After years of not booking trips away because of things like having work to do, or not having anyone to go with, I decided to make a change and book a couple of short getaways for the summer, a bit of solo travel. For this trip, I was off to the coastal town of Zadar in Croatia, on the Dalmatian coast.
It's not a town that many have heard of, with places like Dubrovnik or Split being far better known, but after looking it up and finding a return flight for just £23, it seemed like a no brainer. The town has a lot of Roman history, which I love, and is also a short ferry trip or bus ride away from some stunning national parks, as well as the town itself being clean and beautiful, with a promenade along the full length, perfect for a dip in the crystal clear water.
My flight was a little delayed, but nothing too bad. I arrived in Zadar around 6.30pm and was welcomed to my AirBnB apartment by my host, Vjeko. The apartment was in the middle of the Old Town, overlooking a very picturesque square. It was perfectly situated for access to everything you'd want to do and see. The room was nicely decorated, with good air con - which was needed, as it reached 33 degrees outside - and Vjeko gave me some great insights into local spots to check out, as well as restaurant suggestions.
I ventured straight out after this. Zadar is famous for its sunset and I didn't want to miss it. I went to a nearby restaurant called Malo Misto that my host had suggested. It was just across the square in a courtyard surrounded by buildings. The ambience was nice and the food was tasty, but I found the service to be a little too impersonal. The girls working especially seemed to have had it drilled into them that they must stand in a formal stance at all times, while it didn't seem so expected of the men. One discovery I made quickly is that wine is served in tiny amounts when you ask for a glass, just 100ml. They will top it up as you go if you can catch their attention, but to save the hassle, it's a good idea to ask for a double measure. Maybe I'm just secretly a raging alcoholic.
I made my way down to the seafront. All of the streets in Zadar are made of marble, which looks great, even if occasionally slippery in flip flops. The sun was low when I arrived at the end of the promenade where all the tourists gather to watch a sunset described as ‘the best in Europe’ by Alfred Hitchcock. I wasn't disappointed. The sunset is perfectly positioned over the calm sea, and the slight haze gives for a lovely red and orange glow as the sun reaches the horizon. Seeing boats pass in front of the sunset and the glistening water was really pretty. I had taken my camera and was able to capture some really nice photos, although I wished I had brought my 70-200mm lens. The 24-105mm would have to suffice.
After the sun sets, there’s live entertainment from a variety of very talented street performers, as well as a large light show on the ground that everyone stands on. If I'm totally honest, the light show was a little underwhelming compared to the sunset. It's talked about a lot on tourist info, but it just isn't that bright and you have to wait quite a long time for the ambient light to disappear before it really has much effect. It was still something unique though, and something that people clearly enjoyed posting onto Instagram. The sea organ was quite beautiful though, pipes set up along the seafront for the waves to create sound from, resembling whale noises.
It was my first night in Zadar, and what instantly struck me was how bustling the town was late into the night. The shops were all open until 11pm or later, meaning the high street was packed with people. I found the local rock bar and had a drink there before venturing around more of the town. To my surprise, I wandered across an area with an abundance of outdoor nightlife. Huge club set ups with live DJs, light shows and countless outdoor bars. I had read in advance of my trip that Zadar wasn't a party town, this seemed to challenge that notion. I wondered to myself, 'what would the Romans think of the town being used in this way?' and decided they'd probably love it. I stayed for a while in one of the outdoor clubs, mainly just having a couple of drinks and taking it all in, before heading back to my apartment.
The second day I had decided I would explore the town properly. I grabbed breakfast in a local cafe before venturing off around the marble streets. Even at 8.30am, it was very hot, but I quite enjoy the heat. After walking around the perimeter of the town (which is a small peninsula), I visited the ancient glass museum. It came recommended, and featured some beautiful archaeological glass finds from as far back as 3rd century BC. It's quite something that these delicate objects have remained so intact. Many of them had been discovered in local dig sites, showcasing the vast history of this area.
Despite the Museum of Illusions being recommended too, I decided to give it a miss, as many of the experiences there looked like they were best suited for two people. I checked out some more of the old town, before crossing the footbridge into the newer area of town. The bridge is nice to cross, but once you're on the other side, there's not much to see or do. It's more of a residential area and a bit more scruffy, so I crossed back over and visited the cathedral. It looked like an event had been held there in the morning, as people were packing down lighting rigs, but the place still looked stunning. If you visit, make sure to turn around and check out the organ.
It was finally time for a dip. Getting into the water is easy in Zadar, you can basically jump in from any point along the promenade. The water was fairly warm, wonderfully clear, and teeming with shoals of fish. I had absolutely no worry about leaving some of my items on the land as I went in the water. You get the impression that there's basically no crime in the town, so being a solo traveller wasn't a problem in that sense. I don't think I even saw a police officer on my whole trip. There is a beach about 10-15 mins walk out of town, but I'm not really someone who needs a beach. I was happy getting in the water there, and having a bit of a sunbathe on a jetty.
It was time for food again. This time I did my own research and discovered there was a local vegan restaurant called The Botanist, rated 4.9 on Google and located on the seafront. It was worthy of the high rating. The staff were really nice and friendly, the food was stunning and very tasty (I was impressed with my vegan steak) and the cocktails were great too. I even took the opportunity to snap a professional photo of my cocktail - it seems I can never fully get out of work mode, but I enjoy what I do.
I followed this up with what I read was the best ice cream in town, at Bob Rock’s Ice Cream Shop. There are a lot of very generic ice cream places around the main square, and the quality isn't great, but this place was in the back streets and tasted delicious. Much like anywhere that attracts tourists, there are a lot of restaurants, shops and takeaways in the busy areas that are tourist traps, often you can identify the restaurants like this, as they go really overboard with pictures of their food in the menu, often cropped in a way that doesn't reveal the small portion sizes. Heading into the smaller streets is always a good shout, as well as checking reviews too.
Another evening was spent watching the sunset. I set up my camera to try and capture it even better this time around, although it wasn't as good as the night before, as there was a lot of haze on the horizon. Still beautiful, but I had been spoiled on the first night it seems. I didn't stay out too late afterwards, other than grabbing a couple of drinks at a bar called Deja Brew (great name). The staff were friendly and fun, the cocktails were very tasty and the decor and atmosphere was great, along with the best playlist I'd heard on my trip. It was then off to bed, as I had an early rise the next day.
For my third day adventures, I'd booked an all day boat trip out to some of the islands just off the coast. I chose to do this instead of the inland national parks, as I preferred the idea of sitting on a boat instead of a bus. My cruise was on a boat called Gostilje, smaller than many of the other cruise boats in the harbour, but from what I've heard, they look after their guests a lot better, and everything was included in the €46.50 price. Our host Wiktoria was fantastic and very welcoming, and translated everything into English or Polish for the groups onboard with ease.
The trip out to the islands did take a fair amount of time. You end up realising the scale of the area once you're on the open sea. It took us about 2.5 hours to reach the first stop, which was on the opposite side of the farthest island in Telašćica Nature Park. The harbour we arrived into was stunning, with azure waters, green slopes and rocky crags. It had been worth the trip over already. We got off the boat and were guided towards the viewpoint on the island, a very hot and sweaty climb up a hill, but worth it for the beautiful views of the cliff overlooking the open sea.
The sweaty climb wasn't a problem, as this island not only had beautiful waters to swim in at the bay we arrived into, but it also features a natural salt lake in the middle, a real popular spot for sightseers. I had a swim in the salt lake, and it was a unique experience, with the water being over 20 degrees, but the water wasn't as beautiful as it was in the bay, or as refreshing to swim in, so I headed back over to swim in the bay instead until we departed for our next location.
It was then a fairly short trip over to Kornati National Park, to a small group of buildings in a cove called Suha Punta. By this point, complimentary wine was being served quite freely, and this continued through our lunch too of locally sourced fish, chicken and salad. Breakfast and lunch were both included on this trip, as were as many drinks as you liked, something that other cruises seem to charge extra for.
Suha Punta featured the most beautiful blue water I had seen, similar to what you see in photos of tropical paradises in the Caribbean. There were jetties to jump into the water from (Wiktoria had called them 'bridges' in her translation, and initially I went looking for a bridge, I realised and mentioned that ‘jetty’ would probably be the accurate word in English. Apparently in Polish, jetty is the same as bridge, so that's the way she thought about the translation). We all had a great swim here, wonderfully refreshing from the heat of the sun, and somehow I think I managed to avoid getting sunburnt. A real win.
We then headed back to Zadar, another 2.5 hour trip, but really not a problem when you're out in such scenic surroundings. I'll admit I and many others took good advantage of the free wine, and arrived back in Zadar perhaps slightly tipsy, but it made it all the more fun. I'd thoroughly recommend this cruise to anyone considering it. That's not the wine talking.
I then spent my last evening grabbing some more food, this time from a restaurant on the seafront called Restaurant Bruschetta, which was probably my favourite meal of the trip, the food was all absolutely delicious, and I decided to grab dessert there too, an amazing pistachio cheesecake. The waiters had a lot of character and you could tell that the manager let them be themselves, something I always really appreciate. I ended up telling the manager how much I noticed this and how refreshing it is compared to some bars and restaurants.
The final night sunset was sadly the most disappointing of the three. There was thick haze on the horizon that obscured any real glow. You could still see the outline of the sun though. It reminded me a little of the two suns setting at the end of Star Wars actually. The New Hope theme would have fit in nicely. Strangely I found myself sitting next to a group of guys also from Southampton, who were on the same flights as me. It's crazy how you can be somewhere abroad and bump into people that live up the road.
As the light of the day started to fade, I decided to visit the cathedral tower. A good leg workout up the spiral stairs to the best view over the town. You can walk around the top and see the area from all angles. It was nice being up at this time of day, as there was both the remaining glow of the sunset, and also the lights of the town. Getting back down was a lot easier than climbing up.
I returned to Deja Brew that evening and had a few drinks there while enjoying their playlist. I think they had the Guardians of the Galaxy playlist on at one point, so some real 70s and 80s bangers. One thing that is surprising in Croatia is that everywhere either only takes cash, or they prefer cash. I thought in a post-Covid world, everywhere might have adapted to taking mainly card payments, like in the UK where you barely have to carry cash any more, but apparently the banks in Croatia charge the businesses fees for taking card payments and that makes it not appealing for them. It's a shame this didn't change over the last couple of years really. I had forgotten how annoying carrying cash actually is.
That just about sums up my short trip to Zadar. My flight back was the next morning, so I jumped straight in an Uber to the airport after waking up. I arrived far too early though, as it took me about 5 minutes to get from the airport entrance to the departure lounge. The flight back went smoothly, although delayed a little again, and the UK now seems extremely cold.
All in all a fantastic trip. If anyone is looking for a short bargain getaway, I got my flight from Bournemouth and I'm sure there are plenty of deals to be had. Zadar is a great place for a stay of this length, and if you want to do a week instead, there are buses to other cities. If you made it to the end of this long blog, thanks for reading!