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The best things to do in Zadar

Croatia’s been on our radar for a while, with clever travellers tracking the country’s transformation from a lesser-known corner of Europe to one of the most talked-about short-hop destinations around. And now its Zadar region is the latest place that’s hotting up, drawing curious eyes north to find out what’s changing


From Condé Nast Traveler

Everyone knows about Croatia: glittering water, beaches with pebbles polished to a shine by the sea, ancient towns swathed in a hotchpotch of Mediterranean influences. But head north, to the seaside city of Zadar and the towns and islands that surround it, and you’ll find Croatia without the crowds. Here are 10 cool ways to explore this region’s most diverse corners.


Wake up to a different pace in Zadar

It’s true: all Croatian cities are beautiful. But Zadar, shaded by the Roman walls that surround the old town, has a hint of old-school Europe. There’s an easy, laid-back pace of life here. Forget the frenetic, crowded energy of the Italian big-hitters and the glossy, sparkly villages on the French Riviera. Here, the walled town juts into the Adriatic so dramatically that you can jump straight from the thoroughfare into the waves, where boats bob on the horizon. Spend a morning wandering Zadar’s markets, where farmers sell artisan products that would cost three times the price in the UK.


Catch Europe’s best sundowner with a soundtrack

After lunch outside at a café (just wander into one on the many squares and narrow streets of the old town – they’re nearly all excellent), make sure to visit the famous sea organ. Its pipes slip down under the water, so they are played by the sea as the waves rise and fall against the Riva waterfront. It might sound like a gimmick, but the result is eerily arresting. Get here in time to watch the sun set over Zadar; Alfred Hitchock called it one of the most beautiful in the world. Don’t miss it.


Bar-hop around Zadar’s mellow hotspots

Seek out the city peninsula and you’ll find some of the smartest nightlife hubs. While students gather in the cool Varoš area, the bars on Zadar’s east-facing tip are less beach-bum shacks and more bright and sophisticated, with huge terraces with day-beds for locals and visitors alike, where DJs play chilled house music as the lights of the yachts, hotels and restaurants light up the inky sky. Plus, there are now music festivals to visit too.


Soak up ancient history in Nin

Zadar has always been a great jumping-off point for the rest of the country. But leaving the area before you’ve fully explored it would be a mistake. Near the city you’ll find the most authentic and quieter corners of Croatia. If Zadar has hints of classic Europe, Nin, 20 minutes’ drive from the city, throws back to an even more ancient time. This is one of the oldest towns in the Mediterranean, a tiny medieval islet that spans just 500 metres, surrounded by the deep-blue Adriatic. Looking for interesting sights? Try the world’s smallest cathedral or the Church of the Holy Cross.


Set sail in Biograd

Ask people what they know about Croatia and the subject of sailing will probably come up. But skip Yacht Week and head off the beaten track to Biograd, where the coastline juts in and out, hugging the rugged central Adriatic. Spend the day spying some of the country’s 1,000-plus islands, or go ashore to explore remote seaside villages.


Get your thrills in Starigrad – Paklenica

You could happily pass the time in the Zadar region basking in sunlight, swimming in the sea, not doing much of anything. But if you’re after adrenalin, head to Starigrad-Paklenica. The Zrmanja and Krupa rivers are brilliant for rafting and canoeing, or hike through the Starigrad-Paklenica hills and mountains.


Connect with nature

Speaking of hills and mountains, Paklenica National Park is home to some of the region’s most beautiful scenery. Head to the peak of the Velebit mountains and be rewarded with endless miles of silky-blue sky, surrounded by the lush green of the Zadar countryside and the grey limestone of the mountains.


Discover a lesser-known island on Pag

Croatia’s islands have become one of the top summer destinations for a glossy, smart set of travellers. But skip the headliners and head to Pag in shoulder season, when the seas are still joyfully warm, to find one of the country’s real surprises. This desert-like island is laced with pocket-sized towns and secluded bays that make for wonderful sundowners.


Eat your fill of the Med

There’s a reason days in the Mediterranean are spent drifting between restaurant and sea. This is where you’ll find some of the best grazing in Europe, with Dalmatian specialties such as cuttlefish risotto appearing on most menus. Book a table at one of the waterfront tavernas and order the catch of the day, grilled with olive oil and served with whatever vegetable is in season. Local delicacies include salt (yes, really, it’s one of Nin’s biggest exports) and cheese (sheep and goat’s are both equally tasty). On Pag, try the lamb, roasted simply with herbs.


And drink your fill, too.

It’s not just the seafood that draws foodies to the Zadar region. The local spirit is a well-loved cherry liqueur that stains your tongue a fruity red. But the cherries are pipped to the post by grapes – the wine here is really brilliant. Grab a bottle and head to an out-of-the-way cove to feel as if you have the Adriatic to yourself.
bar-hop through the city's hotspots, soak up ancient history, connect with nature, discover lesser-known islands and eat and drink your fill of the med

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U.S. Daily News: The best things to do in Zadar
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