By Susan Farewell
I first became acquainted with Croatia when it was still part of Yugoslavia in the 1980s. Back then, covering it as a honeymoon destination for BRIDE’s magazine, I fell in love with it. On subsequent returns, I came to appreciate it all the more.
And while I’ve visited several islands, as well as the whole length of the coast and inland parts of the country, the one place that I am most awed by is the walled city of Dubrovnik, which is one of the most exquisitely preserved Medieval cities in Europe.
Below you’ll find our Select Tips for experiencing this Dalmatian Coast beauty.
Time your Old Town visits carefully.
Like every European city, during the summer months, Dubrovnik is crowded with tourists from around the world. The fact that Old Town is a very finite space within walls can make it seem as if it’s going to burst at times. Our rule of thumb: Avoid it mornings and early afternoons. That’s when the bulk of the cruiseship passengers are out and about. The crowds thin out considerably after that and by the time it’s dark, there’s a wonderful “the more the merrier” feeling in the air.
Walk the walls.
Chances are, you’d do this without our prompting. But don’t you dare NOT do it. These walls have survived centuries and have helped to protect the city, contributing to making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From on top, you can see layers and layers of history in the buildings and ruins. Go late in the afternoon for the best light and cooler temperatures.
Focus on the Seafood.
The Croatians have a magic touch when it comes to seafood. Ask for fish in a restaurant and they’ll bring a platter showing whole fish so you can pick the one you want. Then they’ll grill it, drizzle a little olive oil and lemon on it, and you can savor every bite. On menus everywhere, you’ll see octopus salad (pictured here), black risotto (made from cuttlefish ink) and crispy fried squid.
Do Some Cliff Jumping.
I don’t know of too many cities where you can don bathing suits and find yourself jumping into a sparkling sea five minutes away from the main street of town. The sun-bleached cliffs known as Buza (below the city walls) are a must whether you take the plunge yourself (do the lowest one first and you’ll probably climb up higher for more) or just spread out your towels and soak in the whole dazzling scene.
Paddle out to Lokrum.
From the shores of Dubrovnik, you’ll often see small flotillas of kayaks pushing through the glassy (and sometimes choppy) sea. Some are paddling out to Lokrum, a small island less than half a kilometer from the mainland where you’ll find a shady reprieve with olive trees, gardens, remains of a 12th/13th century basilica and a 15th century monastery. The real highlight though is the a small saltwater lake, Lokrum’s own Dead Sea they call Mrtvo More. Float around on your back and you’ll never want to leave. By the way, if you’re not up for kayaking, you can easily take a boat from the Old City Harbour.
Head for the beach.
It’s been said that the bluest point you can spot on Earth from outer space is the Adriatic. You’ll definitely want to get in the water here and will find several small beaches from which to take your pick of. Many of the hotels have their own but there are also public beaches. Our favorite mainland beach is St. Jacob’s, which is a pocket beach at the bottom of a cliff (translation: be prepared to walk down—and later up—a long staircase) a taxi ride south of town. It’s a little removed from the air of carnival you find at the beaches right near town.
This is more than just a view.
You expect to have far-reaching views when you take a cable car up the side of a mountain. But what you don’t expect however, is the journey into this city’s recent history which has been extraordinarily captured in the Homeland War Museum in a Napoleonic Fort at the top. It’s been just under 25 years since the world watched in horror as Dubrovnik endured an 8-month-long siege when the Serbians and Montenegrins were determined to conquer and destroy this historic masterpiece. This all led to the break up of Yugoslavia and Croatia gained its independence. Most riveting is the video recording of Dubrovnik as it was being shelled. It reminds your that this happened very recently.
Stay on the water near Old Town.
One of the great pleasures of visiting Dubrovnik is having your morning coffee as you gaze at the view of Old Town and at the end of day, a glass of wine as the town lights up the night sky. There are a couple of hotels on the water from which you won’ be able to take your eyes off the view. From them, you can walk to town or – at a place such as Villa Dubrovnik—step into a vaporetto speedboat and zip over in minutes.
Dubrovnik and then what?
Any trip to Croatia should include at least three or four nights in Dubrovnik, even more if you want to use it as a base to visit nearby islands and coastal towns. These include Cavtat (founded by the Greeks in the 6th century as Epidaurus), Miljet (home to a national park filled with saltwater lakes), Korcula (which has a Medieval walled city of its own as well as secluded beaches and bays) and the other nearby Balkan countries Montenegro and Bosnia.
Aside from that, Dubrovnik pairs well with a visit to Split (home to the Roman Palace of the Emperor Diocletian) and an Adriatic island-hopping trip. You can also combine it with a visit to the Istria Peninsula, Croatia’s Italian region (think hill towns and seaside villages, great wines, olive oils, truffles) or spend time visiting some of the inland attractions including Plitvice Lakes (where waterfalls tumble out of the earth in every direction) and the capital of Zagreb which has layers and layers of history to dig into.
Susan Farewell is our travel editor as well as the owner of Farewell Travels LLC
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (203-222-7238).