Dubrovnik aficionados reference the oft-used George Bernard Shaw quote “those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik” when speaking of the city. Often referred to as the “Jewel of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik is truly a unique destination that delightfully combines the natural beauty of the Adriatic and Croatian landscape with stunning architecture and city planning. A trip to Dubrovnik will satisfy those seeking a quiet, relaxing European escape as well as those who like a trip packed with art, culture and sightseeing.
Dubrovnik is the southernmost city in Croatia, located on the Dalmatian coast. For centuries, it was a powerful trading city, and was an independent republic for more than 700 years. Engraved over the gate leading to Lovrijenac Tower is “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro,” which translates to “Liberty should not be sold even at the price of gold.” This has and still is Dubrovnik’s guiding motto. The walled city, called the “old city,” was built in the 13th century, although there have been settlements in the area since the 7th century. The city miraculously survived a devastating earthquake in the 17th century as well as Serbian bombs in the 1990s. As a result of the siege, it was named a World Heritage Site, which brought international attention and assistance to help in its rebuilding.
There are two entrances into the walled city, though Pile Gate is the primary entrance. This gate leads to the Stradun, which is the main thoroughfare through the city. The Stradun, which stretches for less than a quarter-mile (292 meters), is paved in creamy limestone, worn smooth with centuries of foot travel. The walled portion of the city is off-limits to vehicle traffic, making it ideal for wandering on foot.
Some main features of Dubrovnik include Onofrio Fountain, built in 1438, at the Pile Gate entrance. Near the entrance is also a pharmacy that has been operating since 1391, making it one of the oldest in Europe. Dubrovnik’s progressive philosophy engendered public laws and projects that included a city orphanage, home for the elderly, numerous churches (including the second oldest synagogue in Europe) as well as the abolishment of the slave trade and a city water supply.
At Sponza Place is the St. Blaise church, named for the town’s saint, which features beautiful stained glass windows and architecture. The Rector’s Palace is now the city museum. The city is home to numerous other art galleries and studios with art for every budget. Centuries-old convents and monasteries are also open for public tours.
The Stradun is famous for its many cafes, where visitors can sit outside and people watch for the price of a coffee and pastry. The morning market at the square named Gundulicera Poljana is another great spot for people watching as well as shopping for local food and wares. Any time of the day is perfect for taking a stroll around the city atop the city walls. The walk is about a mile (1.6 meters) long, and provides impressive views of the ocean and the city’s architecture, famous for its orange-hued ceramic roof tiles, aged to a harmonious range of shades.
The Dubrovnik Summer Festival includes a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, set in the captivating, fairy-tale like Lovrijenac Tower. The annual Dubrovnik Film Festival takes place every October. Artists, musicians and actors from all over the world provide a rich experience for visitors during these events.
There are beaches available for sunning and swimming outside the city walls. Daytrips to surrounding islands are also a great way to pass the time. Mljet, a heavily forested island has an old monastery, great for exploring. Lokrum, with its botanical gardens, fortress and impressive views of Dubrovnik is also a must see.
The cuisine in Dubrovnik is seafood—fresh and lots of it. Up nearly every side street and steeply-stepped “alley” off the Stradun are outdoor, family owned, umbrella topped restaurants with their own recipe for marinating and grilling seafood. No trip to Dubrovnik would be complete without grilled calamari and octopus. Crepes are available for a mid-day snack or dessert around the city from sidewalk vendors.
Hotel accommodations are not available within the city walls, although plenty of private rooms may be found. Outside the walls is a generous selection of three, four and five star hotels to fit any budget. Getting to Dubrovnik is easiest via plane, most scenic via the Jadrolinija ferry, and cheapest via the coastal bus.