Although we thoroughly enjoyed Croatia, Zadar was by far our favourite stop on our odyssey along the Dalmatian coast. It has all the charm and stunning architecture (and stairs, dear lord the stairs) of Dubrovnik, while maintaining a much more chilled and less touristy vibe. If I was going to live in Croatia, this would be my choice of city.
Home to the beautifully haunting sea organ, a musical marvel built into the coastline that attracts hundreds of visitors daily, as well as the Monument to the sun, a breath-taking solar powered circular light display 22 meters in diameter built right into the ground, this city is the perfect place for an alternative to the stereotypical fortnight in Gran Canaria.
From Split to Zadar:
We took a bus from the ferry port in Split to Zadar. Prices range from 70 to 105 HRK (€10-€15). You can buy your tickets at the bus itself or book them online at BusCroatia.com or Get By Bus but you won’t save much money either way so it really depends on what’s convenient for you. Just don’t forget to bear in mind it will cost you an extra 10 HRK to store your luggage in the busses hold, and there’s no option to take it on the bus with you, so this is not an optional charge but it’s only €1.30 so it won’t break the bank.
The journey takes between 1.45 hrs and 4 hours. This is because the busses take either the direct highway route or the beautifully (but sooooo very long) scenic route. Your choice!
Accommodation in Zadar:
There are so many choices of accommodation in Zadar, from your fancy upscale hotels right down to the good old Airbnb option. We like to research places to stay on Booking.com but then contact the places directly, this way you get the best price possible and avoid any mark-up fees, while at the same time getting a more honest review and feedback than you would from their direct website.
We opted for a guest house Studio Apartment Shanti, roughly a 20 minute walk from the old town. Upon arrival I was slightly sceptical as the place seemed to be situated on what I thought was a building/halting site, but once inside the clean ample apartment I was pleasantly surprised.
The place was spotless bright and look like a page from an IKEA catalogue. Our host was really friendly and (conveniently) works at a local travel stand selling cruises and tours, so you could book through him if you want (although you should shop around first as there’s a lot of competition so you can find yourself a bargain).
Getting from A to B:
Unlike Dubrovnik, it was cheap enough to stay close enough to the city to be able to walk in and out. Although having said this the city is very well connected by public busses that run quite frequently and are quite cheap. Once you are in the confines of the old town it mostly pedestrian streets, which is fine as you’re never more than walking distance from something cool like a colourful fresh food or clothing market.
Things To Do in Zadar:
Walk the Streets:
No trip to any city in Croatia is complete without taking a good long exploratory ramble around the beautiful marble lined streets; it feels like a modern day Camelot. A strange mixture of modern culture, food and people in what is still quite a medieval city, narrow streets and winding stair with little surprises around every corner and down every alley. Also it free, which is always a plus.
Be sure to grab an ice-cream. Oh man oh man, being so close to Italy the Dalmatian coast has a very similar cuisine, pizzas, pastas and seafood being the mainstays of most restaurants, but there’s nothing better than grabbing a waffle cone of the most indulgent and bizarrely flavoured ice creams while you’re taking in the sights.
The Sea Organ and Monument to the Sun:
This place…. you know when people say go to your happy place. This is my happy place.
Every day hundreds of people gather here to watch what Alfred Hitchcock called the “most beautiful sunset in the world” while listening to the dulcet tones of the sea organ, and when the blood red sun is finally gone down you’re already beside the amazing led light show that is the monument to the sun. Grab yourself a few beers from the local supermarket to make this moment perfect! Just make sure to get down at least an hour before sunset to get good seats.
Museum of Illusion:
Although we went to this museum to fill the evening, this turned out to be great fun and well worth a visit. It’s a museum, as the name suggests, of cool visual illusions. Take a break from the midday sun or kill a few hours before dinner for only €8
Feed the Fish:
There’s a bridge at the entrance to the old city where hundreds of fish gather in the evening, weird as this sounds, it’s quite cool to throw bits of bread into the water and watch them swarm! Pick up a freshly steamed corn on the cob, the fish like them too.
Plitvice National Park:
• €10 bus ticket (unguided)
• €10-€25 park entrance fee
• Book return bus the minute you arrive.
About an hour and a half from Zadar finds you at this beautiful nature park. It’s possible to book a guided tour that will take you out to the lakes by bus and a guide will walk with you and show you points of interest and it covers the cost of your ticket (cost about €70), or you could pay considerably less get a public bus for about 80 HRK (€10) and take your time wandering through the stunning natural setting.
The entrance price of the park changes depending on the time of the year you go but you can find all the info you need here .This is a must see, although things to bear in mind are bring water. Lots. Bring some grub with you as you’ll be in the middle of nowhere and while there are food stalls and shops, they charge through the nose and some even close at lunchtime, yes you read right. Wear comfortable shoes as there’s a lot of walking involved.
AND THE MOST IMPORTANT THING, if you get the bus there make sure you buy your return ticket at the stop when you get there and check the timetable before setting off as return busses go quite seldom and you don’t want to be stuck at the lakes.
Unless you are reading this while in work, and being stuck at the lakes sounds like paradise.
Zadar is the winner of The Ungraceful Guide to Croatia. The Queen Z has it all. Don’t miss it.