Zadar is a less-busy, quaint city to visit in Croatia with traditional cuisine, modern architecture and ancient history. There are so many cool and historic things to do in Zadar and we will share the best of all of these attractions and fun things to do below.
While Zadar is often overshadowed by cities like Split and Dubrovnik, you’ll be glad to have visited Zadar with its beaches, ruins and things to do that you cannot find anywhere else in the world and also not as touristy as both of these cities.
Things to Do in Zadar Croatia (History, culture and cool things to discover in the city center)
A guide to the top 13 things to do in Zadar
Where is Zadar?
Zadar is a city on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The city is well connected with an international airport, ferry routes to other parts of Croatia and a large bus station frequented by Croatian local buses and Flixbus to other places in Croatia and neighboring countries.
Easiest way of getting to Zadar from other areas of Croatia would be by their extensive bus routes or renting a car (which allows you to stop and go where you please)
Top 13 Things to Do in Zadar
Eat Delicious Croatian Food
You cannot come here without trying the best food in Zadar like Dalmatian Prosciutto, dishes cooked in a Peka oven and some of the tastiest seafood I’ve ever had like Octopus Salad and Seabass Pate on Bread.
There are lots of places to try the local cuisine but the best is in a ‘Konoba’ which is a traditional Croatian restaurant that resembles someone’s home rather than an eatery and that’s the exact atmosphere you get.
Popular meals in Croatia include truffle pasta, black risotto and pasticada.
Sea Organ at Sunset
Zadar is home to one of the most unique things in the world: the architectural sound object of the Sea Organ. Croatian architect, Nikola Bašić, designed this special instrument on the sea’s edge with enough room to fit hundreds of people who can listen to its music. The Sea Organ produces natural music caused by the waves.
You can come here in all types of weather and times of day to experience the touching sounds being produced. The best time is to come at sunset because this is a place of socializing, listening to the music of the waves and watching the sunset.
Do you need a reason to see the Zadar sunset? Alfred Hitchcock, world-famous director, described the scene as ‘the world’s most beautiful’. So, you know it’s good when someone with his vision says this!
Greeting to the Sun
The very same architect who created the Sea Organ, Nikola Bašić, also created Greeting to the Sun (also known as Salutation to the Sun or Monument to the Sun) just a few metres away from the Sea Organ in Zadar.
After watching the sunset at the Sea Organ, head over to Greeting to the Sun which is a giant solar panel on the ground in the shape of the sun and surrounding circles to represent the planets that creates an impressive light show in the dark. You’ll find local buskers, musicians, dancers and models performing near the area which makes it a fun experience that you must do in Zadar.
This is something that can only be experienced in Zadar and nowhere else in the world.
Marvel at Roman Ruins
Zadar is as old as the 9th century BC and it has been a place of invasion over the years. It has some of the best Roman ruins in Europe and the best way to learn about its history is to join a walking tour of the town including the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum is the best evidence in Croatia of public life in Roman times from inscriptions in stones that were found dating back to the 3rd century. Today, the ancient Roman city, including the original pavement and stairs that are still there, is incorporated into modern life in Zadar for adults and teenagers socialising and kids playing among the ruins.
Visit St Donatus Church
The church in the centre of the Roman Forum called the Church of St Donatus is one of the best sites to see in Croatia let alone Zadar! This is because of its grand and fairly unusual round shape. This church has changed hands over the centuries according to the ruler of the city at the time. Today it is a venue hall so look out for events while visiting.
Also, as you walk through the old town take notice of the floor which sometimes has glass windows where ruins have been preserved underneath.
Explore Zadar Cathedral
The Roman Catholic cathedral in Zadar, also known as the Cathedral of St. Anastasia, is the largest cathedral on the Dalmatian coast. St Anastasia was a martyr who this cathedral was named after and has since had two Popes bow down in front of: Alexander III and Pope John Paul II.
You can also climb the tower bell at this cathedral which costs just 15 Kuna for views over the city and sea.
Explore The Archaeological Museum
Given so much preservation in this city it’s only right that there is an Archaeological Museum right in the middle of the Roman Forum. The museum is one of the oldest in Europe, founded in 1832 and houses over 100,000 artifacts from the Palaeolithic period to the end of 11th century.
The Archaeoliogical Museum is open between 9am and 8pm everyday and costs 30 Kuna to enter.
See the City Gates
Zadar old town is surrounded by the city walls and four gates: Bridge Gate, Land Gate, Sea Gate, and St Rocco Gate. The official entrances to the city were the sea gate and the land gate.
The land city gate is the most impressive with a huge arch, intricate details either side and a huge-winged lion in the top center with its paw on an open book (a sign of Venice) as you enter. It’s considered one of the best examples of renaissance architecture. It is set next to charming Fosa Harbor which is a lovely place to take a stroll.
While at the harbor, be sure to look out for the resident dog, Nina, who listens to 80s songs on the harbor front!
Enjoy the Bars
For a fairly small place, Zadar has a fun nightlife scene especially around an area called ‘Stomorica’ as well as lots of sports bars such as Kult Caffe Bar which is in the student area of Zadar, has lots of televisions playing live, international sport and decent prices. One of the best bars to go to is The Garden which is perched on the old city walls of Zadar and boasts outdoor seating, gorgeous decor and live music and DJ’s.
Try a Croatian beer like Ožujsko and Karlovacko.
Experience Croatian Coffee Culture
Enjoying a coffee is a common pastime in Croatia and Zadar has many cafes and areas where this is practiced. It’s also the place where business meetings are held, friends are socialising, people-watching is occurring and just about every other conversation type happens.
‘Kava’ is the word for coffee in Croatian so decide how you like it and order away. My top recommendation is to try an espresso with whipped cream on top!
The best part? You can buy a coffee and stay for an hour as no-one will be telling you to leave and you’ll feel like one of the locals.
Hit the Beaches
Located on the Dalmatian coast means there are wonderful coastlines and beaches to enjoy in and near Zadar. Whether you want to top up your tan, do some water sports, swim, have a beer or just enjoy beach life, check out some of these Zadar beaches:
- Beach Kolovare
- Puntamika Beach
- Beach Borik
- Queen’s Beach
- Sakarun beach
- Beach Riva
Explore the Markets: Fresh and Fish
The fresh market in Zadar is friendly, busy and full of local foods as well as a cute cafe to visit (of course coffee is included). You’ll find everything from wild asparagus and swiss chard to dried figs and homegrown fruits like kumquats. In Croatia these markets are usually referred to as the ‘Green Market’.
Around the corner from the Green Market is the fresh fish market which is bustling full of sellers shouting to compete prices and produce and customers looking for the best quality fish and seafood that has been caught and delivered that morning. Be sure to get here before 11am because the best catches go early in the morning.
Both markets are excellent places to see local life in action and get the quality delicacies at the best prices.
Day Trip to Pag Island
World-famous and loved Pag cheese is from its namesake island, Pag, which can be accessed via ferry from Zadar. It’s a must-visit while in this region to learn about, and taste, the wonderful food from Pag.
The island’s geography is what makes the food so special because of something that locals call ‘bula’ which is the wind that spreads flavours like salt and herbs around the island that the sheep, cows and goats graze on. In addition, the prosciutto from Pag is cured outdoors so it benefits from the ‘bula’ and gives it the most salty and mouth-watering taste.
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Guest Writer Bio
About the Author: I’m Shireen from The Happy Days Travels and my blog focuses on stories, food and literary travel. My favourite things to do while travelling are tasting local cuisines, meeting locals, finding filming locations and reading books about the place.