Top things to do in Zadar, Croatia

We all enjoy a little luxury and if we can enjoy it without breaking the bank, then all the better.  So, if you’re looking for all the charm of Florence with equally excellent food, wine and café culture but with a  much lower price tag then the place for you to go this year is Zadar, Crioatia.

Zadar is a medieval walled town jutting out from the northern Dalmation coast.  Majestic and beautiful with natural parks, Roman ruins, a pretty harbour, ice cream parlours and the aroma of hot pizza as you walk along the pristine pedestrianised streets.  So, what can you do in long weekend in Zadar?

Location is key on a city break and never more so than when on a short break.  For that reason, I would recommend staying at the Hotel Bastion.  This elegant four star hotel is perfectly situated for all the main attractions and has a grand and opulent air.  This is where the stars stay and it’s easy to see why.  The breakfast buffet is complimented by a menu proffering pancakes or eggs cooked in a variety of ways and breakfast dining is in the stylish restaurant on the ground floor.  For lunchtime and evening dining, there is also an alfresco dining option on the terrace.  The hotel boasts excellent spa facilities with a Turkish and Finnish sauna, Jacuzzi, steam room and relaxation area.

The main attractions in Zadar are the two amazing pieces of public art:  Sea Organ and The Greeting to the Sun.  As the name suggests, Sea Organ is a musical instrument reliant on the rhythm of the waves.  With organ pipes situated underneath the steps which go down to the sea, this is a focal point for visitors who can be seen gathering on the steps at all times of the day.  When the sea is calm, the music sounds eerie and a little like the sound made when you blow across the top of a bottle.  In rougher seas, it sounds more like a powerful church organ.  It has a mesmerising effect on listeners to the extent that visitors will stand in the rain, under their brollies, being buffeted by the wind, just to experience it.

The Greeting to the Sun is a visual sculpture communicating through light complimenting Sea Organ’s communication through sound.  Both pieces are by artist/architect, Nikola Bašić.  Solar panels are used to store energy throughout the day so that at night, the energy can be used to create a visual display with an array of colours pulsing in rhythm with the waves.  Visitors can sit, walk and even lie on the light sculpture and are actively encouraged to do so.  This public art is to be shared, experienced and enjoyed by young and old, visitors and locals and it really is a ‘must see’.  Never has public art been so engaging and accessible.

Another great visitor attraction is the Museum of Ancient Glass, housed in the 19th Century Cosmacendi Palace, overlooking the Jazine harbour.  This is a captivating museum and well worth a visit if you’re interested in art, culture, crafts or history – or even if you are just looking for a stunning gift or souvenir.  The museum itself is a fabulous space but even that is outshone by the amazing exhibits, which make up one of the premier collections of Roman glassware outside of Italy.

Zadar glass museum

Watching the video of one of the archaeological digs, where one of the pieces was uncovered, gives a fascinating insight into how the glass was used to store ashes and how the glass burial containers were stored inside clay pots which explains why they are in such pristine condition.  In addition to the burial pots, there is an array of other colourful and decorative items such as perfume bottles, bracelets, necklaces, bowls, plates and jugs. The museum also has a workshop where there are demonstrations of glass-blowing and the craftsman shows how casts are used to produce different shaped containers.

In the heart of the old town, lies The Forum: the Roman ruins of the former main square which was built from the 1st Century BC to the 3rd Century AD.  Behind The Forum lies the church of Saint Donat and the Archbishop’s Palace.  The church of St Donat is the symbol of the city of Zadar.  It is a round pre-Romanesque church which today is used for musical performances.  The building, impressive by day, looks even more stunning illuminated at night.

The Forum, Zadar

On Saturdays, there is a colourful fruit, vegetable and flower market in the heart of the old town.  Growers and producers sell their local produce of mushrooms, honey, almonds and locally grown fruit and vegetables.  In May, you will also see the delicious wild asparagus on sale, which also features heavily on restaurant menus for the short season.  Stall holders may also sell fresh eggs and locally made cheese and most are eager to share their wares and let you taste before you buy.  Almost all the stall holders speak excellent English so visitors need not feel shy about shopping here.  It is lively, friendly and welcoming and is a ‘must visit’ for anyone staying in a self-catering apartment.

Another ‘must do’ for wine lovers is to drink the local wine.  Croatian wine is generally good but the white wine from the area around Zadar is exceptional.  Any house white served in Zadar will be of a high standard and many waiters are more than happy to share their recommendations.  This is not to say that the red wines aren’t good: they are but, the white wines are simply stunning.  For gourmet dishes in stylish surroundings, try Kalelarga.

Comments (9)

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  1. J. says:

    As someone who did a road trip around Croatia a couple of years ago, but missed Zadar for some reason, I can’t figure out if it is worth going to back to Croatia just for this city. A lot of descriptions that I’ve read make it seem rather similar to other Croatian towns, but I am thinking there must be a reason why this particular city is so hyped. Any insights?

  2. Pero says:

    Zadar is close to many islands and national parks.Its fresh in summer with beaches close to center of town and many boat trips you can enjoy.Its central and that makes it special.in 3-4 hours you can take trips to most places from radar in one day!

  3. Steve Scott says:

    For exploring and travelling along the Adriatic coast and inland from the Northern Dalmatian coast, Zadar is an ideal jumping off point. These days Zadar is mostly known for cheap flights and good parties, but you can still find some piece and quiet too.

  4. Nicole says:

    Zadar is a city of exceptional history and rich cultural heritage. Also, it is an easily reached destination by land, sea and air (low cost flights). You can enjoy in restaurants and taverna, and in great musical evenings. Recommend to visit it!

  5. Antonio says:

    The central position is one of the big reasons. Also the great thing is that majority of cultural and historical sights are very concentrated on a small area (old city) which is small peninsula. Also great amount of low populated islands close by and untouched natural beauty. About 280 sunny days a year, and four National Parks close by. Also very well connected with many low cost flights and two exits from highway.

  6. Ante says:

    There is a small island named Ošljak (the smallest populated island in Croatia) just 3 nautical miles from Zadar. I wholeheartedly recommend visiting, it’s beautiful!

  7. Ryan says:

    Just great article. Zadar is great place to enjoy in your holiday. My family and me certainly did. I recommended Silba and Olib for trips

  8. Dominik says:

    It is great list of things, but most of them are so close to each other that you will probably be done within 1 day. Also, I would add Zadar Islands, Ugljan, Pasman or even a Long Island (Dugi otok). Great places to see and explore around, especialy with the bike. Get your bike on ferry port then start your journey around.

  9. Pero says:

    Zadar is not so known as Dubrovnik or Split but considering its central position along the Croatian Adriatic coast, it’s a town easy to reach whether you coming by car, plane, bus or by ferry from Italy. Considering its 3000 years old history and the fact that has been destroyed several times but always rebuilt again, Zadar and its islands, deserve to be visited when planning to travel to Croatia.

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