20 great things to do in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is a one-town tourist industry on its own, with endless things to do all year round. As stunning as the clear blue sea around it, the former centre of the independent Republic of Ragusa invites superlatives and attracts the lion's share of Croatia's visitors. Read on for our insider's guide to the best things to do in Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik art gallery guide
Dubrovnik is not all about luxury hotels and destination restaurants. Step inside our Dubrovnik art gallery guide to discover where to catch some of Croatia's best modern and contemporary art, and coolest exhibition programmes.
Dubrovnik shopping guide
The Dubrovnik shopping arena is, thankfully, starting to be less dominated by the overpriced tourist shops that once dominated the city, and a few key stores are holding out against these tacky souvenir shops that line the main street of Stradun. Time Out discovers the best places to go shopping in Dubrovnik, from designer boutiques to open-air markets.
The best Dubrovnik bars
By day, Dubrovnik and its overcrowded Old Town seem the perfect place for sandal-wearing coffee-sippers. But by night, Dubrovnik bars spring to life, with a number of atmospheric spots serving up anything from fine Dalmatian wines to fancy cocktails. Dip in to our essential drinking guide.
Recommended Dubrovnik hotels
It's hard to keep track of the ever-rising number of high-end Dubrovnik hotels, but the city also packs some impressive hostel and B&B options. As is common in Dalmatia, high-season prices are significantly higher than in spring or autumn, and some venues close at some point in the winter – though this policy is changing as Dubrovnik becomes a more year-round destination. Read on for your guide to the best hotels in Dubrovnik.
The best restaurants in Dubrovnik
This superbly located newbie sits by the entrance of Buža II, and quickly went to number one on TripAdvisor in its very first season. Here you can tuck into a reasonably priced, Med-and-Asian-influenced main here – fragrant meatballs in a chicken-coconut broth, perhaps, or Adriatic prawn pouches on grilled aubergine in a red-curry-and-coconut sauce – before an afternoon's sunbathing or nightcap overlooking the waves. Starters include mussels in beer butter and chili, and Dalmatian tom yum soup.
Headed up by Jeffrey Vella, former chef at Zagreb's Hotel Esplanade, 360 degrees offers both a top-drawer setting in the Sveti Luka bastion, and top-drawer cuisine the melds the best of contemporary Mediterranean cuisine with Croatian tradition. Meticulously sourced food is painstakingly created and immaculately presented, with stand-out mains including sea bass with confit of artichokes and asparagus, steamed turbot with apricot puree, rabbit and pigeon. It also boasts what is quite possibly Croatia's longest (and most expensive) wine list, including a whole page of champagnes. The terrace bar has the best cocktails in town. They don't take reservations (unless you are a VIP) and treat customers on a first-come-first-seated basis. If you can, beg for a booth in the gun chambers close to the sea.
Rumoured to be entering its last season at the current, Pile-Gate location, Dubrovnik’s most prestigious culinary spot offers two panoramic terraces of starched white-tablecloth formality. To get full value for your holiday blow-out, book sea-view tables Nos.30-38 on the Penatur terrace or Nos.56, 57 or 64 on Lovrijenac. Chef Mario Bunda insists on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients – shellfish feature in dishes from the Elafiti isles such as Lopud brodet with polenta and Šipan fisherman’s carpaccio, or there are lobster medallions from Vis. Diners can also opt between three kinds of menu.
For traditional food, served with finesse, and with a reasonable price tag, Dalmatino takes some beating. It's located in an old house that has been renovated to show the original stonework at its exposed best. The menu is as straightforwardly Dalmatian as the name of the restaurant, featuring plenty of local fish and fowl, although a lot of creativity has gone into the details – grilled fish might be served with a colour-coordinated array of Mediterranean vegetables instead of the usual blitva. A lot of effort goes into the desserts – for some, it's the Dalmatino cheesecake that deserves the superlatives; others swear by the chocolate mousse. The place is run by a South African of Korčulan descent, so it's no surprise that the wine list veers enthusiastically towards the fine whites from that island.
An offshoot of the Oliva pizzeria just across the alley, Oliva Gourmet aims to inject a touch of 21st-century pizazz into traditional Adriatic dining. The designer interior transforms a traditional stoneclad space into pop-art heaven, with a slate grey floor, white and pink chairs and unabashedly loud purple tablecloths. The menu sticks to what the locals do best, with shellfish starters and fillet-of-fish mains taking up most space in the menu. Look out in particular for traditional Dubrovnik staples that local grannies may still make but which have largely disappeared from restaurant menus: notably chick-pea soup (a light affair best treated as a starter; 30kn) and šporki makaruli (pasta tubes bathed in mixed-meat goulash; 80kn).
Where to drink in Dubrovnik
The more haphazard of the two open-air bars cut into the sea-facing rocks, Buža I welcomes sunbathers, divers, drinkers and film fans. Its entry faces the terrace of the Konoba Ekvinocijo; on the wall is daubed '8-20 Topless Nudist'. Down a stone staircase are bar tables and metal steps towards the sea. Films are also shown.
The more well known of the cliff-face bars; tourists follow the 'Cold Drinks' sign from the open square of Rudjera Boškovića. Prices are a little steeper but you get a thatched roof and table service. Buža II also the same jaw-dropping view – if you can find a table in high season.
Opened in 2008, Dubrovnik's first real wine bar is presided over by Australian-Croatian Sasha and his friendly and informative team. D'Vino manages to stock more than 100 varieties, 76 available by the glass. Every decent Istrian, Slavonian and Dalmatian label is here, including Grgić Plavac Mali and Zlatan Plavac. The house wine begins at 25kn and the venue lays on wine tours. Savoury meat-and-cheese platters are tailor-made to complement the wine. It's a comfortable, modern, intimate space to enjoy a drink – with a few seats outside in summer.
Hard Jazz Caffe Troubadour
The most famous bar in town, formerly run by Marko Brešković (1942-2010), one-time bass-player with the Dubrovački Trubaduri and an accomplished jazz musician to boot. Brešković used to preside over nightly jams on the Troubadour's terrace, turning Bunićeva poljana into an essential stop-off on any nocturnal tour of the city. Despite Brešković's departure the Troubadour remains its old self, with its commitment to live music intact and its traditional clientele still loyal. Drink prices are somewhat inflated on gig nights, and coffee isn't served after 8pm – but it's still hard to find a seat here on a summer evening.
Karaka Irish Bar
This long-established expat bar stands beside another, the Gaffe Pub. Locally-owned Karaka comprises a compact interior filled with pub paraphernalia and two large television screens, the focus of attention on sports nights. There are a couple of tables outside too. Erdinger, Kilkenny and Guinness are among the foreign and domestic beers. Many remain after the mid-afternoon happy hours to close of play - you'll be lucky to find a spot after 10pm. Occasional live music too.
Best attractions in Dubrovnik
The most historic monument in Dubrovnik, the Rector's Palace was rebuilt twice. The first, by Onofrio della Cava of fountain fame, was in Venetian-Gothic style, visible in the window design once you ascend the grand staircase to the Rector's living quarters. Thereafter Florentine Michelozzo Michelozzi was responsible for the loggia façade. On the ground floor, either side of a courtyard, are the prison and courtrooms of the Ragusa Republic, and a glittering display of medieval church art. Upstairs, where each Rector resided for his month's stint, is a strange assortment of items: sedan chairs, carriages, magistrates' robes and wigs, portraits of local notables and Ivo Rudenjak's beautifully carved bookcase. One curiosity is the clocks, some set at quarter to six, the time in the evening when Napoleon's troops entered in 1806. The same ticket is valid for the Archeological Collection, a small but attractive collection of medieval carvings as the Rector's Palace) right by Ploče gate.
The attractive, 16th-century former customs house and Ragusa mint is used to house the extensive state archives. Several rooms off the arcaded groundfloor courtyard are used to display photocopies of the archives' most treasured historical documents. A small room opposite the ticket office holds the Memorial Room of the Dubrovnik Defenders. Covering the 12 months from October 1991 (although keen to point out that isolated attacks continued until the summer of 1995), the exhibition contains portraits of the 300 defenders and civilians who died during the siege and the tattered remnant of the Croatian flag that flew atop strategic Mount Srđ.
The first thing any visitor should fork out for is entrance up to the City Walls. The main one is by the Pile Gate. Arrowed up towards the Adriatic side, you're soon scaling staircases to allow you a sublime view of the blue, blue sea to one side and people's red-tiled roofs, terraces and washing lines to the other. There are a couple of cafes towards the harbour end, where you turn and head towards the thicker, inland-facing walls. You can also choose to head out here, near the Old Port. As well as giving you a perspective on Dubrovnik, you can see how intricate a job this was. Remember to pack a hat and sun cream.
Between the Sponza Palace and the Ploče Gate, this monastery is best known for its late Gothic cloisters and late 15th-century paintings of the Dubrovnik School in the museum – in particular masterpieces by Nikola Božidarević, including his Our Lady with the Saints. On the walls of the monastery church are a beautiful wooden crucifix by Paolo Veneziano from 1358 and a painting by renowned fin-de-siècle artist Vlaho Bukovac from Cavtat, The Miracle of St Dominic.
The best hotels in Dubrovnik
Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik
For once the slogan is right: this is indulgence on a grand scale. Here in lush Babin kuk is a state-of-the-art hotel with the Ragusa spa and its dizzying array of treatments (free with a minimum fournight stay), pools indoor and out (and separate kids' pool), fine dining Langosto luxury restaurant, cocktails in four bars – plus, of course, the guest rooms, 385 in all, plus 16 suites. There are also any number of conference facilities.
Opened in 2008, this conversion of the Zamanje family villa (1573) is now a five-star hotel of a dozen rooms, one suite, three restaurants and a beautiful outdoor pool with a bar beside it. A speedboat and yacht are on hand for guests' use.
Valamar Dubrovnik President Hotel
This leading lodging of the Valamar group has its own excellent section of beach; each of the 181 rooms has a balcony view of the sea and Elafiti islands beyond. There's also an indoor pool, children's entertainment and access to good-quality nearby tennis courts. Extensive works will see the President become a well-deserved 5-star in time for the 2014 season.
Dubrovnik has more than its fair share of cliff-hugging, sun-trap hotels and this particular feat of engineering is one of the more outstanding examples. The venue, cut into the cliff facing the sea, has been expensively refurbished to feature local woods and granite. All rooms have a sea view, as do the spa and highly rated Vapor restaurant. The Nevera Beach restaurant occupies a man-made cave right beside the private beach.
Hotel Dubrovnik Palace
This ten-floor, 308-room luxury hotel reconfigured in 2004 was conceived in 1972, set in woodland paths at the tip of Lapad, in full view of the Elafiti isles. Today this is what everyone sees from their balcony, from the four bars, three restaurants, four pools and gym. Saunas, massage treatments and beauty procedures are on offer at the energy clinic spa. Also of note are the Lanterna Glorijet poolside bar and the Sunset Lounge cocktail bar.
A €22-million refit of Dubrovnik’s most prestigious hotel was followed by a grand reopening in 2008. Built in 1913 as a private villa, it became the Hotel Excelsior in 1930. Royals, writers, movie stars, they all stayed here. Acquired by Adriatic Luxury Hotels group in 2000, it now features four restaurants, three pools, a piano bar and spa. The adjoining Villa Rustica also contains luxury lodging for six. The Satu sushi bar and the luxuriant wellness centre endow the hotel with additional kudos.