Monday, 5 September 2016

Dubrovnik vs Split: Two Historic Mediterranean Towns on the Croatian Adriatic Coast

Both Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia make fantastic holiday cities for beaches, history, atmosphere, eating out, and value for money. However they each have a distinctive appeal of their own and our little road trip covering them both highlights the differences between them, as well as what they have to offer:


Walking around this ancient medieval walled city without the crowds from a whole fleet of crusie ships is a far more pleasant experience than when the cruise ships dock and literally thousands of people flock to the suprisingly small historic centre. The thing is that Dubrovnik's walls are impressively intact which also means tourists don't naturally disperse like they do in other popular cruise destinations like Nice for example. In summer it isn't possible to predict how busy it will be, however we found the town quieter on the Thursday, and heaving on the Friday.

Dubrovnik's uniform light-coloured stone buildings with green shutters make a for a unique and proud feel, and I loved the main street with its typically shiny marble stone floor (although it's slippy when it's wet!) Dubrovnik felt very clean and well-kept, with the whole city within the walls feeling like some sort of well-preserved museum attraction. Whilst this means lots to see and learn for tourists, there isn't a great deal of evidence of local life other than washing strung up in alleyways. It was refreshingly 'real' to see at least this though.

Dubrovnik's fortifying city walls are a major attraction, and they mean serious business! From the thickness and height of them, to the drawbridges and layers of archways and entrances, they are an impressive sight. The walk along the city walls is around 120kn and worth every penny, although we only did a tiny portion of this as I got freaked out holding the little bubby where there's so many steep steps and fairly low barriers. The views are stunning and especially great in the late afternoon sunlight especially for taking photos.

Another way to admire the old town of Dubrovnik and its surrounding seaviews, is the cablecar which takes visitors up mount Srd. There is a fine-dining restaurant and viewing areas with glass barriers for maximum panoramas. The views up to the Northwest are stunning - the islands and peninsulas layered against the sea and sky. We got on the cable car with the pram no problems at all.

Yet another beautiful viewpoint is from the East of the city on the roads leading into/out of the city, where Hotel Argentina is located. The walls can be seen along wih the red roofs of the old town, all framed by the bright blue sea and beaches. Carrying on further out of town to the East, on the E65, the sun sets behind the town in the sea and disappears behind a distant mountain of one of the islands. We saw this by chance, driving along to get to our hotel, and quickly pulled into a layby - along with many other people who had had the same idea; we were lucky to get a space! The sun sets around 7.15 at the end of August.

Dubrovnik has some great beaches all within walking distance of the walled city. There is also a popular swimming area by the harbour with a designated step-ladder into the water.

Eating out is Dubrovnik is fairly cost-effective due to lots of competition.  Eating in one of the narrow alleyways is an atmospheric experience and there is lots of choice, even in the busiest summer months.

There are also some great island excursions from Dubrovnik, including the popular island of Korcula - known for its winemaking, and historic old town, and Mjlet, known for its turquoise blue salt lakes and thick green vegetation. There are public ferries or organised trips, head to the port at Gruz for ferry information or Dubrovnik town for tours. Organised tours are often easier in high season, as tour companies book tickets in advance and the public then have to queue up early that morning to secure places. We visited beautiful Mljet and did this - deciding 'if you can't beat them, join them!'

When in Dubrovnik, we stayed out of town at the fantastically located Hotel Poseydon in Plat for around €90 a night in high season. Right on a family-friendly beach with sunloungers and sunshades, no traffic or main roads, and with views of the sunset in summer. It makes a great little retreat from busy Dubrovnik. The owner is so friendly and helpful and the restaurant does a great breakfast (included), with your choice of eggs. The traditional mixed grill is also really tasty in the evening, as are the crepes. The restaurant is frequented by friendly locals and is right on the beach, serving food and drink all day until 11pm.

There is a bus to Dubrovnik from Plat which also passes through picturesque Mlini, and Cavtat in the other direction.

Dubrovnik is full of stairs and is not easy with luggage or prams. We managed by helping each other carry the pram, and taking minimal bags with us. A baby carrier would have been a better idea. Parking in Dubrovnik is hard to come by, and very expensive the centre. In some places it is around €10 per hour. We parked at the port for our island excursions which was only around €3 per hour, and at the Atlant Center shopping mall which was around €4 an hour. From there it's a 20 minute walk to the centre, or a quick bus ride.


Split, in contrast to Dubrovnik, has a gritty and 'real' appeal, and is more messy and grubby in places. The streets and alleys of Diocletian's Palace - an ancient Roman structure from the 4th century which is in full use - are surprisingly not just tourist shops. In this part of the old town there are also everyday bargain shops and as much jewellery and as many shoes as you can possibly find in a city. There are also lots of traditional cafes and bakeries.

Diocletian's Palace is the equivalent to Dubrovnik's city walls, and forms more than half of the old town. There are four entrances into the palace and amongst the shops and cafes there is also a fascinating ruin and museum displaying many artefacts and the some of the earliest plumbing engineering. The glass floor in the museum enables visitors to see the original foundations and structures of the floor and plumbing. The entrance to the museum is by the seafront and inside there is also a selection of market stalls selling a variety of pottery, jewellery and crafts. I certainly didn't waste time in coming here for some much-needed gift shopping out of the heat.

The seafront and harbour at Split are right by the palace, and there are numerous beaches, one of the most popular being the shallow and sandy Bacvice beach, just East of the old town.

The old town of Split also has some great Venitian buildings such as the watchtower. The history is rich and complex and parts of Diocletian's Palace have undergone many transformations and been used for many purposes throughout time, including as a brothel at one point! In the old town by the Venetian tower we enjoyed a cold drink and some locally produced and cured prsut ham with olives (and a hot, sticky, whingeing baby who did not want to sit in the pram!)

Split is pretty much the gateway to island excursions. The far-off and unspoilt island of Vis is 3 hours from Split by ferry, and the popular and beautiful islands of Hvar and Brac are nearby and easily reached by ferry or catamaran.

Komiza, Vis Island

Further out of town is the tourist resort of Podstrana and its beaches, and slightly further around is the town of Cetina with its tall rock canyon, beaches, and restaurants. 

We stayed in Mimice at the stylish and immaculate brand new Apartment Jolara. There is a Studenac supermarket just a 5 minute walk from the Apartments, and Split is 50 minutes by car, or bus for around €4. The apartments have a great little modern swimming pool and is just a ten minute walk down to the wonderful pebble beach and crystal-clear water. There are some fun large boulder rocks in the sea that children love to swim around and jump from, and amenities close by. 

There are some excellent restaurants in little Mimice. We ate at the 4 star Hotel Pleter right by the little harbour, and then at the amazing Konoba Val further up the hill on the corner of the main road, with sweeping views of the sea directly below. My grilled seabass was perfection, but then again Croatia's coast is renowned for high quality fish.

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