One of my favorite stops when I visited Croatia was the coastal town of Zadar. If you’re like me though, you probably don’t know a lot about this remarkable city, much less why you should include it on your must visit list. In order to help convince you that this is a fantastic destination for any style of traveler, here is some insight into the ancient city of Zadar.
1. That it exists – When I first heard about Zadar I thought it sounded more like a city in a fantasy novel than a real, honest to goodness town. But no, it’s there and has been for a really long time. Zadar is located in Croatia on the Adriatic Sea, almost directly across from Rimini, Italy. Historically it was the center of Dalmatia and is the country’s fifth largest city with 75,000 residents. The city has been through a lot in its history, but is back and stronger than ever. Its position on the water plus the romance of the city is slowly making this a must-visit destination.
2. Cool vibe – There is an inexplicable quality that some cities have. As soon as you walk through the gates you sense it, whether it’s a sense of welcome of just a pulsating undercurrent of fun. Whatever it is, it is almost always unexpected and almost always wonderful. Zadar is just such a place. At first the hot sun reflecting off of the brown stones didn’t appeal to me; it reminded me of parts of Greece and not in a positive way. But then as I walked through the narrow streets, past countless cafes full with people enjoying the afternoon weather I started to feel that vibe, a sense of trendy awesomeness. That really is the only way to put it. I felt like I could spend years exploring Zadar and never get tired of it. Never get tired of the warm welcomes, hearty handshakes and laughter, so much laughter. It was a bright spot on my travels through Croatia and one that I hope to repeat many times in the future.
3. Ancient – For a city that I thought was made up until a few months ago, Zadar has a shockingly long history, much of it still on display around town. The current name of the city, Zadar, has been bastardized over the years and actually dates back to a people living there BEFORE the Greeks arrived. We’re talking 4th century BC here folks, a very long time for a town to be in near permanent existence. While most of the Greek influence has vanished, Roman life is clearly visible everywhere around Zadar. The main street running through the old town is the old Roman road, perfectly straight as are the laneways radiating out in all sectors of town. I always love thinking of the hundreds of generations of people who walked the same route when I visit towns like Zadar, the weight of history so heavy it’s almost debilitating. For a more obvious remnant of Roman life, in the center of town is the old Forum and the 9th century St. Donatus’ Church, built on the remnants of a Roman temple to Juno. A walk through town is a walk through time, from the Greeks to the Middle Ages and the more recent and sad history of the 20th century. The culture of the centuries is imbued on every sandy stone and old growth tree towering overhead.
4, Quirky – Zadar is old, beautiful and hip, that much I’ve established so far. One thing I haven’t mentioned is how quirky it can be, if you know where to look. My favorite oddity in town is the famous Sea Organ. What looks like steps leading into the sea along the city’s famous boardwalk is actually a working organ, operated entirely by the water. Completed in 2005 along with repair work after the Croatian War of Independence, the stairs extend for 70 meters and under them are 35 pipes of varying length and height that play 7 chords of 5 tones depending on the tides. Another favorite quirk I found was the nightclub in the middle of an Old Town park. Located near Zadar’s ancient gates is The Garden Zadar, located literally in the middle of some green space along the waterfront. The cafe took over the location from a derelict hotel and now it’s a tranquil spot to drink coffee during the day. At night though the Garden transforms into a bar and nightclub, all outdoors. Guests can enjoy the warm summer air in cabanas or even day beds as they dance or lounge away the night. For a guy who hates loud music and crowds, this provided the perfect night out. These are just a couple of the many strange but undeniably cool sights found around town.
5. Best sunset in the world – If you spend any amount of time in Zadar, someone will at some point tell you of a famous quote associated with the city. In May 1964, Alfred Hitchcock checked into Room 204 of the classic and now closed Hotel Zagreb on the waterfront in Zadar. The hotel’s location was one of the best in town and it was from there that the famed director opined that “The sunset of Zadar is the world’s most beautiful and incomparably better than in Key West, Florida.” This is a fact that Zadar residents have long known, but which the celebrity mention made world famous. In an effort to determine the truth of this grand statement, I climbed to the top of the St Anastasia Bell Tower in the middle of town for the best view in Zadar. Standing there watching the sun slowly fall into the sea, the colors and effect on the surrounding buildings was nothing sort of magical. Walking down the stairs to the main street that evening I thought to myself that no, Mr. Hitchcock was not embellishing when he named this one of the most amazing sunsets in the world.
21 thoughts on “Five Things You Don’t Know About Zadar”
I didn’t know it existed, eek! What gorgeous shots, I especially love the one of the steps leading into the water.
Thank you, Matt for all the praises for my hometown. I have lived in Canada for past 20 years, homesick as ever and unable to explain to Westerners where I come from, our culture, the lifestyle in the way they could understand that it is NOT Russia and never has been. Maybe now, thanks to you, they will understand.
Thank you Lilly and you’re right, that is a definite misconception. Hopefully I and others like me will gradually start to shift perceptions!
This is amazing Matt! I was in Zadar for only one day but I had the same feeling about the sense od welcoming. There’s something magical about that city. In fact, I only put it in my itinerarie because of the sea organ and when I realize the city was so incredible, I wish I could spend more time there. That photo of the sunset made me think about go back soon to do the same and explore more about the city, like the nightclub you mentioned! :)
You should definitely plan a return trip, I’d love to have a few more days to explore it myself.
Fantastic, Matt! I plan to visit Zadar, Sibenik (for Krka park) and Trogir next spring and your report – and stunning photos, have heightened my (already buzzing) enthusiasm to bursting point. Doubtless I shall re-visit your website for more hints and tips over the winter months.
Was thinking of day on Pag island or boat trip out to Ugljan & Pasman islands – but maybe not enough hours in a day :-(
add more time! :) Or a second trip
This review of the city makes me want to visit. I had no idea this place existed!
That’s how I felt! :) A lot more attention needs to be given to it, it’s that great.
I live in a few hundred miles from Zadar and I never realized that it’s so beautiful. Those pics are amazing, now I know what to visit on summer! It reminds me of Kotor in Montenegro, which you also should visit, if you already didn’t. Adriatic cost has a lot of such pearls.
yes, Kotor is high on my list to visit.
Shhhh stop telling people that is exists. It’s our little secret part of paradise.
Ha! So true, sorry about that :)
shhhh the less people know the more we can keep it that way ;)
I am lucky enough to have a father who was born on Ugljan (one of the islands across the channel from Zada)r and return every summer to our family home that is a 20 minute walk to the most (bridge) that leads into the old city. I even lost a job because I make it a point to go there every year.
And every year, it’s harder to leave.
Just booked my flight this past week…I’ll be back in Zadar July 7th. Hvala bogu
Enjoy! I’m sure it’ll be a great time.
I’m happy to say that I’m born in this city
We are in Zadar right now – having a quick sandwich and then going to walk to the Sea Organ and Greetings to the Sun for the sunset. We knew nothing of Zadar, had never heard of it, but are very glad we spend 2 days in this charming, historic, interesting city.
It was Ernest Hemingway who quoted that it was the best sunset in the world not Alfred Hitchcock.
Zadar Tourism begs to differ http://www.zadar.hr/sunset-in-zadar/
Spent a few hours in an enchanting town on the Adriatic while on a cruise. Could not remember the name, but did remember the Alfred Hitchcock
connection.Delighted to google and realize others had same reaction.
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