This article first appeared in Travel + Leisure, January 2016.
This coastal destination is famous as a Game of Thrones backdrop, but there’s far more to explore in this ancient walled city.
Medieval architecture, cobblestone streets, and a panorama of Navy blue seas are the daily background of Dubrovnik, the coastal city in southern Croatia. In the warmer months, the charming walled town gives a sly wink and opens its arms to those looking for a private getaway more affordable than Saint Tropez, Forte di Marmi, or the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. And in the winter months, after the crowds depart, the Old Town quiets down but offers no less to curious travelers. Here’s how to best enjoy it any time of year.
Walk the walls: The medieval fortress makes for a memorable morning workout. The stone ramparts, gates, bastions, forts, and towers that they connect span nearly 6,400 feet (1.2 miles). From every point, the walls give visitors a glimpse into the city’s construction and centuries of defense. When you’re ready for a break, the St. John’s Gate has a small juice bar and leads to the Maritime Museum (don’t miss your Instagram-worthy chance to stand next to those large anchors), while the Revelin tower has a nightclub open in the evening. After you’ve walked the perimeter, take a ride on the local cable car to see what you just walked.
Near the city’s Pile gate, the Franciscan Monastery is a feat of Romanesque artistry. Its cloister, with arches and 120 columns, musters mid-14th century charm and nostalgia, and the same goes for its museum collection of paintings and relics. The Old Pharmacy, the third oldest in the world, has been selling its tinctures and potions since 1317.
Get down with Game of Thrones: While the Old Town and its walls may be the site of King’s Landing and Cersei’s walk of shame on the show, the nearby Trsteno Arboretum has played backdrop to some of the Lannisters’ finest moments. The early Renaissance botanical garden has a world-class collection of plants and trees, including 500-year-old oriental pines, and sits cliff side for the perfect sunset moment.
Tour the city: The Old Town may be tiny, but feels larger than life with Aljosa Lecic, a private guide from Calvados Club. One of the city’s more prolific guides, Aljosa can wax poetic, political, and philosophical, while sharing locals-only tips and sidestepping into the music school where he trained as a child.
Swim: A dip in the Adriatic is meditative and most likely healing, thanks to the perfect combination of temperature, cleanliness, and salt. The city is surrounded by beaches, but there is nothing like the water-level promenade of the Hotel Excelsior.
Bota: Hidden behind the city’s Cathedral, Bota and its Alice in Wonderland-worthy seating puts a spin on Croatia’s world-famous oysters by mixing them up with a sushi menu. This is a far cry from traditional Croation fare.
About a 15 minute drive from the old town, Pantarul is a mod farm-to-table restaurant putting a contemporary vibe on traditional Croatian recipes.
Victoria’s ivy-covered pergola overlooking the walled city and the surrounding blue expanse has sunset on lockdown, and then some. Chef Roberto Chavez presents a masterpiece of Peruvian-Adriatic fusion. Get here before Michelin does.
Buža Bar: This “hole in the wall bar” may be on everyone’s list, but don’t overlook it: The cascading cliffs on the edge of the city’s ramparts are sunset-perfect. When the season cools down, book a table at D’vino, a small wine bar with a focus on Croatian wines and cheeses. A street-side seat at any cafe on the old town’s Stradun (the main road) is great for people watching.
Like many historic centers, Dubrovnik’s is lined with souvenir and trinket shops, but they deserve a visit so you can see what the bayside city is known for: crafts like lace and embroidery. Men’s store Croata is the source for the traditional Croatian neckties that changed men’s fashion forevermore. In the town square, Gundulićeva Poljana, there’s a morning market of artisan food items like cheese, honey, jelly, lavender, and locally made souvenirs.
There are several hotels centrally located in town, from the luxury 19-room Pučić Palace, which sits front and center in Gundulićeva Poljana. Just a ten minute walk away is the elegant Villa Orsula, a 1930s-era mansion with terraced gardens, seaside views, and 13 rooms.