Dubrovnik and Split are unquestionably the twin highlights of any trip down Croatia’s Adriatic coast. Like sunkissed jewels, these two cities, with their age-old fortifications, azure coastline and atmospheric old towns, have delighted not only travelers but film directors who have made these places worthy shooting locations of popular programmes such as “Game of Thrones.”
Whether you are in Dubrovnik and Split to trace the Game of Thrones filming locations or simply to soak in the vibes of the Middle Ages, here is a short itinerary that you can do covering these two cities. This itinerary is also done in the way that allows you to make stops at nearby destinations such as Trogir, Hvar, Budva and Kotor.
Day 1 – Trogir and Split
The second largest city in Croatia, Split serves as the gateway to the country’s Adriatic coast. Here, structures dating back from the Roman Empire look out to stunning seaside promenades, art galleries and speakeasies. Although the city has a very active tourist scene, life here is still decidedly local as evidenced by the party-going vibe during weekends.
If you are coming from the airport, I would suggest checking out Trogir first. Trogir is a small town around 10 minutes west of the airport. To get here, take Bus #37 after exiting the terminal building. Once you arrive at Trogir’s bus station, there are lockers where you can leave your luggage. In case it is full, your other option to leave baggage is at Trogir’s tourism office located within the old town.
Trogir’s relatively compact old town is located within a small island replete with age-old buildings, winding alleys and cobblestone streets. It’s easy to get lost here but just as easy to find your way again as the sea is always only a few blocks away. There are no must-sees in Trogir but it’s nice to spend a few hours walking around and soaking up the vibe. The St. Lawrence Church is worth a look for its impressive carvings.
After having your fill of Trogir, it’s time to head to Split. Taking Bus #37 will entail around an hour’s journey. Alternatively, you can hire a taxi for that trip (35 minutes). A visit to Split is not complete without visiting the Diocletian’s Palace. The huge complex which dates back from the Roman Empire marks the center of the city. Today, various establishments are housed within the perimeters. Head to the underground chambers, beyond the souvenir stalls, for a bit of that Indiana Jones feel. Most visitors congregate at the Peristylium, a public square where you can find enterprising locals dressed in Roman soldier costumes. You can take a photo with them for a small tip. For a guided tour around the Game of Thrones filming locations in Split, you can also check out here.
Late afternoon is a wonderful time to head up to Marjan Hill, a park which allows for panoramic views over the city center of Split. Afterwards, head over to the Riva (the seaside promenade) for a stroll and to have an alfresco dinner in one of the seafood restaurants.
Day 2 – Hvar
Split is a major Adriatic port with several connections to Croatia’s outlying islands. There are plenty of day trip opportunities including Hvar and Korcula. I eventually chose the former as it’s nearer. A ferry ride between Split and Hvar takes only about an hour.
Hvar is a beautiful island known for the crystal-blue waters off its coast, picture perfect townscape, delicious seafood and numerous hiking opportunities. It is very much possible to experience all these during a short day trip to the island, especially when you land in the town of Hvar as opposed to the landing point in Stari Grad.
A day trip to Hvar is relatively straightforward. You can start off with a swim by the beach. You will find turquoise waters immediately to the west of the town center just past where the yachts dock. Towards midday, you can then set out the town and check out the local market and the quaint old houses. A lunch spot I recommend is Giaxa (Petra Hektorovića 3) which has amazing seafood. The relatively imaginative cuisine here differs from the grills you find elsewhere.
After lunch, it’s time to burn off those calories with a climb up to the fortress. The fortification itself is not that impressive but the climb is worthwhile for the views of the town from above. It is also a relatively relaxing walk with the cooler breeze from high up. Afterwards, you can choose to wander around the town a little bit more or take the ferry back to Split.
Day 3 – Split to Dubrovnik
There are more than a dozen bus departures each day plying the Split to Dubrovnik route so you won’t really find any problem getting tickets, even if you decide to just show up for the next departure. You will pass through several scenic vistas on your way including the border town of Neum in Bosnia and the relaxing seaside town of Makarska with the imposing Mt. Biokovo in the horizon. When you arrive in Dubrovnik, you will likely be dropped off at the main bus station in Gruz. If you don’t mind staying in the old town, the suburb of Lapad – seen as a peninsula jutting out from the mainland – is a good alternative. The traveling crowd here is mostly the beach-going type. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area as well while hotels are a tad cheaper compared to those situated near the old town. If you wish to get to the old town from Dubrovnik’s main bus station, you can take buses 1A, 1B or 1C which allow you to alight at Pile Gate. You can also check the local bus schedules here.
Day 4 – Dubrovnik
It is worth noting that most of the larger hotels in Dubrovnik are located outside the old town with the exception of The Pucic Palace. As such, you may wish to check out rooms for rent in private homes if you wish to stay within the old town itself. This is a common mode of accommodation for many travelers visiting Dubrovnik. Otherwise, there are large hotels – even those belonging to the big brands – a couple of blocks from the old town.
Wandering around the old town (Stari Grad) of Dubrovnik is enough to make a visit to this historic city worth your while. Unbelievably picturesque and retaining the feel of the middle ages, it is no wonder that this little town was chosen as one of the filming locations of Game of Thrones. The first thing that will catch your eye as you enter via the Pile Gate (itself used several times in the series) is the Stradun. The Stradun is the main street of Dubrovnik’s old town and it is especially photogenic in the evening when the light from the streetlamps cast an almost reflective glow on the buildings and even the marbled paths. While here, you will also chance upon other attractions such as the Sponza Palace. Built in the 16th century in a mix of Renaissance and Gothic architectural style, the building now houses the city archives.
At the end of the Stradun is St. Blaise’s Church, one of the most visible churches inside the old town due to its location and the relatively wide open space surrounding it. That being said, the largest church in the city is likely to be the Dubrovnik Cathedral, an impressive structure a few blocks down the road. You will also find the Rector’s Palace, now a museum dedicated to the city’s history, just beside it.
One of the must-dos while in Dubrovnik is to walk on the city walls lining the old town. It has an overall length of about 2 km which makes it an easy walk. Just make sure to avoid doing it at midday which can get especially hot during the summer months. To learn more about the history of the old city walls, you can also join a short tour.
For a bird’s eye view of Dubrovnik, you can take the cable car (120 Kuna) up to Mount Srd. Personally, I walked up via the winding road. While I did not make it all the way to the top, I managed to get high enough to see the entirety of the old city, with the impressive walls separating it from the blue sea.
Day 5 – Kotor and Budva in Montenegro
There are many short trip opportunities that can be made from Dubrovnik including day trips to Mostar in neighboring Bosnia or sojourns to Kotor and Budva in Montenegro. If you have time to pick only one, I suggest heading to Montenegro instead as there’s just more to see.
The journey from Dubrovnik to Budva in Montenegro takes about 4 hours. You will have to pass through passport control. An officer will board your car or bus to stamp passports and do some customs inspection. When you get to Budva, your first impression might be that it feels like a mini-Dubrovnik. Here, you will also find an old town, city walls and church towers resembling those in Dubrovnik but it also has a beach just next to the walls. In recent years, Budva has also become somewhat of a party town attracting the rich and famous, with the charm slightly lost in the process. I would say an hour or two within the old town is enough followed by a visit to Sveti Stefan (now an Aman hotel) for a glimpse of that iconic self-contained village on an island.
If you decide to visit Kotor without including Budva, the journey from Dubrovnik is around 30 minutes shorter. Between Kotor and Budva, I personally prefer Kotor. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town of Kotor has a stunning location with the Bay of Kotor separating it from the Adriatic Sea. This is the deepest fjord in the Mediterranean. Once your car reaches the bay from the Croat-Montenegrin border, it will criss-cross some amazing vistas, past tiny villages that seem to snap out of a fairy tale. One of those villages you’ll encounter as the bus makes it way to Kotor is Perast. It’s simply one of the most scenic villages I’ve seen in Europe and I previously wrote how Perast reminds me of Halstatt in Austria. The food here is also delightful. The calamari from Armonia is something that still lingers in my memory several years on. Further up is Kotor town proper. It is the administrative center of the region and a popular activity here is to do the trek up to St. John’s Fortress in order to catch the gorgeous view of the town against the bay.