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Wandering the city walls in Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik city walls, Croatia

Conventional cruise wisdom has it that when you get into port, you should be first off the ship to get as much time as you can in each destination. Great in theory, but it didn’t take into account that our arrival into Dubrovnik would coincide with a torrential rainstorm – and an umbrella shortage! So, feeling just a little bit guilty, we hung out in the jacuzzi first while else was trudging around in the rain. It turned out to be a good choice though as an hour later the sun was shining, the sunglasses were out instead of the raincoats, and Dubrovnik looked like a whole different place. The city has attracted more than its share of superlatives over the years – it’s known as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ and according to playwright George Bernard Shaw “Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik”. Big words – but Dubrovnik lived up to the high expectations and we couldn’t help being charmed by our taste of the city.

Views from Dubrovnik city walls, Croatia

The old town of Dubrovnik

Entering the city through the Pile Gate, there might be a lot more visitors and gift shops than a few centuries ago but there’s still the feeling that not too much else has changed. The old city is pedestrianised, so you don’t have to worry about traffic as you wander through the marble-paved streets – probably a good thing as it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road when there are so many beautiful buildings around. Central Dubrovnik is a jumbled mixture of Gothic and Renaissance churches, Venetian palazzos and carved fountains, mixed in with terrace restaurants and a growing array of smart boutiques and hotels.

Views from Dubrovnik city walls, Croatia

Dizzying steps up to a church spire and Dubrovnik’s harbour

But one of the best ways to see Dubrovnik is to get up high above the city onto its walls. The whole of the old city is encircled by 1.2 miles of thick stone walls which reach up to 25 metres high and six metres wide in places and have been protecting the city for centuries – whether that’s from invaders or earthquakes. The first city walls were built in the 11th century but the shape you see today dates back to the 14th century when Dubrovnik got its independence from Venice. As well as the walls themselves there are four gates to let people in and out – two by land and two by sea – and four fortresses to protect the most vulnerable points.

Views from Dubrovnik city walls, Croatia

Ruined buildings lining the edge of the walls

Despite more than its fair share of attacks over the years, the walls protected Dubrovnik for centuries without ever being breached. But one thing that has left its mark on them is a more recent conflict – the Balkan Wars. The city was subject to major bombing during the 1990s, though it’s hard to spot it now. The only clues you have are the pockmarks left on some buildings and a few roofs which have been restored, with their bright orange newer roof tiles standing out against the more weathered originals.

Views from Dubrovnik city walls, Croatia

Bell towers and hidden courtyards

Our route around the walls started near the Pile Gate and headed up a steep flight of stairs to the top of the walls. From up there you get a much better idea of Dubrovnik’s layout – as well as some pretty fantastic views of the city and the Adriatic Sea. The width and height of the walls varies as you walk around – getting as narrow as a metre wide in some areas and with dizzying views down into the narrow streets below.

Views from Dubrovnik city walls, Croatia

The island of Lokrum as seen from the walls

Walking the walls also gives you a bird’s-eye view right into the homes and gardens of the city’s residents. You get little snapshots of their everyday life as you pass – hanging out washing from their windows, drinking coffee in the garden, stretched out on the rocks catching some sun. Though you can’t help wondering what they make of having a procession of tourists wandering past every day, and whether they resent having to close their shutters to escape the constant eyes and camera lenses.

Views from Dubrovnik city walls, Croatia

Looking back over the old port to St John’s fortress

The hazy afternoon sunshine was just about perfect for walking the walls – in the height of summer the sun beating down from above and the heat from the stone below can make it a hard slog. Around halfway round there is a bar built into one of the fortresses where you can grab a water or a fresh orange juice. But we held out until the end – I’d been tipped off about Buža bar which we spotted en route, and a seat under the umbrellas right on the waterfront looked hard to beat. But first we had earn that drink.

Views from Dubrovnik city walls, Croatia

The city walls climb uphill – and looking down on Buža bar

The final stretch of the walls took us on a climb up yet more steps – somehow we seemed to go up twice as many as we went down – towards the highest point of the walls at the Minčeta Tower. From the top the buildings way below looked like a patchwork quilt, with rooftops making up the different patches. Church domes and bell towers poked up through the sea of red roofs, with the deep green forests of Lokrum island in the background. Then after an hour’s worth of walking and snapping away we headed downhill back onto the city streets, having got a better perspective on the city in more ways than one.

Views from Dubrovnik city walls, Croatia

A patchwork of rooftops seen from the top of the Minčeta Tower

The details

Dubrovnik’s city walls are open 8am–7.30pm during June and July; 8am–6.30pm during April, May, August and September; 8am–5.30pm during October; and 9am–3pm for the rest of the year. Admission costs 100 kn per person (about £10). It’s a good idea to get there early or late in the day to beat the worst of the crowds – and the summer heat – and to bring water with you as there’s not much shade up there. There are entrances to the walls by the Pile Gate and Ploče Gate – start at the Ploče Gate to get the worst of the climbing done first, or at the Pile Gate to build up to the best views from the highest point right at the end. Either way you have to follow an anticlockwise route around the walls.

I visited Dubrovnik as part of a Celebrity Cruises Venice to Istanbul cruise. Many thanks to Celebrity for hosting my mum and I on the trip. All views and opinions are, as always, my own.

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47 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dubrovnik is included in one of the trips I’m planning for 2015, and thanks to another post of yours, I want to include a couple of days to visit the Bay of Kotor as well. I must say this in every comment, but you do take stunning pictures! 🙂

    July 10, 2014
    • Thanks! That sounds like a fantastic trip – I’m hoping to get back to Croatia next year and see a bit more of the area around Istria in the north.

      July 11, 2014
  2. Stunning place, stunning photos! You wouldn’t even know it had been raining earlier. This is definitely something I will be doing in Dubrovnik (fingers crossed) next year.

    July 10, 2014
    • We definitely got lucky on the weather front, it was torrential a couple of hours earlier! Great that you are planning on heading out there next year, it’s a great place.

      July 11, 2014
  3. Going here in Aug….looking forward to it!
    Thanks for the tips!

    July 10, 2014
  4. Really nice reportage. Dubroinik is one of the town I wish o visit. Ciaoo Bea

    July 10, 2014
    • Thanks Bea, hope you get to visit sometime soon!

      July 11, 2014
  5. We had a downpour when we wanted to walk the walls, so waited until 4pm when the sun came out and the tourists had returned to their ships, so we had the walk more or less to ourselves. I remember you wrote about the Kotor walls last year – which did you prefer?

    July 10, 2014
    • Hmm, difficult one, I enjoyed both but think Dubrovnik was my favourite as there’s a bit more to see – the Kotor walls go much higher so have more panoramic views but I liked being able to peek into the city!

      July 11, 2014
  6. Dubrovnik sounds like such a fascinating city – all that history and such a difficult recent past. I’d love to visit one day.

    July 10, 2014
    • It’s got a really good combination of history and culture plus some beautiful beaches and countryside too!

      July 11, 2014
  7. Wow! I had no idea Dubrovnik was so beautiful! Thanks for enlightening me1

    July 10, 2014
  8. I have to get to that buza bar place, looks amazing! Great pic, looks like an amazing city.

    July 10, 2014
    • Such a great location isn’t it – love how they’ve managed to squeeze it in right on the edge of the cliff!

      July 11, 2014
  9. Isn’t it a fabulous walk around the wall atop the Old City! We loved peeking into people’s windows to see how they live :-). Fortunately, we’ve only encountered sunshine on our visits to Dubrovnik. We’ve also written recently about “Getting High: Walking the Dubrovnik City Wall” :-).

    July 10, 2014
    • You got lucky with the weather! Lovely to see your photos too, there are so many different angles and things to see you never get the same shots twice!

      July 11, 2014
  10. I loved walking the walls when I visited Dubrovnik – in fact they had to chuck me off at closing time!
    Loving your photos and hope to see the city again for myself later in the year 🙂

    July 10, 2014
    • If I hadn’t had a ship to catch I’d have been up there all day!

      July 11, 2014
  11. Going to this city next August – thank you !

    July 10, 2014
  12. WOW! Wonderful post. I will be adding Dubrovnik to my list of cities to visit. Great photos!

    July 10, 2014
    • Thanks so much – hope you get to make the trip someday, it’s a great city!

      July 11, 2014
  13. Got a serious case of travel envy – Dubrovnik has been on my to-go list for too long!

    July 10, 2014
    • It took me years to get out there too! Hopefully you’ll get to make the trip soon though.

      July 11, 2014
  14. Reblogged this on Managing: Life and Self and commented:
    Dubrovnik is one of my favorite places in the world! Lately I have been daydreaming of the possibilty of owning my own home there…

    July 11, 2014
    • How fantastic would that be! Thanks for reblogging.

      July 11, 2014
  15. Fabulous, Dubrovnik! Close to my heart!

    July 11, 2014
    • Such a great place isn’t it, I can see why you love it!

      July 11, 2014
  16. Great pics! Did you get a chance to try the food? We just spent a couple of weeks in Split and weren’t as blown away as we expected to be, having heard so much about Croatian food.

    July 11, 2014
    • Thanks – we were only there briefly so didn’t get to try a lot of local food, hope to get back to Croatia next summer and do bit more of a thorough test!

      July 11, 2014
  17. Jen #

    Although it rained 95% of my time in Dubrovnik, I still appreciated the beauty of it all. You’re lucky that it was sunny though!

    July 11, 2014
    • We did get really lucky, especially as it rained that morning and evening!

      July 13, 2014
  18. How pretty! I love all of the orange rooftops. It looks like a toy town from a distance.

    July 11, 2014
    • It does look like a model town doesn’t it!

      July 13, 2014
  19. Unfortunately I had a tiny fraction of my budget left when I finally got to Dubrovnik in the summer of 2012, so I couldn’t actually afford to part with the 100kn fee to walk the city walls 😦

    I still loved everything about it though, especially the fact that Game Of Thrones was fliming at the time! I saw Lord Bailish up to his dirty tricks on the waterfront.

    July 12, 2014
    • Oh no – you’ll have to go back sometime! I’m a bit late on the uptake and not seen any of Game of Thrones yet, will have to sort that out soon!

      July 13, 2014
  20. Beautiful photos! I can’t wait to get back to Dubrovnik!

    July 13, 2014
    • Thanks – I’d love to back and spend a bit more time there too!

      July 13, 2014
  21. Incredible!! I’m planning to visit Dubrovnik (and a couple of surrounding towns) next year. I heard walking the walls is a must do, and your photos certainly cement that fact!

    July 15, 2014
    • Walking the walls is definitely a must-do in Dubrovnik, and if you get a nice day there are some great views over the city from the cable car up the mountain behind the city too.

      July 22, 2014
    • Amazing! So looking forward to it 🙂

      July 25, 2014
  22. I just love the contrast of the orange walls and the deep blue water. Such a photogenic city. Great job capturing it, Lucy!

    July 16, 2014
    • Thanks so much, I was so happy that the sun came out for long enough as it makes the colours look so much brighter!

      July 22, 2014
  23. Fantastic post! Dubrovnik looks lovely. I wonder how long before it becomes such a tourist haven that it starts to lose its charm (hopefully never.) I love your idea of seeing “snapshots of daily life.” That’s just the sort of thing I always miss when I travel.

    July 18, 2014
    • It is definitely getting more and more popular and can get really crowded sometimes, but I think it’s still got lots of charm!

      July 22, 2014

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