Settled on the coast of the Adriatic Sea in Croatia, 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.
We flew into Zadar from Frankfurt-Hahn during the last week of July, departing on a Sunday and returning to Frankfurt-Hahn on a Saturday, all for $150.
First order of business is to book flights cheap! Don’t settle for overly-expensive flights. RyanAir is my favorite European airline because it helps me stay completely on-budget with our trips!
Here are 7 Tips for Visiting Zadar, Croatia:
#1: Rent a Car
Not only is public transportation scarce in some areas, it can also be unreliable. Taxis can be expensive and group tours aren’t always convenient. The best solution? Rent a car.
There aren’t many places we’ve visited in Europe where we didn’t rent a car. We love having the freedom of going where ever we want, not restricted to any schedule. Although we didn’t plan on traveling too far out of Zadar, we ended up finding different beaches and things to do outside of the city limits and renting a car allowed us to do that. We spent a couple days at a sandy lagoon, about a half hour drive from Zadar, and embarked on a day trip to Plitvice. Along with the benefits that renting a car in Zadar can give you, the landscapes you see while driving outside of the city are stunning.
If you do rent a car, beware that 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: Visit Beaches Outside of Zadar
And renting a car will allow you to do this!
Depending on what you’re used to, the pebbled beaches in Zadar are so uncomfortable. Although this is the norm for a lot of beaches in Europe, hailing from the US, I am used to those white sand shores that stretch for miles.
One of the more popular pebbled beaches in Zadar is Kolovare Beach. If you visit this beach, I suggest bringing a lounge chair and water shoes so you’re 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, there’s still plenty of room to stake your spot. The water itself is so shallow that I waded a football-field-length out and was still only knee deep, creating insanely warm temperatures for the water. Narrow reefs lay in the sea and, at such shallow depths, thus supplying the perfect conditions for snorkeling.
Opposite of the sea, over the small grassy area is a mineral run-off site consisting of natural healing mud that can be rubbed all over your body and has been proven to cure ailments. Loungers and umbrellas are available to rent, with a souvenir and snack shop for refreshments.
#3: Stay at a Hotel with a Pool
Our trip to Zadar was a bit different than most of our trips because we didn’t stay in an AirBnb. While there were many options for AirBnb’s in Zadar, I kept comparing them to the hotels that had vacancy. After some contemplation, I discovered that we’d only end up paying around 20 Euro extra a day for a hotel equipped with air conditioning, complimentary breakfast, pool and beach access. It was a no-brainer.
We lodged at Hotel Kolovare and were very pleased with our stay. It was climate-controlled (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.
If you do decide to use AirBnb, Click here to get $40 off your first stay!
I highly suggest staying at hotel with a pool for a couple of reasons:
- If you don’t find pebble beaches comfortable, you will want a pool. Zadar was my first experience with pebbled beaches and we only stayed for about 20 minutes until I decided I was retreating back to the hotel’s pool.
- Depending on the time you’re visiting, the beaches are so incredibly packed, it’s almost impossible to find a spot to put your towel. I was so grateful we had a pool for this reason.
- Direct. Bar. Access. I enjoyed nothing more than sitting by the pool all day at our hotel, sipping on iced lattes in the morning and a classic Karlovacko Croatian pilsner in the evening. A full day of drinking and our tab totaled less than 60 US dollars. Can you say cheap?!
#4: Visit During the Tourist Off-Season
I’m going to be completely honest when I say that July was the wrong time to go to Zadar. I usually avoid traveling to European tourist areas during the summer months, but July was our anniversary so we booked this trip. I don’t regret going whatsoever because I had been wanting to visit Zadar for ages and we had an incredible time, but I was disappointed in some of the things I missed because there were too many people.
For example, what initially drove us to visit Zadar was learning about the Sea Organ and The Greeting to the Sun, both located on the peninsula that hugs the Adriatic. 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 like we did, you won’t get to experience the true beauty of this structure as there was constant chatter, yelling and unattended children running everywhere, just to name a few. Attempt to muffle everything out to soak in the subtle sounds of the organ.
About a 2-3 minute walk to the north from the Sea Organ is The Greeting to the Sun. Equipped with a solar-paneled floor, the entire end of the boardwalk turns into a light-up dance floor masterpiece after dusk. If you want to catch a good sunset here, snag a spot early. If you wait an hour or so after dark, people clear out and it becomes your own kind of personal dance floor.
Read More: 8 Things To Do in Zadar
#5: Make Dinner Reservations
If you can’t avoid traveling during the tourist season, then you’ll want to make reservations to try the best restaurants in Zadar. We were turned away from multiple restaurants that we wanted to eat at because of not having a reservation. We stumbled around Old Town Zadar for over an hour, hangry as hell, trying to find somewhere to eat.
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.
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 without a reservation. Even though it wasn’t the cheapest meal we had, it was the best dinner we enjoyed in Zadar and I highly recommend it! The service is exquisite and the complimentary bread and fresh tuna pate they give you is to die for. I ordered the Beefsteak with Homemade Gnocchi and it was excellent.
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: Be Friendly with the Locals
Along the boardwalk that hugs the sea are many local Croatians selling products at their vendor stands. While they may not necessarily know the language you’re speaking, that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly with them. Since we visited during peak season, we witnessed a lot of tourists being rude to the locals, littering, being loud and careless. I’ve always made sure that I am respecting every place that I visit. These people are gracious enough to tolerate the masses of tourists that visit their beautiful cities every year, and the least we can do is be friendly with them and respect their area.
Andy and I got to talking to a husband and wife who live in Zadar with their pet Marmoset. They were walking it around on a leash as they ate their dinner from a local vendor. After I exclaimed over and over how much I love monkeys, the man, to my surprise, lets the little guy on top of my head!
And that right there, folks, is why you make friends with the locals!
#7: 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 between going to Krka (where you can swim under a waterfall) or Plitvice (where you’re not allowed to even 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.
Read More: The Ultimate Path to Take Through Plitvice
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