One weekend in May, the Croatian city of Zadar hosts the Zadar Outdoor Festival (ZOF). Although a relatively small area, the Zadar region has a natural landscape that is perfect for a variety of outdoor adventures. The Adriatic Sea offers opportunities for swimming, kayaking, SUPing, and sailing, while the rugged terrain delivers exceptional hiking and cycling trails. The goal is to get people active and encourage a healthy lifestyle by organizing a fun weekend full of sports and outdoor activity.
We participated in the festival and got a first-hand look at many of the activities and workshops. Those looking to take part in the event will learn everything they need to know in this insider guide to the ZOF.
Professionals and Novices Are Both Welcome
Athletes who have a competitive spirit should know that the majority of the events are organized as a race, with medals and prizes awarded to the winners. However, those just looking for some outdoor time can come out with the goal to simply have fun.
The events are challenging enough for professional athletes, but are still accessible for the everyday outdoor enthusiast. For example, this year’s hiking trail had two routes: a shorter 8,7 kilometer route and a longer 20,6 kilometer route. Competitive trail runners could compete with fellow athletes in the more extreme race, while families can take their time enjoying a day of hiking.
Sailing Must Be Experienced in Zadar
Zadar’s numerous islands and bays make it a great destination to explore by yacht. During the ZOF, both new and experienced sailors can participate in the sailing regatta. If you are new to sailing, participants are provided with a sailing yacht and a knowledgeable captain that can show you the ropes. The route takes teams through the Zadar Channel, with views of Zadar and the islands of Pasman and Ugljan.
The most exciting part of the sailing regatta is right before the start of the race, when all the yachts are circling one another, with the sails wide open. Everyone waits for the horn to blow and for the race to commence!
If racing isn’t your thing, you can still charter a yacht to explore the islands of Zadar and the Kornati National Park archipelagos. There are over 300 islands, islets, and rocky coves in the surrounding area, so it’s easy to find a remote place to hide for the day. Your captain will know the region and will be able to take you to all of the best marinas, beaches, and swimming spots.
Come For an Adrenaline Rush or to Find Zen
Those that love a thrill may want to participate in some of the festival’s more adrenaline-inducing workshops. Throughout the weekend, there are opportunities for slacklining and parkour led by experts in each sport.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the ZOF is that you can experience a thrill, while still being safe. For example, during one particular workshop, slacklines are purposely ran a few meters above the water. This way, newbies can confidentially experiment with their balance knowing full-well that they will merely fall into the sea.
One of the most spectacular ZOF activities is the slackline highline event. There are few places in the world where you could practice tightrope walking over such an amazing site! High above the Roman Forum, the slackline organizers set up the highline right through the Zadar Square.
Remember, the slackline workshops are open to people of all ability levels, so many of these brave folks haven’t mastered making it from one side to the other successfully yet. This makes the highline slackline very exciting to watch. So even if you aren’t brave enough to take advantage of tightrope walking over one of Croatia’s most historic squares, be sure to grab a chair at a cafe bar to watch the dramatic events unfold directly above you.
If weekends are your time to decompress, the ZOF also has opportunities to find your Zen. Yoga Studio Leela hosts workshops where yogis can check out Budokan yoga. This style of yoga practice offers a full-body workout by combining martial arts movements, the strength of calisthenics, the fluidity of yoga, and the playfulness of animal movement. There are also weekend Vinyasa Flow and meditation classes.
Another more laid-back option is to participate in the SUP classes to learn the basics of stand-up paddle boarding. Following the instruction, families can race around in an easy course in the quiet city center marina.
Stay in the Zadar City Center
To be in close to all the action, participants should stay in the heart of the city center. The majority of ZOF events take place within a few minute’s walk from the Zadar Forum. There is some downtime between events, so it’s nice to have the opportunity to return back to your accommodations to rest, freshen up, or to unwind with a cool drink.
We stayed in a freshly remodeled apartment right in the middle of Zadar’s city center. It has a lovely balcony which overlooks swaying palm trees and a cozy, cobblestone street. It had a great central location in close proximity to public transportation, the sea, and all major attractions.
Extend Your Stay to Enjoy More of the Zadar Region
Only 3-nautical miles from Zadar, Marina Preko is the gateway port to explore the island of Ugljan. This island really has something special that sets it apart from the nearby islands. Maybe it’s the charming ambiance, the shallow sandy beach (unusual for Croatia), or that mass tourism simply hasn’t ruined it yet.
Just beyond Marina Preko, visitors can rent bikes if you’d like to explore more of the island. Ugljan is easily reached from an easy, $3 USD ferry ride from mainland Zadar.
The Zadar Outdoor Festival Is Family Friendly
One of the most positive aspects of the ZOF weekend is that many of the events are family friendly. In fact, we joked that many children performed better than we did! The ZOF offers a great opportunity for parents to model healthy, active lifestyle choices. In fact, Croatian Olympian alpine ski racer Ivica Kostelić brought his family along to compete in some ZOF races, with his little one in tow!
Children are also encouraged to join in on the fun with events specifically organized with kids in mind:
- Parkour for Children
- Family SUP Race
- SUP School for Everybody.
Additionally, you can email event organizers at [email protected]