Greeting To The Sun is one of the top things to do in Zadar.

20 Best Things To Do in Zadar Croatia

Zadar, one of the oldest cities in Croatia, sits on the Adriatic coast about two hours north of Split, basking in Croatia’s abundant sunshine. It was once a Roman colony and in the 16th century, the largest fortified city under Venetian rule, so in addition to a seaside vacation spot, lively cobblestoned streets lined with cafes, some quirky, modern installations, and nearby islands to visit, there’s history and ruins to explore.

This post covers the top things to do in Zadar.

Explore the Old Town Of Zadar

The Old Town of Zadar sits on a small peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean. It’s surrounded by the ruins of 16th century Venetian walls, which were built when Zadar was under Venetian rule to protect against Ottoman invasion.

See The 16th Century Venetian Walls

In the 16th century, Zadar was the most important administrative center and naval base of the Republic of Venice, outside Venice itself. To protect the city from the advancing Ottomans, the Venetians built the walls, gates, and bastions to protect it.

The 16th century Venetian walls of Zadar are one of the top things to do.
Old City Wall Entrance

Some are also beautifully embellished with sculptures and reliefs. Today, the remains of these walls and gates have UNESCO World Heritage status.

The 16th century Venetian walls of Zadar are one of the top things to do.
Port Gate

The Port Gate (above) was built to commemorate a victory over the Ottomans at Lepanto and is complete with a carving of Saint Chrysogonus, the patron saint of the city. You can find it on Zadars eastern side.

See The Ruins Of The Roman Forum

In ancient times, Roman war veterans were given parcels of land here in exchange for their service. They arrived with their families and built the city in typical Roman style, until it eventually became a formal Roman colony.

Forum Ruins by Donatus Church

Eventually, a Forum was commissioned by Roman Emperor Augustus. This Forum was the center of Roman life and was the largest in Croatia. Although most of it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 6th century, the base of Forum remains.

The ruins of the Roman Forum are one of the top things to do in Zadar
Ruins of An Old Roman Shop

How To Get To The Roman Forum: Located in the northern part of Zadar Old Town, right in front of Saint Donatus Church. See The Roman Forum for its location on a map.

Saint Donatus Church

Saint Donatus Church, which is right next to the Roman ruins, was built it in the 9th century.

St Donatus church is one of the top things to do in Zadar
St. Donatus Church, St Anastasia Tower, and Roman Forum Ruins

It has also served as a warehouse and an archeological museum. Today, due to it’s acoustic qualities, it is often used for music venues.

Saint Anastasia Bell Tower

You can climb this tower for a small fee to watch the sunset behind the islands west of Zadar.

Anastasia Bell Tower is one of the top things to do in Zadar
View From Anastasia Bell Tower

This tower is in the same area as the Roman Forum, and St. Donatus.

St Mary’s Benedictine Monastery

Founded in the 11th century, this benedictine monastery was destroyed in WWII, before being rebuilt.

This monastery also sits beside the ruins of the Roman Forum, near St Donatus and the Bell Tower.

St Mary’s Benedictine Monastery
Saint Mary’s Monastery

Renassiance Five Wells Square

The Venetians helped the citizens here during Ottoman invasion by building five wells in the 16th century. They still stand, located between the medieval city walls and the Renaissance bastion, where there is a small park.

How To Get To Five Wells Square: Five wells square is located just south of the ancient Roman forum in Old a Town Zadar. See the Five Wells for location on a map.

The Governor’s Palace

The Governor’s Palace, or Providurova Palaca, was once home to the Governor General of Venice. It’s recently been renovated and has re-opened as an exhibition space and a gallery. Check locally for the schedule of events.

Kolovare Beach

There’s a small pebbled beach with crystal clear blue water on the seaside of the Zadar Peninsula called Kolovare Beach. This is the closest beach to Zadar old town. There are sunbeds, a beachbar, a few cafes, changing rooms, and a jumping platform. It’s best to wear water shoes to this beach.

This beach is a little bit of a walk from the old town, about a 20-minute walk southeast of the Roman Forum.

There’s also another beach a little further south of Kolovare, called Karma Beach.

Maestrala Beach

If you’re staying in the mainland of Zadar, there’s a small beach area called Maestrala Beach here. There is no sand or pebbles. It’s concrete. But the view of the sea is beautiful and it’s nice for a quick dip.

Watch Zadar’s Spectacular Sunsets

The sunsets from the area of the Sea Organ are spectacular, Especially with the hills of the islands in the distance.

Alfred Hitchcock was here in the 60’s and became enamored Zadar’s sunsets, proclaiming them the most beautiful in the world.

Greeting To The Sun

In addition to history, Zadar also has some more modern installations on the coast of Old Town Zadar, giving the Old Town a more lively air.

Greeting to the Sun is a dynamic installation that’s very interesting. It’s a 72’ (22 m) circle, built with 300 photosensitive panels. Designed by Nikola Basic, the panels absorb sunlight during the day, turning it into a colorful light show at night.

Greeting To The Sun is one of the top things to do in Zadar.
Greeting to the Sun

This installation is unique and especially enchanting at dusk. I loved how everyone silently gathered around it to watch the colors change and flash. There are also smaller panels nearby that you can dance/walk on. This is a perfect gathering spot in the evening, full of people congregating to see the installation and watch the sunset.

Sea Organ

Nicola also designed the 229’ long Sea Organ here, built into steps leading into the ocean. The waves and the wind create the music.

There are 35 pipes of varying length, creating 7 chords and 5 tones.


Sometimes, with the crowds, it’s difficult to hear the music. Because of this, it’s not unusual to see people with their ears to ‘vents’ of the organ.

Take A Ferry To Ugljan Island

There are several long linear islands located off the coast of Zadar that you can take ferries to and explore. The island of Ugljan is the closest island.

I took the ferry here for a day and found it refreshingly less touristic. Near the ferry docking area, there are pebbled beaches and restaurants overlooking the bay with a peaceful atmosphere. A nice way to spend the day away from the crowds and get some sun.

Ugljan Island

To get here, take the ferry from Zadar to Preko Port in Ugljan.

The Venetian Fortress on Ugljan Island

If you’re ambitious, you can hike up to the ruins of the 13th Century Venetian Fort (250 m) at the top of Ugljan.

Panoramic View From the Venetian Fortress

Researchers have found the remains of many ancient fortresses here, dating as far back as the 4th century BC. In the 10th century, St. Michaels Church was built, which was turned into a fortress in the 13th century when the Venetian’s sieged Zadar. When Croatia finally gained the area back, it was used to imprisonments the Venetians.

How To Get To The Venetian Fortress: after arriving at Preko Port via ferry from Zadar, it’s an hour walk to the top of Ugljan, following the road. You can also rent a car near the port if you want to drive. As there’s not much towards the peak, I recommend stopping at a market to pick up snacks to enjoy at the top. Directions to the Venetian Fortress.

Take A Ferry to Pašman Island

If you’re looking for beaches, Pašman Island has some beaches, including some sandy one. The most popular beach is Matlovak in Zdrelac, and Sovinje, near Tkon, which also has a nudist beach.

How To Get To Pasman Island: To get to Pasman, first take the ferry from Zadar to Preko Port on Ugljan. For Zdrelac beach, it’s easiest to catch a taxi in Preko Port to Pasman, over the bridge connecting the two islands. It should take about 15 minutes to get to Zdrelac. For Tkon, which is at the other end of Pasman, there is a bus from Preko to Tkon, taking 20-30 minutes.

Visit Dugi Otok Island

Sakarun island and Sakarun Beach, reputed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the area, is on Dugi Otok island. It’s stunning, full of crystal-clear blue water and sandy beaches (which are rare in Croatia).

I did not visit, but added this image from the web as it really looks amazing.

Getting here is a little complicated (see below), so I recommend this tour: Sakarun Beach Small Group Boat Tour and Shipwreck Snorkeling.

Sakarun beach is one of the top things to do in Zadar
Sakarun Beach | Croatian Presidency

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How to Get To Sakarun: There are two ferry options from Zadar to Sakarun. The first is a walk on/walk off ferry from Zadar to Bozava. There is a tourist train that runs from the port there to the beach. Unfortunately, all the ferries arrive in late afternoon, except for the Sunday ferry. Therefore, Sunday is the only day you can make a day trip on this ferry route. Of course, an overnight stay is also an option. For the return ferry schedule see Bozava to Zadar.

The second ferry option takes both vehicles and foot traffic, traveling rom Zadar to Brbinj. From here, Sakarun is a 30 minute drive or taxi ride. Parking near the beach for a small fee is an option. Check the Brbinj to Zadar return ferries for the way back.

Kornati Teslascica National Park

This Park is located off Dugi Otok island. There are 13 uninhabited, and protected, islands and islets. The best way to see this park is to take an organized tour. Mine was a full day tour, which also made a swim stop at a nearby uninhabited island and served a great lunch on the boat.


Although cruising around the islands is unique, I have to admit that I found this tour a little less than exciting. The swim stop at the uninhabited island was more interesting than cruising the Kornati islands.

If you book a tour, I recommend this one: Kornati National Park and Nature Park Telašćica Full-Day Trip from Zadar which includes a swim stop.

Take A Day Trip To Plitvice Lakes National Park

A day tour to stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park is a great idea if you are staying in Zadar (although better to stay overnight near the park so you can beat the crowds). This wonderland has 16 cascading, interconnected, multi-hued, lakes and over 90 waterfalls.

To get here, you can take the bus from the Zadar Main Bus Station to the bus stops at Plitvice Lakes National Park (either entrance 1 or entrance 2). Plitvice is less than 2 hours north of Zadar with several buses leaving daily during peak season. Make sure you book the direct bus, as the other bus makes additional stops, taking almost 3 hours. Make sure to book in advance during peak season.

If you chose to take a tour from Zadar, I recommend this Day Tour From Zadar.


Visit Krka National Park

Krka National Park is a scenic natural water park with beautiful waterfalls that’s popular for day trips. It’s about an hour southeast of Zadar.

If taking a day tour, I recommend this one: Krka Waterfalls from Zadar – TICKET INCLUDED, Simply and Safe. This is a full day tour.

Although this park looks stunning in the marketing brochures, it’s actually fairly small and felt like a tourist trap to me. Therefore, I recommend skipping the formal tour and navigating it yourself by car or bus. The bus leaves from the Zadar Main Bus Station. It’s best to arrive early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds.

Where To Stay In Zadar

I was surprised to find a large number of places that are in the budget or affordable class and still get exceptional reviews. I’ve listed a few below that stand out. Note that some say they are located in the heart of the old town, while others are on the mainland. If you choose to stay on the mainland, you can still walk to the old town (in most cases), but a car would be more convenient.

Budget

I stayed at Downtown Boutique Hostel, which offers dorm rooms at a shoestring price and private rooms at an affordable price. It’s centrally located on the Zadar Peninsula, the staff is friendly and there are common areas to meet other travelers in.

Boutique Hostel Forum offers dorm beds at a shoestring price and private rooms at a budget price. It’s centrally located in the heart of old town Zadar and some of the private rooms have views to Donatus Church.

Classy Design Accommodation is new and stylish and centrally located in the old town area of Zadar, near Five Wells Square. Some rooms have a kitchen with a microwave. 

Located on the mainland, across from the peninsula, and a few steps from Maestrala Beach, Vila Siega provides accommodations with a fridge and free free private parking. Select rooms have a balcony.

Affordable

Accommodation Piazzetta Marina is a 4-star guesthouse with rooms near the center of old town Zadar on the first floor of a small residential building facing the 12th century church of St. Chrysogonus. Some units have a kitchenette.  

Luxury Rooms Kadena offers modern accommodation located in the heart of Zadar old town near St. Chrysogonus Church.

Apartments With Love Zadar offers 4-star accommodation featuring a terrace or balcony with sea views (that get great reviews), an equipped kitchen, and free private parking, a 15-minute walk from Maestrala Beach. This apartment on located on the mainland.

Aurum Ponte Apartments offer luxury accommodations with a balcony and a kitchen on the mainland near Zadar City Bridge. It’s a 14-minute walk to Maestrala Beach.

How To Get To Zadar

Fly

Zadar does have an international airport (about a 15-minute drive from Zadar Old Town), but most international flights land in Zagreb. Zagreb International Airport is a 3-4 hour drive to Zadar. If arriving in Zagreb, you can self-drive or take a bus, which is an efficient way to get around Croatia.

Self-Drive

Driving is done on the right side of the road in Croatia and is relatively safe. Infrastructure is good, but traffic can be heavy in tourist areas on weekends.

Zagreb is northeast of Zadar by about 3.5 hours, Dubrovnik, another popular International Airport is southeast of Zadar at about a 3.5-4 hour drive. Split, another common tourist spot in Croatia, is about a 2 hour drive.

If your country is part of the EU, and your license uses a Latin typeface, you will not need and International Drivers Permit (IDP), although it is highly recommended in case you get stopped or get into an accident. It’s best to ask your car rental agency in advance. The rules are similar for US citizens. According to the US Embassy in Croatia, US Citizens may use a US drivers license in Croatia for up to three months, but an IDP is recommended.

Bus

The bus is a very efficient way to travel around Croatia if you do not have a car. The bus from Zagreb Main Bus Station to the Zadar Main Bus Station is a direct bus taking about 3.5 hours. If taking a bus from the Zagreb airport, you need to travel through the Zagreb Main Bus Station, whihc takes a little longer, about 5.5 hours.

For more information on getting around in Croatia, see my Croatia Travel Guide.

Want More of Croatia?

Croatia is a stunner and packed full of beauty and fun, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular right now. Visiting the Old Town of Dubrovnik is, rightly so, one of the most popular stops.

Dubrovnik

Another spectacular city to visit is Split, which is a beautiful bay in itself, but also boasts the worlds best Roman palace remains, Emperor Diocletian’s. From there, it’s easy to get to some of the more popular islands for day trips, like Hvar, which I highly recommend.

Hvar is not far from Zadar and one of the top things to do in Croatia.
Hvar

For a full experience in Croatia, island hopping from Split down to Dubrovnik is the ultimate adventure. This is what I did the previous year when I cruised the Croatian coast teaching yoga on a sailboat with Yoga Sailing Holidays. You can also use ferries to visit the islands on your own.


The northern town and Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, is also an interesting stop. And, as mentioned above, Plitvice Lakes National Park is a stunner!

To help plan your trip, see my Croatia Travel Guide, which highlights all the top destinations, along with how to best get around, safety, scams, logistics, and more.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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