A Wave Organ, Romanesque churches, marble steets – Zadar makes an unmissable stopover!
After a fantastic few days in Pula, we headed to the third destination on our road trip through Croatia – Zadar. A little further south down the coast, Zadar is a historic town in Northern Dalmatia.
With its quiet marble streets and historic air, it’s another stunning setting for a stopover on the journey south. Like Pula, the town is full of Roman ruins, but in Zadar there are also more than 30 beautiful Romanesque churches and some very cool art installations. Add in easy access to the unspoilt pine beaches and breathtaking islands of the Dalmatian coast and you’ve got the perfect holiday destination!
It’s around 350 km from Pula to Zadar, which translates to around a 4 hour 30 min drive. This is one of the most scenic parts of the whole trip, whether you choose to take the coast or mountain route.
First, head back inland to Rijeka. From there, you can decide to drive either the A8 all the way along the edge of the sea to Zadar for coastal and island views or take a slight detour inland for the A1 toll road through the mountains.
Things to See
Start your tour of Zadar at the Sea Organ, a unique, experimental art installation of pipes under the marble steps of the promenade. When the water is calm, soft chords emerge from the natural instrument – but when the waves are choppy, the sound is rather more menacing! The same artist (Nikola Bašic) also created Monument to the Sun, which is a huge solar-powered installation that becomes a sparkling disco ball as the sun sets.
From these stunning modern pieces, move on to the more classical reminders of Zadar’s history. One of the oldest attractions is the Roman Forum, which is an interesting spot even though only a few columns can be seen here today.
The 12th Century cathedral is an impressive sight, with a traditional style that’s reminiscent of churches in Paris or Tuscany and a bell tower that you can climb for wonderful views over the marble streets. History and architecture buffs will love exploring the many churches around Zadar, but if you only have time for a little more exploring, St Simeon and St Mary’s are two of the best examples. Inside, these two churches also boast exhibitions of hand crafted silver and gold reliquary which adds to the interest.
After a long morning of wandering the city streets, you’ll find a great place to relax at Kolovare Beach. The closest stretch of sand to the town centre, Kolovare is a big favourite with locals after work and on the weekends.
Thanks to its harbour, Zadar is the perfect base for exploring the rugged nearby islands. Take the ferry to Dugi Otok (60 minutes) for gorgeous turquoise bays with crystal clear waters and white sand and unspoilt old towns such as Sali. From Sali, you can cruise further out to sea to Kornati National Park, a scattering of small islands topped only by rocky coves and konobas (remote, rustic restaurants) for a fresh, traditional lunch.
With the car at your disposal, you’re also perfectly placed in Zadar for an afternoon drive to the breathtaking Plitvice Lakes National Park. About an hour out of town, you’ll find mountains, stunning blue-green lakes and amazing waterfalls waiting to be explored.
What to Eat
Like Pula, Zadar is home to lots of fish restaurants and the catch is guaranteed to be both local and fresh. There’s no need to look for elaborate dishes – the simple grilled fish plates accompanied by mlinci (roasted flat bread) and summery salads are a taste of local heaven.
Like many lively Croatian towns, Zadar has a buzzing cafe culture where it’s a joy to sit and watch the world go buy with a cup of coffee or a stronger drink when the sun goes down. The pavement cafes are also the ideal place for al fresco dessert and ice cream after a restaurant meal!
Where to Sleep
Zadar has plenty of reasonably priced places to stay around town, including apartments where you’ll find privacy and luxuries like shared swimming pools for a bargain. The further along the coast (and out of town) you go, the accommodation tends to be more luxurious and expensive because of their proximity to the beaches. If you’re travelling solo or on a tight budget, the cheapest option is the friendly Youth Hostel (Obala kneza Trpimira 78) near the marina in Borik.
For a night that’s all about style and history, however, you can’t beat the boutique Hotel Bastion for sheer class. Built into the battlements of a 13th Century Venetian fortress, the rooms are seriously chic and you’ll be sleeping in a genuine historical monument to top off the experience.