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How to live like a Local in Dubrovnik

LP Local Vesna Celebic has been living in Dubrovnik for a few decades, but she only started truly appreciating its intricate history once she began guiding walking tours around the town and region. She loves the dramatic setting, proud locals, leafy nature and sparkly sea, and her favourite local tradition is lingering long over a coffee on a beautiful open-air piazza.

Dubrovnik's beautiful old town
Dubrovnik's beautiful old town © emicristea / Getty Images

When I have friends in town… I first check the Port of Dubrovnik website to see the cruise ship schedule (choosing a month from the tick list) and decide when the best (least busy) time to visit the old town is. Our outing will include at least one very long coffee and chat, likely at the quirky Art cafe close to Pile Gate or on Bunić square behind the cathedral, where prices drop as you turn the corner from the main street. Croats like to savour coffee over long chats, so if you don’t want to be spotted as a tourist, skip the to-go cups.

My favourite sight in Dubrovnik is the old town’s red roofs. Called ‘the fifth facade’, the uniform terracotta tiles are a sight to behold from the northern side of the city walls and their highest point, the Minčeta tower.

My best Dubrovnik experience ever… was when a good friend took me sailing for my 28th birthday. We saw Dubrovnik from the sea, then stopped at St Andrew’s island with its historic lighthouse, which isn’t accessible by public ferry. On the boat we feasted on cheeses, bread, olive oil, anchovies, capers, olives and red wine and took dips in the sea every time we got hot. Ever since, I’ve believed that if you truly want to get a taste of Dubrovnik, you should spend some time on a boat.

Sailing is a great way to see another side to Dubrovnik
Sailing is a great way to see another side to Dubrovnik © Zoom-Zoom / Getty Images

When I have a day off, I’ll escape to… the Elafiti island of Lopud, an hour by public boat from Gruž harbour. Its great combination of remarkable heritage, pristine nature and sandy beaches always does it for me. Perhaps I’m slightly biased, as I was involved in setting it up, but I like to chill at the Your Black Horizon pavilion, a contemporary art installation by Olafur Eliasson set minutes away from Lopud town waterfront.

My favourite place to shop for gifts... is Kawa near Ploče gate. Like a temple for devotees of contemporary Croatian artisanship, Kawa stocks everything from small-batch gin to accessories, clothing and decor. I’m also a fan of the fab tote bags in Craft & Stones, which capture unique local sentiments and moments. Mine is emblazoned with the Dalmatian word ‘fjaka’, which means ‘a state of mind in which a human aspires to nothing... considered a gift from God’.

When I take my six-year-old to the old town… we drop by the kids’ park below the Pile Gate Bridge on our way in or out. Sometimes we’ll visit a museum, usually the Natural History Museum or Aquarium, as they’re generally fun for kids and rarely busy. Alternatively, we’ll head straight to lunch at the open-air Buffet Kamenice, where he’ll chase pigeons around the square while I eat some oysters, waiting for our fried calamari and shrimp risotto to arrive. We power our walk home with some sumptuous gelato from Dolce Vita.

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Delicious oysters at Buffet Kamenice © Vesna Celebic / Lonely Planet

When my extended family get together… we most often go to Cavtat. Since it’s about 30 minutes driving from Dubrovnik (by car or bus), we head straight to Ključice beach on Rat peninsula. We spend the day between the beach and Rokotin restaurant, on an open-air terrace surrounded by pine woods directly below the Račić mausoleum. Their grilled seafood is delish.

My girlfriends and I love to… drink local wine. The south of Croatia is known for bold reds from Pelješac, and light whites from Korčula Island. While we enjoy trying out new labels, I have to admit to being somewhat of a devotee of the Miloš winery on the Pelješac peninsula and the Crvik winery in Konavle region. Our favourite place by far for wine encounters is the D’vino wine bar in Dubrovnik old town.

My old town hidden foodie treasure… is restaurant Zuzori. In a quiet street running parallel to the main drag Stradun, Zuzori serves up carefully sourced traditional ingredients with contemporary flair. I fell in love with this place at the first taste of their olive tapenade. Plus, the restaurant sits in the only street in the old town named after a woman – Cvijeta Zuzorić, a Renaissance poet.

Enjoying the views from the old town walls
Enjoying the views from the old town walls © Vesna Celebic / Lonely Planet

The most inspiring thing about Dubrovnik… is the immense intelligence which went into its making. If you take the cable car up Srđ hill, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the old town. As you look around, you’ll realise that Dubrovnik is quite isolated. There’s only rugged, barren karst between it and the next settlements. But through a series of intelligent and diplomatic decisions, the people here developed not just the stone-walled city, but the Dubrovnik Republic, which lasted for 450 years.

First published in August 2017