Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its medieval city walls, paved streets and old world charm are mesmerising. It deserves its reputation as one of the top medieval walled cities.
Dubrovnik has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979 and had been demilitarised in order to try protect it from exactly the sort of siege that it was later subjected to. It is certainly deserving of the World Heritage appellation.
Dubrovnik is small and if you are reasonably fit you can explore it comprehensively by foot in a couple of hours.
Old City Walls
Walk the city walls, if you have time and your ship lets its passengers off early. Why? In summer many may find it excessively hot later in the day. This is definitely worthwhile and a good opportunity for taking pictures. The city walls are massive and were built for protection, but today serve as a wonderful open-air-museum.
For us the chief attraction of Dubrovnik was being able to meander down the streets inside the old walled city. Unfortunately, on the day we were there this was counter-balanced by grim weather with intermittent rain, and the arrival of a thunderstorm. It was judged wisest to cut the walk short.
Out of necessity (we had colds caused by unhygienic shipmates sneezing on us) we visited the old pharmacy, founded in 1317. It is said to be the third-oldest continuously operated pharmacy in the world.
While we were in the queue at the pharmacy, an Italian woman pushed her way through the crowd to the counter. Her medical emergency was “pills for fat”. When we left a few minutes later she was sitting on the step outside, reading the packaging. On closer scrutiny we decided that she had bought badly. She really needed, since “pills for rudeness” are not available, “pills for ugly”. (When people in the queue protested about this, the pharmacist merely shrugged. Jumping the queue is regarded as acceptable behaviour in Croatia. It is not generally acceptable in polite Italian company – we stood in very orderly queues in Italy.)
What will you see in the walled city? The sights include the Franciscan Monastery in which the Old Pharmacy is housed. No photos may be taken within the pharmacy, but it’s worth going inside even if you are not purchasing anything. In addition to the beautiful ceiling is the interesting collection of old bottles lining the walls. Space however is cramped and you should be prepared for a squeeze.
The fortress-like Dominican Monastery, the Sponza and the Town Hall are also noteworthy, with most of the monuments and old buildings having an authentic medieval look to them.
Where to eat
There are a number of cheaper places to eat but we had a splendid lunch just outside the Pile Gate to the old city, at the Nautika restaurant. One could not hope for a better position. It has lovely views of the ocean and is somewhat sheltered from the wind by the walls. We were comfortable sitting outside on a fairly stormy day with the waves crashing against the rocks. It gave a dramatic backdrop to our lunch of Croatian style pizza and red wine. It is a pricey establishment and be sure to check the bill properly – as our waiter mysteriously lost his hitherto good English and looked at us blankly when it came to getting the correct change, even though we had tipped generously.
Arriving by Ship
If you are arriving by ship as we did, you will find that the cruise ships dock in Gruz, a harbour which is 2.5 km from the old city. The bus stopped at a scenic point along the route to the old city where you can take a great photo. Sadly it was also the artillery point used during the war when Dubrovnik was under siege for seven months in 1991.
The traffic into the city can be horrendous during the season. The drive down from the lookout point into the city foot took thirty minutes of stop-go traffic in the bus, enveloped in Diesel exhaust fumes, owing to the number of buses from the visiting cruise ships. It could have been walked in minutes.
When it came to getting a bus back to the ship there was a long queue of people encircling the entire square beside the Nautika restaurant. Locals in traditional costume plied their trade alongside the queue, selling local memorabilia.
Money and payments
The currency in Croatia is the Kuna. We had discovered that we could exchange Euros for Kuna in Venice, at the airport. Dubrovnik features on the back of the 50 Kuna note. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted, but one is generally advised against using them as the rate of fraud has reportedly been high. Prices are sometimes marked in Euros and sometimes in Kuna, so you need to keep careful track of that.
Two of our correspondents travelled to Dubrovnik off-season by land. Getting there by bus was more complicated and included military inspections at the border, which may not be to everyone’s taste.
There are a number of small hotels and bed and breakfast establishments that provide good value if you intend to stay over. The B&Bs tend to be more friendly than the hotels. The downside to off-season travel is that Dubrovnik is a city that is very much dependent on tourism. Many of the shops and restaurants are only open in season. But if you travel when the cruise ships are not visiting you will have the city pretty much to yourself, which is an altogether less pressured experience.