Now here’s a destination you’d be hard pressed to find fault with. Dalmatia, the 375km-long stretch of coastline in the south of Croatia, is an infinitely understated part of the world and offers holidaymakers seemingly endless lists of things to see and do, from lounging around on sun-drenched beaches to exploring Roman ruins, colonial cities, verdant countryside and a network of over a thousand craggy islands. Everyone is guaranteed to get their holiday kicks, whatever they might be.
I spent just under three weeks ambling my way down from Zadar to Dubrovnik and left thinking I’d barely scratched the surface. Wherever I went I didn’t want to leave; it was just so damn difficult. But that’s just me. I was very laid back and hadn’t really researched much on each place I visited, hence why I left feeling rather disillusioned with my pisspoor time-management.
However, an even shorter jaunt along the Dalmatian coastline could make for an unforgettable trip if planned properly. There might not be enough time to see the whole shebang but the relatively short driving distances between the region’s highlights minimizes actual travelling time, meaning you can fit in a lot more than you’d have thought.
Let’s assume a two-week itinerary, and start at the summit of the elongated peninsula, working our way down.
It’s fair to say that until recently Zadar was very much an overlooked city of Dalmatia– for entirely inexplicable reasons. The town is awash with medieval architecture, Roman ruins and shimmering waterfront promenades. And it’s nearly always sunny.
The idyllic location offers tourists the opportunity to explore the town’s historical sites – from Roman ruins through Gothic churches to the famed Venetian high wall – and take advantage of the quiet, sunny beaches to the north. Wander into the old town and you’ll find various pieces of fascinating outdoor artwork to marvel at. Two such examples are The Sea Organ – a huge instrument built into the steps beside the harbor that relies on the power and velocity of the wind and waves to create haunting notes – and The Sun Salutation – a giant solar-powered panel, harnesses the sun’s energy by day and produces an epic light display redolent of the solar system by night.
Further inland are the UNESCO WHS listed Plitivice Lakes, which are technically not part of Dalmatia, but are well worth the visit. The views are breathtaking and it’d be scandalous to leave it out.
The University of Zadar is officially Croatia’s fourth largest and at night it shows. Students pour onto the streets and cram their way into the city’s outdoor cafés, bars and clubs, and will often stay up until dawn. Though the ‘going out’ scene is neither age-divided nor pretentious; all sorts of people get in on the act and together create a thriving, cosmopolitan feel about the place. Maya Pub generally ranks as the city’s best hangout – its combination of Buddhist décor and swirling electro tempi makes for a memorable night out. Summer is generally a lot quieter but during the academic year there is rarely a dull weekend.
Getting to Zadar is fairly cheap and easy, what with Ryanair running regular one-way flights from £20 – £200 during peak season (May–Sept).
If you’ll already be in Croatia then forget trains – it’s either buses or car hire here, and the latter is probably the better option if you intend to visit any of the national parks. Buses are only marginally cheaper in the grand scheme of things and can create unnecessary hassle. Click here for a look at timetables.
Top Hostel: The Drunken Monkey Hostel.
Mixed dorm beds: €20 (£17) per person per night. Read reviews here.
Top Hotel: Hotel Niko.
Standard Double Room: €136 (£126) per night. Read reviews here
Top Apartment: Apartmani Maruna.
Standard double bed private: €15 per person per night. Read reviews here
The sunsets in Zadar are supposedly the best in the world. That’s what legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock said when he visited in 1964 anyhow…
Three days would be plenty for Zadar, though two would suffice if you’re on a tight schedule. Either way, a visit to the Plitivice Lakes is an absolute must.
For those looking for more of an authentic feel to Dalmatian life, then Sibenik would be an ideal place to come considering its relatively unchartered status in the world of tourism. It makes for an ideal day trip, as there isn’t actually very much of it, yet it still offers plenty in the way of intricate achitecture and, like Zadar, is within reasonable driving distance of some pretty epic scenery – the Krka Waterfalls being the most notable example.
Sibinek is also home to the nation’s oldest church, The Cathedral of St. James, which captures the aura of the transitional Gothic-Renaissance period perfectly. The edifice is built entirely from stone and 71 life-sized, sculpted heads stare out from its exterior.
There are also well over 200 islands, islets and reefs in the Sibenik area, which are for the most part uninhabited and barely touched. Locals will take you to one for a bit of cash flashed at the right time. Just be sure that they don’t leave you stranded…
The city of Sibenik itself is very quiet, and unsurprisingly void of an all-hours party atmosphere, but if you’re in town for the night and feeling in the mood then maybe the distinctly louder Vodice to the north will provide more in the way of early-hours excitement.
Sibenik is more or less equidistant of Zadar and Split and is easily reachable by bus and train from both cities. Click here for bus timetables.
Top Hostel: Hostel Indigo.
Mixed dorm bed €15.50 (£13) per person per night. Read reviews here.
Top Hotel: Solaris Hotel Niko.
Double room with A/C and free cancellation: €158 (£133) per night. Read reviews here.
Top Apartment: City Apartments.
3 person apartment in city centre: €59 (£49). Read reviews here.
The ownership of Sibenik has passed between five independently governed domains since its foundation in the 9th century; Croatia to Venice, Venice to Hungary, Hungary back to Venice, Venice to Austria, Austria to Yugoslavia and finally back to an independent Croatia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
You wouldn’t need more than two days in Sibenik if you decide to work it into your itinerary, but overall it is well worth the visit.