Things to Do in Dubrovnik
A cluster of 14 islands along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, the Elafiti Islands (Elaphites) are one of the country’s most popular destinations and a popular day trip from nearby Dubrovnik. The archipelago’s largest three islets—Kolocep, Lopud, and Sipan—are the focal point of island-hopping tours.
Located at the southern tip of Croatia, perched above the rocky coastline of the Adriatic Sea, the enchanting city of Dubrovnik attracts visitors with its medieval architecture and labyrinth of limestone-paved streets. Its Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remains surrounded by 14th-century fortified stone walls.
Dubrovnik’s distinctive orange cable cars speed 2,500 feet (778 meters) in about three minutes, from the lower station just north of the city walls to the top of Mount Srđ. During the ride, you can enjoy peerless views of Dubrovnik’s terracotta rooftops, the coastline of Dalmatia, and archipelagos sprinkled across the Adriatic Sea.
With their imposing watchtowers looming over the medieval city and dramatic fortifications edging the sea cliffs, Dubrovnik’s ancient city walls are an impressive sight and deserving of their star-attraction status. Dating back to the 10th century, the remarkably preserved walls—among the finest in the world—mark out the perimeter of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and offer magnificent views over all corners of the city.
Just 600 meters (1 kilometer) from Dubrovnik, the car-free island of Lokrum makes a peaceful escape from the city. At its center is a medieval Benedictine monastery complex that’s surrounded by botanical gardens planted with exotic trees, flowers, and bushes. Picturesque swimming spots abound on the island’s rocky shoreline.
Overlooking the Adriatic Sea from a cliff-top perch, the St. Lawrence Fortress (Fort Lovrijenac) is a Dubrovnik icon. Thought to be around 1,000 years old, the 121-foot (37-meter) fortress was used to defend the city for centuries. Today, the fort is better-known for its theatrical shows, coastal views, and starring role in HBO’sGame of Thrones.
Constructed in 1537, this sturdy gate on the west wall of Dubrovnik’s Old Town was once locked nightly—and the wooden drawbridge leading to it was raised—to prevent intruders from gaining access to the city. More recently, the gate served as a filming location for Game of Thrones, as the site where King Joffrey was unceremoniously pelted with cow dung.
Travelers looking to explore untouched Croatia while getting a true taste of the Adriatic Sea will find all they’re looking for at Elaphite Islands. This cluster of coastal escapes stretches from Dubrovnik to Peljesac and boasts thick foliage and unspoiled natural wonders that have become difficult to find on the mainland.
Just three of these favorite getaways—Lopud, Sipan or Kolocep—are accessible to visitors, but their diversity means there’s still something for everyone in the Elaphite Islands. Kolocep, the smallest of the three, is surrounded by brilliant blue waters and proves a remarkable respite for tired travelers. Sunj beach has made Lopud the most visited of the three, but those in the know say despite its popularity, Lopud is still perfect for a quiet escape. Sipan, the largest of the three islands, offers travelers the most to do, including tours of some of the stately aristocratic manors of the Dubrovnik Republic.
Revered for its endless beaches, idyllic coves, scenic valleys, fine wines, and seafood, Croatia’s Pelješac Peninsula juts out of the center of southern Dalmatia. Without the tourist-oriented resorts and the crowds of other coastal Dalmatian destinations, the Pelješac Peninsula is the perfect spot for a relaxing holiday.
One of the foremost landmarks of Dubrovnik’s atmospheric Old Town, the Dubrovnik Bell Tower stands at the eastern end of Stradun, the main thoroughfare, and looms over Luza Square. The 31-m (102-ft) stone tower is topped with a stumpy dome and flanked by some of Dubrovnik’s most spectacular architecture, including the lovely Sponza Palace, St. Blaise Church and Orlando’s Column. Constructed in 1444, the tower was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1667 and began to lean alarmingly; by the 18th century it had fallen into disrepair and it was not until the late 1920s that repair work began and the tower acquired its present shape and clock, the face of which resembles an octopus and also portrays the phases of the moon. Consequently, very little of the original tower has survived to the present day except the two-tonne bronze bell, which was cast by master metalworker Ivan Krstitelj Rabljanin from nearby Rab Island. The bell is bracketed by two bronze figures – now tinged green with age – known locally as the*‘zelenci’* or the ‘green ones’ and who strike the bell on the hour every hour – their much-restored originals are now on display in the Rector’s Palace along with the original clock mechanism.
More Things to Do in Dubrovnik
Stretching from Old Town’s western entrance at the Pile Gate to the harbor in the east, the Stradun (or Placa) was once a shallow sea channel that divided the small island on which Dubrovnik was built from the Republic of Ragusa on the mainland. In the 12th century, the Stradun was filled to create the main street in Dubrovnik’s Old Town.
Dubrovnik’s 15-century, Gothic-Renaissance–style Rector's Palace (Knezev Dvor) contains the rector’s office and private chambers as well as public halls, courtrooms, and a former dungeon. Interestingly, the rector’s term was for only one month, during which time he was confined to the palace and allowed to leave only on official republic business.
Mljet Island is Croatia’s most lush, forested island in the Adriatic Sea. The western cape contains Mljet National Park, where pine forests and spectacular saltwater lakes offer incredible natural scenery. On the nearby tiny island of St. Mary, not far from the southern shore of Veliko Jezero, there is a Benedictine monastery and St. Mary’s church.
Named after the patron saint and protector of Dubrovnik, the Church of St. Blaise (Crkva Sv. Vlaha) is one of the most beautiful—and locally beloved—buildings in Old Town. Venetian architect Marino Gropelli built the present-day baroque-style church in 1715, after the original was significantly damaged in the massive earthquake of 1667.
The Franciscan Church and Monastery is one of the few buildings in Dubrovnik that survived the devastating earthquake of 1667. Bordered by late-Romanesque arcades, the monastery’s inner courtyard provides a quiet reprieve from Dubrovnik’s bustling Old Town. The monastery houses a small religious museum as well as one of Europe’s oldest working pharmacies.
Built by nobles in the late 15th century, this verdant arboretum is one of Dubrovnik’s top tourist attractions. In addition to plants sourced from the four corners of the globe, the garden also has a 50-foot-long (15 meter) aqueduct used for irrigation purposes, a baroque Neptune fountain, and a pavilion overlooking the Adriatic.
Built in the early 16th century as the Republic of Ragusa customs house, Dubrovnik’s Sponza Palace (Palaca Sponza) was one of the few buildings not leveled by the devastating 1667 earthquake. It’s architecturally stunning, with a Renaissance portico, late-Gothic windows, inner courtyards, and an alcove containing a statue of St. Blaise, the city’s patron saint.
Built into the eastern flank of Dubrovnik’s fortified walls adjacent to Fort Revelin, the 14th-century Dominican Monastery is designed in a combination of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance architecture that is seen in several of the city’s palaces and churches.
The monastery’s church was rebuilt several times over the centuries and was used as an army depot during Napoleon’s occupation of Dubrovnik in the late 18th century; today its single nave features a massive painted Gothic cross by Paolo Veneziano, dating from around 1384,St Dominic by 19th century painter Vlaho Bukovac — widely regarded as Croatia’s finest artist — and sparkling contemporary stained glass in the apse.
The elaborate 15th-century Gothic cloister of the monastery surrounds a shady garden that was used as stabling for French army horses and their troughs can still be seen between the cloister’s pillars. The well in the garden provided water for Dubrovnik’s residents when the city was under siege in 1991. An important collection of religious art hangs in the museum, including Titian’s sublime Mary Magdalene; other paintings of note are Nikola Božidarević’s altarpieces and triptych plus Lovro Dobričević’s bloodthirsty St Peter the Martyr, which portrays the saint with a hatchet in his head. The monastery can be visited when touring Dubrovnik’s defence walls and is included on several museum tours of the city.
Standing on Luza Square among some of Dubrovnik’s most impressive architecture, including St Blaise Church and the lovely Sponza Palace with its appealing mixture of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, Orlando's Column (Orlandov Stup) was erected in 1418 at what remains the political and social heart of the city. Here public meetings and executions were held on the small stone platform guarded by wrought-iron railings that tops the column. The stone carvings adorning the four sides of the column were created by master craftsman Antun Dubrovcanin and represent the heroic knight Orlando, who was the nephew of Frankish Emperor Charlemagne; according to legend he was credited with saving Dubrovnik from Saracen pirates in the eighth century and here he is depicted surrounded by figures of minstrels and balladeers. As well as the length of Orlando’s arm becoming a common measurement in the city, the column has come to represent the freedom of Dubrovnik and the white flag of the Republic always flies above it on public occasions, including the opening of the annual Dubrovnik Summer Festival in July.
Originally built in the 12th century, Dubrovnik Cathedral was destroyed in the 1667 earthquake that struck the city and rebuilt in the baroque style by Italian architects. The cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and its treasury contains gold and other artifacts dating to medieval times.
Housed in a wing of the battle-scarred Napoleonic Fort Imperial, this museum—also known as the Homeland War Museum—honors the soldiers and civilians killed in the Croatian War of Independence and siege of Dubrovnik in the early 1990s. Its location atop Mount Srđ affords dramatic views of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea.
Begun in 1461 under the direction of Florentine architect Michelozzo, Fort Bokar (Tvrđava Bokar) was built to defend Pile Gate from assaults by land or sea. Along with the Old Town’s other forts, the cylindrical structure has become an iconic symbol of Dubrovnik, which keen-eyed travelers may recognize from HBO’sGame of Thrones.
Begun in the 14th century and completed in the 1500s, St. John’s Fortress (Tvrđava sv. Ivana) defended Dubrovnik’s Old Port from seaborne assaults for hundreds of years. Today, the fortified tower is known for its Adriatic views and Ragusan history, and is home to the city’s aquarium and maritime museum.
Constructed in the 15th century by architect Onofrio della Cava, the circular Onofrio’s Fountain in Dubrovnik’s Old Town was designed as the end point of the city's 7-mile (12-kilometer) aqueduct system. Today, it serves as a landmark and resting place in the city center. Nearby is a smaller fountain designed by the same architect.
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