Rising high above the turquoise Adriatic, backed by the rugged heights of Mt Srđ, Dubrovnik lies within sturdy medieval walls, complete with crenelated towers. The former Republic of Ragusa (1358-1808), Dubrovnik is endowed with a fascinating and sophisticated past.
The glorious Unesco-listed old town and the stunning coastline, graced by fragrant pinewoods and lush Mediterranean shrubs, make Dubrovnik a perfect taster for Croatia, while its compact size makes it an ideal destination for a relaxing mini-break.
Resist the temptation of trying to pack too much into a weekend. Dalmatians cherish the wisdom of taking life slowly and relishing simple pleasures. Long lazy coffee breaks, a midday glass of wine with lunch, snoozing on the beach after a bracing swim, and dreamy sunsets are all part of soaking up the Dubrovnik lifestyle.
Friday morning: walk the City Walls (before the crowds arrive)
In addition to world-renowned architecture and its role as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik is a popular cruise-ship destination. Arriving in the old town early warrants you a better chance of enjoying the gleaming limestone streets without the crowds.
Beat the tour groups and begin your day with a full-circuit walk around the battlements of the city walls. This mighty fortification system has protected Dubrovnik from the outside world for centuries. Here, up on high, you have fantastic views over the old town and out to sea. Game of Thrones fans will recognize Fort Minčeta as the exterior of the House of the Undying and Fort Lawrence (rising proudly into the skyline, west of the city walls) as the Red Keep.
Afterward, take in the splendor of Stradun, the main street, then lose yourself in the grid of narrow stone alleyways. Don’t avoid the stairs – they lead up to the town’s most picturesque, residential areas. Photo opportunities abound – ornate church facades, masterfully crafted balconies, colorful strings of drying laundry, and cats snoozing next to potted pink geraniums. On the opposite side of the Stradun, be sure to look in the 15th-century Rector's Palace, complete with period furnishing, to see how local aristocrats once lived.
Friday afternoon: reach the peak of Mt Srđ, then head down to the beach
As the town gets busier, pick up a prosciutto and cheese sandwich in homemade bread from the longstanding Buffet Škola, then make your way to the cable car. After a four-minute ride, you'll arrive at the top of Srđ hill, where you'll lose a few degrees in temperature but win a stunner of a view. Stretch your legs and take in the whole town from a birds-eye perspective, before settling down for coffee at Panorama.
Spend the remainder of the afternoon swimming and sunbathing at Banje beach, just outside the city walls. You may opt to stay late, after most bathers leave, and have a sunset cocktail on the beach.
Friday evening: dine in style on almost-forgotten local specialties
After dark, have dinner at Kopun, on a peaceful square looking onto the Baroque St Ignatius of Loyola Church. Their specialty, highlighted in the name, is capon (castrated rooster) prepared to a 16th-century recipe, with dried fruits and bitter orange marmalade – as unique as the day you just had. Nightcap the evening with one of the 80 labels of Croatian wine on offer at D’vino wine bar.
Saturday morning: take a boat ride down the coast to Cavtat
Saturdays are notoriously busy in the old town, so hop on one of the boats from the nearby harbor to the charming seaside town of Cavtat. Take the stairs by St Nicholas' Church and explore the town’s sleepy stone alleys, with garden walls draped in purple wisteria and pink bougainvillea.
Climb up to the hilltop cemetery to see the 1920's Račić Family Mausoleum, designed by sculptor Ivan Meštrović, then discover the paintings of Vlaho Bukovac inside his former home, the Bukovac House. Afterward, continue along Prijeko Street for a swim at one of the rock-and-pebble beaches gracing the shores of Rat peninsula.
Saturday afternoon: coastal surprises and a monastic retreat
Refreshed, return to the town’s seaside promenade for beautifully prepared Mediterranean dishes at Bugenvila restaurant. Return to Dubrovnik by boat. On arrival at the old harbor, head down the Stradun to check out the Franciscan Monastery and the adjoining pharmacy, where you can purchase face creams made to centuries-old monastic recipes.
Saturday evening: a sophisticated night out amid Baroque splendor
Finish the day with a big night out on the town. Enjoy the best of traditional Dalmatian seafood specialties at Proto, widely considered the best fish restaurant in town. Work off dinner dancing the night away at Revelin, set inside the walls of a 16th-century fort.
Sunday morning: coffee with locals, Dubrovnik-style
When in Dubrovnik, do as the locals do and take it easy on Sunday. In the morning, snatch one of the front row seats at Gradska kavana and, sipping your coffee slowly, admire the intricate facade of the Sponza Palace while hordes of dressed-up locals make their way to Sunday mass at the Cathedral.
Swap breakfast for a traditional local dessert, torta od skorupa, a cake of cream and almonds once prepared only by nuns on special occasions. Try to forget the persistent hourly chimes of the nearby clock tower and simply savor the moment, a sentiment locally known as fjaka.
Sunday afternoon: explore an enchanted islet
After coffee, grab a quick bite at Barba, perhaps prawns or an octopus burger, and head to the old town harbor to take the little shuttle-boat to the neighboring island of Lokrum. No matter how packed the boat might be, Lokrum is never crowded, as between its pine-shaded beaches, botanical gardens and meditative olive groves, there’s a quiet spot for all.
The only place to expect queues is in the Benedictine Monastery, where Game of Thrones fans line up to take a free photo sitting in a replica of the Iron Throne. Hike to the hilltop Napoleonic fortress for amazing views of the old town, circle the island along a string of scenic paths, or swim in the lake known as the Dead Sea. On returning to the town, call at concept store KAWA, just outside Ploče Gate, to buy Croatian designer gifts to bring home.