and two chairs. Staying for four nights, we couldn’t get comfy, as the beds weren’t great and there was no dresser to store our clothes in. You could hear everything, and guests and host are not very considerate about noise level. Small kitchen with a coffee pot, a couple of cups and utensils, plus a microwave. Chef Enchumbao couldn’t do much with that. They did offer beach towels free of charge and you could get fresh ones every day. Overall, I’d recommend you find other apts to stay in, if you have the option.
Exploring in Dubrovnik
Fun fact: Game of Thrones HBO series was filmed here, and you can even go on walking tours that point out the main sites.
The most important thing to note about this old city is that it’s very popular. Hence, many tourists are there, all the time. While it was the biggest old city we’ve seen in Croatia, it was also the most crowded. A good part of the crowd was due to cruise ships that dock there. Be sure to check this cruise ship arrival schedule to avoid peak human traffic days.
We stayed a total of four nights in Dubrovnik, which was too much for us. We wished we had stayed longer on Hvar Island instead. The Old Town of Dubrovnik is beautiful, but with so many humans everywhere, we found it hard to be charmed.
There are plenty of historic tours, if you swing that way. Most days, we just walked to the beach east of Ploce gate. They were crowded, but the water and views were great. One day, we decided to take a boat tour of nearby Elafiti Islands: Kolocep, Sipan and Lopud. It was a lot of fun for two reasons: we brought our own mini speaker to play music while on the boat, we had fun tourists and crew on board, and we were given free wine on empty stomachs, which made the tour more interesting. Before you knew it, everyone was jamming to our Latin music!
When we stopped on the first two islands, Sipan and Kolocep, we had about 30-40 minutes on each to walk around or chill in a café. There wasn’t much to see there, just some small churches and nice views. They served lunch on the boat before we left for the last island, Lopud. It was very delicious and we had freshly caught grilled fish on the deck of the boat.
Lopud was the most interesting, as we had a few hours to actually enjoy the beach. The beach itself is on the opposite side of the island from the docking pier. It’s very unique, because its water is shallow far out, and the water is super still, because the nearby hills serve as a cushion.
We decided to save on the golf cart ride and walked over the hill, except we realized too late that it was a hefty hike. At least 30 minutes each way, in flip flops, and tipsy, equals quite an adventure. Plus, it cut into our beach relaxation time. Learn from us, and splurge on the ride.
Savoring in Dubrovnik
The most exciting part of Dubrovnik for us was more variety in restaurants. At this point in our trip, we were tired of the same old Croatian restaurant choices. To our surprise, there was very little ethnic food to be found in Croatian Old Towns.
Say hello to Nishta, a vegetarian lover’s paradise. Thankfully, we discovered this place on our first day, so we were able to come back every day thereafter. This cozy restaurant has all softs of flavors, which we were desperately craving by then: Thai, Indian, Japanese, etc. Our goal was to try as many dishes on the menu as possible, and I’d say we got 80 percent there. Everything was so delicious! Service was very friendly too and my personal favorite part–no smoking allowed even in the outdoor seating area! Such a relief from all the smoking we had encountered in Croatia. You simply have to try this place, if in the area. We saw several repeat customers like us, which was a clear sign we weren’t the only ones smitten with it. Loooooved it! Tip: try to RSVP in advance by coming over, there are only about 10 outside tables and they fill up fast.
The second place we enjoyed a lot was Oliva Pizzeria. We tried their pizza first as “to go” slices and just had to return for a full pie the next day for lunch. So yummy! Outdoors seats were cozy and we really enjoyed our meal. Some pizzas we had in Croatia were disappointing, so I am glad I checked Trip Advisor before venturing out in Dubrovnik.
Since Dubrovnik is quite far from the capital, Zagreb, we decided to fly back on a local airline. Keep in mind that the weight limits vary between international and domestic flights, so check ahead and pack lightly.
To get to the Dubrovnik airport the FI-friendly way, we caught an airport shuttle bus just above the Old Town. The ride was much cheaper than taking a taxi, and overall, it was a smooth experience once we found the designation pick up point.
The Dubrovnik Airport is quite small with only one café, so don’t expect much entertainment while you wait and come prepared with your distraction of choice.
Days 16 to 18 – Back to Zagreb
Getting to Zagreb
We arrived in Zagreb late at night, caught the same airport shuttle bus to the main bus terminal, and from there spluged on a cab to our hotel, since it was late.
Lodging in Zagreb
We found a decent deal in a semi-residential part of Zagreb and stayed at Hotel Jadran Zagreb. While there wasn’t much to do right around the hotel, it was only a 5-minute walk to the Old Town. Rooms were pretty good and comfy. We ended up having a street-facing room, but noise level was OK. Breakfast included hot drinks, eggs, hot dogs, cheese and meat deli, bread and butter, juice, whole fruits and cereals. Pretty good for being included in the price. Overall, I’d recommend it.
Exploring in Zagreb
It was raining both days that we were there, so we kept our excursions to a minimum. We went to walk around the modern part of town first, which reminded me of all the other big cities in the world. (Can you tell I like more cozy spots off the beaten path?) 🙂 We did make it to a very unique museum – The Museum of Broken Relationships – which was a great twist on museums and I really connected with the exhibits. They also have a cozy café by the entrance, which was perfect to wait out some rain after we were finished.
Savoring in Zagreb
We did some research on best places to eat, and found Trilogija. It turned out to be a lovely, finger-licking-licious restaurant. We tried it on a rainy late afternoon and were so pleased. The surprise of the menu is kind of fun, as the menu changes every day. We had really delicious spaghetti with truffles, sea trout, and spinach soup and several glasses of local wines. Service was very nice. We spent about 270 kuna (about $50 usd) by sharing everything. Wine was a bit pricey for Croatia, about $5-7 per glass, but very delicious. Definitely recommend you check this out if in town. The meal was one of the highlights of our whole trip in Croatia.
We took a cab back to the bus station, and then the airport shuttle back to the International Airport. At this point, I was wishing we could accumulate frequent flyer points with that Airport Shuttle company. 🙂
If we could have a do-over
We spent 18 great days in Croatia and got to know a good part of the marvelous country. However, in retrospect, it’s always good to think about what I’d do knowing what I know now. Here goes…I’d still fly into Zagreb, as flights are cheapest that way, and then go to only three places: Trogir (for 4 days), Split (for 2 days), and Hvar (for 12 days). Having seen the other places, I know where we’d want to return to. Also, we didn’t get to see the famous Croatian lakes this time because you need a car to get there and move around comfortably, and we were bus-hopping. It’s on our list for next time and the pictures we have seen online have been awe-inspiring.
If you have any questions about our trip, let us know. Happy to share additional details.
Also join our 1,500 followers on Instagram to see additional photos!