With a perch on the glistening Adriatic Sea, Romanesque architecture, historic landmarks and a romantic old town, there are plenty of things to do in the coastal city of Zadar, Croatia. Often overlooked as a destination by those choosing to explore Split or UNESCO-protected Dubrovnik instead, Zadar has similar attractions without the throngs of crowds which makes it a wonderful seaside escape. Its compact nature means the main highlights can easily be seen in a day, and it’s also a good base for day tripping to other spots inland or along the Dalmatian Coast.
From the top sites to the best spot to see the sunset, here’s what to do in Zadar.
Explore Zadar old town and city walls
White limestone walls envelop the old city, which were designed to ward off invaders back in the 1500s. Two grand gates as well as the original walls remain to this day, encircling the historic centre where many of the major Zadar attractions are found. The old town is absolutely enchanting in the evening, when soft light illuminates the narrow streets and facades of the historic churches and crumbling ruins.
Venetian, Byzantine and Roman architecture is all on display here, like stately columns, a tower and the Roman Forum which is believed to have been built in the first century and was discovered in the 1930s.
There are a number of picturesque churches as well, including:
- Church of St. Donatus: Dating back to the 9th century, this domed church is Zadar’s crown jewel and the city’s most recognizable landmark. Located beside the Forum, there’s a bell tower that visitors can climb up for a birds-eye view of the old town.
- St Anastasia’s Cathedral (also known as Zadar Cathedral): With bragging rights as the largest cathedral in Dalmatia and being considered as a UNESCO site, this church’s picture-perfect stone facade is a popular spot for photography.
- St Mary’s: Founded in the 11th century and run by a Benedictine Monastery, it now houses exhibits like relations artifacts, manuscripts and tapestries.
The Sea Organ
Zadar is famous for its mesmerizing sunsets, and the best place to enjoy one is at the Sea Organ along the waterfront. While it simply looks like a series of marble steps, it was cleverly designed to allow air and water to flow underneath, which creates a chime-like tone…hence its name. Grab a seat and enjoy the sensory experience of the beautiful sounds and breathtaking views.
Greeting to the Sun (or Monument to the Sun)
Cap off your Zadar sightseeing at the neighbouring Greeting to the Sun installation, which is one of the best things to do in Zadar with kids. Once darkness falls, the circular, solar-powered display lights up with coloured patterns, and feels like a dance floor framed by the sea.
Fun day trips from Zadar
Gorgeous beach spots, towering waterfalls and national parks surround Zadar, so there are plenty of great excursions to book if you have a few days in the area.
One of the most popular Zadar day trips is to head to Krka National Park, which is a one hour drive from the city. A series of waterfalls flow over travertine steps into deep, gem-toned pools, with the crown jewel being Skradinski Buk which towers 45 metres high. A serene trail winds through the park, and you can even swim under the falls. Click here to book
The Plitvice Lakes tour from Zadar is another must-do. A 90 minute drive from the city, Plitvice is one of the top attractions in Croatia thanks to its brilliant turquoise pools, crystal clear falls gushing out of the hillsides, and wooden boardwalks that wind through the park into a limestone canyon. Click here to book
Book one of these tours to see the surrounding islands by boat, kayak or canoe, or head to Split and Trogir which are UNESCO sites:
Where to stay in Zadar
- Apartments Hills: A great choice for larger groups or families, these modern, bright apartments have plenty of space to spread out, and balconies with incredible views of the city and Adriatic Sea. Click here to book
- Art Hotel Kalelarga: With a fantastic location in the heart of the old town, guests rave about the superb service and spacious rooms in this modern hotel. Click here to book
- Hotel Bastion: This top-ranked property in the heart of Zadar’s old town is a quick walk from the main sights, with marina views and parking. This boutique-style hotel features individually-decorated rooms and a great outdoor patio, and the service is exceptional. Click here to book
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