Known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik, Croatia, is the perfect display of the past and present. Surrounded by medieval architecture preserved in its original form and situated on a stunning coast, a stroll through the city’s Old Town feels like stepping foot in an episode of HBO’s "Game of Thrones," many episodes of which were filmed there.
The secret, however, is out: tourism in the city has skyrocketed over the years, with crowds packing the streets of Old Town particularly between May and August. If you’re looking to spend a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of the city but still get a taste of the Dalmatian Coast, here are the best day trips to experience adventure, natural beauty, and unique wines.
This ancient island is filled with history: Richard the Lionheart is said to have spent time here after being shipwrecked during the Crusades, and the ruins of a Benedictine Monastery and a Napoleonic fort still stand today. Bring your swimsuit to sunbathe or take a dip in the small lake Mrtvo More, which translates to "Dead Sea,” or simply settle by the water and take in the sights. Get ready to snap photos: the island is home to beautiful lush gardens and a large population of domesticated peacocks.
Getting there: Just a 10-minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik proper, you can catch a ferry every 30 minutes from the city’s port.
Travel tip: Overnight stays are not allowed, so don't plan for more than a day here.
One of the Elafiti islands, Lopud was the destination of choice for Croatia’s ancient elite, and thus is home to many remains of monasteries, churches, and palaces that were destroyed by earthquakes in the 1600s. The island is also home to Sunj beach, considered one of the most beautiful beaches on the Dalmatian Coast, as well as Giorgi-Maynari Botanical Park. Lopud boasts steady tourism and several boutique hotels, such as Villa Vilina and Lafodia Beach Resort, but if you’re planning to come in summer, make sure to book in advance: rooms fill up fast.
Getting there: There are daily one-hour boat rides to the Elafiti islands from Old Town Dubrovnik. Make sure to check schedules as service changes seasonally.
Travel tip: There are a limited amount of hotels on the island, so if you plan to stay on Lopud overnight, be sure to book accommodations well in advance.
The city of Korcula is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval cities, richly decorated in gothic, renaissance, and baroque architecture. It’s also home to the famous Ston Walls, the longest preserved fortification system in the world after the Great Wall of China. Head to the Islet of Proizd for white rock beaches and turquoise waters, and Vela Spila, one of the oldest prehistoric caves in Europe, which has been continuously populated since approximately 20,000 B.C.
Getting there: Korcula is approximately a two-and-a half-hour drive from Dubrovnik. While there are no direct routes from Dubrovnik to Korcula, there are daily routes from Dubrovnik to Split that stop here at the halfway point.
Travel tip: Don’t leave without a pit stop at Lumbarda, Korcula’s main wine village, to try Grk wine, a dry white made from a Grk Bijeli, a grape found exclusively on this island.
Unspoiled vineyards and olive groves have made this island popular with wine lovers, and an increasing number of family wineries on the peninsula have opened tasting rooms to meet the demand. For some truly unique grapes, head to Dingac and Postup, the peninsula’s two largest wine hotspots, to try the robust, velvety red produced by the Plavac mali vine for which the destination is famous. The wines here will pair perfectly with oysters from nearby Mali Ston Bay, considered by many seafood snobs to be some of the world’s best. Surfers should make sure to check out Viganj, the southern area of the Peljesac canal, for its perfect waves and swimming conditions.
Getting there: The Peljesac Peninsula is a 45-minute drive from Dubrovnik’s Old Town. There are several daily buses that arrive in Ston from Dubrovnik; check schedules for seasonal changes.
Travel tip: The Dingac region is home to some of the most stunning drives on the peninsula. If you're renting a car, begin at Trstenik and make your way to Potomje for breathtaking views.
Croatia’s greenest island, the island of Mljet is the place to go to get up close and personal with undisturbed nature and abundant wildlife. This island is so beautiful that the entire west side of it was named the country’s first Adriatic National Park in 1960. There’s plenty of history to see here, including the Islet of St. Mary, which is home to a Benedictine monastery from the 12th century, as well as Odyssey’s Cave, allegedly the location where the Greek god Odyssey stared into the open sea and longed for home after a shipwreck.
Getting there: The Dubrovnik airport is a one-hour and 15-minute drive from the city of Prapratno, which is the nearest point on the mainland. Once at Prapratno, catch a ferry; services run fairly regularly to the island.
Travel tip: Some of the best beaches on the Dalmatian Coast can be found in Mljet. Blacè and Sutmiholjska are two that feature several on-site amenities such as cafes, restaurants and rentals.
Far from the mainland, Lastovo is known as Croatia’s “island of crystal stars” for the unbeatable views of the stars in the evening sky. Here, you’ll find untouched shore with numerous coves, lush vegetation, and crystal clear water. Adventurous travelers won’t want to miss visiting some of the famously picturesque Lastovo lighthouses, as well as two excellent spots for diving: Lastovnjaci, a miniature archipelago, and the BIjelac islet, one of the most famous diving locations in the south of the Adriatic.
Getting there: Catch a ferry from Dubrovnik directly to Lastovo, leaving from the Ubli port. Total travel time is three hours and 45 minutes.
Travel tip: Keep your eyes peeled—this island is home to stunning Venetian architecture, still standing from the 16th century.
If you’re ready for a change of scenery and are feeling ambitious enough to check out a different country, Montenegro is a popular day trip choice from Dubrovnik. Kotor is the closest city to the Croatia-Montenegro border, and the Bay of Kotor, one of Europe’s southernmost fjords and a UNESCO Heritage Site, boasts stunning views that need to be seen to be believed. Long considered one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, take your time exploring Kotor’s city walls and piazzas, and make sure to visit the majestic Cathedral of St Tryphon.
Getting there: There are several daily buses from Dubrovnik to Kotor, each ride lasting anywhere between two to three hours.
Travel tip: If you choose to rent a car, you may be asked to present a cross border card when entering; these can be purchased for around 15 euros at the border.
Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina
Many travelers choose to head to the city of Mostar to catch a glimpse of its glorious Old Bridge, which was built in the 16th century, then rebuilt after being destroyed during the Bosnian War in 1993. Adventurous travelers even have the option of diving from the top of the bridge, which many do. A day trip to Mostar wouldn’t be complete without exploring the city’s bustling cafe culture, as well as its plentiful Ottoman architecture.
Getting there: The best way to visit Mostar is by bus; several services offering scenic routes run from Dubrovnik daily, taking approximately two hours each way.
Travel tip: Climb up Mostar's Hum Mountain for the best panoramic views of the city.