Zadar surprised and thrilled us with its beauty and charm. We spent one long and active day taking in the many sights in Zadar, and wished we had allocated a couple more days to just relax and savor beautiful Old Town Zadar. Read on to discover the best things to do in Zadar!
Zadar is the second largest city in Dalmatia, the coastal region of Croatia. It is also one of the oldest cities in Croatia, with a long and rich history. With beautiful Romanesque architecture, a picturesque location on the Adriatic Sea, and a lively Old Town, Zadar will captivate you.
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN ZADAR
Surrounded by the sea on three sides, Zadar’s Old Town is compact and packed with treasures, both old and new. If you have just one day to explore the Old Town, as we did, start early!
Zadar is also within day trip range of multiple national parks, several beautiful islands, and lovely beaches. If you spend 3 or 4 nights in Zadar, you can explore the surroundings during the day, and enjoy Old Town Zadar in the evenings, for the best of all worlds. We spent 3 nights in Zadar, but did day trips on 2 out of our 3 days here.
Here are the 16 best things to do in Zadar in one day!
#1 Hear the harmonies of the Sea Organ
One of Zadar’s most popular tourist attractions is not very old, and it lies along the seafront just behind the Old Town. The Sea Organ (Morske orgulje in Croatian) is an ingenious underground system of tubes that harnesses the wind and the waves to play lovely deep musical notes.
Designed by architect Nikola Bašić, the Sea Organ opened in 2005. And since then, it has drawn both residents and visitors, who flock to the spot in the evenings to enjoy the famous Zadar sunsets while listening to the music made by the organ.
Covering the pipes is a series of marble steps, perfect for sitting down to enjoy the performance. For the best harmonies, visit when the wind is up and the waves are high. Passing boats can also trigger the music, because of the waves left in their wake.
In the evenings, the steps are generally crowded, so if you wish to relax in relative quiet, pick another time of day. But evenings are a fun time to visit if you enjoy people watching or wish to enjoy the sunset over the water.
Zadar’s sunsets are reason enough to stroll to the waterfront in the evening: they are said to have impressed the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, who reportedly claimed they were the best sunsets in the world.
#2 Marvel at the Greeting to the Sun
After the sun sets, walk over to the Monument to the Sun (Pozdrav suncu in Croatian), just a few steps over on the waterfront, to enjoy another fascinating show! Designed by the same architect that designed the Sea Organ, the Greeting to the Sun is a light show powered by solar energy.
You’ll see glass panels placed inside a large circle (representing the sun) on the pavement, with lighting elements underneath. Smaller circles representing the planets lead away from the large circle.
The panels absorb energy from the sun during the day, and when it’s time for the show, the lights powered by the panels come on, creating magic! To grab a spot along the periphery, walk over to the installation before it gets dark.
#3 Admire Zadar’s Roman Forum
Zadar was a Roman settlement from 48 BC until the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 AD. You can see evidence of Roman times in different areas of Old Town Zadar, but nowhere as prominently as in the Roman Forum, built during the reign of Augustus.
Zadar’s Roman Forum, adjoining the Saint Donatus Church, is the largest in Croatia. The forum should be at the top of your list of Zadar attractions to visit, if you enjoy history.
As the center of public life in Roman Zadar, the forum housed a temple to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. Only one column from the front of the temple survived…today you can see it in Petar Zoranic Square, in the eastern part of the town.
Walk around and view the stubs of columns and walls still remaining. The one intact pillar is reported to have been used as a pillory in medieval times. After the buildings in the forum collapsed, most of the stones were used in newer buildings built in Zadar.
To see a model of the Roman Forum as it was, and to view artifacts found in Zadar from Roman times, you can visit the Archaeological Museum if you have an extra day in Zadar.
A walking tour is a great way to get an overview of major sights and some history for extra appreciation of what you are seeing. Check out this highly rated walking tour!
#4 Visit the Church of Saint Donatus
The Church of Saint Donatus is right next to the Roman Forum. The magnificent building with its striking red roof dominates the square. If you look closely, you’ll see that some of the stones used to construct it were taken from the ruins of the forum!
Completed in the 9th century AD, the church is huge. It is the largest pre-Romanesque church in the country. But it stopped being used as a church long ago. It was used as a warehouse during Venetian times!
The acoustics are marvelous, so today it’s used as a concert venue. Climb to the top for views over the Roman Forum and the water. Looking down into the floor of the church from the gallery at the top is cool.
Admire the texture of the stone both on the exterior and inside as well. Inside, on one of the columns, you can see stones from the Roman ruins that actually have inscription on it.
There is a small entrance fee.
#5 Snap a photo of the Land City Gate
Zadar became a heavily fortified walled city during Venetian rule, for protection from Ottoman attacks. In fact, Zadar is included in the Venetian Works of Defense World Heritage site.
The impressive Land City Gate was designed by a Venetian architect and built in the 16th century. Located by the pretty Foša harbor, the gate served as the main entrance to the city in Venetian times.
Today the gate is open to vehicular traffic, but there are pedestrian sidewalks from where you can view the bridge and take photos. The outward facing side is beautiful, while the inner side is devoid of decoration. The Venetian winged lion decorates the top of the gate.
#6 Visit the Zadar Cathedral
If you saw the Zadar Cathedral without knowing you were in Zadar, you might think you were somewhere in Italy. The Zadar Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Anastasia and it is the largest church in Dalmatia, Croatia’s coastal region.
There was a church at this site from much earlier, but the current building was largely constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries. The cathedral is built in the pre-Romanesque style.
The facade of the St. Anastasia Cathedral is very striking, with its multiple arches, triangular pediment and two rose windows. The inside is worth a quick look around if it’s open, but I thought the exterior was much more impressive.
You can see fragments of medieval frescoes inside, and the organ is beautiful. Photos are not permitted inside, and you need to cover your knees and shoulders to enter.
#7 Take in the views from the top of the bell tower
Climbing to the top of the bell tower of the Zadar Cathedral should definitely be at the top of your list of Zadar sightseeing activities, if climbing steps is not an issue. There are about 180 steps to the top and they were in good shape when we visited.
The views from the top are spectacular, especially if you visit on a nice-weather day. You can see the pretty orange rooftops of Old Town Zadar, out to the Adriatic Sea, and into the harbor and the modern city.
You can also get a nice aerial view of the Roman Forum, and the orange-tiled roof of the massive Church of St. Donatus. Seeing Zadar spread out below us from the viewing gallery of the bell tower was one of my favorite things to do in Zadar.
The free standing bell tower was built in two phases. The bottom two floors were built in the 15th century. The three upper floors were only completed in the 19th century. At the top is the statue of an angel that changes direction based on the wind.
#8 Hang out in Narodni Trg, the People’s Square
Old Town Zadar’s main square, Narodni Trg, is a great place to hang out for a bit and people watch. It’s a busy square, popular with both locals and visitors for most of the day.
On the northern side of the square is the Gradska straza with the clock tower. The building was constructed by the Venetians in the 16th century, but the clock tower was put in a couple of centuries after.
There are other beautiful buildings around the square: the City Loggia, restored after World War II damage and now used as an exhibition space, the pre-Romanesque St. Lawrence Church, and the City Hall, built in the 20th century after a palace on that spot was destroyed.
Relax with a drink at one of the cafes on the square and watch all the hustle and bustle. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there when street musicians are plying their trade. We heard a couple of awesome performers on the square during our stay in Zadar.
#9 Visit the Trg Pet Bunara
The Trg Pet Bunara (The Square of the Five Wells) is a picturesque square at one end of Old Town Zadar. In keeping with the name, here you’ll see five old wells, all lined up. Nearby, you can see part of the old city walls of Zadar.
There used to be a moat at the site in medieval times. The Venetians built a large reservoir at the site, and covered it over with the square and the 5 wells to draw the water up. The reservoir was designed to help Zadar withstand sieges.
Climb the steps to the Queen Jelena Madijevka Park, created on top of the Grimani Bastion. It is the oldest park in Croatia. From here you can get aerial views of the Land Gate and the Foša harbor.
Admire the Captain’s Tower in the square, the only one remaining out of several built by the Venetians as part of the defense system of the city.
#10 Stroll the Petar Zoranić Square
Near the Five Wells Square is another beautiful Zadar square: the Petar Zoranić Square. Admire the Rector’s Palace, and the Roman column relocated from the forum.
The Rector’s Palace is one of the few historical monuments that survived WWII bombing, and has been extensively restored in 2017. It houses a permanent exhibition that includes a beautiful Baroque painting, The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, also restored after being damaged during World War II.
The facades here are gorgeous, and you’ll want to savor the ambiance, best done with a drink at a cafe on the square. Before you leave, stop to view the excavated Roman ruins under glass on the pavement.
#11 Walk the Kalelarga
Our hotel was on the Kalelarga, so we would walk through it every day we were in Zadar, but the main street in Old Town Zadar is worth a dedicated stroll!
Kalelarga, the Wide Street, is a gorgeous street that links Narodni Trg with the Roman Forum. The pavement is smooth marble, and the facades on either side very pretty. And as you walk towards the forum, you get lovely views of the bell tower of the Zadar Cathedral.
As the main street in the old town, the Kalelarga is home to many stores and bakeries. Walking down the Kalelarga with a pastry or ice cream in hand is a favorite pastime for not just visitors but locals as well.
#12 Wander the other streets of Zadar
The streets of Zadar are beautiful. Wandering around the town is a must, to enjoy the great architecture everywhere, and to experience the laid back vibe of the town.
During our wanderings, we came across many beautiful churches, big and small. The cobblestone streets are lined with small shops, perfect for picking up souvenirs to take home.
We also came across a couple of the other gates of the Old Town, and the Square of the Three Wells. The town is laid out in a grid pattern, so it’s easy to walk without getting confused or lost.
Get a hard copy tourist map: it’s nicely done and marks all the sights you will pass. The concierge desk at your hotel should have the maps. If not, get one from the Zadar Tourist Information Center just off Narodni Trg.
#13 Visit the Zadar Market
Trznica Zadar, the Zadar Market, is one of the best markets we came across in Croatia. The open market has lots of stalls featuring fresh vegetables and fresh fruit, as well as dried fruit, nuts, honey, olive oil, cheeses, fresh flowers, and little plants.
From plump zucchini blossoms to pretty purple artichokes and the sweetest red cherries, the market was overflowing with produce when we visited in late May. We bought fruit and dried figs for snacking and they were yum!
There’s a fish market and a butcher’s shop near the open market, so everything is conveniently located. Zadar’s fabulous market made us want to get an apartment here for a week so we could cook with some of the products!
#14 Walk the Riva of Zadar
Zadar’s seafront promenade is great for walking. A stroll along the water should definitely be part of your Zadar sightseeing itinerary, especially if you visit on a bright sunny day when the blue Adriatic is a mesmerizing sight.
Except for the area near the Sea Organ (and then only in the late afternoons and evenings), the promenade was not crowded when we visited in late May, although perhaps it is more crowded during the high season months.
The clean long stretch of waterfront offers beautiful views out to the water and of the nearby Ugljan island. You can start at the Foša harbor and walk all the way to the Sea Organ, or vice versa.
Along the land side of the walk you’ll see the beautiful buildings of the Zadar University, the oldest university in Croatia. And you’ll find a few cafes and restaurants along the promenade if you want a drink or a bite to eat.
#15 Have gelato at Gelateria Eva
We like to scope out the best gelato wherever we go, and in Zadar we found a great gelateria: Gelateria Eva. It’s a tiny shop with a good selection of flavors and excellent quality.
The stracciatella was delicious, with fat chunks of dark chocolate. I loved the pistachio as well, and my husband thought the chocolate was rich and decadent, the way it should be. We visited twice in our three days in Zadar!
If you prefer ice cream, Slasticarna Donat, by the Roman Forum, is the place to go. My husband had the chocolate ice cream here and thought it was great!
#16 Take a special little boat ride
The barkajoli zadarski are boatmen that ferry passengers across the narrow strip of water between the new town and the old town. Somewhat like the gondoliers of Venice, the barkajoli of Zadar ply rowboats by tradition.
The barkajoli have been operating in Zadar for many centuries, with the tradition being passed on from father to son in the barkajoli families. The ride is very short but also very inexpensive. Enjoy the experience!
On the new town side, the boat departs from the red and white column that looks like a little lighthouse at the end of the pier. We walked over the bridge from the old town and down the waterfront to the pier, to take the boat back to the old town.
With more time…
With just one day in Zadar, you’ll only just have time to take in all the sights in town. With another day or two, however, you can build in some beach time in your Zadar itinerary, explore Dugi Otok or another island or two in the Zadar archipelago, visit some of Zadar’s museums, or do one or two day trips to surrounding national parks.
Visit the Archaeological Museum
One of two museums in Zadar I thought were worth visiting is the Archaeological Museum. It is a small 3-level museum that should take you about an hour or two. There is a small entrance fee.
Work your way down from the top to go from the earliest times forward: exhibits start with the Stone Age! On the second floor you’ll see the Roman exhibits, with artifacts found in area excavations. With informational plaques in English, you can learn as you go.
Pop into the Museum of Ancient Glass
The exhibits of old glass objects discovered in area digs are interesting. The museum is tiny (just a couple of rooms), so you can view the exhibits in a short time.
But if you time your visit right, you can view a glass-blowing demonstration, which is fascinating. You’ll see the different techniques used by glassblowers in ancient times. Call ahead or ask the concierge at your hotel for demo times.
There is a small entrance fee. Stop by the gift shop if you like pretty things made from colored glass…some of the jewelry is very nice.
Enjoy some quality beach time in Nin
Just 10 miles north of Zadar in the town of Nin, you’ll find some beautiful beaches. The Queens Beach in Nin is the longest sandy beach in all of Croatia. The Ninska Laguna Beach is another long sandy beach you can visit.
Nin is also famous for its medicinal mud, nature habitats with lots of birds and rare plants, and a number of beautiful churches. So you can actually make a day of your trip to Nin!
Nin is just a 20-minute drive by car from Zadar. You can also take the bus from Zadar to Nin and back. There are frequent departures in both directions.
If you prefer to enjoy your beach time in Zadar, consider Kolovare Beach. Kolovare Beach is definitely one of the best beaches in Zadar, with lots of amenities and activities to enjoy. It is just a 15-minute walk from Narodni Trg in Old Town Zadar.
Enjoy a visit to Dugi Otok
Dugi Otok, which means Long Island, is a beautiful island off the coast of Zadar. Sakarun Bay in the north and the Telašćica Nature Park in the south are gorgeous. Sadly, Dugi Otok is a little difficult to get to, and also difficult to traverse without a car.
While a day trip by ferry is possible only on Sundays (check ferry timetables on the Jadrolinija website), it’s worth making the effort to schedule for a Sunday.
Sakarun Bay on Dugi Otok has a strip of sandy beach, a rarity in Croatia. Take the ferry to Božava on Dugi Otok from Zadar, where a tourist train will transport you to the beach if you do not have a car. Make sure you have a return ticket before you depart and that you do not miss the return ferry!
Do a part day trip to Ugljan
Ugljan is the island closest to mainland Zadar, and it is well connected by ferry with Zadar. It is just a 25-minute ride one way, and you get magnificent views of Zadar from the water!
On Ugljan you can hike one or two of the numerous trails, or rent a bike and explore the island on two wheels. Spend some time at a beach (there are even a couple of sandy beaches on the island), or, if you are feeling energetic, climb to the fortress of St. Michael via the 1.5 mile walking trail from Preko.
A sailing trip is a lovely way to experience the area from the water, and enjoy some swimming as well. Consider this 4-hour sailing trip that takes you to Preko and some of the beautiful bays around Zadar!
Do a day trip to a national park!
There are several gorgeous Croatian national parks within day trip range of Zadar, and whichever one you pick, you can’t go wrong. We visited two on a recent trip to Croatia, and Kornati National Park is definitely on our radar for the next time we are in Zadar!
Plitvice Lakes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The network of 16 beautiful lakes and dozens of waterfalls will take your breath away. Traversing the park via boardwalks over the water and paths alongside is an experience you will not ever forget.
Krka National Park doesn’t feature as many waterfalls as Plitvice, but Skradinski Buk, the largest falls in Krka, is both gigantic and gorgeous. When we visited in May, the water flow was torrential.
Kornati National Park is still on our list. An archipelago that consists of dozens of islands that are for the most part uninhabited, the Kornati islands offer opportunities for a ton of water activities as well as hiking.
Getting into Zadar
Where is Zadar?
Zadar is located on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, about half way between Dubrovnik in the southern part of the coast and Rijeka in the northern part of the coast.
The Zadar Airport is located about 7 miles from the city. There are flights to Zadar from a number of European cities, as well as from Zagreb and from Pula within the country.
From the airport, you can take the bus to the main bus terminal in Zadar, or just outside the Old Town. If you have a lot of baggage, you’ll find taxis outside the terminal. Negotiate the fare before you step into the vehicle.
You can, of course, drive to Zadar, if you are on a road trip in Croatia or nearby countries. From Zagreb to Zadar is about 178 miles, and in normal traffic, the drive should take about 3 hours.
If you are working your way up the country, you will likely be heading north from Split. From Split to Zadar, the distance is about 98 miles, and the drive should take one hour and 45 minutes in normal traffic.
Much of Zadar Old Town is pedestrian only. Park your car at one of the parking lots in the old town, or across the bridge in the new town.
Croatia is a great country to explore by car. The highways are in good shape, and the coastal road is beautiful, even if it does take much longer. If you are looking to hire a car for your Croatia trip, check out Auto Europe.
The bus is the best public transport option in Croatia. Zadar is well connected by bus to most any other major city in the country. From Zagreb, for example, the bus takes 3 hours and 30 minutes and there are several departures each day.
From Split, the bus takes a little over 2 hours. There are several departures each day from Split as well. You can book bus tickets for Europe travel conveniently on Omio. There is a small service fee, but I found the experience hassle free and quick.
Zadar Old Town is about a 15-minute walk from the main Zadar bus station, but just outside the bus station in Zadar you can catch a local bus that will drop you off at one of the gates to the Old Town. You can also get a local bus into the new city.
You can travel to Zadar by ferry in season, from places along the Croatian coast, the Croatian islands, or even from Ancona in Italy. Check ferry schedules here.
Getting around in Zadar
You can walk everywhere within Zadar Old Town. It is very compact and well laid out, so it’s a pleasure to explore by foot. You can even walk across the bridge to the waterfront on the other side (the city center across from Old Town Zadar).
Where to stay in Zadar
We stayed in the Art Hotel Kalelarga, in the large Superior Junior Suite on the top floor (there is an elevator!). From our bathroom skylight, we had a view of the top of the Clock Tower! The hotel is just off the main square in the Old Town, on the main street and super convenient to the main sights.
Our suite was beautifully done in elegant beige and white, and the bathroom was large. The pastries in the bistro of the hotel were delicious! The Art Hotel Kalelarga was definitely among the top places we stayed on our Croatia trip.
Book a stay here
The highly rated Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel is located in the Old Town, in a restored 19th century building. Rooms in the boutique hotel feature contemporary furnishings and the bathrooms are modern and spacious. The location in the heart of the Old Town is close to all the major sights.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a stay here
Where to eat in Zadar
The Pet Bunara Restaurant is a great place for lunch (or dinner). Located in the Square of the Five Wells, the restaurant features its own olive oil. The menu contains in-season offerings, and the wine pairings are fabulous.
Our starters and mains were all delicious. My vegetarian starter course was super filling, with a special local cheese and beet and bean puree all drizzled with an olive oil infused with herbs. My husband opted for soup to start.
The vegetarian pasta main dish I enjoyed at Pet Bunara featured purple artichokes, which we had seen at the Zadar Market just that morning! I was excited when I saw them featured on the menu, because when I had seen them at the market, I had wished I could taste one!
We also ate lunch at Restaurant Kornat, located along the waterfront on the Old Town side. We were served an amuse bouche to start. Mine was vegetarian, a cheesy morsel, and my husband’s was tuna pate.
Our meals were flavorful as well. My husband had a bowl of fish broth, followed by some meat and vegetables, while I had a light meal of cooked Swiss chard and an assortment of steamed vegetables. We finished with some fabulous pastries for dessert!
Zadar itinerary for 1-3 days
If you have one day in Zadar, you will have just enough time to do the 16 items I have listed above, if you start early and are prepared for an active day with plenty of walking. All the major sights in Old Town Zadar are covered in this itinerary.
If you have 2 days in Zadar, I would allocate day one to the sights in Old Town Zadar as detailed above, and pick from the activities or tours I have listed in the “with more time” section for your second day, based on your interests.
For example, if you have already made plans to visit Plitvice and Krka National Parks on other days in your Croatia itinerary, do a day tour to Kornati National Park, because Zadar is the most convenient launch pad for the visit. Or visit Ugljan or Dugi Utok to get a taste of the Zadar archipelago.
If you haven’t allocated a day to Plitvice National Park elsewhere in your Croatia itinerary, my pick for day two would be a day trip to the UNESCO designated national park. It is too beautiful not to visit when you are in Croatia.
It is about 83 miles from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes, and you can drive there if you have a car, or take the bus, or join a guided tour.
With 3 (or more) days in Zadar, you can take in the local sights on day one, and then pick from the many options for part or full day trips for your remaining two days.
The best time to visit Zadar
From late April until early June, and September to mid October are good times of year to visit Zadar. Temperatures are pleasant and days sunny for the most part. You’ll encounter fewer crowds in these shoulder season months.
June is great from a weather perspective, but it gets very busy, and accommodation is likely to be more expensive all through the summer. If you wish to swim, late May to mid September is the best time to visit.
So there you have it: the ultimate guide to the best things to do in Zadar, Croatia, and suggestions for a 1-3 day itinerary. If you have not yet visited this Croatian coastal paradise, I hope I have inspired you to consider adding it to your itinerary for Croatia!
And if you are planning a trip to Croatia, read also about the best things to do in one day in Zagreb, the beautiful capital of Croatia, as well as suggestions for some fabulous day trips from Zagreb to add to your trip, such as Varazdin, also called “Little Vienna”! Or consider a road trip to explore the best coastal towns in Croatia, including historic Trogir and stunning Rovinj!
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