A visit to Dubrovnik is always easy on the eyes – but can be hard on your wallet.
Yet if you know how, you can enjoy this Croatian city of unparalleled architectural grace, lush nature, azure waters and relaxed living without spending a dime. Here are the best free things to do in Dubrovnik.
Wander the open-air museum of Dubrovnik’s old town
With the feel of an open-air museum and gated by two drawbridges, Dubrovnik’s old town could easily be subject to an entrance fee. But it’s not: despite its fairy-tale appearance, this is a real neighborhood, with real residents. As everyday life unfolds against a backdrop of medieval, Renaissance and baroque architecture, every square becomes a stage and every view a postcard.
Hours slide by as you roam around the maze of picturesque stone alleyways and steep staircases, admiring chapels, churches and occasional gardens. People-watch from the stairs of St Blaise’s Church, sit on a bench in the breezy harbor, watch swimmers at Porporela – and allow yourself time to experience Dubrovnik’s beating heart.
Explore King’s Landing at Game of Thrones filming locations
Despite Cersei’s tyranny and Drogon’s fire, Dubrovnik’s old town – the set for the capital of the Six Kingdoms – is still standing. Walking down the main street, turn right just before the elegant clocktower to reach the Jesuit stairs and Od Margarite street, or go straight on for Od Dominika street, all sites of the infamous “walk of shame” scene. (Resist the temptation to re-enact each frame faithfully, though, as public nudity does not fly in present-day Croatia.)
Down by the water in Pile, marvel at the show’s Blackwater Bay and stand in the same spot where Jon Snow bid his histrionic farewell to the Starks. Far above, the Red Keep (in reality Fort Lawrence) charges an entry fee, though it’s free if you buy a ticket for the City Walls. Minutes away, the site of the bloody Purple Wedding is the serene Gradac Park, a cool, quiet spot to get away from the old town’s hustle and bustle.
Follow the Way of the Cross path and take in the view from the Petka hills
Green hills dot the outer rim of Dubrovnik, providing a lovely chance to enjoy nature without leaving town. For the best views, hike up the Way of the Cross path to the top of Srđ hill, and from a 413m (1355ft) vantage point enjoy the old town’s terracotta roofs spread beneath you like the palm of a hand. Across town, the hiking trails on the Petka hills lead through the cool shade of Mediterranean forests up to stunning views of the tiny Grebeni rocks and the mystical Elafiti Islands. Timing is everything, though, so avoid the high sun and come prepared with water, sunscreen, snacks, hat and (naturally) a camera.
Admire masterpieces at the Cathedral of the Assumption and other churches
Churches in Dubrovnik display art by both local artists and international masters. In the Cathedral, stop to admire the Assumption of Mary, a 16th-century polyptych by Titian displayed above the main altar. At St Ignatius of Loyola Church, stunning baroque frescoes fill the main apse. Inside the church of Dubrovnik’s patron saint Blaise, look up at colorful stained glass windows by Ivo Dulčić, a beloved native son.
Enjoy some free nibbles at Grad Market
Adding a splash of vibrant color to the old town stone, the Grad Markt pulses with life. Many stalls stock such traditional local sweets as dried figs, arancini (Croatian candied orange peel) and broštulani mjenduli (candied almonds), and offer a free taste before you buy. Foodies should also venture into the city’s main market in Gružwhich has its own fish market.
Learn about the former Yugoslavia’s painful dissolution through art
The 1991–92 conflict that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia left Dubrovnik shattered into pieces. You’ll realize the extent of the damage suffered by studying the photographs displayed at Ivo Grbić Art, as you take in the story of a family whose home was turned to ashes by repeated hits from incendiary bombs. Sponza Palace’s Memorial Room, meanwhile, showcases the portraits of 139 men who died defending Dubrovnik as a reminder of the war’s greatest loss.
Lie out on a towel on the beach
The beaches are nearly impossible to privatize around Dubrovnik, so even the most popular ones, like Banje or Sveti Jakov, have ample room for beachgoers who prefer to put down a towel instead of renting a lounger. For sunbathing the way locals do it, head to rugged Danče or scenic Šulić; for adrenaline, dive off the rocks on Buža. For family time, venture across town to Lapad Bay, with offers pebbly shores and dramatic sunsets.
Fall in love with red Adriatic coral at Clara Stones Jewelery
Visiting the exclusive Clara Stones Jewelery will teach you all about sumptuous red Adriatic coral. The region’s only semiprecious material is known for its shiny scarlet color – yet before craftsmen have their way with the material, it is neither shiny nor red. At the Clara Stones workshop, you can witness the magical transformation first-hand.
Volunteer on a water excursion with Green Sea Safari tours
It’s hard to believe you can take a day trip to the islands around Dubrovnik at no cost – yet with local NGO Green Sea Safari, you’ll pay for the experience in kind, by helping the group clean up remote bits of the coast. After about an hour’s work, it’s break time, as you swim in crystal-clear waters, island-hop, explore watery caves and more. While the NGO relies on donations, these aren’t obligatory.
Enjoy a free guided walking tour in the off season
Between November and March each year, the Dubrovnik Tourism Board throws in a freebie for the town’s low-season visitors. Each Saturday morning, guided walking tours of the old town are followed by a folklore dance performance on Luža Square, providing insight into the town’s long-lasting traditions, past and present.
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This article was first published on August 27, 2019 and updated on March 18, 2022