We’d already driven a good length of the Croatian coast, sailed out through the Dalmatian islands and explored Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor, so Dubrovnik – as our last stop on a three-week journey – had much to live up to.
Dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, Dubrovnik Old Town is regarded as one of the world’s finest and most perfectly preserved medieval cities in the world, attracting some 13 million visitors a year, and perhaps more widely known now thanks to featuring as the fictional city of King’s Landing in the HBO television series, Game of Thrones.
Surrounded by huge sturdy walls built between the 11th and 17th centuries, Dubrovnik once rivalled Venice as a major trading port. Whilst the walls once offered protection against its enemies, more recent restoration work has been required resulting from the civil war damage in the early 1990s.
Whilst the Old Town can be covered in one day – there’s a number of ways to see it – so why limit yourself to seeing something so beautiful from only one angle?
Approach from the south
If you are driving from Montenegro or arriving at the Dubrovnik airport, you will be travelling the Number 8 highway which offers breathtaking views of the Old Town as you approach, and from upon high. There are a number of stops along the highway to take photos. Even if you are arriving from the north, it’s worth you continuing on past the turnoff into Dubrovnik to capture this view.
Welcome to Dubrovnik!
From the Ground
You can enter the Old Town via a number of gates – the Ploce Gate, North City Entrance Gate and Pile Gate, where you will find a range of tour and activity operators. If you have booked a tour, you will likely meet at Pile Gate, and if you haven’t booked, it will also be here that you will find numerous options to fill your time in the city.
Few of Dubrovnik’s Renaissance buildings survived the earthquake of 1667 but fortunately enough remained to give an idea of the city’s architectural heritage. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, years of renovation and reconstruction has returned the city to its former beauty. All new building work in the Old Town is strictly controlled – right down to the shade of green used on the shutters of the main buildings in the main street, the Stradun.
The Old Town can be covered in one day; walk the streets and explore such buildings as:
- Sponza Palace; which dates from the 16th century and houses the National Archives.
- The Rector’s Palace; a Gothic-Renaissance building that now houses a museum on the history of Dubrovnik.
- The Franciscan Church and Monastery; which houses a library with 30,000 volumes, 216 incunabula and 1,500 valuable handwritten documents. You will also find one of the world’s oldest pharmacies here.
- St Blaise’s Church; a Baroque cathedral built in the 18th century in honour of Dubrovnik’s patron saint, and housing a Treasury and relics of Saint Blaise.
Whilst free city maps are handed out at Pile Gate, its highly recommended to book a walking tour. It is impossible to understand and absorb the history without a knowledgeable guide. Because we like either a private guide or very small tours, we booked this tour through Viator.
From the Walls
Dubrovnik is a city of steps. Unless you are staying right at, or within, the city gates, you are likely climbing stairs to your accommodation and elsewhere.
It’s no different when walking the Wall. Running 2kms around the city, the wall is from four to six metres thick on the landward side, much thinner on the seaward side. The walls were constructed between the 13 and 17 centuries for protection and now offer an enchanting – and at times, strenuous – way to learn more about the history and see the Old Town from another view.
Again, we booked a walking tour. Whilst you can walk the wall on your own, the stories from our guide really bought history to life for us. We recommend booking this tour.
From the water
There are a range of options to view the city from the water:
- Kayaking; outside Pile Gate, you’ll find more operators offering kayaking tours than any other activity so we knew it had to be popular. Small groups will take off from the small port called Pile to explore caves, around Lokrum Island, and perhaps to reach the hidden beach called Betina; the only way to reach this beach is from the sea side so you will have a highly unique view of the City walls.
- Taking the ferry to Lokrum Island; a nature reserve, the island can only be visited during the day. There are a number of interesting – if somewhat – amusing legends associated with the island that are best discovered with a visit. The arrival and departure to and from the island is organised from the Town port, where you can find the sailing timetable. As the island is only 3km off the coast of Dubrovnik, it offers a great view back across to the water to the Old Town.
- Hiring a boat; there are a number of operators to be found at the Port where you can negotiate, or you can book online prior to your arrival.
- Sunset cruising; there are a number of options available (Google is your friend) and best organised prior to your trip.
From the Top
To see all of Dubrovnik – the Old Town, the new and surrounding area – the best view is from the top of Srd Hill.
Whilst you can hike to the top, there’s an air conditioned cable car to whisk you to your best panoramic view, where on a clear day, you can see up to 60kms up and down the coast.
Whilst the view is one reason to make the ride upwards, the neighbouring Imperial Fortress – now housing the Museum of Contemporary History – is a highlight. Built in the early 19th century, the fort was the first line of defence of Dubrovnik and housed the Command Headquarters of the 163rd Dubrovnik Brigade of the Croatian Army, becoming a symbol for the defence of the city.
Original documents, art and documentary photographs from the Homeland War (1991-1995), armaments, mines and explosives, items of materiel, wartime flags of the units, authentic photographs and video material are on display.
There’s also the Panorama Restaurant and Bar, where you can enjoy a drink or meal with all of Dubrovnik on display below you.
Click here for ticket details on the Dubrovnik Cable Car.
A final word…..
Or you can book an Dubrovnik apartment, which despite being 531 stairs from the North East Gate to your front door, means this view……