The ancient capital of Dalmatia, ZADAR is one of the success stories of the Croatian Adriatic, combining ancient and medieval heritage with a bustling café life, a vibrant bar scene and the kind of go-ahead architectural projects (such as the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun) that give the seafront the appearance of a contemporary art installation.

Bombed no fewer than 72 times by the Allies during World War II, Zadar lacks the museum-like quality of so many Adriatic towns, displaying instead an ad-hoc muddle of architectural styles, where lone Corinthian columns stand alongside rectangular 1950s blocks, and Romanesque churches are jostled by glass-fronted café-bars. With a population of around 75,000, the city is the main ferry port for northern Dalmatia. Zadar’s growing popularity with visitors ensures that the central streets are swarming with life from June to September. Outside that time, the city’s invigorating café culture is left to the locals.

Brief history

Long held by the Venetians (who called it Zara), Zadar was for centuries an Italian-speaking city, and its university, established by Dominican monks in 1396, claims to be the oldest in Croatia. Ceded to Italy in 1921 under the terms of the Treaty of Rapallo, the town became part of Tito’s Yugoslavia in 1947 – when most Italian families were expelled. Postwar reconstruction resulted in something of an architectural mish-mash, and further damage was meted out in 1991, when the JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army), supported by Serbian irregulars, came close to capturing the city. Despite the UN-sponsored ceasefires of 1992, Zadar remained exposed to Serbian artillery attack right up until 1995, when the Croatian offensives finally drove them back.

After spending the 1990s in the economic doldrums Zadar became an important focus for investment from around 2000 onwards, when bars and clubs mushroomed and the city’s airport became a major entry point for tourists visiting the middle Adriatic.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Croatia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

There's nothing like an amazing view to inspire you to book your next trip, whether you're drawn by rolling countryside, isolated islands or soaring mountain …

30 Aug 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
The 10 best beaches in Croatia

The 10 best beaches in Croatia

When it comes to beaches in Croatia, the best advice is to head south: it’s on the Dalmatian coast where the most seductive sandy shores, pebbly coves and sun…

25 Aug 2017 • Jonathan Bousfield insert_drive_file Article
Sailing in Croatia: a first-timer’s guide

Sailing in Croatia: a first-timer’s guide

Coastlines don’t come much more idyllic than Croatia’s 2000km of ruggedly beautiful Adriatic shore. Along this magnificent stretch are ancient Roman remains…

03 Jul 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook