With so many things to do in Zadar, planning your visit to that beautiful Croatian town could be tricky. Its long history, numerous fantastic buildings, and so much art and culture, make it a great place to visit in Croatia. From museums and cultural institutions to restaurants and lovely shops, here is your Zadar city guide with some fun things to do in Zadar.
Things to do in Zadar
Easily reachable by plane, car and boat, Zadar is one of the best places to visit in Croatia. Some of my first childhood memories are from my family holidays in Zadar. And I visited that town numerous times later. Since I spent some time there a few weeks ago, I decided it’s time to finally write this guide to the best things to do in Zadar.
Zadar is a compact city; most of its monuments are in the Old Town area. You can easily visit all of these locations in Zadar within the same day. Or, if you see the museums and churches’ treasuries, you can spend two to three days exploring them. Zadar Old Town is on the peninsula, surrounded mainly by city walls. The main street in the Zadar Old Town is called Kalelarga. The buildings on it were destroyed during the Allies’ bombing in the Second World War, so most houses on it are pretty modern.
What to see in Zadar
1 – Roman Forum
Zadar Roman Forum is the largest one on the Eastern Adriatic Coast. It was built between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD. Because of the inscription found on the Forum, we know a part of it was created by the Roman Emperor Augustus. Roman Forum in Zadar is a must-see place because once there, you’ll feel like you have stepped into history. The whole area is a large archaeological site with stone artefacts scattered around the square. It’s surrounded by beautiful historic buildings, and you can spend hours exploring all the details there.
2 – The Sea Organ
Listening to the Sea Organ is one of the most unique things to do in Zadar. Located on the Zadar Riva or the seafront, it’s a unique musical instrument placed there in 2005. By installing the pipes, the music is played by the sea waves. You can sit on the marble stairs, enjoy the sea view and music performed by the waves. This unique instrument is a fantastic place not to be missed in Zadar.
3 – Saint Donatus Church
Saint Donatus is one of the most unique churches in Croatia and a unique symbol of Zadar. Built in the 9th century, it’s a pre-Romanesque rotunda. The building material from the Roman Forum on which it is located was used in its construction. You can still spot some of that construction material in its walls today. It’s not used as a church anymore but as a music venue because of its acoustics.
4 – Zadar Cathedral
Saint Anastasia Cathedral (or Sveta Stošija in Croatian) is the largest church in Dalmatia and one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Croatia. Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in Zadar. You can see two rose windows on its facade, the larger one made in Romanesque and the smaller one in the Gothic style. The Cathedral has a richly decorated portal. Be sure to visit its interior and enjoy its unique medieval ambience.
5 – Climb the Bell Tower and enjoy the view from it
The Cathedral Bell Tower isn’t interconnected to the church but stands separately from it. Lover parts of the tower were built during the 15th century, while its top parts were created in the 19th century. On its top is the statue of an angel, which turns regarding the wind direction.
6 – Zadar Archaeological Museum
Zadar is a town filled with history, and you can learn a lot about it at the Archaeological Museum. Founded in 1832, it’s the second oldest museum in Croatia. The museum has an extensive Prehistoric archaeological collection. Since it was an important Roman town, the exhibition with artefacts from that period is fascinating. It provides a great insight into the art, crafts, religion and life in Roman Zadar.
However, the medieval collection exhibiting some of the most famous artefacts from the early Croatian kingdom is the most interesting. You can see models of some small medieval churches in the archaeological state today, like nearby Stomorica Church.
7 – Museum of Ancient Glass
Another museum absolutely worth visiting in Zadar is the Museum of Ancient Glass. Located in the 19th-century palace, it’s one of the youngest Zadar museums opened in 2009. It’s home to around 3,000 glass artefacts from Antiquity (1st century BC – 5th century AD).
Besides its exhibits, the best part of the museum is its glassblowing workshops, during which you can learn how glass was produced 2,000 years ago. You can explore that museum on a virtual walk at this link.
8 – The Greeting to the Sun
During his visit to this town in 1964, Alfred Hitchcock said Zadar was home to the most beautiful sunset. And there is something special in the combination of the blue sea, clear sky and the sun slowly setting down. If you want to enjoy the famous sunset in a whole new way, visit the Greeting to the Sun. It’s next to the Sea Organ on the seafront outside the Old Town. With around 300 glass plates, this light installation symbolically communicates with the sun after it sets down.
9 – The Five Wells Square
Close to the Land Gate, you’ll find one of the most beautiful squares in Zadar, the Five Wells Square. The square got its name from the historic wells located on it. It is surrounded by city walls, fortifications and historical buildings. This urban area is located next to the oldest city garden in Croatia, called the Queen Jelena’s Garden (Perivoj kraljice Jelene in Croatian).
10 – Narodni Trg
Narodni Trg is Zadar’s main square and one of the most important town meeting points. Home to many fascinating buildings, with Town Loggia from the 13th century being the most interesting. It has numerous small cafes perfect for a break during your stroll around Zadar.
11 – Zadar Market
If you’ve been following Culture Tourist for some time, you know one of my favourite places to visit while travelling are local markets. They tell you so much about the local culture and lifestyle. And they are usually places where you’ll eat the best local food and buy some of the nicest souvenirs.
It’s no different with Zadar Market. Located within the Old Town, be sure to try some local fruit and vegetable. And some of the traditional sweets from the area, candied almonds, lemon (lemoncini) and orange crust (arancini).
12 – Walk on Zadar city walls
The Zadar Old Town was surrounded by protective city walls defending the town from the sieges and attacks. Its remains are still largely visible, especially on its northern side. Built over the centuries, its remains are from the Roman time, Middle Ages and 16th century.
A promenade is settled on its top, offering some of the best views of Zadar and its port. You’ll often find some open-air exhibitions on it. Wandering on the top of its city walls is one of the things you shouldn’t miss in Zadar.
13 – Visit Saint Mary Church in Zadar
Saint Mary Church is another beautiful building in Zadar. Built in the Romanesque style, it’s fascinating with its trefoil facade. The church is opposite to Saint Donatus Church and belongs to the Benedictine monastery founded in 1066. Founded by a female member of the noble family, it always had royal support and protection. The church was destroyed during the Allied bombing in the Second World War but rebuilt shortly after the war.
Saint Mary Church is home to an excellent exhibition, ‘The Gold and Silver of Zadar’, which is absolutely one of the things to see in Zadar.
14 – Stomorica Church in Zadar
If you’re interested in archaeology, you should visit the remains of Stomorica Church. It was built during the early Middle Ages in the 6th century. The church has a six-leaf plan. However, one of the apses was removed, and the church bell was built in its place.
Stomorica Church was destroyed in the 16th century, so the city fortifications could be built in its place. It was excavated and researched later.
15 – Ride with barkajol
Barkajol is one of the most charming symbols of Zadar. Since the Old Town is located on a peninsula, you can get to it from the part where it’s connected with the land, by crossing the bridge or by riding with barkajol. They will take you from the newer part of the town to the Old Town on their small boats. This tradition is at least 800 years old, and very often, it’s a business running within the family.
Where to stay in Zadar
If you’d like to explore Zadar Old Town, staying within that area is the most convenient. There are many private accommodations to choose from, where you’ll feel like you travelled back in time a bit. However, the noise could be a downside of staying there, especially in the summer months. It’s also where many bars are, so it could be very loud in July and August in that neighbourhood.
My favourite area to stay in Zadar is Borik. It’s a bit outside the city centre, but it’s a more quiet area closer to the beach. You can spend mornings swimming there and exploring some of these fun things to do in Zadar in the afternoons.
Where to eat in Zadar
Croatian food is delicious, and you’ll find many lovely places to try some of it during your stay in Zadar. Fresh grilled fish, buzara, and pašticada are some dishes to have while in the region of Dalmatia. During my latest trip to Zadar, I visited a fantastic vegan restaurant, The Botanist, which I loved. It’s located on the seafront and serves fantastic food. So, if you’d like to have vegan food during your holiday in Zadar, be sure to visit it.
What to buy as a souvenir in Zadar
Maraschino – With so much sun and fresh air from the sea and mountains, Zadar produces some of the best cherries in Croatia. The company called Maraska is well known for its products made of cherries. And their best-seller is a cherry liqueur called Maraschino. Try some of their cherry syrups and juices to go alcohol-free. You’ll find them in special shops and supermarkets around Zadar.
Nin Saltern Shop – The nearby town of Nin is home to a saltern in which salt is still produced in a natural and traditional way. They have a small souvenir shop in Zadar where you’ll find their products, from different kinds of salts to candies and cosmetics made with salt.
With so many things to do in Zadar, this town offers something for everyone, especially when it comes to art and culture. Have you been to Zadar? Do you have any tips to add? Let me know in the comments!
Cover photo by Lucas Messere on Unsplash