Settled on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, 3000 year-old Zadar is enriched with unique culture untouched by time.
The city sits inland but is surrounded by elongated islands that can be reached easily by ferry. With the best cuisine, nightlife, sunset views and lagoons, a visit to Zadar and the surrounding areas will embed memories in your mind to last a lifetime.
My husband and I flew into Zadar from Frankfurt-Hahn during the last week of July. I usually avoid traveling around this time since it is tourist season but it was our anniversary so a trip is a must. We departed for Zadar on a Sunday and returned to Hahn on a Saturday, all for $150.
First order of business is to book flights cheap! Don’t settle for overly-priced convenient prices. RyanAir is my favorite European airline because it has completely on-budget prices!
Without further ado, here’s my top tips to follow when visiting Zadar, Croatia:
1. RENT A CAR
Although we didn’t plan on traveling too far out of Zadar, we always enjoy exploring on our own and not depending on public transportation. Renting a car allowed us to find different beaches other than what was by our hotel and it gave us the ability to go on a day trip to Plitvice without spending a fortune on a group tour. Not to mention, the landscapes you see while driving outside of Zadar are stunning.
If you do rent a car, you may have a heck of a time finding a place to park down by the peninsula of Zadar where you will most likely want to spend your evenings. If you find a spot in one of the parking lots you see, take it immediately. The meter machine was down when we arrived so we had to pay, Kuna only, to a parking attendant standing in the lot. Another night there were no spots whatsoever in the lots that line the peninsula so we found a street spot by a park named Perivoj Kraljice Jelene Madijevke. Attempting to get change for the meter, we walked into a small bar/cafe and they actually said that we were able to pay for parking there. They gave us the appropriate receipt and we placed it in our car and were on our way. We would have parked here every night if we knew it was that easy and it was a bit cheaper than the parking lots!
2. KNOW WHERE YOU WANT TO STAY
This trip was the first and only time we didn’t use an Airbnb, but stayed in a hotel. The main reason we did this was so that we had beach access and A/C.
We stayed at Hotel Kolovare and were very pleased with our experience.
This was climate-controlled lodging (a MUST in July in Croatia) and was cheaper than many of the surrounding hotels. They had a pool with lounge chairs, tables in the shade, a bar and a secured gate that led you straight to Kolovare Beach. The pool area did seem small for the amount of people staying at the hotel. If you weren’t able to claim a lounger by 9am, good luck finding a place to relax in the sun. We opted for the pool over the overly-packed beach one day and were forced to lay on the ground as we watched unattended chairs “reserved” by only towels with the owners nowhere in sight for literally hours.
I was in my last semester finishing my Master’s Degree and had work that I had to do while in Zadar. I was able to sit under the shaded area by the pool from dusk to dawn writing papers. It was quiet, relaxing, and the service was great. We drank iced lattes and fresh keg beer all day, only costing us around $50. WHAT A STEAL.
3. VISIT THE SEA ORGAN & THE GREETING TO THE SUN
What drove us to visit Zadar initially was a video we watched online of the Sea Organ and The Greeting to the Sun that is located on the peninsula of Zadar that hugs the Adriatic Sea. The Sea Organ is a manmade structure that sits on the edge of the water and emits sound when the waves roll in. The sounds change often because of the size of the waves and the height they reach. Different sounds can be heard in the morning and at night as the tide changes.
If you go to this area during tourist season (July & August) like we did, you will not get to experience the true beauty of this structure as there was constant chatter, yelling, picture taking, etc. If you are able to tone out the noise like I attempted to, watching the sunset here with little splashes of waves on your feet and the sound of the Sea Organ tones is magical. It was a moment I will remember forever.
About a 2-3 minute walk from the Sea Organ to the north is The Greeting to the Sun. Equipped with a solar-paneled floor, the entire end of the boardwalk turns into a light-up masterpiece after dusk. When the sun is setting there are scores of people huddled around, so it is hard to grasp the true beauty of this. If you wait a bit longer until after dark, people will soon clear out and it becomes your own personal dance floor.
4. Take a Walk Around the Boardwalk & Old Town Zadar
Follow the edge of the boardwalk to the east of the Greeting to the Sun and you will see various yachts and boats that you can gaze at. Many of the boats sitting on the water offer dinner as well. On the boardwalk that hugs the Sea Organ are many vendors and options of things to see and do.
I was tickled to death when this little guy’s handler put him on top of my head. How many times do you get to experience something like that?
If you wander inland from the boardwalk you will find Old Zadar that is adorned with rustic churches and buildings with cream-colored, polished, pedestrian-only cobblestone streets.
4. Visit Beaches Outside of Zadar
Zadar was my first experience with rocky/pebble beaches. Apparently this is the norm for Europeans but, hailing from the US, I am used to white sandy beaches. One specific beach that you can visit in Zadar is Kolovare Beach.
This pebble beach was right outside of our hotel and we went to it our first full day in Zadar. Since it was uncomfortable laying on a towel in the pebbles and we couldn’t get into the water because of the slew of rocks on the bottom, we ended up heading back to our hotel’s pool. If you visit this beach I suggest bringing a lounge chair and water shoes so you are able to enjoy the Adriatic when you’re in need of a cool-down.
About a 30 minute drive north of Zadar is Nin’s Lagoon, a gem of a beach located in the small town of Nin.
We absolutely adored this place, so much that we made the trip to it 2 days in a row. The sandy beach stretches so far that even on a busy summer day in July, you can still find room to relax. You can wade out football-field-length and still only be knee-deep in the water.
The temperature of the water in this lagoon is so warm and the shallowness allows you to snorkel around easily. The backdrop to the sea view are mountains, giving you a pleasant sight.
Opposite of the sea, over the small grassy area is natural healing mud that you can place all over your body and has been proven to cure diseases. There are also loungers and umbrellas available to rent and places to grab a quick bite and a refreshment.
5. Indulge in the Cuisine
If you’re allergic to seafood like me, you’ll feel like an outcast in Zadar, where everybody is ordering fresh Adriatic fish. No worries, though. I was pleased to find some sort of pasta or “American” dish available at each restaurant and tuna (the only seafood I can enjoy) is always available in many variations.
If you’re visiting Zadar in a busy time like summer, make reservations! We were turned away from multiple restaurants because of not having a reservation and we stumbled around Old Town Zadar for over an hour, hangry as hell, trying to find somewhere to eat.
Our favorite restaurant that we ate at was Restoran Konat, ranked #10 for best restaurants in Zadar on Trip Advisor. Apparently we were very lucky to snag a seat for dinner here, probably because we’re Americans who eat about 2-3 hours earlier than Europeans. Needless to say, if you are planning on eating here, WHICH I HIGHLY RECOMMEND, then make a reservation a day or 2 ahead. It is worth it. We were gracious that the host attempted to accommodate us without a reservation. While it wasn’t the cheapest meal we had, it was the best dinner that we enjoyed in Zadar.
The service is exquisite (which sometimes is hard to find when you’re an American in a foreign country). The complimentary bread and fresh tuna pate that they give you is to die for.
I ordered the Beefsteak with Homemade Gnocchi and it was excellent.
Our Prosecco was on point and even came chilled–something I never take for granted.
The next restaurant we tried was Konoba Stamorica located in Old Town Zadar. Tucked in an alleyway sits this charming little restaurant. The hostess greeted us with menus but we were already starving and insisted on sitting down anywhere with an open table. She walked us into the restaurant and the place was packed. I couldn’t figure out where she wanted us to sit until she took us out a back door to their garden area, filled with more tables. So very, very charming. I LOVED this atmosphere.
My husband ordered the Seafood Platter for 1, which he raved about all night.
And you can’t forget about dessert! On nearly every corner you’re tempted with amazing displays of Croatian ice cream. YUM!
6. Take a Day-Trip to Plitvice
The best decision we made on our trip to Zadar was visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park. We were initially inbetween going Krka (where you can swim under a waterfall) or Plitvice (where you are not allowed to touch the water). Although it was hot and swimming sounded tempting, we opted for Plitvice due to the reviews we had read online.
This place is absolutely stunning, magical, amazing! Every beautiful word you can think of insert here to describe this place. Plitvice was no doubt my favorite part of our Croatian vacation. To read my full experience with Plitvice and tips on making the most of your day there, click here.
Zadar is a place that should be on every traveler’s bucket-list. I hope these tips can help you have a successful vacation to Croatia!