City guide: Zadar

City guide: ZadarCroatia Tourist Board

Known as Croatia's festival capital, it's not yet deluged with tourists like Dubrovnik in the south, but with Ryanair flights during the summer months, it's not so far off the beaten track that it's impossible to reach for a week's holiday or city break weekend.

Surrounded by five national parks, there's the Dalmatian coast and the Old Town to explore as well as live music and art - before you go, here's our pick of the best.

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City break guide: Zadar
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City guide: Zadar

Eva and Tony may have had their own private yacht to sleep on but if you can't quite stretch to that, the boutique 4 star Hotel Bastion is built on the remains of a 13th century fortress in the Old Town.

The hotel's restaurant looks out to the sea, and there's also a spa with saunas, relaxation zones as well as a variety of treatments. Doubles cost from around £115 per night. hotel-bastion.hr

Head to the modern Riva, or waterfront, to listen to the world's only Sea Organ, which uses the movement of the sea to push air through a system of pipes and whistles creating a hypnotic melody. You can swim while listening to the haunting music, or just enjoy it at sunset. Alfred Hitchcock said the sunsets in Zadar were better than those in California.

Dreamt up by visionary local architect Nikola Bai, nearby you also can enjoy his creation, The Greeting to the Sun, a circle of multi-layered glass plates which store daytime solar energy and throw the light back up into the evening sky at night.

Almost completely surrounded by water, Zadar's red tiled roofs contrast with the shimmering blue of the Adriatic, so for one of the best views out across the city to the nearby islands, head to St Anastasia's cathedral, where you get a fabulous panorama from the 15th century bell tower.

The Romanesque cathedral itself is the biggest in Dalmatia, dating to the 12th century, although some of the oldest parts were constructed in early Christian times. There's 700-year-old carvings on the portals, so don't miss these on your way up.

Pay a visit to the Arsenal, the city's former 18th century armoury, which has now become an arts centre. You can stop in for a drink and something to eat, and there's also live music, regular exhibitions and performing arts during the day and evening.

With craft, design, classic and modern shows, you're likely to find something to enjoy, and there's shops dotted around as well, including Croatian fashion, if the art doesn't tempt you. It's open every day, so check online to see the upcoming events.

Start at St Donatus church, to explore Zadar's historic Old Town. Built over the old Roman forum in the 9th century in Byzantine style, you can still see the older fragments from the 1st century BC, with two complete pillars and Latin inscriptions on former Roman sacrificial altars.

As you wander the winding alleys of the Old Town, you'll pass the Franciscan monastery near the Cathedral, and a string of churches. There are 70 historic religious buildings and cultural monuments in the historic centre.

For more background to the city, stop in the National Museum to check out the scale models of Zadar from different periods, with entry costing around £1, as well as Roman relics in the Archaeological Museum. Entry costs around £1.50. 

With fabulous fish straight from the Adriatic, you'll get some wonderfully fresh dishes, but  Croatia's trading history means it's been influenced by other cultures as well, including Italian food from Venice.

For a taste of both, head to Niko (Obala Kneza Domagoja 9), which is a favourite with locals as well. Grab a table on the terrace overlooking the sea for woodfire-grilled fish with olive oil, green tagliatelle scampi and their famous tiramisu.

Whether you want views, music or cocktails, it's hard to beat The Garden. Developed as an off-shoot of the increasingly popular Garden Festival, which takes place in July, drawing DJs from far and wide, the bar and club itself has a huge terrace with views over the city and the harbour.

Walk in through the tree tunnel entrance, and chill out on one of the beds or sofas, and enjoy the live music. Or for something a bit more intimate, there's three cabanas which each have private service, to feel just that bit more VIP.

If you go home with just one souvenir, make it Maraska, Zadar's own version of Maraschino liquor which has been distilled here since the 16th century, While Alfred Hitchcock wasn't admiring the sunset on his visit, he was a fan of the drink too.

Or head to Gallery Pia (Madijevaca 9, +385 2325 1460), which exhibits bags, paintings and ceramics by local artists. And Syudio Lik (Don Ive Prodana 7, +385 9827 3473) is perfect if you're looking for traditional crafts, including hand-made lace, woven textiles from Dubrovnik and glass.

You're close to five of Croatia's eight national parks, but make your priority the spectacular remote landscape of the Kornati National Park - an archipelago made up of 140 islands and islets scattered in turquoise waters. George Bernard Shaw suggested, 'On the last day of the creation, God desired to crown His work, and thus created the Kornati islands out of tears, stars and breath.' Quite a write up!

Or the Krka National Park is home to Croatia's famous plunging waterfalls, where you can also swim in the crystal clear river.

Ryanair has run a seasonal route from London Stansted to Zadar over the past few years, and is expected to continue into 2011, although this has not yet been confirmed.

You can also fly with Croatia Airlines from Gatwick to Split, and drive to Zadar. By car, it takes around two hours or a direct hourly bus takes around three and a half hours. Croatia Airlines also flies to Zadar via Zagreb. Return flights for both routes cost from around £135 including tax.

British nationals do not need a visa if your visit is for less than three months. You are recommended to carry your passport in Croatia as you must be able to show some form of identification if required.

The Garden Festival is due to take place on July 6, 2011, while The International Festival of New Theatre and Performing Arts takes place in August, both drawing international big names to the city.

For more information on Zadar, visit tz-zadar.hr or contact the Croatian National Tourist Office in London on 020 8563 7979 or croatia.hr.

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