Dubrovnik has been Croatia’s number-one tourist destination for over 75 years, and for good reason: Dubrovnik is a great destination for the budget traveler. It is also one of the only European cities whose medieval city walls have remained completely intact, giving it a magical atmosphere, as though Puff the Magic Dragon might pop his head over the crenellated walls at any time during your stay. If you’re visiting in June, July, or August, you’ll have to push through a throng of fellow tourists. To beat the crowds, visit in late April-May, or keep your fingers crossed and visit in late September.
I visited Dubrovnik two months ago as part of the Ravenous Traveler travelogue, with a focus on finding the most important Dubrovnik sights. This self-guided tour will cost you just $21 and includes all of the must-see sights. Let’s begin our self-guided tour of Dubrovnik by walking through Dubrovnik’s famous Gate of Pila.
The Gate of Pila is one of only three entrances to the city. Look up and you’ll see a statue of St. Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik, holding the city in his hand. Placa is Dubrovnik’s main street, where you’ll find shops selling the famous rosolio (a rose-infused liqueur), red coral jewelry, plavac mali wine, and candied orange peel. Look for the “Authentically Croatian” sticker in shop windows to make sure you’re supporting local businesses–and to avoid buying Chinese-made knock-offs. Take a moment to imagine what the city looked like when Placa was a seawater canal that separated the wealthy from the poor.
When you first hit Placa, you’ll see one of the world’s toughest churches to your left. Earthquakes have shaped the city’s appearance, and locals believe that they strike once every 300 years (the last one was around 100 years ago, so no worries). The Church of St. Saviour (Crkva svetog Spasa) is the only building in this area of Dubrovnik that survived the devastating earthquake that flatted the city in the 16th century. It is locally known as the Church of the Earthquake, and it protects the city. Take a close look and you’ll see where shrapnel scarred the church’s façade during the Serbo-Croatian War.
At the end of Placa you’ll see the bell tower, the Orlando Column, and St. Blaise Church (Crkva sv. Vlaha). The bell tower features two bronze statues that strike the bell on the hour. The Orlando Column, which features a statue of the knight Roland, has a gruesome history. Guilty criminals of the lower class were quartered when convicted, and their four parts were hung on the column for all to see. If a noble was found guilty, he or she simply lost his or her head. After admiring this atrocious column, enter St. Blaise Church (free entrance) to see awesome stained-glass work of local artist Ivo Dulcic.
Now follow Pred Dvorom street until you see the Rector’s Palace on the left. This isn’t a religious institution, but the seat of the former government. Dubrovnik was known as the Republic of Ragusa until the 19th century, and it was one of the most successful democratic states in history. The rector, or head of the government, was changed every 30 days, and this palace was where he lived. In fact, to prevent corruption, he was not allowed to leave at all during those 30 days. You simply cannot fully appreciate the history of Dubrovnik without visiting the Rector’s Palace, where the cunning tricks of the city’s leaders are still shared. Inside, you’ll find everything from local artworks (including the original bronze sculptures from the animated bell tower) to antique furniture, jewelry, and musical instruments. Don’t miss the doorway just off the inner courtyard that leads to the prison. When you leave, continue our self-guided tour of Dubrovnk along Pred Dvorom street to the Cathedral-Treasury (Katedrala-riznica).
The Cathedral-Treasury – 10 kuna ($1.50)
To have any idea of the wealth of Ragusa, you’ll have to visit this cathedral, which houses a gold-packed treasury. The treasury is located to the left of the altar, where admission is charged. It’s crammed with gold relics featuring different parts of saints, from ribs to hands to skulls. I’d always wondered why relics feature one small bone rather than the entire body of a saint. Saints were first martyred and buried outside of Rome, and it wasn’t until the barbarians leveled Rome that the bodies were retrieved and buried within the city. A church was built over and dedicated to each saint. Later, when more people wanted to have saint-blessed churches, these bodies were broken into pieces and sent around the world. That’s why you’ll see one finger bone in an immaculately crafted silver and gold arm. The Cathedral-Treasury also displays a piece of the original cross, as well as a painting on the head of a wine barrel that is believed to be a Raphael.
Take a quick stroll along Resticeva street. This part of Dubrovnik also withstood the 16th-century earthquake, and it is home to some of the oldest and most traditional architecture in Dubrovnik. When looking at the Venetian baroque architecture, imagine what the city must have looked like, entirely built in this style.
The City Walls – 70 kuna ($12.50)
I always like to save the best for last. This is the most important site in Dubrovnik. The views never stop: from the sheer drops into the sea to the rooftops and cathedral spires. Hiking the walls provides a new perspective not only of Dubrovnik, but also of the surrounding coastline. Over a mile long, the walls take roughly one and a half hours to hike. There are plenty of places to stop, including a couple cafes, if you want to extend your visit. One of my favorite parts is climbing the tower-like Fort Minceta.
If You Have Time
If you have time, I also recommend visiting the Franciscan Monastery-Museum (Franjevacki samostan-muzej), which has a columned courtyard where none of the column’s capitals are the same. The Pharmacy Museum, also located inside, is one of the oldest pharmacies in history. This might not seem so cool, but you’ll thank institutions like this the next time you need to go to the doctor. It even had a drive-thru window (OK, walk-thru). Check out the old vases used to hold medicines and the huge mortar and pestles used to make them. Impressive antique jewelry, relics, and gold leaf-encrusted icons are also on display.
The cable car that climbs the hill behind Dubrovnik lets you see the harsh highlands of the interior and provides an excellent view of the city. For me, it provides a similar experience to walking the city walls. If you’re feeling adventuresome and want to save money, just buy a one-way ticket up, then hike down on the well-marked trail. It takes about 30 minutes. 80 kuna ($14) adult roundtrip, 50 kuna ($9) one way.
F0r just $21 dollars you can take a self- guided tour of Dubrovnik and see all the must-see sights; quite a deal, I’d say.
Written by and photos by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com