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One of life’s pleasures is looking at Ryanair’s destination map and allowing the syllables of lesser-known places to roll off my tongue. For years, the sound of Zadar in Croatia captured my attention. So when I eventually Google-imaged the city I was immediately transfixed and vowed to visit.
WHERE IS ZADAR?
Zadar is located roughly half way on the lengthy Croatian coast across the Adriatic Sea from Italy’s Ancona. Zadar is approximately 160km/99 miles north of Split.
As beautiful as Zadar city is, the aircraft descent along the mid-Croatian coast into Zadar airport is one of the most scenic in Europe. Sit in seats A-C and get a view of Pag Island and the mainland. Sit in seats D-F and view the Kornati National Park archipelago.
THINGS TO DO IN ZADAR
Zadar is divided into the historic Old Town and the new Town. If it’s trendy boutiques, artisan crafts, carefree cafes and grand architecture from by-gone eras that grab your attention, then a visit to Zadar’s Old Town is imperative. Located on a rectangular-shaped peninsula, the Old Town is flanked on three sides by the harbour.
SIGHTSEEING: There’s an Italian aura about Zadar so it’s no surprise that it was once part of the Roman and Venetian Empires. The Forum and City Walls reflect these eras respectively. When the Austrians arrived in the late 18th Century they left the Italians in charge and the Old Town’s stylish architecture echoes this influence. Even the marble limestone pavements look elegant if a bit slippery.
Known as Obala Kralja Petra Kresimira IV on maps, this quayside contains the world’s only Sea Organ, a feature where the lapping harbour water enters a series of perforations in the stepped concrete quayside yielding meditative horn sounds. It’s worth waiting for the large Jadrolinija car ferries to enter and exit the harbour as the choppier the water the louder and more melodic the sounds.
A couple of metres away from the Sea Organ is another unique attraction, that of the Greeting to the Sun or Sun Salutation. Solar-powered photovoltaic cells built into the pavement under glass panels emit their energy at night producing a disco-like collage of colours to match the stunning sunset. This is great fun for adults and kids.
Zadar Old Town has numerous churches with St. Donatus’ Church the best known. Immediately beside it is St. Anastasia’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s Church and the remains of the Roman Forum.
West of this complex is St. Elia’s Church and beside this a column known as the Pillar of Shame. I sincerely hope that Zadar doesn’t turn into a stag party destination as this monument could very well become an unfortunate focal point.
WINING & DINING: Zadar’s Italian past permeates its cuisine with the almost generic use of olive oil, lemon and herbs yielding succulent results. Pasta and pizza are widely eaten but seafood, albeit delicious, is bizarrely an astronomical price. I can highly recommend Canzona Trattoria on Stomorica where I dined well among its multinational customers served by courteous and efficient multilingual waiters. The courtesy was genuine here and elsewhere. Throughout my travels in Croatia, men have been respectful and friendly to me regardless of situation.
Meandering the Old Town stopping for coffee, pastries and ice-cream is an absolute pleasure but for the perfect passeggiata or even post-dinner stroll the recently renovated southern quayside between the university and the harbour is the Adriatic’s version of Nice’s renowned Promenade des Anglais.
BEACHES IN ZADAR: I couldn’t help but notice how clear the water around the Old Town’s quayside was. As I strolled towards the university I saw numerous people swimming in it with hoards sunbathing on the adjacent pavement proving that Zadar can double as an urban beach holiday as well as a city break.
Along with the Old Town quayside, there are a number of beaches in the north and south of the city. In the south of the new Town, Kolovare is the main option.
In the northern part of the new Town, Borik beach is the largest. Uskok Zadar and Maestrala are smaller beaches south of Borik. Plaza is the Croatian word for beach.
DAY TRIPS FROM ZADAR: Along with the off-shore Kornati Islands National Park, Zadar is within driving distance of four mainland National Parks: Velebit, Paklenica, Krka Waterfalls and the UNESCO-listed Plitvice Lakes. Zadar is an excellent base for travelling to the numerous neighbouring islands and the website of Jadrolinija, the efficient state-run ferry company, will prove useful when planning island daytrips.
IS ZADAR WORTH VISITING?
Yes, Zadar is worth visiting as you can combine a beach holiday with a city break. Zadar is also cheaper than the bigger and more popular cities of Dubrovnik and Split.
For me, Zadar was a great introduction to Croatia. When the plane became airborne on my return journey home, I looked out the window and promised to return to Croatia the following summer. Thanks to the Zadar experience, I was immediately hooked on Croatia and have visited the country several times since then.
Sparse tourist information on Zadar was available prior to my visit so I discovered it on my own with a little help from two amiable Northern Irish students. Here’s to hoping that this post inspires people to visit the Croatian treasure that is Zadar.
Interested in visiting more of Croatia? Then check out my Croatia travel guide post.
WHERE TO STAY IN ZADAR
If Old Town sightseeing, shopping, dining and ferry day trips is how you want to spend your holiday in Zadar, then definitely stay in the Old Town. If you want to combine Old Town activities with a beach element, then stay in the Borik or Kolovare areas. Check for accommodation on booking.com as you can filter by area.
GETTING TO ZADAR
AIR: Zadar Airport is located east of the city, approximately 13km/8 miles to the Old Town. A shuttle bus travels from the airport to the bus station and the Old Town harbour.
BUS/RAIL: The new city contains the main bus and railway stations and both are roughly a 30 minute walk from the historic Old Town. GetByBus is the site I use for bus timetables and tickets. Check out the HZPP site for train information.
FERRY: Ferries from Ancona in Italy and elsewhere in Croatia dock in the Old Town as do tours to Kornati National Park.