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.
RECOMMENDED: More great things to do in Dubrovnik.
The full list
Nab the best table at Nautika
Just outside the Pile Gate, Nautika is the snazziest place in town, with two panoramic terraces, impeccably staffed with starched white-tablecloth formality and, for visiting celebrities, privacy away from the paparazzi. It has also recently been renovated, reopening in May 2015 in time for the new season. For your one holiday blow-out, try and book a sea-view table on the Penatur terrace or on the Lovrijenac/Brsalje side. Chef Mario Bunda insists on the freshest fish (ask for recommendations) - shellfish are a speciality, particularly in dishes from the Elafiti islands such as Lopud brodet. Cream of scampi soup with black truffles is another favourite.
Sip Croatia's finest wines
Dubrovnik's first real wine bar, D'Vino was partly set up by Sasha, half-Australian, half-Croatian, in 2008. In comfortable, modern, intimate surroundings ten paces from the Old Town's main street of Stradun, you can choose from more than 100 domestic varieties, some six-dozen available by the glass. Every decent Dalmatian, Istrian and Slavonian label is here, including Grgić Plavac Mali and Zlatan Plavac. The house wine begins at a reasonable 25kn and the new management lays on wine tours too. Try and grab an outside seat if you can.
Appreciate recent history
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.
Snag a sassy souvenir
Stride down the main street of Stradun and all you see are tacky souvenir shops selling overpriced, Asian-made toot. Turn a corner from the Old Port to steeply rising Sv Dominika, towards the Ploce Gate, and you come across this modest doorway. Dubrovačka kuća proffers high-quality gifts at affordable prices. The tasteful ceramics and glassware you see are the result of a link-up with the Museum of Arts & Crafts in Zagreb, while local products include wines, olive oils, bath salts, sweets and flavoured spirits. The English-speaking lady behind the counter offers useful advice without being pushy, and you come away pleased to have done your duty as a tourist without the feeling that you've been fleeced.
Splurge at 360 degrees
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.
The only bar in a street filled with restaurants, seconds away from Stradun, Buzz has won over a local crowd thanks to its good vibe, pleasant interior of colourful chairs and witty deco, craft beers such as Istria’s San Servolo – and reasonable prices, not an epithet you could grant to its neighbouring restaurants. There’s also organic lemonades, cocktails, whiskies and cognacs – and carefully selected rock, pop and jazz.
Romance at the Villa Dubrovnik
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'.
Take the cablecar to Srđ
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.
Visit a medieval pharmacy
Of all the Old Town treasures, the Franciscan Monastery and its Old Pharmacy Museum are the real gems. Don't be put off by the crowds - try and go at the end of the day. In a narrow passageway dividing the monastery from the Church of Our Saviour is the entrance to the famous Old Pharmacy, still in operation after 700 years, and beautiful cloisters leading to a peaceful, petite inner garden courtyard dotted with orange trees. One of the oldest in Europe, if not the oldest, the pharmacy is still a working chemist's. Old locals totter in for their regular prescriptions as tourists peruse the jars and vessels from yesteryear. Most local sources give the date of the pharmacy's foundation as 1317 - all records were burned in the fire of 1667. Many of the containers and poisons you see date from the 15th century. Also on display through the back are disturbingly large grinders and other implements, giving a perspective to our moaning about modern health systems. While medicine has improved, the prescription book shows us that doctors' handwriting has obviously gone the other way.
Find the ideal beach
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.