Tourists have caught on to the wonder and beauty of Croatia. No longer an uncrowded, off-the-radar destination, the country is a top landing spot for travelers from around the world. However, many people focus on Dubrovnik, the shining star of Croatia and one of the most visited places in the Mediterranean. And overtourism in the city is taking its toll. It is popular with Croats and foreign visitors. It is a bustling cruise ship port, and many of its top locales are overrun with crowds during much of the year. So, where can you go instead to find that old Croatian magic while helping to reduce overtourism? Zadar. It has all the charm of Dubrovnik with a fraction of the crowds. Let’s take a deeper look into this fascinating alternative.
About the Location
For starters, where is Zadar, Croatia? Zadar is a city on the Adriatic Sea, in the northern part of the Dalmatian coast. It is the 5th-largest city in Croatia and lies between Split and Rijeka. It offers:
- Stunning sunsets over the turquoise waters
- Unique islands off the coast
- Adventure in the nearby Velebit Mountains
- Endless opportunities to explore its natural beauty
For many years, it was the capital of Dalmatia. It held the title of the oldest continuously inhabited city in the country. There are Roman and Venetian ruins to explore, with centuries-old cathedrals and forums still serving as meeting places for people.
The Mediterranean climate means warm weather year-round, with mild, wet winters and hot, sunny summers ideal for getting that perfect tan. The best part of Zadar, Croatia? The lack of crowds. Even in peak season, you will feel like you have it to yourself.
Best Time to Travel
Zadar is an outstanding travel choice any time of the year.
- Winter: If you prefer a cooler weather outlook, winter is a good time. It has clouds and mist enhancing the city’s rugged historical features. However, it can get cold, limiting your outdoor exploration options.
- Summer: Summer is ideal for going to the beach. It is a great window to explore the surrounding Dalmatian coast. You can go snorkeling, swimming, or enjoy the annual Summer Theater Festival.
- Autumn: The overall best time to travel to Zadar, though, is autumn. You get cooler temperatures, the rainy season hasn’t set in. The summer crowds are long gone, and the hotels are much more affordable than during the peak summer months. You will have a blank canvas to explore the city, with the chance to visit any site and do any activity you want in Zadar or the surrounding areas.
- Fall: If you can time your trip for the fall, you can also maximize your experience.
What to Expect
- Language: The primary language in Zadar is Croatian, but many of its people are taught English from a young age.
- Currency: The official currency in Zadar is the Croatian kuna.But many businesses accept the Euro since it is a popular European travel destination.
- Credit Cards: Most hotels and restaurants accept the major credit cards – MasterCard, Visa, and Diners Club, with American Express to a lesser degree – although some smaller restaurants and konobas (small taverns catering to local anglers) only take cash. However, if you plan to book a private room when you get to town, you should expect to pay in cash only – most landlords will not take credit cards, and SWIFT bank transfers can have high fees.
- Plugs: The voltage in Croatia is 220V, and the frequency is 50 Hz. And the plugs are two round prongs. If you are a European traveler, these should be what you’re used to. However, for other travelers with different plugs, you will need a plug adapter to charge your devices in Zadar.
- Safety: Overall, Zadar is very safe. The tap water is good to drink, the food is reliable (and delicious), and there are hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics throughout the region, with high-quality healthcare and English-speaking doctors.
Top Places to Visit
There are many remarkable sights to see in Zadar. Some of them include:
- Church of St. Donatus: This church is built upon the ancient Roman forum and dates back to the 9th century.
- Zadar Cathedral: Also constructed by the Byzantines in the 9th century, this building incorporates Romanesque styles and provides a fantastic view from the bell tower.
- Sea Organ: An art installation that plays notes courtesy of the rise and fall of the tides.
- Kornati National Park: These 147 islands off the coast of Zadar offer pristine sailing and world-class scuba diving.
- City Walls and Gates: Explore the city’s rich history by walking its walls, where you can see early Roman and Venetian gates.
- Zadar Archaeological Museum: This museum houses many artifacts from Roman times, specific to the Dalmatian region and the city’s exciting history.
Sustainable Travel Destinations
Croatia, and Zadar in particular, are on board with sustainability. Tourists can help support their cause by traveling responsibly and supporting the local community.
Visit the Museum of Ancient Glass, where you can see the fascinating work of local artisans. Then head upstairs to watch a Zadar glassblower at work, where you can learn about the craft and support the locals.
For a pollution-free city tour, rent a bike or go on a guided bicycle excursion. You can use your two legs to pedal around Zadar, find unique vantage points, and explore the city at your pace.
Visit Plitvice Lakes Natural Park, where your entry fee supports the local economy. You can use your feet to find adventure and beauty around every turn of the trail.
Bucket List Experiences
Finding an uncrowded city with natural beauty and historical significance is rare enough, and Zadar can provide memories that last a lifetime.
- Sit on the waterfront promenade, watching the world-famous sunset (Alfred Hitchcock called Zadar’s the world’s best) with a glass of local wine in hand while being serenaded by the Sea Organ’s music.
- Venture to a beach like Saharun, which lies just offshore of Zadar, to escape to one of the best-kept secret beaches in the Mediterranean.
- Take a gondola ride with a local rower who will shuttle you across the harbor to Old Town, a tradition that has spanned over 800 years.
No matter where your travels in Zadar take you, you can avoid the overtourism in Dubrovnik and create lasting memories.