Croatia’s Zadar city has been constantly nominated as one of the best European destinations, and today I am here to share with you the best things to do and see in Zadar, Croatia, for an unforgettable vacation.
Zadar’s perfect blend of the past and modern times is one of the reasons that makes it such a good option when visiting Croatia.
It is a city that has always managed to rise from the ashes after being destroyed. The Phoenix of Croatia, we must say – and a must see in the country!
Zadar, Croatia: Short overview
Zadar is situated on a relatively small peninsula, surrounded by the sea on three sides. This means that all the attractions are easy to reach.
For example, Zadar’s old town is completely walkable, and you can easily walk to many of my recommendations below.
The most popular street in Zadar is Široka ulica (Calle Larga – Kalelarga), which stretches from People’s Square (Narodni trg) to the Roman Forum. This street is older than the city itself and is the center of everything in Zadar.
Being a compact city, it means that there are numerous sights packed into a relatively small space.
But since even so, it’s easy to miss some of them, I will share below the must see’s and do’s in Zadar: from the historic sites, landmarks, and religious sites to museums and, of course, the beaches.
IMPORTANT: If you want an expert to handle everything I recommend booking this Guided City Walking Tour. It’s a three-hour long moderate walking tour, ticking off the main attractions in the area (with a tour guide) and also including a tasting of the local specialties – cherry brandy Maraschino and the traditional Pag cheese.
Great value for the money, an amazing guide that you will love and my recommended way to approach this instead of trying to do it all yourself. This leaves you with more time to explore the rest of the city at your own pace (or just relax). Click here to check out my recommended tour.
Top Zadar Attractions
Zadar has two main historical sites that you should definitely visit when you come here: the Roman Forum and St. Donatus Church. Also, two iconic symbols of the city: The Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun.
There are other must see things that match this category, and we’ll cover them all below. Also, if you need help with accommodation, I have written an article about the best hotels in Zadar.
The Roman Forum
This is a trademark of Zadar and the main square of the Roman Iadera. It is located in front of St. Donat church and the Archbishop’s Palace – two of the other must see things in the area. I told you everything is close by!
The Forum is one of the largest in the Adriatic and one of the most important among the ancient cities on the Adriatic sea.
The construction of the complex began back in the twenties of the first century BC, and I can guarantee that you can literally feel the history when you’re in the area!
St. Donatus Church
Also in the Old Town area, we have the St. Donatus Church, which is located next to the Roman forum.
This is a ring-shaped pre-Romanesque church and the most famous monumental construction in Croatia from the early Middle Ages. It was also called the Church of St. Trinity, before being renamed after the bishop who built it.
The church was built directly on the remains of the Roman Forum, actually, making the two a unique and inseparable unit. And, of course, one that you not only have to visit, but one that you will love, too.
Most of the church’s architectural decorations, as well as monolithic columns, are of ancient origin and come mostly from the destroyed Roman Forum.
The four gates of Zadar
In the Old Town area, but also around the city of Zadar itself, we have a few other essential landmarks to visit.
The city walls and gates were part of the city defense, and today, only parts of these walls remain, along with four gates that you can visit as part of a tour.
The Land Gate on Fosa Harbor is the most impressive of these – especially when you learn that it was built by the Venetians in 1543.
The second gate is called The Sea Gate is behind the Church of St. Chrysogonus and contains part of a Roman arch.
The Bridge Gate is the third gate excavated by the Italians in the 1930s, connecting Narodni trg and Kalelarga street.
Finally, the St. Rocco Gate is the smallest gate and connects the Three Wells Square with the harbor.
Finally, along the port of Fosa, leads a paved path by the monumental town walls which ends on Obala Kralja Petra Kresimira IV, which is a park-promenade, about 1 km long, along the western side of the peninsula.
A walk along this promenade is a must, as it is a great place for taking amazing photos. It is also called the Riva promenade.
The Five Wells Square
Five Wells Square is another Zadar attraction that you should visit for its historical importance.
The story goes that, in order to survive the Turkish siege of the town in the 16th century, five huge water tanks and five wells were built in Zadar, providing the water supply for the defenders inside the walls.
After the Turks retreated, the city turned the area into a beautiful square that should be visited when you’re in the area.
St. Anastasia Cathedral – A Monumental Marvel
Located on the northern side of the Roman Forum, St. Anastasia is the largest Romanesque cathedral in Dalmatia, built in the 12th century.
Its facade boasts three doors and two central rose windows and looks really spectacular. While inside, you’ll find a 9th-century stone casket believed to contain the remains of St. Anastasia, after whom the cathedral is named.
Next to the cathedral stands a bell tower, which was built in two stages.
The ground floor and first floor were built in 1452, while the upper floors were added from 1890 to 1894.
The bell tower offers stunning views over Zadar and the channel. To get to the top, you’ll need to climb 180 steps, but the view is worth the effort: you’ll take some amazing photos from up here, trust me!
Zadar Sea Organ
This is, most likely, the most famous and best known attraction in Zadar. And it is popular with a reason: it’s absolutely spectacular and indeed a must see during your stay here.
The Zadar Sea Organ is a 70-meter-long musical instrument built under the concrete. The instrument plays music created by the wind and the sea through a system of polyethylene tubes and a resonating cavity.
It’s a really unique experience, for sure, and you have to be there to see and hear it. Until then, I have a video below, showing the sound of the Zadar Sea organ:
Greeting to the Sun
This is the second best known attraction in Zadar, Croatia and one of the symbols of the city.
Located right next to the Sea Organ, this is a 22-meter diameter art installation made of 300 multi-layered glass plates. Under then, there are photo-voltaic solar modules that collect solar energy during the day and release it during the night… but in the form of dancing lights.
Make sure to visit the place after the sun has set to experience it in its entire beauty.
The Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun have become some of the top attractions in Zadar, and for good reason.
The unique sounds of the sea organ, combined with the stunning Zadar sunset and the dancing lights of the Greeting to the Sun, make for an unforgettable and truly unique experience.
Museum of Ancient Glass
For those who want some inside-time, the Museum of Ancient Glass is probably the top museum to visit in Zadar.
It houses a unique collection of about 2,000 various glass objects from ancient times, many of them originating from the period between the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD.
What makes this museum special is its permanent exhibition, as well as the museum workshops led by glass blower Marko Stefanec.
He specializes in blowing handmade replicas of ancient glass. You can also witness the glass jewelry method of work, led by talented Zadar artist Antonija Gospic, as well as many other artists for a unique experience.
With a modern gift shop, filled with the glass creations of the artists there, you can buy some unique souvenirs to remind you forever of your trip to Zadar.
Museum opening hours:
- off season (Nov 1 – April 30): 9 AM to 4 PM
- high season (May 1st – Oct 31st): 9 AM to 9 PM
- Closed on Sundays
- 6 Eur for adults
- €4.00 per adult (if groups larger than 5)
- €3.00 for students
Next up is the Archaeological Museum of Zadar, located in a newly constructed building in the center of the historic Roman Iadera.
The museum houses objects from the Roman era and prehistoric archaeological material from the Paleolithic, Neolithic, and Metal Age, as well as archaeological remains from the 7th to the 12th century.
One of the most prominent details of this museum is a group of imperial statues (Tiberius, August, and an unknown Roman emperor).
This unidentified statue is believed to belong to Julius Caesar, and because of its size, it’s exposed at the ground floor at the entrance. Find out more at the museum’s official website.
Zadar Museum of Illusions
If you’re looking for a unique museum experience, then the Zadar Museum of Illusions is the perfect place for you – and especially your children.
Boasting a series of rooms with amazing illusions, this museum will undermine your confidence in your senses, but the results will be absolutely amazing.
This new trend of museum has become one of the most popular among Zadar attractions and even though it’s pretty much similar to other museums of illusions around the world, you will not be disappointed.
I personally loved the Chair Illusion room, as well as the rotated room, but there are more to choose from. Also, plenty of games for kids (and adults) which will result in an overall flawless experience.
Prices: €10.00 for adults and €7.00 for kids (5-15 years). Children under 5: free entry00
Enjoy the local cuisine
One of the top things to do in any place you visit is enjoy the local food. Sampling the local delicacies is one of my favorite activities, and I am sure I’m not the only one.
Recommended: To make sure you get the best of the best, check out this 3-hour long Guided Culinary tour in Zadar. It will surprise you with traditional and modern Croatian food, sweets and drinks… it will be a pleasure!
If you want to do it yourself, there are plenty of amazing restaurants and markets to sample the food.
One of the must-try dishes in Zadar is the octopus salad, a refreshing dish made with fresh octopus, tomatoes, and onions.
Another popular dish is pasticada, a slow-cooked beef stew that’s typically served with gnocchi or pasta.
Pag cheese, a type of cheese made from sheep’s milk, is also a local specialty that’s not to be missed. And, of course, make sure to sample as many pastries as you can – they’re all delicious.
Best beaches in Zadar, Croatia
Of course, one of the main reasons you’re probably visiting Croatia is soaking in the sun and enjoying the amazing waters of the Adriatic sea. So it’s time to talk about the best beaches in the city.
You might be surprised to find out that, unfortunately, Zadar doesn’t offer a lot in terms of actual beaches.
Sure, there are plenty around the city, but most don’t have a name and are narrow, rocky and even paved.
For example, the Riva promenade I mentioned above usually turns into a beach during the high season… and there are many similar examples.
So I will also include a few recommendations nearby for a truly amazing, day-long beach experience during your stay in Zadar.
Kolovare is the most popular beach in Zadar, located just a 10-minute walk from the old town area. It is a public beach, so expect it to be crowded!
It is also a pebble beach – something common throughout Croatia, but it is over a kilometer long and offers plenty of facilities such as showers, changing rooms, and sun loungers. Plenty of bars and restaurants in the area not to worry about anything.
You can also find opportunities for practicing various water sports here, like jet skiing, parasailing, and windsurfing.
This is the second and final of my recommended beaches that are actually in Zadar.
Borik Beach is located in the northern part of the city and is surrounded by pine trees. Therefore, it offers plenty of shade, making it ideal for families with young children.
Borik Beach also offers water sports activities such as kayaking, paddleboarding, and snorkeling.
It is a rocks and pebbles beach, but there are also areas where concrete and pontoons make the entire experience more pleasant. It is also a Blue Flag beach, an award offered to amazing beaches over the world.
Just a short ferry ride away from Zadar, we have this spectacular, secluded pebble beach. You can find an article listing all ferry rides from Zadar here.
Surrounded by pine trees and serene all the time, it also offers crystal clear waters that are perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
Queen’s Beach is ideal for those who want a peaceful and relaxing day at the beach, as it rarely gets overcrowded.
This is by far my favorite beach in the Zadar area. It is actually located on the Dugi Otok island, a short ferry ride from Zadar.
I strongly recommend getting this package that includes a catamaran trip to the island, a full day there – but also the lunch is included in the price, as well as a welcome drink and a breakfast sandwich. A great deal!
This beach is famous for its white sand and turquoise waters, making it one of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia. And since Croatia is lacking in the sandy beach category, this is a massive bonus for you.
Trust me – you will LOVE it! You will experience here some of the clearest, most amazing shallow waters you have ever seen! Check out the video below to fall in love with it right now:
Nin Lagoon Beach
This amazing beach is located in the town of Nin, just a 30-minute drive away from Zadar.
This is also a sandy beach, surrounded by shallow waters, making it perfect for families with young children.
Nin Lagoon Beach also offers plenty of facilities such as restaurants, cafes, and sun loungers. I have a full article dedicated to this special place, so make sure to continue reading my Nin Lagoon Beach guide.
There you have it – all the best things to do in Zadar. I am sure that I have covered all the main attractions and sights in the city, as well as all the great activities you should do here. So… just prepare for them and for an unforgettable stay.
If you have additional recommendations for things to do in Zadar, don’t hesitate to share your suggestions in the comments section below.