It seems to me that Dubrovnik is a city that sucks us into its lengthy history, no matter how hard we try to resist and taint the past with our iPhones, kitschy souvenirs, and loud foreign banter. Maps will do you little good in Old Town, where unexpected winding stairwells sweep you from your predetermined path and lift you up to breathtaking panoramic viewpoints, however opposite they may be from your intended destination.
You’ll be thankful for the towering city walls letting you know that, while you’re not so certain where exactly the “You Are Here” circle might be placed on your map, you’re still well inside of Old Town, and once you locate a church or a bell tower you will be on your way.
You can get comfortably lost here, as you search for a wifi hotspot or an air-conditioned bar. Instead you’ll find yourself in someone else’s garden patio or tucked away on a basketball court overlooking the rocky beach. There’s no need to worry—the ocean’s salty breezes will be there to reassure you that this city has withstood much more than teeming crowds of tourists and hungry merchants pushing their wares. The friendly faces and upward-looking awe of everyone around you remind us visitors that it’s not all about buying, selling, photographing, or hunting for the right glass-bottom boat to take you to the next offshore island.
It’s Dubrovnik’s subtle charm—the ladders on the sides of shoreline rocks, perfectly placed for an impromptu swim; the climbing staircases and dead-end paths that lead to abandoned archways or hidden coves, seemingly designed for lovers sneaking away from the watchful eyes of passersby; the sneaky cats that sulk in shade and graze the smaller side streets—that we’ve really come to see.
And in every darkened corner or concealed space, you’ll find that there’s an extra place for you in the Old Town’s extensive history of protection. Centuries have passed, and this ornate fortress is still here to offer you respite from whatever present invaders you might find sailing up to your shores.