“Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world.” That quote has been attributed to both Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Hemingway according to various Croatian tourist sites and blogs. My search for a source came up empty, but no matter who is heaping the praise, Zadar takes their sunsets seriously. The setting sun is a must see event here. Each evening hundreds of people show up along the western edge of the old town for the spectacle.
We arrived in town just at sunset for our first night and could see that it was something special, but had to check in to our apartment, unpack, buy groceries, and things of that nature. So we didn’t really get to enjoy that one. But our second night proved to be even better, as we received a grand display of why Zadar is the place to watch a sunset.
And then that was it. A high pressure system came and sat just off the coast, giving us sunny and clear skies for the rest of our stay. Not that I’m complaining, as we had gorgeous days with highs in the low 70s (22C) every single day for our mid-October stay. But few clouds meant no more spectacular sunsets.
What We Did
I won’t bury the lede. Aside from the sunsets, we didn’t really find all that much to do in Zadar. Most of the activities are centered around sunning yourself, watching the sunset, or staring out towards the sea. To be fair, a lot of the old town and coastal areas are quite visually appealing, but aside from just walking around admiring the views, it felt a little lacking.
The Sea Organ is definitely the most interesting thing in town. The organ is “played” by the waves of the sea. The water pushes air through different sized chambers to produce a variety of sounds. The music is a bit difficult to describe, but it’s kind of like a whale song mixed with a wind chime. It can change based on wave force and frequency. When it’s calm, there’s a soothing hum and rhythm. When it’s rougher out, the tune is a little more violent and jerky.
During any weather conditions though, the sea organ’s unique tune dances through the air and provides a mesmerizing effect. This one of a kind attraction is a big reason why gathering on the northwestern tip of old town is the place to be for sunset. Watching the colors materialize over the western horizon and listening to the soothing sounds is definitely a unique experience.
The old town is protected by massive city walls on two sides and the sea on the other two. Much of the wall is still intact to this day and there are wide walking paths along the top. Inside of the walls are well-worn cobblestone streets featuring scores of tourist shops, ice cream parlors, restaurants, bars, and cafes. Zadar does not feature pastel colored buildings and brightly painted facades like some of our more recent stops, so in that sense, it seemed a little drab. There also aren’t really any back alleys to explore. But there are lots of centuries-old stone columns and other remnants of past civilization. Being among the ancient stonework is still pretty neat.
The Duke’s Palace art museum is easily the best indoor attraction we saw in Zadar. Currently on display is modern art from Croatian artist Ratko Petrić, which is mostly sculpture. The display highlights works from throughout Petrić’s lifetime. His pieces are inherently political and I found a lot of his art to be quite thought provoking and a little haunting at times. We both really enjoyed it. There’s also a small section with dedicated fancy palace rooms featuring antique furnishings, but that was definitely not the highlight.
In the middle of old town is the Archaeological Museum which covers the history of the region’s civilization all the way back to the stone age. It’s fairly comprehensive and provided interesting snippets of ancient life in the area, from pottery to coins to marble statues. There are extensive English language descriptions throughout. The one thing they don’t talk about is why the old town is littered with marble and stone ruins for no discernible reason, which is one of the main reasons we went.
Wander The Coast
We explored the coast to the north and south. Unlike our last stop in Pula, the coastal land close to Zadar is lacking any wildness. That’s not to say it isn’t nice, but there’s not much to actually explore as opposed to just following a paved path. Similar to our previous stops along the Adriatic, the water is ridiculously clear and really pretty. So even being stuck walking on pavement, it’s still enticing. I was left wanting more options though.
To the south is a paved multi-use path that rises above the water’s edge. This provides good views and access to many small semi-secluded beaches below. (The beaches here are still filled with large pebbles or small rocks.) It’s nice and mostly peaceful, but it’s short. After about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) it runs into a harbor and shipping area where some cruise ships dock and ferries arrive and depart.
To the north is a windy road along the coast with a 3 ft (1 m) edge next to the sea. It’s not really a sidewalk, as it’s not raised or separated from the roadway. But it functions as one. This route has a lot more visible sea life, with large stretches of coast filled with sea anemones, hermit crabs, and small fish darting between rocks. Because of the activity and proximity to the water, it’s more fun to stare into the sea compared to the southern route. But this path is right next to a busy road much of the way, so it’s much less relaxing in that regard. It does have the potential to be a much longer walk though, so that part is nice. There’s also a large sphinx.
Cats And Other Wildlife
The further south we go, the more cats there seem to be. We found a fair number of cats in Trieste, plenty of them in Pula, and even more in Zadar. As a general rule, we try to pet every single one of them. Granted, the vast majority of them want nothing to do with us, but some are amiable to a little friendly attention.
Cats were not the only interesting animals we found in Zadar. While walking along a main street, we spotted a wild tortoise. It was just chilling in an overgrown field along a makeshift shortcut between an apartment complex and the road. He was a little skeptical of our approach, withdrawing about 2/3rds of the way back into his shell. But with a little patience and no sudden movements, he resumed his grazing. Apparently, the Hermann’s Tortoise has a natural habitat here. We had no idea. It was certainly a nice treat that showed up out of the blue.
Where We Stayed
We rented a modern one bedroom apartment just southeast of the old town. This put us in close proximity to the tourist areas but gave us an easy way to escape them. We really liked this place, despite the sparse decoration. It had quality furniture, nice kitchen items, a good shower, a balcony, and a nice grocery store right across the street.
What We Spent
During our two week stay in Zadar, we spent $1115. Just like our previous stay in Pula, our apartment was a bit on the expensive side (for us) at $652, which would be over $1300 for a full month at that rate. That lack of monthly discount certainly makes a difference. Adding in all of the rest of our prorated expenses brings us to a total spending amount of $1200.32. Even with our higher rent, that’s our cheapest stay in a few months at $86/day.
I hate to say it, but Zadar was just kind of boring. Things like the sea organ were cool, but the novelty is somewhat short lived. The Adriatic was also quite striking, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the lack of other interesting things. It’s certainly possible that if we hadn’t just visited multiple coastal cities with charming old towns we might have liked it more. But it definitely paled in comparison to Trieste and Pula.
While I was a little disappointed that we only chose to stay in Pula for two weeks, I was quite happy that our Zadar stay was shorter than our usual month. Extra time would’ve given us a better shot at catching more of the world’s best sunsets, but the sun sets everywhere. Our overall Zadar experience wasn’t all that compelling, especially compared to other places along the Adriatic. We wouldn’t return.