The old harbour at Dubrovnik, Croatia

Game of Thrones fans will already know Dubrovnik even if they don’t realise it. Because despite hundreds of years of colourful – and at times, tragic – history, Dubrovnik is known to many people only as a well-used location for the HBO series. This new notoriety has only increased Dubrovnik’s allure, and the historic port is enjoying a renewed surge of visitors. Meanwhile, well-worn travellers and lovers of history are still attracted to Dubrovnik for more traditional reasons.


Tradition suggests that originally the location had two small settlements, each founded around the 7th century – one on a rocky island, and one on the coast, the two separated by a narrow channel. Over time the settlements merged and the channel was filled in, creating the current port of Dubrovnik. The former channel was located where the main street, Stradun, now runs.  Other evidence suggests that the region was well settled by the Greeks well before this, perhaps even in ancient times.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia – Dome of the Dubrovnik Cathedral

As with many other cities along the Dalmatian and Adriatic coasts, Dubrovnik’s early prosperity came from maritime trade. This prosperity led to a series of overlords – from the Romans to the Byzantines to Venice to the Hungarians and finally self-rule. An alliance with Ancona, on the opposite side of the Adriatic, created a trade route that rivalled the Venetians.

The Republic of Ragusa was incredibly progressive for its day. A medical service was established in 1301, and a pharmacy (still operating today) opened in 1317. Other innovations included a hospital, an orphanage, and the abolition of slavery. A little later, a fresh water supply system was introduced.

The Republic’s trading success came from risk-free trade, rather than the policy of conquer and rule as rivals practised. Nevertheless, at its peak, the republic had established a colony in Morocco and settlements in India and South America.

The mixture of increasing maritime competition and a devastating earthquake in 1667 initiated a long and steady decline. Eventually the city surrendered to Napoleon in 1806, bringing to a close the glory days of centuries of independence and prosperity.

Recent history

Dubrovnik’s times of upheaval weren’t over yet. After Napoleon’s downfall, Dubrovnik was handed to the Hapsburgs who established the Kingdom of Dalmatia. Then, in the late 19th century, especially following the example of Split in 1882, there were strong moves for autonomy. After WWI and the fall of Austria-Hungary, Dubrovnik was incorporated into the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia).

War damage in the old town, Dubrovnik, Croatia

War damage in the old town, Dubrovnik, Croatia

During World War II, Dubrovnik became part of the Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia, occupied by both the Italians and the Germans. At the end of the war the city was occupied by the Yugoslav partisans, beginning a period of bloody communist rule which lasted until 1991 when Croatia declared its independence.

This led to a period of intense fighting between the Croatians and the Serbs of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), and Montenegrins. The subsequent attacks and siege resulted in intensive shelling of the historic old town (which had been added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites), leading to massive damage and death.

Following the end of the war, reconstruction of the old town commenced, under UNESCO guidelines. A map on the city gate shows where the major damage was, and a recent exhibition included many photographs of the damage inflicted. There are still some unrepaired areas around the old town, providing a glimpse into the sad consequences of the bombings.

The old harbour at Dubrovnik, Croatia

The old harbour at Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik Today

Dubrovnik has a long history of promoting tourism and attracting visitors, a tradition that is said to have been initiated with the building of the Hotel Imperial back in 1897. The hotel is still there, just above the old walled town, and is now owned by the Hilton group.

The old town is still a major attraction, and rightly so. A walk along the old wall is a highlight, allowing you to enjoy the spectacular coast as well as getting close up to many of the war damaged and rebuilt houses. The main street, Stradun, has a large number of shops and galleries designed for the modern tourist. Again, Game of Thrones is a strong theme in these shops, with many show souvenirs available alongside more traditional tourist fare.

Restaurants and cafes abound, but there are also some fine museums that should be on your itinerary – especially the Rector’s Palace, the Dominican Monastery and the Dubrovnik Natural History Museum. There are also a few shops and galleries with photos and other memorabilia from the shelling of just twenty years ago, and these are well worth a visit to help you appreciate what the town went through.

Looking down on old Dubrovnik from the top of the cable car

Looking down on old Dubrovnik from the top of the cable car

A mandatory inclusion of any trip to Dubrovnik should be a ride on the cable car up to the top of the hill overlooking the town and providing amazing views of the surrounding coastline and islands. The lower ticket office is only a short walk from the old town, and a round trip adult ticket is only 120 Croatian kuna (about $AUD24). During summer, the cable car runs until midnight (it closes earlier during the rest of the year), and the view is nothing short of spectacular.

Visitors will also appreciate the art and history available at the churches of Dubrovnik. The three main churches – Dubrovnik Cathedral, the Church of Saint Blaise and Saint Ignatius Church – are all excellent examples of romance architecture and religious art.

Down at the old port itself, there are numerous operators offering boat tours of the islands and coast, kayak rides around the wall and the cliffs of the Lovrijenac fortress, fishing and diving excursions, and more.

The blue water of the Adriatic from above Dubrovnik

The blue water of the Adriatic from above Dubrovnik

If you have a car, you should also take advantage of the opportunity to explore the newer parts of Dubrovnik and Babin Kuk, a little to the west of the old town. You should also take a drive across the very stunning Franjo Tudjman Bridge, which is on one of the main entries into the region. A short drive out of Dubrovnik are many gorgeous and stunning villages and attractions – including the beautiful Petrovo Selo (“Peter’s Village”) – and long stretches of stunning scenery along the Croatian coast. If you’ve come in by cruise ship, stopping at the new modern port, you will already have seen the Bridge and the new town.

Those looking for four or five star accommodation can choose the Hotel Imperial right near the old town, or the very impressive Valamar Dubrovnik President Hotel and the Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik at the west end of Babin Kuk. There are many other hotels nearby too, including a short drive away in the coastal towns of Srebreno and Cavtat, so those looking for a longer stay are well catered for.

This section of the Croatian coast has some of the most stunning scenery in the Adriatic – or the Mediterranean for that matter – and Dubrovnik is certainly the most impressive jewel in the crown. Whatever it is you’re looking for – history, natural beauty, luxury, or even bits of King’s Landing – Dubrovnik is a must-see for any serious traveller.

Rector's Palace, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Rector’s Palace, Dubrovnik, Croatia



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