6 Reasons why you should visit Zadar Croatia

Mike MacEacheran

written by
Mike MacEacheran

updated 10.06.2024

Why visit Zadar Croatia? It’s one of the coolest places on the Adriatic. In Croatian terms, it’s improbably crowd-free. The city sunsets are memorably beautiful. And its mix of cliffs, coves and ancient Roman streets are worlds apart from Split or Dubrovnik’s cruise ship crowds. The information in this article is taken from The Rough Guide to Croatia, your essential guide for visiting Croatia.

Why you should visit Zadar Croatia

The shape of Zadar is defined by the Velebit mountains, Croatia’s longest and largest range. They lie to the east of the city and attract climbers, 4x4s and hikers to explore limestone canyons and discover wild, little-known trails.

Look forward to uncrowded Adriatic beaches here. And even the islands are unusual. Visit the pine-covered strip of Ugljan to see tuna farms. Or head to Sakarun where Croatia meets white sand Caribbean beaches.

Zadar’s also the start of micro-adventures in Croatia’s national parks. Don’t miss Plitvice Lakes for its crystal clear lagoons. Here are six more reasons why you should visit Zadar Croatia and its surrounding northern Dalmatia region.

If you prefer a tailor made trip, check our itineraries or connect with a local travel expert to plan and book your ideal holiday.


Where to stay in Zadar? The captivating historic centre© xbrchx/Shutterstock

1. Zadar’s streets are alive with history

Zadar’s story begins off Kalelarga, at the ancient Roman Forum in the Old Town. The 2000 year old brainchild of Roman Emperor Augustus, this has always been the city’s main meeting place. Today coffee-obsessed Croats converge in cafes under the bell tower of St. Anastasia's Cathedral. And families sit on the steps of 9th century St. Donatus Church.

In summer St. Donatus hosts classical concerts as its domed ceiling acts as a natural amplifier.

Head to the waterfront to see ruins from the 6th century earthquake which dismantled the city. You’ll find Roman columns, colonnades, pediments and sarcophagi laid out on a lawn, like an impossible jigsaw puzzle.

2. You can learn to blow glass with Croatian artisans

Almost all Croatia’s glassblowers have gone out of business. But the Museum of Ancient Glass in Zadar is home to the very last one.

Visit to explore the collection of historic artefacts. Then climb to the second floor and watch glassblower Marko Štefanac at work in front of a furnace primed to over 1,300°C. Gawp as he transforms white hot glass into vases, jugs and souvenirs. Brave souls can try glass blowing themselves. But be aware the end results may not look like Marko’s.

3. Adriatic sunsets wowed a Hollywood legend

Alfred Hitchcock knew a thing or two about creating suspense. And the same can be said of Zadar. Particularly at dusk, when the sun drops below the horizon and skies blaze pink, red and orange.

Hitchcock holidayed in Zadar in 1964. He stayed in the building which now houses chic holiday apartment Bristol Lux 3BR. And he described the city’s sunset as the world’s best.

Hard to argue. Especially when sunset’s accompanied by the soft music of Zadar’s extraordinary Sea Organ. Created by architect Nikola Bašić, the organ’s subterranean pipes give voice to the tide, and mesh whale-song with musical sighs as the water ebbs and flows.


Things to do Zadar Croatia? Watch Adriatic sunsets © 9MOT/Shutterstock

4. The country’s most impressive national parks are close to Zadar

The Northern Dalmatian hinterland contains two remarkable natural wonders. The most famous is Plitvice Lakes National Park and its landscape of terraced lakes, tiered waterfalls and dazzling cascades.

Veliki Slap, Croatia’s highest waterfall, is the major tourist attraction at Plitvice. So between June and August, time your visit to avoid coach tours from Split.

Just over an hour’s drive east of Zadar, Paklenica National Park in Starigrad is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It’s also the place for bouldering, climbing, rafting and extreme mountain biking.

Velebit Photo Safari arranges off-road tours from Starigrad to mountain farms for lunch. They also do tours to Zrmanja River Canyon. Don’t be surprised by the wild landscape. This area’s doubled for the American West more than once. And the classic German series Winnetou was also filmed here.

Beautiful waterfalls Plitvice lakes, Croatia © Shutterstock

Turqouise pools at Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia © Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock

5. Zadar creates extraordinary Northern Dalmatian cuisine

Istria had its moment. Now Croatia’s culinary focus is on Zadar. Dalmatians love peka: a meat and potato stew; slow cooked and smoked under a bell-shaped pot. But in Zadar, peka’s served with a whole octopus steeped in garlic and wine.

Other local specialties include pungent sheep cheese from Pag. Pršut, Croatian prosciutto air-dried by the cold north wind. Salt from nearby Nin. And lamb on the bone, slow cooked in mountain herbs.

Another highlight is bluefin tuna, sustainably farmed around Ugljan Island. In fact, the local tuna’s so renowned, planeloads of it are regularly flown to Tokyo.

Want some wine? Visit Kraljevski Vinogradi. Then savour the last of the day’s sun with a glass of dazzlingly gold pošip. Don’t linger too long. Maraschino, the local cherry liqueur, awaits you in Zadar’s Old Town bars. Order it straight up, over ice.


Grilled squid with lemon fresh from Zadar Croatia © Dani VIncek/Shutterstock

6. There are hundreds of beaches to explore

Most places in Northern Dalmatia are easy to reach. And those requiring more effort are worth it. Like Kornati National Park, an uninhabited marine reserve south of Zadar. Go to see dolphin, lizards, ring snakes and nearly 70 species of butterfly. Or in summer book a boat trip to scuba dive round the park’s reef and sunbathe on its shingly coves and reefs.

Looking for more ideas for your holiday? Explore our guide to the best beach destinations for holidays in Europe.


Sailboat in Zadar area waterfront, Dalmatia, Croatia © xbrchx/Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Croatia? Check out the snapshot Rough Guide to Croatia. Read more about the best time to go to Croatia, the best places to visit and best things to do in Croatia. For inspiration use the Croatia Itineraries from The Rough Guide to Croatia and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.

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Mike MacEacheran

written by
Mike MacEacheran

updated 10.06.2024

Mike MacEacheran is a travel journalist & guidebook author based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has reported from 108 countries for National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveller, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal, Mail on Sunday, The Independent, Evening Standard, The Sun, The Globe and Mail, Scotland on Sunday, The National and South China Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMacEacheran

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