As a student, I did what many students do in summertime. I bought a 28-day inter-rail ticket and I travelled around Europe, bouncing from city to city until finally ending up in Dubrovnik. Back in 2004, Dubrovnik was just beginning to take off as a destination for UK and Irish holidaymakers. It was less than 10 years since the end of the Croatian War of Independence, when the country separated from former Yugoslavia, and while some after-effects of the conflict were still visible, it was already well on its way to becoming the in-demand location it is today. With a fourfold increase in tourist numbers since the end of the war in 1995, it’s no wonder Dubrovnik has seen some major changes in the intervening years.
As part of a familiarisation trip with Travel Department, I recently revisited this incredible city and saw first-hand how it has been shaped and changed over the past twelve years.
1. The Old & New Towns
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and Croatia’s primary tourist attraction, the old walled city of Dubrovnik was swiftly restored after the end of the war, with the majority of the repairs taking place between 1995 and 1999. As such, when I first visited Dubrovnik in 2004, I was blown away by the beauty of the old town with its beautiful harbour, limestone paved streets, steep-stepped alleyways and red tiled roofs.
In the New Town, however, the signs of recent turmoil were still quite visible. Of course, its breathtaking hillside setting, with its panoramic views out onto the Adriatic Sea and towards the Elaphite Islands, were as remarkable as ever. And yet the streets and buildings of the New Town, while charming, felt a little crumbled around the edges. Now, however, there’s a very different story, with a swathe of trendy new bars and restaurants popping up all around the city, such as the buzzing row of café bars along Ulica Iva Vojnovića, where people spill out onto terraces enjoying local food and wine. The dock area too, where boats take tourists out to visit the islands on a daily basis, has seen a new lease of life. The best thing? There’s still some excellent value to be found beyond the Old Town Walls.
2. Dubrovnik Cable Car
The Dubrovnik cable car brings visitors from just outside the old town to the top of Srd Hill, the mountain that overlooks the city, from which you can see striking views of the old town, surrounding countryside, the sea and the islands. The original cable car was bombed during the conflicts and was closed to the public in 1991. As a visitor in 2004, I was regrettably completely unaware of the cable car’s existence. Having been restored and reopened in 2010, today it is one of the top tourist attractions in the city. The “Panorama” restaurant at the top is the perfect spot to stop for a coffee, glass of local wine or light meal and take in the wonderful atmosphere and breathtaking views.
3. Beach Bars
Beach bars have been a regular fixture in Dubrovnik for years, but with the increase in tourism more and more are popping up along the city’s coastline. At the height of the summer, the beach bars around the city can undoubtedly offer some of the best nightlife in Europe, offering scenic spots where you can stay out until the early morning and sit and watch the sun rise over the sea. However, they can also offer a calm and soothing chill out space, particularly in the off-season or during the day. One such bar is the Coral Beach Club, located just a few minutes’ walk downhill from the Valamar Dubrovnik Resort where Travel Department groups stay on our Discover Dubrovnik holiday. Offering a vast menu of cocktails, beers and bar snacks, it’s almost too easy to zone out in their comfy chairs while watching the boats sailing between the islands.
4. A Fantasy City
Over the last number of years, Dubrovnik has become an in-demand location for film & TV shoots. The near perfection of the shiny white streets, steep narrow alleyways, and impressive clock tower give it an otherworldly quality that makes it the perfect setting for the latest addition to the Star Wars franchise, as well as HBO’s Game of Thrones, on which it appears as the capital city of King’s Landing. The city’s businesses are taking advantage of this publicity, too, with themed walking tours as well as souvenirs and memorabilia available in many shops throughout the city.
5. Day Trips to Montenegro
While the number of tourists visiting Croatia has shot up over the past decade, surrounding countries like Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina are also climbing in popularity. Day trips to Montenegro are now the number 1 most popular excursion from Dubrovnik, along with boat trips out to the Elaphite Islands. On my recent visit, we drove from Dubrovnik across the Montenegrin border and out along the coast to the beautiful Bay of Kotor. Stopping at the small village of Perast, we took a short boat ride to the manmade island of Our Lady Of The Rocks out in the bay. On the island is a catholic church, where you can see a selection of art donated as gifts of thanks to Our Lady of the Rocks and dating from the 15th century all the way to the present day. Our next stop was the town of Kotor itself, a walled city and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in a secluded part of the bay and overlooked by towering limestone cliffs, the city’s setting is spectacular in and of itself, with its location making it a popular stop for cruise ships. The walled town is one of the best preserved medieval old towns in the Adriatic and a great place to spend an afternoon admiring the historic buildings, shopping for souvenirs or enjoying a coffee in one of the city’s charming cafes or restaurants.
Enjoy this excursion as part of our Discover Dubrovnik 7 night holiday.