Stretching across a glorious swathe of Croatia, where the coast is bathed in one of the world’s most dramatic sunsets, the Zadar Region embraces the stunning national parks, idyllic islands and unique historic attractions. Here are ten great things to do for the very best experiences in and around the Zadar Region.
This article is sponsored by the Zadar Region and The Croatian National Tourism Board: 'Croatia Full of Life.
The earliest settlements in the Zadar Region date back as early as the Neolithic era and ever since the whole area has been fought over, ruled over and inhabited. Locate the ancient communities of the Liburnians, step into the grand cities of the Romans, visit the northern parts of the Byzantine Empire, explore the walls of the Venetian strongholds and see in person where the Croatian kings laid the foundations of the national state. You will stumble upon many remains of splendid Roman buildings and admire how medieval master builders created their churches and fortifications.
Whether delicious meat or outstanding seafood, you’ve come to the right place. Zadar Region abounds in choice and variety, offering something for those who like to try something new yet dine on quality produce. Here farming free-range, fishing on the open seas, planting fruit and vegetables, and cultivating vineyards and olive groves, bring bountiful rewards. Traditional dishes such as brudet from Kali, skuta from Pag, šokol from Nin, prisnac from Benkovac, ćućka from Biograd, sardines from Sali and many others underline the dedication put into their preparation. Of course, no great meal is complete without a wine, an aperitif and dessert, so you may want to try adding Zinfandel, Maraschino and orange cake to your gastronomic experience.
Whether it’s the peaks of the Velebit mountains, the scenic splendour of the Adriatic coast or the charming intimacy of the many islets and islands, the Zadar Region is entirely captivating once you explore the waves and landscape. Hiking, climbing, trekking, caving, sailing and watersports are all close at hand. First-time or veteran canoeists and kayakers can experience the thrilling adventure of hurtling between dramatic canyons, past numerous cascades and waterfalls of the Zrmanja river. Nearly all tours will also take in the Krupa tributary, where weary paddlers can take a welcome dip in its clear waters.
This ancient Adriatic city has a rich past, illustrated by its historic landmarks and monuments. Here the Romans raised their temples and the Venetians built their forts. Arrow straight as the Romans conceived it, Kalelarga is the main artery that cuts through the historic centre of Zadar. Known today as Široka, it starts at Trg Petra Zoranića, runs past the Rector’s Palace and Sv Šime Church, then up to Narodni trg dotted with medieval landmarks. Lined with lively cafés, Široka then takes you back 2,000 years when Romans would gather at the Forum still outlined here. Towering above, the Katedrala sv Stošije dates back 1,000 years. You can then climb the bell tower for stunning views across the city.
The bizarre but immensely popular Sea Organ has given a new dimension to the city’s waterfront. As you approach the steps at the tip of the peninsula that contains the town centre, strange noises arise from holes drilled into the marble, linked to 35 organ pipes beneath the waves. These create unworldly sounds randomly dictated by the ebb and flow of the water, an unusually comforting feeling as you lie on the flat stones and sunbathe. At sunset, it’s sublime, everything bathed in an orange glow that melts across the horizon.
For more than 800 years, rowboats have been serving the Zadar waterfront, taking passengers from Liburnska obala to Obala kneza Trpimira on the mainland. The passage takes ten minutes – give the oarsman a few coins. By opting to be rowed over the water, you are helping extend a long and proud tradition. Once on solid ground, another discovery awaits – the Zadar Sphinx sits proudly outside the Villa Attilia built by Giovanni Smirich in 1901. Bereft after the death of his wife, this artist and historian had a sphinx created in her honour, with fingers instead of paws.
Seat of the Dukes of Dalmatia, Nin was the centre of Illyrian culture, a historic, fortified town on a small island in a lagoon. It was also home to the first Croatian kings, as its excellent Archaeological Museum illustrates. On any visit here, invariably you spend the morning exploring priceless historic sights and the afternoon at one of the many sandy beaches. The tiny Church of the Holy Cross is Croatia’s oldest while the remarkable Museum of Salt shows you how this precious commodity was manufactured, collected and transported from the salt pans here. Guided tours are available.
Close to the historic resort of the same name, the Fun Park Biograd is a thrilling attraction for the whole family. Joining the main adventures of Space, Pirate City and the Wild West in 2019 is Atlantis, which takes you up to a height of 20 metres before you zoom down into the water. Be prepared for a few splashes! Look out too for a virtual interactive journey on the XD Dark Ride, all kinds of competition in the Games Hall, rides, magicians and circus performers.
The underground world of the Paklenica Riviera is just as beautiful as the nature above ground. Its caves are among the many karst phenomena of the southern Velebit range. Two in particular, Manita peć and Modrić, are lined with dramatic stalagmites, stalactites, dripstone pillars and cascades, as well as spooky halls where archaeological artefacts have been found from prehistoric times.
These fascinating stone monuments to the deceased dating from the 1600s to the 1900s can be found along the steep and rugged mountain paths near Starigrad and Ražanac. As the final resting place of people’s souls, where the sun would touch their remains, mirila were adorned with artistic markings and venerated for generations.
One of the best ways of exploring the terrain of south Velebit, its karst rock landscapes and surroundings, is a panoramic tour by jeep. Take in the fairytale Zrmanja Canyon, the enchanting Zadar Archipelago, the magnificent limestone formations of Tulove Grede and wonderful views of the Adriatic.
The salty air and vegetation across Pag island help create particular local delicacies best enjoyed close to the source. Pag lamb is a succulent delight. It can also be grilled but most kitchens prepare it in chunks, sometimes even in the pan itself. As you travel round Pag, you may even see it spit-roasted to provide that authentic, side-of-the-road experience. Pag is also famous for its cheese. Paški sir is a favourite on nearly every domestic menu around Dalmatia, and comes from pag sheep, the local breed of small sheep whose milk has a salty flavour typical of all island produce. Matured for several months, even years, it is hard and flaky, and best served with a glass of golden Žutica or lighter Gegić, revived some 15 years ago and now a familiar sight on many restaurant tables. Another revived favourite, this one ruby red, is Burin, again found across Pag shops and eateries.
Thanks to the nuns of the local Benedictine monastery, who were the first to start perfecting and teaching fine-thread ornamental lacemaking in the 15th century, Pag lace has been an important source of income for many skilled local women ever since. Learning fully the craft of Pag lacemaking is a lengthy and complex process, but you can also test your skills by enrolling in the beginners’ course under the guidance of some of the most experienced and talented lace-makers on Pag island.