With cheap budget flights from around Europe and more affordable accommodation compared to elsewhere in Croatia, Zadar is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot. We like to think of it as a mini King’s Landing from Game of Thrones, with its many marina’s and old-town cobbled streets. In addition to being an intriguing city for sightseeing, it’s also a great base for exploring many of the country’s National Parks and islands.
Read on for a list of the top things to do in and around Zadar and plan your holiday with us!
1. Start your sightseeing at the Roman Forum
In the centre of Zadar’s old town stands the 2000-year-old site of ancient Roman temples, statues and various buildings that once made up the city. Right next to the ruins you have St Anastasia’s Cathedral and the iconic Bell Tower, which is often the most used picture for Zadar and you’ll probably recognise it! Climb to the top of the Bell Tower for a panoramic view of the ruins and city below, and then descend downstairs to wander around the ancient ruins. This is one of the most popular areas of Zadar and the perfect place to start your trip!
2. Wander the old town streets
With any old city that has golden-stone buildings and history on every corner, the best thing to do here is simply wander around the old-town streets and get lost in alleyways, browse market stalls and relax in a corner café. Spend a few hours covering the entire perimeter of Zadar old-town, from the promenade to the stone wall gate by the marina. The quaint squares, quiet backstreets and cool bars and restaurants are all part of the experience.
3. Explore the Kornati Islands by boat
If you’re in Zadar long enough to explore the city and have time for a day-trip, an adventure out at sea is the perfect activity. If you go for a walk down by the marina, you’ll see advertisements for Kornati Island tours on every corner. This dense collection of 150+ of islands, coves and reefs forms a National Park, just off the coast of Zadar. In addition to being visually stunning and an opportunity for some nice photos, you’ll spend your day swimming in the ocean, relaxing on the beach and exploring the island buildings and fortress on foot. We recommend booking a full-day Kornati Islands tour with Viator in advance.
4. Go for a swim by the promenade or marina
You won’t find any beaches within the boundaries of Zadar city, so locals and tourists alike opt to sit by the long promenade or marina and go for a swim to cool down from the hot Croatian sun. Bring along a towel and follow suit! It’s a refreshing way to un-wind after a busy morning of sightseeing. The area near the Sea Organ or main marina are the best spots to swim. Just walk until you find an area that isn’t too crowded.
5. Stop by the Sea Organ at sunset
One of Zadar’s main attractions is the mighty Sea Organ, a genius stone piano that plays music as the waves crash against the promenade. The stones light up and the nearby fountain has a special display at night so be sure to arrive early evening to see it. Getting there just before sunset will give you the best view. You can also relax in a nearby café and watch the Sea Organ sunset from afar, sipping your favourite cocktail. Check out Brazil Cafe Bar on Google Maps.
6. Relax with a picnic in the park
Perivoj Vladimira Nazora Park joins Zadar’s old town to the rest of the city and is a welcomed escape from the sightseeing crowds. Go for a morning jog under the tree shade or enjoy a leisurely afternoon walk around the park grounds. There are some great spots for a picnic! The park is full of fountains, flowers and secluded park benches to relax in the peace and quiet of nature. There’s also a playground for children and daily fitness classes.
7. Visit a museum
If you like to learn about your destination whilst on holiday and to explore the history deeper, the Zadar Archaeological Museum will interest you. It’s located right next to the Roman Forum in the centre of town, overlooking the columns of ancient ruins and statues. Ponder around the museum for an hour or two, investigating artefacts dating back through different periods of Zadar’s history, all the way back to the pre-historic era. For a museum with a completely different purpose, check out Museum of Illusions, an interactive and fun visual illusions attraction. It’s great for kids!
8. Dance the night away at Ledana outdoor club
Ledana outdoor music club is the place to go to end your night after active evening of bar-hopping. This cool open-air club is made up of multiple bars, cabana’s, chill-out areas and a central dance bar with a live DJ. The club is spread out across the Perivoj Vladimira Nazora gardens area and is the hottest place to party in the city! Drinks are surprisingly affordable too! We recommend joining the Chewbacca Zadar bar crawl first and they’ll take you to Ledana after stopping by a few bars. Entry is included in the price.
9. Walk through the Sea Gate or City Gate to the marina
The entrances to Zadar’s old-town are an attraction in themselves. By the side of the marina you have a mighty stone ‘Sea Gate’ with carvings of sailors and boats, whilst the ‘Land Gate’ entrance to town sits by the park, with towering arches and an Arch de Triumph-like appearance. Escape the city through the gates for a wander down by the marina. Sit and watch the boats come in and out, go for a swim or have a long walk on the promenade. It’s one of the prettiest areas of town and stretches for miles! Zadar sure does have a lot of boats.
10. Enjoy a meal with a view at The Garden Restaurant
Most of Zadar’s restaurants are in the heart of the old town, tucked away in narrow streets. If you want something a little different to the bustling city centre atmosphere with some beautiful views of the marina below, The Garden Restaurant is the place to go. Arrive for lunch to relax in the sun or enjoy some pre-dinner sunset cocktails on an evening. The food is a combination of classic Mediterranean dishes, some delicious desserts and an exciting drinks menu. The Garden’s sun traps and chill-out areas make it unlike any other nearby restaurant.
11. Chill-out on Borik Beach
Zadar is a sunny city break city and there aren’t any beaches in the close vicinity if you’re staying within the old town (as most people do). Just 4km away from town sits the secluded Borik Beach, where locals and touists come to escape the city hustle and bustle. Spend your afternoon sunbathing or enjoying a drink in the beach bar; just be sure to bring a towel as it’s a pebble beach. A taxi/Uber ride from the old-town takes around 10-15 minutes. View map location.
The best Zadar day-trips/Excursions
If you’re staying in Zadar for more than 3 days or using the city as a base for your holiday, the following places all make excellent day-trips. You can rent a car to drive there yourself, catch public transport or book an organised tour in advance.
12. Spend the day at Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is the must-see attraction if you’re staying in Zadar and you should make every effort to visit if you’re staying for 2+ days. This impressive and vast collection of forests, lakes and waterfalls will get you in tune with nature as you ascend to the top of the fall’s viewpoint, before venturing down to walk amongst the waterfalls and lakes. There are various walking routes to choose from depending on how much of a challenge you want and plenty of rest stops along the way. We recommend booking a return trip to Plitvice with TripAdvisor here.
13. Visit Krka National Park and the town of Skradin
Not as impressive as Plitvice but still an amazing natural park to wander around, Krka is a collection of waterfalls, viewpoints and forest picnic areas. It’s slightly closer to Zadar and unlike the Plitvice Lakes, you can swim here, which is an added bonus! We recommend taking a bus from Zadar bus station to the quaint town of Skradin (book your tickets with GetByBus here). From here, you can then board a ferry that’ll transport you into Krka National Park with some amazing scenery along the way. Both Plitvice and Krka are well worth visiting and each have their own unique appeal.
14. Rent a car and explore the nearby island of Pag
Neighbouring Pag is an island of nice beaches and the party hotspot of Croatia. Rent a car and take the 1-hour drive to the island for a day of exploration, where you’ll stumble upon picturesque beaches, quiet fishing towns and moon-like landscapes. We recommend checking out Pag Town and then touring the beaches of the coastline. For a vibrant nightlife, stay overnight in Novalja and check out Zrce Beach. Find out more in our Novalja guide here.
15. Catch the bus to Sibenik
Sibenik is a medieval seaside town that bears the stunning appearance of many of Croatia’s coastal cities. The white and golden buildings glisten in the sun, showing off their bold red rooftops; and its location is right at the mouth of the river that runs downstream from Krka National Park, forming dramatic scenery as a backdrop for the town. Catch the bus from Zadar (book here with GetByBus) in just over an hour and spend your day sightseeing. Whilst small, Sibenik has some cool shops, cafes, churches, fortresses and viewpoints to check out.
16. Go on an active adventure in Paklenica National Park
Paklenica is a less visited National Park that has an off-the-beaten-track appeal. Rather than being a tourist attraction with built up walkways and restaurants, like the other parks we’ve mentioned, Paklenica embraces its natural scenery and is an idyllic place to embark on a hike or rock-climbing adventure. You can take the trip to the National Park yourself, pay the entrance fee and hike at your own leisure, or join an organised tour such as this one.
Thanks for reading and finding out about some of the best things to do in Zadar! It’s a Croatian city that we recommend everyone visits, and whilst there isn’t as much going on as the likes of Split or Dubrovnik, the wider area has some amazing sights to see and explore if you want to extend your city break to a full week or two. If you have any questions about visiting Zadar, get in touch! We’ve spent lots of time in the city.