My school friends and I recently succeeded in a six year mission to arrange a girls’ holiday, and the four of us flew off to the city of Zadar on the coast of Croatia for a week of sun! Croatia has been on my radar (and the rest of the world’s), for a few years now, so I was really excited to finally be going, and Zadar did not disappoint. It’s not one of the more popular cities – most people I know have aimed for Dubrovnik, Split or Hvar – but I’m definitely marking it as one of Croatia’s underrated destinations. Here are my top ten reasons to love Zadar…
The Sea Organ
The sea organ is unique and one of Zadar’s most awesome landmarks – pipes are installed in the steps on the seafront, and as the waves roll in air is pushed through the pipes and produces sound. The size and shape of the wave determine the volume and pitch of the sound, so the organ plays a constant tune that’s completely directionless but oddly calming. My favourite thing to do in Zadar was sit on the steps at the quayside and listen to the organ; I was there so often I now basically expect all oceans to sound like organs…
I had no idea what to expect from Croatian food but I wasn’t disappointed! What surprised me most was the Italian influence; Dalmatia was once ruled by the Venetians and of course the countries are geographically close, so it makes sense that the cuisines would overlap. The Croatians do it well too – I had bruschetta, caprese salads and pasta dishes that easily equalled their Italian counterparts. Of course Zadar have their own dishes too; Dalmatian stew is a must-have and the fish was super fresh. I even dared to try octopus!
The Sunsets are Beautiful
Seriously, the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen. Zadar has this weird claim to fame that Alfred Hitchcock, of all people, pronounced the city to have the world’s best sunset, but as bizarre as the reference is, it’s true. The sheer variety of colours is incredible – the sky can go from red to orange to pink in a matter of minutes, and every night it looks completely different. Until now my favourite sunset was in Haad Rin on Ko Samui, but I think Zadar has knocked it off the top spot.
Everything is Cheap!
We ma not be talking South East Asia cheap, but in Europe terms Zadar is very reasonable. Every evening the four of us would get two courses each, a couple of bottles of water and a bottle of wine, and only once did we find ourselves paying more than about £25 each. Local wine from the supermarket was around £3 a bottle, and cocktails in a decent bar were £3.50-£4.50 each. We also booked a couple of tours, one to Plitvice Lakes and one around the nearby islands and Kornati National Park, which in our opinion were bargains considering what we got for our money.
We spent a whole day on a fantastic speedboat tour of Zadar’s surrounding islands and Kornati National Park, and oh my. One of the things that’s striking about Croatia’s sea is how clear it is; we went to beaches around the islands and even when the water was so deep I couldn’t swim to the bottom I could still see the seabed as clearly as if I was standing on it. We got to one of the beaches about an hour before a horde of tourists turned up, and after they turned up felt incredibly smug that we’d been able to enjoy it in its quiet serenity.
The Bars are Super Cool
Zadar’s nightlife is nothing crazy, so if you go expecting huge clubs and all night beach parties to rival Hvar’s, you’ll be so disappointed. But what it does have is a ton of really amazing bars – I had several favourites that I loved for different reasons. Ledana bar has loads of really cool, comfy seating in a garden setting, while Rio is a tiny place that you could easily miss but has apparently been around forever. My favourite was Garden bar; a brilliant cocktail menu and actual mattresses to lie on while you drink them – what more could a girl want?
Plitvice Lakes is Really Close
Ok, really close might be a slight exaggeration; Plitvice Lakes is a good 2-hour drive from Zadar, but I’ve wanted to go for years so there was no way I was letting that stand in my way. Plitvice is one of those places that gets photographed a lot, and you see the photos and assume that they’re photoshopped, or at least heavily edited, because there’s no way that anywhere could be so beautiful, or that colours could be so vivid. Then you go and you find out that it’s all real. Plitvice Lakes is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been, and if I never see it again I’ll be very sad.
Parts of Zadar have been around since BC, and although none of the relics are quite that old, the Forum and St. Donatus Church have been standing since Roman times. The Church of Saint Anastasia has been around since the 12th/13th century, and has a bell tower at the back that you can climb to see gorgeous views of the city and ocean. Like Rome, Zadar is the kind of place where a map can actually hinder you; it’s so full of history that it’s easier to just go for a walk and let the sights find you.
Public Drinking is Basically Fine
To my knowledge, public drinking is technically illegal in Croatia, but Zadar doesn’t seem to care as long as you’re respectful and drink sensibly. One of the best things to do on an evening is head down to the quayside with some beer or a bottle of wine, find a spot on the paving stones, and drink up while watching the sun go down to the sound of the sea organ. Myself and two of my friends may or may not have finished the bottle by swigging directly from it as we walked to our restaurant, while my third friend walked several feet ahead of us in disapproval…
No Public Transport Needed
Zadar’s Old Town is small. Super small. Some people would say there’s not enough to keep them occupied for more than a day or two, but personally when I’m away for a week I enjoy having a base that’s compact, where I can know my way around within a couple of days and feel slightly at home. I loved having everything in walking distance because Zadar is such a lovely place to wander the winding streets and soak up the atmosphere. Clearly Zadar are very proud of their streets; they wash them every single day!
Who else has been to Zadar? What do you love about it?