Ok, so let’s just establish something at the outset; if you’re coming to Dubrovnik in search of some romanticized notion of ancient Croatian culture, you’ll most likely be left wanting. Leveled as it was in the catastrophic earthquake of 1667, much of what visitors see today is no more than 350 years old. And what’s more, thanks to the prolific number of tourists you’ll inevitably encounter (you, yourself, ironically being one of them), much of the “authentic” parts of Dubrovnik exist only in small, well-guarded pockets, protected from the sunburns and prying eyes of the afternoon’s foreign invaders. Sound rough? Well, it’s not all bad. The city is quite beautiful and it hosts some cool annual festivals; but more importantly, if you know what to look for, you’ll discover a fair amount of interesting history both in and around its ancient walls. Get ready for a crash course in Dubrovnik 101.
Topping the hit list will be the Stradun (also ul. Placa): that smooth, white and shiny main drag inside the old city which was once the connecting corridor between Ragusa and Dubrava. Lined by shops and eateries, it is still the main artery for hitting sites like Onofrio’s Grand Fountain (from which you can and should take a drink), the historic Sponza Palace and the revered St. Blaise Church. Just south of this main square is the impressive Dubrovnik Cathedral, whose main altar is adorned by a 16th century Titian painting (he’s an Italian artist, just so you know). If you’re a museum enthusiast, there are a few to choose from, but don’t expect to be blown away by either the selection or the quality here. Your best bet will probably be the Aquarium and Maritime Museum, which offers discounted entry for those flashing the always fashionable “Dubrovnik Card.”
More interested in Dubrovnik’s contemporary edge? Well, if you don’t mind braving peak tourist season congestion, mid-July through mid-August sees the annual summer festival which comes complete with a wide variety of open air and street performances. Those visiting in late winter will get the opportunity to participate in the colorful parades and parties of February’s Carnival celebrations, while springtime travelers can rub elbows with some of Europe’s elite filmmakers during the Libertas Film Festival in April. Or you may prefer to duck out of the city altogether, in which case we might recommend a hike (or ride) up to the cross and museum atop Mount Srd, as well as the short jaunt northwest for a glimpse of Europe’s 5.5 km “Great Wall” in neighboring Ston. As far as cultural immersion goes, unless you’re planning on being here for a while, this is as good as it will have to get. Find ways to make the most of the experience and you won’t leave disappointed.