When I was planning the Croatia trip, I came up against this question – should we stay in Zadar or Split? And it took me a little while to decide. Eventually, based on distance I went with Zadar as it was more of a logically place to stop when driving up from Dubrovnik with the aim of Zagreb. However, luckily we did end up having some time to spend half a day in Split anyway – so now I can safely compare the two and provide some good advice for when you are planning your trip!
We jumped in the hire car and headed up to Split, only a couple of hours on a little winding road right by the coast so you could see the bright blue water lapping up. I was surprised by Split, once we had headed off the main road, the way through started to get more and more built up, even with a few high rises on the way in. This was a stark contrast to Dubrovnik where we had just been. In general, I found Split a lot more urban and ‘touristy’ than other places I had been – almost like one of those places where you could come just to sit on a beach all week and not actually get any of the culture.
That said, once we got into the old town – the history there was awesome. We did a little self guided walking tour using a guide we found online, and I loved all the Roman ruins which were about. There were some gorgeous views and some idyllic looking beaches, the water is a pretty ideal temperature in Croatia. I definitely enjoyed having a little wander about.
In general, I’d say if you’re only going to one place in Croatia, then Split is a good bet – there is a lot to do and it is a gateway to a lot of the islands, and to see some of the interior nearby, including Bosnia. If you are travelling throughout the country like us, then it is worth a stop, but I did prefer spending more time elsewhere.
After a day wandering around Split, we jumped back in the car and headed up to Zadar. The road here transformed into a giant double carriageway, it was a toll road which literally meant there was no one on it. We got their in record time and didn’t even need to stop once. We decided to stay at a little place outside the centre called Lavandula, which was lovely – plus it was next to a giant Croatian supermarket so finally gave me time to explore, which is my fave (the wine is a total bargain).
Once in Zadar, we wanted to keep it chilled a bit, and take some time out after a very busy time in Dubrovnik. Zadar has a few small beaches, along with some beach front bars, and a large old town, full of ruins and churches throughout. I loved wandering through the old town itself, there is a lot of history there and a lot to see. The Old town itself backs onto an island bay and in the evenings we sat by the Greetings to the Sun which is a light show that charges through the day, and listened to the sea organ nearby. It was pretty idyllic and one of my best memories of Croatia of sitting and watching the sunset (like the snap at the top of this post).
It was also full of awesome eateries – Croatia in general is great for food but in Zadar I definitely dined! From giant pizzas covered in a huge array of toppings, to traditional grilled squid, to seafood pasta chocked full of mussels and cockles. Honestly, so good. The wine is also pretty top notch – everywhere I went I asked for a recommendation from the waiter and they never did me wrong. I’ve been on the look out for Croatian wine ever since. Most of the restaurants here, you can wander up and get a table, but I do recommend booking (many you can do online) as then it pretty much guarantees you a great table and view!
Other than eating and wandering, the rest of our time in Zadar was spent sitting with a drink, reading Harry Potter and staring out at the beach. Pretty awesome. I’d recommend staying in Zadar if you are looking for something a bit more chilled and relaxed – if you were there for days full of packed activities then it definitely wouldn’t keep you busy for long.
So there we go, both destinations offer different things – if you want lots of things to see and do, with a side of tourism, Split is the way to go, if you want chilled, local and relaxed then Zadar is a good bet. Or really, you could do both like us and get the best of both worlds! (Make sure you check out my itinerary post for our full trip details and route!).
Next up, Plitvice National Park, another amazing spot in Croatia, full of waterfalls and sunshine.
Tell me, what do you think of Zadar or Split? Which do you prefer the sound of?