Zadar, on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, is an increasingly popular city break destination, particularly with those looking for a relaxed atmosphere with a good balance between city and coastal life. That said, with Split and Dubrovnik further south still grabbing all the headlines, Zadar is for the time being at least, a less explored place.
That will probably change at some point as more and more people begin to notice its charms. Be it the beautiful restored architecture spanning multiple eras, the sparkling blue waters of the Adriatic, the numerous high-end restaurants and bistros and the long list of things to see and do, its likely Zadar’s time in the spotlight is just around the corner.
Things to see & do in Zadar, Croatia
Zadar is a delightful destination for those looking for a peaceful and beautiful city break that combines nature, calm urban life and rich history. Here are our recommendations for things to see and do during your visit.
Explore the lanes & squares inside the fortified Old Town
Almost all of your time in Zadar will be spent exploring sites of interest within the fortified walls of the Old Town (many of which are mentioned below), which is located on a peninsular that is separated from the newer parts of the city by a marina. The Old Town, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, was fortified in Roman times and still contains the remnants of a Roman forum. There are also countless churches to see from multiple eras, all in wonderful condition. It really is like wandering around in an outdoor museum.
The lanes and squares in the Old Town are all gorgeous, with off-white stone and marble used in abundance. Set against bright blue Adriatic skies, the contrast is mesmerising. The Old Town isn’t very big, but it’s very easy to find pockets of the peninsular all to yourself, particularly the lanes that don’t contain any commercial activity.
Assuming you are not driving, there are two ways to get to the Old Town. The most common way is by the pedestrian footbridge at the end of Ul. Stjepana Radića. The other way is much more fun (see below for details).
Take a rowing boat to the Old Town
Address: Obala kneza Trpimira, 23000, Zadar
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Small rowing boats have been taking passengers to Zadar’s peninsular, now home to what’s known as the Old Town, for around 3000 years. From early morning to late evening, it’s still possible to grab a seat aboard one of these vessels for the short hop across the marina entrance. It’s not the most convenient service, but it is jolly nice and adds a little romance to your visit.
A nominal charge applies, payable in cash only. No booking is required. From the ‘new town’ side, the boats can be found at the end of the Marina wall, opposite the Maraska Building.
Find peace and shade at Queen Jelena Madijevka Park
Find tranquility and shade, much needed if you’re visiting in the Summer, in this small, leafy and very pretty park. Inside the landscaped gardens, you’ll find flora and fauna that’s native the region as well as an outdoor cafe that doubles as a nightclub at nighttime. In the centre of the park, you’ll find a small hill which can be scaled via narrow pathways for splendid views of the city and the sea.
Soak in the history inside the Church of St Donatus
Don’t go to the Church of St Donatus expecting to see an active church. This distinctive round building, constructed in the 9th century, no longer performs as a site for religious worship. Instead, the enjoyment of visiting comes from appreciating the building itself. Though typical of the region, it’s rare to find buildings of this style in such good condition. Stairs lead upwards to the vaulted galleries that provide views both inside and outside. The circular shape provides great acoustics, which might explain why the ground floor is normally filled with lines of seats and a stage.
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Get the best views in town from the Cathedral of St. Anastasia
For truly astonishing 360° views of Zadar, head to the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Anastasia. Construction of the tower started in 1452, but the tower we have today wasn’t completed until as recently as 1894. With a warm sea breeze blowing through the glassless windows and a open-plan spiral staircase to content with, ascending the 50m tower is rather exciting, but the fearless will be rewarded by sumptuous views of the red rooftops of the Old Town set against the deep blues of the Adriatic. The tower also provides a great aerial view of the distinctive circular Church of St Donatus (mentioned above).
Try stand-up paddle-boarding on the Adriatic Sea
Zadar’s relationship with the sparkling waters of the Adriatic Sea is about as close as it gets. Thoughout history, the city has been utterly reliant on trade links with neighbouring communities and even today, the tourism industry finds purpose for the warm waters that surround the city.
During your visit, we encourage you to continue the legacy by taking to the sea in some way. One super-fun way to do so is to try stand-up paddle-boarding. During our visit, we partnered with ZadarSUP, who generously provided us with the equipment we needed to take our first paddle.
Find out more: In ‘We Try Stand Up Paddleboarding in the Adriatic Sea‘, we tell the story of our first taste of SUPing.
Watch the sun set to the sounds of the Sea Organ
Watching the spectacular sun sets in Zadar could easily be a point in this article all by itself, but we’ve combined it with one of Zadar’s most famous attractions. That because we think the best place to see the sun set in Zadar is on the steps of the Sea Organ.
Thanks to its geography, sun sets in Zadar are particularly dazzling. We spent three nights in the city and went to see the sun set every evening. They were that good! The local authorities know this very well, which might explain why they constructed a unique artwork in the one spot where the sun set is best viewed from.
The Sea Organ looks like a set of ordinary marble steps, but spend some time sitting on them, and their secret is revealed. Underneath the steps are a series of tubes which the lapping waves of the sea interact with, creating a haunting and melodic humming sound. Combined with the visual spectacle of the sun setting the two elements create a gratifyingly mindful multi-sensory experience.
Be dazzled by the The Greeting to the Sun
Adjacent to the Sea Organ (see above) is The Greeting to the Sun, another modern artwork, this time in a visual medium. If the setting sun wasn’t exciting enough, this huge artwork will surely alight your senses.
The Greeting to the Sun is a light show, powered by energy from the sun throughout the day. Once the skies begin to darken, the disc-shaped artwork, which is set into the pavement, begin its swirling and colourful display. It’s wonderfully mesmerising and a fantastic way to end a day of sightseeing.
Experience true bliss on a sunset sailing
While the steps of the Sea Organ are the best place to watch the sun set from the land, there’s an even better spot upon the waves of the Adriatic Sea. Thanks once again to our friends at ZadarSUP, we were treated to a sunset sailing aboard their sailing yacht.
Starting in the marina, we headed out just before sunset, sailing around the peninsular and into the channel between the mainland and the island of Ugljan. Here, we anchored and watched the natural show with copious glasses of local wine and regional snacks. It was perfect!!!
Find out more: In ‘Watching the “World’s Best Sunset” aboard a Sailing Boat’, we go into more detail about our experience aboard a sunset sailing boat off Zadar’s coast.