Beautiful Zadar might not have the reputation of its neighbours Split or Dubrovnik, but that’s one of its biggest appeals. It’s certainly not abandoned in the summer months – but you’ll have a little more room to move and enjoy the many things to do in Zadar. To help you fill a few amazing days in Zadar, here’s 20 amazing things to do in Zadar.
Zadar is quite the package deal. History lovers are sure to be amazed in Croatia’s oldest continuously inhabited city, while the various empires that have ruled it means the culture is rich and varied. Oh, and the cuisine is amazing as well.
Then, of course, there’s Zadar’s stunningly beautiful coast. Punctuated with many beautiful islands, it’s a delight for any water lover. One thing is for sure – there’s no shortage of things to do in Zadar.
The 5 most unmissable things to do in Zadar
Short on time or just wandering what are the must see places in Zadar? Here’s the top five things you simply can’t miss during your visit.
The Zadar Sea Organ
If you don’t know about Zadar’s sea organ, it might freak you out at first. Located at the end of the promenade, it emits a low, almost mournful sound that comes, fittingly, in waves.
That’s no mistake – the amazing installation is designed to echo the sound of the waves. Rather than being played by air, it is water that causes the organ to emit its sound.
The sound is clearly inspired by the environment. Some say it sounds like the wind and waves themselves; it reminded me of how I imagine a whale’s call would sound.
Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most popular things to do in Zadar and totally unmissable. Make sure to leave at least an hour or so to sit by it and work out what you think it sounds like.
The Sea Organ was designed by the famous architect Nikola Basic in 2005, and can really be credited with making Zadar a popular holiday destination. So definitely don’t miss this one!
Watch the sunset
I must confess – when I visited Zadar, I had no idea about its world-famous sunsets. I mean, sunsets are always pretty nice, right?
Well. “Pretty nice” doesn’t even start to do sunsets in Zadar justice. We made our way to the waterfront (not far from the Sea Organ) and joined the crowds seated along the edge. A couple of pop-up bars were nearby, so we even grabbed some generously-sized pints of local beer and assumed our position on the water’s edge.
We were soon treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. The sun dropped relatively quickly, casting the sky in a brilliant yellow and crimson. A few sailboats were silhouetted against the sunlight.
It’s no wonder that Alfred Hitchcock described the Zadar sunset as ‘the best in the world’. It really is something special – so don’t miss it while visiting Zadar.
I’m not exactly what you’d call a water baby. I never really got my sea legs. The only time I can recall going sailing, it was Year 5 camp and one of the boys in my boat decided it was more fun to try to sink it than sail it. (The lesson here? Don’t let 11 year olds sail boats unaccompanied.)
Luckily, my sailing experience in Zadar was much more successful – in fact, it’s one of the best experiences I had in the Balkans. We absolutely adored going out sailing with Marlin’s Adventures. The company is owned by two young guys who love Zadar and the sea, so it was always going to be a great time.
This particular trip was so much fun because we really took an active role in sailing the boat. Gin and tonic in hand, we helped to move the sail and change direction. Our skipper’s love for sailing was so obvious, he took great pride in showing us the ropes (literally).
I definitely highly recommend sailing as one of the best things to do in Zadar!
Check out the Fish Market
One of the best things about visiting any coastal city is the abundance of fresh seafood that’s nearly always on offer. Zadar is certainly no exception!
The city has long had a famous fish market where fishermen, businesses and individuals would go and trade their catch of the day.
The City Market continues to this day, although it now sells more than just fish. Still, the sight of all the fish lined up and the scurry of activity in the morning (its closed in the afternoon) was the highlight for me.
Although a fresh fish is probably not the ideal souvenir of your time in Zadar, other local goods on offer include rakija and olive oil. Both of these may be a little more appropriate!
Explore the historic centre
One of the main reasons that we wanted to visit Zadar was to check out the old historic centre. Croatia’s cities are worldfamous – Dubrovnik’s Old Town, in particular, is somewhat of a mecca for history lovers (and Game of Thrones lovers, too).
I can’t really compare Zadar to Dubrovnik as just the thought of the crowds turned me off the latter. But I can say that Zadar is absolutely beautiful and incredibly historic. You’d expect that, given it’s Croatia’s oldest continuously inhabited city!
You feel like you’re walking through a museum as you wander down the narrow alleyways, most of which were first laid by the Romans. The whole town is beautiful, but it’s highlights like the ancient Venetian walls can’t be missed.
Hands down the best way to explore the historic centre is on foot. I would recommend getting a guide who can bring it all to life, however there are also many self-guided tours available.
Things to do in Zadar when it’s raining
Zadar’s coastal location means most of the things to see in Zadar are outdoors. However, don’t fret if the weather doesn’t cooperate. There are still plenty of fun things to do in Zadar when it’s raining!
Museum of Illusions
I don’t care how old I am, or how much of an adult I should be by now – illusions are super fun, no matter what age you are. There’s just something about knowing your eyes are deceiving you and being lost in the deception. (In fact, the Museum of Illusions was one of my fave things to do in Ljubljana, too!)
If you’re like me – or you’re in the company of actual children – the Museum of Illusions is perfect for a rainy day in Zadar.
The museum is kind of small and isn’t particularly high tech, but that’s all part of its simple charm. Plus, it’s not that expensive – so if you’re looking for affordable things to do in Zadar, then this is a great choice.
Just maybe avoid the vortex room if you’ve just eaten or have a queasy stomach.
Museum of Archaeology
Given Zadar’s amazing past, it’s no surprise that it has a pretty amazing Archaeological Museum. In fact, it’s the second oldest in Croatia and one of the most well-respected in the country.
At the museum, you can take a look at objects and artefacts from the centuries and centuries of life in Zadar. From the Romans to the Byzantine Empire and many in between, you’ll see lots of fascinating objects here.
Since it opened in 1832, the museum has accumulated more than 100,000 objects – so it can be a little bit intimidating at first. I recommend doing a little bit of reading up on the history of Zadar so you can go in with a bit of a mud map on how everything fits in.
Museum of Ancient Glass
Now, I can appreciate that a ‘Museum of Ancient Glass’ might not sound like the world’s most interesting Zadar activity. However, this fabulous rated museum is really worth a visit – especially if it’s raining outside.
The location alone is pretty impressive, housed inside a historic palace and looking out over the harbour.
Inside, there are thousands of glass objects from Croatia and around the world. Unlike the archaeological museum which focus mostly on local objects, the Museum of Ancient Glass houses works from as far away as China.
The name is a pretty good indicator of what you’ll get: lots of old glass. Truthfully, this one might not be ideal for children, however, if you have any interest in glass blowing or historic art, it’s well worth a visit.
Don’t miss the glass-blowing demonstration, which, if you’re anything like me, will make you feel seriously untalented.
Museum of Church Art
Okay, so confession time (I feel like that could be a pun?) – I didn’t actually visit this Museum. However, I have done quite a lot of research on it and I’m sure it would be a very interesting attraction in Zadar for many.
The Museum is located in the Church of St Mary, which is probably one of the most beautiful sights in Zadar. The collection is spread out over two floors, and is believed to be one of the largest collections in Croatia.
It features many centuries-old artworks, many of which were painted by the Venetians. The collection includes a pretty sweet crown called the Crown of the Anjou Queen, which dates from the 1300s. Not gonna lie, I would’ve liked to have seen it – but maybe you can tell me what it was like!
Cultural and historic things to do in Zadar
Given that Zadar has been under the control of many different empires, it’s no surprise it has a rich culture. Its strategic coastal location doesn’t hurt, either. So, if you’re a culture vulture looking for things to do in Zadar – you won’t be disappointed.
Catch a music show at St Donat Church
One of the most impressive places to see in Zadar is the 9th Century St Donat Church. It’s always amazing for me to hear of building that are so old – yet still actively used!
While St Donat Church is one of the most famous Zadar attractions, it’s actually been de-consecrated. Nowadays, its main claim to fame is hosting classical music concerts, rather than religious services.
Unfortunately, none were on while we were visiting so we didn’t get a chance to check it out. I was pretty disappointed, as I love classical music (although I am mildly traumatised by it as it was my go-to studying music in uni).
I definitely recommend checking out their website and trying to visit a show, if you can!
Admire the garden near the Square of Five Wells
Zadar is very beautiful, but it can get quite hot and stuffy. This is thanks to the fact that even though it’s supposedly Dubrovnik’s “quiet” little sister, it is actually pretty busy. Also, most of the town is made of stone or other hard surfaces, so there’s minimal green space.
If you do find yourself craving a bit of tranquility or foliage, then I suggest heading to the little garden near the famous Square of Five Wells. Once you find the square, just head up the steps and you’ll find it.
It’s a relatively compact park, but it has a lovely atmosphere. There are a number of park benches where you can have a chilled-out moment, and it’s also worth admiring the view.
While you’re in the area, be sure to check out the literally-named Square of Five Wells. It’s an old square. With five wells. Go on, count them!
Shop for knitted goods at St Anastasia’s Cathedral
I loved stumbling upon this little hidden gem while doing a walking tour of the historic centre of Zadar. The 12th to 13th century Cathedral is one of the most impressive buildings in Zadar, and well worth checking out on its own. It’s the largest church in Dalmatia.
What is really unique, however, is the row of little old ladies sitting by it, selling their knitted goods and chatting amongst themselves.
They are making hats, baby booties and other knitted goods – and they’re totally charming. They make much better souvenirs than the mass-produced knitted items in most souvenir shops, so I recommend stopping by (with cash!) if you’re looking for a nice souvenir.
Go for a row on a Barkajoli
You’ve heard about the traditional boasts of Lake Bled in Slovenia – now it’s time to hear about the traditional row boats of Zadar!
I’m talking about the Barkajoli, small wooden row boats which have been used in the area for centuries. Apparently, the skill of rowing these tiny boats has been passed down from father to son for almost a millennia – and is a special skill in Zadar.
Today, the little boats are most frequently used for taxiing people across the water to Old Town. So, since it’s technically a taxi service rather than a tour, it costs only a few HRK to ride across the water!
The boats take a maximum of 10 guests, which I think would be pretty cosy. However, if you visit in the shoulder season like we did, then you might even get a romantic little rowboat ride to yourself!
Things to do in Zadar for foodies
Love food? You’ll love Zadar. Aside from one seriously questionable anchovy dish (I can still taste the salt in my mouth when I think about it), I loved the food of Zadar. So, if you’re on the lookout for great food in Zadar – here are a few things to try.
It seems like every town and region in the Balkans has their own special liquor. For Zadar, it is Maraska. This special kind of cherry liqueur has been made in Zadar for more than 500 years, and is still popular amongst locals.
Apparently, it was first made by Monks before the secret got out and people from all over Zadar were enjoying it!
You can find Maraska at most local restaurants, and a lot of souvenir shops also sell it as a gift from the town.
Sadly, this is another one I didn’t get to experience firsthand. And it’s a vineyard! I know, I know – it’s not like me to pass up the chance to sample some local vino. But unfortunately, that was how the cookie crumbled.
The vineyards have an amazing history – they were donated to some local Monks by the King back in the mid-11th Century. It was the monks who began cultivating the vines and producing amazing wine.
Today, it is a commercial vineyard with a seriously impressive viewpoint over the coast and back towards Zadar. The most famous wine they produce is Prosip, a white wine indigenous to northern Dalmatia.
The wine tasting room is open from 1pm to 12 midnight every day, while more informal tastings can be enjoyed between 11am and 4pm daily. No booking is required, but it’s a good idea to call ahead just in case.
While Zadar is the oldest continuously inhabited Croatian city, it’s spent a large part of its life being distinctly Italian. Historically, it was overseen by the Venetians, while in more modern times it was also under Italian rule.
One of the many ways that the city has been influenced by its Italian rulers is that it has seriously freaking amazing gelati. No, really!
You’ll find lots of little gelati stalls, but the most famous of all is Bob Rock’s Icecream Shop. Unfortunately, it is only open seasonally – if you do arrive and its closed, don’t fear! There are plenty of other places to enjoy gelati in Zadar.
Things to do further out from Zadar
If you’ve got longer in Zadar, then you might want to take a day trip! Here are some of the best things to do near Zadar.
Go to the beach
At the risk of getting thoroughly told off in the comments, I didn’t find the beaches in Zadar particularly impressive. Kolovare is okay, however if you’re craving more than a very quick paddle, then I do recommend going a bit further out to some bigger beaches.
Luckily, there are a slew of beautiful islands not far from Zadar, and many of them offer beautiful and unspoiled beaches to enjoy.
If you’re in the mood to party, then Zrce beach on Pag Island is a definite hot spot. In the summer months, it has Mykonos-esque vibes as everyone is there for a good time.
For a more relaxing Zadar beach experience, then there’s Saharun Beach, which has stunningly clear water. It is a little bit popular, but the hour-long catamaran ride to get there does scare off the crowds.
Krka National Park
You’ve probably heard a thing or two about Croatia’s famous waterfalls. Arguably the second most famous falls in Croatia are found within the Krka National Park, which is about an hour from Zadar.
The falls themselves are absolutely beautiful, and then there’s the added bonus of a plethora of other walking trails to explore.
There are a number of direct buses to Krka National Park from Zadar, so it’s quite easy to do it as a day trip. That said, you might prefer to stay overnight to give yourself more time to enjoy the park’s beauty.
Not too far away from Zadar you’ll find the underrated (although not totally undiscovered) town of Nin. It’s particularly famous for its natural beauty.
If you’re on the lookout for a great beach, then Nin may just fit the bill. The beach here is quite unique, being a bit more like a lagoon than a true beach. Nonetheless, it’s very beautiful and popular with both tourists and local Croatians as well.
A more unique attraction of Nin is its salt pans. The salt in Nin is supposed to be high in therapeutic ingredients, and is used in many spa and beauty products. So, if you’re looking to be pampered for the day – Nin is a great place to go!
Island hopping from Zadar
There’s no doubt that one of the most popular things to do around Zadar is island hopping. Thanks to its location on the coast, within easy striking distance of many islands, it’s easy to visit several in a day. Or, if you’re lucky, you could even enjoy a multi-day island hopping trip!
We visited Otok Osljak, a small island where nearly every inhabitant is from the same family. There was a centuries-old flour mill to explore, as well as a few beautiful rocky beaches with exceptionally clear water.
Of course, that’s just one of the many options. Other popular islands for visitors include Pasman, Silba, Vir and Pag. The choice is yours!