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A Rough Guide to Croatia : 10 Things to do in Dubrovnik Old Town.
As a virtual tourist welcome to this list of interesting places to visit and things to do in Dubrovnik Old Town. The city has expanded since ancient days and there is a lot more to do and see.
But this article concentrates purely on the historic part of this popular Croatian resort. It is a fascinating town which also has UNESCO status as an international heritage site.
If you do visit Dubrovik it is worth knowing that you can purchase a tourist pass which allows you free entry into several attractions, free local bus travel and discounts in selected restaurants and stores.
1. Walk the City Walls
To take a walk along the top of the historic walls of Dubrovnik is the perfect introduction to the old city. On one side you can admire the architecture of the buildings and watch the daily life of the locals. On the other you can marvel at the cool, clear waters of the Adriatic Sea with its many islands near and far.
The length of the walls are around two kilometres which is a long stroll in the heat. So it's best to take your promenade in the morning or early evening. There are also quite a few steps to climb. But along the way there are several cafes, bars and shops to offer refreshments and shade and to take the weight off your wallet.
For all your hard labour, walking on the walls, you get to pay for the privilege as there is an entrance fee. Therefore it was a disappointment to discover that there wasn't any information boards along the route outlining the history and describing events that took place at certain points. If you want more detail then there are audio-guides available but you have to pay for them too.
2. Ride the Cable Car up Srdj Hill
If you don't want to walk the walls then you can take in the whole city in an instant from a birds-eye view. The cable car station is just 100 yards or so outside the eastern wall. It will take you up Srdj Hill in a couple of minutes.
From there you can gaze down on the terracotta rooftops of old Dubrovnik and enjoy a panoramic view of the Adriatic Coast. You will also see into the vast hinterland of mountains and valleys. Immediately behind the hill are miles of mostly uninhabited land.
On top of Srdj is an old Napoleonic fort built by the French in 1806. It now houses a museum dedicated to the terrible events of the early 1990s when the fort was an important defensive outpost in wartime. This was the time when Dubrovnik was attacked by the Serbs and Montenegrins of the Yugoslav Federal Army.
On a happier note there is also a restaurant and a souvenir shop next to the upper station of the cable car so you can spend lots of time up there. Of course the evening is recommended as you can enjoy watching the sunset.
3. Visit the Museums
Dubrovnik has several excellent museums and other historical attractions. As well as offering insight into the background of the town they also offer a cool respite from the hot summer afternoons. Here are some examples.
As you might expect for a coastal town there is a Maritime Museum and an Aquarium. The former gives a detailed account of the city's relationship with the sea and includes portraits, artefacts and model ships. The latter has the flora and fauna of the Adriatic contained in over 30 tanks within which fresh sea water flows.
The Rector's Palace is a museum dedicated to the cultural history of the city. It has period furniture, portraits of important figures in Dubrovnik's past and a large coin collection. There is also the Sponza Palace which contains the important city archives,
The Natural History Museum was founded on the private taxidermy collection of a 19th century ship-owner Antun Drobac. As well as stuffed creatures, exhibits include palanquins and also photography of marine life.
4. The Cathedral and the Churches
The original cathedral was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1667. It was quickly replaced and the new cathedral was completed by 1713. Begun by Italian architect Paolo Andreotti it was completed by a local craftsman called Ilija Katicic.
The cathedral, with it's large dome, is considered to be one of the most beautiful Baroque churches in Dalmatia.
On the western side is the old Franciscan Monastery which has a novel challenge on its walls. Try to stand on the projecting stone without touching the walls. The dark hue of the surrounding stone suggests that many have failed.
There is also the Jesuit Church of St Ignatius built around the turn of the 18th century based on the work of Italian architect Andrea Pozza. Other attractions are the Dominican Monastery, the Church of the Saviour, St Blaise Church and the Convent of St Claire.
5. Visit Lokrum Island
There are several pleasure cruises leaving from the harbour of the Old Town. They will take you further afield to islands and mainland resorts along the coast
But one of them is the short boat ride to Lokrum Island which lies just a few hundred yards off the town. In only 15 minutes you can escape the bustling streets and lanes of Dubrovnik and spend some tranquil hours as a castaway.
At the small harbour on the island you will be greeted by some of the dozens of peacocks that wander around freely. Perhaps you will also be met by the sound of a classical guitar played live in the afternoons at the Lacroma Bar.
Elsewhere around this charming island you can enjoy an open-air Botanical Garden, the ruins of a Monastery, the tree-lined 'Path of Paradise' and another smaller French fort above the trees on top of the hill, If it gets too hot there is a shady olive grove behind the Lacroma where you can relax.
In the harbour in late afternoon the sun falls behind the vegetation and you can swim in the shade. Otherwise you can explore around the shore and find a space among the rocks and coves where you can sunbathe and swim.
6. Spend Time at the Beach
As the Old Town is surrounded by rocks there is not very much beach space. The nearest facility is the East/West Beach just a couple of minutes walk from the eastern entrance of the walls.
It's a popular, sandy beach with an excellent bar offering food and drink in spacious, relaxing surroundings. Parasols are available for hire. Unfortunately there are also plenty of cigarette butts littering the otherwise clean sand.
For the adventurous there are also watersports and paragliding available at the beach-side. On the other side of the town outside the western entrance you can also hire kayaks and take to the sea.
The quayside at the harbour is also popular and provides shade in the early evening as the sun falls behind the huge city walls. Locals come here to fish too. If you want to worship the sun then simply follow it around the walls. Lay your beach towel on a flat piece of rock and work on that tan.
7. Take a shopping trip
As you might expect, the popularity of the Old Town of Dubrovnik has meant it has become commercialised. After over 40 years of Communism it seems the Croats are making up for lost time.
Thankfully however on the Stradum, the marvelous main street of the town, the shops are not permitted to display their wares outside the premises. Therefore all the assorted paraphernalia of your typical bucket shop are all contained within.
There are some fascinating craft shops and antique stores, but all too few. In the morning, however, there is a market on Gundulic Square. There you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, handmade lace, gold and silver jewellery and handcrafted wooden souvenirs.
For the afficiandos of fashion and style there is also higher class shopping available with designer labels at reasonable prices.
8. Eating out in the cafes and restaurants
The competition among the Dubrovnik eateries seems fierce in attracting diners. Perhaps a consequence of economic recession or just too many establishments. If you are like me and enjoy a couple of minutes to peruse the display menu on the street then binoculars are recommended.
For as soon as you approach the notice-board a member of staff is sure to pounce and persuade you that they are the best in town.
But overall the food in Dubrovnik is excellent from the simple Konoba to the more upmarket splendour of restaurants such as the famous Nautika. Many of the restaurants are in busy lanes so there will be plenty of pedestrian traffic passing through.
But if you look around there are charming spots in cul-de-sacs or terraces above the crowds. Seafood is a speciality around the town but to accompany the meal house wines are the best option as price is no marker of taste and quality.
9. Bars and Nightclubs
Dubrovnik Old Town has a variety of bars and clubs to cater for young and old. There are actually three Irish-themed bars squeezed into the Old Town. They are Katie O'Connors, Karaka and The Gaffe.
There is also a small Rock bar called the Exit Caffe which plays mostly Classic Rock. Incidentally, there is also the Bikers Caffe about a kilometre east of the town which caters for motorbikers and Rock fans.
Around the narrow lanes you can drink in some authentic bars steeped in history and where you may find local fishermen meeting for a beer and conversation.
In the evening the best place to be is the Buža bar where you can literally have one on the rocks. It is just outside the north side of the wall and you can sit with a drink while you enjoy the sunset.
At night young people will queue to enter the Revelin discotheque which is near the eastern gate. This is a nice play on English words but is actually named after the old fort on the west side.
10. Visit the Cat Sanctuary
Hidden away in the north-east corner you will come across a little cat sanctuary. It is under the shade of the walls below the Maritime Musuem.
If you are an animal lover you can drop in as it is an open and informal place where several cats chill out in the shade amongst the attractive plant-filled surroundings. The incongruous sight of a model guillotine notwithstanding.
The stray cats of Dubrovnik feed well in the summertime as, with so many restaurants around, they are never short of food. When you are out dining you may feel the gentle brush of passing fur as they prowl around under the tables.
Since most of the restaurants close for the winter the sanctuary is hopefully an important refuge outside of the tourist season.
This is just a small sample of what is on offer in the Old Town of Dubrovnik.
There are many things to see and do all crammed into the small space within the fortified walls. And don't forget that there is much more that you can do along the coast and on the islands.
Dubrovnik acts as an excellent base and day trips are available to the likes of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina and also Montenegro. Hopefully this has given you a quick insight into what you can enjoy in this 'Pearl of the Adriatic'.