Dubrovnik: Attractions in the Old Town
Almost everything worth seeing is centred on the compact, crowded Old Town. To get the best view, and one of a stupendously clear, blue Adriatic lapping the rocks below and stretching way beyond, embark on a stroll round the city walls (summer 8am-7pm daily, winter 9am-4pm daily; 70kn). Audio-guides are available at the main entrance inside the Pile Gate to the left. An hour should suffice but take as long as you like.
You’ll spend the bulk of your time within the 15th-century ring of fortifications, in the small square half-mile of gleaming medieval space bisected by 300-metre-long Stradun. As you flit between the main gates of Pile and Ploče, guided by the list of places on the maroon flags, each venue with its own logoed white lamp, barkers on every side-street corner call you up to the bland tourist restaurants on Prijeko.
Cats scatter in from the old harbour, a cacophony of tour guides give their spiels. All is free of traffic until you reach the bus-choked hub outside the Pile Gate. Beyond, over the drawbridge, stand the Lovrijenac Fortress, used for productions of Shakespeare classics during the Summer Festival and the permanently busy main road to the ferry port at Gruž, and Lapad.
Exiting the Old Town via the Ploče Gate takes you past the attractive old harbour, where taxi boats set off for the nearby island of Lokrum. Beyond the gate stretches Banje beach then a string of luxury hotels.
Back inside the city walls is the main square and crossing point of Luža, where you’ll find the landmark astronomical clock tower (sadly, a modern rebuild of the 1444 original); Orlando’s Column where all state declarations were read; the smaller of Onofrio’s fountains, and a prosaic statue of Shakespeare-era playwright Marin Držić, installed in 2008.
The other sights are within easy reach. On the south side of the harbour, round the corner from the Rector’s Palace, St John’s Fortress (Damjana Jude 2) houses both the Maritime Museum (020 323 904; open summer 9am-6pm Tue-Sun, winter 9am-4pm Tue-Sun; 70kn) and the Aquarium (020 323 978; open summer 9am-9pm daily, winter 9am-4pm Tue-Sun; 40kn). The former houses an attractive collection of ships’ models, paintings and photographs detailing Dubrovnik’s seafaring history; while the latter consists of a gloomy collection of tanks containing Adriatic sealife.
Walking round from the old harbour, along the rocks fringing the sea-lapped city walls, are spots used by bathers and divers. The most popular is by one of the Buža bars, its jagged stones planed flat for sunbathers. Metal steps cut into the rock to help you clamber back up.
In front of the clock tower, the baroque Church of St Blaise (open 8am-noon, 4-6pm daily), named after the protector of Dubrovnik through the centuries of trade, torment and tourism, was rebuilt after the 1667 earthquake. Inside, the altar, with a statue of the saint, is the main draw. The stained-glass windows are a modern addition.
On the other side of St Blaise, the adjoining squares of Gundulićeva poljana and Bunićeva poljana are busy day and night. Market stalls cover the pavement in the morning, entertainment for diners and coffee drinkers at nearby terraces; bars kick into gear after dark.
At the other end of Stradun, by the Pile Gate built in the 15th century, the main drawbridged entrance to the Old Town, stands Onofrio’s Great Fountain, less ornate than how it looked before the 1667 earthquake. Behind the Franciscan church nearby, the Franciscan monastery, embellished with beautiful cloisters, houses what is claimed to be the world’s oldest pharmacy and a museum of religious artefacts.
The best contemporary gallery is War Photo Limited, with changing exhibitions of of conflict photography from around the world, with one room devoted to the 1991-95 war in Croatia. Another modern attraction is the Visia Cinema just inside Pile Gate, which uses 3D films and hologram picture-shows to bring Dubrovnik’s history to life.
Once considered one of Europe’s most prestigious arts events but nowadays somewhat provincial, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival (Dubrovačke ljetne igre) offers a mixed bag of serious music and drama, with most shows taking place at atmospheric, open-air stages set up around the Old Town. The classical concerts in particular are well worth attending, although tickets should be booked well in advance, passing visitors may enjoy the street performances and processions which run for the length of the festival, from July 10 to late August.
Note also the Dubrovnik Card (www.dubrovnikcard.com; 130kn/1 day; 180kn/3 days; 220kn 1 week) that allows entrance to the city walls, seven museum and gallery attractions and free rides on public transport. Accompanied children under 12 are free.