Top 5 things to do in Zadar
Recently voted the Best European Destination 2016, with a history stretching back over 2,000 years and offering “the most beautiful sunset in the world” according to Alfred Hitchcock, Zadar is a fascinating and intriguing city. It’s attractions range from the ancient Roman forum at the center of town to the thoroughly modern sea organ and Greeting to the Sun installations that bring the city right up to date. And that’s before you venture beyond the city walls to explore five of Croatia’s eight national parks, all within a two-hour drive. If you’re not yet familiar with Zadar but are looking to get away from the crowds of Dubrovnik or tourists in Split, then here are our top 5 things to do in Zadar. Let’s explore together!
1) Zadar’s magical sea organ and sun salutation installations
Beloved by locals and visitors alike, Zadar’s largest attraction is a magical musical instrument played by the sea itself. The sea organ (Morske Orgulje), designed by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić, stretches an enormous 230 feet (70 meters) along the marble quayside. It’s composed of 35 musically tuned organ pipes installed in seven sets of steps, each opening onto the sidewalk. And with each step tuned to a different musical chord, the random movement of wind and sea through the pipes produces a never-ending melody of ethereal harmonies.
The spellbinding sounds of the sea organ offer the perfect accompaniment to a sunset stroll, admiring the view out over the Adriatic, as nature performs a different tune every day. It’s a stunning way of uniting the natural environment with architecture and is a completely unforgettable as an introduction to some of the wonderful things to do in Zadar. But it’s not the only spectacular attraction along the seafront.
Just a few yards along the promenade from the sea organ lies another ingenious installation by Nikola Bašić: Zadar’s Greetings to the Sun. Here 300 multicolored glass plates are set into the pavement in a circle that is 22 meters wide. And while the sea organ uses wave power, the sun salutation captures solar energy to produce a trippy light show. It’s a unique piece of art and a certainly a must-see addition to your list of things to do in Zadar.
2) Sightseeing in Zadar’s historic Old Town
Zadar’s history stretches back centuries, leaving a trail of fascinating fortifications, marbled streets and monuments to explore. To check out everything from pre-Roman days, to walk along roads laid out by the Romans and to admire the harbor built by the Venetian Republic, why not take a Zadar walking tour with our expert local guide?
You’ll stop at the ancient Roman Forum, where locals have met for millennia. Check out the circular church of St Donatus, the largest pre-Romanesque structure in the country. And stop in the 12th century Romanesque St Anastasia’s Cathedral, parts of which actually date back to the 3rd century, where the sarcophagus of St Anastasia – venerated as a healer and exorcist – is housed. All that before you take in “Gold and Silver of Zadar,” an exhibition of priceless, precious religious artwork in the monastery of St Mary in the city center and undoubtedly one of the highlights of your walk.
3) Visit Zadar’s five nearby National Parks
Zadar really is a destination to suit all tastes, from the contemporary to the historic, and it is also perfectly positioned for access to five of Croatia’s eight stunningly scenic national parks, each one offering something different. For photographers, hikers and nature lovers it’s a little bit of heaven on earth.
One of the closest mainland parks is the Krka National Park situated to the south of the city and known for its seven waterfalls, traditional watermills and the Krka Monastery, built above ancient Roman catacombs. Seventy miles north lies the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park in central Croatia, with a spectacular chain of 16 terraced lakes interlinked by picture-postcard waterfalls. The park is well established for visitors too, linking the upper and lower lakes with hiking trails and even a ferry, so there is no excuse not to go for a stroll to admire the views.
Also to the north lies the Velebit National Park, covering Velebit Mountain and a large part of the range with a crisscross of designated walking paths and an abundance of mountain flora. The trails take visitors through the most picturesque parts of the park, offering breathtaking views out over the serene Adriatic and Croatian archipelago.
And we’ve not even touched on the Dalmatina Paklenica National Park, known for its old river canyons, or the spectacular Kornati Islands National Park, nicknamed Croatia’s “nautical paradise,” that sits just off the Adriatic coast. If you’re a sailor at heart check, out our exclusive Kornati Island cruise with your own private yacht and captain to glide you through some of the 150 islands in the park. Or combine a gorgeous sailing experience with some fabulous swimming in the deep blue bay of Telascica on Dugi Otok (Long Island): pack your swimming costume, sunglasses and sun lotion – you’re definitely going to need them!
4) Island hopping around the archipelago
With over 150 islands just off the coast around Zadar, there are plenty of places to visit whether you fancy sailing, exploring the natural environment or are seeking secluded beaches and bays for a spot of sun worship. Besides the well-known Kornati Islands, there are literally too many isles and islets to choose from when deciding where to drop anchor. But if you need some help to create a magical day on the aquamarine seas, why not talk to our travel experts about our enchantments of the north Adriatic tour?
Over the course of your day, your personal captain will navigate from Zadar to Dugi Otok where you’ll stop at the Sakarun beach, renowned for its pure white sands and crystalline blue sea. On the way, you’ll soak up stunning views of many islands including Rivanj, Sestrunj, Molat and Tun Veli, where the nearly 200-year-old lighthouse still stands proud. It’s an enchantingly serene day away from the crowds and all you’ve got to do is decide whether to board the classic 22-foot boat or a luxurious 45-foot yacht. Decisions, decisions, decisions….!
5) Visit Modric Cave
The last of our top 5 things to do in Zadar is a unique spot: the spectacular Modrič Cave in the scenic Paklenica National Park. The cave was only discovered in the last 30 years, and for many years, was closed to visitors but since 2004 has allowed adventurous cavers inside. If you’re expecting steps, lighting and signage, forget it — this is caving at its most natural so its necessary to wear overalls, helmet lamps and be fit enough to scramble through the potholes, fissures and caverns that spread out for over 840 meters (over 2,750 feet) underground.
Once you acclimatize to the constant temperature of 15’C (around 60’ F) and get used to the confined environment, there’s plenty to admire with ancient cave decorations, living stalagmites and stalactites dotting the floor and ceiling. Over the centuries, the calcite deposits have sculpted various shapes that protrude into the caverns. So if you want to take a walk on the wild side, why not try out this half-day speleology adventure and delve into the heart of the Croatian landscape?
Top 5 things to do in Zadar
So there you have it: five typically Croatian spots to add to your vacation list! And with an international airport offering a open door to Zadar, along with some of Croatia’s best boutique hotels such as the Hotel Bastion, offering top class accommodation, we can help create some perfect Croatian memories. Our travel specialists are waiting to help you; in the meantime, please make sure to leave us a comment with your top 5 things to do in Zadar. We’re sure you’ll have a wonderful trip!