Zadar is the second largest city on the Dalmatian coast and is home to a sunset that is said to be ‘the most beautiful in the world’. Old Town Zadar is surrounded by high city walls and impressive gates with an array of ruins, museums, restaurants, and cafes dotted throughout its white marble streets.
Dating back to the 4th century, Zadar is Croatia’s oldest continually inhabited city! Brimming with a magnitude of things to see and do, the city boasts a seafront promenade and a booming food scene that’s famous for its fresh, local seafood. Nature-lovers, history buffs, and backpackers alike all seem to fall in love with Zadar from their first visit!Table of contents
- History of Zadar
- The Best Way to Get to Zadar
- Things to do in Zadar
- Top Bars in Zadar
- Where to eat in Zadar
- Old Town Attractions
- Where to Stay in Zadar
- Explore Nearby Destinations
- Visit the Best Beaches in Zadar
History of Zadar
You may hear Zadar referred to as a microcosm of the history of Croatia, and with such an extensive past, it's not surprising that Zadar has had quite a tumultuous journey!
Once the capital of Dalmatia which lasted for a millenia, the first settlers are thought to have been during the Neolithic era, with the Illyrians settling in the 8th century, Slavs in the 7th, and the Romans colonising the city by the Middle Ages. The Roman’s introduced many modern advancements including an aqueduct and even central heating!
Zadar’s prime location and proximity to Italy made it a desirable target for the Venetians, especially as it became an important trading port between the Romans and the Greeks. One constant that Zadar has had throughout time is its dedicated townspeople who persevere for their city; Venice did conquer many times throughout history, however they were always overthrown by locals – talk about power of the people! Desperate to actually conquer Zadar, Venice resorted to bribing the Crusaders so they could be triumphant, which they were, but low and behold 40 years later they were overthrown again.
A couple of hundred years later, Zadar would soon find themselves face to face with a new challenge by the way of the Turkish. The defensive walls of the city were built in response to the Ottoman Empire and are still securing the city to this day.
The 20th Century brought new and modern challenges. Italy occupied Zadar at the end of WWI, which lasted for 20 years and, only one year later, they found themselves attacked by German troops who destroyed a significant portion of their famous peninsula.
History yet again repeated itself in the 1990’s and Zadar found themselves under a 3 month siege by Yugoslavian rockets. Despite the turmoil and war-clad wounds apparent on the city walls, Zadar has come out as one of Croatia’s most spirited cities.
The Best Way to Get to Zadar
You’ll be pleased to know that getting to Zadar is refreshingly easy! Every form of transport is compatible in Zadar, so it really does depend on what will work best for your transport needs.
Zadar Airport, located just 8 kilometers outside of the city centre, is not only well connected to Croatian and European cities, but is also quite a budget-friendly option if you’re looking to nab a cheap flight into Croatia! To get to the Old Town from the Airport, you can catch the Airport Shuttle bus that operates 30 minutes after each arrival. A one way ticket will cost 25HRK and can be purchased onboard from the driver. If you're looking for flights to Zadar, visit our Croatian Airport guide.
Zadar is also easily accessible by bus and has a comprehensive list of bus lines that will deliver you to the city; there are even direct routes from nearby European cities! The bus stop is located 10 minutes outside of the centre. For bus timetables, you can visit this website here.
You can also reach Zadar via train however, they’re not the most efficient form of transport in this part of the country. If this is your only means of travelling then allow plenty of time, sit back and relax!
Things to do in Zadar
1. Explore the city’s walls and gates
A big thanks to Zadar’s standing success goes to it’s formidable city walls which are now inducted as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites! These impressive limestone walls were built in the 16th Century as a response to the attack of the Ottoman Turks. Today, the original Sea and Land gates are still standing, and despite some destruction to the facade, it is well worth strolling around the perimeter and marvelling at these defensive fortifications. Even though they were built in response to attacks, the walls are still adorned with decorative designs. Spot how many times you can find the Winged Lion, which is the symbol of Venice, or St. Chrysogonus who rides his noble steed and is known as Zadar’s protector.
Our Top Tip: Don’t pass up seeing one of the most spectacular views of these ancient walls from the Port Gate on the seaward side. Standing since 1573 to celebrate the victory from the Turks, you can see none other than Zadar’s protector himself – St. Chrysogonus!
2. Be captivated by the Sea Organ
Built into the marble steps of Zadar’s seafront promenade, you’ll unwittingly discover one of Zadar’s most prized attractions – the Sea Organ. As you stroll through the Old Town, you may hear a whisper of delicate notes off in the distance. Once you get closer and reach the edges of the promenade, you’ll be welcomed by the chords of nature itself.
Formed in 2005, and the first of its kind in the world, 35 organ pipes have been cleverly cut into the 4 marble steps that lead to the water on Zadar’s waterfront promenade. The waves enter and exit, and much like the action of a harmonica, create a unique soundtrack that’s exclusive to Zadar!
When the waves are calm, the sound is a gentle melody from the soft sway of the water; when the sea is ruffled by boats and vessels nearby, the organ’s music completely transforms into a loud and vibrant symphony of sound. It really is an incredible installation, one that you have to see and hear for yourself!
3. Enjoy the lightshow at the Sun Salutation
Perched on the southernmost point of the sea promenade quay, and nearby the Sea Organ, a solar powered installation that illuminates into a spectacular light show as the sun sets can be found. The Greeting to the Sun, which sits proudly at 22 meters in diameter, consists of 10,000 solar panels that absorb the sun's energy by day. The grand installation uses photovoltaic cells so that come night, it’s powered up enough to display a vivid cornucopia of colours that complement the hues of the sunset. If you look close enough, you’ll also find the names of saints which Zadar’s churches are dedicated to engraved into the edges of the circle.
Don’t be discouraged if you wander to the point by day and you simply discover a blue circle, the beauty of this installation is that, whether it’s day, dusk or night, you’ll be welcomed with a completely new version of the attraction each time!
4. Visit the Museum of Illusions
Are you bold enough to question everything you thought you knew? Zadar’s answer to a brain teaser is their interactive smart playroom, the Museum of Illusions. Home to a wonderland of illusions, optical and more, there are over 70 exhibitions you can try out. Get lost in a sea of your own reflection in the mirror room, test the limits of your perception in the infinity room and vortex exhibit, or enjoy the kaleidoscope lightshow from the hologram room – if you’re game enough, you should see if you’ll come out triumphant in the rotated room. Found in the Old Town, entry for an adult costs 60HRK whilst for children it is 40HRK.
5. Try Zadar’s Signature Drink
Taste the flavour intrinsic to Zadar! Splashed all over the city, you may notice a drink that keeps popping up throughout your journey. Whilst olives and grapes are the city’s reigning crop, closeby maraschino cherries are prosperous throughout the region and are the reason why the production of local cherry liqueur was born. Known as Maraska, this sweet with a hint of sour liqueur has been serving up its cherry coloured elixr since the 1700’s. Served in most bars and cafes, you can’t pass up sipping on this piece of Zadar history.
6. Stroll Venetian Zadar
Step back in time the same way locals and Venetian rulers did some 450 years ago. Zadar is incredibly saturated with Venetian designs throughout the city, the most notable on their ancient city walls. Zadar’s success as a lively city is the result of these fortified walls and series of gates protecting the city and its people, preserving the inside of the Old Town to this day. In typical Roman design, the city was fashioned into an angular square with streets branching off in all directions. It’s worth dedicating the time to explore all the hidden nooks and crannies available inside these walls, one of which is the Five Wells Square. Meander your way from one gate to another absorbing everything in between until you eventually uncover Foša’s Land Gate, granting entrance to Zadar’s Roman centre and taking you all the way to the Sea Gate, suitably perched at the end of the peninsula.
7. Visit Croatia’s National Parks
With close proximity to not one, but five of Croatia’s breathtaking national parks, Zadar is the perfect home base for day trips to explore the varied landscapes of this region.
Paklenica National Park
Perfect if you’re only in Zadar for a day or two, this National park is under an hour away from the city and is a playground for experienced rock climbers, as well as offering gentle hikes suitable for everyone.
Krka National Park
Chasing waterfalls is no longer a dream and is absolutely achievable! Only an hour's drive south to Krka National Park, you can explore the highs and lows that these gorgeous waterfalls cover.
Known for its 16 cascading turquoise lakes, the most famous, oldest, and largest of Croatia’s 8 national parks is Plitvice Lakes. It is a 1.5 hour drive north-east of Zadar and there are hours of eden-like lush green trails to explore in the warmer months. If you’re visiting in winter, the park becomes a winter wonderland covered in blankets of snow and ice.
Kornati National Park
Zadar is the gateway to this archipelago of 89 islands lying just off the coast that make up this National Park. The best way to enjoy these mostly uninhabited islands is to book a day boat tour, where you can dive into secluded turquoise bays, and soak up the sun on virtually untouched beaches.
Northern Velebit National Park
A 2.5 hour drive north takes you to Croatia’s highest mountain range, where avid hikers can enjoy challenging trails and high ridges with sweeping views of the Adriatic Sea. Home to bears, lynx’s, wolves, and wild horses, Northern Velebit is perhaps the wildest of Croatia’s National Parks and truly a trek off the beaten track!
8. Watch a magical sunset
After his visit to the city in 1964, Alfred Hitchcock described Zadar’s sunset as ‘the most beautiful in the world’. With the Old Town set on a peninsula it’s hard not to have a front-row seat for the main event where you can judge for yourself. Our favourite spot to watch the sunset is at the steps of the Sea Organ, where you will be treated to both a sound and light show, one that will stay with you forever!
Top Bars in Zadar
Zadar has a relatively active nightlife thanks to its population of students and travellers passing through! Between a bustling beach scene, venues to dance and places to enjoy a drink, Zadar has plenty of options ready for you!
The Garden Lounge
Being 17 years in the making you can expect that The Garden Lounge delivers! It’s prime location sits on top of Zadar’s city walls overlooking the harbour. By day, the space is a tranquil hotspot for those looking for a nice refreshment or a bit of RnR on the daybeds, but by night the venue transforms. Heavy beats, a pretty list of cocktails and hand picked DJ’s pump up the volume to create the answer to your outdoor bar needs.
Fairly new to the club scene in Zadar, Hype Bar is the perfect place to dress to the 9’s and dance ‘till dawn. Music doesn’t fall short here either with a mix of House beats, RnB hits and throwbacks from the 80’s and 90’s – you’ll be on the dancefloor all night long! Make sure you try their list of cocktails, it’s worth the journey just for their drinks!
Set your sights on this retro New York inspired bar! In the middle of the Old Town you’ll be pulled in by the heavy thump of techno beats as you get ready for a night to remember. With quality music and a tasty drinks list, if you’re not stopping by this stylish veure you’re missing out!
Where to eat in Zadar
Zadar is spoiled for choice when it comes to places to eat. Whether on the promenade, in the city centre or on the walls of the Old Town, you’ll find somewhere delicious at every turn!
For seafood lovers, Foša is the relaxed and intimate restaurant to try. Close to the city walls and overlooking a small harbour, you can expect to find the perfect fusion of traditional and modern flavours on the menu. Much of what’s on offer depends on seasonal catches, which make for a tasty surprise each time you visit. With over 120 Croatian wines up for the taking, Foša will not disappoint!
Known to be one of the best restaurants in not only the city but the whole of Croatia, Kornat is an unmissable location if you’re looking to have a fulfilling meal. On one side of the art deco inspired space is a wall of their wines on display, and on the other, a glass wall looking out toward the port; easily one of the best seats to watch one of Zadar’s famous sunsets! Special attention is given to the delicious meals and wines to accompany – it’s their ingredients and wine pairings that set Kornat apart from the other spots.
Art Of Raw
Art Of Raw integrated lifestyle company are expertises in elevating guest experiences and even branched off into the restaurant scene. Raw and vegan based dieters rejoice because this is the place for you! All those who don’t follow this type of dietary lifestyle don’t be discouraged! Art of Raw delivers unbelievable meals including burgers and pasta dishes all whilst incorporating it's clean approach to plant based dishes.
Old Town Attractions
St. Donat’s Church
St. Donat’s Church is located in the city centre built on the famous Roman Forum. Standing proudly at 27 meters high, you can’t miss this grand structure when you get to the city. St. Donat’s is Zadar’s most important example of Byzantine architecture, making it one the city’s, and Dalmatia’s, top historic attractions. The unique circular church built in the 9th Century also remains in relatively perfect condition due to its preservation. The church ceased running as a place of worship from the 18th Century and soon the floor was ripped to unearth the original stonework, most of which was acquired from the forum just outfront. With impeccable acoustics inside its walls, St. Donat’s has now become a venue for many concerts in the city.
St. Anastasia’s Cathedral
Initially founded over a millennia ago, and located in the middle of Zadar’s Roman centre, St. Anastasia’s Cathedral stands. It’s famed for being the largest of its kind in Dalmatia but its style is what makes it unique. Of what we see of today’s design was started in the 9th Century by the Byzantines and then rebuilt in the 12th and 13th Centuries by the Romans; the structure has a noticeable fusion of a few different architectural periods. Most prominent are the two rose windows carved into the facade of the building’s entrance; the large rose fashioned in a Romanesque style and the small rose in a Gothic style. Wander inside and discover relics of which include the remains of the 9th Century stone casket of St. Anastasia themself. If you’ve got time, the bell tower adjourning is worth the climb to the top, opening up to panoramic views of the 2,000 year old terracotta city, sea blues and of course a nice breath of fresh air.
The Roman Forum is a testament to the long standing history of Zadar. It’s the largest of its kind in Dalmatia’s east coast and was established by Emperor Augustus in the 1st Century! Construction of the forum steadily formed between the 1st and 3rd Century according to inscriptions found at the excavation site. The forum was rediscovered in 1930, unfortunately due to the attacks during WWII, bomb damage cleared much of the historic relics, however come the 1960’s and the forum began to form once again. Of the fragments that remain standing, a colonnade and pillory await. As you weave in and out of the stump remnants, a temple and basilica that once stood in place are now a whisper of remains as well. An interesting find is the Pole of Shame, which was a recent addition compared to its inception, and acted as the space for public punishment of criminals during the Middle Ages.
The People’s Square, known as Narodi Trg by locals, has been the hub of Zadar public life since it was built in the 16th Century, and really did act as the place for the people. Within the square is the City Guard House, built sometime in the 1500’s, the Renaissance City Loggia built in 1565, which was traditionally used to proclaim announcements for the city, and the more recent addition came in the 1930’s when the City Hall was formed.
A display of Zadar’s rich history, the Archaeological Museum is the second oldest museum in Croatia found on Zadar’s main square. The museum provides a unique glimpse into what civilization would have looked like during its prime. Artefacts ranging between the Prehistoric, Illyrian, Byzantine and Medieval times all dot throughout the venue as does a model demonstrating what the forum would have looked like in all its glory.
Where to Stay in Zadar
Zadar has many accommodation options ranging from high-end hotels to budget friendly choices. Choose to stay in the heart of the city or on the outskirts, whichever you choose you’ll be spoiled for choice. We recommend using an accommodation search engine, such as Airbnb, to find the accommodation that best suits your needs.
Explore Nearby Destinations
Only a 15 minute drive from Zadar is the small coastal town of Bibinje. Even though the town is small, it’s home to the largest marina in the Adriatic.
Despite its size, with around only 4,000 inhabitants, Bibinje has a significant list of things to see and do. Many churches with religious importance dot throughout the town and are worth a visit. Four kilometers of the town's coast is reserved to its beaches which are amazing to swim, snorkel or kayak, however if you’re after something a little more thrill-seeking, you can find rafting on Zrmanja! There are numerous cafe bars, taverns and restaurants in Bibinje all of which are perfect to refuel.
Although small in its name, Nin has a big past. The town itself is over 3,000 years old, however it’s more famous accord goes to its royal background. Here is where the 7 kings of the Kingdom were crowned, making it the oldest royal city in Croatia.
Only 14 kilometers north west of Zadar, which will roughly take you 30 minutes by bus, Nin has a lot to offer travellers. Explore the Nin Salt Pans that have been around for over 1,500 years or visit some natural attractions from a healing mud peloid to Queens beach – said to be one of the best beaches in Croatia! Nin is also said to have the smallest cathedral in the world!
An unmissable island closeby to Zadar is Dugi Otok. It is the longest island in Croatia and is surrounded with gorgeous orchards and vineyards. A daily ferry can get you to Dugi Otok from Zadar and will take around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
On its repottaire, Dugi Otok is a famed summer stop for travellers. From sea kayaking to scuba diving, the postcard pristine Saharun Beach and Telašćica Nature Park on the south part of the island, Dugi Otok isn’t short of things to see and do. For adrenaline seekers, those brave enough can even bungee jump 56 meters from the nearby Maslinica Bridge!
Located on the southeast tip of Dugi Otok, a special mention goes out to Sali - the largest town and cultural center on the island. This humble harbour-town is named after the salt works that used to run in this area. Unlike the majority of the island whose settlements follow a more traditional way of life, Sali is the mini metropolis of the island.
If you’re visiting in August, the weekend before the Assumption celebrates Sali Fiesta which attracts people from all over the region showcasing donkey races, traditional performances and more!
Nearby Zadar, Pag Island is conveniently connected by road and is the ultimate festival destination. Exploding in strobe lights and glow sticks, over the summer months you can find super clubs dotted all over the famous Zrce Beach. If you’re looking for a never ending party, our Hideout Festival Cruise takes in the craziness of Zrce Beach amongst many other party destinations! Never fear, food and wine tours will get your more sophisticated juices flowing, with ample opportunity to try the distinctive Pag Island cheese
Visit the Best Beaches in Zadar
On the north side of Zadar, Borik Beach stretches across the coastline. Known as one of Zadar’s most beautiful beaches thanks to its sandy shoreline and concrete landscape where you can choose to dip in and out from too. There are many amenities available at this beach, from volleyball, jet-skiing, water scooters and even parasailing all ready to be enjoyed! Borik Beach also shares a side with Zadar’s The Garden bar, allowing you to freshen up with some ice cold drinks. Accessible by bus, a one way ticket will cost you 10HRK.
East of the peninsula and a slight walk from the promenade, Kolovare is the answer for those after a traditional public city beach, which makes it the perfect stop being so close to the city centre. Made up of a predominately pebbly shoreline, Kolovare is a favourite for locals and travellers alike because of water’s blue flag accreditation; meaning it’s recognised as one of the purest! Rich in amenities, you’ll have something to keep you occupied for hours! And if that’s not enough, nearby you can use the sea pool or dive off of Zadar’s famous diving board!
Just a couple of kilometers north of Borik Beach, Diklo beach awaits. Much calmer than Borik, it’s perfect for those seeking serenity from the hustle and bustle, yet it’s close enough to Zadar, only 4 kilometers from the city centre, to quickly dip to and from. Crystal clear waters are a present at Diklo and so too are fun amenities for all ages. Choose between tubing on the water or jet-skiing at high speeds and finish off your day with some refreshments from the beach bar just opposite.
Zadar is a historically rich, cosmopolitan city that boasts an array of artistic and natural attractions! This seaside city offers something for everyone and is a must-visit destination for history buffs, nature lovers and sun seekers alike!