You’ve seen the Croatian football team – now visit the walled city on the Adriatic that’s one of the country’s gems
24 hours in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is one of the most beautifully preserved walled cities anywhere on the Mediterranean. It has vast medieval walls, narrow streets and alleys, and red-tiled roofs backed by a lush green island and the brilliant blue of the Adriatic Sea.
Its history is extraordinary. Founded in the 8th century by refugees from neighbouring Cavtat after the town was sacked, Dubrovnik – or Ragusa as it was known at the time – rose to become an extremely successful, semi-autonomous state on the back of its maritime trade. The port city abolished slavery in the early 15th century, about 400 years ahead of the United States, introduced one of the earliest quarantine systems in Europe, and also one of the region’s first orphanages. A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1979, in recent years it has become famous all over again, as the set for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones.
08.00 Walk the city walls
Dubrovnik’s city walls form one of the most astonishingly well-preserved sets of fortifications anywhere in Europe, and a walk around them is the one thing you absolutely should not miss. Between four and six metres thick on the landward side, and reaching up to 22m high in places, they stretch for about two kilometres, encircling the old town and including no fewer than 12 rectangular towers, three round and two corner towers, along with five bastions, and a large fortress.
Construction of the walls started in the 8th century, and they were extended and enlarged between the 14th and 17th centuries. The walls get extremely busy, so the best advice for visiting them is to start as early as possible – not only to avoid the worst of the crowds (Dubrovnik attracts an alarming number of cruise ships in the summer months), but also to avoid the heat.
There is no shade while walking around the walls, and a circuit takes about two hours, depending on how long you spend stopping to admire the view and taking photos, so carry water and sun block. Entry to the walls (150 Croatian kuna/Dh87) is from just inside the Pile Gate, which opens from 8am to 7pm during peak season.
10.00 Explore the old town
Spend the next couple of hours in the old town. Start from the Pile Gate near the entrance to the walls walk, have a look at, and a drink from, Onofrio’s Great Fountain, which has supplied drinking water to the city since the 15th century, including through the siege of Dubrovnik during the war in the early 1990s. Walk down Stradun, the old town’s broad main street, stopping to visit the Franciscan monastery with its exquisite 14th-century cloister, lined with slender twin columns.
The monastery also houses a Pharmacy Museum, there having been a pharmacy here since 1317. At the far end of Stradun, turn right, passing the Rector’s Palace with its loggia and elaborately carved capitals (the one on the right depicts Asclepius – god of medicine in ancient Greek mythology). There’s a beautiful inner courtyard that sometimes has concerts in the summer. Now stroll uphill to the cathedral, then wander back through the narrow streets and alleys leading towards Stradun. If you need a break, there are plenty of cafes, and they are cheaper once you get off Stradun.
12.30 Grab a bite
Kamenica is a good, unfussy, popular place to stop for lunch. It serves well-priced seafood and its tables sprawl out on to Gunduliceva Poljana. Unsurprisingly, given its name, oysters (kamenice in Croatian) are a house speciality, from the oyster beds at Ston on the nearby Peljesac peninsula. Mains cost from about 90 Croatian kuna (Dh52).
14.00 Visit a museum
The Museum of Modern Art (www.ugdubrovnik.hr) is the city’s best, with an outstanding collection of modern and contemporary works by Croatian artists including Edo Murtic and Vlaho Bukovac. It’s a short walk from the old town.
Jump on one of the half-hourly ferries (they are less frequent out of season) from Porporela, the pier in the old port, out to the nearby island of Lokrum – less than a kilometre away from the old town – with its lush 19th-century botanical gardens, small beaches and sauntering peacocks.
18.00 Cable car
A quick trip on the cable car (www.dubrovnikcablecar.com) to the top of Srd Hill is well worth it for the view across the old town. The Panorama Restaurant and Bar (www.nautikarestaurants.com) has superb views and makes for a fine stop-off for a coffee or a cold refreshment.
Established back in 1886, Proto (www.esculaprestaurants.com) is one of the city’s top restaurants, serving perfectly prepared and glisteningly fresh seafood in the old town centre. It also has a great roof terrace worth spending time at. Order a la carte or go for the six-course Proto menu at 650 Croatian kuna (Dh396). Reservations recommended. Another good choice for dinner is the new 360° (www.360dubrovnik.com), built into a section of the curving city walls overlooking the old harbour. A two-course menu costs 520 Croatian kuna (Dh315). Reservations are recommended.
The city has several good spots to relax while enjoying watching the sun set – Buza, right beside the sea on the rocks outside the city walls, has long been a popular stop for a sundowner.
Rest your head
St Joseph’s (www.stjosephs.hr) is a small boutique hotel located in the narrow side streets leading off Stradun, in the heart of the old town – beautifully restored, with plenty of exposed stonework and polished wooden floors. Double rooms cost from 2,849 Croatian kuna (Dh1,658), with breakfast included. Or, for a breath of fresh mountain air and as a counterpoint to the hustle and bustle of the old town centre, stay at Stone House Kuna Konavoska (www.guesthousekuna.com) in the village of Kuna Konavoska, which is 33km from Dubrovnik at the end of a mountain road high above Cavtat. The hosts are lovely and the property has a pool.
Etihad (www.etihad.com) in conjunction with Croatia Airways or Air Serbia flies to Dubrovnik with a stop, from Dh3,123 return. Emirates (www.emirates.com) flies to Zagreb from Dh2,675 return; Croatia Airlines (www.croatiaairlines.com) flights from Zagreb to Dubrovnik cost from Dh485 return. For more, visit www.croatia.hr