Croatia’s beautiful Dalmation Coast has long been the stuff of travel fantasy, so much so that its southern section can be a little stuffed with holidaymakers in summertime. But around halfway up the coast is one of Croatia’s coolest cities. Not as overrun as the more popular Dubrovnik, Zadar has a lot to offer those who like to take the path less travelled. I spent a week exploring everything it has to offer to give you the run-down on the very best things to do in Zadar...
Zadar’s old town is small, mostly pedestrianized and easily navigated by foot, however if you want the freedom to move beyond Zadar without having to join a tour, I think car hire is the best option.
There are loads of really amazing sights and activities just a short drive away from the city - to me the car hire was well worth it just to see Plitvice Lakes National Park (an hour and a half’s drive). If you don’t plan on venturing too far, the old town is best traversed on foot – but the coastline just beyond the famous city walls is a real joy to explore by bike.
Zzuum.com offer bike hire from €15 per day, and the friendly staff will advise you on the best routes while they sort your wheels out. I loved the coastal cycle most, particularly as my ride was nicely timed with the sunset. Cycling was a logisitical transport decision in the beginning - it turned out to be one of my favourite things to do in Zadar!
Discover a diverse collection of ancient art and artifacts. Located just off the ancient forum in the heart of the old town, the archeological museum will not disappoint. See all kinds of Roman artefacts from jewelry and coins to huge statues of Roman emperors. The layout of the museum, particularly the Antika exhibit is highly impressive. Well worth the small entry fee. amzd.hr
The Sea Organ
Relax at the water’s edge to the sounds of the sea. I genuinely thought the sea organ was going to be a complete gimmick making crass honking noises, but I could not have been more wrong. I actually returned here several evenings during my trip to relax and watch the sun set, while listening to the soothing sounds from this truly unique instrument.
Greeting To The Sun
Located next to the sea organ is a solar panelled disc measuring 22 metres in diameter. This disc, designed by artist Nikola Bašić, comes to life after dark. Using the sun’s power, it provides an incredible and colourful light display from dusk till dawn. Expect a crowd to gather around at sunset to watch it illuminate and come to life as darkness falls. This was a really lovely area for sunset selfies and relaxing with the natural show and the sounds of the sea.
Where to start? The food in croatia is gorgeous, but I definitely had a few stand-out meals:
An elegant restaurant located close to the city gate, Pet Bunara prides itself on using organic and seasonal produce where possible. The lamb is divine and sourced from the nearby island of Pag, where the sea air is said to produce tender lamb and deliciously nutty cheese. Even the wines are personally selected by the owner, who knows the producers personally. You can taste the passion behind the food here - a very enjoyable dining experience.
Right next to hotel Bastion and a stone’s throw from the sea organ, this charming restaurant offers rustic Croatian cuisine. The fisherman’s stew is very popular, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch the friendly owner and get to try his personal batch of cherry liquor! Delicious.
Located a stone’s throw from the water’s edge, Bruschetta offers traditional Croatian cuisine with a modern twist. The outdoor seating area is airy and offers a relaxing atmosphere. The service here is exceptional and the food perfect right down to the seasoning. Being indecisive, we ordered a platter of the restaurant’s most popular fish dishes– John Dory, tuna steak and sea bass. It was phenomenal, as were the desserts. Wash it all down with some maraskino, the famed local liquor. This was honestly the most enjoyable meal I had had in a long time.
Velebit Photo Safari:
This jeep safari of Velebit Mountain and its national park includes lunch at a rural Croatian farm (including a little tipple), a whole lot of exceptional scenery, and a highly informative guide… you can even end the day with a lake swim. This trip is an amazing day out in so many ways, and one you won’t forget in a hurry - most definitely one of my highlights of the trip. And at about €65 per person for an 8 hour excursion including lunch, it’s money very well spent.
This experience is unforgettable!! From navigating tight squeezes to experiencing the acoustics of the cave system’s huge chambers, this experience was genuinely awesome, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Paklenica National Park:
Paklenica National Park is a gorgeous place. It has huge, dramatic canyons that make it a climbers paradise, but for those who like to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground, it also has superb walking and hiking routes, a cave you can visit, and a café.
Visit Pag island:
Pag is famous for its barren landscape, cheese, lamb, salt and lace. Pag town itself is quiet and a lovely spot for sightseers. Pag bay has a shallow beach and it’s a nice spot to spend a day. If a party scene is more your thing, head to Novalja to the north of the island – an up and coming festival hotspot. Pag town is just over an hour’s drive from Zadar. Stop at Pag bridge on the way, for beautiful views of the surreal moonlike landscape.
Visit Dugi Otok:
An oasis of peace, Dugi Otok literally translates as ‘long island’ and is located about a one hour car ferry ride from Zadar. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle, Dugi Otok is ideal. Saharun beach is famed for its pine trees and crystal clear waters, and Telascica Nature Park boasts beautiful cliffs and coves as well as a donkey sanctuary. It’s not unusual to spot a dolphin off the coast here and possible to arrange scuba diving, fishing or kayaking trips.