Hollywood’s most creative designers would struggle to build a set as perfect as Dubrovnik. In fact, this magnificent medieval walled city (proclaimed a UNESCO world heritage site) has been used as a location for filming HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and Neil Jordan’s “The Borgias.”
Yugoslav National Army shells poured down on Dubrovnik during the 1991–92 sieges. But, thanks to extensive restoration, today the walled city is remarkably whole and is as lustrous as it was five centuries ago, when Dubrovnik was a major sea power bustling with prosperous merchants and dripping with Renaissance grandeur.
Dubrovnik (née Ragusa) began as a Roman settlement. From the Middle Ages on it was a prize sought by Venice, Hungary, Turkey, and others who recognized the city’s logistical value as a maritime port. But Libertas (Liberty), the city's motto, has always been uppermost in the minds of Dubrovnik’s citizens, and through the ages their thirst for independence repeatedly trumped other nations’ plans for domination.
In 1667, another kind of assault leveled Dubrovnik when an earthquake destroyed almost everything except a few palaces and church buildings in the Old Town. The city was quickly rebuilt in the Baroque style of the time. Croatia’s War for Independence destroyed the tourism industry throughout the country, but Dubrovnik was especially hard hit. Not only was the city physically scarred, it was also economically crushed. Happily, crowds are once again flocking to this charming city nestled between the Adriatic and the Dinaric Alps, and Dubrovnik has regained its status as a vacation destination par excellence. In fact, it is as much loved by international celebrities as it is by student backpackers—recent visitors have included Beyoncé, Tom Cruise, Tina Turner, and John Malkovich (whose paternal grandparents were from Croatia).
Inside protective walls, from Easter through fall the pedestrian-only Old Town is bustling with an international crowd. Here you will find almost all the area’s sights worth seeing—historic churches and public buildings; designer shops and homey restaurants; medieval sculptures and modern galleries; fountains and bell towers; monasteries and gardens; and the ancient city wall itself.
However, as property prices within the Old Town have soared, the majority of locals have sold out and now live in modern apartment blocks in the suburbs. Sadly, this wave of depopulation means that Dubrovnik is almost empty in winter, and risks becoming little more than a life- size museum dedicated to its former glory.
West of the Old Town walls, the district of Lapad (a peninsula close to Gružport) is packed with hotels and restaurants, all focused on the hordes of tourists clamoring to bask in the city’s Mediterranean magic and revel in its citizens’ devotion to Libertas.