The craggy Dalmatian Coast, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, is a treasure trove of sea resorts and dramatic scenery where mountains meet water. Cruise ship ports offer access to beaches, parks, offshore islands, tours for soft adventure and insights into the cultures of the western Balkan Peninsula.
Most travelers have heard of Croatia's famous Dalmatian port of Dubrovnik, which appears on many cruise-ship itineraries between Venice and Athens. Not nearly as many cruisers have spent a day in Zadar.
Zadar is a treasure trove of ruins and old churches that sit in the middle of a pleasant, comfortable, working city. It's an easy city to explore, only a short walk from the cruise-ship dock to the city center. Streets in the Old Town are clean, and its historic sites are intriguing reminders of Zadar's tumultuous past.
Yes, this city has suffered. It started when the Romans decided they wanted Zadar, which resulted in 200 years of warfare to subdue the locals, back in the 1st century B.C. The Venetians later conquered Zadar several times, but the town kept throwing them out, only to fall to the Austrians. The Italians again ruled Zadar, followed by the French and then the Nazis during World War II, which meant bombs from the West until the Germans and much of Zadar were destroyed. The city then became part of Yugoslavia until that government fell apart. The city was shelled by Serbian forces from 1991 to 1993, cutting Zadar off from help from the mainland. The city remained in precarious shape until 1995. Today, the area has an energetic atmosphere, especially thanks to the young people of the local college.
For visitors, Zadar offers two special places: a sea organ that plays music from the mastery of the wind and the waves, and the outdoor Forum Bar, where you may sip, sup and 'tsup -- that's checking in with your friends by cell phone to find out what's up -- as you sit in the ruins of a real Roman Forum in the shadows of a 9th-century church.