12 Top Tourist Attractions in Zadar & Easy Day Trips
Although it's the largest metropolis in northern Dalmatia, Zadar is perhaps not as well known as other Croatian cities. Despite this fact, Zadar offers a wealth of attractions, and it's an exceptionally easy city to explore on foot, thanks in part to its many fine marble pedestrian-friendly streets. In addition to its historic old town center, Zadar boasts splendid medieval churches and Roman ruins, including the famous Church of St. Donat built on the site of the former ancient Roman forum. The Promenade, which runs down Obala Kralja Petra Kresimira IV, is also perfect for a gentle stroll as you soak up the surroundings, while tourists seeking sun and sand are spoiled for choice with Zadar's beautiful beaches.
See also: Where to Stay in Zadar
1 Zadar Cathedral
Zadar Cathedral - the Cathedral of St. Anastasia - is a unique blend of architectural periods. Originally constructed in the ninth century by the Byzantines, it was later rebuilt during the 12th and 13th centuries in Romanesque style, with further alterations being undertaken since. Of particular interest is the cathedral's fine façade with its three entrances and numerous blind arches, as well two beautiful rose windows; the top in Gothic style, while the lower one is Romanesque. Interior highlights include the ninth-century remains of St. Anastasia, the stone altars, and the impressive wood carved choir. Be sure to check out the lovely bell tower dating from the 15th century with the upper levels being completed in the late 19th century (it's possible to climb the bell tower for good views over Zadar).
2 Art for Fun's Sake: The Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun
Installed along Zadar's seafront in 2005 and now one of Croatia's most popular art installations, the fun Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje) is well worth a visit. In essence a giant musical instrument that's played by the action of the waves, this fascinating device - one of a number of similar installations found in places like San Francisco - consists of a series of underwater tubes beneath the marble steps that descend into the sea. Each tube creates a different tone and together they form a fascinating, if somewhat surreal soundtrack to the whole experience. Also worth seeing is the nearby Greeting to the Sun, a spectacular circular installation consisting of 300 multi-layered glass plates and solar cells that, come nightfall, light up and provide a breathtaking visual accompaniment to the Sea Organ.
3 Zadar Archaeological Museum
Founded in 1832, the Zadar Archaeological Museum (Arheološki muzej Zadar), the second oldest museum in Croatia, is dedicated to the city's rich history and is a good place to gather an overview of the influences that shaped this area of Dalmatia. Highlights include the numerous ground floor displays devoted to finds from the 7th to 12th centuries, a notable glass collection, as well as many displays on the first floor related to Northern Dalmatia during the Roman period (particularly interesting is the model of Zadar showing the city's Roman layout). The oldest periods of history are displayed on the second floor, which houses collections related to the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages, including weapons, jewelry, pottery, and other artifacts.
Address: Trg opatice Čike 1, Zadar
4 Church of St. Donatus
The Church of St. Donatus (Sv. Donat) was built in the ninth century and is one of the largest examples of Byzantine architecture in Dalmatia. Originally called the Church of the Holy Trinity but later changed and named after Bishop Donat, St. Donatus is one of the main architectural highlights of Zadar, noted for its unique circular form flanked by three circular apses. Built on top of the old Roman forum, the building incorporates many elements of the original structure, including two of its supporting pillars. The church floor was also removed to show the original stonework of the forum on the ground below, and many of the stones used to build the church were taken from the Roman Forum.
Address: Trg Rimskog Foruma, 23000, Zadar
5 Kornati National Park
Kornati National Park (Nacionalni Park Kornati), just off the coast of Zadar, is made up of 147 islands in the Zadar Archipelago. Established in 1980 to protect marine life and preserve natural habitats, these mostly uninhabited islands include Kornat Island, the largest at 25 kilometers long and two-and-a-half kilometers wide. Rugged and riddled with caves, cracks, and cliffs, these once lush islands used to be home to many Roman villas and farms, but a lack of fresh water and exploitation under Venetian rule left them desolate. Some of the islands still have Roman remains, including the ruins of Roman villas, and walls that run down the shoreline into the water, thought to have been a holding tank for fresh fish. These days, the park is popular with yachters, scuba divers, and sightseers on tour boats or private charters, all drawn by the park's unique beauty.
Address: Butina 2, Murter, Dalmatia 22243
6 The Church of St. Chrysogonus
Built by the Benedictines, the Romanesque Church of St. Chrysogonus (Crkva sv Krševana) - part of a monastery that was destroyed in WWII - was constructed on the site of an old Roman market in the late 12th century. The interior of this splendid old three-aisled church includes a Baroque main altar dating from the early 1700s, as well as an apse containing a number of well-preserved 13th-century frescoes (check out the Romanesque crucifix). Of particular note is the beautiful exterior of the apse at the back of the church with its row of arches lining the top portion. Also worth a visit is the 17th-century Church of St. Simeon where you'll find the remains of St. Simeon, one of Zadar's four patron saints, kept in a sarcophagus designed by Francesco da Milano in the late 14th century. On the cedar coffin are gold-plated reliefs depicting the life of St. Simeon and a copy of Capella dell'Arena from Padua, Italy. Also in the church is a finely decorated altar containing the Virgin and Saints.
7 City Walls and Gates
No visit to Zadar is complete without exploring its magnificent old city walls and gates. The oldest section was built by the Romans and is near the footbridge along the eastern wall, while the remaining sections were built primarily by the Venetians. The city's four remaining gates are relatively well preserved, the most important and most impressive being the Land Gate. Built in 1543 by the Venetians in Renaissance style, this splendid structure still provides the best access point when exploring the old part of the city (the other gates are the Gate of St. Rok and Port Gate, as well as one in the Square of the Five Wells). Also worth visiting is Zadar's famous Sea Gate (Morska Vrata), known as the Gate of St. Chrysogonus (Vrata Sv Krsevana). Built in 1560 using an existing Roman arch for a base, the gate includes many interesting features, including a relief of the emblem of Venice, the Lion of St. Mark's, a memorial to sailors, and a commemorative plaque paying tribute to Pope Alexander III's visit to Zadar.
8 The Church of St. Mary and the Gold and Silver of Zadar
Built in the 11th century, the Church of St. Mary has undergone a variety of renovations and alterations over the years. The current church boasts a Renaissance façade and a lovely bell tower, known as Koloman's Tower, a splendid Romanesque structure dating from the 12th century. Next to the church stands the old monastery, which now houses the Museum of Church Art with its fascinating collection of gold pieces, paintings, and sculptures. Also of interest is an attraction called Gold and Silver of Zadar in the 11th-century Church of Sv. Nediljica. In addition to its many fine gold pieces, the museum also houses numerous important religious relics, including remnants of saints and important bishops, as well as antique clothing and fabrics.
9 The People's Square
The People's Square (Narodni Trg) has been the center of public life in Zadar since its construction in the 16th century. Important highlights include the old City Guardhouse (Gradska Straza), built in the mid 1500s and hard to miss on the west side of the square due to its large clock tower added in the 18th century (it's worth a visit for its small ethnographic museum). Across from the tower stands the Renaissance City Loggia (Gradska Loza), built in 1565 and traditionally used as a place to make important public announcements and proclamations. These days, this splendid old building functions as a public gallery for art and other exhibitions. Also of interest in the People's Square is the City Hall built in the 1930s.
10 The Roman Forum
Constructed between the first century BC and the third century AD, Zadar's old Roman Forum should be explored as part of a walking tour of the city (you can't miss it due to its location next to the city's fine old churches). Measuring 90 meters long by 45 meters wide, the scale of this impressive ruin in the Zeleni trg Square still impresses (during Roman times, this area was a central market and public area). Highlights include the remains of the foundations of several public buildings, paving stones and a Corinthian column. Also of interest is the Pole of Shame, a more recent addition used from the Middle Ages to the 19th century to chain up criminals for all the town's people to see. Hot Tip: Try to plan your visit for nightfall when the ruins are lit up.
11 Paklenica National Park
In the rugged Velebit Massif, Paklenica National Park (Nacionalni Park Paklenica) offers a wealth of outdoor opportunities for hiking, climbing, and other sports. Designated a UNESCO biological reserve, the park was established to protect the area's diverse flora and fauna, as well as the mountains themselves. Notable for their exposed chalky white rock on otherwise barren mountaintops and the sharply contrasting green forests lower down, the Mala Paklenica (Small Paklenica) and the Velika Paklenica (Great Paklenica) gorges cut through the mountain range, producing its dramatic high cliff walls. The park is home to a number of different bird species and colonies, making it a paradise for birdwatchers, while occasional sightings of wildlife such as bears and wolves are reported. The park office is in Starigrad (StariGrad-Paklenica) and provides everything needed for a safe visit, including maps and other useful information, along with exhibits and restrooms (the entrance is at Marasovici, a little further north). Hot Tip: Try to visit during the cooler spring or fall months when the park is particularly green and lush.
Address: Dr Franje Tuđmana 14a, HR-23244 Starigrad-Paklenica, Dalmatia
12 The Museum of Ancient Glass
In the splendid 19th-century Cosmacendi Palace near Zadar's waterfront, the excellent Museum of Ancient Glass is home to one of Europe's largest collections of antique glass artifacts. Among its many highlights are numerous rare Roman jars, goblets, and vials found during decades of archaeological digs in the Dalmatia region of Croatia. Also notable are a number of glass vessels used to hold perfumes and oils, glass cups once used in the region's earliest churches during celebrations of Mass, and tiny flasks designed to store holy water. Afterwards, be sure to wander the palace grounds with their stunning views over Jazine harbor.
Where to Stay in Zadar for Sightseeing
We recommend these great hotels close to Zadar's top attractions, like the old town and the sea:
- Hotel Bastion: four-star luxury, evocative old town location, elegant decor, wonderful spa with saunas.
- Art Hotel Kalelarga: mid-range boutique hotel, heart of the old town, serene decor, cheerful staff, complimentary a la carte breakfast.
- Villa Punta: affordable sea-view hotel, air-conditioned apartments with kitchens, steps to the beach, friendly hosts, grocery store nearby.
- Scallop Rooms: budget bed-and-breakfast, great central location, modern rooms, free parking.
Day Trips from Zadar
Zadar is the perfect spot from which to explore the Dalmatian coast, particularly the many beautiful islands of the Zadar Archipelago. One of the most interesting is Dugi Otok, the largest at 124 square kilometers and home to a scattering of villages, which subsist primarily on fishing and farming. A vacation destination since Roman times, Dugi Otok includes the village of Sali, the main community and port, with its Renaissance summer homes and the Church of St. Mary, and the fishing village of Bozava with the 10th-century Church of St. Nicholas. But the real beauty of the island lies in its rugged landscapes and natural attractions, including the popular Sakarun Bay and Telascica Nature Park, a great place for relaxing on the beach or scuba diving. Also worth a visit are the islands of Molat, Olib, Pasman, Ugljan, and Premuda with their tranquil settings and beautiful beaches.