As you approach the old city walls of Dubrovnik in the very south of Croatia, you feel as if you are entering into a fairytale; and in many ways you are. Dubrovnik is probably one of the most photographed Croatian destinations, a UNESCO Heritage site known as ‘The Pearl of the Adriatic’, and it undoubtedly screams with romantic charm.
Most tourist publications written about this Venetian Gothic marvel will tell you to enjoy a promenade on the city walls before venturing within them for a stroll down Stradun lined with 17th-century houses, Onofrio’s fountains, and a Franscican monastery.
While all that is glorious and should be experienced, there are a handful of treasures within and beyond the city that should be noted, and as Select Croatia took me on a custom tour of the city, these six gems stay framed in my memory forever.
1. The City Walls…From a Pirate’s Perspective
Whilst the crowds swarm atop the grand city walls to walk the periphery of town, I hopped onto a guided kayak tour at the Pile Gate to take in the walls’ enormous glory from below, the way that sailors and invaders through history would have experienced it. The UNESCO-protected 12th-17th century walls that protect Dubrovnik are nestled along the jagged rocks of the Adriatic shore and stretch some 6,360 ft in length and are up to 82ft high. As we paddled along the walls, a guide told me an impressive history on the various bastions and forts that line the ancient defense structure of what was the maritime city-state of Ragusa.
Soaking up the shimmering waters, I got a glimpse of the 14th century Mulo Tower (formerly St. John’s Fortress), which used to protect the sea entry to Dubrovnik against Ottoman invasion. I found the Revelin Fortress to be impressive, a defense structure detached from the main walls, built opposite the Ploča Gate to provide additional reinforcement against Ottoman invasion, as it was deemed to be the weakest point in the defense system. After getting my arms sore from paddling, we berthed at Buža Café, a local hideout on the jagged rocks beyond outer walls… This place therefore becomes my second gem of Dubrovnik.
2. Buža Café, Drinks on the Edge
Against the imposing Dubrovnik city walls lies Buža Café by the sea, a quiet retreat from the city buzz just meters away. You can reach the café or by a narrow passageway through the south-side ancient walls. It’s a little tricky to find but start off at the cathedral and work your way south, up some steps, before finding a tiny passageway with steps down to Buža. You will arrive to the cascading salt-stained rocks on which the ancient city of Dubrovnik is built, where you can grab a spot in the shade, cocktail in hand, and take in the breathtaking vistas of the Adriatic horizon and daring cliff jumpers.
3. Lokrum, an Island as Dubrovnik’s Backyard
Just a 15-minute taxi-boat ride away from the old town of Dubrovnik is the tiny islet of Lokrum, a Nature Reserve with quiet a few interesting attractions, my perfect half-day getaway from the sunkissed and crowded Stradun street. This green gem adjacent to Dubrovnik has a little salt lake where you can float as easily as in the Dead Sea, a nudist beach on the southeast side of the island, and many solitary spots to take in the beauty of Lokrum’s nature, accompanied by the island’s only residents, peacocks. In between all the peacock and tropical plant spotting, pop in to see the fascinating remnants of a 12th century Benedictine monastery.
4. Srđ Hill… Dubrovnik From a Bird’s Perspective
After experiencing Dubrovnik from water and street level, experience undisturbed panoramic views by taking a cable car to Srđ Hill above town. The cable car is certainly fascinating, built over 40 years ago, taking visitors up to the 1908 Fort Imperial built by Napoleon which today houses a museum dedicated to the recent war on independence. There are two viewpoints that provide ideal photo-ops, and on a bright day, you can see as far as 35 miles! After absorbing the moment, pair the panoramas with lunch at the restaurant. To get to the cable car station from town, venture north beyond the city walls to the fire station.
5. Stairway To Heaven
A popular attraction in Dubrovnik is certainly the clock tower, but most stick to Stradun-level site photography rather than climbing the tower itself to the mid-area loggia. The charming clock tower was built in 1444 and Maro and Baro, two bronze statues known as Zelenci (which mean green men), would strike the giant bell at noon. They have since been replaced by newer figures as Maro and Baro have taken sheltered refuge for all visitors to appreciate. Other than providing the most close-up bird views to the old town and buzzing square below, I find it pretty cool that the same family has been maintaining the tower’s clock mechanics for more than 100 years.
After getting closer to Dubrovnik by taking in their many fascinating sites, getting familiar with its culture is equally impressive. Dubrovnik is home to Linđo, a popular folklore dance accompanied by the tunes of a lijerica, a three-string instrument. Introduced from 40-years ago, Linđo performances are a symbol of Dubrovnik and have been recognized world-over but takes center-stage in the old time on many nights during the summer. This becomes my sixth gem of Dubrovnik as seeing a Linđo performance as a ten year-old on Stradun, remains to be one of my most cherished Croatian holiday memories.
Although Dubrovnik is recognized as one of the most cherished travel destinations in Croatia, don’t be put off by its popularity; this city has a heap of secret gems just waiting to be discovered. What are you gems in Dubrovnik?