Don’t miss: St. Donat’s Church
Find: two of the city’s gates with the carved Lion of Venice
Take a sip of: Maraschino cherry liquor
Zadar’s spectacular sunsets blew the socks off Alfred Hitchcock when he visited in 1964. Its Garden Festival – which since moved to Tisno, but left behind its cool – put Croatia on the music festival map. Its few but fantastically decadent bars regularly lure in lovers of all things glitzy and glamorous. And its numerous architectural treasures will keep you curious to learn more about this city which suffered so many blows –Venetian rule, Turkish attacks, WWII obliteration and heavy shelling in Croatia’s War for Independence – only to come back even stronger every time.
Located in Northern Dalmatia, halfway between Split and Rijeka, the medieval port of Zadar has a population of 75,000. Most of its residents live not in the criss-cross of streets on the peninsula but on the newer, mainland side. To get there you can take a foot bridge at the Jazine Marina, or you can flag down a ferryman like you might catch locals doing.
Though increasingly popular, Zadar still isn’t usually given the spotlight it deserves. Which is good for you if you’re looking for a destination not as crawling with fun-in-the-sun-seeking tourists as those in the south of Dalmatia. And though there is swimming to be had around these parts too, you’ll want to invest your time in exploring the city itself.
Stroll along the traffic-free (no cars allowed beyond the quays) marble streets, turning at random between elegant Venetian buildings, to pick up the general vibe of this city. Keep an eye out for the Zadar Museum of Antique Glass, St. Donat’s Church, and the Archeological Museum, three stops you will probably want to make.
The Byzantine church of St. Donat dates back to the 9th century. Its high ceiling makes for outstanding acoustics and today it hosts numerous music and film projections. The Museum of Antique Glass not only exhibits historical items but also organizes workshops for anybody feeling inspired who wants to give crafting their own glass a go.
Innovation through installations
On the north shore of the peninsula are two unusual public installations located on its Riva. One is the Sea Organ, a 70-meter stairway into the Adriatic Sea, featuring 35 organ pipes at the installation’s water level. These are constantly touched by waves, producing music matching the mood of the sea, as it pushes the air through pipes. The installation’s author, Croatian Architect Nikola Basic, was awarded with European Prize for Urban Public Space in 2006.
The other modern attraction, also made by Nikola Basic, is a shining Greeting to the Sun. It consists of glass plates installed on the same level as the stone-paved waterfront. Underneath, photo-solar modules spread light during night hours in an impressive pattern, delighting all visitor but particularly pint-sized ones. If you’re visiting with family, be sure to come after dark.
Drinks in Zadar
After getting in a dose of culture, be sure to take part in the city’s flourishing bar scene. As elsewhere along the Adriatic, most activity takes place outdoors. And in the summer months, the bars keep their lights on longer to cater to visitors, usually serving drinks as long as the last guest is standing. Some good places to start are Garden Zadar Lounge Bar and Restaurant, the clubs of Satir and Shine, and Arsenal, located in an 18th-century warehouse and offering history, culture, art and entertainment all in one place.
One of the great things about Zadar is what a fantastic base it makes for exploring the region. There are dozens of nearby islands you can visit and in under an hour by car you can reach one of as many as five nearby national parks, including Kornati and Paklenica. There you can hike, swim, go rock-climbing, kite-surfing and more. There’s also nearby Nin, known as the cradle of Croatian civilization.
Read our Beginner’s Guide to Zadar to find out more.