Backpacking Lesser-Known Europe: Zadar, Croatia (Part 4)
Everyone’s heard of the common, tourist-bombarded places in Croatia by now. Dubrovnik, where Game of Thrones was famously filmed. Split, where kids on their gap years go to party and simultaneously wreck themselves and the city.
But, Croatia is far more than that.
After Slovenia, I headed to my fourth country on my backpacking lesser-known Europe trip: Croatia. But not just any ol’ tourist-clogged city in Croatia, but a quiet, relaxing, and rewarding one: Zadar.
I desperately wanted to visit a place in Croatia that wasn’t touristy, if I haven’t already made that abundantly clear! But, I wanted to go somewhere on the beach and that had a bit of history.
Zadar fit the bill.
Zadar is the country’s fifth largest city with a population of about 75,000 inhabitants. It’s directly on the Adriatic Sea, supplying the city with fresh seafood and stunning sea views. The city itself is over 3,000 years old and during that extensive existence, it’s been pillaged, devastated, ruined, and yet, persevered through it all to become its now-majestic and unique self.
The morning following my arrival in Zadar, I took a short walk to the Old Town Square. There, I instantly was captivated by Zadar’s charm. Cobblestone streets. Low buildings dating back hundreds of years. Pastel colors on every wall. Windy, twisty, snug alleyways, all of which seemed to somehow lead you from the city walls int other the center: the Old Town Square.
There, I was hypnotized by a couple of landmarks:
Church of St. Danatus
St. Mary’s Church and Monastery
Monument to the Sun
I took about a 20-minute walk down the boardwalk toward the beach areas, specifically to Kolovare Beach. Unfortunately, most beaches in Croatia are rocky, but this one was actually cement! I didn’t have my swimsuit with me, sadly, but I enjoyed a nice drink at a beach bar overlooking the shimmering, turquoise water.
During the evening, I went back to the Old Town Square, where I witnessed the Sea Organ and Monument to the Sun once again. I highly recommend that experience more than in the day! There were far more people and it was really lit up!
I woke up a bit earlier than normal because I really wanted to get some fresh seafood and there is nowhere better to go than to the Zadar Fish Market! It’s situated within the walls of the Old Town itself, which is miraculously not overrun by tourists, but actually frequented by the locals!
While wandering around the small market, I breathed in the salty, fish-scented air, listened to the bargaining all around me in Croatian, and watched fish being weighed, de-boned, bagged, and sold.
Naturally, I had to take part in it!
I wandered up to a random vendor and simply pointed at a fish that I found enticing and that I wanted to have for lunch. Fortunately, he spoke a bit of English and offered to de-bone it for me. Thank god because I most certainly don’t know how to do that!
It wasn’t too expensive or cheap. About $8 for a fish. However, the experience was worth it! And when I actually cooked up and ate that fish for dinner, it was divine and fresh as can be!
During the day, I finally went to the beach, specifically Beach Bar Bamboo. This beach bar offers affordable drinks directly on the water. Who doesn’t love a cold, refreshing cocktail on the beach?!
It wasn’t until nighttime the most exciting thing happened: I watched Croatia play in the semi-finals World Cup on a projector screen in Old Town Square!
The atmosphere there was unlike any other. You could practically breathe the loyalty and love of the Croatian fans in the air. And boy, were there a lot of fans there! The entire square was filled with Croatians and several other foreigners, loudly cheering on the Croatian football club.
And guess what?
I had never experienced a crowd so enthused, genuinely happy, proud, and excited for a football club in my life. And I fell right into their celebrations because how could I not? When in Rome! Er, rather, when in Croatia!
Since I work online and it is my main source of income, I mainly took this day to simply work and earn some extra dough for my backpacking excursion!
After an early morning rise, I went on a boat tour around Kornati National Park with Plavi Val Tour! Kornati National Park is an archipelago in Zadar that contains 89 uninhabited islands, reefs, and islets.
Simply put— the most magnificent and best-kept secret of Croatia.
Here was my itinerary on my tour:
Early morning breakfast shots of questionable, clear alcohol
Levernaka Beach— a white sand beach! A rarity in Croatia
Indulged in a yummy lunch with fresh fish and veggies— and UNLIMITED WINE.
Random island stop
Sali Island stop for a coffee and a dip in the cool, crisp, clear water there
Headed back to Zadar
Honestly, it was an incredible day filled with the warm Croatian sun, satisfying beaches (no pebble, concrete, and rock beaches!!!), good food, stunning natural scenery, and free wine!
Work, work, work. Nothing exciting.
After working yet another full day, I indulged in yet another unique Croatian experience: watching Croatia play in the finals in the World Cup!
I sat myself down in a local bar and watched the game, surrounded by locals, plumes of cigarette smoke, and beer bottles.
…But, unfortunately, the team lost.
I was nervous that while walking around afterwards, there’d be riots in the streets because of their devastating loss. However, their reaction was more surprising than that. I instantly noticed everyone was simply glad and honored to have had their team be in the finals at all.
Their joy still hung in the air, even though their team lost in the finals. And if that doesn’t speak volumes about Croatia, their people, and their devotion, I don’t know what does.
Next stop: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina!