How We Did Dubrovnik with Kids (and Avoided the Crowds!)

Dubrovnik is by far the most popular, touristy, and expensive city on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. It is so popular that the city has considered setting limits on how many tourists can enter it per day. UNESCO has threatened to take away the city’s World Heritage Site status, and CNN named Dubrovnik one of the places that should be avoided in 2018. Multiple cruise ships unload their passengers in Dubrovnik every day, and the streets become jam packed with tour groups.

For said reasons, we thought that visiting Dubrovnik with kids was not the best idea. In fact, we were even going to bypass it on our trip by driving directly from Kotor in Montenegro to our next stop, Mostar in Bosnia, until we found out it would be more expensive to begin our car rental in Montenegro due to extra fees for beginning and ending in a different country. It was cheaper to cross the border into Croatia and rent the car in Dubrovnik, so it only made sense that we stopped to see the superstar city while passing through.

 

Visiting Dubrovnik Old Town with kids
Read on to find out how we mostly avoided the crowds in Dubrovnik

 

Having said all that, Dubrovnik is understandably popular, and it can in fact be really cool for kids. From the moment we walked through the drawbridge into the Old Town, we felt as though we were staying in a castle. And even though my kids haven’t seen Game of Thrones, which had numerous scenes shot in the city, I told them stories of dragons as we explored, and they were excited by the spooky souvenirs in the many GoT-dedicated souvenir shops.

On top of that, there are beaches around the city and an island escape (with bunnies), not to mention all the cats hanging out in the Old Town, rounding out what can be a pretty awesome family-friendly holiday if you do it right!

 

My kids petting a cat on the street in Dubrovnik
Petting one of the many, many cats in Dubrovnik Old Town

 

We went to Dubrovnik with a different approach than we usually do; we didn’t try to see or do much, and we let the kids decide how they wanted to pass much of our time there. In the end, Dubrovnik didn’t exceed our expectations, nor did it fall short of them.

We had a very pleasant stay, but it wasn’t our favorite on our trip. It was awesome to see it for a couple days, but the touristy atmosphere made us further appreciate Cetara in Italy and Perast in Montenegro, two idyllic little villages where we’d stayed in the weeks before we went to Dubrovnik, as well our visit to Skradin with kids, from where we visited Krka National Park, or of the most famous national parks in Croatia.

So if you are looking for a comprehensive guide on how to cover every museum, palace, and historic sight in Dubrovnik so that you can drag your kids along the same route we did, you won’t find it here.

Instead I’d like to share our relatively laid-back experience of this overtouristed city, including our Dubrovnik itinerary with kids, and provide some tips on how you can best enjoy this city if you do decide to plan a family trip there.

 

Our son and daughter on the walls of Dubrovnik
Sorry, you’re not allowed to enter the Old Town without a password.

 

Tips for Enjoying Dubrovnik with Kids

If you’re going to visit Dubrovnik with children, there are some ways you can increase your chances of having a grumpiness- (and complaint)-free trip with the little ones.

 

1. Choose travel times that are easier on the kids

Our kids looking over Dubrovnik Port
And don’t try to see too much on your first day!

 

We started our Europe trip in Italy (see my article on visiting Amalfi Coast with kids) and were originally going to take the ferry across the Adriatic Sea to Montenegro. The times seemed awful, though, so instead of punishing our kids like that, we found a really easy-to-handle (and cheap) flight combination on kiwi.com that meant the kids wouldn’t have to miss out on any sleep.

From our last stop in Montenegro, Perast (in the Kotor area) it was only a few hours’ drive north to Dubrovnik.

If you’re flying directly in to Dubrovnik with children and have a long flight, make sure to schedule some recovery time. And spend a little more if that’s what it takes to get a flight with decent departure and arrival times.

 

2. Rent a car if you plan to travel elsewhere in Croatia

When we were planning our Croatia trip, everyone who knew anything about Croatia said to rent a car, so we did. We were a little hesitant because we’ve never rented a car while traveling before. But it was so easy and helped so much during our trip that we didn’t regret it for a moment!

Of course you don’t need a car for visiting Dubrovnik, so we started our rental on the day we left Dubrovnik to head to our next stop, the fascinating city of Mostar only a few hours away in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We hired our car through RentalCars. Everything was very clear and straightforward, and the pickup from a location a few minutes from the Old Town by taxi was very smooth. The roads were extremely easy to navigate, the scenery while driving was fantastic, and we saved literally hours of sitting on buses. What’s more, when our kids got car sick, which they tend to do, we were able to stop whenever necessary.

Note that young children legally must use car seats in Croatia. However, adding them on to your car rental is really expensive. For that reason, you may even want to consider bringing yours from home. See here for the most recommended children’s car seats for travel.

 

3. Don’t come to Dubrovnik in summer

Crowds on the main street of Dubrovnik
Typical crowds on Stradun, the main street of Dubrovnik Old Town

 

Dubrovnik was still extremely busy when we visited in mid-October. Other places we visited in Croatia in the coming weeks were practically tourist-free, but Duborvnik was still packed to the gills with tour groups. We can’t even imagine what it would be like in summer, not to mention the terrible heat.

 

4. Stay right in the Old Town

View of our family-friendly hotel in Dubrovnik
Our super convenient apartment was the attic of this house, right on Dubrovnik Port

 

While others may disagree with this advice, we felt that staying right in the heart of it was the best way to make our days in Dubrovnik easier for the kids. We had read articles by family travelers who stayed out of the old town to save money, then had to trudge into town every day with their kids.

On my own I’d do the same, but with two little ones in tow, we decided to spend a little more on an apartment (see it here on booking.com or here on Airbnb) that couldn’t have been in a more perfect location. The apartment was only one minute on foot from our main activities for both days (see more on that below) and the main square of Dubrovnik, and only 5 minutes from the beach (10 minutes walking with kids, that is!)

For more ideas on where to stay, see this detailed Dubrovnik hotel guide.

 

Living room of our kid-friendly apartment in Dubrovnik
Our family-friendly apartment right in Dubrovnik Old Town

 

Bedroom of our family-friendly Airbnb in Dubrovnik
The kids thought sleeping in an attic apartment was really interesting!

 

View of Dubrovnik Port and Lokrum Island ferry from window of our Dubrovnik kid-friendly hotel window
Dubrovnik Port and the ferry to Lokrum Island viewed from our apartment window

 

5. Go sightseeing early, rest in the afternoon

My daughter reaching in to the Jewish Fountain in Dubrovnik
It’s almost impossible to get a picture of this famous fountain with no other people in it during the midday!

 

We found the best time to do anything in Dubrovnik with kids was as early as possible, before the masses of tourists took over. By lunch we’d be back in our hotel room (which is always our kids’ favorite place when we travel), where we’d have some down time and let them play for the afternoon.

A few hours before sunset, we’d head out again, but let the kids decide where to go. This mainly led us to beaches and parks. Luckily, this was a gorgeous time to be in those places, and the perfect way to finish off the day.

 

My daughter on the stairs of Minčeta Fort on the Dubrovnik Old City walls walk
Minčeta Fort, the highest point in the Old Town, first thing in the morning before the tourists arrive en masse

 

6. Cook in your apartment instead of eating out

If Dubrovnik is the only place you’re going on your trip, then surely you’ll want to sample the local food. But if like us you are spending more time and visiting many other places in Croatia or neighboring countries, where you can enjoy similar food at lower prices, then why not save some money by skipping out on some of the most overpriced meals in the country and eating in, where you don’t have to worry about keeping your kids quiet throughout the meal?

I’m not saying that there aren’t some amazing restaurants in Dubrovnik, but for us, we often find a meal at home more relaxing than eating out with our two kids, and for a fraction of the price. We still always try to have one meal out in each place we visit, but by this point in our trip we were already finding the restaurant meals in this part of the world a little repetitive (we live between Taiwan and Canada, so we are a little spoiled when it comes to food choices in general).

Our hotel was near Ploče Gate, and just beyond the gate there were two mini supermarkets where we stocked up on food supplies to self cater in our apartment.

 

7. Join a walking tour to cover the main sights

Dubrovnik Cathedral exterior
Dubrovnik Cathedral, the most famous cathedral in the Old Town

 

Walking tours can make life easier if you don’t want to plan everything, but of course your kids would need to be old enough to appreciate the tour (or young enough that you can just carry them around). At age 4 and 5, our kids currently wouldn’t be able to handle a tour like this.

Game of Thrones filming location tours are really big in Dubrovnik. I’ve seen and enjoyed the series, but I don’t personally care enough to want to see all the spots. If you’re kids are old enough to handle it, this is a highly recommended walking tour of the Old Town,or you can try a Game of Thrones Tour like this one.

If you plan to walk the Dubrovnik walls (see our day 1 below), visit any museums and/or take any local buses, it’s worth getting a Dubrovnik Card (children 7 and under are free for all these things, so you don’t need one for them).

 

Our Dubrovnik Itinerary with Kids

We spent a total of three nights in the city (two full days), which we felt was perfect with kids. On the first day, we just arrived, got settled in our apartment, and stocked up on groceries. The following starts with our first morning in Dubrovnik.

 

Lavender walking down an empty staircase in a quiet corner of the Dubrovnik Old Town
There aren’t too many stairs in Dubrovnik, but our kids still wanted to explore them

 

Day 1 of our family trip to Dubrovnik

To introduce ourselves to the city, I decided we’d do only one of the two major tourist “things to do” in Dubrovnik: either take the Dubrovnik Cable Car up Srd Hill or walk the Dubrovnik City Walls. We didn’t want to do both because, to be honest, they are both a little pricey (cable car: 170 kuna return for adults, 60 kuna age 4-12, city walls: 200 kuna for adults, 50 kuna age 8-18).

If you decide to do the Dubrovnik Cable Car, you can expect some pretty awesome views looking down on Dubrovnik from the top, and there’s a Panorama Restaurant. You can buy your cable car tickets in advance here. Another option is this Old Town walking tour that includes a cable car ride, or this one that includes buggy car riding (suitable for kids age 10+).

 

View of Dubrovnik cable car going up Srd Hill
The Dubovnik Cable Car, which we decided not to do

 

Between riding the cable car or walking the city walls, the latter was the clear winner for us. Our kids have been on many cable cars before, and several other cities on our Europe trip had them. But walking around the whole Old Town along its ancient walls seemed really special. We could even see people walking by along the walls from the windows of our apartment, which were at the same height as the walls, so the kids were already intrigued by this.

 

Our kids climbing up the walls around Dubrovnik
The start of our Old City walls walk.

 

We followed the advice given in Lonely Planet Croatia (we always use an e-version of the Lonely Planet for every country we visit) and by other travel bloggers: we started the Old Town Walls walk at the Ploče Gate (Vrata od Ploča) entrance on the east side of the Old City, which was a 1-minute walk from our apartment. Watch for the entrance spot on the wall near Restaurant 360 to find it.

There are two other places you can start the walls walk: the main one where most people start is at Pile Gate, the western end of the Old City. A third lesser known (and a little harder to find) entrance is near Fort St. Ivana at the southeast corner of town.

 

Walking the old city walls of Dubrovnik with children
We had the walls almost entirely to ourselves for the first half of the walk

 

There are several reasons why it is best to start at the Ploče Gate entrance with kids. First of all, we were almost the only ones starting there. We arrived right when it opened at 8 a.m., so we had the walls almost entirely to ourselves until we got to the Pile Gate entrance. Second, doing this gets the hardest, mostly uphill part of the wall walk over with first, when your kids have the most energy. Third, the sunlight was at the perfect angle for getting great shots of the roofs of the city looking down from the northern wall.

 

Rooftops of Dubrovnik shot from Old Town walls in morning
Perfect light for taking pictures of Dubrovnik’s rooftops from the north city walls

 

My son looking at Dubrovnik's rooftops from the norther section of the Old Town wall
One of the sections of wall he could actually see over, at nearly the highest point on the wall walk, which we covered first

 

Once we got to the second entrance to the city walls walk at Pile Gate, and for the second half of our walk, there were more people, and we were looking into the sun.

 

Is Dubrovnik city walls suitable for kids? Yes!
This is what your pictures will look like if you’re shooting in the direction of the sun

 

The kids were thrilled once we first got up to the wall, and we had to jog to keep up with them. About half way through, though, they started getting tired, and were complaining by the end. In total the whole walk only took us a little over an hour.

 

My son pretending to fly on the Dubrovnik walls
Our kids didn’t walk along the wall. They flew.

 

We could have just done the first half of the wall and stopped at Pile Gate, but I’m glad we completed the southern half of it along the ocean, so we could enjoy the fine views of the Fort of St. Lawrence (Fort Lovrijenac) and looking down at the two Buža Bars perched on the cliffs below.

 

Fort of St. Lawrence Dubrovnik viewed from the Old Town wall
Fort of St. Lawrence viewed from the SW corner of the Old City walls

 

Buza Bar in Dubrovnik
One of the two Buza Bars built into the exterior of the Old City wall

 

It’s understandable the kids got bored, as they can’t see over most of the walls without being lifted. And amazingly, most times they looked over, they were able to spot cats, like this one that I had to use a telephoto lens to get a shot of:

 

A black cat on a section of the Old City wall of Dubrovnik
A cat that my kids amazingly spotted when looking down from the wall.

 

After finishing the walk, we rewarded the kids with a gelato (that goes without saying). My research told me that Peppino’s Ice Cream Shop had the best gelato in town, so we went directly there, and holy crap was it ever good. The premium flavors in particular were special, with many flavors and combinations we’d never seen before (and we were just in Italy!)

 

Peppino's Ice Cream, the best ice cream in Dubrovnik
Peppino’s Ice Cream, our reward for a hike completed

 

After a prolonged siesta in our room, we headed out again in the late afternoon. The Old Town was swamped with tourists at that time, but the kids wanted to hit the beach, and so did we!

 

Banje Beach Dubrovnik viewed from the sea
Banje Beach viewed from the sea

 

Banje Beach, the most well-known beach near the Dubrovnik Old Town, was only five minute’s walk from Ploče Gate near our hotel. We could even see part of it from one window in our hotel.

 

Banje Beach, one of the best things to do with kids in Dubrovnik
Looking over Banje Beach

 

Banje Beach is mostly taken up by Banje Beach Restaurant and its for-hire sun chairs, but you can sit anywhere on the beach in front of the sun chairs for free. There were many people on the beach, but it wasn’t too crowded.

The kids loved collecting cool rocks on the mostly pebble beach, and they even acquired a children’s fishing net left behind by another family, which they later carried around (or wore on their heads) everywhere we went in Dubrovnik, in the hopes of finding water and catching some fish.

 

Our kids looking for rocks on Banje Beach in Dubrovnik
We found the best rocks on all of Banje Beach.

 

Day 2 of our family trip to Dubrovnik

My son Sage loves cats, and it seems every city we visit on this trip is overrun with cats (our family trip to Kotor and Perast in Montenegro had the most, while Istanbul, Turkey and Oman were up there too). But my daughter Lavender is a bunny person.

Fortunately, at least one stop on our trip would feature an overload of rabbits, and that was Lokrum Island, just off the coast of Dubrovnik. For weeks (actually, for months) before our trip, I built up “Bunny Island” in her mind, so of course both of them were super excited. Who cares about ancient city walls when you can see bunnies?

 

Shore of Lokrum Island
You have no idea how many rabbits are hopping around behind those trees…

 

The ferry for Lokrum Island (adults 150 kuna return, kids age 5-15 25 kuna return) left from right in front of our apartment. I mean, our apartment was literally right on the dock. We caught the first ferry at 9 a.m., after which the next was at 10, then every 30 minutes until 4 p.m.

 

Our kids in front of the ferry to Lokrum Island in Dubrovnik
The ferry to Lokrum Island, with our apartment visible on the left

 

Child on ferry with shore of Lokrum Island in background
Eagerly anticipating petting lots of bunnies

 

There’s more to Lokrum island than just bunnies (It’s also got lots of peacocks!) The island also once housed King Richard the Lionheart of the third Crusade, and has the ruins of a Benedictine Monastery. Today, the monastery has a small Game of Thrones exhibit, where you can sit on the real Iron Throne from Game of Thrones.

When we first got off the short ferry ride, we made our way in to the Botanical Garden, where we soon spotted our first of many rabbits and peacocks. As a kid my sisters and I loved rabbits too, so we were perfectly happy to let our kids spend a good chunk of time watching (and trying to touch) the bunnies.

 

My daughter almost touching a rabbit's nose on Lokrum island
My kids were determined to pet the rabbits, but it wasn’t easy.

 

My son walking right behind a peacock on Lokrum Island
Sage decided he liked the peacocks more than the rabbits

 

Besides the wildlife, I was also impressed with the great variety of flora in the botanical gardens! Next we explored the monastery, sat in the Iron Throne, walked along the coast, spotted many more bunnies and peacocks, and played in a small playground.

 

Cactus in Lokrum Botanical Garden
Lokrum Island Botanical Garden (where you can find the most bunnies)

 

Lokrum Island Benedictine Monastery with kids
Lavender in the Lokrum Island Monastery

 

Playground on Lokrum Island
Small playground beside the Benedictine Monastery

 

Our kids in the Iron Thone on Lokrum Island
The real Iron Throne, which is not in Benedictine Monastery on Lokrum Island

 

Finally, we finished up with a stop at the Dead Sea of Lokrum Island, which contains a high enough concentration of salt to help you float (it’s not nearly as strong as the actual Dead Sea, but still noticeable). The kids were intrigued by (and terrified of) the anemones in the water, which according to a sign could cause a slight sting, so they refused to go in, but still had lot of fun tossing rocks in.

 

Visiting Lokrum Dead Sea with kids
The “Dead Sea” of Lokrum Island. Sage was scared of the anemones…

 

So after a very pleasant morning in natural surroundings at Lokrum Island, we were back at our apartment for lunch, and had another relaxing afternoon staying in.

This time for our late-afternoon venture, Lavender really wanted to find a playground, so we tried our luck at Gradac Park, which is located just west of the Fort of St. Lawrence, about 10 minutes’ walk west of Pile Gate.

 

Lavender looking at a water fountain in Gradic Park, Dubrovnik
Not only was there no playground, but the pond didn’t even have fish for them to catch…

 

Although the park offered great views of Dubrovnik and the coast, there was no playground to be found, so Lavender pronounced it a failed mission and we moved on.

 

Lavender at the entrance to Gradic Park, the best park near Dubrovnik Old Town
I liked the view, but she just wanted to find a swing.

 

Within seconds they were over it and distracted by trying to catch fish and other sea creatures with their net at Suluci Beach, a tiny somewhat hidden beach between Gradac Park and Fort St. Lawrence. They also got a thrill out of watching me do various types of cannonball from a diving spot on the side.

We also had a look at Dubrovnik West Harbor a few steps away, and more fish catching ensued.

 

Lavender looking down at Suluci Beach, Dubrovnik
Tiny Suluci Beach, interesting for a stop, but not super suitable for young kids

 

Sage with a children's fishing net at Dubrovnik West Harbor
Sage with his prized fishing net, which we found the day before on Banje Beach

 

Conclusion

So after reading this, you may be wondering, why didn’t we just go to any other beach in the world (and perhaps a petting zoo with rabbits)?

Well, despite all the time we spend at the beach and chasing bunnies around, we still got to see Dubrovnik! The Dubrovnik Old Town is truly magnificent, despite the tourist crowds. It truly is an open-air museum, and every time we went anywhere, we were in awe as we looked around. Maybe we missed a bunch of museums and churches, but none of us really cared. I was also even able to slip out on my own a few times during our stay and see some of the sights that I wanted to.

 

Our kids lighting candles in a Dubrovnik church
Lighting electric candles in a church in Dubrovnik

 

Dubrovnik was special for all of us, and we’re glad we squeezed in, even if we were tourists number 10 million and 1 this year. For the kids, they’ll never forget the rabbits of Lokrum Island, the scary sea anemones, catching fish, the gelato, and the cats everywhere. For us, we’ll never forget seeing them enjoying those things, nor will we forget magnificent Dubrovnik itself. And by not trying to “conquer” this city and its many sights, we actually enjoyed it more than we had expected.

 

Our kids petting a cat in Dubrovnik
Goodbye, Dubrovnik cats!

 

 

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