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I’d heard fantastic things about Zadar and during the two months I’d spent digital nomading in Split, I was constantly meeting people singing its praises. I couldn’t wait to visit and discover all the best things to do in Zadar for myself.
My trip exceeded my expectations and I’ll certainly remember it for a long time. From sunsets at the Sea Organ to island day trips and ancient Roman ruins, there’s history, culture and nature in abundance.
Where is Zadar?
Zadar is on the central Dalmatian Coast in Croatia, north of Split and Dubrovnik. Here’s a map including the top Zadar attractions.
How to get to Zadar
By air: Zadar airport is well connected to other European capitals with regular direct flights to the UK. I use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights, searching by ‘whole month’ for the best prices. Search for flights to Zadar.
By car: located 2 hours from Split and 4 hours from Dubrovnik by road, it’s easy to reach Zadar by car. Use Rentalcars.com to check prices on rentals and book.
By bus: I caught the Flixbus from Split in 2 hours; it also connects Zadar with Zagreb (3.5 hours) and other Croatian cities. Book your Flixbus to Zadar here.
Read next: how to spend the perfect 1 week in Croatia
Fun facts about Zadar
- Zadar is one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in Croatia
- In ancient times, when the city was governed by the Republic of Venice, local people were so keen to proof the city against the Ottomans that even members of the noble families of Zadar were summoned to help out in constructing the city walls and wells with their hands
- Maraschino, the typical liqueur from Zadar, made its way to numerous European countries and was even drunk by Napoleon
- Albert Hitchcock claimed Zadar has the best sunsets in the world! More on this later…
Where to stay in Zadar
I spent a wonderful 3 nights at the Hotel Kolovare. It’s perfectly located beside Kolovare Beach with a relaxed 15-minute walk into town with coastal views the whole way. It has comfortable rooms and a killer breakfast buffet.
In the summer, there’s even a large swimming pool. It was still out of action during my April visit so I may have to return one day to use it!
Book your stay at Hotel Kolovare here.
More accom options
- Budget hostel – for a social base in the heart of town with fantastic breakfast options, you can’t do better than Boutique Downtown Hostel. All bunks have their own curtains, reading lights and plug sockets. Book from €19.
- Affordable guesthouse – stay at Harvey’s Luxury Rooms in a modern, spacious double room in the heart of town. Book from €50.
- Apartment – for total privacy in the city centre with a kitchen, balcony and garden view, stay at Arsenal Apartments from €65. If you don’t mind being on the mainland and walking or taking the 6 kuna barkajoli boat into town, Apartments Gabriel is available from just €40 a night.
What to do in Zadar, Croatia
Now for the fun bit. I’ll share the key attractions in Zadar city centre before moving onto popular day trips in the surrounding region.
1. The Roman Forum
One of the most famous and impressive places to visit in Zadar is the Roman Forum, located in the centre of the city. Like many ancient Roman cities, Zadar is built on a grid with 5 long streets connected to the central ruins, and several smaller intersecting streets.
Constructed between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD, the Forum was the centre of public life. Everything from worship to bustling markets would have been held here.
Find the one remaining Roman column which was used as a pillar of shame. My guide told me that when a citizen was convicted of wrong-doing, they would be tied to the column for people to throw things at, similar to stocks in the UK. I don’t envy those ancient rule breakers!
The Roman Forum is free to walk around. You can still see the ruins of shops and public baths.
2. Catch a show at the Church of St Donatus
The round church at the centre of the Roman Forum is one of Zadar’s most famous and historic buildings: a Christian worship site remodelled using stone from a Roman temple. It’s now used as a concert venue between July and August.
Keep up-to-date on 2022 shows by checking the events page.
3. Archaeological Museum in Zadar
With more than 100,000 artefacts, there’s plenty to see in Zadar’s Archaeological Museum. For a historical thing to do in Zadar, walk through the Stone and Metal Ages as well as the Roman and Byzantine Periods.
From spiritual artefacts belonging to the early Croats, items showing the worship of multiple deities in Roman times, and Christian artefacts dating from the 7th century onwards, the changing eras are well documented and will enhance your understanding of Zadar, Dalmatia and Croatia.
The museum is open from 9am-3pm daily and entry costs 30 kuna.
4. Monastery of St Mary
Benedictine nun and noblewoman, Čika, founded this monastery with the help of King Petar Krešimir IV. On the same square as the Roman Forum, it’s easy to tick off several Zadar attractions in one go.
My guide explained how the monastery works, with its nuns fully dedicating their lives to God and never leaving the monastery. Other members of the community bring food daily to support them. Many of the nuns are older but the youngest is 32. She spent a while trialling out monastery life before deciding it was for her.
5. The Silver and Gold of Zadar at the Permanent Exhibition of Religious Art
The Silver and Gold in the Benedictine convent is one of the most striking things to see in Zadar. Guarded by Benedictine monks since WWII, the valuable shrines contain relics of important saints. Other exhibits include paintings and garments woven with gold and silver thread.
The entry times are a little tricky so be sure to plan around them. The museum is open from 10am-1pm and 5pm-7pm (Sundays 10am-1pm only). Tickets for 40 kuna can be bought at the brown door to the left of the church.
6. Listen to beautiful music at the Sea Organ
Easily my favourite thing to do in Zadar is sit beside the Sea Organ. I’ve never seen (or heard!) anything like it. For me, it was a brand new experience and isn’t that why we travel?
The Sea Organ is a musical instrument powered by the ocean. Underneath a large set of marble steps, a warren of tubes create sounds as the waves hit them. It’s funnelled up through vents in the steps, allowing guests to sit surrounded by mellow music.
7. Stay for sunset!
Zadar has spectacular sunsets but don’t just take my word for it: Alfred Hitchcock visited Zadar in 1964 and deemed Zadar’s sunsets the best in the world!
For a fun thing to do in Zadar in the evening, catch sunset at the Sea Organ. I watched it every day, waiting until the sun was down to eat dinner.
The Sea Organ won the European Prize for Urban Public Space in 2006 and rightly so. It brings people together, especially at sunset when friends, strangers, tourists and locals share an appreciation of the sky as it changes colour and fades to darkness.
When the sun’s down, the fun really starts at the harbour…
8. The Greeting to the Sun
Built in tribute to Alfred Hitchock’s claim that Zadar has the best sunsets in the world, the Greeting to the Sun is a second captivating public installation beside the Sea Organ.
This Zadar attraction uses 300 solar panels, soaking up sunlight during the day and releasing it at night in the form of a colourful light show. Multicolour lights glimmer across the 22-metre masterpiece.
But there’s not just one! The largest circular panel represents the sun and around it can be seen smaller solar panels representing the planets (apart from Pluto as the installation was built the year after it was cancelled as a planet. Poor Pluto), all placed at the appropriate distance from the sun, in scale.
It’s yet another unique feature of Zadar that brings people together and uses public space in a thoughtful way. Bravo!
9. Ride a barkajol across the bay
There’s a bridge connecting the Zadar peninsular to the mainland that you can easily walk across. But for a fun activity in Zadar that supports the locals and only costs 6 kuna, why not get a local boat rower (named a Barkajoli Zadarksi) to take you across?
The 70m ride between the two docks takes just 2 minutes, saving you 20 minutes on foot. The Barkajoli Zadarksi tradition has been passed between fathers and sons for over 800 years making it a cultural treasure that’s well worth the €1 ride!
If you’re staying on the mainland, depart from Barkajol and arrive near Kornat restaurant on the peninsular.
10. Wander through the Land Gate & Sea Gate
If you needed more evidence of Zadar’s ancient history, look no further than the city gates. The Land Gate and Sea Gate were official entrances to the city of Zadar. Thick, protective walls surrounded the city to ward off invaders.
There’s also the Bridge Gate but it’s not as impressive as the others. The most striking is the Land Gate, adorned with carvings including one of the Lion of St Mark. My guide explained it’s holding an open book; a sign that Venice – the rulers at the time – were not currently at war (the sign for conflict was a closed book).
To walk Croatia’s most complete set of city walls, read my guide to the best things to do in Dubrovnik.
11. Meet Nina the famous dog
Here’s an off-beat thing to do in Zadar! When I walked past the harbour, I was wowed by 80s music blasting from a boat. In pride of place was an adorable fluffy dog wearing a pink bow in her fur.
Later, my tour guide told me Nina is a famous resident of Zadar and so is her owner. I didn’t meet him but he has fantastic taste in music. I love ABBA!
12. Browse Zadar Market
If you’re a morning person, head down to Zadar Market in the AM. Such outdoor markets are called ‘green markets’ in Croatia, selling fresh produce from vegetables to local cheese, meat, fish, honey, nuts and eggs.
Although it used to be located at the Roman Forum, Zadar Market has been operating for thousands of years not just as a market but also a meeting point and community hub.
If you’re in self-catering accommodation, forgo the supermarket and get your ingredients here! You can also buy souvenirs like Croatian lavender and liquors.
13. Cathedral of Anastasia
This Romanesque church is another popular Zadar attraction, built in the 12th-13th centuries. It was named after the martyr, St Anastasia, who died for her cause on Christmas Day, 304 AD.
In 2003, Pope John Paul II bowed down outside to show his respect.
Entry is 20 kuna; free for under 10s.
14. Delicious ice cream at Stasticarna Donat
With all kinds of food options on offer, one of the top things to do in Zadar is eat! If you have a sweet tooth, get down to Slasticarna Donat Ice Cream and Gelato. It has a long history of serving some of the best ice cream in Zadar, in cones and huge sundae-style glasses, pilled high with fruit, nuts, cream and chocolate.
Although the scoops are cheaper, I treated myself to a 50 kuna sundae (I believe it was their house variety although there are tons of combinations). It was huge and probably could have fed 2-3, not that I needed the help!
15. Sample the competition at Cafe Eva
Although I thought my ice cream experience in Zadar had peaked at Donat, I’d heard good things about Gelateria Eva so went to check it out.
It was just as tasty! The flavours were inventive with plenty of options to choose from. I had raspberry ice cream in a chocolate and coconut cone. I forget the price but I remember thinking it was very affordable.
16. People-watch on Narodni Trg (People’s Square)
For people-watching and rubbing shoulders with the locals, this historic square is the best place to visit in Zadar. Nurse an Aperol Spritz overlooking buildings with centuries of history.
The City Guard (Gradska straža) is an attractive pink clock tower and, to its right, is a caffe with a hidden 11th century church in the back. You can also pop into Gradska Loza, a museum and bookshop (note most of the books are in Croatian).
17. Church of St Simeon (Crkva sv. Šimun)
A final religious site I’d recommend visiting in Zadar is the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites.
What puts this modest church on the map is the cedarwood sarcophagus inside, thought to hold the remains of St Simeon, renowned for holding the Baby Jesus. The gold-laden chest is a masterpiece in its own right.
Legend goes that a Venetian nobleman brought the body to Zadar, returning from a crusade. His ship was caught in a storm, stranding him in Zadar. He became ill and died so the relic of St Simeon stayed in the city.
Foodie tip – just across the square is Konoba Skoblar, a fantastic local restaurant. More about this place, and my other recommended restaurants, soon…
18. Try maraschino
This sweet liqueur made from marasca cherries is a cultural treasure of Zadar. Bitter wild cherries found growing along the Dalmatian coastline were first distilled by the Dominican monastery in the 16th century. As I learnt in Portugal, monasteries brought us many delicious things like pastel de nata!
Greats from Casanova to Napolean and Hitchock have enjoyed Maraschino and it was even consumed on the Titanic, although that’s perhaps not the best omen…
It can be drunk neat or within cocktails. You’ll find plenty of cafes and bars serving Maraschino, and countless souvenir shops selling bottles to take home.
19. Bar-hopping in Stomorica
If you’re wondering what to do in Zadar at night, rub shoulders with the locals and other tourists in Stomorica. From elderly locals drinking beer to students sipping cocktails and IPAs, this is the city’s melting pot after dark. The maze of alleyways was built to confuse invaders and I’m sure it confuses tourists too after one too many!
Stomorica is the best place to stay for night owls, but best avoided if you want to get your beauty sleep. Either way, come to let your hair down in this lively quarter especially if your visit coincides with a weekend.
20. Shop for goods in an old church
A wonderful hidden gem I discovered while wandering the atmospheric streets of Zadar is this small chapel converted into a crafts store. It sells beautiful glassware, jewellery and other trinkets.
Although I couldn’t find it on Google Maps, it’s right beside 4She Shop.
21. Museum of Ancient Glass
The Museum of Ancient Glass can be found in a refurbished palace belonging to a notable family. It holds a spectacular 5,000 items dating from antiquity to the 5th century AD.
Browse permanent exhibitions, catch glassblowing workshops using traditional techniques and purchase souvenirs from the gift shop.
Opening times are Mon-Sat, 9am-4pm in the winter and until 9pm in the summer. Tickets cost 30 kuna.
Day trips & things to do near Zadar
Although there are plenty of attractions in Zadar, it’s a small city that can be easily explored on foot during a day. From islands to hiking and national parks, there’s so much more in the Zadar region should you have time to explore it.
Note – if you’re visiting Split during your Croatia trip, some of these places (like Šibenik and Krka) can be visited from there, too. Read my guide to the best day trips from Split!
22. Sail to Dugi Otok (Long Island)
I had the most fantastic day on Dugi Otok, translating as Long Island. This 45km island just a 45-minute ferry ride from Zadar is home to a wonderful nature park, beautiful beaches and quaint villages with rich cultural heritage.
Telašćica Nature Park is a real highlight of Dugi Otok. Declared a nature park in 1988, this beautiful bay with 13 islands is best seen by boat. The rich flora and fauna includes wild asparagus (that my guide picked for me to eat fresh) meanwhile the marine life includes scorpionfish, seabream and dolphins.
Getting there: You can catch the ferry (25 kuna) from Zadar to Sali, the largest town on the island. I caught the 8.15am boat leaving Zadar and the 7.30pm return journey from Dugi Otok.
Another option is visiting by boat tour from Zadar, usually combining Dugi Otok with the Kornati Islands. Browse island tours. It’s also possible to book small boat trips when you arrive on Dugi Otok although this may be harder if you’re short on time.
Read next: my complete guide to visiting Dugi Otok, Croatia
23. Island-hopping to the Kornati Islands
This stunning archipelago is located close to Telašćica Nature Park on Dugi Otok hence why many day trips combine them. There are over 140 Kornati islands, the striking karst terrain setting them against the brilliant blue sea.
Kornati National Park, where trips will take you, comprises 89 islands granted a high level of protection due to their unique nature and wildlife. Rugged cliffs and caves characterise the islands and there are opportunities to swim, snorkel and scuba dive.
Browse Kornati island tours.
24. Hiking in the Velebit Mountains
If I’d had an extra day in Zadar, I would have gone hiking in the Velebit Mountains as several people have raved to me about their incredible beauty. These mountains make a striking backdrop that can be seen from the city.
The biggest mountain range in Croatia is best explored by visiting Paklenica National Park, a 45-minute drive from Zadar. From the main bus station, there’s a daily departure at 8am.
Start from Stari Grad town and make your way to the National Park entrance. There’s an 18km hike you can do to Paklenica Hut where there will hopefully be a cheap and hearty meal waiting for you. I found this helpful article written by a woman who did the Paklenica hike solo from Zadar by bus.
25. Cheese-tasting on Pag Island
Foodies like myself will certainly think this is one of the best things to do in Zadar! Pag Island is located an hour from the city, connected to the mainland by bridge.
Pag has a long history spanning 2,000 years of salt production. Such was the value of salt that, under the Roman Empire, the word for salt (sal) evolved into the word salary since people were commonly paid in salt. Lace-making and cheese are two other historic trades from Pag.
The island has 35,000 sheep, farmed to make delicious Pag cheese which has won accolades such as best sheep’s cheese in the World Cheese Awards. If you love cheese, you’ll have to come try it for yourself!
Getting there: the best way to explore Pag is by hiring a car because many of the attractions are spread out. It’s an hour’s drive from Zadar. There’s a bus at 10am each day from the main bus station (returning at 6.30pm) but you’ll be restricted to Pag Town.
Read next: cheese, lace and salt traditions on Pag Island
26. Krka National Park
Although I visited Krka as a day trip from Split, it’s one of the most popular things to do from Zadar. This natural wonderland of flora, fauna and plummeting waterfalls needs to be seen to be believed.
If visiting independently, ride the Flixbus to Skradin and board the ferry to Skradinski Buk falls (in off season this doesn’t run but you can take an hour’s nature walk instead). Depending how much time you have, there are other places to explore like Roški Slap Falls and Visovac Monastery on a tiny island.
A final worthwhile day trip from Zadar is to Šibenik, another charming city on the Adriatic Coast. Churches and forts with historic importance are dotted around the city and even off the coast: St Nicholas Fortress is a Venetian stronghold reachable by boat.
Šibenik may not be as well known as Dubrovnik or Split but then, neither is Zadar and we all know what a wonderful city it is! Definitely visit Šibenik if you have time, especially if you have a keen interest in history.
Getting to Šibenik: it’s an hour’s drive. If you’re relying on public transport, there are more frequent departures from Split so, if you’re visiting, take the Flixbus to Šibenik from Split instead.
Where to eat in Zadar
Well, you’re on Where Goes Rose? so of course there’s food! I’m not really exaggerating when I say it’s 80% of the reason I travel 😉
If you’re a foodie too, go check my food around the world archives.
Once you’ve ticked off the best things to do in Zadar, start ticking off the best meals!
Seafood at 2Ribara
2Ribara is a fantastic restaurant in central Zadar with 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor. Expect Dalmation delicacies like seafood and pasta, an extensive wine list showcasing some of Croatia’s incredible wines, and fresh desserts that change daily.
I ate here on my first night in Zadar, tucking into fresh squid with Swiss chard (a popular dish in Zadar) and tasty pannacotta.
Traditional fare at Konoba Skoblar
Restaurant Skoblar is a typical konoba (an authentic local-style restaurant in Croatia) serving high-quality meat and seafood.
I had monkfish medallions with courgette, carrot and potatoes in a delicious garlicky sauce. I’ve had monkfish in the UK as a treat but here it’s a typical, affordable dish.
Not only was the food great, but it’s a cosy restaurant with period details and indoor and outdoor seating. I paid 150 kuna for a main, bread basket and a soft drink.
Sushi at Maguro
When I strolled past an Asian restaurant, my attention was instantly captured. Whether it’s pho, gyoza, sushi or pad Thai, I can never get enough! Maguro Restaurant serves a wide range of Asian dishes and I can personally vouch for the sushi.
Maguro means ‘tuna’ in Japanese so it’s worth ordering one of the tuna dishes. I had no idea but Zadar is world-renowned for its tuna fishing and even exports to famous Japanese restaurant, NOBO.
Thai food at Pearl of Siam
I possibly ate too much Asian food in Zadar but, after 3 months in Croatia, I think I deserve a few meals off.
Pearl of Siam is a tiny Thai restaurant run by Maria and her two sons with authentic, beautifully-presented food. I had the spring rolls and pad Thai with shrimp. The highlight was the selection of amazing dips including homemade satay with coconut milk. Blissful!
Eat coffee & cake
After writing cafe guides to Split and Zagreb, I’ve come to know my Croatian coffee. There aren’t many cafe chains in Croatia and no Starbucks whatsoever. Woohoo! Locals tell me the model simply wouldn’t work: Croatians like to sip their coffee slowly rather than get it to-go.
One of the best coffee shops in Zadar is Coffee & Cake. The coffee will energise you while ticking off all the best things to do in Zadar plus they serve excellent cakes and brunch dishes.
Bonus thing to do in Zadar (#28)
If all this talk of food is making you hungry, why not learn how to make the signature dishes for yourself? Zadar Cooking Class will take you for a morning coffee and spot of shopping at the local market before cooking up a storm in their kitchen. After cooking a typical Croatian meal, you’ll get to enjoy it with wine.
Thanks for reading!
For more Croatia content, see my other blogs…
- What to see and do in Split
- 21 best day trips from Split
- Cafes and coffee shops in Split
- Split Old Town – what to do & see
- 18 best Split restaurants
- Things to do in Trogir, Croatia
- The ultimate Krka Falls day trip from Split
- Marjan Hill guide
- Top things to in Zagreb, Croatia
- 15 best Zagreb coffee shops
- Zagreb street art walking tour
- How to visit Plitvice Lakes as a day trip from Zagreb
- Fun things to do in Dubrovnik
- Visiting Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik
- A day trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina from Dubrovnik
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TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING CROATIA
Getting around by air – I use Skyscanner and search by month to see the cheapest dates.
Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in European countries (and all around the world).
For trains, I use RailEurope. The search feature allows you to compare prices, and they show live departure times on the website.
For buses, I use FlixBus. Find journeys between European countries from €1!
Use Omio to compare trains and buses in one search. It’s so handy!
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide.
Need travel insurance? I use True Traveller (for UK & Europe residents) since it’s affordable but covers everything you’d need including various activities, valuables and pre-existing conditions. Unlike some companies, they insure you if you’re already travelling / don’t yet have your flight home booked. Get a quote.
For travel insurance for other nationalities, I recommend Hey Mundo and for long-term digital nomad travellers, I suggest Safety Wing.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!