First and foremost, if you’re only visiting Dubrovnik as a cruise port or on a day trip, you are missing out. If you’re wondering where to stay in Dubrovnik, I’ve got you covered. The Hotel Stari Grad is one of the few luxury hotels in the city. If you’re wondering why Dubrovnik, I’ve got you covered there, too.
The people of Dubrovnik are incredible. They are warm and friendly, disarmingly honest, and they have a lot to share about Croatia. Croatia, as we know it today, is a very young country, and many of the people we met had a living knowledge of the Homeland War. It is quite thought-provoking to engage in discussions about culture, tradition, and history when much of it is still being written. I know it’s given me a lot to think about, especially when considering the rise of nationalism in the United States and some of the things going on here politically.
But, if that’s not your thing, there’s still a lot to experience in Dubrovnik. One of my favorite memories was arriving at the city walls as blue hour took over the city. It’s truly a castle town and magic hour is, well, magical. The way the light bounces off the white stone in the evening is captivating. (It reminded me a lot of how Ostuni took my breath away.) The view of the city from above shouldn’t be missed. Croatian sunsets are the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced. I don’t think we had a bad meal in Croatia. Every part of our trip to Croatia was magical and it all started in Dubrovnik.
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Deciding Where to Stay in Dubrovnik
When I was debating where to stay in Dubrovnik, I knew it would come down to two things. One, location. Two, amenities. Tom really wanted to stay inside the old city walls, even if that meant staying in a sobe. I wanted to stay in a comfortable hotel. Most of the popular beachfront luxury hotels in Dubrovnik are a mile or two outside the city walls and a 5-10 walk or bus ride from the main gates of the city. Since we were traveling in shoulder season, I didn’t think we would need beach access, though I will admit the view sounded really appealing. The Hilton Dubrovnik is a three-minute walk from the Pile Gate. All of these hotels would have been excellent choices.
Ultimately, I ended up choosing the Hotel Stari Grad because it was inside the city walls (Tom’s request) and because it had a spa. The Above 5 rooftop restaurant ended up being an incredible Michelin-starred bonus. The Stari Grad is less than a 5-minute walk from the Pile Gate and there are very few stairs required.
Hotel Stari Grad Dubrovnik
First and foremost, I cannot say enough good things about the staff at the Hotel Stari Grad in Dubrovnik. From the moment we arrived, Rodrigo and Moad made sure we felt welcome. (They knew who we were before we even introduced ourselves.) Every single person we encountered, from the owner, to the restaurant staff, to the front desk personnel, to the spa attendants, wanted to make sure that we had a memorable trip to Dubrovnik.
Everyone was happy to make recommendations of things to do and see in Dubrovnik (and beyond), make restaurant and food recommendations, and generally made us feel very, very welcome, even though we were in Dubrovnik during a very quiet time. We never felt like an inconvenience; the hospitality was extremely genuine.
Room 202 – Deluxe Room
We arrived in Dubrovnik and the Hotel Stari Grad a little after 7:00pm. We were shown to Room 202 (no elevator), which was a beautifully appointed, very romantic, and very cozy deluxe room with a queen bed. The bed was very, very comfortable. Though the room was very small by US standards, the high ceilings makes it feel very comfortable. I loved the soft color scheme and the contrasting fabrics. The room felt very chic while also being very comfortable.
The room was very efficient in terms of how well it utilized space and how the furniture fit the room. There were dual nightstands, a desk and second chair, and a small table. There was also a mini-fridge, a tea kettle, and a bottle opener and wine glasses.
The well-lit bathroom had a walk-in shower, a single sink, and L’Occtaine sundries. The shower had great water pressure and we didn’t have any issues with hot water during our stay. I loved the fluffy spa robes, which were perfect for padding across the street to the Icona spa.
There are a lot of small touches that make the Hotel Stari Grad feel extra luxurious. It would be a great honeymoon hotel in Dubrovnik if you aren’t concerned with beach access.
Above 5 Rooftop Restaurant at Hotel Stari Grad
We had a long travel day to get to Dubrovnik. We flew from DFW-MAD, had a 7 hour layover, and flew from MAD-DBV. It took us about 45 minutes to get from the airport to the Pile Gate. It was a VERY quiet evening in Dubrovnik when we arrived. Rodrigo and Moad, who were waiting for us to arrive, quickly offered a table at Above 5, even though we did not have a reservation. We weren’t sure we were up for it,, but we followed Moad to the rooftop dining room with the idea that we would just check out the menu. One look at the menu (and the blue hour view of Dubrovnik!) and we took a table.
The service was absolutely exceptional. Moad was happy to share more about Croatian wines with us and help us pick a few to try. (We were really excited to see that they offered Istrian wines, as we were headed to the Meneghetti wine resort later in our trip.) Since we were so tired, we asked to split a main course. It wasn’t a problem at all. Though it was a slow evening, and we arrived late, everything was served fresh and the presentation was flawless. The bread was warm and fresh; the herb butter was delicious; the amuse bouche was delicate, creative, and fresh, and our tenderloin was perfectly cooked and served beautifully. My only regret? Skipping dessert.
I couldn’t stop looking around in disbelief at the view; we were having an incredible rooftop dinner in one of the most beautiful cities. We really enjoyed chatting with Moad throughout the evening. Before we left, he asked if he could make a reservation for breakfast for us. Hist attention to detail and ensuring that we had a lovely stay did not go unnoticed. (Due to early tours, we skipped breakfast – but I suggest taking advantage of it for the view!)
Our Second Dinner at Above 5 Dubrovnik
That first night was so perfect that we spent our last dinner in Dubrovnik at Above 5 again. The creativity of the chef is truly incredible. Our second meal included different fresh breads, as well as a different amuse bouche offering. After another fabulous dinner, we were introduced to a traditional Croatian liquor. I didn’t skip dessert this time, and the chocolate walnut cake served with salted caramel is still one of the foods I think about from our Croatia trip. (The food in Croatia is really good.)
Even though it was supposed to rain that evening, the hotel staff assured us that they would find a way to honor our reservation at the lobby bar if it rained. Thankfully, we were able to enjoy dinner on the terrace, but I really appreciated how thoughtful the staff was in ensuring that we didn’t miss out on dinner, even if it rained.
The warmth of the staff at Above 5, the rooftop view of Dubrovnik’s old town, and the food make this restaurant an absolute must-do in Dubrovnik. Above 5 is truly a memorable, romantic Dubrovnik experience worth having – and the restaurant itself certainly deserves its Michelin star. If you are traveling during high season, make sure you get a reservation!
Icona Thai Spa in Dubrovnik
One of the things that pushed me over when I was deciding where to stay in Dubrovnik was the fact that the Stari Grad had a spa. The Icona Thai Spa is located right across the street from the hotel and it is a wonderful way to unwind, especially after a long travel day. I booked a traditional Thai massage and enjoyed it so much that I booked another aromatherapy massage. What I appreciated was that when I didn’t know the difference between the types of massage, the staff was willing to tell me what I did (and did not) need, based on what my interests were.
This is a different spa experience than I am used to the US, but that’s why we travel, right? The spa has mattresses on the floor that are surrounded by curtains. While it was very different from a traditional massage table, I found it to be very comfortable. Thai massage involves a bit more stretching that, which ended up being really good for my tight muscles. After the massage, I was provided with lemongrass tea and was able to talk to the spa staff. Some of them had come from Myanmar and were happy to share more about their experiences in Croatia.
The Icona Spa is a great way to spend an afternoon in Dubrovnik, particularly if it’s extra crowded or rainy.
Things to Do in Dubrovnik
If you’re going to stay in Dubrovnik, I think you should also visit Dubrovnik! This city is such a unique and beautiful place. Yes, there are tons of beautiful vistas and lookout points, but there is a lot to see in Dubrovnik, too. (The cable car wasn’t running while we were there, so we skipped Mount Srd and opted to take in some views as we drove north to Zadar.)
One of the things that I was mose surprised by when I was researching our trip to Dubrovnik was how little the guidebooks addressed the things to do in Dubrovnik. Everything was focused on taking day trips to the islands or visiting nearby towns.
Now that we’ve spent some time seeing the sights of Dubrovnik, I would probably be more inclined to explore the surrounding area and head out to the islands.
Old Town Dubrovnik Tour
One of the first things you should do is book a walking tour of Old Town Dubrovnik on your first day in town. Elvis is an incredible guide with a living knowledge of Croatia and Dubrovnik’s recent history. You can learn a lot from him, but please know this is not a Game of Throne tour. (His daughter, however, does offer a Game of Thrones tour.) This tour of the old town walks you through the history of Dubrovnik as a republic to its place in present-day Croatia. It covers a lot ground and is a perfect introduction. Elvis is a very engaging guide who is open to questions and delivers an extremely candid tour about his life experiences and the changes in Croatia.
This Dubrovnik tour is a great introduction the rivalry between Venice and Dubrovnik, as well as developing a better understanding the Venetian influences on Croatia. Dubrovnik is unique because its position and wealth, which means it was not conquered in the same way as Zadar and parts of Istria. The tour was great for setting the stage for what we would learn on other tours in Croatia, and especially the influences that we would see from the Romans, the Venetians, the Austrians, and Croatians. I was quite surprised to learn how progressive that the republic of Dubrovnik was, as early as the 1400s, especially as it relates to their anti-slavery stance that was unheard of at the time (and for a long time after, too).
As Americans, it is incredible to realize how little history we are taught about how certain areas of Europe were settled after World War II. Our understanding of world history is so far from complete. It feels as if we might need to stretch world history across a couple of courses if we are ever to understand the world as we presently know it. We really appreciated Elvis sharing his own experiences as it relates to the recent history of Croatia and learn more about life in the former Yugoslavia and the current situation in Croatia.
Dubrovnik Old Town Walking Tour
Dubrovnik City Walls Tour
There are three entrances to the city of Dubrovnik. We arrived at Pile Gate, which I would argue is the most grand (and fortified) entrance to the city. I didn’t think much about the fortifications (or the walls) until we took a tour of the Dubrovnik City Walls. None of our guidebooks provided the depth and perspective on the walls that our guide, Ivo, was able to provide.
Ivo was able to help us better understand how Dubrovnik was constructed – and seeing it from above helps you understand how the city came to be – from founding to present-day. Ivo helped us understand that the variation in color for the famous roof tiles is not a design choice, but it’s actually due to the age of the tiles. When you look at the roofs from above, you can see how some were replaced after the 1600 earthquake while others were replaced more recently after the Homeland War. All of the tiles come from the same place where the original tiles were created. The roof tiles and the city walls are just one additional way to better understand more about Dubrovnik’s history.
As discussed on the Old Town walking tour, the view from the city walls helps provide more insight into Dubrovnik’s unique positioning significantly influenced its history. While you can walk the walls yourself, I don’t know that you would understand what you are seeing because there aren’t plaques along the way to point things out or provide additional information. It was very helpful to have Ivo, who encouraged questions and provided thoughtful commentary about Dubrovnik and Croatia. (He was also happy to provide numerous restaurant and bar recommendations and point them out as we traversed the walls.)
This city walls tour covers the city walls in their entirety. Be ready for stairs and some physical exertion. We visited on an overcast day, so it didn’t feel too warm but take water with you.
Wine Tasting in Dubrovnik
Located a few blocks away from the Hotel Stari Grad is D’Vino Wine Bar. D’Vino has the largest selection of wines by the glass in Dubrovnik, and their staff is happy to share more about Croatian wine with you. They offer a handful of scheduled wine tastings, but you can also pop in for a wine tasting (like we did). We opted to try both the red and white wine flights, and we ordered a Croatian meat and cheese board to accompany it. Everything is local to Croatia. Everything is delicious. The staff is very friendly and happy to share as much as they can.
I would have gone back to D’Vino a second time if we had more time.
See All the Churches in Dubrovnik
While our guidebooks had a few details about the churches included, not all of them were included. Tom and I opted to create our own self-guided tour of all the churches of Dubrovnik.
Personally, I thought St. Ignatius, excluded from the guidebooks and at the top of the Jesuit staircase, was one of the most beautiful churches in Dubrovnik. The colorful altar is absolutely unexpected after visiting so many more austere churches in Dubrovnik. St. Blaise has the most beautiful stained glass, especially at night. The Serbian Orthodox Church of the Holy Annunciation has an absolutely breathtaking altarpiece. The courtyard of the Franciscan monastery is really beautiful and reminds me a lot of the courtyards in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. It’s home of one of the oldest pharmacy in Europe. They still use some of the ancient recipes, so it’s worth checking out and perhaps picking up a souvenir here.
I was disappointed that we missed the local Synagogue, which is the second oldest Synagogue in Europe. (The oldest one is the New-Old Synagogue in Prague.)
Most Dubrovnik churches do not allow photos, so you’ll have to take my advice and see them for yourself!
Visit the Dubrovnik Christmas Shop
While there is no shortage of souvenir shops in Dubrovnik, my favorite shop was the Dubrovnik Christmas Shop. This store specializes in local and handmade Christmas ornaments, which are the perfect souvenir to relive your adventures during the holidays. The owner is very kind, and often times, you can find her at work on some of the Christmas ornaments.
I purchased two traditional Croatian Christmas ornaments and a replicate of Cinderella’s carriage. They took great care to wrap my ornaments for the long trip home. They also specialize in Nutcrackers, wreaths, and other holiday decor. While I did purchase some bath salts and lavender as gifts, these ended up being my favorite Dubrovnik souvenirs. (I did not find a lot of Christmas ornaments elsewhere in Croatia, so if you like it, buy it!)
Final Thoughts on Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is incredible. The people are even more incredible. It shouldn’t be missed – but it really is more than a stopover. Dubrovnik is one of the cities that has been dramatically affected by overtourism. The most responsible thing you can do is stay in the city, patronize the local businesses, and enjoy the restaurants. While there are things about Dubrovnik that seem too perfect, the people really have a lot to share and their stories are very much worth learning.
I think the Hotel Stari Grad is where to stay in Dubrovnik because it offers all the amenities of a five-star hotel while being a very warm and welcoming place. The hospitality is absolutely incredible, and the warmth of the Croatians will have you wanting to return again and again. Personality and warmth can be difficult to capture in cities that see so many tourists, but the Stari Grad staff does an amazing job at making guests feel valued and comfortable.
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