Dubrovnik is the heart of tourism in Croatia, and offers “the Mediterranean as it once was,” to quote a recent advertisement. The city was the center of a small fiercely autonomous Republic of Ragusa from 1358 to 1806. Ragusa is the Italian equivalent for the Croatian name Dubrovnik. Although largely independent from the rest of Croatia and from the expansive Republic of Venice that controlled much of the Croatian coast, the city was a center of Croatian literature, art and science for centuries. Dubrovnik is a remarkably intact example of early central urban planning with beautiful limestone and marble renaissance buildings and streets. In its day, the city was a center of commerce on a crossroads connecting the Balkans and middle east with Italy and western Europe, competing with Venice, Genoa, and other commercial centers to be the main conduit of eastern (Ottoman and Byzantine) and western (European) goods in early modern history. The Republic of Ragusa was one of the first European governments to recognize the independence of the American colonies after the American revolution and traded Ottoman goods with the American colonies in its final days. Dubrovnik’s motto is “liberty is not sold for all the gold in the world.”
Guidebooks: For $10 you can order Rick Steves Snapshot Dubrovnik guide on Amazon. This is a great introduction to what the city has to offer. Given the influx of English speaking tourists looking for adventures, many excursions leaving from Dubrovnik can be arranged with minimal planning or hassle. Most of these are day trips. Kayaking around the city, biking through vineyards, island-hopping along the Adriatic, or visiting the rich cultural heritage of Bosnia are feasible. Almost all the many companies that offer arranged trips cater to English speaking tourists. In addition to English, Italian and German are common languages in the tourist industry. Most of these companies are reliable, friendly and extremely unlikely to take advantage of tourists.
Visit https://www.croatia-excursions.hr/en/excursions/dubrovnikfor some great ways to explore the region.
A few specific suggestions:
Head for the hills if you only have a few hours. You can take a cable car from city center (just outside the old city walls) to the Imperial Fort on Srd hill (yes, that is how it’s spelled; R is a vowel sometimes in Croatian). At the top, you’ll find panoramic views. There is a Museum of the Homeland War, a go-cart trail through a cleared land mine known as the buggy safari, and a 1.2 km hiking trail.
Half-day biking tours to local vinyards can be arranged. https://www.croatia-excursions.hr/en/excursions/jump-on-a-bike-and-explore-the-traditional-konavle-vineyards-30
“Three Island” Tour (8 hours)- Explore the islands Elaphiti, which were a summer residence of nobility of Republic Ragusa, and remain a local favorite. Visit the three biggest islands of the archipelago Koločep, Šipan and Lopud. The best way to experience the islands is on
Consider visiting Cavtat (nearby town – 30-45 minute ride south of dubrovnik) – this would have to be organized. But could include great food, vinyards and historical sites from the ottoman invasions and Balkan wars. You can drive a little further south to the town of Popovici and find the hidden Pasjaca Beach.
Go North to Ston (nearby town – 60 minutes north of town) – old walls, oysters and wine.
Consider a day trip to beautiful Bosnian city of Mostar (3 hours each way) with iconic medieval bridge and museum to help explain the vibrant history of this ancient town. The old bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina's most visited landmarks, and is considered an exemplary piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. If you really want to get into the complex history of Bosnia and the region, consider ordering a copy of the novel, Bridge on the River Drina by Ivo Andric, Yugoslavia’s only nobel laureate in literature. The novel is about a similar bridge in the town of Visegrad, now in the Serbian Republic in Bosnia, and the way the multicultural communities of Bosnia were tangled in happiness and tragedy by the bridge over centuries.
Finally, on the way to Mostar (about two and a half hours from Dubrovnik), you may consider a pilgrimage or day visit to Medjugorje. Six children - Ivan, Jakov, Marija, Mirjana, Vicka and Ivanka - from this small village located in the southwest of Bosnia and Herzegovina reported a series of visions of Mother Mary that began in 1981 and still continue today. St. James’s Church is the central place of worship in Medjugorje and the Apparition Hill, site of the first apparitions, is climbed by most pilgrims visiting the shrine. Along the path, a wooden cross marks the site where the Virgin made the first call to peace. The messages attributed to Our Lady of Medjugorje have a strong following among Catholics worldwide. Medjugorje has become one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for Catholics in the world and has turned into Europe's third most important apparition site, where each year more than 1 million people visit.