Dubrovnik sprawls well beyond its city walls, to Ploče in the east and the Lapad and Babin Kuk peninsulas in the west, but just about everything worth seeing is within the walled Old Town.
Beat the Heat
When Dubrovnik’s temperature is above 80°F (27°C)—the average temperature here May through September—tackle the wall when it opens at 8am or wait until after 5pm. During midday visits, besides being atop a high roof, you’ll also be standing on an unshaded stone path that absorbs the sun’s heat from dawn to dusk, “cooking” you from both above and below. At the very least, wear a hat and take a large bottle of water if you venture out on the wall in the heart of the day.
When you leave St. Saviour Church for the Franciscan Monastery next door, keep your eyes downcast and you’ll see a 12 × 12-inch stone with a carved face and flat, smooth top protruding about 6 inches above the street. You’ll also see a crowd watching people attempting to stand on the stone for a few seconds. Legend says that guys who can stay on “The Mask” long enough to remove their shirts will have good luck. (Girls also try this, but are entitled to the luck without removing their tops.)
Who Is St. Blaise?
According to legend, St. Blaise once saved a child from choking on a fishbone. For this reason, Roman Catholics everywhere know the Armenian physician and martyr as the patron of people with throat problems. However, the people of Dubrovnik revere St. Blaise (Sv. Vlaho) as the hero who saved their city from a sneak attack by Venetian galleys in the 10th century. When the Venetians dropped anchor off Lokrum, supposedly to pick up fresh water, the fleet actually was surveying the city in preparation for an attack. St. Blaise (who was put to death by the Roman emperor Diocletian in 316 b.c.) appeared to the city cathedral’s priest in a dream, wearing a long beard with a miter and staff. He told the priest about the nefarious plot, thus thwarting the attack. Ever since, St. Blaise has been immortalized in sculpture, art, and other media as the city’s protector and its biggest hero. To show their appreciation, the citizens of Dubrovnik go all out to honor St. Blaise on his feast day, which the city celebrates with food and festivities every February 3. Reliquaries purportedly containing several of the saint’s body parts are carried through the streets in a parade and people line up to have their throats blessed by local priests.
Jungle by the Sea
Escape the city crowds and blazing sun and take shelter in the lush oasis that is Trsteno (tel. 020/751-019), a 28-hectare (70-acre), 15th-century villa and garden estate overlooking the sea. Situated 13km (7 miles) northwest of Dubrovnik, Trsteno was once a center of gentility and culture in Dubrovnik. Today it is much more. Besides being a showcase for its Renaissance structures, fountains, and aqueduct, Trsteno serves as a shelter for a wide array of exotic plants, many brought to Ragusa centuries ago by traders from faraway ports. Don’t miss the statue of Neptune, which overlooks a goldfish pond and fountain deep in the gardens. Trsteno is open May to October daily 7am to 7pm and November to April daily 8am to 4pm; admission 40kn. You can reach Trsteno by bus (numbers 12, 15, 22, and 35) from Dubrovnik—just be sure to tell the driver in advance that you want to get off here so he doesn’t drive straight past.
Croatians loosely define beaches as any place the sea meets the land. While some beaches may have names, most are little more than rocks used as platforms for jumping into the water. The coast is considered public property in Croatia, and all beaches must be accessible, free of charge, to anyone and everyone. Nonetheless, several of the hotels east of the port have staked out access routes to sections of the seafront for their guests, making it hard for others to get there.
Dubrovnik’s main public beach, Banje, lies immediately east of the Old Town walls, close to Ploče Gate. It is managed by the EastWest Beach Club (www.ew-dubrovnik.com), which besides running a fancy-schmancy bar-restaurant, hires out the sunbeds and baldachini (four-posters with wafting chiffon curtains) that line the golden sand (which, incidentally, is imported). Of course, if you use the facilities you must pay for the privilege; if you forego the sunbed, you can lay out your towel on the sand for free. After dark, EastWest turns into a nightclub, with cocktails, DJs, and a fantastic view of the floodlit city walls across the water.
On Lapad, the main beach is a curving arc of fine pebbles, sitting in the shelter of Lapad Bay (www.lapad-beach.com). The beach is lined with sunbeds and umbrellas for hire, and backed by a restaurant and two cafés. It does get busy in peak season, due to the number of big hotels in the area, but the sea is clean and the sunset views are magnificent.
On the west side of Lapad, Babin Kuk’s Copacabana Beach is a pebble and concrete bathing area with a view of the graceful Dubrovnik bridge and the Elafiti Islands. It has facilities for kids, sports enthusiasts, and swimmers with disabilities. Here you can ride a jet ski, get whipped around on a banana-boat ride, or go parasailing. There are also sea slides for kids. A lift on the concrete part of the beach gives seniors and people with disabilities easy access to the water. There’s also a beach bar and restaurant.
Alternatively, you can catch a boat to the tiny island of Lokrum (www.lokrum.hr), which sits close to the Old Town. The island is served by water taxis from the old harbor, running every 30 minutes daily in summer from 9am to 6pm. The journey takes about 15 minutes and costs 70kn round trip. Once on the island, you have your choice of relaxing and swimming, either in the sea or the small saltwater lake, or exploring the woods and the vestiges of an 11th-century Benedictine monastery. In 1859, Lokrum was purchased by Hapsburg Archduke Maximillian Ferdinand and his wife, Charlotte, as a vacation home. However, Maximillian didn’t have much chance to enjoy his island escape: He was dispatched to Mexico to be its emperor three years after acquiring the property and never returned to Dubrovnik—he was assassinated in Mexico in 1867. Luckily, the grounds he had started cultivating are now preserved as a botanical garden, replete with peacocks. There’s a small seasonal restaurant and café on Lokrum. Alternatively, you can bring your own picnic.
Sometimes the temptation to jump into the deep blue sea around Dubrovnik is just too strong to resist. Get the most out of your plunge with a professional diving school like Blue Planet. Rent equipment or use your own for scuba or open-water dives that last from 2 hrs. to 6 days. No experience? Blue Planet is a certified instruction center and can teach you what you need to know.
In the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel, Masarykov Put 20. www.blueplanet-diving.com. tel. 091/899-09-73. Introductory dive (half-day) 495kn; “Discover Scuba” diving (half-day) 720kn; prices include equipment. May–Oct daily 9am–7pm; by appointment the rest of the year.
To explore the coastline in the best way possible (directly from the water), try sea kayaking.
Adriatic Kayak Tours arranges half-day trips (approximately 4 hrs. and 30 minutes) around Zaton Bay (northwest of Dubrovnik), departing at either 9am or 3pm. Full-day tours explore around the cliffs and sea caves of Koločep (one of the Elafiti Islands), involving a 15-kilometer (9-mile) paddle, departing at 9am. The tour company also hires out equipment to experienced kayakers.
Zrinkso Frankopanska 6. www.adriatickayaktours.com. tel. 020/312-770. Half-day sea kayaking tour 280kn; full-day sea kayaking tour 400kn.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.