10 awesome things to see and do in Dubrovnik
It is not difficult to see why Dubrovnik has become one of the up and coming tourist destinations of the Mediterranean. Recent years of peace and economic stability has seen this regional centre grow and prosper, and the picturesque old town of Dubrovnik is once again a magnet for visitors from around the world.
While the scars of shell bombardment can still be found in some places (for example in the Rector’s Palace), this city has turned itself into a shiny, polished pearl, rivalling much more established seaside destinations such as Venice and Barcelona.
Dubrovnik’s old town is a marvellous composition of limestone buildings with red tile roofs and meticulously clean stone floor streets that are traffic-free. No wonder the city is featured on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The impression is so perfect, it is almost impossible to find flaws, and even if you do find them they are just adding to the overall character of Dubrovnik.
The streets in particular, devoid of almost all motorised traffic (deliveries seem to be excluded from the rule), are just inviting you to stroll along and walk around without haste. The main street called Stradum or Placa, is of course the most popular and most frequented of roads in the old town, however if you are not afraid of stairs then the whole city should be explored from top to bottom. A word of warning: if you are visiting on a wet day ensure you are wearing sensible footwear as the stone floors have been polished by generations of feet and may become slippery.
The best way to explore Dubrovnik is by purchasing the handy Dubrovnik Card from the official Tourism Office. It’s a great way to save money if you are planning on visiting a number of Dubrovnik attractions. In my list below I will mention my personal selection of top attractions, and I will call out which attract additional fees, and which are included in the Card at time of writing.
The most important administrative building in medieval Dubrovnik, the Rector’s Palace, is a beautiful Gothic building with some respectful nods to the Baroque and Renaissance building styles. This is the place where the Rector would reside during his one-month mandate and where the Minor Council would meet.
Most recognisable is the outside of the palace: the front porch with its high columns that are adorned with beautifully carved capitals offers tourists most welcome shade and cooler temperatures on hot days.
Inside, the inner courtyard with the beautiful exterior staircase is well worth a visit. Check out the intricately carved stone hands holding the wooden hand rail of the stairs and also take note of the 15th century fountain.
The acoustic is so good inside the atrium that it is the location of chamber music concerts during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
The Rector’s Palace is included in the Dubrovnik Card.
Dubrovnik used to be the capital of a rich independent merchants republic with a number of colonies or dependencies around the Mediterranean. In fact, it used to be Venice’s biggest rival in the economic war of supremacy of the Mediterranean region.
A city that rich and that powerful of course attracts envy and fortune hunters, and the impressive fortifications which are still intact today are testament to the fierce determination of the city’s citizens to protect their values and possessions. The City Wall of Dubrovnik surrounds the complete old town, and a walk along its top should definitely be part of your Dubrovnik experience.
As I will show you in another post that is already in the pipeline, a walk on the city walls allows you some very intimate insights into Dubrovnik and its inhabitants, glimpses into the private backyard gardens, through opened windows, and over the roof tops.
Views of the coast and the Mediterranean are outstanding, and so is the view up the Strada, the main road. Church towers and forts, gates and cliffs, the old port seen from above and the city in front of you opened up like an oyster shell – there is a lot to take in and discover.
It is advisable to visit the city walls first thing in the morning, as this Dubrovnik attraction can become very busy during the day and you don’t want to squeeze past other tourists all the time in order to make your way around.
The wall walk is almost 2km long and includes 3 forts, 16 towers, 6 bastions, 2 corner fortifications and 2 citadels.
The City Walls are included in the Dubrovnik Card.
Dubrovnik is the star in HBO’s crazily successful Game of Thrones show, representing the capital of Westeros, King’s Landing, as well as other locations such as Qarth in Essos.
Finding the shooting locations around town is actually surprisingly easy if you did pay some attention when watching the show – there’s the Pile Gate and the stairs leading up to the Jesuits Quarter as well as the striking Minčeta Tower as part of the city’s fortifications which you can all see at your own pleasure.
But if you need a bit of guidance or want to have printed out set scenes held against the locations in front of you and hear some stories from people that had been extras on the show, book yourself into one of the Game of Thrones tours. You will find a number of people advertising their tours right in front of the tourism office outside the Pile Gate. You can choose from private tours to walking tours in small groups to kayak tours. It’s great fun!
For a self-guided walking tour, check out my post earlier here: Dubrovnik Game of Thrones style.
If you want to escape the city for a day then Lokrum Island just off the coast is a great destination. Lokrum Island is easily recognisable and can be seen from any vantage point in Dubrovnik. A ferry that departs from the city port will take you there, but it is not included in the Dubrovnik Card.
This beautiful green island used to be the refuge for Benedictine monks who founded a monastery here in the 11th century. There is a long history of landscaping, and the established nature reserve adds to the Garden of Eden atmosphere of the island.
When visiting, don’t forget to pack your swimming clothes as you will find here a salty lake that is linked to the open sea and that is a popular swimming spot. If you prefer swimming in the nude, you can do this at the south end of the island.
The Church of St. Ignatius
No tour of Europe without visiting at least a couple of churches and cathedrals. Well, that’s at least how I travel. And as it turns out the Church of St. Ignatius in Dubrovnik is probably one of the most surprising churches I have visited so far.
When visiting this beautiful Baroque church we were delighted to see that it was all set for a wedding, with shards of broken china lining the aisle and festively decorated chairs readily lined up in front of the altar.
The Church of St. Ignatius’s best known feature is the grotto display in the back of the church – a gorgeous diorama behind iron bars that shows the Lady of Lourdes in a nature setting surrounded by plastic flowers. I know, it sounds pretty amazing.
Don’t forget that as a sign of respect shoulders and knees of men and women visiting churches in particular in the South of Europe should be covered. If you are visiting on a hot day, pack a silk scarf which is lightweight and which you can wrap around yourself minutes before entering the church. As with many churches in continental Europe, entry is free.
The cable car to Srd Mountain
The mountain Srd which is towering over the city of Dubrovnik is a great destination if you like to view the city from a new perspective. You can catch the cable car which connects Dubrovnik with the 413m high peak of Srd and get rewarded by unparalleled views of the city, the coast and the islands.
On top you will also find the Fort Imperial which was build during the Napoleonic occupation, a stronghold during the Homeland War and now, converted to a museum, it is reminder of the lost lives and the terrible ordeals of the victims during the war.
The cable car and entry to the museum are both not included in the Dubrovnik Card.
Have a drink at the Cafe Buža
One of the most spectacular places to enjoy a drink or two is most definitely the cliff side of Dubrovnik. I think I counted two bars on the narrow ledges overlooking the Adriatic Sea, but maybe there are more.
Coming across one of these bars was entirely by accident. An open door in the city wall, a handwritten sign saying “cold drinks”. Curiously and thirsty, we went through the wall, down a flight of stairs and suddenly found ourselves in a relaxed outdoor bar setting with patrons enjoying cool drinks and beers under the shady umbrellas. The location is so secretive I cannot for the life of me remember where we found it but I can assure you it exists, although the existence might be in a grey zone of semi-legality by the looks of it.
The drinks may not be cheap here but the views are outstanding, and the atmosphere is one of open space, sunny views and exclusivity. From this vantage point you can watch the sun seekers and kayakers, the ferries and the birds. The endless blue of the sea, the emerald green island of Lokrum in the distance. Stay for an overpriced drink or two, cool down in the shade and enjoy the gentle breeze that ascends from the water.
After a busy day of walking the city streets in blistering heat – pure bliss!
The old port of Dubrovnik
I just love the old port of Dubrovnik. Rarely do you see a harbour that is so neat and tidy and cute. Yes, cute. Having said that, I am sure this port has seen some serious action back in the day when Dubrovnik used to be a major seafarer port and trading post.
Today, the piers are lined with small yachts and boats, and there are ferries and little cruise boats departing here for the tourists, some of them mimicking historic seafaring designs.
The Port Gate is really impressive and deserves a closer inspection. Overall, this is a port which is as welcoming as it needs to be, yet it is also heavily fortified to all sides and very sheltered by St John’s Fort and two breakwaters.
Quite a romantic place to be, actually, in particular at night.
To reach Fort Lovrijenac you will need to leave the old town through the Pile Gate and walk a couple of meters to the isolated 37m high cliff. You will have to climb a number of stairs to get there, but the effort is well worth the views of the city and the sea. Take your time when climbing the stairs and have a rest or two on one of the benches that have been comfortably placed along the way.
Dubrovnik’s motto can be found inscribed over the entrance of the fort: Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro (Freedom is not sold for all the gold in the world).
There’s an impressive collection of cannonballs here which are piled up in neat pyramids and which look stunning under the hot summer sun.
Since the fort is part of the city fortification you can enter it as part of your city wall tour, so keep your ticket for the day and show it at the entrance.
The Franciscan Monastery
Visit the Franciscan monastery next to the Pile Gate for two reasons: to walk the cloister with the beautiful double columns and the refreshingly green garden in its centre, and to see the inside of the third oldest pharmacy in the world which is dating back to 1317. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted inside the pharmacy, so I can only share with you the Romanesque cloister impressions.
At the pharmacy you can still buy drugs and medicines such as painkillers but also handmade creams and toiletries, a wonderful souvenir to take home.
I really loved the peaceful atmosphere of these century old buildings, the green gardens and the monastic artwork along the walls.
Entry is for a fee and the monastery is not included in the Dubrovnik Card.
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