Croatia's best known and most glamorous destination, Dubrovnik is an absolute gem. The Unesco-listed old town, protected by magnificent medieval fortifications, is a huddle of paved piazzas, cobbled alleys and noble stone buildings, taking you back through the centuries. Beyond the walls, pebble beaches backed by fragrant pinewoods give onto the turquoise Adriatic.
If you're on a tight schedule, we'll show you how to make the most of the time available. Besides exploring the museums, galleries, churches and monasteries of the old town, you'll be able to swim and sunbathe, shop for original gifts to bring home, and maybe even fit in a trip to a nearby island (or two). Here is how to make the most of Dubrovnik on a two-, three-, or four-day visit.
Day one, morning: walk Dubrovnik’s magnificent city walls
Dedicate your first day to exploring Dubrovnik old town – bring sun cream and swimwear. Begin with a full-circuit walk around the battlements of the City Walls, which have protected Dubrovnik against attack, from land and sea, since the 13th century. Afterwards, head to the Rector's Palace to learn more about how Dubrovnik was governed when it was the tiny but rich and progressive independent republic of Ragusa (1358–1808). For lunch, it's hard to beat informal Buffet Škola, a time-honored sandwich bar, filling slabs of freshly-baked bread with local cheese and pršut (prosciutto).
Day one, afternoon: explore Dubrovnik’s old town then head for the beach
The majority of Croats identify as Roman Catholic (86% in 2011). Take a look in the Baroque cathedral (you can locate it from afar by its green copper cupola), and be sure to see the extraordinary treasury, displaying golden reliquaries. Nearby, visit the Franciscan Monastery with its lovely cloister garden and buy natural face cream, still made by the monks, at the adjoining pharmacy. Then take a rest from cultural sightseeing, and head to Banje beach to swim and sunbathe.
Day one, evening: dine Dalmatian-style
For dinner, reserve a table at old-fashioned Proto and feast on fresh Adriatic fish accompanied by a bottle of Dalmatian wine. Close the evening with a drink below the stars, high on the rocks above the sea, at Bard Mala Buža.
Day two, morning: discover Dubrovnik’s relationship with the sea
This morning sees you back in the old town. You're probably wondering where Dubrovnik's historic wealth came from – the answer lies in the Maritime Museum. Here, an exhibition of model ships and seafaring equipment highlights the importance of ship building and merchant shipping through the centuries. At her peak, tiny Dubrovnik (then Ragusa) had a fleet of over a hundred ships and consulates in dozens of countries, so vast was her international reach. Afterwards, in the same building but on the lower level, experience the underwater world of the Adriatic at the Aquarium. For lunch, try delicious homemade octopus burgers at Barba.
Day two, afternoon: escape to a mysterious island
Catch a shuttle boat from the old harbor to the tiny uninhabited islet of Lokrum. Laced by pinewoods, it reveals a tumbledown monastery, a botanical garden with peacocks, and a hilltop fort – you can happily explore its winding pathways and swim from its rocky shores for a couple of hours. (Alternatively, you might book a guided sea-kayaking tour and paddle to Lokrum). On return to the old harbor, head for the cable car for a ride to the peak of Mt Srđ. If this is your final day in Dubrovnik, it’s the perfect spot for a photo session, with spectacular views down onto Dubrovnik, Lokrum and the sparkling Adriatic. You might also call at KAWA, just outside Ploče Gate, to buy amusing Croatian designer gifts to take home.
Day two, evening: taste top-notch contemporary Croatian cuisine
Before dinner, see the permanent exhibition, focusing on Dubrovnik in the 1990s, at War Photo Ltd, a gallery dedicated to photojournalism from war zones. Dine on Michelin-starred contemporary Mediterranean cuisine at Restaurant 360. Afterwards, check out Revelin for cocktails and dance music.
Day three, morning: sail down the coast to cultured Cavtat
As you'll have seen most of Dubrovnik's top attractions by now, it's time to venture down the coast to the ancient seaside town of Cavtat. In summer, regular shuttle boats run between Dubrovnik and Cavtat, departing from the old harbor – the boat ride lasts about one hour and is a pleasure in itself. Once disembarked, explore Cavtat's lovely old town, a cluster of stone houses built on a small peninsular – see the Bukovac House, birthplace of painter Vlaho Bukovac (1855–1922), and the elegant 1920's Secessionist Račić Family Mausoleum by Ivan Meštrović, in the cemetery.
Day three, afternoon: learn more about Croatian modern art
Have lunch at Bugenvila overlooking the bay on Cavtat's palm-lined seafront promenade, then catch the shuttle boat back to Dubrovnik. On arrival at the old harbor, inspired by what you saw in Cavtat, head for the Museum of Modern Art, just outside Ploče Gate, to learn more about 20th-century Croatian artists.
Day three, evening: sample esteemed oysters from Ston
You probably ate well in Cavtat, so tonight make it a light but very special supper. Reserve at table at Bota Šare Oyster & Sushi Bar. Afterwards, if you're still up for more, have a late-night drink at Fratello's Prosecco Bar.
Day four, morning: experience life and design in ex-Yugoslavia
If you're lucky enough to have a fourth day in Dubrovnik, you'll have time to visit Lopud, one of the tiny Elafiti islets. First, collect your carefully packed picnic lunch from Piknik Dubrovnik (order one day in advance) then head to Dubrovnik's Gruž port. Before catching the ferry, visit the fascinating Red History Museum to learn more about how people lived when Croatia was part of Socialist Yugoslavia (1945–1991). Then jump on a Jadrolinija ferry to car-free Lopud, and enjoy the one-hour boat ride.
Day four, afternoon: swim and sunbathe on a lush car-free island
Arriving on Lopud, follow the palm-shaded seafront promenade around the bay, then make a 20-minute hike across the islet to Šunj, one of Croatia's rare sandy beaches, to sunbathe, swim and snooze. It's a blissful spot and you might well lose track of time, so be careful not to miss your return ferry. Before leaving Lopud, take a look in Your Black Horizon, a contemporary art installation in a small pavilion in a garden above the seafront. On return to Gruž port, sample craft ale at the Dubrovnik Beer Company .
Day four, evening: feast on Dalmatian fusion cuisine
Tonight’s dinner will be a little different. Head to the old town and take a table at Azur, a superb eatery serving unique fusion dishes – Dalmatian ingredients prepared with an Asian twist (Dalmasian, if you like). Round off your final evening sampling some of Dalmatia's top wines at D'Vino (guided wine tasting flights available).