Ah, Dubrovnik. Adored by people like John Malkovitch, the king of Jordan and the late Pope John Paul II, this “jewel of the Adriatic” is Eastern Europe’s Venice, minus the flooding.
The southern-most city in Croatia, Dubrovnik was one of the centers of the development of language and literature and was home to many famous poets, playwrights, painters, mathematicians and other scholars. Its gorgeous old town became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, and its charm has attracted tourists who want a taste of the Mediterranean without the crowds of Greece and Italy.
The city is perfect for the meandering sightseer, the beach-goer and those in search of a lively nightlife. Though many of the city buildings were damaged by the earthquake in 1667 and bombs during the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990’s, most has been rebuilt and Dubrovnik is still considered Croatia’s best kept secret.
Wander along Stradun
Grab a cup of coffee and a pastry as you wonder through Dubrovnik’s main street, the Stradun. Once a swamp, the Stradun, is now a place for locals and visitors to gather throughout the day and into the evening. With numerous cafés and restaurants, the street is a great place to rest your tired body after touring the various sites of Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik’s Sponza Palace was constructed in 1522 as a customs-house, where merchants would bring goods from all over the world and pay a customs fee before trading. The palace exemplifies the simplistic Croatian architecture, which is very visually appealing. Now used to house city archives, the Sponza Palace is free to visit and is a nice, shady recluse from the sun. Be sure to notice the Gothic stonework and Renaissance-style windows.
Onofrio’s Large Fountain (Great Onofrio Well)
Originally constructed in 1438 by Italian architect Onofrio della Cava, the 16-sided drinking fountain was partially damaged in the 1667 earthquake, but remains rustic representation of old Dubrovnik architecture. The fountain was part of the city’s water mains constructed in the 15th century, and was considered an architectural masterpiece at the time it was built. Have a seat and a sip from this giant fountain, which supplied Croatians with water during the war in 1992.
For another rest in the shade and the opportunity to view intriguing works of art, peek inside the cathedral. The current cathedral was built in 1673, by Roman architect Andrea Buffalini to replace the original 12th century cathedral, which was destroyed by the earthquake. The cathedral includes Titian’s polyptych, Assumption, as well as the skull of St Blaise encased in a jewel-encrusted crown. When another earthquake struck in 1979, excavations beneath the cathedral revealed a Romanesque cathedral beneath the current one. Further digging uncovered another church underneath this one, dating from about the 6th century.
Designed by Onofrio della Cava –who also designed Onofrio’s fountain—the Rector’s palace has not had the smoothest of histories. The original building was completely destroyed in 1435 by a gunpowder explosion. The second floor of the rebuilt palace was again destroyed by another explosion in 1463, and the entire building suffered more damage from the earthquake. As a result, the building has acquired various styles and designers over the centuries.
Other sites worth noticing
While walking the streets of Dubrovnik, these other monuments are worth noticing as you pass. Roland’s Column is a narrow stone flagstaff named after the legendary knight. Take an afternoon stroll around the Old City Walls, which boast great views of the town. Dubrovnik’s Franciscan Monastery is a Baroque-style Church, housing a Romanesque cloister and the third oldest pharmacy in the world.
Slews of public beaches offer Dubrovnik travelers plenty of options for swimming, tanning and boating. Banje Beach is the most convenient beach because of it’s proximity to Old Town. It also offers the best view of Dubrovnik’s walls. If you really want to lounge around, you can rent chairs and umbrellas from the nearby EastWest club, or just throw down your towel and enjoy the Mediterranean rays.
Copacabana Beach is a perfectly pleasant and family-friendly beach on the Babin Kuk peninsula. With relatively shallow water, kids will enjoy the toboggan, and adults will enjoy the waterskiing, windsurfing and other watersports. On the Lapad peninsula, beach-goers might enjoy the pebble beaches that sit in front of the large hotels—but unlike other areas where hotels have private ownership, these beaches are open to the public.
Sv Jakov Beach is known to few tourists and loved by the locals. To reach this lesser-known beach, travel east from Ploce gate and go past the Hotel Argentina and the former monastery, and take the long stairway leading down to this secluded, peaceful beach.
While not the raucous, out-of-control environment of Barcelona or Mykanos, Dubrovnik’s nightlife will completely satisfy those who enjoy lively outdoor bars and live music and shows, much like Venice. Clubs and discotecs open and close frequently, but you will never be short on friendly bars along Old Town’s Stradun, which do not allow traffic. Sidewalk cafes, like Café Festival near the Franciscan monastery, are perfect spots people watching and sipping wine.
The narrow streets of Old Town also offer a welcoming atmosphere. For those who want to see something different, climb through the hole in the city to Buza bar (Ispod Mira) around sunset, a bar dangling right above the cliffs. Hemingway (Pred Dvoram) is a cocktail bar with comfy chairs and a 30-page cocktail menu. And for your fix of an Irish pub, check out Karaka in Od Polaca street, just of off Stradun for a refreshing pint of Guinness.
Fuego (near Pile Gate, just outside the old town), also known as Latino club, is one of the best and busiest nightclubs in Dubrovnik. It hosts several different types of musical events, and has a cool interior, friendly staff and surprisingly affordable prices. Bikers’ Café, located just above the Old Town, has a more rock and roll vibe, while the more relaxed Troubadur Jazz cafe (near Gundulic square) is open until late in the night.