This European gem mixes old-world charm with dramatic coastal scenery, says Kieran Meeke
The ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ will probably be instantly familiar to anyone who has seen HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones. Dramatic medieval walls glowing golden in the Adriatic sun, red-tiled roofs and ancient stone buildings have helped make Dubrovnik a readymade film set. As a result, tourism numbers hit a record two million in 2015. US visitors are the second biggest group of arrivals after those from the UK.
But the city’s real story is perhaps even more interesting than its starring fictional role. With a 700-year history as an independent republic, trading as far afield as Africa and Asia, Dubrovnik’s origins date back to the 9th century. This is a city open to the world, with a beautiful Mediterranean backdrop, striking Baroque architecture, welcoming people and rich Italian-influenced cuisine.
Much of the Old Town dates to the 13th century and has been preserved within the embrace of its high medieval walls. The two main gates are linked by a wide avenue, off which shady side streets tempt the traveler to explore. The reward might be a quirky shop, cozy tavern, romantic restaurant — or a film crew working hard to capture the magic.
A restaurant that’s almost worth it for the terrace view of the old harbor alone, Gusta Me also offers great meals from breakfast to dinner. With a mix of local and international cuisine, and a fine wine list to match, there’s a strong emphasis on seafood, but steak-lovers and vegetarians will also find plenty to enjoy on the menu. Friday and Sunday nights between July and November also see live music acts. gustame-dubrovnik.com
Specializing in Mediterranean cuisine, Levanat has a lovely seaside setting on the Lapad Peninsula to match. The view of the bay may be at its best at sunset, but the restaurant is open from 8am to midnight every day. Seafood is a specialty, with a strong local flavor to the dishes, such as Dalmatian fisherman’s stew or beefsteak with spinach noodles. The wine list is also a worthy introduction to local varieties. restaurant-levanat.com/en
Friendly staff more than make up for any shortcomings in this tavern-pizzeria overlooking Dubrovnik Harbor. Its good, hearty food at fair prices makes it a popular choice, so service can be slow at peak times. But it’s worth the wait for the house specialty of roast lamb slow-cooked over charcoal (two-hour pre-order). The rooftop terrace is particularly popular for the view, although sweaters are recommended for the cooler evenings. konoba-blidinje.com
The Pucic Palace, Old Town
This 300-year-old palace on the Old Town’s main Gundulic Square pampers guests with 20 rooms named after Croatian writers and artists. High-tech meshes with antiques and valuable art in a luxurious setting that could not be more central — it’s also one of only two hotels inside the city walls. Only the upper rooms enjoy a sea view, but the hotel’s private beach is only a few minutes away. thepucicpalace.com
Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik
This historic hotel dating to the 1890s is only a few minutes from the 16th-century Pile Gate in the city walls. It’s a setting that gives some respite from the crowds that beseige Dubrovnik during the day. The newly renovated rooms have all-modern luxuries, and many have sea views. The spa has a cozy gym, small indoor pool, hot tub and sauna. hilton.com
The 50 contemporary rooms and six suites, each with private terrace and sea views, set the tone for this luxurious five-star hideaway. Built into a cliff, with its own spa and private beach, it’s only a 15-minute walk from Ploce Gate — or a complimentary bus
and boat offer other travel options. The rooftop restaurant and bar is a perfect spot for enjoying sunset views of the Adriatic Sea. villa-dubrovnik.hr
The white limestone paving of Dubrovnik’s pedestrianized main street, stretching 300 yards from Pile Gate in the west to Ploce Gate at the eastern end, has been worn smooth by 600 years of visitors. If the stones could speak, they’d no doubt tell vivid stories of war and peace, merchants and travelers. Add your footsteps to the history as you explore a bewildering choice of shops, cafés and restaurants.
The must-see city walls of UNESCO-listed Dubrovnik date mostly to the 14th and 15th centuries in their present form, with some parts much older and others as ‘new’ as the 17th century. The 80ft-high walls run for more than a mile, so they can be walked in just two hours, but it’s worth taking your time to take in the rooftop views and the history — not to mention allowing for the heat of a Croatian day. Less able visitors can enter at Ploce Gate.
Dubrovnik Cable Car
A modern, disabled-access cable car removes the need to climb up 1,350ft Mount Srd to the best viewpoint in Dubrovnik. The winding path is perhaps best tackled going down, after the swift three-minute ride up. At the top, the city’s pretty red rooftops and historic architecture form a perfect contrast to the blue waters stretching away to the horizon. An evening meal at the summit restaurant is unforgettably atmospheric. dubrovnikcablecar.com