Zadar may not be the most well-known city in Croatia, but it’s only a matter of time before it joins the likes of Dubrovnik and Split. This beautiful gem along the Adriatic Coast is only a three-hour drive from Zagreb or a 45-minute flight with Croatia Airlines.
Hoping to experience the weather, history and charm of a Croatian beach town without the packed crowds? You’re sure to love Zadar, a small city that offers all that and more. With so many stunning things to see around Zadar, it’s a refreshing place for tourists with a few wonderful surprises.
If you’re wondering what to do in Zadar, you’re about to discover how many impressive, diverse attractions there are in the area. This travel guide will show you 14 things to do in Zadar, Croatia that will keep you entertained throughout your entire trip.
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See Zadar Cathedral
The Cathedral of Saint Anastasia, commonly referred to as Zadar Cathedral, is the largest church in the region of Dalmatia and one of the top tourist attractions in Zadar, Croatia. While its early Christian basilica roots began in 300 AD, its Romanesque appearance was created in the 12th and 13th centuries. On the outside, you’ll see two Roman-style round spoked windows and arched detailing. Inside, take note of the marble altar used to store relics, as well as the altar of the Saint Sacrement, richly decorated with statues and columns.
The bell tower, however, took three centuries to build and was completed during the 1890s. Travellers visiting the cathedral enjoy climbing to the top of the tower to see the beautiful panorama of the deep blue Adriatic Sea. Admission costs only 15 kunas, the local currency in Croatia, which equals about two euros.
Hear the sounds of the sea organ
Conceived by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić in 2005, the Sea Organ transformed Zadar’s waterfront. This popular attraction works via holes drilled into the smooth marble steps by the sea, linked to 35 organ pipes below the water. The result is the creation of enchanting and otherworldly tones as the waves move back and forth.
Combined with the gentle crashing of the Adriatic waves, it’s an eerie yet soothing auditory experience, and something that’s absolutely unique to Zadar.
Reap the gifts of the sun
Also designed by Nikola Bašić is the Monument to the Sun or the Greeting to the Sun. The monument is comprised of 300 multi-layered glass plates arranged into one 22-diameter circle. Underneath the plates are solar modules that depict the solar system.
Best of all, it is a completely solar-powered and sustainable attraction. Using photovoltaic cells during the day to absorb the sun’s rays, patterns and colours below the plates are illuminated as it begins to get dark outside. Be sure to visit this monument by the waterfront after the sun goes down to see the vibrant display of lights.
People watch at People’s Square
Known in Croatian as Narodni trg, the People’s Square remains the heart of public life for residents in Zadar. From the Renaissance days stands the City Guard clock tower and the City Loggia, from which public announcements were made. Also surrounding the square is the Church of Saint Lawrence, a well-preserved, pre-Romanesque building from the 11th century.
Today, the square remains lively with its numerous cafes and bars, and the loggia is now used as an art exhibition space. Order a hot coffee or a cold beer at Kavana SV. Lovre or Caffe Bar Lovre. There’s plenty of outdoor seating, so pull up a chair and soak in the historic atmosphere. V Kat Caffe has a steep staircase all the way up to the fifth floor that offers a gorgeous lookout over the city’s rooftops.
Wander the city walls
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Zadar was under regularly under threat by the Ottomans. 40 years of constructing new walls, castles and bastions to fortify the city drastically changing its appearance. The limestone walls ensured the area retained its independence and avoided capture by the Turks. Today, portions of the walls remain, as well as eight of the gates.
The impressive entrances are what you should be on the lookout for. One top Zadar attraction is the Land Gate, the main entrance to the old town. It features a triumphant arched entrance with two side passages, intricate motifs, and a statue of the winged Lion of Saint Mark. The gate is one of the finest Renaissance monuments in the region.
Another notable gate is the Saint Chrysogonus Gate, better known as the Sea Gate. Following the victory over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto, it was redone in 1573. This gate is more modest than the larger Land Gate, and tucked in near the ferry port.
See the five wells
In order for the ancient city to have a clean water supply during the 16th century, a cistern was developed with the help of the Venetians. Drinking water was accessed using five separate wells, which remain today in the same square. Now known as Five Wells Square, the stone park has become a popular gathering point. The best time to see the wells is at night when they’re illuminated.
Spend the day at the beach
A perfect way to spend a hot and sunny day is to relax at any of the Zadar beaches.
Kolovare Beach is a favourite spot for the locals, as it’s the closest beach to the city. Meeting the pebbly sand is a pine forest, providing some much-needed shade during the summertime. It’s Blue Flag certified, meaning it meets the pristine standards of cleanliness, safety and accessibility. While you’re there, you can take part in a game of beach volleyball or water polo. If you’d prefer to simply chill out, there are snack bars and ice cream parlours close by.
Zaton Beach is another Blue Flag recipient and only a few kilometres from the centre of Zadar. It’s a great spot to rent a jet ski or a kayak from to see Zadar from another perspective. Beach chairs, umbrellas, towels and floating mattresses are all available to rent here too.
Learn a thing or two at the museums
If you’re in need of things to do in Zadar when it’s raining, there are a few museums and galleries to help you pass the time until the sun comes back out.
The Museum of Ancient Glass showcases a wide range of Roman glassware, including medieval goblets and vials. You can watch a live glassblowing demonstration if you’re interested in the process, and even purchase replicas of some of the artefacts. It’s open from nine a.m. to four p.m. every day except Sunday.
Founded in 1832, the Archaeological Museum is the second oldest museum in Croatia. It includes artefacts from the prehistoric era, with useful, detailed descriptions in English to educate you. Many of the fascinating objects on display were discovered in the graves of nobles. On weekdays, the museum is open from nine in the morning to two in the afternoon.
For something more modern, stop by the Museum of Illusions. At this fun and interactive museum, you can explore the holograms, optical illusions and mirrored rooms, all while getting some memorable photographs. It’s open from 10 a.m. to eight p.m. every day, so there’s plenty of time available to check it out.
Relax in the park
Zadar has many beautiful outdoor spaces if you want to take a break from the historic sightseeing and enjoy nature for a little while.
Queen Jelena Madije Park is unique in that it was built atop the city’s old bastion in the 1880s. This calming, shaded area by the water is near plenty of cafes and an ice cream shop. Be sure to set aside some time to wander through Croatia’s first public park near the Five Wells Square.
Musapstan Forest Park is a larger wooded area, ideal for a long jog or a hike. The luscious scenery will only inspire you to trek further. You can also meet a lot of locals taking their dogs on a walk. Pack your most appropriate shoes, as sandals aren’t ideal at this park.
Attend a concert
A 16th-century military warehouse built under Venetian rule has been transformed into a monument of culture and arts called Arsenal Zadar. Located right next to the city walls, the venue has hosted concerts of all music genres, as well as exhibitions, festivals and plays.
Although the space can be privately rented out, there’s always a great public program full of diverse events. If you’re visiting Zadar during the winter and want an evening away from the cold, see what’s on and stop by.
Visit the local market
Every major city in Croatia has its own local market, and Zadar is no exception. The Zadar Green Market is bursting with colour, flavour, and friendly faces. While you’re picking up some delicious fresh fruit, have a chat with the stallholders and others wandering the market. Seeing the locals go about their daily life and how they interact with everyone is a priceless experience. There are a few souvenirs here you can purchase and display in your home to remember your trip fondly.
You can also combine a market visit with a cooking class. Shop for fresh ingredients with your chef, then head to the kitchen to learn how to prepare traditional Croatian meals. Book this two-for-one experience on Viator and receive complimentary coffee, tea and wine throughout the day.
Go on a walking tour
A walking tour through Zadar will ensure you see all of the city’s best attractions and don’t miss out on a thing. After all, a local guide knows the best and most efficient routes to take. An expert tour guide can give you further insight into the city and its landmarks.
Choose a departure time that best suits you, then be led around the city for a two-hour-long adventure.
Discover more churches
A church unlike most you’ll see around Europe is the Church of Saint Donatus. The facade is simple and humble, though it stands out with its circular shape. The early medieval Dalmatian-style building was constructed in the 9th century as the Church of the Holy Trinity and later re-dedicated to Saint Donatus in the 15th century.
The Church of Saint Chrysogonus is an unassuming structure as well, though it features a beautiful semi-circle apse. Inside, it is decorated with Byzantine-Romanesque frescoes.
Saint Mary’s Church was founded in 1066 by Čika, a noblewoman in Zadar. Its design includes three naves and a Lombardian bell tower. The interior of the Benedictine monastery is currently adorned with 18th-century Baroque motifs.
Lastly, there’s the Monastery of Saint Francis of Assisi. There’s a stunning arched column walkway around the inner courtyard, and a great selection of religious art to see. If you’re having trouble locating it, it’s known in Croatian as Samostan Sv. Frane.
Spend the day at Plitvice
If you’ve got an extra day in Zadar and have seen all of the top attractions, why not go on a day trip? Plitvice Lakes National Park is the perfect place for such an adventure, and only takes an hour and a half to get to. This heavenly forest is famous for its 16 terraced lakes, breathtaking waterfalls, and limestone canyons. The clear emerald green and turquoise waters are a result of the unique mineral composition.
Throughout the 295-square-kilometre area, there are four hiking trails and seven different routes to walk through, with narrow boardwalks suspended over the water. There’s also a boat and a shuttle you can take if you want to get to the waterfalls as soon as possible!
Veliki Slap is known as the Big Waterfall in Plitvice. It stands 78 metres high and is located near the first entrance. The Šupljara and Barać Caves are also cool spots you’ll want to try and see while you’re there.
If you have limited time, you may have to choose between seeing the upper and lower lakes. You can’t go wrong with either choice, as both areas of the park include magnificent waterfalls and crystal clear lakes. Regardless of where you find yourself in Plitvice, there are remarkable scenic views to both appreciate in the moment and photograph for Instagram!
Entrance costs depend on the time of year. Save money by visiting during the shoulder seasons, as the prices are the highest during the peak of summer. It’s also the busiest during June and July, so any other month will be a lot more peaceful too.
Recommended tours in Zadar
- Private half day speedboat tour to Zadar’s nearby islands
- Plitvice Lakes National Park Full-Day Tour from Zadar
- Kornati Archipielago Sailing Tour from Zadar
- Zadar Romantic Sunset Sailing Trip
- Kornati Kayaking and Cycling Day Trip
- Ugljan Island Self-Guide Bike Tour
- Sunset Kayak Tour in Zadar
- Zadar Small-Group Walking Tour
- Kayak tour on Dugi Otok – full day
- Excursion to Kornati National Park from Zadar
- Pag Island Private Food Tour
- Krka National Park Full-Day Tour from Zadar
- Private speedboat tour to world famous Sakarun beach