I know what you are thinking. One day? Is that really enough? In case you haven’t noticed, I like a challenge. Everyone enjoys travelling in different ways, and my particular method is best described as frenetic. If you’ve ever used Visit A City, we find the ‘action packed itinerary’ a little too slow-paced for my liking. That’s just how we roll. It wasn’t even a full day, seeing as we arrived after lunch, although we did spend some time wandering again the next afternoon. Dubrovnik is a compact little place. You can see lots of it in a short period.
Dubrovnik is the haunt of cruise ships, and we were lucky to only have a few in port when we were there. However, whilst most people only visit the Old Town, we thought we would learn a little more about the more recent history of the city. In our rental car, we first ascended the nail-bitingly narrow road to the Imperial Fort – housing the Museum of the Croatian War of Independence – on Mount Srđ. One of the interesting things about this region of the world is how incredibly brutal its recent history is. I won’t get into the details, but I’m sure you’ve heard of recent events at the Hague. These provide you a hint of its history. For all of its advertising of clear blue waters, delicious food and frivolity, the area has a pretty grim past. I wonder how many tourists actually realise that.
The Imperial Fort holds a special place in the heart of Dubrovnik’s citizens. This is because of its role in the defence of the city against Serbian and Montenegrin forces in 1991. The Homeland War, as it is referred to in Croatia, was – like most wars – over land, ethnicity and religion. A majority of Croats wanted Croatia to leave Yugoslavia and become a sovereign country, while many ethnic Serbs living in Croatia, supported by Serbia, wanted Serb-claimed lands to be in a common state with Serbia. Most Serbs sought a new Serb state within a Yugoslav federation, and attempted to conquer as much of Croatia as possible. This resulted in a number of attacks against Dubrovnik, including the Old Town, which had been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
The construction of Fort Imperial started in 1806 during the French occupation of Dubrovnik and was completed in 1812. During the Serbian-Montengerin attacks in 1991, the Fort was the only building on the hill in the hands of the Croatian Army, with all the surrounding areas occupied. The largest attack on the fortress and Dubrovnik – including the Old Town – by the Serbian-Montenegrin army was on December 6, 1991. The fighting around Imperial lasted all day, killing 19 people in the city. However, a few valient defenders in the city managed to withstand the attack. The fortress suffered extensive damage, but survived the offence. This was a turning point in the Homeland War, with no significant military actions and attacks on the city afterwards. If you are interested in learning more about the Homeland War, Srdja Pavlovic’s Reckoning: The 1991 Siege of Dubrovnik and the Consequences of the “War for Peace” is a worthwhile read.
Today, the fort is a museum dedicated to the defense of Dubrovnik. It was quite busy when we were there, and there are some quite harrowing photos inside. You can spend quite a bit of time there watching old (but not that old, really…) news footage of the attacks. If you don’t have a rental car, you can actually hike or take a cable car to the top, which offers fabulous views over the city. When we first went inside, it was pouring with rain and fogged in. The weather in Croatia, however, is changeable. While we were inside, it cleared up, and we got our picture perfect view of the area.
After checking into our little AirBnB (with gorgeous views over the water), we followed our hosts advice to get an Uber to the Old Town. Uber is pretty cheap in Croatia – you can even get an UberYacht! – and parking in the Old Town is terrible. In 15 minutes, we were amongst the famous buildings of Kings Landing. We didn’t find the Croatian people overly friendly, particularly compared to the other countries we visited on this trip, but we got the nicest Uber driver in Dubrovnik. Twice. The same driver also took us back home later that night! He asked us whether we had visited Fort Imperial, and was pleasantly surprised when we had. When he spoke about the attacks on the city, it said how terrifying they were. He wasn’t an old guy – probably in his 40s – and it really hits home just how recent the troubles in Croatia were.
Originally established as a trading port, the Old Town of Dubrovnik was built between the 11th and 17th centuries. After a massive earthquake in 1667, it was carefully recreated. However, much renovation was also undertaken to restore the city after it was attacked in the aforementioned war.
I really wanted to walk the walls of Dubrovnik, and I knew that they didn’t open until very late. Upon entering the Old Town, you wander down a large number of steps into the heart. The Old Town was busy. Very, very busy. I imagine it’s like that most of the time. It’s quite a confined space, which doesn’t help. We walked past a number of Game of Thrones sites… including the Jesuit Staircase (ironically labelled ‘Shame Street’ on the map). After snaking through back alleyways, we managed to find an entrance to the walls, and headed up. While busy, it was certainly worth it. It was a beautiful time to be up there. As we were finishing the walk, the sun was setting, and the light was amazing. I had great fun spotting the stray cats living in the Old Town too. So many poor, wee bedraggled kitties. We went up and down the walls a few times, taking breaks and sitting down to enjoy the view. We walked around the sea wall and were battered by the surprisingly large waves.
After we descended the walls, we spent a lot of time wandering the Old Town. Of course, we both reached the hangry stage of the evening, which wasn’t ideal – the Old Town isn’t the easiest place to locate a decent restaurant. While there are an awful lot in there, they are well overpriced and most of them tourist traps. Who wants to eat at a tacky Irish bar in Dubrovnik? Opting for something near the outer walls, we hoped the quality (and price) might be more reasonable. We had a delicious (though pricy!) meal at an Asian-Croatian fusion restaurant that I have forgottent the name of, before heading back to our AirBnB for a well deserved back.
We travelled to Kotor the next day (more on that in another post!), so we only spent the next afternoon in Dubrovnik. Our apartment was located in the Babin Kuk area, and our host recommended that we visit the restaurants on Šetalište kralja Zvonimira. We walked down a steep walkway to the bottom of the hill where it was located, a quick five minutes down (but a little longer up!). This was a lively area, which led to a beautiful path which snaked around the side of the hill. We wandered along that path – the Šetalište Nika i Meda Pucića – and enjoyed a few drinks at the Cave Bar whilst watching the sunset. Afterwards, we head back into the lights and noise and had a Croatian dinner at Konavoka. As we aren’t really seafood people, we found the food in Croatia a little bit lacking, but it was nice enough – though again, really overpriced! I think we had such amazing food in Iceland and Norway – and I thoroughly enjoyed the bargain cheap Polish food – and Croatia really couldn’t live up to it. However, Dubrovnik was certainly our favourite place visited in Croatia out of Zagreb, Kotor, Dubrovnik and Split – and probably the only place I would really want to go back to of the four. You can get a lot out of a little time in the city!
Stay: 2 Bedroom Apartment (AirBNB), Babin Kuk area. From 530AED per night. Note, it is up three flights of stairs, and has a friendly guard doggo who looks a little scary (but is super placid!).
See: Museum of the Croatian War of Independence, 30KN per adult. Imperial Fort, Mount Srđ. Opening hours – Summer 8AM-10PMdaily. Winter 9AM-4PM daily. Walls of Dubrovnik, 150KN per adult. Old Town, Dubrovnik. Opening hours – 8AM – 7PM.
Tips: Walking the ways in the early evening offered perfect light for our photos, and it was slightly less busy than during the day, I hear. Apparently, Wednesday is the quietest day to visit the city – the least cruise ships dock on this day. This might not be a problem for much longer, given that the city will limit the number of large ships that can dock each day.