Zadar, on the northern Dalmatian coast, is one of the few cities left in Croatia with a tourism industry that could still be considered “off the beaten path.”
This makes it both charming (dare we day “more authentic”) and slightly inconvenient, for no one offers private rooms on arrival, restaurants and resorts do not cater to tourists, and the local museums may not have the translations that English-speakers sometimes expect.
Although Zadar, with its port and proximity to the Zadarski channel, was a strategic target for nearly every imperial force that came through the Adriatic, fewer travelers go there today. Even the local tourism website suggests that the most interesting sights to see are not in Zadar, but surrounding the city. Even it’s “as many islands as days in the year,” claim serves to take tourists away from the city, instead getting them out to a location where they can buy drinks full of shaved ice and fruit.
This may be because of the extensive damage that Zadar suffered during the Serbo-Croatian war. Bombarded by Yugoslav rockets in 1991, the city is now regaining its composure, but the pock marks of conflict can still be found by those who look.
If you do decide to visit Zadar, the best sights are clumped in the center of the city, and include several churches, cathedrals and monasteries. Interested parties might also explore the archeological museum which features a collection dating back to the Neolithic period and interpretive materials in English.
Zadar is a perfect jumping off point for day-trips out of the city and four of the regions best national parks are an easy day-trip away. Krka National Park and Plitvice jezera are well known for their cascading waterfalls and abundant wildlife, and Kornati National Park, on Kornati island, offers secluded bays, private islands and natural beauty interrupted only by quaint fishing huts.
For the water rats out there, Zadar has extensive diving tours and sailing clubs as well as a fine set of beaches if you’re traveling in the summer. Dugi Otok, an island an hour and a half ferry ride from town, is particularly nice and the soft sand of Saharun is what most people have in mind when they say they enjoy “long walks on the beach.”