Zadar hadn’t crossed our bucket lists until it showed up on a ‘recommended places to visit in 2017’ list that popped up on Facebook. We later learned that it was a favorite spot of Alfred Hitchcock and it quickly became a favorite of ours too.
When we got there, it was everything we had hoped for! The terracotta roofs, the sparkling sea, the warm sunshine bouncing off smooth light colored footpaths and walls, the al fresco dining… even the flamenco-inspired guitarists busking for money. It was the best place to shake off the dampness of our rainy, grey days in Ljubljana.
Zadar’s old city is pretty small and doesn’t offer too much as far as ‘things to do’ but that didn’t stop us falling in love. The city grabbed a special part in our hearts for its people watching, constant sunshine, fresh seafood, cherry brandy, and ice cream.
It might also grab other travelers attention because it has a very active ferry port – you can reach lots of other Croatian destinations, but you can even hop a ferry to Italy – who-hoo!
What to do if you visit
Head straight to the coastline of the peninsula and keep an ear out for the Sea Organ. There isn’t much to see – other than a beautiful view of Uglijana island – but your ears will be in for a treat. 35 organ pipes have been installed below the steps leading to the water. These create haunting sounds based on the ebb and flow of the water and the breeze. Here there are huge marble steps which are warmed by the sunshine, so take a weight off your feet and relax!
Right next to the Sea Organ you’ll find the art installment Greeting to the sun. What looks like a huge round solar panel is actually much more intricate on second look. You’ll see the solar system, illuminated by photovoltaic cells in random colors and patterns based on the suns movement in the sky and sets across the ocean. At night, well it’s more like a dancefloor, but make sure you visit in time to see the sunset.
If you’re comfortable climbing some stairs, head into the center of the old town and make your way up St Anastasia’s bell tower. Its a great spot for photos of the whole city and the coastline but be warmed – the bells still ring, and you’ll be climbing right past them, so try not to get the fright of your life like we did!
From the top of the bell tower, you’ll instantly spot the Roman ruins below. Wander further afield and see the Venetian’s gates.
After lots of walking in the sunshine, you may need to pull on the Italian influences that are easy to see as you wander through the streets. Sit down at any one of the many cafes, bars or ice-creameries and relax.
While we spent a lot of time sipping coffee and people watching, we also made sure to explore beyond the teeny tiny old city.
We hopped a bus to a wee town about 30 minutes away called Nin. Nin is tiny, with about 1000 residents, but is an important part of Croatian history. It happens to be the place where the Croatian state was born, and seven kings were crowned.
Here we found Ivan Meštrović’s famed statue of Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin) who is claimed to have defied the pope and brought the Slavic languages to Croatia. There are two identical statues elsewhere in Croatia, including one in Split. Give Greg’s toe a rub, make a wish and well….you might just get lucky!
The appeal of Nin to many who are visiting, us included, is the warm water and sandy beaches. Check out Queens beach or the lagoon, but make sure you visit during the tourist season, otherwise its very quiet and you’ll struggle to find a place to get changed, a toilet to use, or even a close by spot to buy a drink. Don’t panic though, there are plenty of nice spots in the township to enjoy a drink and a meal.
For us, our favorite memory of Nin has to be doing that very thing, enjoying a pizza and a beer, while watching a local wedding party process by towards the church, with the addition of beautiful live music.
Speaking of churches, Nin holds the title of home of the ‘worlds smallest cathedral’, a tiny wee church in the middle of town that dates back to 9AD!
Uglijana Island (Preko)
Hop on a ferry from Zadar to Preko and enjoy a glimpse of island life. Uglijana hosts a handful of small fisherman villages up and down the eastern side of the island, with Preko being the main hub. Preko is the Croatian word for opposite and it is easy to see why – its situated directly oppositely from Zadar.
While we only spent time in Preko, swimming in the ocean, enjoying the autumn sunshine and peeking through the glassy waters at the fish swimming alongside the promonade there is a long walkway that will take interested parties both north and south of the city.
Finding a spot in the sun.
Zadar has a wide variety of accommodation options but we were delighted to get a small airbnb property on the norther outskirts of the city. Our host had a huge garden and we were welcomed with a bowl of fresh fruit and vegetables. We were able to cook on a huge outdoor grill and eat al fresco under the vines. This experience is defiantly another one to add to my reasons I love Airbnb list.