Just off the coast of Dubrovnik, Croatia lies a small island named Lokrum, measuring less than one mile wide. The beautiful Island of Lokrum is a serene place to spend the day with plenty to see across the island, including peacocks, nude beaches, and a chance to sit on the Iron Throne for those Game of Throne fans, and it even has a well-known legend that involves being cursed by Benedictine monks. Because of its proximity to the coast it is not really all that “secret,” but it sure seems that way after getting used to the overcrowded streets of Dubrovnik. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to stick around for the entire day!
How to Get There
It’s an easy day trip to get away from the swarms of people in Dubrovnik, especially if you are visiting during peak season. Just a quick 15-minue ferry ride from Old Town, I recommend going earlier in the day so you have enough time to explore and enjoy the island. 80 kuna ($12) will buy you a round-trip ticket to and from the island. You can purchase tickets right in front of the boat, which departs from the Old City Harbor every half hour during the season and lands in the small bay of Portoč.
They have a big map on display when you arrive of where everything is located on the island, so I would suggest taking a photo of that and keeping it handy while you are walking around. Make sure you confirm what time the last boat leaves so you don’t miss it, as you are not allowed to stay overnight nor are there cars allowed on the island.
Island of Lokrum History
The first mention in writing of Lokrum was in 1023, when the Benedictine abbey and monastery were founded there. The monastery was purposely built on the side of the island facing the open sea so the monks could warn Dubrovnik by smoke signal or bonfire of any approaching boats that appeared to be a threat. The name Lokrum is derived from the Latin word acrumen, which means sour fruit. This name comes from a tradition that started during the time of the Benedictines, where they would bring and cultivate exotic plants from all over the world on the island.
The Botanical Garden
Archduke Maximilian Ferdinand of Hapsburg bought the Island of Lokrum in 1859 where he built a mansion complete with a beautiful garden of over one hundred exotic plant species from all around the world. He was also the one who brought over the peacocks from the Canary Islands, who are now Lokrum’s only inhabitants.
This garden was the start of the Botanical Garden that exists today, with over 500 types of plants, trees, and flowers. The Island of Lokrum is now a Nature Reserve and a Special Forest Vegetation Reserve, making the Botanical Garden a special part of it.
Just beyond the monastery you’ll find the olive groves, which have been around since the Benedictine administration of the island. Some of the many trees are more than 300 years old, and provide refreshing shade from the sun and heat.
Although the Island of Lokrum is prone to rocky beaches, you’ll have plenty of options to swim and bask in the sunshine. You can start by swimming in the island’s very own Dead Sea (Mrtvo more), a small, salt-filled lake that is only 33 feet (10 meters) deep. Along the coast, you can take your pick among the rocky formations for a place to lay down to relax or go for a dip in the Adriatic Sea.
In some areas there are chairs to rent if you want something more comfortable. For those who want to bare it all, there is a nude beach on the southeast corner of the island, one of many throughout Croatia. These nude beaches are labeled FKK, short for Freikörperkultur, a German nudism movement that translates to Free Body Culture. There are a few restaurants on the island, but I would suggest packing a lunch and lots of water with you to enjoy on whichever beach you choose.
Step back in time as you enter the Benedictine monastery and observe the remains of the 12th or 13th-century Romanesque-Gothic basilica and the Gothic-Renaissance monastery that dates back to the 15th century. Above one of the doors in the monastery is a saying that reads: CONCORDIA RES PARUAE CRESCUNT DISCORDIA MAXIMAE DILABUNTUR. Roughly translated, this means “the small things grow with harmony, the large ones decline with discord“.
Perched on top of the highest point of the island, Fort Royal was built by Napoleon’s troops in 1806 when the French took control of Lokrum. The path to get up to Fort Royal is quite steep and rocky, so definitely make sure you have sturdy gym shoes if you plan to take this route.
Once you reach the fort, you can find relief from the sun and cool off after your hike up there. Head to the top of Fort Royal and you’ll be met with views of the hilly seaside of Dubrovnik alongside the shimmering blue waters of the Adriatic.
Game of Thrones
Hidden in the Lokrum Visitor’s Center you’ll find more than just history and information about the island – you will also find an entire exhibit dedicated to Game of Thrones, complete with an Iron Throne for you to sit on! When I walked in and turned the corner I got all giddy when I saw the Iron Throne, and probably looked something like this:
I had NO idea there would be an iron throne on Lokrum. In fact, that’s probably the last thing I expected to find in the visitor’s center. I was also one of only three people in the building at the time, so it’s not like I had to wait in some crazy line to have my time in the spotlight.
The exhibit includes video footage of the cast and crew sharing their experiences filming in Dubrovnik and other parts of Croatia, along with a map of filming locations in the area and other fun facts about the series. Definitely do not pass up the Lokrum Visitor’s Center if you are a Game of Thrones fan!
The Benedictine Curse
In 1798, a French army general ordered that the Benedictines must leave the island and shut down the monastery. After doing everything they could without success to remain on the island, the monks held one final mass the night before their departure. Following the mass, they lined up wearing their hooded robes creating a circle around the island. As they walked they turned their lit candles down toward the earth, leaving a trail of melted wax. As they circled the island, they chanted the words of the curse: “Whosoever claims Lokrum for his own personal pleasure shall be damned”, and the next morning boarded their ships never to return again.
It didn’t take long to see the effects of the curse. The heads of three aristocratic families who were the first to take possession of the island after the monks left all died tragic deaths. One fell through a window, another drowned at sea, and the last one was killed by a servant. Misfortune continued to follow anyone who acquired ownership of the island. Next was Captain Tomasević, who went bankrupt. The Austrian Emperor, Duke Maksimilian, was executed, his wife was murdered, and his son committed suicide. Another owner, a young Hungarian military officer, was shipwrecked sailing in between Dubrovnik and Lokrum.
These stories and more continue to circulate among locals, and any one of them will tell you tales of fisherman who have disappeared with their boats and people who have visited the island at night and never returned. That is why no one lives on Lokrum today, and why visitors are only allowed during daylight hours.
The idyllic Island of Lokrum is the perfect peaceful alternative to Dubrovnik when you are ready for a quiet and relaxing getaway just off the coast. The mix of nature, history, trails, swimming, and legends will make for a heavenly island day trip.
Where are your favorite islands around the world? Let me know in the comments below!