Dubrovnik, the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, has been the most impressive “old town” we’ve ever visited on our incredibly long journey. An extraordinary citadel set on the rocky shores of the Adriatic Sea, built up out of bleached stone and capped with red terracotta roofs, the splendour of Dubrovnik glistens in the rays of the Croatian sun. The three days we had in Dubrovnik were spent simply meandering through the old town’s maze of corridors, peeking into its limestone dwellings, and striding upon its battlements and bastions (we didn’t even have time for a swim!). It would be hard to find a city that can compare with Dubrovnik’s lavish, Venetian architecture, scale of fortifications and the excellent condition of its ancient monuments.
Dubrovnik was founded long ago as a Greek colony, a natural stop-over for Greek sailors which eventually grew into a permanent village. A large, Roman city called Epidaurum was also nearby and, following a series of unfortunate events involving earthquakes and angry barbarians, many of its citizens took refuge at Dubrovnik. After the joining of a nearby Croatian settlement, Dubrovnik expanded into a mighty citadel by the 7th century. Many of the fortifications and buildings you can see today were built by the Venetians who, from 1205, occupied most of Croatia’s coastline for 153 years. Dubrovnik was the most significant maritime and trading centre of the Adriatic until a terrible earthquake in 1667, which brought the city to its knees. After an 8-month siege by the Serbians in 1991,the city was further devastated through aggressive shelling. After the war, Dubrovnik was eventually renovated and rebuilt to its former glory, the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, once again.
These days Dubrovnik is a HUGE tourist attraction, as large as Athens or Rome, and we were pleased to arrive in early March, just at the tip of the tourist season. Sure it wasn’t yet warm enough to swim in the azure waters of the Adriatic, but we also didn’t have to wade through a sea of oblivious tour groups and slow-walking oldies dressed in full khaki. Both on the main streets and awry alleyways we had the freedom of personal space and could wander where we liked.
Despite the many beautiful cathedrals and interesting museums, strolling along the walls of Dubrovnik and climbing its towers was, by far, my most favourite experience. I found the entry price of 20 dollars to be a bit steep (we almost gave it a pass), but in the end I did not regret paying the price to patrol Dubrovnik’s defences. The battlements, especially Minčeta Tower, provide marvellous views of the old town below that’ll make you wish you owned a more expensive camera. Later I learned that you can purchase a Dubrovnik Card online for 25 dollars that allows you free entrance to the fortifications, museums, galleries and even the transit system, so I would recommend purchasing that if you plan on going Full. Metal. Tourist.
The domineering Fort Lovrijenac, just across the way, is also included with the admission to Dubrovnik’s battlements. It is said that this 11th century, stone fortress was built in only three months to repel a Venetian invasion. Above the entrance to Lovrijenac is inscribed “NON BENE PRO TOTO LIBERTAS VENDITUR AURO”, “Freedom is not sold for all the gold in the world.” After exploring the fort’s various rooms and passageways, you can climb up to its ramparts and get another awesome view of the entire old town of Dubrovnik, lining the Dalmatian coast.
Still not enough? You can also take a cable car up the nearby Mount Srđ (or hike up the switch-back trail if you need the exercise) to get to the highest viewpoint of Dubrovnik. Standing upon the 200 year old Fort Imperial you will see the whole city, not to mention the Adriatic, stretched out before you like a map. So many amazing views, so little time.
Dubrovnik’s stunning architecture, impressive fortifications and extensive history, all set along the alluring, Dalmatian coast, should be enough of a reason to plan your visit to Croatia. If not, there’s always the Game of Thrones Tour, for you fantasy fans, which takes you to all of the show’s filming locations in and around Dubrovnik. I’m talking three to five hours of GOT exploitation, so you’d better be a die-hard fan of the show.
Just remember when planning your trip to Dubrovnik, we’ve heard horror stories about heavy crowds during the high season (July-August). So, if you value your life, avoid the tourist horde and experience the serenity of this remarkable citadel on the sea during its quieter moments.