Zadar is a beautiful coastal town along the Adriatic Sea in the country of Croatia. It has quickly become a popular tourist destination due to the number of budget airlines flying into the region and also its close proximity to Plitvice Lakes, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Zadar can be experienced as a weekend getaway or as a short stop-gap before moving on to other destinations in Croatia. Either way, it is a destination not to be missed.
There are plenty of things to do in Zadar despite its relatively small size. From exploring Roman ruins, visiting quirky museums, relaxing on one of Zadar’s many beautiful beaches – you will not be short of things to do. Keep reading to find out more about the best things to do in Zadar in 2020.
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Wondering where to stay in Zadar, Croatia? Check out these accommodation options to suit every budget
Explore the Old Town of Zadar
One thing that I love to do when I first arrive in a new destination, is to walk around and try to get a feel for the place. Zadar is the perfect destination for this as the town is quite small and easy to explore.
My advice would be to begin at the Land Gate, built-in 1543 so that you can walk all the way around the walled-in town. We began exploring from the Bell Tower as it was right next to where we were staying.
We loved walking along the cobbled lined streets, through the old Roman archways and down the narrow alleyways. There are lots of delicious ice-cream stalls and cafes along the way if you want to escape the crowds during the summer months.
Also, Zadar is known for its Maraschino cherry liqueur so I would definitely recommend buying a bottle to bring home or maybe having a sip or two to try it out. If you want to avoid the crowds and read other useful advice when travelling to Croatia, then check out my post about planning a trip to Croatia.
There are also walking tours available in Zadar if you want to learn more about the history from the locals. If you are on a budget you can try out Eduardo’s free walking tour but there is also the option of booking a customised walking tour with a highly reputable company which you can book here.
Climb to the top of the Bell Tower
The Bell Tower is the tallest standing structure in Zadar and it has an amazing viewpoint of the whole town. The climb to the top is quite easy and not too steep and the views of Zadar from a height are truly worth it.
I loved how the Bell Tower lit up at night, there are also a lot of restaurants and cafes dotted around the tower which create a really nice ambience. You could sit there for hours people watching, talking to locals or take a nighttime stroll around the tower. Entrance to the tower is 15kn or around €2.
Walkthrough the famous Land Gate
When it comes to different things to see in Zadar, one of the first attractions you will likely stumble upon without even referencing a guide is the Foša Land Gate. It is an incredibly impressive entrance into the city of Zadar.
We were dropped off here by a taxi late at night, concerned with nothing else except our accommodation after a long delay. It was only the following day that we realised we had spent time at this beautiful, historic gate.
What we found out later was that this entrance, The Land Gate, was originally built as the mainland gate and entryway into the Old Town area all the way back in 1543 by the Venetians. You can even see the symbol of the Venetian Republic, the winged lion, arched into the top of the gate.
Visit The Church Of St. Donatus
The church of St. Donatus is an incredible example of Byzantine architecture. The tall, rounded structure of the church is a sight to behold and it is a great source of pride for the people of Zadar.
The church was built in the 9th century and despite several wars and destruction, the building still stands strong and beautiful today.
The church is located on the Roman Forum and many of the stones used to reconstruct parts of the building were taken from here. Today, the church has become a venue for concerts and music performances.
Listen to the sounds of the Sea Organ
You really can’t come to Zadar and not experience the magical sounds of the Sea Organ. It is located along the top of the promenade – watch out for steps or a large blue circle as it might be hard to miss.
In Croatian, it’s known as the Morske Orgulje, and it was created by a popular Croatian architect, Nikola Basicis.
The way it actually works is by waves pushing air through the pipes under the water and the sound you hear is the vibrations from the air as it makes its way through the pipes. I have never experienced anything quite like it, it’s simply magical.
Be mindful though, it is a very busy tourist attraction, especially at sunset. Sometimes you will see people jumping off the organ into the water, especially during the summer months.
There are also steps leading down towards the water which is definitely the best place to sit and listen to the sounds. We went during the day and again at sunset and it was so peaceful; watching the waves and listening to the sounds of the ocean.
Visit the Greeting of the Sun
Right next to the steps of the sea organ, is another very popular and innovative tourist spot, ‘The Greeting of the Sun’. This stunning piece was designed by the same architect, Nikola Basicis, who created the sea organ.
To be honest, it really doesn’t look like much during the day – a large blue circle on the promenade. Not much to look at you might think.
But at night? Well, that’s a completely different story. During the day, the panels are constantly absorbing the sun rays and as night falls this energy is used in a magical way.
The panels light up in an array of colours and it can be a lot of fun to jump around on them, pose for pictures and you can still hear the sound of the sea organ in the background.
Relax in Narodni Trg – The People’s Square
There is a beautiful town square in Zadar called ‘The People’s Square’, known in Croatian as Narodni Trg. You will most likely stumble upon it as you wander around the town.
By day it is filled with people drinking coffee with friends. At night, there are often live music events and shows but get there early as the square fills up fast.
During the busy summer months, the entire square is filled with outdoor seating areas and there are also lots of cafes and restaurants where you can eat, drink and enjoy all of the entertainment that the square brings.
If you’d like to explore more of Narodni Trg than just the square, then you’re in luck. There are so many well-preserved areas with beautiful historic buildings and unique museums dotted around this area. Take the time to explore the history and beauty of this beautiful town.
Visit the Museums of Zadar
For a small town, there are plenty of museums on offer in Zadar. The following museums are all within a short walking distance of The People’s Square/ Narodni Trg.
If you are interested in history and the arts, then the Archaeological Museum is the best choice for you. There are three floors in the museum with quite a lot of historical artefacts from the Roman era.
It’s the perfect way to spend a few hours in Zadar, especially if it is raining or extremely hot. The entrance fee is 30kn (€4)
Another museum, which is perfect for adults and children alike, is the Museum of Illusions. This museum is full of optical illusions and magic and is a lot of fun and well worth a visit.
There are so many advertisements all over Zadar for this museum so it’s hard not to miss it. Entrance fee starts at 40kn (€5.40) and 150kn (€20) for the whole family.
Another great museum to visit in Zadar is the Museum of Ancient Glass. This museum is right next to The Peoples Square and it really is a museum full of ancient glass. Who would have thought it?! What’s really cool about this museum is that you can see a live demonstration of glass blowing. This is the cheapest museum with student prices starting at 10kn (€1.20). Adult entry is 30kn (€4).
Relax At Kolovare Beach
Kolovare Beach is a very popular beach in Zadar and it is a great place to spend the day away from all the hustle and bustle of city life.
The beach itself is within walking distance of Old Town, Zadar (around 20 minutes). Similar to most beaches in Croatia, it is pebbly rather than sandy so bring those water shoes!
A whole area of the beach has been sectioned off to create a ‘swimming pool’ where you will find Zadar’s famous diving board. Lots of bars and restaurants can be found nearby including a cool beach bar too.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Zadar, then visiting Kolovare beach should be added to your Zadar itinerary!
Go On A Canoe Adventure Down Zrmanja River
For those looking for more adventurous things to do in Zadar, don’t worry – there is more to do in this region than just city or beach activities.
One of the most popular adventurous activities is a canoe adventure down the Zrmanja river – known as one of Europe’s most beautiful rivers. The water is perfectly clear and warm with spectacular canyons and waterfalls.
You are also guaranteed to see majestic scenery along the way and of course some rapids – it wouldn’t be an adventure with them.
Get Tickets Here: Canoe/Kayak Adventure On The Zrmanja River
Where To Stay in Zadar
We stayed in an apartment called Apartment Gloria. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. It is right in the centre of Zadar, two minutes walk from The People’s Square.
Our host Andrea was lovely, she gave us lots of helpful travel advice and everything we needed was provided for us. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay on a budget with all the mod-cons and an extremely comfy bed, then this is the place for you.
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