Boasting an historic old town of Roman ruins, medieval churches, cosmopolitan cafes and quality museums set on a small peninsula, Zadar is an intriguing city. It’s not too crowded, it’s not overrun with tourists and its two unique attractions – the sound-and-light spectacle of the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation – need to be seen and heard to be believed.
Wedged between the bigger, more attention-grabbing cities of Zadar and Split, this slice of Croatia is often unfairly overlooked. Yet it's loaded with interesting attractions, including the incredible medieval heart of Šibenik and two national parks – the pristine Kornati Islands and the inland watery wonderland of Krka.
Driving through the shabby outskirts of Šibenik you might find yourself questioning your choice of destination. However that is guaranteed to change as soon as you reach the city's magnficent medieval heart, gleaming white against the placid waters of the bay. The stone labyrinth of steep backstreets and alleys are a joy to explore.
Pag is like something you’d find in a 1950s Italian film, perfect for a broody black-and-white Antonioni set – it’s barren, rocky, and sepia coloured, with vast empty landscapes stretching across the horizon. The Adriatic is a steely blue around it and, when the sky is stormy, it’s the most dramatic-looking place in the whole of Croatia.
Historic Pag Town enjoys a spectacular setting, fringing a narrow spit of land between sun-scorched hills, with an azure bay on its eastern flank and shimmering salt pans to its west. It’s an intimate, somewhat shabby collection of narrow lanes and bleak-looking stone houses with pebble beaches close by.
The largest island in the Zadar area, Dugi Otok has a lost-in-time feel, with plenty of relatively untouched natural beauty to enjoy. The name means ‘long island’: stretching from northwest to southeast it's 43km long and just 4km wide. The southeastern coast is marked by steep hills and cliffs, while the northern half is cultivated with vineyards, orchards and sheep pastures.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
The absolute highlight of Croatia's Adriatic hinterland, this glorious expanse of forested hills and turquoise lakes is excruciatingly scenic – so much so that in 1979 Unesco proclaimed it a World Heritage Site. The extraordinary natural beauty of the park merits a full day's exploration, but you can still experience a lot on a half-day trip from Zadar or Zagreb.
Krka National Park
Stretching from the western foot of the Dinaric Range into the sea near Šibenik, the 73km Krka River and its wonderful waterfalls define the landscape of Krka National Park. The waterfalls are a karstic phenomenon: over millennia river water has created a canyon up to 200m deep through limestone hills, bringing calcium carbonate with it.
The southeastern tip of Dugi Otok is split in two by the deeply indented Telašćica Bay, dotted with five small islands and five even tinier islets. With superb sheltered azure waters, it's one of the largest, most beautiful and least spoilt natural harbours in the Adriatic. It’s very popular with yachties.
Composed of 147 mostly uninhabited islands, islets and reefs covering 69 sq km, the Kornatis are the largest and densest archipelago in the Adriatic. Due to its typically karstic terrain, the islands are riddled with cracks, caves, grottoes and rugged cliffs. Since there are no sources of fresh water they are mostly barren, sometimes with a light covering of grass.