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Courtesy of Croatian Tourist Board
Located in central Dalmatia , in the county of Zadarska, Zadar (population 75,000) is 226km from Rijeka, 160km from Split and only 72km from Sibenik. Its central location and an international airport have made Zadar a popular gateway to Croatia but it's more than a place to just pass through. Zadar's historical centre is fascinating to explore. Wandering the streets is like peeling back layers of time until you end up in the 9th century BC in ancient Illyria. The old town is paved with gleaming white stone and the straight streets were first laid out by the Romans. A high wall remains on the harbour side, built by the Venetians in the 16th century, and an entrance gate still sports the Venetian lion. Highly original modern monuments such as the Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun are must-sees and reflect a vibrant local culture that faces the future with confidence. Get out of town for a day trip and you'll find an array of national parks within easy reach, including Plitvice Lakes, the Kornati Islands and Krka Waterfalls.
Or, stay in town and relax at one of Zadar's beaches.
The old town lies on a peninsula bounded by roads running along two quays. The southern quay is a pedestrian promenade while the busy northern quay is where boats dock and cars park. Beyond medieval Zadar lies the economic heart of the city as postwar housing, industrial parks and commercial zones sprawl outward to the suburbs.
About 6km to the northwest lies the wooded beach suburbs of Diklo and Boric which have been developed into a tourist zone replete with hotels and a hostel. (see more on Zadar accommodation)
Zadar was conquered by the Romans and became the colony of Iadera. Later the Venetians moved in but the port city was repeatedly attacked by the Turks. Venetian rule passed to the Austrians in the 18th century and then to Italy until 1943 when the Germans moved in. Allied bombing destroyed much of the historic centre which was rebuilt after the war only to suffer more attacks by Yugoslav forces in 1991. Read more Zadar history.
In addition to reminders of Venice, Zadar highlights include
Roman ruins from its days as a Roman colony,
St Donat church in a Byzantine style which dates from the 9th century
Cathedral of St Anastasia completed in the 13th century
Franciscan Monastery and Church, the oldest Gothic church in Dalmatia
St Simeon Church with an intricately carved gold-plated sarcophagus
sea organ that transforms waves into mournful melodies
greeting to the sun a circle of glass that captures the daylight and emits it at night.
Ugljan island for its beautiful beaches
In recent years Zadar has undergone a startling revival. Cafes and bars are filled, museums and churches have been restored and tourists are pouring in to take advantage of the beaches, bars, restaurants and cultural offerings. Not only is Zadar one of the Adriatic's most historically interesting towns but it lies within driving distance of four national parks: Plitvice Lakes, Krka Waterfalls, Paklenica and Northern Velebit, plus there are boat excursions to the Kornati Islands National Park. There are also the large islands of Pag and Dugi Otok to visit as well as an archipelago of smaller islands such as Ugljan, Pasman, Molat and Premuda.
At the beginning of August the Zadar Dreams (Zadar Snova) festival brings contemporary theatre to the streets of Zadar. Focusing on the exciting and cutting edge, this festival attracts companies from around Europe. See Zadar Snova Facebook page.
Film buffs will want to catch the Zadar Film Forum Festival at the end of August. For the duration of the festival, Zadar is transformed into a giant open-air cinema as screenings are set up throughout the old town. More.
The massively popular Garden Festival at the beginning of July is Croatia's first electronic dance music festival. It's in Tisno, south of Zadar but it's well-linked by public transport. More.
Also in Tisno but in August is the Soundwave Festival with a more world music approach that features hip-hop, dub, afro-beat, soul and house in live and electronic form.
I took the following video as I was leaving Zadar one morning in April. The Jadrolinija ferry I was taking to Mali Losinj only ran once a week and it was packed. I started filming while we waited for the heavily-laden trucks and cars to lumber aboard and finished just as we were leaving the port. The view that you see is of the northeastern walls that border Jazine Bay, the body of water that separates the peninsula containing Zadar's Old Town from the greater metropolitan area. You'll see the bell tower of Zadar's cathedral as well as a series of Jadrolinija ferries!
Flights: Croatia Airlines connects Zadar with Zagreb daily, Ryanair has a base at Zadar airport, and there are direct international flights to Zadar in the summer. There's also a seaplane connection to Ancona, Italy. More.
There's one excellent hotel and a number of private rooms and apartments in Zadar's Old Town.
Four national parks, islands and beaches--all within easy reach.
The Zadar tourist office (tel 023-316 166) is in the town centre at Mihe Klaica 5.
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