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Zadar Destination Guide - 'Croatia's Capital of Cool'

Zadar is the oldest continuously-inhabited Croatian city. It is situated on the Adriatic Sea, in the northwestern part of the Ravni Kotari region. Because of its rich heritage, Zadar is one of the most popular Croatian tourist destinations. It was crowned "the entertainment center of the Adriatic" by The Times and "Croatia's new capital of cool" by The Guardian. Zadar is easily reached by land, sea and air and it has a good infrastructure connecting it directly to major cities in Croatia and Europe. Whichever way you decide to travel to Zadar, the natural beauty of the landscape will not disappoint. 

An eclectic list of things to do in Zadar

Admire the St. Donatus church

St. Donatus church is the symbol of the city of Zadar and the most famous monument in Croatia, dating back to the early Middle Ages. The church of St. Donatus is an unusual cylindrical-shaped pre-Romanesque church. It was called the Church of the Holy Trinity until the 15th century when it was renamed after the bishop who had it built, Saint Donat. In the mid 10th century the church was mentioned for the first time in documents belonging to the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos. Today the church is used for musical performances, which make the most of its extraordinary acoustic features. One of many performances is the ‘Musical Evening in Saint Donatus’ which is highly recommended by locals.  

Visit the Roman Forum

Zadar has the largest Roman forum east of the Adriatic. According to two inscriptions found at the digging site, it was established by Emperor Augustus. After bomb damage in the Second World War the space was completely cleared and by the 1960s the forum began to take its shape. The most interesting remains are the fragments of a colonnade and a pillory, where criminals were publicly punished. The temple and basilica that once stood there are gone, but you can still trace the foundations.

Listen to the Zadar sea organ

At the tip of the old town’s peninsula you can listen to this imaginative and award-winning art installation. It was installed in 2005 by the architect Nikola Bašić to breathe new life into Zadar’s waterfront. This is the first of its kind in the world. The organ is made out of a series of large marble steps leading down to the water. Underneath each platform is a tube that creates a musical note generated by the power of the waves that break underneath. The outcome is a random but soothing tune that sounds like something an avant-garde minimalist composer might create!

Say hello to the sun

The Sea Organ’s sister, also designed by Nikola Bašić, is found at the end of the peninsula looking out over the Adriatic. As the sun goes down this circular installation comes to life. The Greeting to the Sun uses photovoltaic cells to absorb the sun's energy by day and then releases it in a vivid graphical display as it starts to get dark. The names of the saints to which Zadar’s churches are dedicated are carved outside the circle with astronomical information about each saint’s day. Alfred Hitchcock described the Zadar sunset as "the most beautiful sunset in the world" on his visit in 1964.

Try to resist Maraska liqueur 

Zadar’s signature drink, Maraska liqueur, is advertised all over the town. After olives and grapes, maraschino cherries are the third most common crop in the region. They are used in the commercial production of the sweet and slightly sour liqueur Maraska, and have been since the 1700s. Most cafés and bars sell it, matured in special oak casks and poured from a bottle wrapped in hand-woven fabric. Make sure you try it. 

Visit the Museum of Ancient Glass

Many glass items dating from the Roman times have ended up in this contemporary museum in the Cosmacendi Palace, which dates back to the 1800s. In modern displays you’ll see drinking vessels, cups for mass, jars and little bottles used to contain anything from skin creams to medicine. Throughout the day there are glass-blowing demonstrations, so you can see firsthand how these delicate items are crafted. And at the end of the tour you can visit the shop to purchase glassware made the ancient way.

Celebrate the Moon at the Full Moon Festival

Zadar's annual lunar celebration takes place in July and it begins at dusk. The town's inhabitants turn off their lights and congregate on the candlelit Riva, to enjoy a night of Croatian music, food and folklore. Boats are transformed into floating markets selling fish, cheese and fruit from all corners of the Dalmatian region. Down on the beach, revellers sing and dance until daybreak. If you don't have the time to travel to Zadar's more remote towns and islands to see the folklore of the region, the Full Moon Festival is a good chance to experience it. 

Give in to the illusion

The Museum of Illusions is a great option if you’re in Zadar on a rainy day. The museum of Illusions is full of holograms, optical games, puzzles, kaleidoscopes, mirages and mirrors, the favourites being the anti-gravity room and the vortex tunnel. A very fun thing to do, especially for families.

Admire the sphinx

Croatia's coast has significant Roman influence, but none from the Egyptians. This makes the sphinx in the middle of Dalmatia even more peculiar. The Zadar Sphinx sits proudly outside the Villa Attilia built by Giovanni Smirich in 1901. After the death of his wife, the artist and historian had a sphinx created in her honour, with fingers instead of paws. 

Resort on Zadar coast with sunsetting

Restaurants in Zadar you should explore

  • Bistro Gourmet Kalelarga

This bistro presents guests with a house-like interior, a wonderful spot to sit down with a cup of coffee and freshly baked pastry first thing in the morning. The dinner menu is dominated by seafood, fish and meat. In addition, with an on-site bakery, the bistro offers a great variety of deserts that will satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. Give it a go!

  • Mamma Mia

Mamma Mia is a warm and friendly Italian restaurant with a lovely terrace open during the warmer months. Sourcing only the freshest ingredients that are free from additives and preservatives, the culinary team creates all kinds of pizzas, grilled meats and pasta dishes, which suit a wide range of tastes from vegetarians to meat lovers.

  • Foša

Beloved by locals and tourists for its seafood, Foša combines traditions and new trends in both its food and interiors. The place is named after the small harbours which can be viewed from the terrace.

  • 2 Ribara

This is a central restaurant with modern-looking interiors, which serves a wide selection of Croatian and Dalmatian dishes and wood-oven-baked pizza.

  • Bruschetta

Bruschetta offers Italian dishes as well as traditional Dalmatian seafood. At Bruschetta the focus is on traditional Mediterranean cuisine. The restaurant serves quality food in a casual environment and is very popular with locals.

  • Pet Bunara

Seasonal and organic ingredients are the basis of Pet Bunara’s cuisine, where traditional dishes are prepared to show off Zadar’s gastronomic scene. Dalmatian classics are served alongside carefully selected wines in a cosy atmosphere. Don’t miss the traditional fig cake!

  • Konoba Skoblar

Konobas are traditional Dalmatian taverns and Skoblar happens to be the oldest one in Zadar. This is the right place to find authentic cuisine set in an equally authentic venue. Specialties of Konoba Skoblar include food cooked "pod pekom" (under an iron baking bell) and desserts such as Kalelarga cheesecake and Maraschino cake.

Our top list of Zadar beaches

Beaches in and around Zadar city

Borik beach

Borik beach is the most known beach of Zadar city, located in the northern part. Borik beach is mainly covered in small pebbles, but there is also a sandy bay and a concrete area for sunbathing. Borik beach offers various kinds of water entertainment for children and adults such as boat rentals, water bikes, catamarans, kite surfing, water skiing and windsurfing.

Kolovare beach 

Kolovare beach is the favourite beach among locals and those who come to Croatia. Kolovare beach has the international Blue Flag award for the cleanliness of the sea. It is a small-pebbled beach surrounded by pine woods that give shade throughout hot summer days. Kolovare is suitable for all ages, from families with children of different ages, to the elderly, or even for young people seeking fun and entertainment. The beach has a number of cafes, restaurants, bars, souvenir and beach equipment shops, different kinds of water based activities as: catamarans, beach volleyball, tennis, water bikes, parasailing, water skiing, mini golf, ping pong, badminton, a children’s playground, trampolines, diving and yachting.

Dražica beach 

Dražica beach is just a 5 minutes walk from the centre of Zadar. It is a small-pebbled beach, surrounded by the shade of centuries-old pines. The beach has showers and sun loungers for hire. You can also rent bikes and scooters, or children can enjoy the different kinds of water based activities such as water slides and trampolines. Dražica beach also has the Blue Flag award for its cleanliness.

Pinija beach – Petrčane

Pinija beach is located on the coast next to the Pinija 4* hotel complex, one of the best hotels in Zadar. Pinija beach offers various beach games, water games and other attractions like swimming pools. When you approach the beach, you can see a large car park. The beach is surrounded by pine woods, which is convenient for those who like to sunbathe with children in the shade.  Petrčane beach is located 12 km to the north of Zadar.

Zlatna luka beach – Sukošan

Zlatna Luka bay is very popular among divers. Around Zlatna bay there are a number of small and large bays with beaches and rocks. Sukošan beaches are surrounded by many pine trees and they attract lovers of calm and quiet. Sukosan is located on the coast 11 km south of Zadar.

Beaches of Nin Island

The famous sandy beaches of Nin, the trademark of the riviera of Zadar, stretch 8000 km long . All the famous beaches of Nin have the Blue Flag award. Here are some of the best to visit:

Ninska Laguna, or the Royal beach of Nin 

Ninska Laguna is the longest and best known of the Zadar beaches. The popular Royal beach or Kraljičina plaža is a sandy, sloping beach. The Royal beach of Nin has a splendid view of Velebit, and is suitable for families with children of all ages.

Zaton beach

Zaton, a sandy and pebbled beach, has the widest range of water activities and sports. The most famous resort, Zaton Holiday Resort 4*, offers its guests various restaurants, pizza restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. Zaton is the biggest beach near Zadar, and is ideal for families.

Sabunike beach

Sabunike beach is located 6 km away from Nin and Zadar. Visiting Sabunike is a good choice for families with children or couples. It is a sandy beach, and it stretches for several kilometers along the crystal clear sea. Because of its position near mountain Velebit, the bay of Sabunike beach is also a favored spot for surfers and divers. The beach has a restaurant, a shop, an ice cream vendor, and a cafe.

Houses on the coast in Zadar

Dugi island beaches of the Zadar riviera

Sakarun beach 

Sakarun beach is located in the northern part of the isle of Dugi. Thanks to the white sandy beach and the crystal clear sea surrounded by pine trees, it is loved by families. The sea along the beach is rather shallow and good for children who can’t swim well. The water near Sakarun beach is no deeper than 3.5 meters. There is a beach cafe, a restaurant and a car park. The beach is located 10 km away from Bozava on the isle of Dugi. A ferry regularly travels from Zadar to Dugi island.

 

Pag island beaches of the Zadar riviera

Zrće beach

Zrće is one of the most beautiful beaches on the isle of Pag. It is known as “the Croatian Ibiza”. Zrće beach is a small-pebbled beach, and has an abundance of things to do. There are discos and clubs for young people, which are open day and night, a handful of different water sports, including beach volleyball, water bikes, boat rentals, water slides, various cafes, bars and restaurants. You can also rent scooters here. Zrće beach is considered to be the most attractive and popular beach of the Adriatic. It has the Blue Flag award for cleanliness.

 

Lošinj island beaches

Veli Žal beach – island Losinj

Veli Žal beach is a small-pebbled beach located on the isle of Lošinj in the beautiful sunny bay surrounded by pine trees. Veli Žal beach is located in a quiet, secluded place called Lošina, and it is an ideal get-away from the city noise. Here you can find a number of cafes and restaurants to choose from.

Zadar bars and clubs you have to check out

The Garden

The Garden is a greatly located outdoor lounge bar featuring quality live music and DJs all summer. centres around a vast panoramic terrace with private cabanas as well as low, comfortable white sofas, nestled among trees and great views. By day, you can play board games, relax and read the newspapers. During the night there’s a full musical agenda, piped through a state of the art sound system, accompanied, if so required, by a menu from the excellent restaurant over the road at the Hotel Bastion. Well chosen local wines and well priced cocktails are the order of the day. The Garden is one of the most important things that have happened to Zadar in recent years, UB40 drummer James Brown and music producer Nick Colgan didn't take that for granted. From this has grown the major music festival of the same name, Garden Festival, as well as nearby Barbarella’s

Arsenal

Arsenal is a bar created in a renovated 18th-century warehouse, and is unique in terms of size, ambience and the variety of events and attractions. These include a gallery, cocktail bar and a popular à la carte restaurant upstairs. The spacious stage hosts world music, local klapa choral singing, named DJs and local bands. The sound is superb, and there’s a show of some kind most evenings. Tables between the stage and the bar allow for lounging, sipping and snacking from the extensive menu – the space is cleared for gigs and dancing.

Q Bar

Q remains a key destination on the city’s nocturnal itinerary. It’s a big space decorated in strong colours, perfect for DJ-driven club nights or occasional rock-pop gigs. Thursday’s Trash Electro Party is a particularly popular date on the local party calendar. 

Café Brazil

Close to the Sea Organ, this handy little café offers a view of the sea from its gravel terrace, an ice-cream stall outside in summer and long drinks including the ‘Bruce Lee’, a 007 James Bond and a Café del Mar made from champagne and orange.

Factory Bar

A simple interior plastered with pictures of New York City combines with a constant sound of techno beats to make this one of the most popular places in the centre for a Friday night hang out. Factory also gets its fair share of coffee break trade during the daylight hours.

A sample of the best places to stay in Zadar

  • Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel and Dépendance
  • Teatro Verdi Boutique Hotel
  • Art Hotel Kalelarga
  • Hotel Mediteran
  • Bastion Heritage Hotel
  • Hotel Niko
  • Hotel Kolovare
  • Falkensteiner Family Hotel Diadora
  • Hotel Donat
  • Hotel Delfin

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