This harbour town, which is regarded as the greatest jewel in the crown of Croatia, will win over even those who are not naturally inclined towards historical monuments with its keen sense of individuality. The town has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1979.
Dubrovnik was a centre of sea trade for centuries. The city registered its greatest boom in the 15th century, when it ranked among the most important harbours in Europe. Dubrovnik represented great competition, even for Venice, at this time. With 300 merchant vessels and warships and more than 4000 sailors, it had the third largest navy in the world. Ships docked here, bringing goods from all over the Mediterranean, Europe and even the Far East. The main commodities exported were salt (salt mining was the greatest source of income), wine, fish, and olive oil.
A prestigious naval school was established right next to the St Lawrence Fortress. Naval trade is popular here to this day and the women of Dubrovnik have had to come to terms with the fact that their men spend much more time at sea than they do on land. The oldest harbour in Dubrovnik, Kalarina, stood near St Lawrence's Fortress. There were also two armouries in the city, and large naval vessels were also repaired there. If you want to learn more about the life of sailors from Dubrovnik and their ships, visit the local naval museum. It is located near the old harbour (the so-called Kaša) and several aquariums are also here with sea fish.
Wealth and relative peace (they paid the Turks a fat fee for protection) created the ideal conditions for the development of the sciences, arts, and architecture. The city had a modern water and sewer system, quarantine service and lazaretto (the lazaretto protected the city from epidemics and illnesses—each traveller or sailor was quarantined there for at least 40 days before entering the city), hospitals, a leper colony, a pharmacy (one of the oldest in preserved pharmacies in Europe) where monks made contraceptives from herbs, several doctors, and even a drop-off point for babies—the oldest baby box in history.
Alas, fate has dealt a number of harsh blows to the city. In the 14th century more than 7000 people died during one plague epidemic, a large earthquake hit in 1667 and most recently, however briefly, the civil war and bombing in 1991–92 saw the city's fortunes take a turn for the worse.
Dubrovník recovered though, and today it is a very popular and reassuringly expensive tourist destination. Rightly regarded as the most beautiful city on the Adriatic coastline it will win you over immediately with its unforgettable atmosphere. The largest dominant feature in the city are the fortified walls, roughly 2 km in length, with several defensive towers that protected the city from enemies.
The defensive system also includes several majestic forts—the St John Fortress, the St Lawrence Fortress set on rocks, Bokar, and Ravelin (the last three forts stand separately, away from the fortifications, but still had a fundamental impact, defending the city). Over the entrance gate to St Lawrence's Fortress is a motto—quite fitting for Dubrovnik—"Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro" ("Freedom cannot be bought for all the gold in the world"). The fort has an eerie atmosphere and a theatre festival is held there every year. Lovrijenac Harbour is famous the world over for its renditions of Hamlet. A beautiful view of the sea, pleasant music and refreshments are all offered at Buza Bar, situated on the rocks.
I recommend anchoring in the evening south of the entrance to the old harbour and entering early in the morning on a dinghy (you can also sail into the harbour in a sailing yacht, but this is not permitted and they will remove you from the breakwater by 09:00). The best time to visit is early in the morning around 06:00–07:00 when the city is just awakening. Not a tourist in sight, market stall-holders arriving with fruit and vegetables, the streets being cleaned, and a wonderful tranquility, everywhere. The first cafés start to open and you can enjoy a coffee and the atmosphere of the empty city. The city gates are closed to tourists this early, so you will only meet locals. The old town is truly unique.
The centre is a labrynth of narrow, relatively steep stone lanes, crowded with cafés and terraces, restaurants, galleries, various stores, and souvenir shops. We recommend the little Clara Stones shop where you can buy beautiful jewellery made from genuine coral and where also, you might learn some interesting facts about coral processing. Part of the local colour is the ubiquitous laundry hanging from clothes lines stretched on pulleys between windows. They impart colour and life to the otherwise austere stone walls.
The main entrance to the city is the western, double-pile Gate. A stone bridge and operational wooden drawbridge lead over a dike to the gate. Steps then lead from the outer gate to the inner gate which is part of the main city fortifications. The castle dike has been made into a park where beautiful pink oleanders bloom. On the other side of the city is the eastern Ploče Gate.
ACI Marina in Miho Pracat offers 425 berths on the water, connections to water and electricity, showers and toilets, WiFi, technical services, and several shops with yachting equipment. An open-air swimming pool, a children’s playground, a diving centre, laundry, superbly stocked supermarket, a taxi rank and fuelling station are also here. Several cafés and restaurants are on the waterfront (we recommend the Vimbula restaurant if you want to eat near the marina, or the superb Bonaca Konoba—about 1 km from the marina). The average cost of a berth here is EUR 123 (for a boat length of 13 m). A regular bus service runs from the marina to the old town.
Marina Gruž is a small marina offering 40 berths with connections to water and electricity. There are currently no moorings here! You have to drop anchor. Parking is expensive for small boats (boats up to 25 m pay EUR 120 and water and electricity are not included in the price). There are showers and toilets on the quay as well as an ATM and grocery. If you want to eat near the marina, we recommend the Amfora restaurant (superb food, relatively expensive but nonetheless, near the marina) or the Porat Bar & Grill (steak house, grill, specialities) and the Otto taverna.
The harbour in the old town is fully occupied and tourist sailing yachts are not permitted to anchor there.