Zara (Zadar) is not yet as well known as a destination as nearby Split or the tourist Dubrovnik. Let me tell you though things are changing and, I would add, luckily since Zara it is full of things to see and do and places of both historical and cultural interest.
Bring Earth to Zara Tim Ertl on Flickr
Already among the things to see and mention there are certainly its walls: erected by the Venetians in 1500 they never allowed the Ottomans to invade the city.
Even today a large part of Zadar is surrounded by high white limestone walls, interrupted by two gates: the Door to Earth and Sea Gate.
The Porta di Terra is still as impressive today as it must have been half a millennium ago: it resembles a Roman triumphal arch, and the Venetian symbol, the lion of St. Mark, still stands proud above the entrance.
The Porta di Mare, built in 1573 to celebrate the victory against the Ottomans in the battle of Lepanto, is close to the ferry port and is a little more modest.
What to see in Zadar
Sea Organ Tim Ertl
At the tip of the peninsula in the old town of Zadar is this imaginative and award-winning work. The magic that givesMarine organ, known in Croatian as "Orgulje" in truth it is not magic: the music in fact comes from the waves.
Conceived in 2005 by architect Nikola Bašić to give new life to the Zadar waterfront (known as “Riva”), it was the first of its kind in the world. The organ was created as a series of large marble steps that descend to the sea, and under each platform the 35 pipes generate musical notes thanks to the power of the waves breaking below and pushing the air through. they.
The result is a random melody, enchanting and relaxing that spreads in the air all along the seafront!
Don't expect to hear music composed like a song, it's nature generated music!
The best time to appreciate this work is certainly at sunset, just before the sun disappears behind the horizon. Find a spot on the wide marble steps that line the water, making your way through the hordes of photographers who flock here in hopes of the perfect shot and trying to get a front row seat!
Salute to the Sun
Greeting to the Sun Tim Ertl
After observing the sunset at the Organ of the Sea, you can continue, turning right, and finding yourself in front of the other work of Nikola Bašić: the Salute to the Sun.
A work of art that explodes in a series of lights and colors overlooking the islands of the Adriatic: this circular installation, thanks to the photovoltaic cells, absorbs the solar energy of the day and then releases it in a vivid multicolored graphic display when the sky begins to darken.
The Greeting to the Sun is an amphitheater-like work of 22 meters in diameter surrounded by stone blocks with a presentation of all the planets of the Solar System and their orbits.
Ancient glass museum
One of my favorite museums in Zadar is the Glass Museum and it is an absolute must that everyone should visit. This museum is home to numerous glass artifacts, some dating back to the 1st century and others that were created much more recently.
Located within the boundaries of the Cosmacendi Palace, which dates back to 1800, many of the glass objects found in the excavations and bequeathed to us by the ancient Romans, have been exhibited to the public.
In the various pavilions, where there are various objects such as drinking vessels, cups, vials and jars, you can also attend demonstrations of the various glass working and blowing techniques used to create these delicate objects. So this museum is not just a collection of artifacts, but a way to "touch" the origins and history of glass.
At the end of the tour it is possible to visit the shop to buy some glass objects made in the old way.
Church of San Donato
The magnificent Church of San Donato, pride of the inhabitants of Zadar Tim Ertl
For those interested in architecture the church of San Donato it will be a source of joy from the moment
which is considered one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture and its state of conservation is practically perfect.
Built in the distant 800, the church, with its high and rounded profile has become the symbol of Zadar and a source of pride for its inhabitants.
The simply furnished interior is designed so that the light entering the sanctuary creates different designs at different times of the day.
The church is now also home to Renaissance musical performances: during the summer, you can enjoy the sounds of the Musical Nights Festival inside. This classical music festival is held from July to August every year, bringing the XNUMXth century back to life.
Cathedral of Santa Anastasia
Cathedral of Santa Anastasia Tim Ertl
Another example of the refined collection of Romanesque architecture of Zadar and a possible future World Heritage site, the Cathedral of Santa Anastasia it is located on the site of an early Christian basilica founded in the distant 300.
Inside you can see an early Christian mosaic dating back to the original basilica and the sarcophagus of Sant'Anastasia.
The cathedral's magnificent bell tower is more recent, having been begun in the 1800th century and only completed in the late XNUMXs.
Open mainly for the worship of the Mass, rather than to be visited, it is worth a visit especially for the magnificent view from the top of its bell tower even if climbing to the top is not child's play given how steep stairs and passages are.
But for the brave who will make it, the prize will be an incredible view of San Donato, the Roman forum and the Velebit mountains.
Located in the heart of the old town of Zadar just behind the church of San Donato, the Roman forum it is the largest existing east of the Adriatic.
According to two inscriptions that came to light during excavations when the forum was discovered in 1930, it was built under the order of Emperor Augustus.
The Roman forum has lived three times: during the empire, after its rediscovery and after the 60s when it came back to life after its destruction during the Second World War.
Unfortunately, the temple and the basilica that stood here have been destroyed: all that remains are fragments of a colonnade and a pillory, where criminals received public punishment.
The Roman forum is the perfect place to take a break while visiting the city in one of the many cafes.
Square of the 5 wells
Square of the 5 wells @Tim Ertl
When the Venetians built the ancient city walls to withstand any attacks by the Ottoman armed forces, they realized that in the event of long sieges it would be necessary to have a constant supply of clean water.
To meet this need, an ingenious cistern for drinking water was devised which can be accessed from five wells in the same square. Today i 5 wells they are still standing here in line next to the rampart of the city. The best time to visit the square is at night, when the wells and defenses are illuminated from below.
Located across the street from the Church of San Donato, the archaeological Museum offers travelers some basic information about the history of Croatia, from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages.
Some of the prehistoric, Roman, Byzantine and medieval artifacts in the collection are impressive: the museum is very well organized and most of the exhibits are accompanied by excellent English translations.
One of my favorite parts is the one dedicated to the Roman era with a model that explains what the Roman Forum was like at the height of the empire's power, with weapons, ceramics and mosaics.
If you are a history buff like me, it will take you many hours to explore it all.
The entrance ticket is around 5 euros for adults.
Church of Santa Maria
On the eastern side of the Roman forum is the Church of Santa Maria, belonging to a Benedictine monastery founded in the XNUMXth century.
The building suffered damage during World War II, but was fully restored and today contains one of the most popular exhibits in the city.
From the church turn left where there is a small door and where the tickets are sold.
The permanent exhibition of religious art features a myriad of artifacts in gold and silver accompanied by tapestries, manuscripts, reliefs and embroidery spanning thousands of years between 700 and 1700. The exhibition is run entirely by the Benedictine nuns of the monastery since the second World War and there are explanatory panels in English.
the Pijaca Market
Tim Ertl fruit and vegetable market
Il Zara Pijaca market it has been around since the Middle Ages and is quite large by Dalmatian standards. It is the typical market with fresh food and vegetables, but it is the right place to buy and taste a famous tasting cheese (Paški Sir) from the island of Pag.
If you go to the Pijaca, make sure you don't miss the Pescaria (fish market).
This place has a large variety of fish available and changes daily. If you are staying in Zadar maybe in an Airbnb and you have a kitchen available, Pijaca and Peskarija are the places where you can find everything you need to try the typical Croatian cuisine.If you want to learn how to cook Croatian dishes? You can book your market visit and cooking lesson online here!
Beaches of Zadar
Croatia is definitely a seaside destination, just think of its islands, but also in Zadar there are 3 beaches that are worth visiting.
Kolovare it is a public beach and has been awarded a blue flag for cleanliness. The beach is equipped with showers, toilets, changing rooms, deck chairs and umbrellas and the pine forest provides shade when you need to shelter from the sun.
Kolovare is perfect for families with children but not only: the activities and water sports options make it ideal for anyone who wants to have fun from teenagers up. Furthermore, given its proximity to the historic center, there is a wide choice of restaurants, bars and shops within easy reach.
The sandy one Borik Beach it is located four kilometers from the historic center of Zadar and can be reached easily by public transport. It is part of the Falkensteiner Resort, which offers the classic family holiday atmosphere and is a favorite with locals.
The beach has in fact been adapted so that there is a lot of fun for the children. Shallow and with a sandy bottom, Borik Beach Zadar also offers all the necessary services for a day spent outdoors, such as food and drinks, toilets, and showers to get the sand off before the aperitif in the center.
Further west of Borik, you will find Diklo. Diklo has some pebbly beaches and is less touristy than Borik, therefore perfect for visitors who love relaxation, tranquility.In Zadar there are a thousand things to do, see here the tours in the city and its surroundings!
Where to sleep in Zadar
Just like in Split, the offer of both private houses and hotels in Zadar is certainly not lacking. But when choosing your hotel or house, one of the things to be careful about is where it is. The risk is to find an apartment in residential areas far from the center.
This means having to take the car or the bus if you want visit the old town of Zadar.
My advice is to look for something central. I found these excellent choices that I recommend both for services and for their location that allows you to walk around without having to take public transport.
Boutique Hostel forum: one of the best choices, excellent location a stone's throw from the church of San Donato, the forum and the Cathedral of Santa Anastasia, medium-low price and fantastic reviews (an average of 9.8 on booking.com). To be booked as soon as possible because it is among the first to be sold out!
Apartments Maruna: another TOP choice for price, services and location (even if a little further away, 700 meters from the center). These apartments also sell out quickly (especially for the garden, the rental of bicycles and the proximity to the beach) so it is advisable to book them in advance.
Downtown Boutique Hostel: a luxury hostel in the center with private rooms. other TOP choice.
How to get there
There are international ferry services for Zara. Jadrolinija operates a night ferry service from Ancona which runs from June to the end of September, with a nine-hour journey. The ferry makes the journey almost every day in August and fewer times a week in the other months, but it is a good choice, especially for those who want to bring their car and visit Zadar in their itinerary in Croatia.
The A1 motorway runs very close to Zadar, so it can be easily used if you are reaching the city from northern or southern Croatia.
The famous coastal road Adriatic Highway (road D8) also reaches Zadar if you are traveling along the Croatian coast eg. from Split.
Zadar has its own airport, which is only 11 km away from the city. There are direct flights. If you want to make a stopover, there are many cities of departure such as Palermo, NAPLES, Bari and Venice.
The buses from the airport to the main bus terminal in Zadar are coordinated with flight arrivals so there is enough time to pick up your bags and get on the bus.
That said, you should normally see a bus waiting outside the terminal (on the right hand side). A one-way ticket costs 25 Kunas, which can easily be purchased directly from the driver upon boarding. This bus makes two stops: first in the main bus station in Zadar, and then just outside the old town. The ticket price is the same regardless of which stop you get off at.