Drama and Dreams in Old Town Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, Croatia, known to many as King’s Landing in the Game of Thrones, is an ancient walled city rising from the edge of the sea. The star of the Dalmatian Coast attracts international tourists for its breathtaking views, historic buildings, and a gorgeous natural coastline. However, Dubrovnik is also a city that was struck by war in 1991.

Looking down on the Stradun or main street of Dubrovnik.

History of Dubrovnik and Wars

Founded in the 7th Century, Dubrovnik boomed into a maritime trading center in the 15th and 16th centuries. The city withstood attacks by the Turks and endured a horrific earthquake in 1667. But, the Pearl of the Adriatic suffered its most serious damage during the 1991-1995 war between Croatia and the Yugoslav Army. Over two-thirds of the historic town’s buildings were hit by artillery, and the narrow streets took hundreds of direct hits. Bullets also struck the medieval city walls and fires arose that damaged historic palaces.

A church rests at the end of a cobbled lane.
A church rests at the end of a cobbled lane.
Ornate Altar in the Church of St. Blaise.
Altar in the St. Blaise Church.

While the siege on the Old Town lasted just about eight months, Dubrovnik played a symbolic role in fighting for Croatian independence.

Dubrovnik, December 1991 aftermath.
Dubrovnik, December 1991 aftermath. By Peter Denton from Teddington, UK (Balkans War 1991: Dubrovnik) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Reconstruction Following the War

Major reconstruction efforts restored buildings, and Old Town Dubrovnik is back to its former glory, except for scars from a bullet strike here or there. Expect a colorful compact, walking town, no cars permitted, that retains its medieval charms and characteristics.

Church domes soar over the houses in the historic walled city of Dubrovnik.
Church domes soar over the houses in the historic walled city of Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik illuminated at night.

Walking the Walls above the Old Town

Dubrovnik’s first walls appeared in the 9th century. Since then, they have been rebuilt and fortified numerous times. One of my fondest memories is climbing up, down, and around these steep walls. You peer over redish-orange tiled rooftops and church steeples into the tightly packed enclosure, population about 1,000.

Tip: Plan to walk around the one-mile length of the walls early. Cruise ship excursions being many tourists in the late morning and afternoon.

Walking and climbing the wall in Old Town Dubrovnik.
Visitors climbing up to the Old Town Walls.

The enticing views from the seaward side walls appear dramatically different. From this vantage point you’ll see crystal clear turquoise water stretching for miles. In the distance, small islands and boats dot the scene.

Boats in Dubrovnik's marina.
Boats in Dubrovnik’s marina.

Dining in Old Town

Narrow cobblestone alleys off the main Stradun or walkway lead to small hole- in-the-wall restaurants and shops that produce delightful cuisine.  Seafood is the main dish, and here I devoured my first squid burger. The streets at the lowest level of the town lay flat with outdoor cafes spilling onto plazas. A favorite activity is sipping coffee or wine and people watching.

Romantic street side cafes for evening meals.
Evening dining in street side cafes.

Sites to See

After climbing the walls, visits to the Sponza and Rector’s Palace, St Blaise’s Church, and the Franciscan Monastery are the must-see attractions. The artworks, mainly Renaissance religious pieces, appear throughout the town. The dreamy cloister of the monastery makes a lovely escape from the hot sun.

Cloister in Dubrovnik.
Cloister in the Dominican Monastery, Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik became the set for several scenes in the Game of Thrones, including King’s Landing, the capital of the fictional Seven Kingdoms realm. Special tours take fans to where the filming took place. Boat rides, beaches and adventures on nearby islands like the offshore Lokrun Island, become the loveliest way to spend your time.

The magnificent Old Town Harboras seen from the walls.
Old Town Harbor

I grabbed a seat on the Dubrovnik Gondola for a pre-sunset ride up Mount Srd. During the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991, Mount Srd was the base from which the Yugoslav Army shelled the city. The cross at the top was originally constructed in 1935 but was destroyed by mortars in 1991. Since then, it was rebuilt and dedicated to the victims of the Croatian War of Independence. The breathtaking panoramic views tell the dramatic story of this unforgettable Croatian city.

Take the gondola to the summit for spectacular views.
View from the top of gondola summit.


An article similar to this one appeared in the July 2016 edition of the Mandarin Newsline.

Gorgeous sunset over Old Town Dubrovnik.
Good Night Dubrovnik.