Europe’s best destination 2016, Lonely Planet Top 10 in 2019, discover why the former Dalmatian capital of Zadar is a rising tourism star.
- Welcome to Zadar!
- How to get to and around Zadar
- Five things not to miss in Zadar
- Where to stay in Zadar
- Where to eat in Zadar
- Festivals in Zadar
- Beaches in Zadar
- A perfect base for national parks and islands
- Top 5 day trips from Zadar
- A city of basketball and Luka Modric
- 5 things you didn’t know about Zadar
- Maraschino liqueur
- Gondoliers for Venice, Barkajoli for Zadar
- More information
Once known as Zara and the former proud capital of Dalmatia, the good times have well and truly returned to Zadar. The arrival of Ryanair in 2007 opened up tourism in a major way, and the city has won a number of accolades and awards in recent years for its tourism.
The historic old town on a peninsula contrasts with no less than four national parks within easy reach, a number of great island experiences, and a rising gourmet scene. Excellent connections make it a good base to explore the wider region, and with an increasing number of low-cost flights into Zadar Airport, it is little wonder than more and more tourists are coming to discover the city with ‘the most beautiful sunset in the world.’
Many visitors these days arrive by air. The arrival of Ryanair in 2007 not only revolutionised air travel to Zadar, but it was the first budget airline into Croatia. When it made Zadar its 54th European hub, the city was already benefiting from the ‘Ryanair effect’ in its tourism numbers.
The airport is located about 20 minutes out of town, and the comprehensive Total Croatia guide to the airport will tell you all you need to know.
Zadar is also extremely accessible by road, with no less than two motorway exits (named Zadar 1 and Zadar 2) on the main Split to Zagreb A1 motorway. Split, example, is just 90 minutes away by car.
The city also has great inter-city bus connections, although you should be aware that many of them take the coastal roads, and so a trip to Split can take 3 hours or more. There is also a well-connected city bus service to get you around town. More information on tickets, map and times on the Liburnija bus website.
There are also numerous options by boat, and the city’s busy ferry port serves up to 36 destinations via 6 ferry companies, to nearby islands, other mainland destinations, and international connections to Italy. As elsewhere in Croatia, sailing schedules are seasonal. You can find the latest sailing information here.
Taxis are readily available, as is the ride-sharing app Uber.
Zadar has some rather unique attractions and plenty of things not to miss. Here are the top 5:
The most beautiful sunset in the world
You will not be in Zadar long before you notice the extraordinary sunsets, but the chances are that someone will mention them before the sun goes down, for Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world. Who says so? None other than Alfred Hitchcock, when he stayed in room 204 of what was the Hotel Zagreb. Judge for yourself in the video above.
Of course, when I tried to show people the amazing sunset a few years ago, dressed up as Hitchcock a few years ago, the sun would not shine…
One of the best places to observe the sunset is at The Greeting to the Sun (in the video above), which consists of three hundred multi-layer glass plates in the shape of a circle 22 meters in diameter. It is conceived as a spatial installation in the form of an amphitheatre surrounded by stone blocks with a presentation of all Solar System planets and their orbits.
Where music meets the Adriatic: the Zadar sea organ
One of the best Zadar attractions is the sea organ. The magic that is the Sea Organ, known as the Morske orgulje in Croatian is mesmerizing. Okay, it’s not magic, the music actually comes from the waves. The waves push air through 35 underwater pipes stretching across 70 meters, and the sound pops-up all along the promenade, known as the Riva.
Ancient Glass Museum
A visit to Croatia’s 5th largest city is full of history which includes this unique glass collection of over 5000 different glass objects from the first century BC all the way to the fifth century AD. Specific objects include things such as jars, files, and goblets.
Of particular interest to me was to see how Roman royalty stored skin cream & perfume – 2,000-year-old skin cream jars – how amazing to see that survive. There are also iconic chalice’s that were used to celebrate mass, as well as delicate fish made from glass. All of the these have been delicately and expertly removed from various archaeological locations scattered throughout Dalmatia
Those who are interested in architecture will want to make their way over to this church because it is widely considered to be among the finest examples of Byzantine church architecture. The rounded interior is designed so that the light that falls into the sanctuary makes varied patterns at different times of the day. However, because the inside of the building is somewhat plainly decorated compared to the exterior, those who are not architecture enthusiasts may only want to view the building from the outside rather than venturing in.
Once night falls, during summer you can enjoy the sounds of the Musical Nights Festival, a classical music festival that runs from July to August each year, bringing the 9th century Saint Donatus Church and Roman Forum to life.
Gold and Silver Museum
There are quite a few museums in Zadar, and this is one of the best. Head to the church of St Mary’s, and then turn left. There you’ll see a small door selling tickets. This museum with priceless treasures has been preserved by the Benedictine nuns and has been since WWII.
Falkensteiner is the dominant name in the hotel scene in Zadar and environs, and the Austrian hotel group has done much to raise standards. Check out all the hotel options for the city and nearby area.
Private accommodation is still a major part of the hospitality offer, but more backpackers has seen more hostels open. An overview of your hostel options.
The best option for those camping is to head to Falkensteiner Premium Camping Zadar.
After years of fairly standard Dalmatian fare, there is added quality and variety to the Zadar dining scene. While there is plenty to meet the needs of the budget traveller, there are also increasing options for the fine dining set. Check out what is hot and what is not.
As one would expect for a tourist city of 70,000 people, there is lots happening! One of the bigger successes in recent years has been the Tuna, Wine and Sushi Festival, above. For the latest in what is happening, check out the tourist board event page.
Zadar and surroundings abound with beaches. From the sandy (Zaton, Nin, Privlaka) to rocky (Kozino). As a special feature it should be pointed out that, unlike other big Dalmatian cities, one can swim in the very centre of the city. Zadar’s waterfront and the town beach Kolovare are very close. I certainly recommend going on a trip and swimming on Zadar’s islands that are well connected by boat lines.
As the official video from the regional tourist board shows, the city is within easy reach of some truly breathtaking nature and adventure tourism possibilities.
There are no less than four of Croatia’s magical national parks within easy reach: Krka National Park, Plitvice Lakes, Kornati National Park and Paklenica National Park. You can learn more about these and all Croatia’s other national and nature parks which comprise 10% of the country in our Total Croatia guide to the parks of Croatia.
Zadar also has a number of islands with good ferry connections within easy reach. The islands and national parks offer great additional tourism options once you have explored the old town.
Visit at least one national park
As mentioned above, with so much natural goodness to choose from, the national parks within easy reach of Zadar make for a great day trip. Plitvice Lakes is the most popular, followed by Krka National Park. Paklenica will appear to the more active tourist looking for some hiking or rock climbing. But if you are looking to enjoy a little time on the water as well, the raw beauty of Kornati offers an additional island experience.
Just a few kilometres north of Zadar lies the delightful town of Nin, whose small size belies its rich tourism offer.
Over a thousand years old, Nin is the oldest Croatian royal town, the cradle of the Croatian state and it is called the Croatian Bethlehem. The Nin bay hides a strange and unusual heritage: sandy beaches, medicinal mud, salt pans, a rich bird life and rare endemic plants. And if that wasn’t enough, Nin also has the smallest cathedral in the world. So plenty to see and do in a day – learn more from the Nin Tourist Board.
Historic Split, Trogir or Sibenik, or perhaps all three!
There are so many fantastic places in the near vicinity of Zadar that it would take more than one holiday to see them all. There are, however, some fabulous cities to take in just a little to the south of the city. Three of the best boast their own UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I would say you could probably do Trogir and Split in a day, but Sibenik is also worth a visit. Three fantastic historic locations oozing heritage and great discoveries.
Visit an island
Sailing the Kornati is obviously a great option, but visiting an island is part of the Dalmatian coastal experience. Here are some good options from an online review:
Ugljan and Pasman you can visit by car. Take the ferry to Preko and then cruise around. Kali is one of the biggest fishing ports in this part of Adriatic, Mrljane on Pasman has a spectacular sandy beach, the Benedictine monastery in Cokovac is also very special and there are dirt roads that allow you to cross to the other side of the island of Pasman with special views of Kornati.
And I would add to that list Dugi Otok and its wonderful beaches. And try not to miss Pag, one of the most incredible islands I have visited for its sheer diversity.
Indulge in wellness luxury at Falkensteiner Punta Skala
Looking to escape the crowds and indulge yourself a little? About 12 km north of Zadar, next to the small village of Petrcane is the luxury Falkensteiner Punta Skala Resort.
Punta Skala is actually the biggest investment on the Croatian coast, and its spacious 15 hectare site is an oasis of calm and luxury. In addition to two quality hotels and residences, it boasts the biggest wellness facilities in Croatia. There are also numerous kids activities to keep the little ones busy while you relax. A truly wonderful escape and day of pampering.
Recognise this little 5-year-old goat-herder, who is arguably now Zadar’s most famous son? Little Luke Modric won the hearts of millions with his performances for Croatia in the World Cup, but the Real Madrid star had very humble beginnings.
He is from the Zadar region, from a small village called Modrici. He is one of a quartet of famous footballers, who learned their trade on the streets of the city. The others are Sime Vrsaljko, Danijel Subasic and Dominik Livakovic. This is how Zadar welcomed home its World Cup heroes:
Football is not the only sport for which Zadar is famous, however. It is home to a respected basketball school and one of its sporting sons, Kresimir Cosic, is a member of the Hall of Fame. And visiting basketball teams have learned to fear the intimidating atmosphere of Jazine – see below.
Zadar is a fascinating city, but did you know…
Zadar is home to the first vacuum cleaner in Croatia – meet Baby Daisy
Ever wondered why apartments in Dalmatia are so clean? Locals have been obsessing about keeping their homes clean for generations. Indeed the first ever vacuum cleaner in Croatia was used in Zadar, and is in proud private possession today. Baby Daisy is her name, and isn’t she beautiful?
A rather unusual tour guide
“Not many people in Croatia can claim to being fluent in the Japanese language, and even fewer people in Croatia can claim to being fluent in the Japanese language without any formal education…
“29-year-old Lovre Štavun from the Dalmatian city of Zadar is perhaps one of the few people in Croatia who can claim that. The Japanophile is putting his skills to use and recently he became the first formally schooled tour guide in the Japanese language in the Zadar county and one of the very few Japanese-speaking tour guides in Croatia.” Read more…
Zadar, a city of firsts
Zadar is a city of firsts, reflecting its advanced seat of learning and its ancient heritage. Just a few firsts to mention are the first university in Croatia in 1396, the first operation under anaesthetic in Europe, and the first comic strip in Europe.
An ancient underwater city in the Adriatic dating back 3500 years
Zadar, a city of ancient heritage with spectacular history all around. Including in the Adriatic Sea. A truly spectacular story of discovery just 20 kilometres from Zadar by a team from the University of Zadar. Read all about it here, or watch the video above, one of a series of five.
Zadar and the Sound of Music connection
Various famous Croats were born in Zadar, but their names may not be familiar to international audiences, but one name which may well resonate, especially for Sound of Music fans is Georg Ludwig von Trapp (April 4, 1880 – May 30, 1947), an Austro-Hungarian Navy officer. His exploits at sea during the World War I earned him numerous decorations, including the prestigious Military Order of Maria Theresa. Later, von Trapp headed the singing family portrayed in the heavily-fictionalized musical The Sound of Music.
When in Zadar you have to try…
Maraschino is a liqueur originally from the city of Zadar in Croatia and Torreglia (Italy), obtained from the distillation of Marasca cherries. The small, slightly sour fruit of the marasca cherry tree (cerasus acidior), which grows wild along parts of the Dalmatian coast, lends the liqueur its unique aroma.
What gondoliers mean to Venice, barkajoli mean to Zadar! For over 800 years they have been connecting the two ends of Zadar harbour with their small rowboats during all weather conditions and saving time for their faithful passengers. This tradition has been passed on from father to son for centuries and has survived despite the challenges of modern times.
Zadar Tourist Board
Jurja Barakovića 5A, 23000 Zadar
Phone: +385 (0)23 316 166
E-mail: [email protected]
To follow the latest news from Zadar, check out the dedicated TCN page.