Like something out of a picture-perfect fairy tale, the Old Town of Dubrovnik, Croatia, is a walled medieval city, with drawbridges (used in the 1991-92 war) and 18-ft-high gates guarding the main entrances. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it's also very much a living, breathing city.
From the crenulated ramparts and watchtowers, there are some perfect vistas of the city and the Adriatic Sea. Because the Old Town is blissfully free of traffic, the main streets (Placa or Stradun), squares and alleyways are perfect for exploring the city on foot.
Most of the inhabitants of Dubrovnik live outside of the Old Town's city walls. However, inside those walls, the streets and alleyways are crammed with tiny shops, bars, cafes and restaurants that spill out onto the street at every conceivable point.
The serious damage from the Serbia-Croatian War has been completely repaired. Locals are still keen to point out the shrapnel and bullet damage that has been retained as a reminder of those dark days, which still come up frequently in conversation.
Dubrovnik has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe because of its warm climate, proximity to the sea and its rich historic and cultural heritage.
In addition, many Game of Thrones fans visit the city to see the original locations that were used in the popular TV show.
Its increased popularity also means that the city is facing the challenge of accommodating more visitors, especially during the busy summer season. Therefore, the number of visitors in the old town at any one time is limited to 8,000 people in order to protect historic buildings.
Sights—Views of the city and the sea from the city walls; religious relics and baroque architecture at the Dubrovnik Cathedral and Treasury; a tour of historic Fort Lovrijenac; chamber music concerts at St. Saviour Church; the view from Cafe Buza ("hole in the wall") and a jump off the cliff—if you dare; a ride up the cable car to the peak of Mount Srd for breathtaking views over the city.
Museums—The Cloister of the Franciscan Monastery and its paintings of the city from times gone by; the museum at the Dominican Monastery; the city's naval history at the Maritime Museum; Homeland War Museum.
Memorable Meals—Dalmatian cuisine ; "black risotto"; the freshest local seafood
Walks—A walking tour of the Old Town; a stroll along Sunj Beach; a morning walk through the Gruz Farmers Market at Gruz Harbor.
Dubrovnik is a coastal town overlooked by a range of mountains, the largest of which is Mount Srd. Just 3 mi across the mountains is Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 25 mi to the southeast is the border with Montenegro. Westward across the Adriatic Sea is mainland Italy.
The old walled city is seated on a small peninsula. Residential and tourism development extends southeast along the coast for a short distance and northwest to the nearby port of Gruz. But most people live to the west of the Old Town on the larger bifurcated peninsula.
The island-studded coast of Croatia is generally referred to as the Dalmatian coast.
The history of Dubrovnik is complex and checkered. Roman and Illyrian (from ancient Albania) remains have been found in Dubrovnik, but the site was more permanently occupied in the seventh century.
In the 11th century, Dubrovnik and most of Croatia fell under the dominion of Venice, the eastern Mediterranean's greatest maritime power. After 150 years of Venetian rule, Dubrovnik was transferred to the authority of the Hungaro-Croatian kings. As a republic, the city was left to run most of its own affairs, heavily paying off nearby countries in order to maintain its valued independence.
General unrest in the Balkans forced Dubrovnik to develop into a maritime trading power that stretched from England to Goa, India. In 1588, the city sent ships to join Spain's "Invincible Armada," which was defeated by the English fleet (led by Sir Francis Drake) off the French coast. Dubrovnik sailors also accompanied Columbus on his journeys west to the New World.
In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte arrived under the pretext of preventing a Russian invasion—but his troops stayed put. When Napoleon was defeated at Liepzig in 1813, the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Dubrovnik.
After World War I, Dubrovnik joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croatians and Slovenes, which in 1929 became known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In 1944, Joseph Broz Tito's Partisans liberated the city from German occupation.
In the aftermath of the war, Tito's dictatorship and particular brand of communist rule kept Yugoslavia united. His liberalized travel and In the aftermath of the war, Tito's dictatorship and particular brand of communist rule kept Yugoslavia united. His liberalized travel and economic policies provided Croats with a better quality of life than others in the Eastern Bloc. However, after Tito's death in 1980, and the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later, a power vacuum allowed ethnic and nationalistic disputes to take hold of the region.
Resisting President Slobodan Milosevic's attempts to keep a unified Yugoslavia with power centered in Belgrade, Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Serbs within Croatia, who had the support of the Yugoslav People's Army, then declared their own borders within the Croatian state. These actions precipitated an invasion by the Yugoslav army.
Dubrovnik was not part of the Serb-Croat disputed territory but fell under siege from October 1991 to August 1992. The bulk of Yugoslav forces attacking Dubrovnik were from neighboring Montenegro. On just one day (6 December 1991), 5,000 shells rained down on the city. During the siege, snipers shot people in the streets, 70% of the city's buildings were damaged, and 200 defenders and 100 civilians were killed. Residents were saved by the thick ancient city walls, behind which they lived during the siege.
Today, Dubrovnik has been restored to its former glory. Five-star hotels have emerged to pamper travelers, an airport serves the city, it's one of the world's most popular cruise ports, and the only visible war damage was left there intentionally to remind people of what was lost in the war.
In July 2013, Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union, another major milestone for Croatia and its people.
The walled city of Dubrovnik's Old Town is about 1 mi in circumference, but there is no motorized transport within it, so you'll need comfortable footwear for your explorations. Most of the main sites can be seen without negotiating the steps and steep alleyways leading off the main street. Ploce gate allows access to the city without entrance steps.
Walking around the wall battlements will provide a good overview of the city's main sights, which are all within minutes of each other.
However, if you're visiting in July and August, especially during the Summer Festival, be sure to get an early start because this is the busiest season. When the number of visitors in the Old Town goes above 6,000, longer queues should be expected to get into sights. If the number exceeds 8,000, access is denied by local authorities.
Perhaps the most enjoyable time in Dubrovnik is spent strolling through the alleyways peeking in the little shops, stopping in tiny bars and absorbing the medieval atmosphere of a walled city and its well-preserved architecture.
The local food, known as Dalmatian, is classic Mediterranean cuisine, which means that it's mainly seafood: red snapper, squid, cuttlefish, octopus and shellfish. And the preparation couldn't be any simpler—most seafood, fish and vegetables are simply grilled with olive oil, garlic, rosemary and lemon juice. The most popular meat dishes are pork, lamb and veal. Just about every restaurant seems to have a special risotto dish.
International cuisine is on the rise in Dubrovnik, with pizzerias and pasta restaurants, as well as a steak house, available to diners. The big luxury hotels also offer multiple restaurant options and a broader range of international cuisine. But all offer fish and other local specialties in a more elegant and refined (and more expensive) atmosphere.
In true Mediterranean style, opening hours are variable and inconsistent; if business is quiet, an eatery may close early, or it may stay open later if it's busy.
The city of Dubrovnik was named Ragusa until around 1918. At that time, the name Dubrovnik, which is derived from the Croatian word dubrava (oak forest), became the city's official name. Mount Srd was once covered in oak forests, which were torn down over the years for ship-building purposes, giving the area a barren and gray look.
The Republic of Dubrovnik was the first state to recognize the U.S. as a sovereign country.
Croatian-born actor Goran Visnjic, perhaps best known as Dr. Luka Kovac in the television drama ER, was the six-year reigning prince of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival for his lead in Hamlet before heading to Hollywood.
According to local history, Richard the Lionheart gave funds to the city of Dubrovnik to build its cathedral after he found refuge in the city from a storm during his return from a crusade.
The winds through the Adriatic have names, habits and even moods. Maestral is the light summer daytime breeze from the northwest; from the north comes the bora, which is cold and dry but considered good; the jugo blows warm and moist from the southeast and puts the locals in a bad mood.
Near Dubrovnik is the island of Mljet, considered by some to be the location of Calypso's island, where Odysseus was held captive by the sea nymph.
Dubrovnik's city walls represent some of the most durable fortress walls in the region. They encircle the city with a length that spans 6,365 ft. The walls saved the lives of thousands of residents during the siege in 1991-92.
The Feast of St. Blaise, the city's iconic patron saint, is arguably the most important date of the year in Dubrovnik. On 3 February, the celebrations begin with the release of doves from the St. Blaise Church. Processions, Masses, games and parties follow.
The weather is typically Mediterranean, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Snow is very rare, and the temperature rarely drops below 40 F. Heat can be a problem in high summer, but the mercury rarely exceeds 85 F (although the temperature can be magnified if you're strolling inside the city walls).
Spring and autumn are the best months to explore the city unless you're there for a sun-and-sea vacation. It can rain at any time during winter, and you will often need to wrap up in warm layers or a lightweight winter jacket.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Passports, but not visas, are needed by US citizens for stays of up to three months. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
If arriving by land from the north, don't forget that the highway crosses through a small portion of Bosnia. Bosnia has similar visa requirements, but do double-check to avoid problems.
Languages: Croatian. However, English, Italian, German and other languages are spoken, especially in tourist-oriented locations.
Predominant Religions: Christian (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodoxy).
Time Zone: 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+1 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the end of March to the end of October.
Voltage Requirements: 220 Volts, 50 Hz.
Telephone Codes: 020, Dubrovnik; 385, Croatia;
What to Wear
Hats and sunscreen are the most important accessories to wear in the summer months; a light sweater might be needed occasionally in the evenings, especially in spring and autumn. Swimming shoes make the pebble beaches more accessible. Comfortable, even sturdy, footwear is recommended for the many steps and the stone-paved streets. T-shirts and shorts are acceptable around town in the daytime, but showing too much skin is considered disrespectful when visiting religious buildings. Don't wear swimsuits in town or to cafes.
Women do dress fashionably, and businessmen wear suits and ties but can dress casually at times. Croatians are very easygoing, and even very stylish restaurants are happy with casual wear.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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