Dubrovnik is the perfect summer city-break destination – culture, history, sunshine and some of the best urban beaches in Europe.
When you’ve “done” Dubrovnik, and are tired of the flood of cruise-ship daytrippers blocking Stradun, the Old Town’s main thoroughfare, it’s time to flop out on a beach with a good book and some sun-cream.
It seems the local definition of a beach is any place where the sea meets the land, but there’s no need to settle for a pile of rocks. There are two decent beaches within walking distance of the city walls, so there’s no need to head to the resort areas near Lapad or Cavtat.
Less than five minutes by foot from Ploče Gate along the only road, you can’t miss Banje. It’s so close to the Old Town, you can clearly see the city walls, the bastions and the boats bobbing between the harbour and Lokrum island, which is dead opposite the beach.
With under a kilometre of pebbles and sand, it can get busy so get here early and claim a spot for your towel. The beach bar, East West, rents out sunbeds and parasols, but save your money – you’ll need it as it’s 21kn (£2.50) for a Coke and 2kn to use the toilets. But it is a nice spot for a drink, and the food looked and smelt pretty good.
Eventually you’ll want a dip in the Adriatic – it’s saltier than your average sea so it’s easy to float and swim, even for rubbish swimmers like me. The shoreline is a bit rocky, so paddling in can be painful, but once you’ve got in and got your bits wet, you won’t want to get out.
2. Sveti Jakov
Being so close to the Old Town, Banje can get busy. Sveti Jakov is a different kettle of fish, and there’s a decent chance you’ll get this beach to yourself. It’s a good 30-minute walk from Ploče Gate – you’ll pass Banje on the way.
Head towards Sveti Jakov church and follow the signs for the beach – you will have to descend a steep stone staircase before reaching sea-level.
In a recent Sunday Times Travel Magazine story, Sveti Jakov beach was described as an under-the-radar local favourite. So under-the-radar, we shared it with a solitary fisherman when we were there on a Sunday in late-May.
Like Banje, the beach is a mixture of sand and pebbles, although it’s a lot quieter here. The water is still and inviting while the cliffs behind provide shelter. There is a beach bar although it was closed on our visit – bring some water and nibbles with you as there are no shops anywhere nearby.
When you’re bored of sunbathing, the area behind the beach is home to one of Dubrovnik’s more interesting (and creepy) spots. The Hotel Belvedere was a popular choice for package tourists in the 1980s, but was bombed by the Serbs during Croatia’s war of independence (“Homeland War”) in the early ’90s. It still stands on the cliffs overlooking the beach – but only just.
The grounds, rooms and balconies have been left in ruins and are covered with graffiti – one of the few places you will see graffiti in ultra-clean, UNESCO-listed Dubrovnik. Walking around the derelict hotel grounds is an eerie experience. You’ll pass the swimming pool area which is now used by skateboarders, and think “what a shame” as this bombsite probably has the best location in Dubrovnik, facing the red roofs of the Old Town.
Why hasn’t anyone redeveloped the hotel in the twenty years since the war ended? I know what I’ll be spending my lottery winnings on. Kat, on the other hand, would open a sanctuary for poorly cats here. As we left Sveti Jakov, she stopped to stroke and fuss over a group of malnourished and neglected kittens.
So if you’re heading to Dubrovnik’s urban beaches this summer, take a good book and plenty of sun-cream and can you do me a favour – take a tin of Whiskas please?