Although Zadar is one of Croatia’s lesser-known cities, this gorgeous spot along the Adriatic Coast has so much to offer. With a population of under 200,000, this small gem is packed with surprises and attractions you wouldn’t expect. Compared to the bustle in Dubrovnik, Zadar is a peaceful retreat away from the larger crowds.
This Zadar travel guide will be your insight into the city’s best activities and attractions, from Roman ruins to pristine beaches. Keep reading to find out what you can expect when you visit Zadar, Croatia, including the best tours to book and restaurants to eat at.
This ultimate travel guide to Zadar will show you all the most beautiful places in Zadar, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Zadar and things to do in Zadar which will help you in planning a trip to Zadar.
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How to get to Zadar
Fortunately, there is a small international airport only eight kilometres from the centre of Zadar. There are an impressive number of connections to many nearby European cities, with more destinations being added in 2019. For 25 kn, you can easily catch a bus from the entrance of the airport to the city.
If you’re coming from a larger Croatian city or even Austria or Slovenia, there are buses that can take you right to Zadar. FlixBus is a reliable and affordable coach service that runs throughout Europe, so be sure to explore this option from your departure city.
From Zagreb, you can catch a train to Zadar with a transfer at Knin. During the summertime, there are also trains to Croatia from Vienna, Prague and Budapest, although you will again have to switch over at Knin for a local train to Zadar.
What to expect in Zadar
Croatian is the language spoken by locals in Zadar. However, most of the population along the coastline of Croatia are used to tourists and can speak English fairly well. You’ll be able to communicate easily with anyone you encounter in the tourism and hospitality industries.
Croatia’s currency is kuna (kn), although the country is expected to transition to the euro in the coming years. One kuna currently equals about 22 cents in Australian Dollars or 0.13 euro. Debit and credit cards are accepted at most places, so you won’t always need to carry banknotes with you.
Tipping isn’t necessary at bars or local cafes, although you can make the paying process easier by rounding up the bill to the nearest five or 10 kn. At fancy restaurants, however, tips of five to 10% are more common.
How to get around Zadar
All of Zadar’s Old Town is walkable, and it is rare to see any cars around. Unless your accommodation is further out, you’ll be able to explore most of the area on foot. To get to the Old Town, you can use any local taxi service, like Lulić Taxi.
The only form of public transport in Zadar is the bus, run by a company called Liburnija. Tickets cost 10 kn and can be pre-purchased at a kiosk or on board any bus. Buses run frequently between the Old Town, the main bus station, and throughout the suburbs.
The best time to visit Zadar
The Mediterranean climate of Zadar equals cold winters and warm, humid summers. The best time to stop by for a visit is anywhere between May to September. You’re guaranteed the best possible weather between June and August, with average temperatures of 24 to 28 degrees Celsius. From November to March, however, there are rarely any days above 10 degrees Celsius, meaning you’ll miss out on any beach activities.
Things to do in Zadar
Wondering what to see and what to do in Zadar? Here are some of the best ways to spend your time while visiting this charming Croatian city:
Zadar’s most unique attraction is the Sea Organ, designed in 2005 by the Croatian architect Nikola Bašić. Holes are drilled into marble steps along the shoreline, linking to 35 organ pipes below the surface of the water. The crashing waves help to create magical tones that are simultaneously eerie and calming. If you ever hear faint mystical music in Zadar and wonder what’s going on, the noise is almost definitely coming from the Sea Organ!
Monument to the Sun
Another rare attraction in Zadar is the Monument to the Sun. This 22-metre diameter circle is constructed using 300 multi-layered glass plates with solar modules. At night, these plates are illuminated in various patterns and colours to illustrate the solar system. Just like the Sea Organ, this solar-powered attraction was designed by Nikola Bašić. Stop by once the sun goes down to witness the dynamic display of light.
Since ancient times, Zadar’s Roman Forum has been a popular public space for people to converge. Constructed between the first and third centuries, these former Roman ruins are now an open-air museum. Although many surrounding buildings were destroyed during an earthquake in the sixth century, various elements still stand, including altars and benches. Stop by and wander through this historic spot opposite the Church of Saint Donatus.
The Cathedral of Saint Anastasia, better known as Zadar Cathedral, is the largest church in the Northern Dalmatia region of Croatia. Its Romanesque appearance with round-spoked windows and arched details date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Inside the basilica is the marble-columned altar of the Saint Sacrament.
The cathedral’s bell tower was a later addition that took three centuries to construct, finishing up in the 1890s. For 15 kn, you can wander up to the top of the tower and look out over serene, uninterrupted views of the Adriatic Sea.
Conveniently located near the city, Kolovare is one of the best beaches in Zadar, Croatia. The pebble sand haven is Blue Flag certified, meeting high standards of safety, cleanliness and accessibility. The pine trees provide some welcome shade during the hot summer days, as do the ice cream parlours close by. You’ll find locals and tourists alike sharing a game of beach volleyball or water polo, so join in for an enjoyable Zadar beach experience.
The City Walls
The limestone walls around the city helped Zadar retain its independence during the 16th and 17th centuries while under threat by the Ottomans. Parts of the walls still remain, including some of the impressively-built gates.
Be on the lookout for the Land Gate, which is the official entrance into the Old Town. The Renaissance monument features a main arched entrance for vehicles with two side passages for pedestrians. Notice the winged Lion of Saint Mark statue at the top, as well as the other delicate motifs.
Five Wells Square
The historic landmarks known as the five wells allowed the city to have its own water supply during the 16th century. Today, Five Wells Square is a popular meeting point for locals of all ages. Right next to the square is the Queen Jelena Madijevka Park, as well as many bars and restaurants. If you can, stop by at night when the wells are illuminated.
What to eat in Zadar
Curious about what kind of food is served up in Zadar? Here are some delicious local dishes you’ll want to try and where you can order them:
Restaurant Bruschetta is a mix of Mediterranean and Dalmatian culinary traditions. Try the squid or shrimp risotto, as well as a cold fish platter as an appetiser. As one of the fancier restaurants in Zadar, you can expect top-notch service and a beautifully-presented meal.
Proto also has an impressive range of vegetarian dishes and modern Croatian cuisine. Favourites include the spinach gnocchi, salmon pate, and black and white tuna. There’s even a speciality beef burger if you’re already missing the food back home.
Next door at Pet Bunara, you can enjoy a plate of pašticada, a popular stewed beef dish originating in Dalmatia. This restaurant specialises in giving classic Croatian and Dalmatian meals a unique twist, so spend your time looking at the menu thoroughly or ask your server for recommendations. You’ll find inventive dishes like ravioli with figs to black squid stew with chickpeas.
Where to stay in Zadar
Zadar may not be the biggest city, but there are still hundreds of different places you can stay at during your trip. Here are a few suggestions for Zadar hotels you’re sure to love. If hotels isn’t your jam, check our Airbnb options.
Art Hotel Kalelarga is one of a kind in Zadar and without a doubt one of the top accommodation choices. This art hotel is made up of 10 individually decorated rooms that create a unique atmosphere for guests. Each room is spacious and impeccably designed with stone elements that will definitely impress you. Situated along the main promenade in the Old Town, the location couldn’t be more convenient as well.
For something more mid-range, you can’t go wrong at Villa Liburnum. The family-run bed and breakfast was built in 2013 in a peaceful area of Zadar. Enjoy your complimentary breakfast on the balcony overlooking the beautiful town below. Although the property seems modest from the outside, the interiors are remarkably contemporary and provide all the modern features you’ll need. You’ll also find a ton of useful Zadar tourist information at reception if you need any last-minute pointers.
On a tight budget? Not a problem at Rooms Goga. This guest house is friendly on your bank account without you having to compromise on a thing. The vibrantly decorated spaces provide instant comfort, making you feel well and truly at home. All rooms come with a fridge, kettle, TV, aircon, and free wifi, of course. Best of all, you’ll be right in the heart of the Old Town and walking distance from all of the best attractions and restaurants.
Tours to do in Zadar
As always, one of the best ways to experience any new city is by joining a walking tour. Zadar’s small group walking tour allows for a more personalised experience, giving you insider knowledge from a local rather than boring facts spouted at you. The best part about this two-hour tour is the visit to the market, where you can taste local cheeses and Maraschino liqueur, the flavour of which originates from the Dalmatian coast. The places of worship and museums on the agenda require a smart casual dress code, so avoid any tank tops or short shorts.
If you don’t feel like walking, you can always bike instead. A two-and-a-half-hour cycling tour runs in both the morning and the afternoon, and is suitable for families. You’ll see as much as you possibly can in a short amount of time while learning about 3,000 years of Croatian history. Discover the city’s hidden secrets with your guide and be shown the most picturesque spots in Zadar.
A delicious half-day experience is a private food tour on Pag Island. The island is known for its culinary delicacies, from cheese, olive oil, honey and wine. You’ll get to taste all of these treats as you visit four farms and get to know all about their history and production.
Visiting Zadar with your partner? Don’t miss the romantic sunset sailing trip in the early evenings. The tour is complete with a bottle of wine and snacks like cheese, prosciutto and olives. With everything taken care of, you can sit back and relax for two hours as the sun goes down.
Day trips from Zadar
There are a handful of fantastic day trips you can take from Zadar that you’ll always remember. Among the top is a full-day tour of Plitvice Lakes National Park. Discover some of the tranquil terraced lakes, picturesque waterfalls, and marvellous limestone canyons. On a four-hour-tour, your guide will introduce you to the local fauna and flora of the area as you stroll through the heavenly forest. Later on, take a boat tour along the turquoise-green Kozjak Lake.
The next best place to go to from Zadar is the Kornati archipelago. Depending on your interests, you can board a cruise towards Telašćica National Park and do some swimming along the coast. Afterwards, you’ll have the chance to learn the basics of sailing from your skipper. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, go on a sea kayaking tour to the Kornati Islands. Hopping off the passenger boat in Sali, you’ll bike to the southern tip of Dugi Otok before getting the rundown and having your gear fitted. You’ll have some time for snorkelling and swimming as well, but lunch isn’t provided, so remember to bring a picnic with you.
If you’ve already seen Plitvice, why not head to Krka National Park next? You’ll instantly agree that Krka is one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world, and it’s only an hour south of Zadar! From Skradin, you’ll take a 30-minute boat ride into the park grounds. Follow your guide through the winding, picture-perfect nature trails and marvel at the incredible Skradinski Buk Falls, the longest of the park’s seven main waterfalls. Birdwatching is a popular activity here, and you’ll learn a lot about the local animals that call Krka home. As a bonus, you’ll get to visit the traditional mills in the park and see the weaving workshops.
Recommended budget tours in Zadar
- Excursion to Kornati National Park from Zadar
- Zadar Market Tour and Cooking Class
- Zadar Small-Group Walking Tour
- Zadar Romantic Sunset Sailing Trip
- Plitvice Lakes National Park Full-Day Tour from Zadar
- Kayak tour on Dugi Otok – full day
- Pag Island Private Food Tour
- Krka National Park Full-Day Tour from Zadar