When exploring Croatia, many talk about Plitvice Lakes, Split , and Dubrovnik, but don’t discount the laid back coastal town of Zadar. Situated on the coast a short distance from Split and Plitvice Lakes Zadar, you deserve a day or two of your trip! We spent a day in Zadar in Croatia in early May and enjoyed it. Let’s talk more about the city and things to do whether you spend one day in Zadar (or several).
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About: City of Zadar
Zadar is located on the Northern Dalmatia coast in Croatia. Only a few hours drive to the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park and north of another coastal town situated in Croatia, Split.
Zadar is a more low-key town compared to other coastal Croatian cities. But there are still many things to explore from the old town area to the Ancient Roman Forum and the Riva Promenade along the seashore. Let’s dive into this Zadar travel guide outlining the specifics about what to do and see in Zadar even if you have only one day or better yet 2 to 3 days!
Zadar Old Town
The Old Town or old city Zadar is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s located on a peninsula and like many “old town” areas located in Croatia, it is enclosed by stone walls. These stone walls served as a defense system in its early days. The most impressive part of the walls includes two gates into the old town known as the “land gate” and “sea gate”. These gates are ornate as they were built by the Venetians in 1543. During this time, Zadar served as the administrative and military location for the Adriatic part of Venice, Italy hence the Venetian influence in some of the architecture.
Things to do in Zadar: Zadar Itinerary
You can definitely visit Zadar in one day. During your visit, you can experience many of the attractions Zadar offers. However, the allure of the quieter city in comparison to Split and other coastal towns, you may want to spend 2-3 days in Zadar. Read on to get inspiration on how to spend your time in Zadar!
What to do in Zadar: One day in Zadar
Depending on how you manage your time, you can fit most Zadar attractions into one full day of exploring!
For one day in Zadar, start off by taking a stroll on the Riva Promenade. This walkway near the ocean houses the Sea Organ, Greeting to the Sun, and farther down the statue of Spiro Brusina.
The Sea Organ sits along the Adriatic Coast and appears to be steps. These steps have pipes installed in them with narrow channels that connect the different pipes. As the waves get choppy, (the more choppy the better for the sea organ!) water gets pushed through these pipes creating a whistling organ-type sound. When there aren’t many people around, it’s quite serene. Mid-day, it can be busy with many people around so the earlier you go, the better!
Gates of Zadar: Land Gate & Sea Gate
The Land Gate and Sea Gate are located on the old walls surrounding Old Town Zadar. You can reach the Land Gate by continuing around the bend walking away from the sea organ and past the Spiro Brusina statue. You’ll walk past a marina area and around a sidewalk up some stairs and there the Land Gate will be. The Land Gate is the larger of the two ornate gates. It was once the main entrance into the city.
The Sea Gate looks more just like an archway, however, still decorated and ornate in a Venetian style. It is facing the port between the port and the market and has obvious Roman influence in its design. The Sea Gate is sometimes referred to as St Chrysogonus’ Gate due to the proximity of the church.
Old Town Zadar
Old Town Zadar is situated on a peninsula. Zadar’s Old Town is surrounded by the Adriatic on three sides. There are two quays alongside the Adriatic Sea. The Southwestern Quay houses the Sea Organ as mentioned above and is known as the Riva Promenade. This ancient Mediterranean seaport is a lively city with so much to explore! As you stroll the historic streets, just imagine, it’s been around since the 9th century.
People’s Square (or Narodni Trg)
This is the perfect place to just relax and hang out. There are many cafes located here with a view of the large clock tower to the north side. Since it’s inception in medieval times, this historical area of Zadar has been an important location for every day life.
Cathedral of Anastasia
This Roman Catholic Cathedral located in Zadar is the largest cathedral on the Adriatic coast. Dating back to the 4th century the interior of the church is impressive. A beautiful example of the Romanesque architecture that you will find throughout the city of Zadar. You can view the cathedral from the outside, tour the inside, or even attend mass there. The bell tower offers a great view out over Zadar.
Roman Forum Zadar
The impressive Roman ruins are just a hop and skip from the seafront area and Riva Promenade. This area of Zadar was the center of life and the daily marketplace when the Romans inhabited the city. Walking through this area is something that shouldn’t be missed when spending time in Zadar! The archaeological museum is right across from this area if you want to dive into the history in much more detail.
Five Wells Square (or Trg 5 Banara)
This square is nearly as old as the medieval walls. It gets the name due to the 5 historic wells located here that historically provided water to Zadar. Five Wells Square is located between the city walls in a square. You can actually peek over one side of this square to see another view of the impressive Land Gate.
Located in Five Wells Square this pentagon shaped base tower was constructed by the Venetians to watch for Turkish attacks. The historic tower stands tall over the the entranze of Zadar’s harbor.
Two days in Zadar
In addition to what to do in Zadar in one day, on day two take a day trip from Zadar.
Ideas for a day trip from Zadar include:
- Zadar to Plitvice Lakes
- Kornati and Telašćica National Parks Boat Trip
- Zadar to Krka National Park
- Wine Tasting Tour
- Sailing Trip and snorkeling
Three days in Zadar
In addition to the one day in Zadar activities, spend some time relaxing at Zadar beaches or spend time at the second oldest museum in Croatia, the archaeological museum that’s located right off of the main square.
The closest beach to Zadar is Borik Beach. The most famous beach near Zadar is Kolovare Beach. Some other popular beaches near Zadar include: Queens Beach, Sabunike Beach, Kozino Beach, and Petrcane Beach. All of these beaches have clear beautiful water to spend the day basking in the sun relaxing and swimming which is worth spending some extra time in Zadar.
If you’re spending two to three days in Zadar, you can also take some time to experience the vibrant Zadar nightlife if that’s your thing!
Where to Stay in Zadar
There are many places available to stay that are located within the Old Town area and peninsula. Much of the attractions if you stay here are within easy walking distance. During our time in Zadar we stayed in Riva Palace Design Rooms. It was a great location, not too far of a walk from the free parking lot but we were lucky enough to snag a great parking spot on the street right in front of the building!
I listed some additional properties that I had considered booking when I was making arrangements for our accommodations.
A luxurious art-deco style hotel with close proximity to the beach.
More space to spread out in a lofted style apartment. This location is also close proximity to the beach for some relaxation.
Located in Old Town while also being close proximity to the beach. A modern accommodation with amenities such as air conditioning! But with the charm of the exterior 18th century Baroque architecture.
Gorgeous exposed stone walls with great proximity to beaches, old town Zadar and it is air conditioned as well! Equipped with a full kitchen if you want to make your own meals.
Where to eat & drink
This craft beer-focused bar is located in Old Town, Zadar.
While they don’t offer food, the local Croatian beer selection definitely makes up for it! The beertender that was working while we were there was amazing in offering suggestions of beers she liked as we always try to drink local whenever we travel.
We loved chatting with her and asking her questions about Croatia from a local’s perspective. Truly these are the type of moments while traveling that resonate with me the most. The fact that these conversations were over some great local brews is just the cherry on top!
This restaurant has a great view at sunset! As referenced by Hitchcock that Zadar has one of the most beautiful sunsets this restaurant has a lovely outdoor terrace to enjoy the view. Many delicious seafood options on the menu that are fresh to enjoy for an evening you will remember.
Located near Borik Marina and beach, Hotel Niko has a great restaurant on site. It’s more of a fine dining restaurant. If you’re lucky, try to snag a table with a view to watch sunset while enjoying dinner.
This is a great option if you really want some modern Mediterranean bites. They pride themselves in fresh and local ingredients from the Dalmatia region. You can make advanced reservations on the website.
Lovely ambiance whether you dine indoors or on the outdoor patio. Open for both lunch and dinner specializing in fresh local ingredients. Many dishes to choose from but the seafood options are abundant.
Local organic and seasonal dishes for over 40 years in Zadar. Although Tuesdays the restaurant is closed, you can make reservations in advance online for an unforgettable meal. They have their own herb garden as well as growing figs and olives for the menu. Offering an extensive and unique wine list that is ever changing.
Day Trips from Zadar
You can take day trips from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes, Krka National Park or to go island hopping to nearby islands from Zadar.
FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions
How many days to spend in Zadar?
You can easily explore Zadar with one full day to enjoy some of the main sights. However, if you want to relax and go on a tour or spend a full or partial day at the beach 2 to 3 days in Zadar would be the perfect amount of time.
Where to park in Zadar?
There are some free parking lots that are located a little bit of a walk from the Zadar old town area. Type in Gratis parking on google maps to find the locations. Otherwise, inquire with your hotel or accommodation if there is assigned parking. If not, you will have to find paid street parking.
Is Zadar worth visiting?
Yes, Zadar is definitely worth visiting. From the relaxing sea organ to the historic Roman Forum, archaeological museum, and Old Town area Zadar has several things that make it a unique and unmissable location during your adventures in Croatia. The beaches here are stunning so taking time to soak in the beaches is worth the trip!
Is Zadar nicer than Split?
Zadar is definitely more quiet than Split. There are distinct and charming things about both Zadar and Split. Split old town and Zadar Old Town have a lot of similarities. The historic structures and walls in each city have differences. Zadar seemed more relaxed whereas Split was a lot more lively in early May.
How to get to Zadar from Plitvice Lakes?
The easiest way to get from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes is to drive. However, there aren’t trains or buses that operate from Plitvice Lakes to Zadar. You could also take a day trip when you’re based in Zadar to Plitvice Lakes and back in a day. This is the easiest way if you’re not planning on renting a car.
What is Zadar, Croatia known for?
Zadar is most known for the serene sea organ and the abundance of Roman remains and medieval architecture. Much like other cities in Croatia, Zadar has an old town area that is protected by stone walls. The architecture in Zadar is Venetian inspired making Zadar a unique place to explore.
Can you island hop from Zadar?
Absolutely! If you visit Zadar in the summer months, island hopping or spending time on a nearby beach is a necessity to soak in the summer sun of Croatia’s Northern Dalmatian coast. From Zadar, you can take tours to Telašćica Bay and the Kornati islands. If you’re spending 2-3 days in Zadar, it would be a perfect day trip!
What is the best month to visit Zadar, Croatia?
The best months to visit Croatia are May and September. These months are shoulder seasons after the busiest time in Croatia from June through August. The weather is still lovely but the crowds are not as heavy. The weather is still great in May and September to enjoy much of what you want to experience.
Can you swim in Zadar?
Yes! Zadar has several beaches where you can swim. As close as 4 km (~2.5 miles) to the city center of Zadar is Borik Beach. The most famous beach near Zadar is Kolovare Beach. Some other popular beaches include: Queens Beach, Sabunike Beach, Kozino Beach, and Petrcane Beach. These beaches have clear beautiful water to take a dip.
Is Zadar a good holiday location?
Yes, not only does Zadar have great food, historic architecture, beautiful beaches, and vibrant nightlife it is also a very relaxing location. All of these elements make Zadar the perfect location for your holiday. Whether you stay in Zadar or explore beyond Zadar to other locations throughout Croatia or nearby countries such as Montenegro or Slovenia.
Final thoughts: One day in Zadar
Extend your time in Croatia. If you’re spending one day in Zadar or extending your time to 2-3 days Zadar is a great coastal Mediterranean city to base yourself from.
In closing, definitely don’t sleep on spending at least one day in Zadar. It ended up that we spent two partial days there equaling about one full day. If the weather was warmer I definitely would have done a day boat trip or spent some time on the beautiful beaches!
I hope this helped to inspire travels to Zadar, Croatia. Stay tuned for more Croatia posts as we traveled from Zadar to Split, our next location during 8 days exploring Croatia.