Until recently, Zadar was the most underrated place in Croatia. The city combines stunning beauty with exceptional history and spectacular sunsets. Almost anywhere you look, you’ll find Roman ruins or Venetian influences that provide glimpses into the past of this 3,000-year-old city. Take your time exploring this easily walkable city.
Unlike its more popular rival, Dubrovnik, this city represents the best opportunity for tourists to experience Croatian life without the crowds. Lonely Planet rated Zadar one of the top ten places to visit in 2019 for its combination of natural beauty, vibrant history, and exciting nightlife.
Any worthwhile visit to Zadar includes:
- The Church of St. Donat, which is uniquely situated in the heart of the Old Town and considered the cultural symbol of Zadar. It’s probably the most memorial structure in Croatia. The unusual circular design of this 9th century Catholic Church makes it noteworthy on an architectural level, but its history is just as fascinating. It’s one of the only buildings to survive the Mongol invasion in the 13th century and represented the center of civic and religious life in the region during that time. While St. Donat hasn’t been used as a church since 1797, legend says that anyone with devout motives who climbs the stairs of the church’s rotunda saves one soul from purgatory. It is currently used as a concert venue, because of the building’s interior and excellent acoustics.
- Tip: Behind the Church, you’ll find a street named Kalelarga, which is older than the city itself. Oh, and don’t forget to visit the best ice cream shop in town called Slasticarna Donat.
- Take a minute to explore the Roman Forum found around St. Donat. You’ll be amazed at how the remains of this ancient temple are built into the everyday lives of Croatians and tourists. You’ll find altars to mythical figures like Jupiter and Medusa and places where blood sacrifices were performed. During the medieval era, people were chained and publicly shamed for their transgressions in this square.
- A quick walk from the church, you’ll find the Sea Organ on the water near the port. The organ can be found underneath several steps that descend into the sea. This is the best spot to experience the city’s world-renowned sunsets. Alfred Hitchcock once observed that “Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, in Florida, applauded at every evening.”
The organ adds to the experience by serenading you with eerie and soothing musical chords produced by waves that push air through pipes built under white stone steps. The effect is almost hypnotic.
- Afterward, visit the Sun Salutations installation found nearby. This wacky exhibition consists of 300 multilayered glass plates that collect the sun’s energy during the day and produce interesting and entertaining light effects at night.
- Tip: This is the most prominent tourist trap in all of the city. Everyone stops to take a photo here.
These are only a few of the many reasons I love this city. I strongly encourage you to take every opportunity to explore museums and restaurants while you’re there. You won’t be disappointed.