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Road trip north along Croatia’s coastal highway to Šibenik and Zadar

Posted on April 4, 2010 at 2:14pm Madrid / 8:14am Cincinnati by Kelly Larbes

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I have never been a big fan of road trips or going on drives just for the sake of looking out the window. I have always wanted to get where I was going – where I’d do something fun and active. Jay’s parents enjoy them, my parents enjoy them, and my mom used to take my Granny on drives, so I figured it was just an old folks thing, but I’ve changed my mind (maybe that means I am getting old). I think I just needed an interesting route.

Last Saturday Jay and I rented a car and drove north along Croatia’s coastal road, Route 8, to visit Šibenik and Zadar. The day-trip was a last minute Friday decision and I had no expectations for the day or the drive. Both Šibenik and Zadar were quintessentially quaint and cute. I particularly enjoyed Zadar, but the drive ended up being my favorite part of the day. The morning started out cloudy, and, at first, I was second guessing our decision for a road trip, but after about 30 minutes (and three signs warning us to watch out for wild pigs), the sun broke through and the rest of the day was perfect with just a few puffy clouds and lots of sunshine.

Road sign telling drivers to watch out for wild pigsView of the Adriatic Sea along Route 8

Before the new high-speed A-1 highway was completed in 2005, Route 8 was the main passage through Croatia. The new A-1 highway cut the driving time from Split to Zagreb in half, from about eight hours to four hours. The A-1 is convenient and necessary, but not pretty. Route 8 weaves all along Croatia’s coast offering great views of some of Croatia’s 1200 islands and its sparkling turquoise sea. We took our time, stopped for photos, and enjoyed the seascape. One of my favorite sights was the town of Primošten stacked high on a small peninsula in the sea.

Around noon we stopped in the town of Šibenik. We walked through its old tiny alleyway streets and visited the pretty cathedral. There was a beautiful ray of sunlight cast through one of the high windows giving the cathedral interior a beautiful glow. We bought sandwich fixings at the grocery store and ate a picnic lunch on a bench by the sea before heading on to Zadar.

Jay standing on a rock in front of Sibenik's CathedralRay of sunlight inside Sibenik's Cathedral

We arrived in Zadar mid-afternoon. With our stops, the journey had taken about four and a half hours. We headed first to the Zadar’s Sea Organ. The Sea Organ is an architectural musical instrument. It plays music with sea waves and tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps descending into the sea. (It looks kind of like a miniature Serpentine Wall for those of you reading in Cincinnati.) The waves create somewhat random but beautiful sounds. The sea was mostly calm that day so the sounds were slow and harmonic. A boat came by purposefully shooting its wake into the wall showing off the powerful sounds the experimental organ could make. We laid on the steps enjoying the music and fell asleep for a short half hour nap (somehow driving and doing nothing can really wear you out). When we awoke, we found we had started a trend and there were five other people napping too.

We spent the next hour walking around town, seeing old churches and a few old Roman ruins, and watching a lovely dark sunset. Supposedly Alfred Hitchcock visited Zadar and said it had the most beautiful sunsets in all the world (and there were sign all around town reminding us of this).

Kelly napping on Zadar's Sea OrganSunset at Zadar

After dinner at a local trattoria, we visited Zadar’s other highlight attraction, the Greeting to the Sun (built by Nikola Bašic, the same architect as the Sea Organ). The Greeting to the Sun is an art installation consisting of 300 glass solar plates built into the sea walkway. The plates are in the shape of a circle, representing the sun, and measures 72 feet in diameter. They absorb solar energy from the day and turn it into a unique lighting spectacle at night. Jay and I walked over the installation and laughed as our faces and clothes would light up like the different color beneath us. It was a beautiful piece of art and I took so many photos that Jay abandoned me to get the car as I experimented with light and movement and my basic point-and-shoot camera.

Zadar's Greeting to the SunJay lit up by Zadar's Greeting to the Sun

The two hour drive home along the A-1 highway seemed quick after the slow drive up the coast. We broke the monotony by trying to teach me to drive a stick-shift in a large gas station parking lot on the side of the highway. It was my second attempt behind the wheel of a manual car (the first was New Years weekend on the way to Ljubljana). After stalling out a few times, I got the hang of it, but I am still not confident enough to want to drive out on the real road. I was just happy to get the car started. Maybe next time I’ll try for going in reverse and making it into third gear.

Click here to view more of our photos from our day trip to Šibenik and Zadar.

Click here for a YouTube video of Zadar’s Sea Organ.

Click here for a YouTube video of Zadar’s Greeting to the Sun.

2 Reader Comments to “Road trip north along Croatia’s coastal highway to Šibenik and Zadar”

  1. Stuart on April 6, 2010 at 9:49pm Split / 3:49pm Cincinnati


    I’m heading to Croatia in June and will be in Split for a few days. I was thinking of taking a similar trip as this one and wondered if you can you recommend a good/reasonably priced car hire place in the city?

    Really enjoy reading your blog by the way.


  2. Jay Larbes on April 8, 2010 at 9:12pm Split / 3:12pm Cincinnati

    Hi Stuart — thanks for reading!

    We have found that Matejuska Rent-A-Car gives us the best prices. You can reach them by phone at 098 598 711 or by email at matejuskarent@inet.hr. And they have always actually replied to our emails — that doesn’t always happen here :). We have only rented in off-season, but have paid 280-300 kuna (around 40 euros) per day for a compact car, and they were kind enough to include a GPS unit in that price.

    All of the major car rental agencies are in town as well. Some of our friends have had success finding good rates online and then phoning the local branch to get them to honor the online price.

    Good luck to you, and enjoy your time in Croatia – let us know if you have other questions!

    We have also heard to check online and some of the car rentals will match