Despite a turbulent history during which it was occupied and conquered by a succession of its neighbours and European colonial powers, Dubrovnik is now a city at peace, allowing visitors to make the most of its historic architecture, white pebble beaches, and crystal-clear sea.
Political upheaval has at times temporarily discouraged travel to Croatia, but it is also true that this unique Adriatic port city has been luring travellers for centuries, known for its fine accommodation, excellent cuisine, beautiful surroundings, and recreational opportunities.
George Bernard Shaw is quoted as describing Dubrovnik as 'heaven on earth'. Over the last few years, the establishment of a stable and prosperous peace in Croatia has ensured Dubrovnik is a booming travel destination once more.
The old town, dating from the 7th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enclosed by city walls built in the 13th century, the buildings represent a cross-section of medieval architectural styles and remain well preserved. Onofrio's Fountain, situated just inside the main entrance to the old city at Pile Gate, is one of Dubrovnik's most famous landmarks and a popular meeting place.
The centre of the old town is the Stradun, its main street, which was originally a channel separating an island from the mainland. It was filled in to join two towns into the merged city of Dubrovnik.
There are lots of churches, monasteries, and museums to explore, while the old town boasts plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops. The coastal belt is awash with pretty marinas, coves, and promenades. Most of the hotels and the best beaches are located northwest of the old town, at Lapad, or in Ploce to the northeast.
Dubrovnik is a favourite on European cruise itineraries and many tourists arrive by sea, ferrying in to the charming old port. Although Dubrovnik will delight cruise passengers with only a few hours to kill, it is incredibly wealthy in history and culture and can easily occupy travellers for days. The city is also well situated as a travel hub for exploring the towns and islands that stretch along the dramatic Dalmatian Coast of Croatia.
The original Franciscan monastery in Dubrovnik was built in the 13th century in the Pile area. But when war broke out in the 14th century, the monks were forced to relocate to gain the protection of Dubrovnik's formidable defensive walls.
Parts of the current monastery, and most of the church, have had to be rebuilt over the centuries due to damage. But parts of the complex date back to 1317. This Franciscan church and monastery, still enclosed in the walls of medieval Dubrovnik, boast one of the most beautiful Romanesque cloisters in Dalmatia.
Within the monastery complex there is also a working pharmacy, which has been in business since 1317 and is thought to be the third oldest pharmacy in the world. A museum houses relics from the original medieval pharmacy such as medical books, instruments, and weight scales, as well as some gilded church relics.
The massive monastery library, one of the richest in Croatia, is renowned globally by historians for its inventory: it contains some 30,000 volumes with 1,500 handwritten documents. The monastery is a great refuge after sightseeing in the heat and crowds of the city. It is cool and quiet and also has some tranquil gardens to venture into.
The impressive walls enclosing the ancient city of Dubrovnik were laid out in the 13th century and became an ongoing project for almost two centuries. They are among the finest in the world and are featured prominently on the HBO Series, Game of Thrones.
The fortified walls are up to 10 feet (3m) thick on the sea side and at least twice as thick on the land side. Made to guard against invasion by the Turks in the 15th century, they reach 82 feet (25m) in height. Visitors can access the walls via a steep stone stairway and once they reach the top they'll be rewarded with superb views over the old city and out to sea.
A walk around the old city from this fascinating vantage point is a must for visitors to Dubrovnik. In fact, it's a good way to get acquainted with the city. The detached Lovrjenac Fort to the west of the old city stood guard against both land and sea invasion and is also worth a visit for some stunning views.
Marin Drzic is Croatia's best-known literary genius, immortalised in his Dubrovnik home which serves as a museum dedicated to the famous playwright and author. It gives visitors a great insight into the writer with a 40-minute presentation on his life and work.
Drzic was born in Dubrovnik, probably in 1508, and he was a popular playwright, entertainer, and musician. The house itself has been restored to reflect the 16th-century Renaissance period that Drzic lived in.
The Marin Drzic House is more than just a memorial. Indeed, it is an exhibition space and museum of theatre. The museum collects theatrical material for study and further dissemination and it is the only institution of its kind in Croatia.
The museum has a collection of posters, programmes, and photographs from performances of Drzic plays all over the world. While the exhibition provides a good introduction into the history and culture of Dubrovnik itself, those without a particular interest in Croatian literature and theatre may find the museum a bit obscure.
Dubrovnik has had at least three cathedrals on the same site during its long history (some argue there have been as many as five since the 6th century). The first was a Byzantine building dating from the 7th century; the second a Romanesque Cathedral which was destroyed by the great earthquake of the 17th century; and at present the beautiful Baroque structure which was designed by Italian architect Buffalini from Urbino and completed in 1713.
Within the current cathedral, called the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, there are several magnificent statues and paintings, including the appropriately themed 'Assumption of Mary' by Titian, which dates back to about 1552. This cathedral has stunning Baroque features as well as valuable art and is definitely worth a visit.
The cathedral also has a treasury where hundreds of religious relics are stored. There is a cover charge for seeing the treasury, which is rich in artefacts, icons, and paintings. The organisation of the artefacts is somewhat chaotic but there is something intriguing about this mysterious collection of treasures. Visitors will also see the archaeological excavations that continue on the cathedral site.
Located in the historical centre of Dubrovnik, the War Photos exhibition space features temporary, changing exhibitions of photographic works relating to war and conflict. The photos aim to showcase war as it really is, exposing the horror and brutality that is experienced by innocents and combatants alike through the photographic medium.
War Photo Limited exhibitions are intended to be educational and showcase the work of world-renowned photojournalists. Although they have no political agenda, the minds behind War Photos Limited consider war a disease and the intention is to expose its cruelties and rid people of the perception that it can be at all glorious and righteous. They showcase some of their exhibitions at schools, universities, and other educational centres.
Anybody interested in military history or photography (or indeed the strength of the human spirit) will be fascinated by War Photo Limited. As the exhibitions change frequently, it is of course possible to visit the space many times and the documentation of particular wars and atrocities is very informative and well handled. Although some exhibitions may be quite shocking, a visit to War Photo Limited is an overwhelmingly rewarding experience.
Built between 1516 and 1522, the Sponza Palace was the centre of medieval Dubrovnik. Apart from featuring the customs office, the palace once also housed a number of the Dubrovnik Republic's state offices, the mint, the bank, the treasury, and the armoury.
A mixture of Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles, Sponza is one of the most beautiful palaces in the city and has been well-preserved so visitors today can still enjoy its stunning facade.
It has been suggested that the architectural style of this well-preserved old palace gives some indication of what the public buildings in Dubrovnik may have looked like, before they were destroyed in an earthquake in 1667. Although this natural disaster caused considerable destruction to Dubrovnik, the palace itself was largely undamaged.
Today, it houses the Dubrovnik archive, which contains 7,000 volumes and about 100,000 individual scripts. The atrium of the palace is an art gallery which showcases various exhibitions from contemporary artists as well as those who were prominent in Dubrovnik's past.
Lined with palm trees, Dubrovnik's Old Port is a major focal point of the city thanks to its unforgettable scenery. Located right next to the picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old Town, the port features great shopping at small markets along its tiny cobblestoned streets as well as fantastic sightseeing opportunities.
Known as the 'Jewel of the Adriatic', the beauty and fun of the Old Port makes Dubrovnik a popular cruise port. The cruise liners generally stop off at the modern Port of Gruz in Dubrovnik, which is less than two miles (2,5km) from the Old Town. The old harbour has a rich history as a trading hub and continues this tradition through its delightful markets and quaint shops.
Many different kinds of boat tours are operated from the Old Town harbour and these trips offer a wonderful chance to explore the stunning coastline from the water. Many of these tours will point out attractions and landmarks, and provide insights into the port's history and Dubrovnik in general.
The biggest, longest, and widest street in Dubrovnik, the Stradun dates back to the 13th century, while the uniform houses that line it were mostly built in the 17th century. The street is 958 feet (292 metres) long and is the commercial, entertainment, and spiritual centre of Dubrovnik. The shiny, slippery, marble-paved Stradun is the main walkway of Dubrovnik's Stari Grad, and the best place to get a feel for the pulse of Dubrovnik.
The Stradun holds many of the city's monuments and some great restaurants and shops. One of its more famous attractions is Onofrio's Fountain, which is located in a small square near the Pila Gate and Franciscan Monastery. This large fountain was built in 1438 by the famous Italian architect from Naples, Onofrio della Cava. After sustaining severe damage in a 1667 earthquake, the fountain was repaired and now features 16 masked faces, known as maskeroni, which supply water via an aqueduct. This construction was a masterpiece of its time. A smaller Onofrio's fountain is located on the opposite side of the Stradun.
Dubrovnik has a typical Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Summer days can be intensely hot, but humidity is moderate and gentle breezes ensure cool, pleasant evenings. Summer temperatures (between June and August) average around 79°F (26°C) but temperatures can rise to well over 86°F (30°C), especially in the southern region. Winters are significantly colder but they are not severe and snow is unusual along the coast. In winter (November to February) temperatures occasionally drop below freezing point on the coast but in Dubrovnik daytime temperatures tend to average around 48°F (9°C). The wettest months are October, November and December.
The peak tourist season in Dubrovnik is in the summer months when the weather is at its hottest, but the best time to visit is arguably September or May, because in these months it is still warm enough to enjoy the incredible coastline but the city is less crowded and slightly less expensive.
Dubrovnik has an efficient public bus system. Buses generally run from 5am to midnight. Fares are standardised: HRK 15 for tickets bought from the driver, and HRK 12 if bought from a kiosk (known as a 'Tisak') in advance. The old town is pedestrianised, therefore taxis cannot enter this area and those with rental cars have to park in specially designated areas outside the gates. Dubrovnik is a wonderful city to explore on foot, as many of the main sightseeing attractions are in the pedestrianised area, and the medieval atmosphere of the city makes walking feel like the most appropriate way to get around. Metered taxis are, however, generally available at hubs like major bus stations, Gruz harbour, Pile Gate and Ploce Gate. Regular ferries connect the city to nearby islands in the Croatian archipelago and it is seldom difficult to find transport to outlying areas and nearby towns. Renting a car is one of the best ways to get around Croatia but travellers need to be confident drivers to handle local driving etiquette. That said, roads are very well-maintained and having a car allows visitors more freedom and independence for exploring outlying parts of Croatia. For those who only intend on visiting central Dubrovnik though a car can be a liability.
George Bernard Shaw once said that if one wants to see heaven on earth, they should go to Dubrovnik. This Croatian city, with its quaint cobblestone streets and red-tiled roofs, makes an amazing holiday destination for visitors from all walks of life. Its sublime location on the Adriatic Coast makes it a popular European destination.
Tourists can stroll along the city walls made famous by the HBO TV series Game of Thrones. Behind these walls lies the UNESCO-listed Old Town, a medieval city featuring ancient baroque churches, monasteries, and palaces. Enter through Pile gate and admire the imposing Fort Lovrijenac or visit the Rector's Palace, housing the cultural history museum. One can also delve into more recent historic events with the powerful exhibitions of War Photo Limited.
A short cable car ride up the hill lies Mt Srd, presenting stunning views of Old Town and the Elafiti Islands. Dominating the bay is the forested island of Lokrum, just a 10-minute ferry ride from Old Harbour. Take in the Benedictine monastery, pose on a replica of the Iron Throne, and wander through lush botanical gardens.
Dubrovnik boasts a superb bus service, with key tourist routes running long past midnight in peak season. Discounted fares can be bought at a news agent (tisak) and journeys to Old Town from Gruz or Lapad take just 15 to 20 minutes.
Those willing to brave the crowds during the peak season of July to August can explore the annual Dubrovnik Summer Festival of music, theatre, dance, and film. For most people, the best time to visit is May to June or September to October. The sun is out, the sea is warm, and the crowds are noticeably fewer.
Covered by small villages, forests, and vineyards, Mljet is famous for its national park on the western half of the island. Main attractions include the two saltwater lakes of Veliko Jezero (Great Lake) and Malo Jezero (Small Lake), as well as a 12th-century Benedictine monastery.
The lakes are popular spots for swimming and the beauty of this unspoilt oasis attracts nature lovers and those in search of peace and tranquillity. Mljet is said to be Croatia's greenest island while in Greek mythology it allegedly captivated the legendary hero Odysseus for seven years.
Mljet is popular with couples because the lack of crowds and pristine natural beauty, making it ideal for romantic getaways. It is also a great option for those who enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, mountain biking, hunting, fishing and kayaking. There are of accommodation options on the island and a variety of great places to eat. Mljet could easily keep an outdoor enthusaist suitably occupied for an entire holiday.
There is enough to do in the area surrounding Dubrovnik to fill any holiday and leave visitors desperate for more time. In close proximity to the city of Dubrovnik there are lots of picturesque villages and stunning resorts to explore.
About 11 miles (18km) away, on the road to Split, is the quiet bay of Zaton, with its sandy beaches and pine forest. The town has numerous restaurants, a relic of the days when it was the chosen retreat for the aristocrats of the Dubrovnik Republic.
The village of Tristeno features the Arboretum, a Gothic-Renaissance park on the coast. In the centre of this village, visitors are awed by two gigantic sycamore trees which are reputedly 500 years old and standing 197ft (60m) tall.
Even closer to the city, the towns of Kupari, Srebreno, Mlini, Soline and Plat lie along a chain of hills descending to the rim of Zupa Bay, known as one of the most beautiful resorts on the Dubrovnik Riviera.
Here, visitors will find plenty modern hotels offering a variety of watersports to keep guests entertained. Also very close to Dubrovnik is Lapad Beach, a popular sandy beach with a number of bars and restaurants make a lovely spot to while away a sunny afternoon.
A popular excursion from Dubrovnik is a day trip to the offshore islands of Kolocep, Lopud, and Sipan, which are part of a larger archipelago northwest of Dubrovnik. They are the only inhabited islands in the group and the most popular for visitors.
The islands are an escape from the mainland crowds and boast olive groves and orchards, sand and pebble beaches, 15th-century summer residences, and several interesting churches and monasteries.
Kolocep is the smallest and closest island to Dubrovnik, and it is beautifully covered in green vegetation. Lopud is the most visited and is famed for the stretch of sandy beach at Sunj. Sipan used to be the summer getaway of choice for aristocratic families in Dubrovnik and is fascinating from an historical point of view.
Each of the islands has something unique to offer visitors and it is worth investigating them all if time allows. Kolocep and Lopud are both car-free islands but they are tiny and easy to get around on foot. You can choose to stay on one of these charming islands and accommodation here is generally less expensive than in Dubrovnik.
Korcula Island is one of the bigger Adriatic islands, boasting beautiful views, secluded beaches, vineyards and olive groves, as well as pretty towns and harbours. Korcula Town is the island's main commercial area and is situated on the northwest coast.
This old town, sticking out into the sea, is typically Dalmatian and often likened to a small Dubrovnik, with its red-roofed houses and enclosing walls. Some theorise that Marco Polo was born here and his rumoured house is now a museum open to the public. The town is also famous for its 15th-century Moreska sword dance which is performed during summer.
Other main towns on the island include the tourist centre of Lumbarda, which is surrounded by vineyards and coves, and the port town of Vela Luka on the east coast. Korcula is said to have been a favourite Greek holiday spot over 2,000 years ago and since then it hasn't stopped delighting visitors with its culture and green landscapes. Of the 1,000 or so islands in Croatia, Korcula is often ranked most highly as a holiday destination by tourists.
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