Narrow lanes of white limestone made smooth from the passage of feet over lifetimes; sunset views over islands in the Adriatic; garlic and figs strung up prettily in the marketplace; ancient churches lit up against the night sky: the city of Zadar packs plenty of gorgeous images for its size. Our pick of the best places to stay in Zadar would have to be in the historic centre.
Zadar's old town, with its Roman ruins and medieval era churches, sits on a peninsula about half a kilometre long, surrounded by Venetian walls. Both beautiful and historic, Zadar is a wonderful city, with just the right amount of buzz.
At the moment Zadar isn't a huge tourist destination - which is a good thing! But it does mean that there isn't a huge choice when it comes to accommodation in the centre of town. There's plenty in leafy Borik, though, and this is one of the best places to stay in Zadar anyway, as you've good access to the city and resort-like surrounds.
Zadar's mix of architecture - from Roman ruins to Habsburg elegance, and some great modern additions, means it's no Dubrovnik. But who needs another Dubrovnik! Each phase of Zadar's history has left a mark. Churches, cathedrals and museums are all within a few minutes walk of the centre of town, where there's a wide square - once the Roman forum.
Here local women sit on the Roman walls displaying hand-made lace tablecloths, and stalls sell decorated earthenware plates. Near the quay, where fishing boats still dock, is the busy, colourful market selling fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, cheer, Zadar's famous ham, and other local produce.
As well as the ancient buildings, there are some interesting modern structures to see. The bridge connecting old and new Zadar was destroyed in the post-Yugoslavia conflict and there's a new one designed with lighting so that people crossing it at night are silhouetted, forming a moving art work.
At the seaward end of town is a unique musical instrument, a sea organ. Visitors and locals sit on white marble steps by the water and listen as waves generate sounds in a series of pipes and resonating chambers, producing natural music blending with the views of sea and sky.
The stone-paved streets and ancient squares of Zadar are mostly pedestrianised. Exploring the old town on foot is easy and you are always near a pavement cafe for coffee, beer or food, including rolls made with the famous local ham.
There are plenty of restaurants and these tend to serve freshly cooked local food, especially seafood, and are quite reasonably priced. At the end of the day it's worth being on the promenade as it faces west and gives a great view of the sun setting over the sea and the nearby islands. Our pick of the best places to stay in Zadar is ideally situated to make the most of both the culture and night life.
A good four star option a few minutes from Zadar's old town. Traditional elegant rooms, some sleep up to 4, with subtle lighting, rich fabrics, and wallpapered walls. Excellent restaurant and terrace, spa and business room. A good choice for any traveller.
Petrčane, Dalmatian Coast
A fabulous contemporary spa hotel on the Petrcane peninsula. Panoramic ocean views, a state of the art spa covering two floors, fantastic Dalmatian cuisine, and charming nautical themed rooms and suites with all the mod cons. A sophisticated choice for a spa and beach holiday, family friendly too.