Although Dubrovnik is most famous for its picturesque Old Town, you won’t want to miss a trip around the Elaphiti Islands if you’re looking for unique things to do in Dubrovnik. These islands sit just off the coast of Dubrovnik making it an easy day trip, perfect if you’re looking to get away from the crowds and experience some more authentic pieces of Croatian culture.
There are six islands (and many more little islets) comprising the Elaphiti archipelago, situated just a short boat right northwest of Dubrovnik. Along with simply soaking in the amazing scenery, there is so much to do on a day trip around the islands, from wine tasting to the freshest seafood to caves and more.
The best part is that it’s a bit off the beaten track of Dubrovnik so you’ll get a refreshing break from the Old Town tourist crowds.
I took a day trip with Explore Dubrovnik and couldn’t recommend this experience enough. True to the company’s motto, “Away From the Crowds,” our skipper, Rob, customized our itinerary to suit our preferences and to make minute-by-minute adjustments based on weather, sea conditions, and to avoid areas where he saw other boats.
The result was a completely off-the-beaten track tour of the archipelago, during which we saw almost no other tourists, and learned so much about Dubrovnik culture, history, and folklore.
Of course you could spend days exploring these islands or lounging on the beaches, but a one-day tour with Explore Dubrovnik will take you to some of the most beautiful places in the Elaphiti Islands. Don’t miss these highlights!
1) The freshest seafood in Dubrovnik (with the best views)
I know that seems like a lofty claim to make, but you’ll agree when you hear all that goes into the food at Bowa on Sipan Island. The owner is an avid big game fisher, so you can expect that he personally is involved in catching and preparing the giant fresh tuna that comprises most of the Bowa menu.
Most of the fish is served raw, in the form of carpaccio or sashimi, alongside olives, olive oil, vegetables, breads, wines, and other Mediterranean indulgences prepared exclusively on the island. Plus, the over-water dining cabanas and lounge chairs make this one of the most beautiful restaurants I have ever visited.
Bowa’s owner also runs the only sushi restaurant in Old Town Dubrovnik, but I definitely prefer the Bowa views and complete solitude, considering the only way to reach Bowa is by boat.
2) Wineries you won’t find in any guide book
Rob, our Explore Dubrovnik skipper, knew how much I loved wine tasting, so he called up a friend in a small town called Sudjaran on the island of Sipan to see about arranging a tasting in the smallest little wine cellar I never knew existed.
Rather than a sprawling vineyard and spacious seating area, we found a tiny stone room hidden down an alley by the shore. You’d pass by it without second thought if Rob didn’t direct you there, or if you missed the ancient etching above the door frame that announced the building to be approximately 600 years old. But missing this place would really be a shame.
Once inside, Frano, the vinter will comb through a few open bottles to share some tastes with you, along with some of his home-produced olive oil that is good enough to drink with a spoon (I did, in fact, drink it from a spoon). You can chat with him about his life in the tiny seaside town, and learn a bit about what brought him there after years as a ship captain.
He now makes excellent wines and olive oils that you can bring home for an affordable price.
Be sure to ask about the salt-crusted bottle of wine that he just recently dug up after it spent years aging under the ocean floor.
3) Hidden caves for Some adventure
The best part about doing a tour with Explore Dubrovnik is that you can visit tourist attractions without being surrounded by all the tourists. If the weather and sea conditions are right, your skipper will take you to see some of the cliffside caves around the Elaphiti Islands.
Most of these caves you’ll have to swim into, as they are smaller, lesser-known caves that other big tours won’t take you to. The boat will fit inside one of the caves, just enough to make a U-turn before leaving.
But be prepared to hop out of the boat and swim. The water might be chilly but you can dry off in the sun on your comfy speed boat afterward en route to the next island. Plus, you won’t want to miss those beautiful green and blue waters that quite literally glow when the sun hits them properly.
4) A scenic seaside monastery and botanic garden
On the island of Lopud you’ll find an ancient monastery and gardens situated right be the seaside. Although it’s really beautiful, you’ll be unlikely to see many tourists there, so you can enjoy a leisurely afternoon strolling through the gardens, laying on a rock in the sun, or enjoying a bottle of wine that you picked up from Frano’s cellar in Sipan.
5) Tiny ancient towns to explore
When stopping at different islands or beaches, you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the tiny towns and villages there with impressive history. Very few people live in these tows, and most who do are retired (as there aren’t many schools around), so they have a really traditional, untouched, serene feel… nothing like some of the beach towns with huge party scenes you’ll find elsewhere in Croatia.
Be sure to explore the ruined castles, windy mazes of cobblestone streets, ancient stone homes, and farms of olive trees and grapes scattered around each of these towns. You likely won’t find the names of these towns in any guide book or on any big boat tour, so it really is a special experience.
6) Everything you’ll learn about Croatian history and culture
At least half of the enjoyment of our tour with Explore Dubrovnik was everything we learned from Rob on the boat in between stops. He taught us about the history of tourism in Dubrovnik and how post-war tourism efforts have led to overcrowding in today’s Old Town, and shared interesting anecdotes about local fishermen, daily life on the tiny Elaphiti islands, and the ancient Dubrovnik folklore surrounding the north and south winds.
He can answer almost any question you have about Dubrovnik, so you can expect to leave your tour with not only a camera full of photos, a belly full of sashimi, and a day full of great memories, but also with a much better understanding of all the fascinating history, culture, and nature of this area of Croatia.
Booking a tour
I can’t recommend Explore Dubrovnik enough for an Elaphiti Islands tour. This whole day was one of the best experiences we had in the Balkans — we learned so much about Croatia and saw unique places that we’d never find on our own.
They only run private tours which ensures that you get a really luxurious experience, and truly “away from the crowds.” The boat we took was brand new and so comfortable, plus it came with water and local wines and beers to make the trip even more enjoyable.
Our tour around the Elaphiti Islands with Explore Dubrovnik really was a highlight of our entire Balkans trip, and is one the best things to do in Dubrovnik. You’ll be glad you were able to get away from the crowds in Dubrovnik and experience these off the beaten path spots.
Be sure to book your tour with Explore Dubrovnik in advance, because these tours come in high demand especially during peak season. Get away from the crowds, experience lesser-known “Dubrovnik,” and have an unforgettable day on the water with some of the best food, most beautiful views, and tastiest wine around!
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Any questions about touring the Elaphiti Islands? Leave them in the comments below!
This post was written in collaboration with Explore Dubrovnik. As always, all opinions are my own.