Dubrovnik is a one-town tourist industry on its own. 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. When a foreigner thinks of Croatia, he thinks of Dubrovnik's proud, pristine fortifications set on an azure background. The travel brochure covers need little touching up. The Adriatic is crystal clear here, encouraging Hollywood film stars to drop by, ideally by boat, and hang out. Not surprisingly, a golf course is planned, controversially atop Mount Srdj, accessible now via the new tourist attraction of a cablecar.
As Ragusa, this was a hub of cultural, architectural and scientific achievement, backed by lucrative maritime trading and a progressive urban infrastructure. With no royal intrigue — the Old Town is free of grandiose statues — Ragusa thrived.
At the height of its power, a great earthquake struck in 1667. Forty years later, Napoleon's forces entered Ragusa and the republic was abolished.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the city opened up to package tourism. In 1991 these same tourists watched the news in horror as Dubrovnik was shelled during a six-month siege. Painstakingly rebuilt, it has since reinvented itself for high-end tourism, most notably where hotels are concerned. Dubrovnik is now a similar price bracket to the French Riviera.
You'll spend the bulk of your time within the compact, crowded Old Town, in the small square half-mile of gleaming medieval space bisected by the 300-metre-long main street of Stradun. Cats scatter in from the old harbour, a cacophony of tour guides give their spiels. All is free of traffic until you reach the bus-choked hub outside the Pile Gate.
From there, buses head to the hotels, restaurants and beaches of Lapad, Babin Kuk, or the bus terminal and ferry port of Gruz. From Ploce, more hotels, restaurants and beaches await along the main road east to Cavtat and the airport.
Nearly all of Dubrovnik's main attractions stand a short walk from the main square of Luza, just in from the Old Port. Surrounding Luza are the main historic attractions of the Rector's Palace; the Cathedral and its treasury; the Sponza Palace; and the Dominican monastery. At the other end of Stradun, by the Pile Gate, the main drawbridged entrance to the Old Town, stands Onofrio's Great Fountain, less ornate than how it looked before the 1667 earthquake. Behind the Franciscan church nearby, the Franciscan monastery, embellished with beautiful cloisters, houses what is claimed to be the world's oldest pharmacy and a museum of religious artefacts. The main modern attraction is also nearby, War Photo Limited, exhibitions of conflict photography, of Dubrovnik and other recent clashes.
Note that the Dubrovnik Card (130kn/1 day; 220kn 1week) allows entrance to eight places of culture and free transport for 24 hours (or 20 rides over a week). Accompanied children under 12 are free.
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Gil's is the biggest news, Dubrovnik's flagship restaurant of international renown — for location, ambitious cuisine and the best wine cellar in the region. The other high-end big hitter is Nautika, now blessed with a new chef, where a jaw-dropping view matches the quality of the cuisine. For down-to-earth seafood at down-to-earth prices, and right in the heart of the Old Town at that, then Kamenice is a must. Praise must also be heaped on Wanda, head and shoulders above the competition on Prijeko, the thoroughfare overflowing with average restaurants; and the newly relaunched Café Cele, now offering international brunches. Nearly all the top hotels boast high-end restaurants too.
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Maria Boutique is the name everyone's talking about, a fashion-forward concept store that draws repeat customers all the way from the capital. For quality local preserves, head for the former restaurant Dubrovački kantun, recently converted into a boutique. Tacky souvenir shops line Stradun, offering Asian-made goods at inflated prices. Around them, though, you can find the odd gem. Dubrovačka kuća should not be missed, offering authentic and high-quality goods to take home. The daily market on Gundulićeva poljana is the best place to pick up fresh foodstuffs.
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Dubrovnik has seen so many high-end openings, it is hard to keep track of developments. Of late, there's the impressive renovation and reopening of the hotel Villa Dubrovnik and the Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik, hot on the heels of the Hotel Kazbek, Hotel More and the Berkeley Hotel.
These in turn came in the wake of the Hotel Bellevue, one of the most impressive properties on the Mediterranean. It is owned by Adriatic Luxury Hotels, who started the trend for off-the-scale sumptuousness in the first place. Their Hotel Dubrovnik Palace still wows while their Excelsior has benefitted from its full refit.
If you're staying a little longer, there are plenty of apartment options — the Karmen Apartments have both a great location and a genial host. You could also try Celenga and Pervanovo Apartments.
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Until recently, nightspots in Dubrovnik were solely typified by mainstream establishments such as Latino Club Fuego by the Pile Gate or slick joints such as the East-West beach club. DJ nights at the Lazareti and live acts at the grungier Orlando Klub offer hope of more. Many locals head out 10km south of Dubrovnik to the string of summer spots along Župa Dubrovačka, clustered in Srebreno.
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