I have lived in Zadar for a decade, and it’s changed significantly in those ten years. But one thing that has not changed is its beauty. Ever wondered about all of the top things to do in Zadar? We have a few suggestions on what to see and do in Zadar – our hometown!
Zadar isn’t as well known as its coastal neighbors like Split, the famed walled city of Dubrovnik, or even the capital, Zagreb. It has been overlooked as a destination by many people traveling to Croatia, but that’s a mistake.
Let me tell you that this ancient seaside city is jam-packed with incredible sights. I know; it’s my hometown!
Zadar is the second-largest city in Dalmatia and one of Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Now it’s time to share my hometown of Zadar and give her a moment to shine on Chasing the Donkey.
This is our guide on what to do in Zadar, what to see in Zadar, including all the major Zadar sights, and suggestions on where to lay your head after all the sightseeing.
Warning: this Zadar Croatia travel guide is long, very long.
Top Things To Do In Zadar, Croatia
There is no shortage of things to see and do in Zadar; here are just a few ideas to get you started:
The Sea Organ
One of the best things to see in Zadar is the Sea Organ. The magic of the Sea Organ, known as the Morske orgulje in Croatian, is mesmerizing. Okay, it’s not real magic.
The music comes from the waves. The waves push air through 35 underwater pipes stretching across 70 meters, and the sound pops up all along the waterfront promenade known as the Riva.
Now, I know I said it was an organ, and it is; I don’t think you can make a song request or even expect to hear anything you’ll recognize. Because it’s nature, the notes played are a touch haunting, very enchanting but always relaxing.
The Sea Organ, created by Croatian architect Nikola Bašićis, is a harmonious mix of modern design and nature. Sit on the broad marble steps that flank the water or along the long rows of bench seating. It’s an area you can enjoy all year round.
We always love taking our friends to see the Sea Organ, which never ceases to amaze our visitors. On a hot summer day, we pack towels because this inevitably happens.
Being one of the significant Zadar attractions, the Sea Organ is busiest at sunset, with hordes of photographers and sungazers waiting to see one of the famous sunsets. This is one of the top 5 things to do in Zadar.
Local tip: Head to the Sea Organ at least a half-hour before the sun vanishes behind the horizon to claim your front-row seat or, even better, come to Zadar in autumn and spring when there are fewer tourists.
And we recommend you get ice cream from Slasticarna Donat. It’s the best ice cream in town. Now, I can’t recommend a flavor because there are far too many. I can only suggest you close your eyes and point and take what you get. Once you have your ice cream, you can sit along the steps and enjoy the show.
Greeting To The Sun
After you’ve watched the sunset, turn to your right, and just next door is a solar-powered work of art that explodes with an array of brightly colored lights – The Greeting to the Sun. Tap dance, tip-toe, or waltz across its glass surface as it changes hues.
The Greeting to the Sun consists of 300 multi-layer glass plates in the shape of a circle 22 meters in diameter. It is conceived as a spatial installation in the form of an amphitheater surrounded by stone blocks with a presentation of all Solar System planets and their orbits.
This light display is one of many great family activities when traveling with children in Croatia. The same artist who created the Sea Organ also created the Greeting to the Sun and made something uber-cool again.
Catch A Sunset On The Riva
It’s well known that Croatia is the home of the world’s best sunset. Well, that is at least according to Alfred Hitchcock, who in 1964 was staying in room 204 of the now closed Hotel Zagreb along the Riva in Zadar and claimed:
“The sunset of Zadar is the world’s most beautiful and incomparably better than in Key West, Florida.”
Make sure to see it for yourself!
Take A Zadar Food And Wine Tour
If you want something unique and interactive, a food and wine tour + cooking class might be just what your taste buds need. We loved this tour so much that we devoted a particular post to our experience. Check it out for an overview of foods and wines you can expect to sample from the Zadar region.
Additionally, for more culinary delights, joining a cooking class in Zadar is also an unforgettable experience.
Explore The Top Wineries In Zadar On Your Own
If wine is your scene, then there are a few wineries not to be missed. We dedicated an entire post on the region’s top wineries and what to drink here.
Museum Of Ancient Glass
One of our favorite museums in Zadar is this one. This museum is home to numerous glass artifacts, some of them dating as far back as the 1st century and others that were created far more recently.
Demonstrations of various glass-working techniques, including bead making and glass blowing, are also held at this spot. Visitors can easily stroll the halls, where additional exhibits touch on such topics as the origins and history of glass.
A visit to the Ancient Museum of Glass in Zadar is an absolute must-do when you visit Zadar. Moreover, because the museum continuously organizes new events and houses temporary exhibitions, you can always go back for round two or three, even if you have been once.
Tickets are inexpensive, and the displays have cards with information in English, so you can easily walk the museum on your own without a guide.
Gold & Silver Museum
Another of our favorite Zadar museums is this one. Head to the church of St Mary’s, and then turn left. There, you’ll see a small door selling tickets. The Benedictine nuns have preserved this museum with priceless treasures and have been since WWII.
The priceless treasures are so well maintained for items that are centuries old. Of particular note are fabrics embroidered with golden threads made by local nuns, crowns, and a set of hands of several saints enclosed in gold.
The Museum Of Illusions Zadar
This fascinating museum is where you can have a mind-blowing adventure where nothing is like it seems. At the museum, your senses will be tested, your brain challenged, and most importantly, you will have an absolute blast.
You may have already heard about the one in Zagreb, but the one in Zadar is different. The Zadar Museum of Illusions brings many new exhibits, including a bamboozling vortex tunnel, the first of this type in the region, a room of mirrors that distort everything providing a unique perspective on reality, a room with a chair that changes the perception of the size of people and will have you scratching your head wondering what is going on.
As if that was not already enough fun, in the museum, you can defy gravity and walk on the wall of a room. Just like Spiderman! And, for anyone wanting to test their brain, there are several didactic puzzles that will challenge even the sharpest of sharp minds.
Tentative UNESCO Site – Episcopal Complex
The Episcopal Complex area that was proposed to be included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Croatia lies in the historic heart of Zadar. This is a popular attraction in Zadar, located within the Old Town.
It comprises several historic buildings, including the iconic Roman Forum with its temple ruins; the Archaeological Museum; and the Episcopal Complex itself, which consists of the St. Donatus Church, the Cathedral of St. Anastasia, and the Archbishop’s Palace, among various other structures.
The Episcopal Complex is so remarkable because it offers an architectural timeline of Zadar’s history, from Roman times to the Middle Ages and modern times. The history of Zadar dates back to Roman times. In the 1st century B.C., the settlement became a Roman colony, which resulted in a new layout according to Roman town planning principles with longitudinal and transversal streets that divided the town into rectangular building blocks and squares.
Here’s a bit more about the buildings included in the Episcopal Complex:
The first time I visited the Forum was when I was six years old. I remember skidding along the polished stone street, Kalelarga, turning the corner at the Archeological Museum, and seeing the Forum for the first time. I was awestruck by the ancient ruins. As a kid from Sydney, I had never seen anything like it. It really got me thinking about the world, its many ancient sites. This is where I got my inspiration to travel.
The Forum in Zadar is located in the heart of Old Town Zadar, where passersby can walk among the remains of the Romans. The Forum was established by the Emperor Augustus and was built from the 1st century BC to the 3rd century AD. It’s is located beside St. Donat’s Church.
Why not relax at one of the cafes in the Forum and take in the history and gorgeous architecture of the area?
Local tip: Look at the foundations of St. Donat’s church, and you will see the remains of Roman structures that were reused.
Found across the street from St. Donat’s Church, this museum provides travelers with some background information on Croatia’s history, from prehistoric times to around the Middle Ages. The museum is very well organized, and excellent English translations accompany most of the displays.
You will want to allow several hours for your visit.
St. Anastasia’s Cathedral
Open mainly for worship rather than for tours, parts of this historic church building were constructed as early as the 3rd century. Most of St Anastasia Zadar was built in the 12th and 13th centuries in the Romanesque style. Contained within the church is the sarcophagus of St. Anastasia. Head up high to the viewing area. Once there, you’ll have magnificent panoramic views across the St. Donat’s Church and Roman Forum and the Velebit Mountains.
Most travelers visit for the magnificent views from the bell tower.Climbing this structure is a feat not for the faint of heart or the mobility impaired because the steps are very steep. Admission to the bell tower costs only a few euros. Travelers should note that this portion of the site remains closed on Sundays and holidays.
If you choose not to climb the bell tower, you can still enjoy its beauty from the outside, especially at night when the lights inside are on, streaming out from all of the tower windows.
St. Donat’s Church
Those interested in architecture and still wondering what to see in Zadar will want to make their way over to this church because it is widely considered among the finest examples of Byzantine church architecture.
The rounded interior is designed so that the light that falls into the sanctuary creates varied patterns at different times of the day. However, because the inside of the building is somewhat plainly decorated compared to the exterior, those of you who are not architecture enthusiasts may only want to view the building from the outside rather than venturing in.
Once night falls during the summer; you can enjoy the sounds of the Musical Nights Festival. This classical music festival runs from July to August each year, bringing the 9th-century St. Donat’s Church and Roman Forum to life.
Narodni Trg (People’s Square)
This square has been at the center of public life in Zadar for generations, as far back as the middle ages. Even today, people use it as a meeting point. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a coffee at one of the many cafes. Sit down, relax, and watch the world go by, or discover Zadar with this fun, interactive new game – Jadera Secrets – that starts in the Peoples Square and literally walks you through the Old Town’s history.
While in the square, snap a picture of the city sentinel’s clock tower – it’s quite the sight!
Venetian Works Of Defense – Grimaldi Bastion
The city walls, with a series of powerful bastions, were added to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Croatia in 2017 as part of the Venetian Works of Defense. These works stretch out across three countries—Croatia, Italy, and Montenegro. The site comprises six different defense works extending over 1,000 kilometers along the eastern Adriatic coast. Together, they made up the so-called ‘Serenissima’ in the 16th and 17thcenturies, the most crucial era in the history of the Venetian Republic.
Grimaldi Bastion along with the Land Gate are great examples in Zadar.
Here’s a little more on the Zadar Venetian Works of Defense & Surrounding Area:
Queen Jelena Madijevka Park & Grimaldi Bastion
Queen Jelena Madijevka Park is the city’s oldest public park, and it leads directly to the Land Gate and the entrance to Old Town. The park was built on top of the city’s fortification military structure – the Grimaldi Bastion by Five Wells Square. As the park sits higher than Old Town, it’s quite a unique chance to enjoy Dalmatian flora while admiring excellent views of the city and harbor.
Foša Land Gate Zadar
People often ask me about things to see in Zadar. To me, no visit to Zadar is complete without looking at (and a photo of) the Land Gate located next to the port of Foša. Built by the Venetians in 1543, this massive Zadar city gate served as the main entry into the city. An excellent example of the Venetian Republic Lion is at the top of the gate.
Local tip: Foša seafood restaurant, which is located in the Foša port, is a highly recommended seafood restaurant.
Five Wells Square
While checking out Queen Jelena Madijevka Park and the Land Gate, make sure to see Five Wells Square, where the Venetians created a drinking cistern for the city, using a design of 5 wells in the same square (hence the name).
These wells still stand today and are a cool way to understand the way life was led in the past.
Take A Romantic Boat Ride Across The Jazine
The Jazine harbor has a footbridge connecting the main area of Zadar to Old Town, which takes about 20 minutes to travel by foot. However, if you are in the mood for a more romantic crossing, consider hiring the little red boat (locally know as barkarjol), rowed by barkarjoli, to take you across. It’s cheap and historic – someone has been rowing this style of boat here for 800 years.
To find the boat, head to thejetty by the Tankerkomerc building on the mainland side of the footbridge.
The Zadar Pijaca (market) has been operating since the Middle Ages and is quite large by Dalmatian standards. It’s your typical market with fresh food and vegetables. Pick up some famous Pag cheese (Paski Sir) from one of the local producers or try out the award-winning Gligora cheese.
If you get to the Pijaca, don’t miss the Peskarija (fish market). This place has a wide variety of fish available and changes daily. If you’re staying in Zadar and have a kitchen at your disposal, the Pijaca and Peskarija are where you can pick up everything you need to try and cook some Croatian recipes.
Church Of St. Simeon
This church is famous for the silver casket found at the church’s altar where legend says the mummified body of St. Simeon was finally laid to rest.
The casket contains many detailed inscriptions and reliefs, and is considered to be the most valuable work of Medieval goldsmith art in Croatia. The Chest of St. Simeon was made in 1380 from embossed silver sheet metal by the goldsmith Franciscus de Mediolano, who had a workshop in Zadar
Yes, you read it right; there is a sphinx in Zadar. This sphinx, however, was not built by the Ancient Egyptians but made by a local artist named Giovani Smirich.
He had the sphinx built in 1918 after the death of his wife as a memorial to her. Interestingly, this sphinx is distinctly different from its Egyptian relatives in that it’s made of concrete and has fingers instead of paws. You’ll find the sphinx in the garden of Villa Attilia, located in the bay of Maestral, which is in Brodarica.
It’s quite a walk to get there, so make sure you wear some comfy travel shoes.[/su_box]
What To Do Around Zadar: Day Trips From Zadar
The Zadar region extends many kilometers around Zadar Old Town – and it’s effortless to get around by car or private transfer.
Here are some short day trip ideas you can take and ideas for things to see around Zadar:
Paklenica National Park
Paklenica National Park is about a 40-minute drive from Zadar. All you need to do is follow the signs to Starigrad Paklenica, which is the location of the entrance to the park. Paklenica National Park is utterly beautiful and really popular with climbers and hikers. We strongly recommend this as one of your day trips from Zadar.
The park was established in 1949 and is Croatia’s second-oldest national park, behind Plitvice Lakes National Park in Northern Dalmatia.
Paklenica National Park is 95 km2 and consists of two dolomite limestone canyons called Velika (Big) Paklenica & Mala (Small) Paklenica in the Velebit Mountains, which is Croatia’s most extensive mountain range. Mrs. CtD always says that the Velebit often looks like a Hollywood backdrop on a clear day.
The park has around 150km of hiking trails, which will ultimately take you up to the highest peak of Vaganski Vrh at 1,757 meters if you have the legs for it. The mountains rise sharply from the sea, and while the park initially looks very rocky, you’ll be surprised to find out that 75% of the national park is, in fact, primarily beech and black pine forest.
Add the first capital of Croatia, Nin, to your list for another great day trip from Zadar. It’s only 15 km from Zadar, so the drive is conveniently short. Alternatively, you can easily catch a bus as well.
The town of Nin has a long history, 3,000 years, in fact, which is evident when you walk through the town. Nin town center is located on a small island in the middle of a shallow lagoon and is connected to the mainland by two stone bridges.
Make sure you check out the Roman ruins, including the mosaic tiles that were discovered, rub Gregory of Nin’s (ninski Grgur) toe for good luck, visit Solana Nin to learn how salt has been produced for centuries and don’t forget to get a photo at the church of Saint Nicholas.
Krka National Park
One of the most scenic parts of Dalmatia is undoubtedly the famous Krka National Park. Few places in Europe are as naturally beautiful, and with the mighty Krka River running through it, there are some spectacular waterfalls to check out.
These are, without a doubt, some of the most iconic features of the region overall. They were even featured in Game of Thrones. Especially Skradinski Buk, the most spectacular of all Krka National Park waterfalls, even beats all of Plitvice Lakes’ waterfalls in terms of size and volume.
It’s one of the best day trips from Zadar!