Day 1 - Dubrovnik
Arriving in Dubrovnik by plane, it takes about 30 minutes to reach the city centre in a taxi. This coastal journey boasts some amazing scenery, but once your eyes set sight on the city’s old walls you will see why it has been dubbed the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’. Seen by millions on television in the early 1990s as Serbs and Croats fired endless rounds of ammunition back and forth, today these walls can raise the hairs on the back of your neck on nearly every sighting.
If you get there by bus, you may not be treated to such a sight. Instead you will be greeted by a fleet of old women repeating the word ‘Sobe’ over and over. During the summer months though, these are fewer and farer between so ensure you have your accommodation booked before you arrive.
Entering the old town over the iron bridge at Pile Gate, within 200 yards (and after descending a number of steps) you will reach Dubrovnik’s main thoroughfare known simply as Placa. This is effortlessly one of the most beautiful streets in the world. From its marble tiles, to the labyrinthine lanes which branch off it to the cathedral and town hall located on it, everything about it oozes class. No matter how many times you find yourself moseying down it, it will always give you a buzz that not many other streets will.
Along Placa you won’t find too many restaurants. Instead, they are tucked away down number of side-streets. While you might not find them at first, you can be guaranteed somebody will approach you, propositioning you with specials which include free shots and other niceties. Don’t be fooled by these – you do get free shots, they’re just not very easy to drink. But the food, which should be fairly reasonably priced, will be of the highest quality.
Once darkness sets in, Placa is where it’s happening. From 8pm people onwards, trendsetters line this street traipsing back and forth between the bars. Study the sequence closely and you may notice that some people are simply walking back and forth, and back and forth and back…you get the picture. There is no better place to people watch in the whole of Croatia.
Day 2 - Snorkel and swim
There is some excellent snorkelling to be done in Dubrovnik. If you are a keen swimmer you shouldn’t miss out on the chance of taking your snorkel and mask out, give your legs some exercise while get to feast your eyes on some very colourful fish. But if you like being in the water, but not so much to see strangely coloured fish, then you may benefit from the choice of watersports to do on Dubrovnik’s main beach.
Both the above activities can take some energy, so afterwards laze on the beach, enjoy the scenery in front of you and catch a few rays. Dubrovnik’s beach isn’t very big, unlike some other European beaches, so lying down here with a book, discman or simply your thoughts can be extremely enjoyable.
Possibly the most enjoyable activity in this medieval city is the walk around the city’s old walls. Opening at 9am daily, the best time to begin the moderate hike around them (the journey takes one hour circa) is about 30-45 minutes before sunset. That’s also why you’re better off leaving it to your second day – you know what time sunset will be.
No matter where you begin the walk (the best place to embark on it is from the gate close to Pile Gate), the number of lookouts is endless. Lokrum Island can be seen from any point, while at many points below you the buzzing streets within the walls make for a very pleasant spectacle. And for the ten minutes it takes the sun to sink below the horizon it will seem that nothing else in the world matters for those lost minutes.
As beautiful as Dubrovnik is, when you get here it will give you the desire to see exactly what else this born-again country has to offer. Two days is enough to experience a lot of what this city has to offer so on your second night pack your bags and get ready to move off once more.
Day 3 - Northwards to Split
Just four hours north of Dubrovnik is Split, Croatia’s second largest city. Another settlement dating back to medieval times, this is a city which has augmented from the Diocletian Palace, which is the city centre as we know it today.
Slightly more commercialised than Dubrovnik, Split benefits from the fact that this is the gateway to the islands. Ferries to Hvar, Korcula and Brac, three of Croatia’s most frequented islands with travellers, all depart daily from Split. After a four hour bus journey, the thoughts of a three hour ferry journey will seem less than appealing so, taking it that you arrive in Split relatively early, drop your bags in wherever your humble abode will be for the evening.
Just like Dubrovnik, Split has a very unique city centre. It is housed within the walls of the ancient palace and faces the harbour in which so many ferries depart daily for the surrounding islands. On the eastern side of the palace a daily market is held where you can pick up a number of bargains. Also within the palace walls are a host of squares, narrow lanes and bars which come alive at night. If you want to relax there are endless places to sit down with a coffee, either inside or outside the walls. If you have a few ‘kuna’ to burn, shops are aplenty too.
Unless you know where to go, Split can be extremely quiet at night time. The street just up from the bus station has a food court which is fronted by three of four bars, but nothing much happens here. Instead most travellers head to the shopping complex at the far end of the beach.
Day 4 - Take refuge in the beach
Some people take to Split, while others don’t. If you are there at the right time it can be a great place to meet people, but if you don’t you can find out quick that there isn’t a whole lot to do here.
On the second day in Split, take refuge in the beach for the day. Watch the locals play a unique style of football in the sea, swim out to the manmade platform for a spate of diving or catch some z’s on the beach. Just like in Dubrovnik, the beach here, while nowhere near as picturesque, is still a nice place to while away a day.
Day 5 - Off to the islands
If Dubrovnik is the most popular city on the mainland, then Hvar Town on the island of Hvar is undoubtedly the most popular place offshore. Even though it consists of nothing more than an old town square dominated by an old church and two promenades, there is a pleasant atmosphere here all-year round.
From 9am daily the town’s small beaches turn to magnets, although one wonders why as these beaches aren’t sandy beaches. Oh no – these are rocky ones. Rocky to the extent that to ensure you attain a comfortable position, you may have to try out 3 or 4 different positions to do so.
In my home town in Ireland I don’t usually have the pleasure of watching sunsets because, as we all know (or should at least), the sun rises in the east. While I was on Hvar this wasn’t the case. When you can see that the sun is beginning to ascend, a number of old lanes from the square lead up to another lane which is high above the others. The scene here at dusk is extremely attractive and shouldn’t be missed.
Thanks to a bar called Carpe Diem which translates to ‘Seize the Day’, Hvar is surprisingly active at night, albeit if it is contained to just one bar. Drink here can be expensive, but over the space of a few cold ones you are bound to meet some other travellers from around the globe so make sure to put it on your agenda of things to do here.