The medieval core of Dubrovnik and the focal point of most city itineraries, Dubrovnik’s Old Town is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site, made up of a warren of limestone-paved streets and painstakingly restored medieval architecture. The pedestrianized center is still surrounded by its 15th-century fortification walls and walking along the ramparts provides expansive views over the town.
Navigating the labyrinth of the Old Town unveils many of the city’s most impressive buildings, now flanked by an array of modern shops, restaurants and hotels. Highlights include the reconstructed gothic-renaissance Rector’s Palace; the baroque-style Cathedral of the Assumption, built in the 18th-century; and the landmark Bell Tower, which looms 31 meters over Luza Square. Don’t miss a stroll along the main thoroughfare of Stradun Street, a tour of the Franciscan Monastery and Museum and a visit to the striking 16th-century Sponza Palace.
Pile Gate is a grand entrance into Dubrovnik’s Old Town, on its western wall.
Built in 1537 to protect the city from invaders and monitor trade, Pile Gate was originally reached via a wooden drawbridge, which was raised every evening, the gate locked and the key handed to the prince in an elaborate ceremony.
Pile Gate has an outer and inner gate with statues of St. Blaise, the city’s patron saint. The St. Blaise statue in the niche of the interior arch is the handiwork 20th-century Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. You’ll also find an old door here that dates back to 1460.
As you pass over the stone bridge towards the outer gate you’ll notice a green space below. This space used to be the moat, another defense mechanism to deter those who wished to infiltrate the city.
Perched on a 37-meter cliff top jutting out into the Adriatic Sea, it’s easy to see how the dramatic Fort Lovrijenac earned itself the nicknamed of ‘Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar’. The mighty stone fortress is one of Dubrovnik’s most recognizable landmarks, looming over the western gate to the walled Old Town and providing a striking backdrop to the annual Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
Immortalized on-screen as part of the fictional King’s Landing in HBO’s hit fantasy drama, Game of Thrones, Fort Lovrijenac has further cemented its place at the top of tourist itineraries and few views are as breathtaking as looking out over the coastal city from the cliff top ramparts. Built in the 11th century, the fortress was once an impenetrable stronghold, with its 12-meter thick sea walls and infamous 3,000kg bronze ‘Guster’ cannon.
A cluster of isles and islands found along the Dalmatian Coast, the Elafiti Islands are one of Croatia’s most popular destinations and make an easy day trip from nearby Dubrovnik. Fourteen islands make up the small archipelago, but only the largest three - Kolocep, Lopud and Sipan – are inhabited and linked by ferry and taxi-boat to the mainland, making them the focal point of island hopping tours.
Despite their popularity among day-trippers, the trio of islands remain largely unaffected by the spoils of tourism, dotted with a mere handful of hotels and maintaining many car-free roads. Koločep benefits from being the nearest island to Dubrovnik, celebrated for its dramatic coastal cliffs, tranquil pebble beaches and shaded olive groves, whereas neighboring Lopud is best known for its well-preserved 11th century Benedictine monastery, 16th-century churches and sandy Šunj beach.
Dubrovnik’s Old Town is completely surrounded by enormous stone walls that date back to the 10th century. Up to 6m (19ft) thick and 2.5m (8ft) high in places, Dubrovnik's Ancient City Walls were built to protect the city and deter would-be invaders.
You can walk along the entire (2km/1.2mi) length of the ancient walls today and it is one of the best ways to appreciate the majesty of the Old Town (and get some great views over the Adriatic sea). There are 2 towers and 2 forts incorporated into the walls that were built and/or strengthened in the 15th century to bolster the city’s defences. The Minceta Tower protects the city’s northern edge; the Bokar Tower protects Pile Gate (the city’s main entrance); Lovrjenac Fort protects the west, and the Revelin Fort protects the eastern entrance.
Travelers looking to explore untouched Croatia while getting a true taste of the Adriatic Sea will find all they’re looking for at Elaphite Islands. This cluster of coastal escapes stretches from Dubrovnik to Peljesac and boasts thick foliage and unspoiled natural wonders that have become difficult to find on the mainland.
Just three of these favorite getaways—Lopud, Sipan or Kolocep—are accessible to visitors, but their diversity means there’s still something for everyone in the Elaphite Islands. Kolocep, the smallest of the three, is surrounded by brilliant blue waters and proves a remarkable respite for tired travelers. Sunj beach has made Lopud the most visited of the three, but those in the know say despite its popularity, Lopud is still perfect for a quiet escape. Sipan, the largest of the three islands, offers travelers the most to do, including tours of some of the stately aristocratic manors of the Dubrovnik Republic.
A mere 1km from Dubrovnik, the small island of Lokrum makes a welcome escape from the city and with regular boats making the 15-minute trip, it’s an easy excursion from the mainland. Nicknamed the ‘Island of Kings’, legend has it that King Richard the Lionheart was shipwrecked on Lokrum Island following his 1192 crusades. Continuing its royal connections, the island was bought in 1859 by Maximilian von Habsburg, the Archduke of Austria, who transformed its 12th-century Benedictine abbey and monastery into a summer palace.
The Abbey and its formal gardens remain one of the island’s principal highlights, but equally impressive is the botanical garden of the Dubrovnik Oceanographic Institute and the Fort Royal, an early 19th-century French fort, which tops the Lokrum Hills. For many though, a visit Lokrum is simply an excuse to soak up the idyllic scenery – swathes of pine and cypress forests, olive groves and rocky coves that make up the Lokrum island nature reserve.
The dramatic Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata) marks the eastern entrance to Zagreb’s medieval Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, providing a useful navigation point for visitors passing between the Upper and Lower towns. The stone-carved arch is more than just a gateway though – local legend has transformed it into a shrine and the adjourning chapel flickers with candles, lit daily by local worshippers in honor of the Virgin Mary.
The origins of the Stone Gate date back to as early as 1266 and today the restored archway forms a key part of the ruins of the ancient city walls. The story goes that the original gate featured a painting of Mary holding baby Jesus and after a devastating fire swept through the capital in 1731, the artwork miraculously survived, appearing to locals like the image of the Virgin Mary was emerging from the ashes.
This palace right in the heart of Split, was used by Roman Emperor Diocletian and is one of the best preserved monuments of Roman architecture in the world. In 1979, it was declared -- with the historic city of Split -- a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ruins of the Palace can also be found throughout the city.
A military fortress, imperial residence and fortified town, the palace covers over 31,000 square meters (334 square feet). Diocletian spared no expense in the building of the palace, importing marble from Italy and Greece, and columns and sphinxes from Egypt. Many of the buildings are made from local white limestone quarried on the nearby island of Brac. Each wall has a gate named after metals: the northern gate is the Golden Gate; the southern gate is the Bronze Gate; the eastern gate is the Silver Gate; and the western gate is the Iron Gate.
Encompassing the medieval hilltop settlements of Kaptol and Gradec, Zagreb’s Gornji Grad (Upper Town) is the capital’s historic district, looking down over the modern center of Donji Grad (Lower Town) below. Loosely defined as the area north of the central Bana Jelačića square, Gornji Grad’s lattice of cobblestone streets, pretty medieval squares and lively café culture make it Zagreb’s most picturesque neighborhood and visitors to the city will likely find themselves spending a large portion of their time here.
Stroll along the leafy walkway of the Strossmayer Promenade, where the old city walls once stood; light a candle at the revered Stone Gate (Kamenita vrata), now transformed into a shrine to the Virgin Mary; or pay a visit to the adorably quirky Museum of Broken Relationships. The most famous landmark of the Upper Town is the Gothic Zagreb Cathedral of the Assumption, perched on Kaptol Hill, but other notable highlights include the mosaic-roofed St Mark’s Church.
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Peristil Square is Split's main square, the former entry hall in Diocletian's Palace. It is derived from a Roman architectural term called the peristyle, an open colonnade surrounding a court.
The spacious central courtyard is flanked by marble columns topped with Corinthian capitals and richly ornamented cornices linked by arches. There are six columns on both the east and west sides, and four more at the south end, which mark the monumental entrance to the Vestibul. Most of the structure is made of white stone from the nearby island of Brač; however, the columns are made of Italian marble and siennite from Egypt. The Vestibul is a cavernous open dome above the ground floor passageway; a foyer that leads you into the emperor's residential quarters. The Vestibul provides great acoustics allowing klapa bands to perform traditional a capella songs there in the mornings.
A short walking distance from Diocletian's Palace, this hilly peninsula is a recreational park for both locals and visitors. A protected nature reserve since 1964, the park is dotted with pine trees and Mediterranean shrubs.
Some of Split's best beaches are at the foot of Marjan hill and are easily reachable by bicycle which you can rent at the entrance. To enter the natural preserve, just follow the steps from the Veli Varos neighborhood. Keep climbing and you'll reach the Telegrin belvedere -- on a clear day you can see as far as Vis Island. You'll get some of the most spectacular views of the island and the Adriatic Sea from the top of the hill. There are many other cultural spots on the hill, including Split's most interesting museums, such as the Mestrovic Gallery and the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Many churches are dotted on the site, including the Church of St George, situated on the western slopes, with the Oceanographic institute next door.
This Cathedral has two lives: its first life was as the Cathedral of St. Dominus, the mausoleum dedicated to Diocletian. Diocletian was known for his brutal persecution of Christians after a campaign to get rid of Christianity. Ironically, what Diocletian built to glorify his memory was used to remember his victims. His body was removed from the mausoleum in the 7th century, with no record of where his remains are now. Today, the cathedral is a popular meeting place because of its proximity to the Silver Gate at Diocletian's Palace (it leads to Hrjvojeva Street). The courtyard is the location for Split's Summer Festival in July and August.
Its second life is now as the Cathedral of St Duje, a shrine to St Dominus. St Duje was the patron saint of Split, who was a 3rd-century Bishop of Salona in Dalmatia.
There are four different gates or access points to enter Split's historic core, all named after four different metals.
The best starting point is the Bronze Gate, which opens outward from the palace's southern area to Split's Riva (harbor-front promenade). Inside, it leads to the podrum, or basement, where support staff cooked meals for Diocletian and his guests. The cryptoporticus (gallery) that runs east-west from the Bronze Gate was an open promenade. The part of the podrum that extends from the Bronze Gate toward the steps to the Peristil above is a brick-lined marketplace filled with merchants and craftspeople selling souvenirs. The podrum connects to the Peristil, Split’s main square. The Silver Gate can be accessed from the eastern wall, where you’ll pass through the jumble of stalls of Pazar, the city's produce market. Be careful accessing this point at night, as it can be crowded.
With its grand Baroque façade standing proud over Luza Square, the Church of St Blaise is one of the most beautiful buildings of Dubrovnik’s Old Town. Originally built in the 14th century, the church was badly damaged in the 1667 earthquake and much of the present structure dates from its early 18th century reconstruction. Dedicated to the Dubrovnik’s patron saint and protector, the domed church is the handiwork of Venetian architect Marino Gropelli and is built on the plan of a Greek cross.
The church is best known for its remarkable silver statue of St Blaise, one of the city’s most important sculptures, depicting the saint holding up a model of the 15th-century city. Additional highlights include the exquisite stained-glass windows by local painter Ivo Dulcie, a pair of 15th century St. Blaise and St. Jerome sculptures by Nikola Lazanie and a collection of the Saint’s relics, which are famously carried through the streets of Dubrovnik each February 3rd.
The modern center of Zagreb might not be as strikingly picturesque as its higher altitude neighbor, but Donji Grad, the ‘Lower Town’, is still the focal point of many visitors’ itineraries, home to several of the capital’s most prominent buildings and museums. The dramatic centerpiece of the Lower Town is Lenuci’s Horseshoe (nicknamed the ‘Green Horseshoe’), a series of eight adjoining parks and gardens that encircle the district’s main public squares and form a scenic walking route around the principal sights.
Starting just south of the central Jelačića Square, the Green Horseshoe includes the 12,500-acre Zrinjevac Park, home to the Zagreb Archaeological Museum and Zagreb’s court buildings; the exquisite English-style Botanical Gardens; and the Mimara Museum, the city’s most important art museum. Nearby attractions include the Cvjetni Trg or Flower square, renowned for its idyllic cafés and colorful flower stands; the Arts and Crafts Museum.
With its grand neo-Renaissance façade presiding over Roosevelt Square in Zagreb’s Donji Grad (Lower Town), the Mimara Museum (Muzej Mimara) is impossible to miss, but the dramatic building is more than just a pretty face. This is the city’s biggest and most important art history museum, housing over 3,750 works, including paintings, sculptures and crafts, spanning over three millennia. The permanent exhibition is made up of the personal collections of Wiltrud and Ante Topić Mimara, an extraordinary assemblage of artifacts bequeathed to the city in 1987.
Elements of the collection come from all around the world, including Persian carpets, ancient Egyptian glassware, elaborate Renaissance altarpieces and archaeological finds from Greece, Rome and early-medieval Europe. Highlights include an enameled 13th-century crucifix, a series of ancient Far Eastern artworks and paintings by Dutch artists Rembrandt and Ruisdael, Spanish painters Velāzquez and Goya.
A few steps away from the Cathedral of St Dominus and St Duje -- at the end of the street Kraj Sveti Ivan -- is a temple dedicated to Jupiter, named after his father. Roman emperors often made themselves a god. Diocletian was Jovius, son of the top god, Jupiter. This god was highly worshipped during the Imperial era until the Roman Empire came under Christian rule. Emperor Diocletian believed he was a reincarnation of Jupiter and thus positioned this temple directly adjacent to his mausoleum, not St Dominus Cathedral.
When Diocletian's mausoleum became a cathedral, the temple was converted into a baptistery, housing a huge 12th-century baptismal font large enough to immerse someone (as was the tradition in those days). Jupiter is considered to be one of the best-preserved Roman temples in the world. The temple once had a porch supported by columns, but the one column you see dates from the 5th century.
A short cab ride from downtown Split, the Mestrovic Gallery is an art museum dedicated to the life and work of 20th-century sculptor, Ivan Meštrović, who has been compared to Rodin. Formerly Mestrovic’s house and atelier, the holdings now contain 192 sculptures, 583 drawings, 4 paintings, 291 architectural plans and two furniture sets. There are also 168 works of art owned by Meštrović’s heirs.
The house and garden hold some of the artist's best work, including a pair of huge walnut Adam and Eve figures and the powerful bronze Cyclops. Mestrovic's religious art comprises much of the gallery's permanent exhibits. You will discover the family archive found inside the house, which contains letters and personal documents of family members and friends, as well as builder Marin Marasovic’s archives (which include the building of The Most Holy Redeemer Church in Otavice and the erection of the Monument to Unknown Hero on Avala).
Founded in the early 11th century on the island of Lokrum 600 meters from the mainland and the city of Dubrovnik, the monastery came to be after monks fled the great fire that destroyed the capital in 1023, vowing to honor Saint Benedict should he protect their lives and the island that offered them shelter. They, later on, started to cultivate exotic plants and sour fruits there and continued to do so until the 19th century. Many locals like to think that the island is haunted; rumor has it that after having been forced out of their beloved monastery upon orders of the French army, the monks put a curse on anyone who would ultimately try to seek and claim it as its own. And indeed, future owners all ominously met severe misfortune and calamities, from tragic shipwrecks to bankruptcies.
A national park since 1949 and a World Heritage Site since 1979, Plitvice (prounounced pleet-wee-cheh) is still relatively new on the European tourist trail, but certainly not undiscovered. Set at the top of Croatia’s Adriatic region in a karsted area of the Dinaric Alps, just two hours from the capital city of Zagreb, the park is visited by over 1.2 million people each year.
A sprawling limestone and dolomite chalk landscape of blue-green lakes, mossy caves, trickling streams and spectacular waterfalls, this geological wonder formed at the confluence of two rivers dates back as far as the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Most of the 16 lakes within the park are rimmed with curvilinear boardwalks that wend alongside the most scenic waterfall areas, allowing visitors to get a closer look at the craggy travertine formations created by the constant rushing of water over mineral-rich rocks. Humans are not allowed to enter the clear, clean water here.
South of Dubrovnik, between the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea and the dramatic Sniježnica mountain, lies the Konavle Valley.
Coastal Cavtat at the northern end of the valley is the largest town and a popular holiday resort. That said, it retains its cultural and historic charm with wonderful buildings such as the Rector’s Palace, Church of Our Lady Cavtat and the Franciscan Monastery.
The valley stretches south to the Montenegrin border. Molunat is the southernmost point on the coast. The other 30 villages in the region are inland, including Čilipi near Dubrovnik airport.
Konavle Valley is wonderful for cycling and hiking along cliffs and through fields to pretty little villages. For steeper slopes hit the inclines of Sniježnica (at 1,234 meters it’s the highest point of the region). Opt for a more relaxing activity and go wine tasting in vineyards renowned for full-bodied cabernet sauvignon and merlot blends.
The Adriatic city of Dubrovnik, in southern Croatia, has one of Europe’s most picturesque medieval districts, known for its red rooftops and even more famous today for being a filming location of the Game of Thrones TV series. A tour of film sites is even a Dubrovnik shore excursion.
If you have already toured Dubrovnik’s Old Town, other shore excursions include kayaking in the clear Adriatic Sea or checking out surrounding coastal towns like Cavtat.
You’ll dock in one of three places. The port in Gruz, a neighborhood about 2 miles (3 km) north of Old Town, is the most common, but depending on the size of your ship and daily port traffic, you may dock in the Old Town harbor or anchor in the bay and be tendered into Old Town. If you dock at the Gruz port, take a shuttle to Old Town if your ship provides one, or take a bus or taxi, both available outside the port.
The Cetina River flows through 63 miles (101 km) of southern Croatia and drops down 1,260 feet (385 m) as it rushes down into the Adriatic Sea near Split. Over the centuries rapids have formed on the upper half of the river, and it is today fast-becoming a popular white-water rafting and canyoning destination for adrenaline junkies from all over Europe.
Having its source somewhere under the mountains of Dinara and Gnjat, the Cetina wends its way through a spectacular limestone gorge, passing sites of archaeological importance far above in the high canyon, where prehistoric artifacts have been discovered along with Roman shields and medieval agricultural implements. Lower down, the Cetina flows through pastures coated in flowers in spring and the rich alluvial soil fertilizes the vineyards and crop fields bordering the river.
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