Wondering what to do in Zadar Old Town? Zadar is a unique place to visit and a top destination to add to any Croatia itinerary. Compared to some of the larger Croatian cities, Zadar is much quieter and has fewer crowds which is a bonus. In this guide, I’ll share the best things to do in Zadar including where to stay, eat, and tours.
Located along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, you’ll get incredible views of the Adriatic Sea as you explore the peninsula.
Although small, Zadar old town packs in a ton of activities that make it worth visiting for at least a day.
Personally, I enjoyed staying in Zadar and would recommend a few days to wander the tiny alleyways and take in the historic setting filled with ancient Roman ruins.
Zadar is also a great base for visiting Split or Plitvice Lakes National Park, both just 2 hours away.
Read More: 19 Best Things To Do In Split’s Old Town!
Things To Do In Zadar, Croatia
1. Hang Out In Narodni Trg (People’s Square)
What to do in Zadar first? Start your exploring in Narodni Trg or the “People’s Square”.
It is the main square in Zadar and a great spot to get your bearings before wandering the rest of this quaint peninsula.
Narodni Trg is a charming center with outdoor cafés, the City Guard, City Loggia, and the Clock Tower.
The City Guard was built in Renaissance style in 1562, although the Clock Tower was built in the 19th century. It houses the Ethnographic Section of the National Museum.
Across from the City Guard is the City Loggia, where public proclamations and judgements once occurred. But now it is used for art exhibitions and even weddings!
In the mornings the square is a wonderful spot to get a coffee, sit back and people watch those passing by.
Narodni Trg is also a great place to grab a cocktail and enjoy some live music in the evenings.
2. Take A Walking Tour Of Zadar Old Town
Zadar Old Town is an ideal town to explore on foot as the majority of it is pedestrian-only. This makes it very quiet and relaxing to wander at your leisure.
And the best way to see it is on a walking tour! This way you get to learn all about the fascinating and long history of the region.
In fact, Zadar has a rich history going back as far as the 9th century and is the oldest continuously lived in Croatian city.
That said, the Romans invaded much earlier and reigned during the period of Julius Caesar (2nd century BC) in the area of Zadar.
As you are walking around, you will quickly notice the Roman and Venetian style architecture throughout Zadar.
The Venetian influence is so apparent as Zadar was part of the Republic of Venice twice in its history (1202- 1358 and 1409 – 1797).
3. Admire St. Simeon’s Church
St. Simeon’s Church is in baroque architectural style and was built in the 17th century. It has both a simple yet pretty exterior that is hard not to notice in a small tranquil square.
But the true beauty lies inside the church that one must-see. At the main altar, you will find an exquisite gold and silver-plated sarcophagus (chest) that was created in the late 1300s.
It really is amazing how something like this could be created during that time period.
The masterpiece of artwork is now protected by UNESCO to preserve the medieval treasure. On the chest, scenes of St. Simeon’s life are illustrated in detail.
4. Five Wells Square
From St. Simeon’s, wander over to Five Wells Square that is located on what used to be a moat.
Built in the 16th century, Five Wells Square is exactly as its name implies. There are five separate wells spread out in a row across the square.
The wells supplied the water for the city of Zadar up until 1838. I have seen many wells in the middle of a square but never five of them!
You can also get an up-close view of Zadar’s city walls that are impressive to see.
Next to the Five Wells Square, is a lovely park and if you are in need of a cocktail, head over to Ledana Bar & Lounge. It is a beautiful spot to relax with a drink in an outdoor setting.
5. See Land Gate Up Close
A short distance from Five Wells Square is Land Gate, which is the most decorative and pretty gateway into Zadar.
The Land Gate is the only gate where people can enter via land as Zadar’s Old Town is on a peninsula.
What I especially love about this Gate is that it sits right next to a tiny and most charming marina.
I almost felt like I had the entire marina to myself as there was only one other person there.
If you are looking on a map, the marina is Port of Fosa. For its quaintness, I found this marina one of my favorite things to see in Zadar.
The Land Gate has a distinct Renaissance style that was built back in 1543 and is still used by cars passing through today.
The highlight of the gate is the Venetian winged lion that is prominent over the top part of the arched entryway. On each side of the winged lion are Zadar’s coat of arms.
6. Wander The Streets Of Zadar Old Town
Take some time to wander the adorable streets and alleyways of Zadar. There are so many idyllic places to explore with a surprise around every corner.
All the tiny streets have so much character with houses, shops, and cafes to see. It is a great excuse to stumble upon a café for a coffee!
After walking the interior portion of Old Town, take to the outer perimeter and stroll along the promenade at some point in your day.
The promenade or riva is a wide-open walkway along the Adriatic Sea where you can feel the salty breeze on your face.
It is also a great way to walk off a meal after indulging in tasty Croatian cuisine. Or maybe grab a glass of wine and watch the sunset as it is a spectacular spot to end your day.
7. Visit The Archaeological Museum
As you make your way towards the center of Old Town, the Archaeological Museum is a great place to visit if you are into history as there are items from the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval periods.
Founded in 1832, it is the second oldest museum in Croatia. It gives you an opportunity to learn a lot about Croatia’s history and you can expect to spend a few hours here.
Another museum that is worth seeing if you have the time is the Museum of Ancient Glass.
It is located near New Gate and the footbridge over to Old Town from the mainland. You can see demonstrations of glassblowing and bead-making, which is a treat.
8. Ancient Roman Forum
Across from the Archaeological Museum, you will see the Roman Forum. You might be asking yourself, “isn’t the Roman Forum in Rome?”
Well yes, but there is also one right in the middle of Zadar’s Old Town.
As previously mentioned, Zadar was once part of the Republic of Venice and is why there is such a strong Roman influence in the architecture.
The Roman Forum is a large square in front of St. Donatus’ Church that has Roman ruins going back as far as the 1st century BC.
It was completely unexpected to see these ruins that look so well preserved and mixed in with modern times. It is a marvel to see remnants of such a long-ago history still present.
The forum was the center of all religious and city life and where you can still see columns and altars from temples.
On the western side of the forum, you will notice a tall column that is referred to as the “Pillar of Shame”.
The pillar was for those that had done something wrong and were chained to the pillar in shame. Its purpose was to embarrass them in front of the townspeople.
Make sure you spend some time exploring the ruins as it is one of the top Zadar attractions to see!
9. St. Donatus’ Church
Situated on the edge of the Roman Forum square is St. Donatus’ Church that was built in the 9th century.
It is quite impressive as it is a massive round church that is a beautiful example of Croatia’s surviving history.
It was fortunate enough not to be destroyed by the Mongol invasion in the 13th century.
St. Donatus’ Church is no longer in use, but it is currently used as a music hall now. As you are exploring inside the church you will notice columns and flooring that are from the Forum outside.
Note: Another beautiful church to take notice of is St. Mary’s Church that is directly across from St. Donatus’. It was built in 1606 and is run by Benedictine Nuns!
10. St. Anastasia’s Cathedral & Bell Tower
St. Anastasia’s Cathedral is tucked next to St. Donatus’ Church and the Roman Forum. The cathedral is interesting for its different styles depending on what period it was built.
Beginning in the 9th century and then rebuilt in the 12th and 13th century, it is quite beautiful to see. Especially with its ornate details on the front facade of the church.
St. Anastasia’s Cathedral is also known as Zadar Cathedral as it is the city’s cathedral. I found it a little confusing at first as both names are not usually mentioned. Good to know both!
The cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church and is the largest church along the coast of Croatia.
Right next to St. Donatus’ Church is the Bell Tower that can be seen from a distance as it is the tallest structure in Zadar. You can climb up the 180 steps to take in beautiful views of Zadar!
11. Visit Kornati National Park
Kornati National Park is a series of islands that will take your breath away! It is a perfect place to escape into nature, go swimming, and snorkeling in the turquoise clear waters of the Adriatic Sea.
The best way to see it is on a boat tour that will take you to few dreamy coves and beaches for incredible photo worthy views.
You’ll likely see many sailboats cruising around the islands in this Croatian paradise. In total, there are 89 islands that make up Kornati National Park.
Tip: If you are just looking for amazing beaches in Zadar to lounge on, Borik Beach and Puntamika Beach are top picks.
12. Listen To The Sea Organ
Located right along the ocean promenade or riva in Zadar, you will likely hear the Sea Organ before you come upon it!
It is quite unusual as it is a series of steps leading to the sea that music (sounds of an organ) emits.
At first, I couldn’t figure out how the sound was coming out but then saw that there were notches in the steps where the sound can be heard.
How does it make the sound? The sea!
As waves come crashing into the steps, the water forces air in and creates an organ-like sound that is quite peaceful to hear.
So, the rougher the sea, the more sound it releases!
The Sea Organ is where art meets music, created by Nikola Basicis who also happened to create the Sun Salutation below.
It is a spectacular spot to watch the sunset out over the Adriatic Sea. But keep in mind that it can get crowded so get there early and grab a spot on the steps.
Without question it is a remarkable way to watch the sunset and one of the most fascinating things to do in Zadar.
13. Sun Salutation
Next to the Sea Organ and on the tip of the promenade is the Sun Salutation. Both of which are by the Croatian architect Nikola Basicis.
The Sun Salutation is a huge circle consisting of solar panels that during the day look blue and at night a spectacular array of colors shine.
The panels soak up the sun by day and the energy generated is what powers the colorful light display at night. The circular installation is 22 meters wide and is quite the sight!
14. Take A Traditional Barkajoli
If you don’t feel like walking across the bridge into Old Town, you can take a Barkajoli or small rowboat across.
This is an old tradition that has been practiced over many generations as there wasn’t always the bridge to cross over. For 800 years, the tradition has been passed on from father to son.
15. Enjoy A Croatian Culinary Experience
One of the best ways to become familiar with Zadar is to take part in a culinary experience whether it is on a food tour or a cooking class.
Tasting traditional Croatian food is the perfect introduction into Zadar’s history and culture. Plus, who doesn’t like indulging in amazing dishes!
Like many other cities along Croatia’s Adriatic Coast, you will find a plethora of Mediterranean style selections.
That includes an assortment of fresh seafood and excellent pizza that might give Italy a run for its money!
Best Restaurants In Zadar
Here are some top picks on where to eat in Zadar:
Bistro Gourmet Kalelarga – Located near Narodni Trg (People’s Square) has Mediterranean and Croatian food.
Pet Bunara – Located near Five Wells Square offers Mediterranean food.
Konoba Skoblar – Located between Pet Bunara and Fosa near the Land Gate. It is known for its Seafood, Mediterranean and Croatian meals.
Fosa – Mediterranean and Croatian food can be found right along the water (Fosa Marina) and outside the city wall that has an idyllic setting.
4 Kantuna – Right off of an adorable corridor in Old Town that has Pizza, Italian and Croatian cusine.
Tri Bunara – Known for their pizza but they also have Italian and Mediterranean food.
Bruschetta – Has a mix of Dalmation and Italian flavors.
Coffee & Cake Zadar – Best breakfast in Zadar? Start your day off here!
Slasticarnica Donat – The tastiest ice cream!
Accommodations In Zadar
Wondering where the best place to stay in Zadar is? No question, selecting a location in Zadar’s Old Town is the best choice. That way, you are just steps from everything to see in Zadar.
If you are searching for more places to stay in Zadar, explore this guide that offers options both in the city and the surrounding area.
Best Zadar Tours
If you are spending a few days in Zadar and looking for some great tours both in and near Zadar then these are top picks!
Zadar Old Town Walking Tour – Take a guided tour wandering through Zadar’s tranquil Old Town, learning about its fascinating history and stunning waterfront views.
Sea Kayaking Tour – Go on a full-day adventure kayaking around the island of Dugi Otok off the coast of Zadar to see sea caves, secret bays, and turquoise water!
Seasonal Food & Wine Pairing Experience – Enjoy a 3 course Croatian meal paired perfectly with local wine.
Kornati National Park Boat Tour – Explore the mesmerizing islands and turquoise waters of Kornati National Park!
Croatian Cooking Class – Always wanted to learn how to cook Croatian food? Learn to cook authentic Croatian dishes with a local chef.
Zadar Sunset Boat Tour – Take in the sunset over the Adriatic Sea and sip a glass of bubbly Prosecco!
Plitvice Lakes Tour – I highly recommend spending a few days in Plitvice Lakes but if you can’t, then at least visit for the day as the park is home to a land of waterfalls that is breathtaking to see!
Travel To Zadar
Although Zadar has an airport (Zadar Airport), I would say if you are looking for cheap flights to Zadar that it would be more economical to fly into either Split or Zagreb.
Flying into Split or Zagreb would also offer more flights per day. And overall, I think driving is the best way to see Croatia.
Driving is super easy, safe, and with excellent road conditions (even better than many roads in the U.S.)!
If you are driving from Split, expect the drive to take about 1.5 hours from Split Resnik Airport (SPU) and 3 – 4 hours from Zagreb International Airport (ZAG), the capital of Croatia.
Once parked, you can leave your car during your stay as you can see everything on foot.
If you will not be driving to Zadar, there are frequent buses that you can take from cities such as Split, Trogir, Sibenik, and Zagreb.
Keep in mind that traveling by bus will take longer than drive times I mentioned above. For bus schedules, you can check up to date bus times here.
Best Time To Visit Zadar
Situated on the Adriatic Sea, Croatia experiences a Mediterranean climate much like Italy and Greece. Visiting Zadar is pleasant any time of the year with the best months from April to October.
The winter months are known to have mild temperatures and a lot of rain whereas the summer months can get pretty hot and humid.
To get the best weather and fewer crowds, the shoulder seasons of May/June and September/October are ideal.
Where Is Zadar?
Zadar sits along Croatia’s Adriatic Coast and is in the middle of Croatia’s coastline if looking at a map.
It is an ideal place to spend a few days and use it as a base to reach Sibenik (1 hour), Split (2 hours), Plitvice Lakes (2 hours) and Krka Falls (1 hour).
FAQ About Visiting Zadar, Croatia
Yes! Zadar is a charming medieval old town right along the beautiful Adriatic Sea. With fewer crowds compared to Dubrovnik or Split it is a lovely place to spend time exploring. It is also a great base to explore nearby Plitvice Lakes, Split, Kornati islands, and more.
Although you can see most of the top attractions in Zadar within one day, I recommend spending 2 – 3 days to enjoy Zadar old town, eat delicious seafood, watch sunsets over the Adriatic Sea, and visit neighboring islands.
Zadar is famous for its quaint old town along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast offering incredible food, the Sea Organ, Sun Salutation at the edge of the waterfront promenade, mesmerizing sunsets, and surrounded by idyllic islands.
Yes, the majority of Croatians in Zadar speak English well especially those under the age of 60.
Both Split and Zadar are wonderful cities to visit along the coast, and worth adding to your Croatia itinerary. Split is a much larger city with more activities, nightlife, shopping, and an excellent base to other areas in Croatia. Zadar on the other hand is very quaint, much smaller than Split, and has fewer crowds.
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Vanessa Shields is the founder of Traveling Ness helping people with trip ideas, itineraries, travel planning, and boosting confidence for female travelers to take a solo trip. She has been a travel writer and content creator since 2019.