Anybody visiting Dubrovnik should be sure to explore every nook of the city’s world-famous walls and old town. Since Game of Thrones showcased the city’s fabulous architecture visitors have flocked to Dubrovnik to see “King’s Landing”, “Qarth” and the gardens of the “Red Keep” in real life.
You can walk along the top of the city’s walls and climb the perimeter towers, or duck down the evocative streets of the old town to check out the churches, monasteries and curious monuments of the old town, each with a compelling story to tell.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Dubrovnik:
1. City Walls
Dubrovnik’s imperious walls are one of the things that qualified the city for UNESCO listing and if you watch Game of Thrones you’ll recognise several locations.
These white limestone defences go back to the 600s, but their current form dates to the 15th century when the fall of Constantinople was all the warning Dubrovnik’s officials needed that the Ottomans were on their way!
It will take an hour or so to make the full circuit along the battlements, stopping for supreme panoramas of the city backed by the Adriatic. Guided tours will give you extra snippets of info, but it’s also a good idea to set off early to beat the crowds.
2. Old Town
At times the twisting streets of Dubrovnik’s old town will feel like a movie set, and you’ll find you can work up a big appetite if you let your curiosity guide you down all the little alleyways here.
You can get your bearings on Placa, which is old Dubrovnik’s main street; a straight and broad limestone channel beneath grand old houses.
As you walk you’ll notice that nearly all of these buildings share the same floor plan, and that’s because of a citywide decree on building designs following an earthquake and fire in the 17th century.
On St. Blaise’s Day, the 3rd of February, there’s a procession along Placa in honour of Dubrovnik’s patron saint.
3. Cable car
Undoubtedly the best view of Dubrovnik can be had from the crest of Mount Srd, which looms 412 metres above the city a short way inland.
In 1969 they built a cable car serving the summit, operating until midnight during the peak summer months.
By day you’ll never forget the vistas of Dubrovnik’s towers and walls, the baked clay tiles of the city’s houses and the evergreen offshore island against the cobalt Adriatic. At night you can gaze out to the west to see the sun setting behind the city.
4. Dubrovnik Cathedral
The city’s cathedral is one of Dubrovnik’s large ensemble of baroque architecture. Among the many reasons to pay this seat of the diocese a visit is to see the interior’s artworks.
On the main altar there’s a triptych of the Ascension of Mary by the renaissance painter Titian from 1550. On the church’s side altars are several other impressive works by Croatian and Italian artists from the same era.
In the treasury is a wealth of precious liturgical items dating from the 1000s to the 1700s, including the gold-plated bones of St. Blaise.
5. Lovrijenac Fort
Guarding a tall spur 40 metres above the sea is one of Dubrovnik’s picture-book defensive installations.
Lovrijenac earned its place in the city’s folklore during the long period of tussles with the Venetians. The invaders had attempted to built an outpost here as part of their campaign to take the city, but the locals beat them to it, erecting this fortress in just three months at the start of the 11th century.
If you’re in town for the summertime Festival of Dubrovnik be sure to catch the performance of Hamlet that takes place at this majestic venue.
6. St. John Fortress
Part of the city walls, St John Fortress is on the southeastern side of the defences protecting Dubrovnik’s port.
For hundreds of years Dubrovnik was vulnerable to pirate raids, so they came up with a smart deterrent.
When the warning was sent out they’d lift a heavy metal chain that ran from this fortress to the Kase Jetty in the port to damage ships.
If you pop inside the tower you can visit a small aquarium on the first floor and then head upstairs to the browse the maritime museum.
7. Franciscan Monastery
This complex is from the 1300s,having been moved inside the city walls after an earlier monastery had been constructed and then decomissioned beyond them.
The famous 17th-century earthquake claimed the church, which was rebuilt in the baroque style, while the rest of the monastery is Romanesque and gothic.
One of the must-sees is the monastery’s pharmacy, dating to 1317 making it one of the oldest still-operating pharmacies in the world.
The library is also magnificent, with 20,000 books, among which are some 1200 priceless manuscripts.
8. Sponza Palace
This rectangular palace with a handsome loggia is from the early-1500s and has served as a secular public building since it was built.
The atrium within the building’s gate was a place of business for merchants and traders right up to the 20th century, and there’s even an inscription in the arch warning them not to rip each other off.
Sponza Palace was also one of the few renaissance buildings to survive the catastrophic earthquake in 1667 unscathed.
These days the palace serves as the city archives, holding some 100,000 documents that date from the 10th century.
9. Clock Tower
The most prominent landmark on Luza Square, Dubrovnik’s clock tower is 31 metres in height and was built in 1444.
There are two bronze figures “Baro” and “Maro” either side of the great bell at the top, both holding mallets and forming the mechanism that makes the church chime at noon every day.
After centuries of being exposed to the salty air of the Adriatic Baro and Maro had turned a strange shade of green, which gave the two men their famous nickname of Zelenci or “Green Men”.
10. Church of St. Blaise
An ornate baroque church, St. Blaise’s replaced a Romanesque building on this site that was lost to the earthquake.
The current structure was built by the Venetian architect Marino Gropelli at the start of the 1700s.
What makes the church such a landmark is its affiliation with St. Blaise, famed for helping stave off a surprise attack by Venetian forces in the 900s. St. Blaise had long been dead by then (killed by Diocletian in the 300s), but appeared to Dubrovnik cathedral’s priest in a dream to tell him about the impending invasion.
11. Orlando’s Column
At the eastern end of Placa, right in front of the Church of St. Blaise is this stone column and flagpole that dates to the 1400s, and is a meeting point at the heart of the old town .
The medieval knight depicted on the column is Orlando, who its claimed helped defend the Republic of Ragusa during a 15 month-long Saracen siege in the 800s, allowing Dubovnik to retain its status as a free trade city state.
Naturally, the column is now an emblem for Dubrovnik’s freedom and during the city’s festival the mast will fly the Libertas flag.
12. Lokrum Island
You can catch a ferry from the port to this island opposite Dubrovnik throughout the day. It will take ten minutes to get there and it’s a swift way to escape the crowds and take a breather.
The island is covered almost entirely with deep green pine forest that you can amble through via walking trails.
These walking routes also lead to the coast, where you’ll come across rocky coves with waters ideal for swimming and even families of peacocks brought to the island by Maximilian, the 19th-century Austrian Archduke.
The old monastery on the island is also a restaurant during the summer.
13. Trsteno Arboretum
This lovely park on a hillside next to the sea is from the 1400s, making it one of the region’s oldest arboretums.
Dubrovnik’s role as a centre of trade furnished the arboretum with tree species from around the world.
Take the imperious pair of oriental plane trees here, half a millennium old and unique within Europe.
The arboretum is part of an estate from the same period, and is a memorable place for a walk thanks to its sculptures and fountains, and the aqueduct designed to irrigate the park.
This was also the shooting location for the Red Keep gardens for (you guessed it!) Game of Thrones in the third and fourth seasons.
Few of the beaches on this sweep of the Adriatic are sandy; their attraction lies in the aquamarine waters that lap the shore and the pine forest or historic architecture that form the backdrop.
Lapad beach is one of more tourist-friendly places to unwind by the Adriatic sea.
There’s a pedestrian zone just behind the beach with bars and restaurants, while this gently arcing bay has a moderately wide beach with white pebbles.
Further around the bay you can also enter the sea for a swim from the rocks.
15. Sailing and Sea Kayaking
Lokrum island is just the tip of the iceberg, as a whole world of islands awaits you off the coast of Dubrovnik, starting with the pristine nature reserves of the Elaphite archipelago.
A bunch of charter agencies are located at the marina should you want to hire a motor boat for the day or weight anchor on a serious sailing trip.
For something closer you could take a sea kayak tour to see Dubrovnik’s walls and towers in a different way.
You don’t need to be an Olympian to take part, as the pace is slow and leisurely, with English speaking guides filling you in on the essentials.