Croatia's fifth largest city, Zadar is often overlooked for its larger 'neighbours' further south along the Adriatic Sea - Split and Dubrovnik. Zadar isn't blessed with golden beaches and though the water isn't as crystal clear, it's still dazzling. The history, pretty streets of Old Town, and proximity to the lesser-known Dalmatian Islands to the north are worthy of a night or two as part of your Croatian adventure.
Zadar's currency is the Croatian Krona (HRK). 10 HRK = £1.11 / $1.42 / €1.32 = (as of 2022). Be aware, their currency switches to Euros in 2023!
Top 5 things to see
Visit the Sea Organ and The Greeting to the Sun
The city's boardwalk is one of Europe's most unique. In addition to the beautiful views over the sea to the Dalmatian Islands, you'll be greeted with a low, deep humming noise, like trumpets. This is in fact the Sea Organ; the noise is made naturally by the sea as it crashes against the carefully designed steps, pushing air into the holes, somehow adding to the city's charm.
Nearby the Sea Organ is the Greeting to the Sun, a 22m wide solar panel/dance floor. Soaking up the rich Croatian sun throughout the day, the floor turns into an exceptional light show which you are free to walk on. It's an incredible sight to behold - you're metres from the Adriatic, the Sea Organ is thundering away, and there is a fun mix of locals and tourists creating pleasant vibes.
Watch the sunset from the boardwalk
We truly mean this, Zadar has one of the most incredible sunsets in the world - even Alfred Hitchcock agrees with us! Research when the sun will set and go to the boardwalk 30 minutes prior to it, and enjoy one of the world's most incredible spectacles in one of the world's best view points. The sun disappears over a thin strip of Dalmatian land, and the city turns into a purple hue. Take a bottle of wine and enjoy an unimaginably beautiful sunset.
Island-hop and discover your own beaches
Croatia isn't nicknamed the "Land of a Thousand Islands" for nothing. The islands close to Zadar aren't as popular as those by Split - Hvar, Brač and Korčula for example - but they do provide beautiful spots to island hop and discover pretty villages and towns with gorgeous clear water.
The closest island is Ugljan, only a 20-minute boat ride from Zadar's Ferry Terminal by Gradski Most. For the picturesque beaches, rent a car and visit Dugi Otok - the largest of the islands. Sakarun Beach, a beach cove with beach bars north of the island, is the best rated.
Visit Fort Saint Michael
On Ugljan Island are the remains of a 6th-century fort perched precariously on the highest point of the island. It is a 2-hour hike - at medium-level difficulty - but the views are unmatched. Dramatic views of the vibrant blue water shine in the sunlight and the dramatic landscape is breath-taking. If you have a day to spare and enjoy exploring, this is a must-do.
Climb the historic Bell Tower
Attached to the 4th-century Cathedral of Saint Anastasia is the historic Bell Tower. Its first floors were built in 1452 and the top was finished in 1893. The climb will take 5-10 minutes and is split into two sections - the first is narrow stone with no handles; the second has metal railings helping you to the top. The steps are one-way, however throughout the climb there are multiple opportunities to rest and let people through. There is a 360 degree platform which offers unbelievable views over the city, the islands and the mountains further north.
Tickets can be bought at the Bell Tower, behind the Cathedral, and only cost 15 HRK.
Where to eat and drink
Compared to other Croatian cities, especially the likes of Split and Dubrovnik, Zadar is extremely affordable. The proximity to Italy and a heavy Venetian influence, have left its mark on the city's cuisine. Walking through the streets of Old Town, you'll notice the majority of restaurants are rustic and affordable, where you could quite easily spend as little as 100 HRK for dinner and a drink - no booking is needed, just turn up and you'll find a table. Many of these will offer carry out, which is common in the city, that you can take for an al fresco meal on the boardwalk.
High-end restaurants are harder to come by, so the scarcity requires you book a table in advance! You can comfortably eat a two course meal with drinks for two for 300 HRK.
Pjaceta Bar overlooking Zadar Market is a pretty spot to people watch over a coffee and pastry.
Kavana Sv. Lovre takes up most of the Zadar's main plaza - Narodni Trg (People's Square) - and serves delicious coffee and pastries set amongst 11th-century churches and historical buildings.
Cafe Bar Porthus, located by Karma Beach, stretches out into the sea and you can feel the waves crash against your feet as you sip on a coffee to start your day. If the early morning is warm, start your day with their homemade ice tea or lemonade!
La Famiglia provides perfect breakfasts if you want something more filling than a pastry. The ham and cheese omelet will start your day of adventuring right...coupled with a coffee of course.
Croatia has a strong coffee culture, so expect good coffee in most places for as little as 60 HRK.
Zadar Market, an authentic local's market serving the city, offers the chance to make the most of the incredible produce on offer and create an incredible picnic lunch. 75% of the market dazzles with the bright colours of local fruit and vegetables, and there are a few stalls for cured meats and bread. Take your Zadar Market picnic to the boardwalk and enjoy your meal with a view.
Crazy Pizza offers huge slices of...you guessed it, pizza, for just 17 HRK. By huge, we mean about three times the size of what you consider to be a standard "New York Style" slice. And they're delicious! Of course, you can pop there for dinner too for a late night snack (like I did) after a few drinks.
Krostula Bakery offers a good selection of sandwiches, pastries and cookies to keep you going!
Tri Bunara is a pizzeria with a cute terrace on the pretty cobblestone street. Pizzas are fresh, the staff are friendly, and the prices are affordable.
Kaštel is the most popular fine-dining restaurant in the city offering contemporary takes on classic Croatian dishes, using the best produce from the Adriatic Sea. Book in advance!
4 Cantuna is a chic restaurant that's always busy serving of tasty dishes. Grab a table on the pretty street and people-watch. Book in advance.
Congo, north of the city by Borik Beach, is the best quality pizza you'll have on your trip to Zadar - possibly in Croatia. Its pizzas are delectable and well-priced, its interior is comforting and sophisticated. Definitely recommended if you venture north of the city.
For the adults
Zlatni Kutić is often voted as being the best bar in Zadar - and we can see why! The cocktails are really good and extraordinary value for money - the most expensive are 30 HRK. Chill on the outdoor terrace and enjoy the young, student vibe.
Tequila Sunrise by Punta Bajlo Beach, south of the city, won't be beaten in terms of views; the terrace stretches by the cliffs opening up the crystal blue Adriatic Sea and Dalmatian Islands.
Frenky Bar is an intimate cocktail bar serving strong cocktails for 30 HRK. A fun bar to start your night and should be experienced.
Slasticarna is the number one ice cream and gelato shop in the city. We know it's not bar, but we had to mention it. 10 HRK a scoop is a steal - either sit and admire the Cathedral of Saint Anastasia in the plaza, or take a five-minute walk to the boardwalk and do it like a local!
Tipping isn't required, but you can add some HRK to your bill if the service was particularly good.
Zadar is a very safe city. There is a good vibe to the area and there are often people out and about late having a good time. You won't get pestered by locals; there is a low homeless rate too.
Two Passports Top Tip: People Still Smoke Indoors!
Don't be alarmed if you see people smoking indoors. It's very common - just warning you...
When to Go
Low Season: November to February
Chilly days and long nights. Most attractions like ferries and boats stop for the season.
Shoulder Season: March to April, September to November
You'll be in for warmer, sunnier days. Busier with tourists compared to low season, but good deals on attractions and hotels can still be found. Ferries and boats not on full schedule.
High Season: May to August
Very, VERY hot. Humid and sticky weather, and the Old Town is packed with tourists who descend to the island, mainly via the cruise ships. If you can, visit outside of this, as the heat is unbearable and prices are high on hotels.
How to Get There
Zadar Airport (ZAD)
ZAD is very small and a hub for Ryanair, serving European routes only. In the low and shoulder seasons, there are approximately 10 flights a day; this increases in the high season. It's poorly designed, with very few signs telling you where to go.
This is important: There is only one method by public transport - the bus (one-way 25 HRK / 15-20 minute journey). However, because there are so few flights, the bus waits 30 minutes after every landing for passengers; if your plane is delayed, the bus will leave and the next will be in 2 hours time - very frustrating and very inconsistent.
There are no signs to the bus station either; when you leave the airport, if the bus isn't waiting in front of you, then it's gone and you either wait for the next one or...get a taxi. Taxis range from 400 to 600 HRK.
There are plenty of taxis available. If you're happy to get your own, then brilliant! Otherwise, speak to another group of travellers outside the airport (who will be in the same position as you) and split the cost. You'll all be heading towards Old Town anyway - then wherever you go, everything is walkable.
We're not just saying it - this is really important. Don't make the same mistake we did and wait for nearly 45 minutes for a bus that wasn't going to arrive for another 2 hours. There is very little help and information at the airport which is disappointing, so be proactive and be ready!
Travelling by coach
There are daily coaches to Zadar from other towns and cities in Croatia. You'll either be lucky enough to disembark in Old Town, or you'll disembark at the Coach Station which is a 20-minute walk east of the Old Town..
Travelling by boat
Being a city by the sea, you can always opt to arrive by boat. If part of your Croatian adventure, you'll come from the Dalmatian Islands after being in Split to the south, or from being in the islands to the north.
You can, in fact, catch a boat from the Italian town of Ancona and cross the Adriatic Sea!
Travelling by cruise
Cruises are very popular in the city. These stop by the boardwalk and dominate the view, which is a shame. But this is also an option.
Travelling in the city
The Old Town is all walkable. You can comfortably amble east to west in 30 minutes, and north to south in 15 minutes. Buses outside of Old Town are inconsistent and infrequent.