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Zadar travel guide

Read our essential Zadar travel guide for the best things to do, sightseeing, bars, hotels, restaurants and more...

V Jednakovic

There seems to be no stopping Zadar, the main city of northern Dalmatia. This once-Italianate seaside town has in the last few years attracted some of Croatia’s most visionary initiatives: the Garden club and its various festival offshoots; landmark public installations such as the Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun; and the Arsenal, an arts centre in a beautifully restored Venetian armoury.

RECOMMENDED: More great travel destinations in Croatia.

Zadar overview
Things to do

Zadar overview

There seems to be no stopping Zadar. This formerly rather frumpy seaside town has in the last few years attracted some of Croatia’s most visionary initiatives: the Garden club and its various festival offshoots; landmark public installations such as the ‘Sea Organ’ and ‘Greeting to the Sun’; and the Arsenal, an arts centre in a beautifully-restored Venetian armoury. Despite taking a battering from the recession, Zadar’s nightlife scene shows no sign of letting up, with a rash of new bars filling the gaps left by businesses that didn’t quite make it through the crisis. The world-renowned Garden Festival spent six years at Petrčane just up the coast, and since 2012 has been based at Tisno, just down the coast in the Šibenik direction. In Zadar itself, the excellent Museum of Ancient Glass has bolstered the city’s sightseeing potential. Once the city authorities decide what to do with the notoriously derelict Hotel Zagreb (a promenade-hugging building once patronized by Alfred Hitchcock and other celebs), the city’s transformation will be complete. Zadar was isolated from the mainland for significant chunks of the 20th century. Italian (Zara) between the wars, after severe Allied bombing, Zadar became part of Tito’s Yugoslavia until 1991. Under serious threat by Serbian forces for four years, Zadar was cut off from Zagreb completely for 14 months during the 1991–1995 war. Zadar’s isolation has given it a distinctive local culture. It is perhaps most identified with the cherr

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Great things to do in Zadar
Things to do

Great things to do in Zadar

There's lots of great things to do in Zadar. On and adjacent to Zeleni trg are Zadar’s four main sights: St Donat’s Church; the Cathedral; the Archaelogical Museum, and St Mary’s Church & Treasury. The distinctive St Donat’s Church, and the Byzantine treats of the Treasury are the absolute don’t miss.

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Restaurants in Zadar

Zadar restaurant guide
Restaurants

Zadar restaurant guide

Kornat heads an increasingly upmarket scene, vying with Foša, Pet Bunara and Hotel Bastion’s Kaštel for top table in town. Some of the key gourmet specialities on offer in the region are Pag cheese, and marvellous home-cured pršut from inland villages like Posedarje. The locals attribute their flavours to the powerful Bura wind, which is ideal for curing ham and instrumental in making Pag grass salty. Look out for cherry-cake dessert using Maraschino liqueur native to Zadar. Made from local Marasca cherries, Maraschino is a key local product and the ideal souvenir to take home.

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Foša
Restaurants

Foša

This well established fish restaurant stands just outside the city walls in a recently-renovated stone building at the Foša harbour. While the interior is all clean lines, natural woods and pale colours, the outdoor terrace offers an altogether traditional (and rather delightful) panorama of moored boats and distant islands. All the standard white fish and shellfish are served, either with traditional local green blitva and potatoes, or as part of a seafood risotto or pasta dish. There’s also a range of carpaccio dishes, including raw monkfish on a bed of rocket. Other dishes include stewed lobster with polenta, cuttlefish brodet and grilled pork with lentils. Prices are a notch above average, unless you opt for one of the three-course set menus, which deliver soup, fillet of fish and a dessert for a very reasonable 120-150kn.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Kornat
Restaurants

Kornat

Reasonable candidate for best restaurant in town. By the ferry port adjacent to the Q bar, the Kornat is classy enough to have a cloakroom, refined enough to have a superb selection of Croatian wines but relaxed enough to avoid giving a stuffy, formal dining experience. The bottles are on display around a bright, modern interior, its 20 tables ably manned by equally bright, fluent-English staff. Although prices are much as elsewhere in the town centre, the ingredients are not: truffles are used in sauces to garnish the stand-out monkfish, dry porcini mushrooms to help flavour the steak. Specialities include black risotto, angler fish and the chocolate cake. The set lunches (choose between a meat or fish main course) are a steal at 60kn.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Art of Raw at The Garden Zadar
Restaurants

Art of Raw at The Garden Zadar

Based at renowned The Garden Zadar, the ArtofRaw is the only vegan and raw-food restaurant in Dalmatia. Darko and Lena's team create the same kind of dishes as found at their sister restaurant in Ribnjak, Zagreb. A bar menu and main one divided into savoury and sweet feature snacks such as kale chips and banana crepes, as well as more substantial ones such as stuffed champignons, spring rolls and spaghetti with courgettes and dill. All is prepared from fresh ingredients and based on sustainable produce.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Bars and nightlife in Zadar

Zadar nightlife guide
Bars and pubs

Zadar nightlife guide

In summer, the Garden and Arsenal clubs continue to lead the way as far as good music and good vibes are concerned. But for all Zadar’s new cachet, many youngsters are happy to stick to their local haunts. East of the footbridge on the mainland, or head to the big-name clubs near Primošten, Vodice and at Zrće, Novalja on Pag.  

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The Garden
Bars and pubs

The Garden

Superbly located UK-owned outdoor lounge bar features quality live music and name DJs all summer, as weather permits. The Garden centres around a vast panoramic terrace with private cabanas as well as low, comfortable white sofas, amid established trees and great views. By day, locals and tourists relax, play board games, read the papers and watch passing ships. By night there’s a full musical agenda, piped through a state of the art sound system, accompanied, if so required, by a modest 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 – Croatian and Belgian beers are equally good value too, considering the quality of venue and musical backdrop. The Garden is one of the most important things to have happened to Zadar in recent years, and the team behind it, UB40 drummer James Brown and music producer Nick Colgan, have not rested on their laurels. From this has grown the major music festival of the same name, Barbarella’s near the festival site, and more than a few other projects in the pipeline.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Arsenal
Nightlife

Arsenal

Set in an expansive renovated 18th-century warehouse, Arsenal is unique in Croatia, in terms of size, ambience and the sheer 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, name DJs and local bands. The sound is superb, thanks to installation by the Garden crew, 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.

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Maraschino
Bars and pubs

Maraschino

Named after the cherry liqueur from Zadar, Maraska, this three-floor spot in trendy bar central is packed to the rafters in the evenings, but a low-key place to try a few local tipples by day. With a glitzy interior featuring spangly chandeliers and light sculptures made from Martini glasses, it offers Maraska-infused coffee or hot chocolate, long drinks, and Malvazija and Babić wines. DJs at weekends, when punters spill out onto the pedestrianised street outside.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Where to stay in Zadar

Zadar hotel guide
Hotels

Zadar hotel guide

The Zadar hotel and accommodation situation in is improving in leaps and bounds, with the recent arrival of a brace of four-star hotels in the centre – the Art Hotel Kalelarga – plus the advent of designer backpacker digs in the shape of Boutique Hostel Forum. Elsewhere, the Villa Hrešć is a commendable apartment hotel. It stands almost halfway out to Borik, the tourist centre five kilometres north-west of town at Puntamika, a simple ride from Zadar on the No.5 bus.

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Boutique Hostel Forum

Boutique Hostel Forum

Smack in the middle of Zadar's pedestrianised centre, and steps away from the Roman Forum from which it gets its name, this is one of the most talked about of Croatia's new-generation hostels. With an interior by designer Damir Gamulin Gamba (also responsible for the Goli & Bosi hostel in Split), the hostel features the kind of clean surfaces, bold stripes and clear pictograms that seem more suited to an international space station than the centre of an ancient Mediterranean town. Beds in the dorms have a self-contained, almost cubicle-like appearance that lends a little more privacy and peace than usual; while the small but cute private doubles are up to hotel standard. Breakfast is included in the price of a double room; for dormitory customers it's an optional extra. The kitchen is OK for making tea/coffee and knocking up snacks, there's a common room, and great views from the terrace.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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