The city of Zadar pictured from above at sunset

Top Things To Do in Zadar, Croatia

If you’re looking for a destination that offers all the benefits of a tourist hotspot along with incredible nearby natural attractions , then Zadar, Croatia should be at the top of your travel list. Situated on the Adriatic coast, Zadar, often overlooked by the more popular cities of Split and Dubrovnik, is a hidden gem that boasts an array of attractions and experiences. This article will guide you through the top things to do in Zadar, ensuring that you make the most of your visit.

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Must-visit attractions in Zadar – the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun

When you arrive in Zadar, the first attractions you absolutely can’t miss are the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun on the waterfront of the Old Town. The Sea Organ, an architectural masterpiece designed by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić, is a unique musical instrument that creates mesmerising sounds as the waves of the Adriatic Sea pass through its pipes. It’s a truly surreal experience to witness the harmonies created by nature itself.

Just a few steps away from the Sea organ, you’ll find the Greeting to the Sun. Also designed by Nikola Bašić, this stunning installation consists of a large circular solar panel that collects energy during the day and transforms it into a mesmerising light show at night. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the sunset here, as it creates a breathtaking spectacle that you’ll never forget.

Discovering Zadar’s charming Old Town

One of the highlights of visiting Zadar is exploring its charming Old Town. Aside from the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun, the narrow cobblestone streets, filled with beautiful architecture, quaint shops, and cosy cafes, will transport you back in time.

Zadar Old Town is best explored on foot, and as you walk through its streets, you’ll encounter a variety of city gates and squares that are steeped in history. Start your exploration at the Land Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old Town. This well-preserved gate features a stunning stone arch and provides a glimpse into Zadar’s medieval past.

From the Land Gate, make your way to Five Wells Square, a charming square that dates back to the 16th century. Here, you’ll find five wells that were once the city’s main water source.

You should also see People’s Square, the main square of Zadar. This bustling square is a hub of activity, and is the perfect place to grab a cup of coffee and soak in the city’s vibrant atmosphere.

Also in the Old Town is the Zadar Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of St. Anastasia. This grand cathedral, constructed in the 12th century, showcases breathtaking Romanesque architecture and houses a collection of valuable religious artifacts.

Another religious landmark worth visiting is the magnificent Church of St. Donatus, an iconic symbol of Zadar. Built in the 9th century, it features a unique cylindrical shape and impressive Byzantine architecture, with stunning frescoes inside.

Conveniently located right in front of the Church of St. Donatus is the Roman Forum, a historical square that served as the centre of public life in ancient Zadar. Wandering through the ruins of temples, columns, and arches is a great way to get a glimpse into the city’s Roman past.

The Roman Forum stones on the grass in front of a large church in Zadar
The Zadar Roman Forum

Zadar walking tours

To truly immerse yourself in the beauty and history of Zadar, consider taking a walking tour. They’re a fantastic way to discover hidden gems, learn about the city’s rich history, and get insider tips from knowledgeable guides.

There are several walking tours available, each offering a unique perspective on Zadar. Historical walking tours are the most popular, taking you through the old town and showcasing its architectural wonders and historical sites. You’ll learn about the city’s Roman, Byzantine, and Venetian influences, and gain a deeper understanding of Zadar’s past.

As well as historical walking tours, you can take food tours and tours with virtual reality experiences. Platforms such as Viator and Get Your Guide provide booking options.

Outdoor activities in Zadar – beaches, water sports, and boat trips

If you’re visiting during summer then one of the absolute best things to do in Zadar is to take advantage of its geographical position. Zadar is blessed with a stunning coastline and crystal clear waters, making it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.

Zadar has multiple beautiful beaches, such as Kolovare Beach or Borik Beach. These sandy stretches offer the perfect spot to relax, soak up the sun, and take a refreshing dip in the Adriatic Sea. The Riva promenade on the edge of the Old Town, with its parks and palm trees, is also a popular place to take a dip in the water.

If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at water sports like kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkelling or jet skiing. The calm waters of Zadar provide an ideal environment for these activities, and you’ll have a blast exploring the coast from a different perspective. Either rent equipment and explore independently, or join a tour- guides will show you the best spots in the harbour and along the coast.

If you’re looking for a unique experience, you can choose from a number of boat trips from Zadar. Explore the nearby islands of Dugi otok, the Telašćica Nature Park, and the Kornati National Park, each offering its own charm. Discover secluded coves, swim in pristine waters, and marvel at the untouched beauty of these islands, either on a group tour or by hiring a private boat.

A sparsely populated Island archipelago under a blue sky
Kornati National Park

Experiencing Zadar’s lively nightlife

When the sun sets in Zadar, the city comes alive with a lively nightlife scene. From trendy bars to delicious restaurants and vibrant clubs, there’s no shortage of entertainment options in Zadar.

Start your evening by visiting one of the many bars in the old town. Enjoy a refreshing cocktail or a local beer while soaking in the atmosphere of Zadar’s charming streets. There are numerous rooftop bars with stunning views or cosy wine bars to choose from.

After enjoying a few drinks, you should head to one of the city’s restaurants and taste the delicious seafood that the region is famous for. Freshly caught fish, black risotto and decadent oysters are a few of the options available, as well as many Mediterranean inspired dishes.

If you’re in the mood for dancing and live music after dinner, Zadar has a vibrant club scene that caters to all music preferences. Many clubs have DJs playing the latest hits, and you can also enjoy live performances by local bands.

Food and wine in Zadar

Zadar is known for its delicious seafood, locally sourced ingredients, and traditional Croatian cuisine. Start your culinary journey by visiting one of Zadar’s vibrant markets. The lively marketplaces are filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and local products. Make sure to try the region’s famous olive oil, known for its exceptional quality and distinct taste.

If you’re a wine lover, Zadar won’t disappoint. The region is home to several wineries that produce exceptional wines. Take a tour of the vineyards, learn about the winemaking process, and enjoy tastings of the local varieties. Degarra Winery, Fiolic Winery and Vina Poljak are some of the most popular Zadar wineries.

To truly immerse yourself in the culinary traditions of Zadar, consider taking a cooking class. Learn how to prepare traditional Croatian dishes using fresh, local ingredients, as well as what wines they’re best paired with.

a waterfront cafe in Zadar with people sitting beneath umbrellas looking out at the water
A waterfront cafe in Zadar

Exploring Zadar’s museums – the Archaeological Museum and the Ancient Glass Museum

For those interested in history and culture, Zadar is home to several fascinating museums that offer a deeper insight into the city’s past. Two museums that should be on your list are the Archaeological Museum and the Ancient Glass Museum.

The Archaeological Museum houses a remarkable collection of artifacts that date back to the prehistoric period. From ancient pottery to intricate jewelry, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the rich history of the region firsthand. Explore the exhibits, learn about the archaeological discoveries in Zadar, and gain a deeper understanding of the city’s past.

The Ancient Glass Museum is a unique museum that showcases the art of glassmaking in ancient times. Discover the secrets of this ancient craft and admire a wide range of glass artifacts, including vases, bowls, and jewellery. The museum also offers demonstrations and workshops where you can see bowls, bottles and jewellery being made by glasswork specialists.

Day trips from Zadar

While there’s plenty to see and do in the city itself, the surrounding area offers a wealth of day trip opportunities. In fact, you could argue that some of the most memorable things to do in Zadar aren’t even actually in Zadar!

If you’re a nature lover, national parks should be at the top of your day trip list. Zadar is in a perfect position, offering easy access to five of Croatia’s eight stunning national parks. Within a few hours, you can reach Plitvice, Krka, Kornati, Paklenica and Northern Velebit.

Zadar is located around equal distance between Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Krka National Park. Both are known for their cascading waterfalls and crystal clear lakes. Explore the park on foot or take a boat ride and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.

You can find plenty of useful information in the following articles:

waterfalls in front of a turquoise pool on a sunny day
Plitvice waterfalls

The Velebit mountain range

Plitvice and Krka are two of Croatia’s most popular tourist attractions, and therefore can get extremely crowded during peak season (June-August). For a more peaceful and even more adventurous day trip, Head to the Velebit mountain range. Lying just outside the city, it’s the largest mountain range in Croatia, and part of the Dinaric Alps.

The Velebit mountains encompass Paklenica National Park, and slightly further north the Northern Velebit National Park. Paklenica in particular is a paradise for hikers and climbers, with its rugged canyons and challenging trails. Both parks are also home to diverse flora and fauna and are a protected Biosphere Reserve, with Northern Velebit also being home to the Velebit Botanical Garden. Enjoy the wildlife, explore hidden caves and take some stunning photos of the Adriatic.

You can also visit the Zrmanja river, a stunning waterway originating in the Velebit mountains that meanders through canyons and offers breathtaking views. Rafting or kayaking trips through the river’s rapids are particularly popular amongst adrenaline junkies. However, if you’d prefer a more relaxed experience, you can also hike and swim amongst untouched nature.

Conclusion

Zadar offers a wealth of unforgettable experiences. From exploring historical sites in the charming Old Town to indulging in the city’s culinary delights and experiencing its lively nightlife, there’s something to suit every preference.

Zadar may not be as popular as Split or Dubrovnik, but it more than competes with them. The quality of its attractions, both in Zadar itself and the surrounding areas, make it one of the best possible locations to base yourself if you want to explore everything Croatia has to offer. And once you’re done with the Zadar region, you can take a cruise down the coast and see what Croatia’s other coastal cities have to offer!

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