Dubrovnik: Croatia’s Iconic Medieval City

Dubrovnik is one of the most popular tourist destinations, not only in Croatia, but the entire Europe. For good reason too: a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with countless hidden gems and surprises, many consider Dubrovnik to be a paradise on Earth. For those visiting Dubrovnik this article will help point new-comers in the right direction.

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Denis Danicic

16. August 2018

Dubrovnik, the tourism capital of Croatia, offers an infinite amount of adventures to be had and wonders to be explored. Dubrovnik is beloved by tourists and locals alike. For those visiting Dubrovnik for the first time, the city and all of its attractions can seem overwhelming, this article will help point newbies in the right direction, and maybe even provide veterans with some new ideas.

The major highlights

The most famous Dubrovnik attraction, and one of the most famous in Croatia, is the Walls of Dubrovnik. Built to protect the old republic from a wide variety of threats, these defenses are still in pristine condition today. The walls are incredibly popular, receiving over 1.2 million visitors in 2017 alone, additionally they have been a popular shooting location for many famous shows and movies, most notably the Game of Thrones.

Dubrovnik's beach with the old town in the background. A glimpse of the city walls of Dubrovnik. Unsplash/John Weinhardt. 

The walls run 1.2 miles around the city being as wide as 16–20 ft. at any given location. The walls also contain a network of towers and turrets which were designed to fend off any potential invaders. The walls are considered to be among the greatest defense systems in the Middle Ages, as not once has an attacking force breached their structure. While the walls were a great way to defend a city back in the middle ages, today they are a fantastic place for an afternoon walk. The Walls are a must see, not just for visitors to Dubrovnik, but to anyone visiting Croatia.

Following a walk on the legendary Dubrovnik Walls, you should take a slight step forward in the history books and visit the Sponza Palace. Built in the 16th century, the palace is notable for its fusion of Gothic and Renaissance architectural influences.  Built in 1522, the palace eventually became the cultural center of the Old Republic of Ragusa when it began to house a literary academy. Interestingly enough, the building was one of the few structures to survive the notorious 1667 earthquake, which leveled most of the city. Today the palace serves as Dubrovnik’s city archive, with its earliest document dating back to 1022. The palace has many interesting facts and historical secrets that will surely satiate any mind seeking historical enlightenment.

Wandering around

Dubrovnik is beautifully situated on the Croatian coast. Therefore, it’s simple and easy to hit a local beach, after wandering around the town. Dubrovnik has a large number of beaches, some populated by tourists while others are more secluded, private, and off the beaten path. The most touristy beach in Dubrovnik, Banje Beach, offers a beautiful view and it’s close to the city’s old town. However, it’s often crowded with tourists and therefore I have a better suggestion.

People sunbathe on the beach while others tip their toes in the water. The gorgeous Saint Jakov's Beach. Photo: LibreShot. 

One mile (1.2 kilometers) east of Dubrovnik’s old town you will find Saint Jakov’s beach, named after the church located right by the water. This spot is popular with locals and largely off the tourist radar. As such, it is significantly less populated than most other beaches in and around Dubrovnik. In addition to being significantly less crowded, St. Jakov Beach offers one of the most beautiful views of Dubrovnik’s old town, as well as a restaurant and café for those looking to eat or get their midday caffeine/beer fix.

While Dubrovnik is well known for its beaches, it is more recognizable for its historical significance and architectural beauty.  After enjoying a pleasant afternoon swim on the beach, there are many historical buildings and structures to explore. One of my personal favorites, and most important buildings in Dubrovnik in terms of historical significance, is the Rector’s Palace.

Majestic columns of Rector's Palace. Rector's Palace. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. 

Built sometime in the early Middle Ages, the old building burned down in 1435. Following the fire, it was decided to renovate and rebuild the structure and use it as the seat of the Rector of the Republic of Ragusa, what today would be considered the Republic’s Head of Government and State. The building was also used to house a prison, other city-state administrative bodies, an armory, and the city watch. This building, which is of mixed architectural style, served many important purposes in the functioning of the Republic of Ragusa, and is thus probably one of the most historically significant buildings in the entire town. Since the late 1800s, it has been operated and administered by The History Department of the Museum of Dubrovnik.

Places to eat

When it comes to eating in Dubrovnik, you have many exciting alternatives. Dubrovnik has a strong gastronomical heritage: being a port town since the Middle Ages, and being one of the world’s most diplomatically active Republics, Dubrovnik developed a diverse and mixed cuisine. The best place to experience this diversity is Above 5 Rooftop Restaurant. While the food selection is exceptional and of the highest quality, the restaurant also offers a splendid view. Above 5 Rooftop Restaurant, is actually the only restaurant in all of Dubrovnik that is located on a rooftop, resulting in view superior to any other restaurants in the city. There really is something magical about enjoying classic Dubrovnik-style fine dining while being able to take in views of the entire city, the coast, and the distant islands.

A board of charcuterie and cheeses at an outside table for two. Appetizer at the Above 5 Rooftop Bar. Photo: Above5@Facebook. 

Since moving to Croatia two years ago, one of the things I have missed the most is proper sushi, a very rare find in the country. However I have managed to discover two sushi places that have really met my expectations of quality, and even blown my mind. One of these restaurants is located in Dubrovnik, Oyster and Sushi Bar Bota. As the name suggests this place serves both Oysters and Sushi. By only offering quality ingredients prepared in various ways, Oyster and Sushi Bar Bota pleases even the most hardcore sushi fans. It’s always a huge pleasure to run across hidden gems for foodies, such as this one: eating here is absolutely mandatory for all sushi fans.

Places to grab coffee and relax

Exploring Dubrovnik can be quite tiring and therefore, you will find yourself in the need to take a quick coffee break to recuperate and get your bearings straight. Luckily, Dubrovnik has some of the coolest and most unique cafés in all of Croatia. Like in every Croatian city the amount of cafés is virtually endless, and one can be found almost every few meters.

However there are two cafés in the entirety of Dubrovnik that stand out, each for their own unique reasons. The former one is Pupica Café. Pupica Café is special because it is a good place to get sweets in addition to your afternoon or morning coffee. And these aren’t just run-of-the-mill side biscuits to dip in your coffee, but exquisite muffins, donuts, cakes, and other assorted delights. If your sweet tooth isn’t bothering you that much, then there is always Café Bar More. In my opinion, it is the most unique, and aesthetically pleasing café in all of Croatia. It is built into a natural cavern system right under Hotel More, which makes the experience simply indescribable.

Going out for a drink

Dubrovnik, while being more known for its historical and cultural attractions, has also in recent years began to have a more prominent nightlife. One of the best places to enjoy a good drink in Dubrovnik is Beer Factory Dubrovnik. Not only does the beer factory offer a great craft selection from both local Croatian producers and international breweries, but it also has great and affordable food. Because of this mix of craft beer and munchies, this is the ideal place to start a solid night out.

Wooden tables and benches in a courtyard. Nice setting at the Beer Factory Dubrovnik. Photo: Beer Factory@Facebook. 

While I would typically end the drinks section of my city guide with a nightclub recommendation, I highly advise against clubbing in Dubrovnik. The city simply isn’t for that kind of crowd, and while the scene has began to become more developed, the few clubs that do operate in the area have prices bordering on extortion.

Nonetheless there, are many great substitutes to clubbing in Dubrovnik, namely the pubs. Dionysus Wine Bar/Pub Dubrovnik is one of my favorite locales in the city. The staff is incredibly friendly towards tourists, and even for Dubrovnik the prices are reasonable. Additionally the location is in the center of the Old Town, so it is perfect for those wanting to stay close to the city. Also the drink selection is wide and varied, and has a little bit of something for everyone.

To sum up

Dubrovnik is one of Croatia’s most historically important cities, additionally it is arguably the most beautiful. This UNESCO World Heritage Site holds many wonders to marvel at, and it offers a variety of excursions and adventures. From the old city, to clear beaches, and to fine dining – everyone that visits Dubrovnik is sure to leave with a smile on their face.