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Dubrovnik’s 13th-century city walls and Baroque architecture have been so stunningly preserved that there’s almost a fairytale quality to visiting this Croatian city. The narrow lanes, limestone walls, and terracotta roofs of its compact, car-free Old Town are straight from the pages of a medieval fantasy, clustered with ancient churches, cathedrals, and monasteries, not to mention the busy thoroughfare of the Stradun and Gundulićeva Poljana’s lively market square.
The jewel-like waters of the Adriatic meet the many beaches, both rocky and sandy, that skirt the coastline of the Lapad Peninsula, and the warm Mediterranean climate fills its green spaces with richly scented flora and luscious fruit trees. There’s plenty of that produce — from oranges and lemons to pomegranates, peaches, and figs — to be enjoyed in the excellent local restaurants and bars. Meanwhile the offshore delights of Lokrum and the Elaphiti Islands boast pine forests and botanical gardens. Sea kayaking to and around them has become a popular activity here.
Dubrovnik Airport is around 12 miles south of the city. The frequent bus service from the airport to the Old Town takes roughly 30 minutes, or you can hail a taxi. Renting a car to see the city isn’t the best idea, since the Old Town is a pedestrian-only zone, and even outside it, parking is often scarce. Local buses operate an excellent public transport network that covers the entire city and runs into the early hours; taxis are easily available, while rideshares operate seasonally. There are also ferries to the islands, as well as boat services that allow you to hop along the coastline.
It’s on sunny days, when the light glints off the limestone buildings and blue-green waters, that Dubrovnik really sparkles. Thankfully, Dubrovnik enjoys plenty of sunshine all year. But spring and summer are the warmest seasons, when the forests, gardens, and orchards are at their most spectacular. It’s also when the streets and ports are at their busiest. From July 10 to August 25, the city gives itself over to the cultural extravaganza of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, which mingles opera, dance, and theatre. There are plenty of sights, activities, and events to keep you busy throughout the autumn and winter (including February’s traditional Feast of St Blaise), but be aware that many seasonal businesses close from November to March.
There are plenty of great beaches to discover in Dubrovnik. Banje, the city beach, gets high marks for convenience; Babin Kuk offers luxury; and the Lapad Peninsula is covered in hidden coves and bays. But Sveti Jakov has always been the locals’ favourite; it’s a 20-minute walk to the outskirts of town, but worth it for the peace, quiet, and beautiful sunsets.
This complex in the heart of Old Town offers an unexpected retreat from the busy city life outside. Hidden behind its stone walls is a 14th-century cloister and one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe, which has been operating for 700 years — don’t be put off by the slightly alarming historical medical implements on display.
There are 14 islands making up the archipelago of the Elaphiti Islands. Koločep, the largest, is just a 25-minute ferry ride from the harbour. Its square mile is almost entirely given over to forest and vineyards. With a number of beaches and two charming villages, it’s a delightful change of pace from the mainland.