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14 Top-Rated Attractions in Zadar & Easy Day Trips

Written by Bryan Dearsley and Carri Wilbanks

Zadar

Zadar

Cosmopolitan and artsy, Zadar is the biggest metropolis in northern Dalmatia but still flies under the general tourist radar. Get here before the crowds do, as this city on a small peninsula is filled with a wealth of things to do. There is a historic old town with pedestrian-only marble streets, which are perfect for exploring on foot, and numerous medieval churches and Roman ruins, including the famed Church of St. Donat, built on the site of a former ancient Roman forum.

Zadar is also an art destination of sorts with two unique installations — the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation — that are not to be missed sound-and-light extravaganzas. Right on the coast, there are also beautiful beaches where the water is clear and warm and perfect for summertime swims. Finally, Zadar is an important transport hub and it is easy to get to nearby islands on day trips. Explore more places to visit in and around this vibrant city with our list of the top attractions in Zadar.

1. Church of St. Donatus

Church of St. Donatus

Church of St. Donatus

One of the most important examples of Byzantine architecture found in Dalmatia, Zadar's Church of St. Donatus is one of the city's top historic attractions. Dating back to the 9th-century, it was originally named the Church of the Holy Trinity but later re-named after Bishop Donat.

While exploring this architectural marvel, note that it is famed 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 the supporting pillars. The church floor has actually been removed to showcase 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

2. Zadar Cathedral

Zadar Cathedral

Zadar Cathedral

Zadar Cathedral, which is also known as the Cathedral of St. Anastasia, blends a number of architectural periods into its fabric. Construction initially began with the Byzantines back in the 9th century, but it was rebuilt again during the 12th and 13th centuries in Romanesque style. Of particular interest is the cathedral's fine façade with its three entrances and numerous blind arches, as well as 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. If you want really awesome views across the city, arrange to climb the bell tower.

3. Art Installations: The Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun

Art for Fun's Sake: The Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun

Art for Fun's Sake: The Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun

Zadar's famed Sea Organ was installed on the seafront back in 2005 and is now one of the top art installations in the country and a must-see thing to do in the city. Basically a giant musical instrument played by the action of the waves, it is a fascinating device, which consists of a series of underwater tubes set beneath marble steps descending into the water. Each tube creates a different tone, and together they form a fascinating, if somewhat surreal, soundtrack to the whole experience. If the installation seems familiar it is because it's one of a number of similar installations found in places like San Francisco.

The nearby Greeting to the Sun is another must-experience in Zadar. It is a spectacular circular installation consisting of 300 multi-layered glass plates and solar cells that, come nightfall, light up. These two attractions complement each other so well, we recommend seeing them in one visit.

4. Kolovare Beach

Kolovare Beach

About a 10-minute, very scenic walk from the old town, Kolovare Beach is the main city beach, a mix of sand and pebbles backed by clear blue water. In summer, the beach can get crowded, but if the sun is too hot, you can retreat to a shaded green area just above the beach, which offers respite and is popular for picnics. There are also showers, changing rooms, and toilets at the beach. Nearby, you'll also find shops and restaurants. If you want to swim with fewer people, keep heading east from Kolovare towards the headland.

Address: Kolovare UI 11

5. Kornati National Park

Kornati National Park

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 and is easy to visit on a day trip. 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 freshwater 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

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6. The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

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.

7. The Church of St. Chrysogonus

The Church of St. Chrysogonus

The Church of St. Chrysogonus

Built by the Benedictines, the Romanesque Church of St. Chrysogonus (Crkva sv Krševana) 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.

8. Church of St. Simeon

Church of St. Simeon

The 17th-century Church of St. Simeon is worth a visit. Here, 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 take note of the church's finely decorated altar containing the Virgin and Saints.

9. City Walls and Gates

City Walls and Gates

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.

10. Day Trip to Zadar Archipelago

Dugi Otok

Dugi Otok

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 places to visit 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.

11. Zadar Archaeological Museum

Zadar Archaeological Museum

Zadar Archaeological Museum | Michael Pollak / photo modified

The second oldest museum in Croatia, the Zadar Archaeological Museum (Arheološki muzej Zadar) was founded in 1832 and is dedicated to the city's rich history. It 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 Cike 1, Zadar

12. The Church of St. Mary and the Gold and Silver of Zadar

The Church of St. Mary and the Gold and Silver of Zadar

The Church of St. Mary

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.

13. The People's Square

The People's Square

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.

14. The Museum of Ancient Glass

The Museum of Ancient Glass

The Museum of Ancient Glass | Carole Raddato / photo modified

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

Zadar's main sightseeing attractions are found in its old town or on the beaches surrounding the city. As such there are excellent lodging options in both areas. If you want a beachfront property there are choices in the luxury and mid-range brackets, while for budget abodes you will be in either the old town or the main city. Here are some hotels we recommend in Zadar:

  • Luxury Hotels: Falkensteiner Hotel & Spa Iadara is the only five-star property around Zadar and offers luxe rooms and suites in a beachfront location, about 13 kilometers from the old town. There are a number of restaurants on-site, as well as indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Back in Zadar, Hotel Bastion is four-star luxury property with elegant decor in a fabulous old town location. It also has a wonderful spa with saunas. Also on the beach is the upscale Falkensteiner Hotel Adriano, which is adults-only. It features bright and modern rooms, beach access, and a lovely spa.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Art Hotel Kalelarga is the top mid-range hotel in the heart of the old town. This boutique property boasts serene decor, cheerful staff, and a complimentary a la carte breakfast. Hotel Niko is another popular mid-range option, located across the street from a beach just outside town. It has cozy rooms done up in local style and a seafood restaurant, among other amenities. Mediteran is another good-value choice on a quiet residential street with modern and comfortable rooms.
  • Budget Hotels: Pansion Maria is a good budget choice. The rooms are simple but tidy, and some have balconies. Rooms Goga is another good budget option, with a convenient old-town location.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Zadar

  • Sightseeing in Zadar: Spend 2.5 hours experiencing Zadar on two wheels with this Explore Zadar Bike Tour. You can schedule either a morning or afternoon tour, and these are family friendly. Once you get set up with a bike, you'll follow your guide around the city, exploring the ancient streets and beautiful beaches and also taking in a popular lookout spot that offers panoramic views across the city.

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Dalmatian Coast: Split is the largest city on the Dalmatian Coast and a popular tourist destination. It is just under a two-hour drive from Zadar. For more on what to do in this fascinating city, see our article on the Top Tourist Attractions in Split and Easy Day Trips. Also on the Dalmatian Coast, Dubrovnik is perhaps Croatia's most stunningly preserved medieval town and a highlight of any visit. For more on exploring, see our article on the Top Tourist Attractions in Dubrovnik.

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