Zadar! A small seaside town on the coast of Croatia. Before we decided to go to Croatia I knew very little about the country and even less about its cities. We chose the city of Zadar because it was the closest port connection from Italy. Excited to learn about a new destination we took off with our car full of camping, swimming, and adventure supplies. Heading from Tuscany to the east coast we made our way to the port of Ancona.
We took the night boat which departed from the port of Ancona at 8:00 pm and sent us on our way to Zadar where we arrived at 7:00 am. We found it to be a long trip but much more comfortable than the small cramped seats on a plane. And since it was an over night ride we didn’t lose any time in our vacation getting to the destination. We had purchased economy tickets which gave us seats but instead we were able to find couches in the lounge to spread out for the night and sleep on until we arrived at our destination.
How to get there
To get to Zadar from Italy you can take a 30- 45 minutes flight from Rome, or you can take a nine hour ferry from the port of Ancona on the Eastern coast of Italy. We chose to travel by ferry because we were road tripping for this adventure and wanted to take the car.
Cost: for an economy ticket was €100 per person, including the car, round trip.
Upon first glance, Zadar was nothing of what I was expecting. Outside of the city center, many of the building are falling a part. Decay has touched each building as time and humidity has done its work to the stone structures. It’s an old city and with historical roots that stem all the way back to the stone ages. An ancient city placed on the Adriatic Sea with a long history of shipping and travel industry which has passed through its harbor.
We arrived in our apartment which was two blocks from Old Town Zadar and as soon as we were settled we headed out to grab a bite. I found the center to be extremely well-taken care off and its buildings preserved. The city streets are washed in the morning leaving its stone floors shiny and new.
As usual, I dove into this new city with no plan and a little research on what to expect. After all, I am an adventurer! And I was able to find plenty of fun affordable things to do for those who want to have some good cheap fun. Here is a small list of things you can do and see for next to nothing in Zadar.
Note: I have converted the prices below into Euros but the currency in Croatia is Kunas, however, most places accept Euros.
Be A Beach Bum
While you’re out and about you can head to the beach! The summers are very hot in Croatia and it can difficult to walk around and explore the city in the heat of July. It was for us… so we decided to cool off at the beach.
The closest public beach is Kolovare Beach. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from the city center and, if you don’t have many things to carry, it’s a nice way to see the size of the city. Otherwise, there is plenty of parking space if you have a car. Be warned we took our trip the last week of July and it is incredibly hot and the beaches are full so if you go in this time of the year, make sure to get to the beach early and bring lots of sun screen.
If you get there early you’ll be able to find a shady spot to lay under and stay cool. The water was a lovely place to cool off but the chaos of people made a little less pleasurable. I would suggest coming in May or September, the heat won’t be as terrible and the crowds will also probably be less crazy.
The beach has a diving board on one side where you can jump straight into the sea. It also has an air ballooned water playground where kids can jump and slip and slid around. If you need a snack or beverage there is also a few bars and small stands you can get a cold drink or an ice cream at, so don’t worry if you forgot to pack a lunch.
All of the Croatian water places we went to the beaches and rivers were all pebbles and rocks, so I highly recommend bringing water shoes to protect your feet. It hurts walking in and out of the water several times on the hot sharp stones.
Eat Seafood or Lamb
My partner and I had the worst luck with find good seafood because although I had intended on eating seafood for the full 10 days of our trip, we had a difficult time finding it. We did enjoy some of the red meat dishes the restaurants had to offer. Lamb is one of Croatia’s specialties and I really enjoyed it grilled with baked potatoes and cheese. One really great restaurant we enjoyed in Zadar was Proto: Food and More. It had a really great staff and a nice atmosphere. Although it was a little pricey we went for in any way. (Since this trip was technically our honeymoon we spent a little extra on eating out.)
(The photo below is from restaurant we found outside of Zadar.)
Cost: Depending where you go €20 – 50
This is always my favorite thing to do. It’s alway a good idea to get a little lost in a new city. Zadar has many fun and picture worthy streets that will make you want to snap shot of every street corner. The streets are clean and lined with little stores and shops for those who need a bathing suit or a souvenir to take home with them.
Although it is a maze, this city is not very large so it’s not too difficult to find your way around. So don’t be afraid to randomly turn left and right. You never know what amazing things you’ll stumble upon. Not to mention all of the cathedrals and towers that were scattered throughout the town.
The Church of St Donatus
St. Anastasia’s Cathedral
If you take a tour through these cathedrals individually they cost about €60 if you take the walking tour to all of them it will cost €150 or higher.
One place I highly recommend to see is the sea organ. This is a completely unique place that is a must-see. At the end of the harbor are a set of stairs with carved holes in the sides and tops of the stairs which create music when the wind blows.
On a nice day or the weekend, this place is pretty packed and there are often noisy street performers that may distract from the sounds of the organ. We went very early in the morning to document the sounds of this beautiful musical instrument and practically had the place to ourselves.
Greet the Sun
Near the sea-organ is the “Greeting Sun” installation created by Nikola Bašić. During the day the sun charges a platform with energy which is then transformed into electricity. And when the sun sets the converted energy creates a beautiful light show under your feet. The lights are quite mesmerizing and many people come to hang out and enjoy the “Greeting Suns'” performance.
Watch Street Performers
In the high and shoulder season, you can see all sorts of street performers out to entertain the crowds. Dancers, singers, musicians, contortionists, costumed characters, and much more are scattered all over the harbor hoping to make a little cash.
Cost: Free (Depending if you want to donate)
Take it all in
We ended our evening by grabbing a beer and sat at the edge of the pier observing people, listening to music, and watching the blue water change colors as the sun set on the horizon. Zadar is a popular tourist destination so it was difficult to understand who was Croatian and who was a foreigner. It was fun trying to guess where everyone was from or what language they were speaking.
A Little Shopping Never Hurt Anyone
While I don’t suggest spending lots of money in stores that you can also find in your home town, it is always nice to window shop. You can check out the local shops that sell jewelry and art that can only be found in Zadar. I almost never buy anything but if I see something that I really love and want it in my home to help me remember the trip I might get one small item to can take home with me.
Cost: Depends if you buy anything, but window shopping is free.
With a full day of activities, we had only spent money on food and drinks. It felt good to do and see so much and spend so little. I hope you have found this article helpful and enjoy your upcoming adventures!
Overall, the trip to Zadar had started out a little rough but in the end, it was a complete success. Everyone we encountered was very friendly and spoke English, in fact, language was never an issue. In general, Zadar is not a very expensive city. I would say it is one of the more inexpensive European countries.
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