If you’re dreaming of a holiday like no other, then look no further than Croatia’s sun-drenched Zadar region. A jewel of the Dalmatian coast, the centre of the region is the city of Zadar, a historic haven that’s heaving with authentic taverns, ancient sites, museums, modern art, boutique hotels and family-friendly resorts.
Don’t miss two incredible art installations on the city’s waterfront – The Sea Organ, an outdoor instrument that creates music using the crashing of the waves, and The Greeting to the Sun, a circular monument that displays an enchanting light show each night. Not only that, but the vivid colours of a Zadar sunset will stay in your mind forever.
And beyond the magical city of Zadar, there’s even more fun to be had – here we reveal four dazzling destinations in the Zadar region that should make your holiday bucket list this summer. From the golden shores of the Nin Riviera and the island of Pag to the outdoor adventures that await in the Biograd Riviera and the Paklenica Riviera, each is unique in its own way, with majestic mountains, wildlife-filled nature parks, cycling trails and more to discover against the backdrop of the aquamarine sea.
Croatia’s fabulous Zadar region offers everything you could ever want from a summer holiday
The city of Zadar is brimming with boutique hotels and family-friendly resorts
The Biograd Riviera: Where nature parks and theme parks collide
Adventures begin in the Biograd Riviera, a charming resort on the Adriatic coast that’s dotted with verdant nature parks, captivating wildlife, and beaches that holidaymakers of all ages will adore.
Families should make a beeline for Fun Park Beograd. The largest theme park in Croatia, it has thrilling rides themed around space, pirates and the Wild West, as well as brilliant live performances from magicians, jugglers, circus performers and stand-up comedians.
For an adrenalin kick in the great outdoors, take a bike ride to the Vrana Lake Nature Park, a unique wetland that lies right on the coast. There you’ll discover the largest natural lake in Croatia, Vrana Lake, which is home to over 200 species of birds – pack a picnic and while away an afternoon birdwatching by the water’s edge.
The Biograd Riviera has a lot to offer thrill-seekers, from Fun Park Beograd to adventures in the great outdoors
If dizzying heights are your thing, hike to the highest peak in the nature park – Kamenjak. Once you reach the summit, you can drink in mesmerising views of Vrana Lake and the glittering sea beyond.
Sailors are in for a treat too. Take advantage of the light sea current and rent a sailboat with or without a skipper on one of the Biograd Riviera’s many marinas or from a charter company.
Keep your eyes peeled as the boat glides along – you may spot a dolphin jumping from the water.
Or climb aboard an excursion boat and visit one of the many islands nearby – one hidden gem is the stunning Telašćica nature park, home to the secluded beaches and dramatic cliffs, on the isle of Dugi Otok.
A visit is sure to make your holiday all the more magical.
Golden tip: Fancy a romantic getaway? Not far from the Biograd Riviera, you’ll discover a unique heart-shaped island known as Galešnjak. Play cupid and rent a boat to explore the uninhabited natural wonder. It’s important to note that there’s no infrastructure on the island, so come prepared.
The Nin Riviera: A hot spot for watersports and beautiful beaches
Between lounging on miles of sunkissed sand, exploring fascinating historic sites and immersing yourself in adventure watersports, you’ll be spoilt for choice for things to do on a visit to the Nin Riviera.
Its centre is historic Nin, famed as Croatia’s oldest royal town. Make like the royals and stroll along ‘Queen’s Beach’, also known as Kraljičina beach, which is a short distance from the town, and, at 3km (1.8miles) long, has been crowned the country’s longest sandy beach.
Dip your toes in the shallow and warm water of the Nin lagoon, or lay down your towels, buckets and spades on the Bilotinjak and Ždrijac beaches, which are popular among families with young children.
Go off the beaten track and discover the heavenly hidden beaches in the town of Vrsi. When you’ve had your fill of balmy Mediterranean sunshine, head to Vrsi’s Buffalo Bill City. Guaranteed to keep the little ones entertained, the quirky amusement park is a replica of a cowboy town in the wild west, with a saloon, a jail and a sheriff’s station.
Immerse yourself in adventure watersports in the crystal-clear waters of the Nin Riviera
Feeling sporty? Embrace the warm breeze and go windsurfing, kitesurfing or stand-up paddleboarding in the Nin lagoon.
Or take a kayak tour to the holiday resort of Zaton, where adventure awaits – the resort’s campsite is jampacked with activities for children, with playgrounds, swimming pools, and a mini-golf course vying for their attention.
History lovers will be in their element too. Head on a bike ride to the mini-church of St. Nikola – the adorable 12th-century structure measures just 5.9m (19ft) long and 5.7m (18ft) wide.
Next, peddle to The Church of the Holy Cross, a building that’s fondly referred to as ‘The Smallest Cathedral in the World’ (though it’s not technically a cathedral).
Worked up an appetite? Stop off in Privlaka, a quaint town with a rich fishing tradition. Find out what is the catch of the day and feast on some fresh seafood.
Or tuck into ‘šokol’ – a special local cured meat delicacy that’s whipped up by locals using secret family recipes, spiced with pepper, cloves and nutmeg.
It’ll be a delicious end to an unforgettable trip.
Golden tip: Salt has been produced on the Nin Riviera since Roman times, and it continues to be a wonderful part of its culture today. Head to the Museum of Salt or enjoy a guided tour around the Nin Saltworks and try the ‘flower of salt’ – a delicacy that is sometimes referred to as the ‘salt caviar’.
The island of Pag: An other-worldly land of culture and outdoor pursuits
With its surreal lunar landscape and wealth of hiking and biking trails, there’s no place on earth like the island of Pag.
Reminiscent of the surface of the moon, the island is splashed with hidden coves and unusual rock patterns, shaped by centuries of exposure to the ‘bora’ wind. Head on the ‘Life on Mars’ walking tour of the island and feel like an astronaut as you explore this incredible rocky terrain.
There are hiking trails across the island for all levels of ability, from light walks to more difficult climbs. Like a challenge? Trek to the highest peak of the island, Sveti Vid, and you’ll be rewarded with an extraordinary view of Pag’s neighbouring isles.
For a brilliant solo adventure or a day trip for all the family, rent a bike and explore Pag as you peddle. When you feel like a break, stop off at the pretty village of Kolan or stretch out on the beach and unwind at Povljana.
Try mouth-watering local delicacies like ‘Pag cheese’ on the enchanting island of Pag
For adventure on the water, kayak through Pag Bay, passing by an assortment of inviting sandy and pebble beaches along the way. To see the island from a height, experienced climbers can tackle the Stogaj climb site, where an incredible rock tower rises into the sky.
Hungry? Indulge in some of the island’s ‘Pag cheese’. A mouth-watering delicacy, the sheep-milk cheese tends to be hard, with its distinctive flavour coming from the salt-sprinkled herbs that the local sheep graze on.
A guided tour of one of the island’s local cheese dairies, such as the Gligora Dairy, will make the experience all the tastier.
When your appetite is sated, set off for the town of Pag to learn about the history of Pag lace. The UNESCO-protected textile stems back to the 15th century, when the nuns of the local Benedictine monastery mastered the craft of fine-thread ornamental lacemaking.
Pick a piece of lace of your own to take home – it makes for a beautiful souvenir by which to remember this beautiful place.
Golden tip: Pag cheese isn’t the only local delicacy that will set your tastebuds alight. Make sure to try ‘Pag lamb’ – tender and delicate, it’s a rare treat that locals save for special occasions.
The Paklenica Riviera: Adventure between the mountains and the coast
Nestled between the Velebit mountains and the sea, the Paklenica Riviera is a land that’s built for adventure, offering everything from towering peaks to echoing underground caverns.
Ease yourself into the adventure by lapping up the sun on the picturesque beaches by the town of Starigrad.
From here, head for the Paklenica National Park, a spectacular landscape that’s chockablock with mountain trails – in fact, there’s 150km (93miles) worth of hiking routes to choose from. Climb in the shadow of the highest peaks of the Velebit mountain range – Vaganski Vrh and Sveto Brdo, which scale to over 1,750m (5,741ft) in height.
From the mountaintops, you’ll enjoy stellar views of another natural wonder – the river Zrmanja, which cuts through the enchanting town of Obrovac.
Tucked between the mountains and the sea, the Paklenica Riviera is a land that’s built for adventure
Spend a day kayaking or rafting along the emerald river and float by the walls of the Zrmanja canyon. It’s not the only amazing river canyon in the area – kayak through the canyon of Velika Paklenica and you’ll be greeted by similarly breathtaking scenery.
Peek into the underground world of the Modrič cave in Jasenice, and you’ll see yawning underground chambers sprinkled with stalactites and stalagmites.
Set off on a jeep safari around the Paklenica Riviera, whizzing past the magnificent limestone ridges and peaks of Tulove Grede – a popular climb site – along the way.
For thrills of a different kind, visit a former dungeon in Novigrad – the fascinating ruin of the hilltop Fortica fortress.
Then wander the winding streets of Novigrad. Once famed as a source of pearls, today the charming town, which hugs the Novigrad Sea, is better known for fishing mussels and clams. Take a seat in a restaurant, order a portion of steaming mussels, and watch the world go by.
It will be the cherry on top of an amazing trip.
Golden tip: Make sure to sample the moreish local prosciutto in the seaside towns of Ražanac or Posedarje – your tastebuds will thank you.