Updated: Mar 18, 2019
15th-22nd October 2016
A lot of my friends ventured out to the Dalmatia Coast this summer - exploring the many emerald islands that Croatia has to offer and filling my newsfeed with GoPro pictures of them paddle boarding and kayaking under turquoise waterfalls. Hell if that isn’t the best advertising to encourage others to go and see these wonderful places then I don’t know what is. I spent about two hours online and I managed to book seven nights accommodation and return flights from Manchester to Zadar all for £170!
Ryanair are my number one choice always for travelling Europe - they don't have the best rep due to them being a budget airline, but they are extremely reliable, safe and inarguably cost effective. They often have flights to Dublin for around £10 and Barcelona or Berlin for between £25-£50. For accommodation I decided to try my hand at booking through AirBnB which had come highly recommended.
AirBnB is a website where homeowners and landlords can rent out their properties to travellers and holiday makers for a reasonable price per night of the stay. It's often the cheapest and easiest way to immerse yourself into your destinations culture! I managed to find a modern looking apartment in the centre of Zadar Old Town for just £19 a night - and it was perfect. The apartment had a shared kitchen and then four on-suite double bedrooms which other travellers were staying in. The owner, Filip, was staying in one of them and so was to hand to answer all of our burning questions! He was brilliant and his clean, white wash apartment was everything we needed for a comfortable and enjoyable trip.
My favourite part of planning a trip is sitting scrolling through Pinterest every night leading up to the holiday, collecting images and information on where to go, what to do, things to try and food to eat. Through this I discovered the beauty of Croatia’s many national parks and so booked a couple of day time excursions to see Plitvice, Krka and Kornati, which you can read about below.
As we had seven days in Zadar we thought three days spent at national parks and four slotted in between spent exploring would be a good way to break it up. However, we ended up doing all the National Parks in a row as we booked Kornati whilst we were there - the early mornings and long bus/boat rides certainly brought fatigue to the weary traveller. We booked Plitvice and Krka through Get Your Guide which was a simple low-price-guarantee site that gave us the pleasure of being toured twice by the lovely multi-lingual Marina.
Zadar is enchanting. The city is rich with heritage and there is something whimsical lying around every corner. It reminded me a lot of Verona in Italy - it is fairly small and can be explored within a day or two, but it’s worth the extra time to really experience it’s vibrant history and culture. There is an abundance of religious buildings to go and check out including; Zadar Cathedral, Church of St. Donatus, Cathedral of St. Anastasia, Orthodox church of St. Elijah etc. Aside from their strong Christian roots, Croatia is full of Romanesque architecture and has a vast collection of Roman ruins casually lying around the city (visit the Forum!).
My favourite thing to do in Zadar (aside from indulging in local cuisine) was to go and see what Alfred Hitchcock claimed to be ‘the most beautiful sunset in the world’ and enjoy the sounds of the Morske Orgulje. At 5.30pm every evening, the crowds gather in their hundreds at Zadar’s waterfront (aptly named Greeting to the Sun) to witness the sun going down. What’s even more spectacular than the burning oranges and candy floss pinks that illuminate the sky as the sun dips below the mountains on the adjacent islands of the Zadar Archipelago, are the ominous sounds erupting from the Morske Orgulje or ‘Sea Organ’.
Designed by Architect, Nikola Bašić, the Sea Organ is the worlds first and only musical instrument that can be played by the natural waves of the Adriatic Sea. As the ocean crashes against the marble steps of the organ, harmonic notes are played through tubes and holes in the sidewalk so that passers by can hear the calling of the nature.
On one of the days when it had given out bad weather, we climbed the tower in St. Anastasia’s Cathedral and enjoyed a very scenic 360 degree birds-eye view of the city (it was sunny at this point and a really good photo opportunity)! We then headed to Zadar’s Museum of Illusions - which was a fun hour to kill but we actually managed to sneak into the exhibition for free (we were extremely lucky that as we got there the receptionist must have disappeared for a toilet break and left nobody manning the entrance). I honestly wouldn’t have paid the 60 Kuna (about £7pp) they were asking for on the door, it wasn’t worth it. But it was a chuckle and a good way to shelter from the rain.
Food wise, we ate like kings and really enjoyed the fusion of Italian and Croatian dishes that were available in most of the local restaurants. Notably my favourite places to eat were Pet Bunara (Trip Advisors most highly rated Zadar eatery) and a tiny little hidden away restaurant called Konoba Malo Misto - both of which had the best tuna steaks I’ve ever eaten! Potato salad is a very common side dish and came with most of our meals (SO GOOD) - and they leave all the bones in their trout, so you have to take care of the skeleton yourself (I got there after a couple of morbid attempts). All in all, five star.
Plitvice National Park
We booked Plitvice as our first excursion from Zadar city. The coach journey took a couple of hours but the scenic road trip completely eradicated time from your mind. Heading beyond the mountainous landscape, we arrived at the enormous world heritage site with sun in the sky and a day of trekking around it’s 16 terraced lakes and waterfalls. I think I must have said the word ‘wow’ at least 16 times whilst wandering along the wooden pathways and trying to take in my aqueous environment. Really worth the visit and having Marina as our guide was the pinnacle of entertainment - extremely knowledgeable, absolutely hilarious and very talented in her attempt to communicate with all the nationalities that made up our lovely tour group.
On the way back we had a lunch included at a local restaurant where they had two rescued brown bears casually strolling through their back garden! I had never seen a bear before and so after we had finished the yummy meal (trout and potato salad again - but still, very good), everyone ran eagerly outside to see the big ‘baloo’s’ roaming around.
Unfortunately our boat trip to Kornati wasn’t as exciting as we had hoped. It rained ALL DAY. So we spent three hours travelling on a big green ferry to the Islands of Kornati where we stopped off at a deserted Island - which in summer you can swim in and then sunbathe on, so I would highly recommend going there in higher season - but because of the rain we just sort of waddled in circles, took a couple of gloomy looking snaps and then got back on the boat for lunch (trout and potato salad AGAIN. But even better than yesterday). I can see this trip being totally worth it in the heat of the sun, but it’s not something I would suggest doing any later than early September. The rain got significantly heavier and so at the second stop nobody even left the boat! We then spent 3 hours sleeping on the way back.
Krka National Park
Though Plitvice is a much larger park, Krka was my favourite day out as a whole. The winding trails snake through the breathtaking backdrop of epic mountains, roaring rivers and historic mills where you can learn all about the heritage of Krka. I can’t really put into words how much I enjoyed this particular day; it was warm and bright, though not hot or safe enough to swim in the lake once again (apparently if you go in the higher season it’s absolutely swarming with tourists though, so we got round the lake pretty quickly).
The coach there took about an hour and then we had a 20 minute ferry ride through what looked like the Jurassic Park before we reached the Waterfalls! We even witnessed a newly wed couple having their wedding photos professionally taken amongst the hanging foliage and streams. It’s just that lovely.
TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Unfortunately my space to jet off was during October, so I missed out on all the high season sunshine - but with this, managed to ditch the swarming crowds of 6-week-holiday-making tourists, so it wasn’t all bad. However, I felt like we suffered in the cold and rain by not being able to venture into the waters and fully enjoy the outdoors. Being the optimist that I am, I saw that the temperature was going to be between 17 and 19 degrees most days and so assumed ‘yay I can finally wear all my pretty summer dresses’ and packed nothing to cover my legs with. Mistake number one. Mistake number two was packing only one pair of trainers and a whole array of open toe sandals - so I had nothing to wear at night without freezing to death or attempting the Lily Allen look.
- It’s nice to be optimistic, but don’t be naive (learn from my lesson). Pack sensibly and take layers so that you can comfortably enjoy all of the elements. I took a rain mac (a warm one), a lightweight sports jacket and a denim jacket - which were all great, so brownie points for that. However, I only took shorts and summer dresses to wear for both day and night, which rendered me skint after I had to go and buy some jeans from the local fashion stores.
- I bought these jeans from a Mango store and I asked if I could return them if I didn’t wear them (my suitcase was almost over the allowance as it was, so I planned to bring whatever I could back) and I was told I had a month to return them. It turns out what the sales associate meant, is that I could return it for an exchange - apparently refunds are not a thing in Croatia… So you can imagine my horror when I am then told upon returning the items that I have to find something else to switch it to, that I don’t really need, can’t afford and definitely couldn't fit in my luggage.
- Take comfortable footwear and a small rucksack for exploring the national parks! They’re not overly extensive but the flooring can be slippery/muddy so go prepared! But also be ready for some warmth and sunshine. Best of both.
- Take a camera (and batteries) because you’ll just be awestruck at the sights Croatia has to offer.
Zadar has free wifi in the centre of Old Town which you can connect to, which is super handy for Google maps or translator - though everybody we met spoke excellent English.
- Exchange enough money to Kuna before you go, but don’t worry if you run out! The exchange rate was great when we got there, we changed £20 into kuna and could then afford a two course meal and drinks with it.
- The pricing differs; some things are cheap and some things are more expensive whilst others are similar prices to the UK. Generally, everything is on the cheaper side though, so you can haggle some good deals.
- It’s not a must, but I would recommend booking your excursions before you go - it means you have to worry less about money and don’t have to carry it all around with you.
Zadar is a fantastic little getaway destination. Five days would be more than enough time to explore both the city and a couple of national parks - though I would recommend venturing out in the summer so that you can make the most out of the parks by taking a dip in their lakes and lagoons!