The best things to do in Dubrovnik
What is it? Calling itself ‘Dubrovnik’s finest restaurant’, Nautika is certainly the most prestigious, the kind of place that is the automatic choice whenever the Pope might be in town.
Why go? It’s not only the setting, overlooking Lovrijenac fortress and the Adriatic (reserve a panoramic table if you can), or the starched white-tablecloth formality – it’s the cuisine of long-term head chef Mario Bunda, who insists on fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Don't miss: The five-and seven-course menus were made for holiday blow-outs.
What is it? Dubrovnik's first 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.
Why go? 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.
Don't miss: Savoury meat-and-cheese platters are tailor-made to complement the wine.
New Zealander Wade Goddard came to the Dubrovnik as a photographer during the Siege in the early 1990s - and stayed. Affected by what he saw and keen to broaden the public's understanding of what happens in wartime, in 2003 he opened War Photo Limited. The gallery could have easily limited itself to Goddard's experiences in Croatia, but he quickly expanded its remit to exhibit works by leading exponents of this brave art from flashpoints around the world. The first floor houses these hard-hitting images in regularly changing exhibitions, while above you can see what was happening here in the 1990s. What today seems completely serene was then raging with bombardment and fires. Works are sold as limited-edition prints. Comments in the visitors' book sum up the venue nicely: 'It moved me beyond words,' is one typical entry.
The easiest and most popular itinerary for visitors to Dubrovnik is the stroll around its fortifications. It also should be the first, as it allows the newcomer to get their bearings and gain an appreciation of the scale of this intricate jewel, and the skill of those who designed and constructed it. You also get breathing space from the high-season masses below. This is an elevated promenade and history lesson in one.
As you arrive in the Old Town through the Pile Gate, the main entrance and ticket office to the City Walls is right there. You can set your own pace, take an hour or an afternoon. Audio-guides in English are sold at the main entrance but most visitors are perfectly content with random vistas of red-tiled roofs or, better still, the panoramic blue of the Adriatic, interspersed with pristine white stones jutting into it down below from varying angles. A couple of cafés provide pit stops at the harbour end, where there's also an open terrace for that eye-popping backdrop, ideal for holiday snaps.
Dubrovnik Walks is an agency offering walking tours of the City Walls run by knowledgeable locals.
At this top-drawer setting, you get top-drawer cuisine, perhaps even the best in Croatia. Here under expert gastronomic stewardship, you can expect meticulously sourced food, painstakingly created and immaculately presented - along with a setting, atop the Old Port, second to none. Ingredients to create dishes of mainly Mediterranean ilk are flown in fresh from around the world or selected from markets in and around town. Desserts provide an honourable finale to one of the finest meals you'll have all year. The wine cellar comprises 6,000 bottles. Beg for a booth in the gun chambers.
What is it? The only bar in a street filled with restaurants, seconds away from Stradun.
Why go? Buzz has won over a local crowd thanks to its good vibe, pleasant interior of colourful chairs and witty decor, craft beers such as Istria’s San Servolo – and reasonable prices, not an epithet you could grant to its neighbouring restaurants.
Don't miss: There’s organic lemonades, cocktails, whiskies and cognacs – and carefully selected rock, pop and jazz.
For once, the hotel blurb is spot on. The newly reopened five-star Villa Dubrovnik is the most romantic spot in Europe's most romantic resort. The reason? Well, first there's the stunning location, set on a rocky outcrop giving the perfect view of the Old Town, the backdrop to any sunset cocktail at the hotel's panoramic Bar Giardino. Secondly, there's the private beach, pools indoor and out, the bed linen of Egyptian cotton and Mediterranean flavours concocted at the in-house Restaurant Pjerin. All 40 rooms, set on descending terraces, have sea and city views. But the clincher is the water shuttle that allows you to make the journey across the water to the Old Town - and make it back again under the stars. No wonder the hotel's slogan reads, 'Romance Forever'.
Opened in 2010, the gleaming orange Cablecar you see scaling the steep incline high up over the Old Town is both a tourist attraction and a piece of history. Mount Srđ has figured in key moments in the city's history, not least during the 1991 conflict. Mount Srđ served as a frontier against the Turks and a Napoleonic fort and, most notably, where brave Croats kept Serb forces at bay in 1991. It's pricy, but this matters little as you rise up in no time, the Old Town nearly vanishing as a panorama of Adriatic blue dominates the horizon. In the space of five minutes, halfway along, below you is the reason so many thousands come every year. Expensive it might be, the cablecar is simply a must for a complete visit to one of the world's most beautiful cities. At the cablecar station, the Panorama restaurant offers the same view, along with seafood platters, cocktails and fine local wines.
Dubrovnik's city beach, Banje, is a short walk from the Ploče Gate. It's good for kids, with showers, deckchairs and sunloungers for hire, plus jet skis and inflatables. Yet it's not for locals. They head for Sveti Jakov, down the coast past the Villa Dubrovnik, a 20-minute walk along quiet, tree-lined Vlaha Bukovca. Buses Nos.5 and 8 run most of the way from north of the Old Town. Although this is everyone's favourite beach, it's rarely crowded. The sun stays warm until late in the evening, bathing the Old Town in a golden light. It's part shingle, part pebble, with showers, sunshades, and a bar and restaurant at beach level. It is accessed via a long stairway you'll be reluctant to climb back up.
An uninhabited isle on Dubrovnik's doorstep, Lokrum is an unspoilt isle lush with pines, palms and cypress trees. Its verdant coastline beckons from the hotel windows of Ploče. Dotted with diverse ruins and remnants - medieval, ecclesiastical, Napoleonic, Habsburg - it has long been given over to nature. Although taxi boats disgorge tourists from Dubrovnik every half-hour - you can be drinking a beer in Dubrovnik's main square and be here in 20 minutes - no-one may spend a night here. Ancient superstition links back to the curse placed on Napoleon's troops by the Benedictine monks they removed. Subsequent mishap befell the Habsburgs who turned Lokrum into their own summer pleasure zone - hence the peacocks and botanical gardens. After a leisurely stroll, you can take a dip in the warm, saltwater lake and drink a beer or cocktail at the Lacroma bar, that conveniently overlooks the jetty. The last boats leave around 7pm, depending on the time of year.
Dubrovnik's signature outdoor activity for visitors, sea kayaking is organised for complete beginners as a half-day jaunt with lunch on Lokrum island thrown in. You only need turn up, go through a few paddling techniques in shallow, protected waters, and the Adriatic is yours. Sea kayaks are more comfortable than conventional kayaks. Their length, with extra cargo capacity, allows the kayak to move smoother and easier in a straight line. Experienced kayakers have circumnavigated Ireland and Australia in one. For lesser mortals, the calm waters from the Pile Gate to the verdant, car-free island of Lokrum is, under guidance, a doddle. Some companies also offer sunset paddles, with wine and cheese thrown in. Children aged eight to 16 are welcome but must be accompanied by an adult.
Far from the downtown flock, five minutes along a back alley, the bar table of your dreams is set on one of two panoramic terraces atop a rocky sea-view promontory propping up the city walls: Bard Bar and Buža II. Find your niche, gawp at the awesome sunset and sip a four-euro beer. Buža, meaning 'hole in the wall', suits boozers, swimmers and sunbathers alike. Of the two, Bard Bar is the most basic but perhaps the most enjoyable - maybe because of easy access to and from the sea, via metal steps fixed to the rocks. From the cathedral, walk down Ilije Sarake as far as the dining destination of the Azur. Diagonally opposite is a doorway; negotiate the stone staircase and behold! At differing levels according to the rock formation, tables appear - as does a bar counter and, occasionally, films projected onto the cliff face. Buža II is the better known. It has a straw roof, waiters in logoed T-shirts and dinky wooden trays. From the open square of Rudjera Boskovića, by the Jesuit church, follow a sign saying 'Cold Drinks With The Most Beautiful View'. Ahead an arrow points to 'Cold Drinks'. Buža II attracts an older crowd, who put their feet up on the railing separating shoe sole from sheer drop. Elvis or Gene Pitney is the music du choix.
Croatia's biggest cultural bash is the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, 47 days and nights of classical music, theatre, opera and dance performances (mainly) around the Old Town. Something akin to Edinburgh without the fringe, it has been staging high-brow culture in Dubrovnik for more than 60 years. Shows bringDubrovnik's historic jewels to life. Shakespeare is performed open-air at the Lovrijenac fortress, orchestras play at the Sponza Palace, piano soloists at the Cathedral, ballet takes place after dark outside St Blaise's Church and all kinds of events have the moonlit City Walls as a backdrop. In all, some 70 venues are used - even Lokrum island. Book ahead for the biggest events - for others you can pay on the door. For the most prestigious events, smart dress, although not obligatory, is expected. Also remember that there will be a number of free performances around the streets of the Old Town throughout festival time - you needn't have to pay through the nose, or pay at all, to get swept up in the whole event.
A club venue since summer 2011, hosting Fatboy Slim and Martin Solveig in 2012, this 16th-century fortress at the eastern end of Dubrovnik's Old Town has become the place to go after drinking-up time has been called in the town centre's other bars. Luckily, Dubrovnik's military architects had the foresight to construct what is an ideal venue for a club: the stark interior of bare stone blocks, complete with arched aisle spaces and lofty barreled roofs, provide the perfect backdrop for the state-of-the-art light-show. What Renaissance Ragusans might have made of the lithe females dancing in cages is another question entirely. With an elongated bar, large dancefloor and plenty of surrounding nooks and crannies, it's the kind of place that can cater for large numbers of people without making them feel pushed around. A lot of leading Croatian pop and rock acts perform here throughout the year.
For those seeking a spot of luxury, Dubrovnik has a wealth of chic beachside bars with VIP sections and the facilities to go with them. Copacabana Beach is a lavish hangout with kingsize loungers and swanky enough to have fashionistas sipping cocktails on its terrace.
Dubrovnik may be one of the hottest destinations in Europe at the moment, but there’s no getting around the fact that, in peak season, the city really suffers from its popularity as a cruise port. The solution? Explore the city's landmarks and surrounding coastline by boat. You can hire a speedboat to the hidden restaurant Villa Ruza, hop along the Elaphati islands and explore the Kolocep's Blue Caves, illuminated inside with an electric, slightly eerie aqua light.