Zadar, located in northern Dalmatia, was a place that I knew very little about before I arrived, but one that I was keen to visit on my trip around this beautiful Balkan country. I really had no idea what to expect from Zadar, but something about the place really inspired me. Granted…Zadar is not the most beautiful place I have ever visited, nor does it have masses of attractions, but the city had a really positive impact on me. This is not a daintily preserved museum-filled city like Dubrovnik; more a living, breathing city filled with Croatians going about their daily business. And I think I enjoyed it all the more for that.
Most of the action takes place in the Old Town. Here is where you’ll find what I think are Zadar’s two best attractions: The Sea Organ and The Sun Salutation. These two art installations (both designed by local architect Nikola Basic) act as a popular focal point for tourists and lounging locals. Found to the north-west of the Old Town, the Sea Organ is a series of marble steps that lead into the sea, under which a series of 35 tubes have been installed to allow the motion of the waves. The combination creates an instrument that plays music all day long. It’s such a great concept and just like the adjacent Sun Salutation, it’s difficult to tear yourself away from. The Sun Salutation comes to life at night after a day absorbing the bright Croatian sunlight into its photo-voltaic cells. What follows come darkness is what can only be described as a multi-coloured dance floor, bringing together tourists and locals alike to watch the light show.
Other must-sees are a peek inside St Donat’s Church, an ancient Roman building with a distinctive high roof. Next to it you’ll find the Cathedral of St. Anastasia, attached to which is a bell tower that rewards climbers with some amazing views over the city and out to the islands of Ugljan and Pasman.
For beach lovers, you could take a trip to Kolovare which has a real local feel about it and has some lovely views from the cafes found above the pebbles. My recommendation would be to throw caution to the wind and dive off the promenade near the Sun Salutation for a much needed dip in the clear waters of the Adriatic. Followed up (naturally) with my favourite Croatian treat…“sladoled” (creamy Croatian ice cream). People say Italian gelato is the best in the world… but don’t believe a word these people say. They have clearly not tried sladoled and enjoyed the silky delights of a scoop of the finest ice cream the world truly has to offer.
And, while we are on the subject of food, some of the best I’ve eaten in Croatia was in…yup, you guessed it…Zadar! The Trattoria Canzona restaurant was so good, I went back the following night! From staring at the plates of diners as I chose where to eat, I can say with some authority that this city has some mighty fine food on offer! All this can be rounded off by spending time strolling the ancient squares, listening to the street performers and drinking in the chilled vibe at what must be Zadar’s most laid back bar – The Garden.
Aside from the wonders that Zadar itself has to offer, there’s also plenty to see from outside of the city. Using Zadar as your base, you’ll have easy access by boat to the Kornati Islands National Park. The absolutely stunning lakes and waterfalls at Plitvice are a 2 hour car journey north from Zadar. Even closer (about an hour’s drive) is the beautiful Krka National Park here you will find the incredible, thundering Skradinski Buk waterfall, which you can swim in front of…along with many hundreds of other visitors! Nevertheless, it is an amazing place to be and a great experience! And finally if partying is your priority, the island of Pag with its internationally renowned dance/house music scene at Zrce Beach, are within a short distance of Zadar.
To top it all off, British film director Alfred Hitchcock once wrote that “Zadar has the most beautiful sunsets in the world” – he wasn’t lying – the sunsets in Zadar truly deserve a post of their own! But for now I’ll let my photos do the talking…
Zadar is one of those places you might not have heard of or know much about, but now is definitely the time to get there! Enjoy this Dalmatian jewel along with all of its historical, gourmet, musical and colour-filled pleasures before everyone else discovers it…
Words & photos by Mike @ Pulped Travel
Edits: Catherine Livesley