Zadar Vs Split: How To Choose Between Zadar Or Split

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Post author Bram

Written by our local expert Bram

Bram was born and raised in Belgium and has traveled the Balkans & beyond. He is a professional freelance travel writer and photographer specializing in outdoor travel with an emphasis on national parks, nature, and wildlife.

Should you visit Zadar or Split? In this post, we talk about both Zadar and Split, their top attractions and best day trip destinations.

In a rush and just want to know how to choose between Split or Zadar? Here is what we think you should know:

Split Zadar
Home to Game of Thrones locations Lots of nearby National Parks
Major cultural & transport hub Smaller town with laid-back vibe
Abundance of historical sites Ancient city sites and island hopping

Should I go to Split or Zadar? Oh, that is a ubiquitous question among first-time visitors to Croatia. And it’s an understandable one, too.

The country is jam-packed with superb destinations, from national parks and wine regions to photogenic coastal towns and world-class beaches. It’s not unlikely that you don’t have enough time to visit all of them, so you’ll have to choose.

There are plenty of fantastic old cities on the Dalmatian Coast alone, from Dubrovnik and Šibenik to Zadar and Split.

It’s impossible to say which one of those beautiful places is the best, though, so we won’t even try.

Instead, in this post, we’ll make a comparison between Zadar and Split, two of the cities that are most up for debate. This way, you can decide whether you should visit Split or Zadar based on your interests, preferences, and priorities.

First of all, however, let me say that you really should do yourself a favor and try your hardest to find enough time to visit both cities. Neither is “greater” or “better” than the other. They are two of the largest cities in Dalmatia; both are phenomenal destinations with myriad tourist attractions. They also make for excellent bases for beach and day trips in Croatia.

Keep reading below for our in-depth analysis on weighing up Split vs. Zadar

Skip Ahead To My Advice Here!

Comparison Between Zadar & Split

Zadar Or Split - Split Croatia Old Town architecture

Split is probably more famous than Zadar—at least among regular travelers—being bigger and having more transportation connections and arguably more attractions. It’s the second-largest city in Croatia after Zagreb and belongs on your itinerary.

On the other hand, Zadar definitely deserves a chunk of your travel time. Although perhaps less well-known, this ancient city is absolutely gorgeous. Chances are pretty solid; you will fall in love with it if you do visit it. Combining centuries-old architecture and modern tourist attractions, offering access to great beaches and fun island hopping, Zadar is a top-notch destination.

Choosing between Zadar and Split is very, very difficult. See, we said you should go to both of them! Hopefully, this post will help you at least a little bit.

On your way down the Adriatic Coast, will it be Split or Zadar? Let’s take a closer look at each city, its points of interest, day trip options, and a few reasons not to visit.


Croatia Travel Blog_Zadar Old Town
Zadar Old Town

Founded as an Illyrian settlement in the 9th century BC, Zadar is Croatia’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Its Old Town is located on a rectangular peninsula, the northernmost coastal city in Dalmatia, situated in the middle of the Croatian coast. In the first century BC, Zadar became a Roman colony and remained under Roman rule until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD.

Nowadays, there are plenty of visible traces of Zadar’s Roman period, most notably the Roman Forum, which is the largest in the eastern Adriatic. The city also has its fair share of medieval architecture, including a cathedral and various churches. Architecture from the Venetian period abounds as well. A great example of those is the massive city walls, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In addition to its numerous urban features, Zadar offers easy access to the Zadar Archipelago’s gorgeous islands. These islands are easily reached via ferry or catamaran, providing visitors ample opportunities to hike, bike, swim, fish, eat, drink, and scuba dive. Some stunning beaches are waiting to be visited as well.

Top Attractions In Zadar

Split or Zadar - Zadar Greeting to the sun

There’s certainly no lack of interesting places to visit in Zadar, whether you’re a history buff, beach bum, foodie, or party-goer. Some Zadar attractions you really should visit include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • The Sea Organ – Musical art installation along the waterfront promenade plays music as waves push air through dozens of underwater pipes. 
  • Greeting to the Sun – Located near the Sea Organ and created by the same artist, the Greeting to the Sun is a magical display of brightly colored lights that change patterns and hues after sunset
  • Anastasia’s Cathedral – Arguably the most significant architectural masterpiece in Zadar, this massive cathedral dates from the 12th and 13th centuries and has a bell tower you can climb
  • Donat’s Church – One of the most iconic attractions in Zadar, St. Donat’s Church is a monumental round building dating from the 9th century
  • Roman Forum – Main Roman site in Zadar, located near St. Donat’s Church and founded by Roman Emperor Augustus in the 3rd century AD.
  • Narodni Trg (People’s Square) – The heart of public life in Zadar, this gorgeous square is a popular meeting point for locals. At the same time, tourists enjoy people-watching from its numerous cafés and restaurants
  • Museum of Ancient Glass – There are numerous displays of glassworks from Roman times through modern times and glass-blowing and bead-making demonstrations
  • Museum of Illusions – An eclectic museum that pushes your senses to their absolute limits and gives your brain a serious workout – you can book your admission ticket here

The most popular tours in Zadar:


Day Trips From Zadar

Kornati Islands National Park | Croatia Travel Blog Chasing the Donkey

Located in the middle of the Croatian coast, Zadar is an ideal starting point for day trips along the coast, the inland countryside, or some off-shore islands. These are some of the best day trips from Zadar (you’ll notice how varied they are):

  • Paklenica National Park – On the border of Zadar County and Lika-Senj County, just northeast of Zadar, lies Paklenica National Park with its canyons, towering mountain summits, and black pine and beech forests. A fantastic hiking destination!
  • Kornati National Park – The Kornati Islands are unquestionably among the best Zadar day trips, an archipelago characterized by crystal-clear water, superb snorkeling, scuba diving, barren hills, and rock-strewn coasts
  • Krka National Park – One of the top national parks in Croatia, Krka is just a quick drive from Zadar, famous for its spectacular waterfalls, swimming opportunities, and ethnographic villages. Go on a day trip to Krka National Park with food and wine tasting and a boat ride with this guided tour
  • Telašćica Nature Park – A bay in the southeastern part of Dugi Otok, this glorious nature park consists of rocky shores, sheer coastal cliffs, wooded hills, and an inland salt lake
  • Pag Island – Connected to the Croatian mainland by a bridge, Pag Island is super-easy to reach from Zadar. It’s famous for its summer dance festivals and 24-hour parties in Zrce, and delicious Pag cheese and wonderful Pag lace
  • Nin – The first capital of Croatia, tiny Nin, is only 15 kilometers from Zadar, a town filled with ruins and ancient bridges famous for its sea salt and beaches
  • Šibenik – Best combined with a visit to Krka National Park, Šibenik is another centuries-old coastal city in Dalmatia. It’s famous for its stone buildings, stairways, streets, and fortresses. Šibenik is also where you’ll find the St. James Cathedral, an impressive stone church that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Reasons Not To Visit Zadar

Balkan Cities - Holidays In The Balkans

Honestly, it’s tough to come up with reasons not to visit Zadar. This is all I could think of:

  • Game of Thrones filming locations – Dubrovnik might be the most famous Game of Thrones location in Croatia, but Split comes pretty close. Several scenes of the world’s biggest TV show were shot at Diocletian’s Palace. If you’re a GoT fan, you’ll definitely want to join this tour
  • You’ve run out of time after visiting Dubrovnik and the rest of Dalmatia
  • You’re allergic to seafood
  • You don’t like sunshine and/or seascapes

How To Get To Zadar


Brands We Use And Trust



Split Or Zadar - Split Croatia at sunrise

Home to around 200,000 people, Split is the largest city in Dalmatia. In Croatia, only Zagreb is larger. The city lies in the middle of the Dalmatian coast, about equidistant from Dubrovnik and Zadar. It’s a major cultural and transportation hub, a popular tourist destination in the region, and one you can spend many days exploring.

Although it was the site of a small Greek colony in the 3rd or 2nd century BC, Split’s history truly begins in 305 AD when Roman Emperor Diocletian chose it as his retirement location. Diocletian’s Palace was constructed, a massive building around which the town—and later city—expanded. The medieval Old Town of Split lies adjacent to Diocletian’s Palace, both making up the very heart of the city to this day.

You can walk among Roman ruins in Split—people actually literally still live in these nearly-2,000-year-old buildings. There’s also a phenomenal waterfront, some excellent museums, and several fine beaches. Additionally, you have a plethora of day trip destinations to choose from.

Top Attractions In Split

How to Get from Split to Zadar Croatia

Few Croatian cities have such an abundance of historical sites as Split. It’s a city filled with them, built upon and around them. Of all those Split tourist attractions, these are the ones that you definitely mustn’t skip:

  • Diocletian’s Palace – The number one tourist attraction in Split, Diocletian’s Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains several individual points of interest, such as its network of cellars, four massive gates, ruined Roman pillars, and ancient churches. 
  • Medieval Old Town – Next to Diocletian’s Palace, the Old Town is an extension of the Roman complex, even though much younger. It features a maze of alleyways, cozy squares, numerous restaurants, bars, shops, and beautiful all-around architecture. 
  • Game of Thrones filming locations – Dubrovnik might be the most famous Game of Thrones location in Croatia, but Split comes pretty close. Several scenes of the world’s biggest TV show were shot at Diocletian’s Palace. If you’re a GoT fan, you’ll definitely want to join one of the many available tours. 
  • The Riva – Tall palm trees line Split’s waterfront, known as the Riva, while myriad patios offer evening walkers the chance to enjoy the sunset, get something to eat, or grab a drink or two. It’s the prime location for people-watching in Split. 
  • Ivan Mestrovic Gallery – Dedicated to Croatia’s most famous sculptor, the Ivan Mestrovic Gallery houses many of his works and displays about his life. It’s a must-visit attraction for serious art lovers.
  • Archaeological Museum of Split – People who like to learn about local history might want to check out Split’s Archaeological Museum. This is the oldest museum in Croatia, filled with archaeological artifacts and objects from Greek, Roman, early Christian, and medieval times.
  • Roman Ruins of Solin – Just northeast of Split, you’ll find the Roman ruins of Solin, the birthplace of Diocletian and the first capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. Anyone interested in Roman history should put this site on their itinerary

The most popular tours in Split:

  • 🚶 Explore nearly 1,700 years of history and discover top attractions with ease on this Split walking tour
  • 🍲 Discover Split’s highlight landmarks and go on a tasting tour of the city’s in-demand restaurants and eateries on this tour
  • 📽️ On this tour, follow in the footsteps of Daenerys, Mother of Dragons, and discover memorable filming locations from the HBO’s hit TV series Game of Thrones
  • 🌇 See the highlights of both Split and Trogir with a private guide with this combo tour
  • 🚢 See the sunset over Split and enjoy a relaxing time on the water on this fun boat tour


Day Trips From Split


Its location in the middle of the Dalmatian coast makes Split a fantastic starting point for various excursions. The next Split day trips include destinations that range from national parks to historic towns:

  • Trogir – Located a stone’s throw from Split, Trogir is a super-photogenic coastal town with fortified walls and a fantastic outdoor market. It is protected as World Heritage by UNESCO and is one of Croatia’s most beautiful towns. 
  • Plitvice Lakes National Park – Arguably the most famous natural attraction in Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park consists of sixteen travertine lakes that flow into one another via countless cascades and waterfalls. If you love waterfalls, this is one of the best places in Europe to visit. Oh, and this is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Croatia, too! Here’s how to get to the park from Split! 
  • Šibenik – Best combined with a visit to Krka National Park, Sibenik is another centuries-old coastal city in Dalmatia. It’s famous for its stone buildings, stairways, streets, and fortresses. Šibenik is also where you’ll find the imposing St. James Cathedral, a UNESCO-protected stone church. 
  • Dalmatian Islands – Split is one of the main gateways to the world-famous Dalmatian Islands. If you want to visit or island-hop around places like Hvar, Brač, or Korcula, Split, with its large ferry port, is the perfect starting point. 
  • Klis Fortress – The iconic Fortress of Klis sits atop a hill just outside Split. Established as a small stronghold by the Illyrians, it became a royal castle in the Middle Ages, serving as the setting of many battles over the centuries. It’s without question one of the best day trip destinations around Split. Additionally, Game of Thrones fans might recognize it as Meereen. 
  • Blue Cave – Another enjoyable day trip from Split is the Blue Cave, also known as the Blue Grotto, on Bisevo Island. You can read all about 


Reasons Not To Visit Split

On the Zadar vs. Split debate, it’s still not easy to list reasons not to visit Split. This is an amazing city with plenty to offer to tourists. (That took me a while, though!) yet, if you’re really looking for downsides, here are a few I could come up with.

  • You don’t like large cities and crowds and prefer a smaller, Dalmatia coastal town.
  • The stone-filled Old Town gets scorching hot in summer
  • You are more into a laid-back vibe

How To Get To Split

Croatia Travel Blog_Things to do in Croatia_How To Choose Between Split and Zadar


Which city is easier to reach, Zadar or Split?

Split is easier to reach, boasting the country’s busiest airport with direct flights from major European hubs. Zadar, while smaller, offers mostly seasonal air connections only within Europe.

How do the beaches in Zadar and Split compare?

Split is known for its popular and iconic beaches, while Zadar has stunning inlets and relatively unexplored coastlines.

Which city has better nightlife, Zadar or Split?

Split is the hub of mainland Croatian nightlife due to summer festivals like Ultra. Zadar has a quieter night scene but offers a variety of venues.

Which city has better natural attractions, Zadar or Split?

Zadar offers access to more remote natural attractions, such as the National Park Kornati and Paklenica National Park. Split’s accessible nature spots include the Krka waterfalls and Biokovo Nature Park.

Which city is more cost-effective for travelers, Zadar or Split?

Zadar is slightly more cost-effective than Split, primarily due to the lower cost of accommodation.

Which city has a richer historical heritage, Zadar or Split?

Split’s historical heritage, exemplified by Diocletian’s Palace, surpasses that of Zadar. Zadar also has significant Roman and medieval ruins.

Which city is better for onward travel, Zadar or Split?

Split is more convenient for onward travel due to its proximity to the renowned Dalmatian Islands, including Hvar. Zadar provides access to less-known but equally beautiful islands, such as Dugi Otok and Ugljan.

How are Zadar and Split different?

Both Zadar and Split are diverse, dynamic, and historic Croatian cities with various attractions. However, Zadar is recommended for those seeking a quieter place and an off-the-beaten-path experience. In contrast, Split is ideal for visitors who prefer a lively city with more coastal highlight attractions.

Are Zadar and Split affordable for tourists?

Price differences exist between Zadar and Split, but they are not significantly high. Accommodation and meal costs may be slightly higher in Split due to its popularity among tourists.

What unique attractions do both cities offer?

Each city has unique attractions – Split is home to the Palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian, while Zadar hosts attractions like the Roman Forum and the Sea Organ.

What are the methods of transportation to these cities?

Both cities can be reached via multiple transportation methods, including public transit, and budget airlines.

What types of accommodations are available?

Both cities offer wide-ranging accommodation options for varying budgets, from luxury hotels to private rentals and hostels.

So, after reading all this, will you choose Zadar or Split?


  1. Greetings from Bali….

    I really like the information on your site… and your writing style.

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