The medieval port of Zadar has everything you would want from a short European city break. Rich in history and relatively undiscovered by tourists compared to Croatian current hot spots such as Dubrovnik and Hvar, the marble city of Zadar is a northern gem.
There are several beaches close to the historic city centre, and plenty of sites to see including the Roman Forum, Byzantine churches and nightclubs sprawled across impressive parks hidden amongst the ancient ruins.
The food is truly incredible; Italian influences mixed with locally sourced delicacies including figs, cheese from the local Island of Pag and Octopus. I could have turned in to a pasta dish by the time I landed from the amount of Spaghetti I consumed. Fresh seafood is on offer at every restaurant and you can see the boats out catching your evening meal as you stroll through the city in the morning.
Highlights: The friendliness of the people; the service was second to none. The food, it has to be mentioned again because it was all so fresh and delicious. The local wine could easily rival other dominant European wines, and so reasonably priced. The feel of the city, from the marbled pathways to the turquoise sea and old ruins around every corner.
I have recently landed from a fantastic trip to this cheap and cheerful hot spot, and I am already itching to go back, especially because of how affordable a trip to this city can be.
How to visit Zadar on a budget:
We booked our flights from Manchester to Zadar using Ryanair. We booked around three months in advance, and got a return flight for just £45.00.
The flights take around two hours and twenty minutes, so it is just a small time aboard a plane for a short break in a sunny peaceful paradise.
Our host booked us a taxi from the airport to the apartment, and this meet and greet service cost just £15 for the four of us. Taxis are very affordable in Zadar, and all of the fleet are uniformed and incredibly polite.
A place to crash
We booked our accommodation using AirBnB and stayed in a great local apartment on the mainland of Zadar in the newer town. The place was incredible. It was clean (I mean eat off the floor clean) and the host was wonderful. She went the extra mile from the moment we landed.
From mosquito plugs fitted in the rooms (which we had forgotten but would have really suffered without) to our beds made up when we landed at midnight, and a personal itinerary and map on the table, she had covered it all. She was there to help us make the most of our short trip, and her advice really made it that extra bit special.
It was just a five minute walk to the beach, and a fifteen minute stroll into the old town.
Oh, and did I mention that it cost just £150 for three nights for the four of us.
What to eat, see and do
For a small city Zadar has so much to offer and we made the most of this, making sure that all of our days were full of adventure, culinary delights and of course, plenty of bar hopping!
Our first day
Start the day with a walk into the old town and cross onto the Island using the traditional Boat Men of Zadar crossing. For just 20 Kuna (£2) you can be rowed from the mainland to the old town in moments by a friendly local who has been running this service for years.
Make your way across to the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation to view it in the day and listen to the peaceful sounds whilst sitting on the steps and taking in the view of the Adriatic sea and the Islands in the distance.
From here, walk into the old town via the Forum and head off right towards a quirky little restaurant called Konoba Dalmacija. We ate our breakfast here at 10am on the first day and it was wonderful. We all had the ‘Breakfast buffet’ from the menu which included local meats (highlight was the olive and red pepper ham) and cheeses as well as an omelette. It came with strong coffee, orange juice and for my husband, a beer (because…holiday).
The waiter was very accommodating and funny, and gave us some free local dishes to try alongside our food. We sampled freshly caught sardines and finished the meal off with a pear and orange liqueur. Yes you read that right – we were given a complementary shot with breakfast! All this cost just 60 Kuna a head (Just under £6) which we couldn’t quite believe.
Feeling full, we headed across to the old city down the main street towards the Five Wells Square, and wandered on through the Queen Jelena Madjie Park, an incredible three tiered local park filled with gorgeous smelling flowers and lovely well-light pathways where several outdoor bars had been set up ready for the evening.
We finished our walk by stopping and looking over from the Park to the Kopnena Vrata, an impressive imposing gate just above the port that welcomes you to the old town.
For lunch we had some great local street food from a bakery (which you can find on most corners of the old town). I ate a sausage wrapped in locally made bread (a local delicacy which you need to try) whilst others sampled pizza and pastries. I was shocked to find that each of these treats which were generous in portion size were priced at around 50p a piece (5 Kuna). Again, Zadar is an excellent city to visit when on a budget.
Around 1pm we hopped on a local boat ride out to the sea for a couple of hours and saw some great sites, including what the old town looks like from a distance. It is a great way to see the Island and if you want to go further afield, tours leave every day at 8am from the main bridge into the town centre.
Finally, to end our day after going home and freshening up, we wandered back into the old town for some dinner and drinks. You can always take a taxi if your legs are tired from walking as they are incredibly reasonable (we never paid more than £4 for one around the local area). Firstly, we went to see the Sun Salutation again – as when lit up at night, it looks truly incredible. Then we ate the Restoran Bar Atrij which was a fantastic spot for people watching and soaking up the culture as it was just next to the main gate. We all had starters, main courses (we would recommend the Caesar salad or the pork medallions with locally sourced vegetables) and plenty of drinks and again it came in at a very reasonable £35. That’s for all of us, not each! With full stomachs we wandered into the Queen Jelena Madjie Park again and strolled through the fairy lit pathways towards the sound of music in the distance. We propped ourselves up at the bar in the park and sat and relaxed the night away feeling very lucky to be enjoying such a great trip in a hip and historic city. Top tip – have a glass of their local Cherry Brandy, it keeps you warm on the clear summer evenings, and it is delicious!
If you are there for a few more dates, I would wholly recommend:
Eating – Splurge a little and eat at the Pet Bunara, just off the old town towards the local park and port area. The food is incredible, and I honestly don’t think I have tasted anything better when travelling.
Sights – Boat hopping over to the Island of Iz. A tranquil paradise.
Want to see more from the trip: Follow me on Instagram to see snapshots of our Adriatic adventure.