Dubrovnik has long been a beacon of culture for Croatia and the wider region. A powerhouse of the arts ever since the Middle Ages, it continues to inspire with its famously rich menu of festivals, exhibitions and events.
Exploring Dubrovnik and the surrounding region through its culture is one of the most inspirational things about being here. The following list of top 7 cultural experiences is guaranteed to give you some ideas.
1. Coasting the contemporary art scene
Understandably dazzled by Dubrovnik's historical splendour, many visitors remain unaware that it's a city with robust contemporary art traditions too. One cult gallery that has surfed many an avant-garde wave is Otok ("Island"), located in the beautifully renovated ensemble of medieval quarantine buildings known as the Lazareti. Summer 2023 sees a packed programme of exhibitions that kicks off in mid-May with Sanja Merćep's compellingly enigmatic photography and continues with graphics from Alabama-based Zdenko Krtić, drawings by Sven Klobučar, mesmerizingly ambiguous paintings by Nikola Pjevačević, a challenging installation from internet artist Vuk Ćosić, and a three-part installation by Darko Aleksovski. If you want to know what's going on in contemporary Croatian art, then Otok is the place to be.
There's also a programme of contemporary exhibitions at the city's biggest art institution, the Dubrovnik Art Gallery, many of which have a strong international flavour. One of the undoubted highlights of 2023 will be an exhibition devoted to Andy Warhol, revealing the influences that lie under the surface of his work and his impact on the global pop-art scene. On show from September 21 to October 29, it is certainly not to be missed.
2. Hit the Vlaho Bukovac trail
Born and raised in Cavtat, Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922) was one of the most gifted and prolific Croatian artists of the modern period. Both a brilliant portraitist and a master of the impressionistic landscape, his work was in demand across Europe and he ended up as a professor at the academy in Prague. Best place to get to grips with Bukovac's world is at the Bukovac House in Cavtat, a charming and intimate introduction to the artist's life and times. There are valuable collections of his works in the Dubrovnik Art Gallery, while his serene Miracle of St Dominic hanging on the wall of the Dominican Monastery Church just inside the Ploče Gate.
3. Get in step with the folk ensembles
Dubrovnik's folklore troupe Linđo has been treading the boards ever since 1965 and enjoys an international reputation for its presentations of traditional music and dance. Their repertoire covers the whole gamut of Croatian folklore, but has a natural bias towards Dubrovnik and the surrounding region. The ensemble gets its name from a local hop known as the linđo, which is danced in couples to the jolly accompaniment of a screeching archaic lyre. They perform weekly throughout the summer.
One particular tradition for which the Dobrovnik County is famous is the group of archaic sword dances performed on the island of Korčula. Best-known of these is the Moreška from Korčula Town, a highly stylized narrative dance in which a Black King and his followers attempt to abduct a maiden known as the Bula. The Moreška is performed twice a week from the beginning of June to the end of September, outdoors in the town's open-air cinema or - in case of bad weather - in the local House of Culture.
4. Catch a film under the stars
There's nothing quite like catching a movie in one of Croatia's open-air cinemas, and Dubrovnik can boast two of the most atmospheric: the Jadran, hidden behind a wall right inside the Old Town; and the Slavica perched above sea cliffs just 1km west of Pile Gate. Programmes include Hollywood hits, art movies and children's films.
Much of Croatia's outdoor cinema network is coordinated by Split-based organization Kino Mediteran (www.kinomediteran.hr), which organizes programmes and arranges distribution.
5. Join the festival crowd
The biggest show in town is without doubt the Dubrovnik Summer Festival which runs from July 10 to August 25 and embraces theatre, dance, classical music and a lot more. There is more often than not a challenging mix of tradition and experimentation, with canonical authors like Shakespeare and Croatia's Renaissance playwright Marin Držić getting ruffled up by contemporary directors. The unique appeal of the festival lies in its choice of settings, with Old Town buildings and nearby islands providing some stunning backdrops to an unforgettable collection of performances. For schedules and tickets, refer to the festival website at www.dubrovnik-festival.hr.
Although the Summer Festival tends to dominate the headlines it's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what's going on in the city. Summer Scene at Lovrijenac Fortress has emerged as a leading event in recent years, presenting high-quality English-language drama on one of the moat evocative stages in the Mediterranean. This year's event features a new musical version of Jules Verne's classical adventure story Around the World in Eighty Days. You can get all the details on http://midsummer-scene.com.
For classical music buffs, the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra take place in the atmospheric surroundings of the old town. The Rector's Palace also serves as venue for the International Late Summer Music Festival (late-August to late-September), when the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra gets to play with invited foreign soloists.
The city's Symphony Orchestra and jet-setting international guests also get to play side-by-side during the Stradun Classic Festival of mid- to late-September, when the Old Town's main street is turned into a unique al-fresco concert venue.
Throughout the summer season there'll be an extraordinary series of chamber concerts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at St Saviour's Church. Under the title Concerts by Candlelight, these performances by outstanding local quartets and soloists will use the intimate historic interior of this church to the full.
The first Ponta Lopud Jazz Festival is scheduled to take place as August turns to September, and we can’t think of a better place for professional jazz musicians to do their thing than the sumptuous surroundings of lovely Lopud. Masters from all over the world will perform over three days (August 31 - September 2) at the festival, and the post-gig jam sessions promise to be electric.
6. Make room for food and drink
There is no better route into the culture of a destination than through its belly. Luckily Dubrovnik is something of a gourmet paradise, with classic elements of the Mediterranean diet offered in all their forms - with fresh seafood and velvety local wines the stand-outs. Outside the city there's an extraordinary degree of culinary diversity, with each town and region offering unique specialities,.
You'll be able to sample many of these riches at the Good Food Festival (October 9 - 22), when the city's restaurants prepare special (and usually eminently affordable) festival menus. There's also a street food programme, and a luxuriant plethora of wine and craft beer to sample your way through.
There are also plenty of events celebrating the culinary traditions of the wider Dubrovnik region. Korčula's Wine Festival (which runs from early July to early August) focuses on a different town each weekend, with the vintners of Korčula, Čara, Smokvica and Blato each getting the chance to show off their unique contributions to the island's rich and varied viniculture.
The highly individual culinary culture of the Pelješac peninsula is celebrated in the Flavours of Pelješac Festival, a once-a-week event that will take over the centre of Ston every Friday in July and August. It will be a great opportunity to try the shellfish, hand-made pastas and desserts for which the town is famous; stalls will sell local deli products, herbs and wine.
Ston is also famous for its salt pans: no surprise therefore that it will host another edition of the Ston Salt Festival in September, when revellers will be able to taste and buy high-quality locally produced salt as well as sample all manner of local seafood dishes, with live music and Pelješac wine helping to keep the party swinging.
7. Browse around for traditional crafts
Pay a visit to Dubrovnik's Rupe Ethnographic Museum and you'll be treated to a visually stunning display of traditional textiles, with embroidery and lacemaking among the age-old crafts.
It's in the area south of Dubrovnik that these traditions are still practiced. Women from the Konavle region, which stretches from Cavtat to the Monenegrin border, still embroider their dresses, blouses, aprons and tablecloths with age-old geometric patterns rendered in red, black and green. You can see exquisite pieces on sale in Dubrovnik's Old Town and other places frequented by tourists.
What is less widely known is that Konavle is also a traditional centre for the manufacture of silk. Dependent on the cultivation of silk worms and the worm's favourite food source - the mulberry tree -it is no longer widely practiced, although the Croatian Ministry of Culture decided in January 2022 to undertake measures for the silk industry's nurture and protection.
Dubrovnik has long been known for goldsmithery and filigree jewelry and ateliers selling delicately wrought brooches and earrings can be found tucked away in the back-alleys of the Old Town.