24 Hours In Dubrovnik
Croatia’s most glittering port is one of the highlights of the Adriatic coast, and a big favourite with cruise liners. To get the most out of this exquisite town and soak up some of its rich history, you need some careful planning.
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Mary Novakovich is an award-winning travel writer who specialises in Eastern Europe, France and Italy. Her latest guidebook, Explore Dubrovnik, was published by Insight Guides in Summer 2015.
Dubrovnik’s medieval walls wind their uneven way for 2km around the old town, giving tantalising glimpses into everyday life as well as wonderful views of the sea. Get to the ticket office beside the Franciscan Monastery as soon as it opens (8am or 9am, depending on the season), and you’ll have a quieter experience before the cruise ships dock. Hang on to your ticket, as you can leave the walls and re-enter later in the afternoon if things become too busy.
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The imposing 16th century Fort Lovrijenac soon looms into view across the bay – a sight that will be familiar to Game of Thrones fans, as the fantasy series was filmed in and around Dubrovnik. You can peer into the neatly tended gardens below and gaze across the sea of terracotta rooftops. Passing several small fortresses, you’ll eventually see the lively harbour and finally the highest point of the walls, the Minceta Fortress, whose tower is worth one last climb.
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Stop for a reviving coffee and some people-watching at the Festival Café at the beginning of pedestrianised Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main thoroughfare. This shimmering street of marble is one of Europe’s most beautiful, its green-shuttered stone houses filled with boutiques and the occasional café. On one side, narrow alleyways climb up stone staircases towards the shadow of the town walls. On the other, marble lanes and squares filled with cafés, restaurants and shops make an enchanting patchwork.
Stroll to the end of Stradun and you reach Luza Square, flanked by the 16th century Sponza Palace and the graceful columns of the 16th century Rector’s Palace. Veer to the right and you see the impressive Baroque cathedral. Tucked behind it is Gundulic Square which, if you’re there before 1pm, is the scene of a colourful daily food market.
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By now you’ll be pining for the chance to try some Dalmatian specialities and other delicious cuisine over lunch. Try the Asian-influenced Azur (azurvision.com), simply prepared seafood at Barba or Mediterranean dishes at Dalmatino (dalmatino-dubrovnik.com). Dionysus Wine Pub has a superb selection of wines to go with salads and risottos, and Oyster Bar & Sushi Bota (bota-sare.hr) has a Japanese twist on local Ston oysters. Oliva Pizzeria is a reliable choice for pizzas, and Gil’s Little Bistro (gils.hr) has an innovative selection of meat and seafood dishes.
There are a few good choices along Prijeko, the street that runs parallel to Stradun up a flight of stone steps. Nishta (nishtarestaurant.com) specialises in vegetarian food; Stara Loza (prijekopalace.com) is a relatively expensive but classy option; Rozario (konoba-rozario.hr) is a cosy little place with Dalmatian cuisine; and Wanda (wandarestaurant.com) focuses on Italian dishes. And tucked away under the city walls north of Prijeko is the oddly named but excellent Lady PiPi, whose terrace has great views of the old town.
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Afterwards, treat yourself to a bird’s-eye view of the town by taking the cable car (dubrovnikcablecar.com) to the top of Mount Srd. It takes only a few minutes to ride 778m to the top, but the lovely views are just a taster for what awaits at the summit. A wide stretch of the Dalmatian coast lies below, including the Elaphiti islands and the island of Lokrum. There’s also a restaurant with panoramic views, and your ticket gives you admission to the Museum of the Homeland War, whose exhibits chronicle the war that broke up the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
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If the sight of Lokrum has whetted your appetite, take one of the boats that make the 15-minute journey to this magical island of forested trails, rocky beaches and a monastery. Bring a picnic of savoury cheese filo pastry pies from one of the bakeries in the old town and maybe some fresh tomatoes from the Gundulic Square market. There’s a peaceful saltwater lagoon that’s an idyllic spot to relax and enjoy your picnic before dipping your toes in the clear water. Time slows down in this tranquil spot, where the bustle of Dubrovnik seems a world away.
The swimming season carries on late in the year – sometimes even until November – so you might be tempted by a quick dip in the pebbly Banje Beach just outside the old town by the Ploce Gate.
For an atmospheric sundowner, look out for the sign on the southern side of the old town promising “Cold drinks with the most beautiful view”. It’s not wrong. Buza Bar has been carved into the cliffs below the walls, and you’ll soon see why it’s one of the most popular places for a sunset drink.
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Once evening falls and the cruise passengers have gone back to their ships, the locals do their version of the Italian passeggiata, when they leisurely stroll up and down the Stradun. For an aperitif with a prime view of the spectacle, stop by Cele Brunch & Bar (cele-dubrovnik.com) or La Bodega (labodega.hr), where you can share plates of charcuterie to go with Dalmatian wine. If you can find a seat, try some of the local wines on offer at D’Vino (dvino.net), a tiny bar in a narrow lane off Stradun.
Restaurant Koprun (restaurantkopun.com) is in a romantic setting near the Jesuit Church. For sublime views of the harbour – with prices to match – splurge on a truffle-heavy meal at Restaurant 360° (360dubrovnik.com), a chic restaurant set in a medieval arsenal.
Book ahead – even earlier in the day – for a table at Above 5 Rooftop Restaurant at Hotel Stari Grad (hotelstarigrad.com). There’s more stellar rooftop dining at the five-star Pucic Palace’s terrace restaurant, Defne (thepucicpalace.com).
Round off the evening dancing to international DJs at Culture Club Revelin (clubrevelin.com), housed in a dramatic fortress by the old port. When you need a break, drink in the views from the huge terrace.