It is hard to miss the giant ancient wall that surrounds the Croatian city of Dubrovnik and the longer I spent in this breathtaking city the more I realised of its role in shaping the city to what it is today.
My trip to Croatia was a sporadic one, I literally booked my flights and accommodation the day before I arrived and was pleasantly surprised to find that I had booked an awesome hostel in a prime location in the old part of the city (inside the wall).
Most people will recommend home stay accommodation when visiting Croatia as they are cheaper and can be more culturally authentic but as I was travelling solo I was a bit more safety conscious and looking to meet some travel buddies.
My hostel was called Fresh* Sheets and can be tricky to find but the instructions on their website are spot on. Upon arrival I was greeted with a smiling face and a shot of locally made pear schnapps, this was my sort of place!
I hadn’t done much research pre-arrival and was happy to discover that the friendly staff also run tours to the close-by Lokrum Island and help with sightseeing advice.
You can’t drive inside the walls so the entrance is on foot via the ‘Pila gate’. This can be a nightmare to err… navi-gate in the high season when the cruise ships come in and the city fills with tourists. It’s best to get out early and come back late, or hibernate out of the main thoroughfare during those times.
It is important to remember the wall’s role in the city’s history. Dubrovnik sits on the Dalmatian coast and was prone to ambush from the sea. A wall of some form has protected the city since the about the 7th century but hundreds of years later the current 1,940 metre long stone structure played a part in protecting the city again during the 1991-95 Croatian War of Independence.
A keen eye (or a good guide) can point out some relics of its not so distant past including bullet holes in parts of the wall. It’s quite confronting to realise that these occurred during my lifetime and that the Slavic population in my hometown is probably a direct result of this war.
Now the point of a wall is to keep a city airtight of course, but there are a couple of places where you can still reach the beautiful Adriatic Sea. Not far from Fresh Sheets is an unimposing door that gives access to the ‘secret’ swimming hole and the waterfront Buza Bar.
When I say ‘reach the sea’, I technically mean jump. Due to the rocky coastline there is a real culture of simply diving into the water and it’s not unusual to see a Croatian granny stride down the steps in her togs and boldly jump in from a 2 metre high rock.
But it’s worth it, the water is so salty that you barely have to tread water to float and the perfect ‘cool enough but not too cold’ temperature is exactly what you want in Dubrovnik’s 40+ degree summer heat. For the thrill seekers there is a spot where cliff jumping is popular but I preferred to sit at the iconic Buza bar and watch the action safely.
The nightlife is great fun and the tiny hole-in-the-wall bars spill out into the streets where the staff will happily bring your next beverage. As the night progresses you move into some more rowdy bars such as Galerie, where beverages are served in buckets.
One of the more famous nightclubs, Revalin, was originally one of the city’s fortresses and once protected the second biggest entry point, the ‘Ploca Gate’. I am not much of a ‘nightclubbing kinda gal’ but was invited to a Croatian Rock Concert at the venue by some locals. To be honest it was pretty crazy, there I was dodging lit cigarettes in a smoke filled cavern, surrounded by giant sized Croatians and listening to what was, to my ear, essentially Croatian screaming. That said, I had a fun time and I am told it’s great on a regular night too.
For a thorough introduction to the nightlife of Dubrovnik I highly recommend one of the Fresh Sheets hostels ‘unofficial’ pub crawls. But be warned, I was in a world of pain the day after.
After a week of living within its walls it couldn’t be more fitting to say goodbye to Dubrovnik with a walk around its perimeter. On advice from the guys at Fresh* Sheets we tackled the wall walk at sunset and were rewarded with 360 degree views without the cruise ship crowd. I thought I had explored the old city thoroughly but the views from the UNESCO listed wall revealed there was plenty more to see.
Sitting at the final fortress and watching the last bit of the sun setting over the red roofed city was the perfect way to finish my visit.