Being one of the Balkan’s most stunning tourist destinations, it’s hard to believe that Dubrovnik was at the centre of a heated conflict between the newly independent nation of Croatia, and Serbian forces that wished to drag it back into its fold.
The war resolved itself in favor of Croatia in the end though, and the scars of that unfortunate episode in its history have largely been patched over to create a gobsmackingly beautiful city filled with stunning palaces, churches and other structures that makes its status as a city over 1,200 years old eminently believable. Indeed, any tour through the Balkans needs to include this essential city, as it has been at core of events in the region for countless generations.
Begin your visit by simply walking the streets of the Old Town of Dubrovnik in an aimless fashion. Innumerable sandstone buildings with red slate roofs can be found within its walls, and while there are highlights that you should try to see if time permits, the greatest amount of joy can be derived from simply soaking in its atmosphere.
Drop in on Sponza and Rector’s Palace, both of which contain museums relating to the history of Dubrovnik, and be sure to stroll along the Placa Stradun in the evenings, as it has long been a major social hub for city residents and visitors for hundreds of years.
Dubrovnik’s massive walls have played a major role in its defense for countless generations, but it is Fort Lovrijenac that was its first line of defense ever since the 11th century. Overhearing plans that the Venetians planned to construct a fort on a rocky promontory overlooking the city’s sea and land entrances, effectively keeping the residents of this city state under their thumb.
In three months, the citizens of Dubrovnik were able to build their own fort on the site, enabling them to turn back the Venetians with swords and bows drawn upon their return. While it serves as a theatre in addition to its historical value, a Latin inscrtiption above the main gate (Non Bene Pro Toto Libertas Venditur Auro – Freedom is not to be sold for all the treasures in the world) best telegraphs the determination of the proud citizenry of this beautiful Croatian city.
While it might not be obvious in 2015, more than 20 years ago, Dubrovnik was embroiled in a battle to retain its freedom from oppression once more, as it was home to one of the key sieges in a civil war with Serbia and local Serb militias after Croatia declared independence from the decaying Communist era nation of Yugoslavia.
The Museum of Croatian War of Independence tells the story of this conflict, with plenty of exhibits that paint a very different picture of life in a city that is one of Eastern Europe’s top tourist hotspots. Damaged walls, leftover weapons and munitions, photographs and more bear witness to the desperate first days of a nation that had to scratch and claw its way to peace and prosperity in the face of opposition that wanted to keep it under their thumbs.
After checking out all the gorgeous building and historical attractions that lie within the centre of Old Dubrovnik, walk along the Ancient City Walls of Dubrovnik that have enveloped and protected it for over 1,200 years.
Started upon its founding in the 8th century and built up and out as the city grew, the current build was finished in the 17th century; these fortifications are noted for being one of the few defenses in the medieval world that were never penetrated by enemy forces over its lifespan. Be sure to visit during the early morning or later in the afternoon during peak season, as the intensity of the Balkan sun make a walk during the peak of the day a very uncomfortable affair.
Croatia is well known for the picturesque islands that lie off its scenic coast, making Dubrovnik a perfect jumping off point to begin a tour of them. If you only have time for a day trip from the city, travel out to Lokrum Island, as it once was the summer home of Mexican emperor Maxmilian.
In addition to the natural beauty along its beaches (note that one of them is a nude beach), Lokrum offers a castle, lush botanical gardens, and a Benedictine monastery, which is more than enough for an action-packed day trip on just one of the many amazing isles that Croatia has to offer.
Finally, those looking for the perfect panoramic view of the area need only ride the Dubrovnik Cable Car to the top of Srd Hill. In addition to the photo ops, exhibits on the civil war that just ended 20 years ago can be found here, and a restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine allows to to pair the view with some top quality Croatian eats.