There is much to experience in Dubrovnik. Jane Foster gives the low-down on the city’s most incredible things to do, as Aer Lingus prepares to launch direct flights from Cork to the city
Circle the City Walls
The medieval walls afford ever-changing views out to sea and over the old town, and hark back to the 13th century. They are best explored with a full-circuit, just over a mile’s walk along the battlements. Further reinforcements, including several imposing towers, were added in the 15th century, to protect the city against the Ottoman Turks.
Insider’s tip: To dodge the crowds, check how many cruise ships will be in Dubrovnik on any particular day on the Dubrovnik Port Authority, and then pick what looks like the quietest date. Arrival and departure times are included on the site so you might find a morning or afternoon with no ships in town.
Contact: 00 385 20 638 800; citywallsdubrovnik.hr
Step into a scene from Game of Thrones
The Rector’s Palace is unmissable. Under the Republic of Ragusa (14th-19th century), the chief citizen (rector) would reside on the first floor of this sumptuous building, a confection of Renaissance and Baroque styles. His living quarters now host the Cultural History Museum, crammed with period furniture and costumes, sedan chairs, and paintings of Ragusan aristocrats.
Insider’s tip: During the Dubrovnik Summer Festival (July and August), head to the courtyard for classical music recitals. It was also used as a location for Game of Thrones – if you’re a fan, you’ll recognise it as the atrium to the Spice King’s palace in Qarth.
Contact: 00 385 20 321 497; dumus.hr
Trace Dubrovnik’s sea-faring past
Dubrovnik’s Maritime Museum — set in St John’s Fortress, which guards the entrance to the old harbour — is a fascinating place to learn about the republic’s impressive naval power, with exhibits spanning model ships, sailors’ uniforms, navigational equipment, flags and maps. Come here to get your head around the vast merchant shipping wealth of what was once Ragusa — in the 16th century present-day Dubrovnik had one of the world’s largest fleets, with over 180 ships and 4000 sailors.
Insider’s tip: The Aquarium on the ground floor of the fortress houses a mesmerising display of Adriatic underwater life, including loggerhead turtles, conger eels and octopuses. Confusingly, it’s accessed through a separate entrance off a different street (Kneza Damjana Jude 12).
Contact: 00 385 20 323904; dumus.hr
Check out the city’s best photo-journalism gallery
The exciting modern gallery War Photo Limited is dedicated to photo-journalism from global war zones, and attempts to offer unbiased reporting with a human element.
Dubrovnik’s sturdy fortifications have been put to the test several times during the centuries, most recently during the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia — and indeed, on the second floor, there’s a permanent exhibition devoted to photos from the war.
Insider’s tip: Summer 2019 heralds a fantastic new exhibition ‘Why am I a Marine’, where Stephen Dupont looks at the lives of US soldiers in Helmund, Afghanistan, and ‘The Kosovo War’, where the gallery founder, Wade Goddard, examines Kosovo Albanians’ fight for independence.
Contact: 00 385 20 322166; warphotoltd.com
Catch a boat to Lokrum islet
A lush escape of pines, cypresses, palms, eucalyptus, cacti and agave, and a rocky shore with decent spots for bathing. There’s an abandoned 11th-century Benedictine Monastery near the south-west corner, and an adjoining villa built by Archduke Maximilian von Hapsburg — the complex lies in a botanical garden, with promenades, exotic planting and strutting peacocks, plus Lacroma bar-restaurant.
Insider’s tip: It’s worth knowing that throughout summer, regular taxi-boats depart from the old harbour for Lokrum (journey time 10 minutes). While on the islet, climb up to the highest point of the 19th-century Fort Royal for panoramic views over the Adriatic.
Ploce Swim and sunbathe at Banje beach
The sandy stretch, a 10-minute walk east of the Old Town, affords magnificent views of the medieval walls across the water. You can hire sun beds or baldachins (four-posters with wafting chiffon drapes), try water-skiing and parasailing, or even request a massage. Above the beach, there’s a lounge-bar on a wooden deck, doing cocktails and snacks, plus a seafood restaurant in an upper-level dining room.
Insider’s tip: The setting is wonderful, but unfortunately it does get very overcrowded in peak season, and has a reputation for being overpriced and pretentious. To enjoy it at its best, come in June or September when there are fewer tourists and lower prices.
Contact: 00 385 20 412220; banjebeach.com
Ride a cable car to the city’s peak
An ultra-modern, low-effort amusement for medieval Dubrovnik — visitors can take in the best vistas without having to trek up steep hills or trudge up hundreds of steps. The cable car departs from a lower station just outside the Old Town, and has two light and airy carriages, each carrying up to 30 people, which make regular three-minute runs to the top of Mount Srd. A must-do memorable experience for adults and children.
Insider’s tip: From up here you get fantastic views down onto the Old Town, the Adriatic sea and the surrounding Dalmatian islands. Come here at sunset — it’s an ideal spot for photos. There’s also a (rather pricey) restaurant, café and souvenir shop.
Contact: 00 385 20 325393; dubrovnikcablecar.com
Sea Kayak around the Elafiti Islets
A great way to explore the Adriatic coast is by sea kayak. Local company Outdoor Croatia offers a full-day ‘Arches, Caves and Islands’ tour (10 hours), which takes adventurers around the Elafiti islands of Lopud and Šipan, with free time to swim, snorkel and cliff-jump. You’ll meet the group at Dubrovnik’s Gruž port, to catch the morning ferry to Lopud.
Insider’s tip: Don’t miss Šunj, one of Croatia’s rare sandy beaches, when in Lopud. On the beach, Cima beach bar is the prefect place to stop for early evening drinks before the sun goes down (owned by the same people who run Revelin in Dubrovnik, so all very professional and organised).
Contact: 00 385 20 418 282; outdoorcroatia.com
Explore Cavtat and rural Konavle
The nearby coastal town of Cavtat (served by regular taxi-boat and local bus) was founded by the ancient Greeks. This huddle of old stone houses are built on a pine-scented peninsular sheltering a pebble beach to one side, and a natural harbour to the other. Its main attraction is the splendid Art Nouveaux Racic Mausoleum by sculptor Ivan Meštrovic.
Insider’s tip: If you have a car, drive southeast of Cavtat into the Konavle region, with its fertile pastures, vineyards, and sleepy rural villages. Several authentic agrotourism eateries serve meals prepared from their own farm produce, including wine.
Contact: 00 385 20 479025; visit.cavtat-konavle.com
Sample Croatian wine on the Pelješac peninsular
A comfortable day trip from Dubrovnik, mountainous Pelješac produces some of Croatia’s best red wines, made from the indigenous Mali Plavac grape. Dingac, the region’s most highly esteemed wine, comes from steep seaward-facing vineyards, close to the village of Potomje. On the way there, you’ll pass through Ston, famed for its medieval fortifications and oysters.
Insider’s tip: Notable wineries you should visit are Matuško in Potomje, Korta Katarina in Orebic, and Bartulovic in Prizdrin. All three are open for tours and tasting, and you can purchase bottles to bring home.
Contact: 00 385 20 713718; visitorebic-croatia.hr
Catch a catamaran to Mljet National Park
The island that time forgot. Mljet doesn’t have any grand harbour towns or seaside resorts, but it does have pristine unspoilt nature. Here, two interconnected turquoise saltwater lakes are surrounded by dense pine forests. On the larger lake, there’s a tiny islet, capped by a 12th-century Benedictine monastery.
The entire area has been declared a national park.
Insider’s tip: Within the park, you should hire bicycles and peddle round the perimeter of the two lakes (12 km), or hire kayaks and paddle across them.
If you decide to stay overnight, the island has just one hotel, Hotel Odisej Mljet.
Contact: 00 385 20 744041; np-mljet.hr