Top places to visit and activities to do in Zadar. Enjoy the Dalmatian culture with this list of things to do in Zadar.
Have you decided to travel to Zadar, Croatia this summer? Great choice! The historical city of Zadar has a rich and varied tourist program which might overwhelm first-time-visitors. Therefore, we have decided to highlight the most exciting and interesting things to do in Zadar which you can use as a guide while on your luxury holiday in Croatia. So, get comfy, brew a cup of tea and let me take you on a quick tour of Zadar.
Decipher the Intricate Story of Zadar Hidden in Its Historical Monuments
The city of Zadar has a history as intriguing as it is long. Having fallen under a number of powerful states throughout history, Zadar has preserved numerous architectural monuments which tell the tale of Zadar. From Romans who created the settlement in the 9th century BC over being sold to the Venetians by the Hungarian King Ladislaus of Naples to being Italianized with Italian becoming the official language to then finally becoming a part of the independent Republic of Croatia, Zadar’s turbulent past is reflected in the beautiful buildings and historical monuments dotting the magical Zadar peninsula known as Zadar Old Town. In this blog of things to do in Zadar, we have highlighted only the most fascinating ones since one would need quite a few pages to cover all of them – all the more reasons to choose Zadar as your next holiday destination in Croatia!
The Church of St. Donatus, originally called Church of the Holy Trinity, was commissioned by the bishop and diplomat of Zadar Donatus of Zadar and completed in the 9th century. The church is characterized by simplicity and a primitive technical style typical of the Pre-Romanesque architectural style of Croatia while the circular shape gives the church a uniqueness and contributes to the overall elegance and eternal beauty of the church. Furthermore, the Church of St. Donatus is one of the handful of monuments from the early kingdom of Croatia which has survived the Mongol invasion in the 13th century.
Throughout history, the church has had a number of different functions, surprisingly most of them having nothing to do with sacral worship. While under the reign of the Republic of Venice, as well as under the French and Austrian occupation the church was used as a warehouse. During the period of Yugoslavia, the Church of St. Donatus functioned as an archeological exhibition. Today, the St. Donatus’ Church is used as the concert venue for the annual Musical Evenings in St. Donatus or International Festival of Medieval Renaissance Music since the interior of the building has superb acoustics.
Stroll through the Roman Forum and Reimagine Life of Ancient Romans
As I have already mentioned, Zadar was established by the ancient Romans who used to call this settlement Iadera. While it is not unusual for a Roman settlement to feature a forum as the center of religious and civic life, it is uncommon for the forum to survive the test of time. And, fortunately, the Roman Forum of Zadar, did just that. Well, partially.
Unfortunately, the buildings were destroyed by a violent earthquake in the 6th century. However, the layout of the forum remained intact making it possible to reconstruct its appearance from the ruins. The row of square remains of foundations along the east and south sides of the forum were shops called tabernae, while the western part of the Roman Forum features remains of the Capitolium believed to have been a temple dedicated to the god of Jupiter, his female counterpart goddess of Juno and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, justice, art and war. The most striking detail on the Roman Forum of Zadar is the decorative column on the western side which was used as the “pillar of shame” in the Middle Ages as evidenced by the chain marks. I won’t go into detail of what else was done to people who ended up on the pillar of shame, but let me tell you it was not fun for them. People from the Middle Ages just moved different.
A fantastic reconstruction of the whole of Iadera and the Roman Forum can be seen in the video down below. The video was made by Stipan Ujdur, an animator who reconstructs historical monuments and events of Croatia, such as how the big earthquake of 1667 in Dubrovnik looked like. The video of Iadera is a 10-minute watch. However, it is worth every second and I highly recommend it!
The Archeological Museum of Zadar: A Time Machine to Times Long Gone
Located on the Forum Romanum of Zadar is a low modern building known as The Archeological Museum of Zadar. Founded in 1832, the museum is the second oldest one in Croatia which brilliantly depicts life in ancient Iadera and Southern Liburni (today: Northern Dalmatia). With more than 100,000 archeological artifacts, the exhibition is a literal time machine which will take you on a unique journey through time starting from the Paleolithic (Old Stone Ages) and Neolithic (New Stone Ages), over the Metal Ages consisting of the Bronze and Iron Ages all the way to the Roman and Byzantine Periods. The Archeological Museum is probably the best way of getting an informative glimpse of how life in Croatia looked like many many years ago.
St. Anastasia Cathedral & Its Bell Tower: The Largest Church of Dalmatia with the Most Astounding Panoramic View
The Cathedral of St. Anastasia (cro: Katedrala Sv. Stošije) is the largest coastal church in Dalmatia which has been submitted to UNESCO’s Tentative List of World Heritage Sites. The cathedral was built in the late Romanesque style of the 12th and 13th century and is mainly used for worship. The front portal is decorated with two beautiful rosettes which is why the cathedral is often used as the backdrop for wedding photos.
While the Cathedral of St. Anastasia is beautiful and well deserving of a visit, the true gem, which is a must on this list of things to do in Zadar, is the cathedral’s bell tower. For just a few euros for the entrance ticket you will get a spectacular 360° view of Zadar which will leave you spellbound. The climb up is quite a hefty feat and is unfortunately not suitable for the mobility impaired. However, the view is truly amazing with the whole of Zadar, as it is protected by the mighty mountain Velebit, in the palm of your hand.
National Museum Zadar: The Identity Keeper of Zadar & Zadar Region
Till this point I have discussed the historic monuments which reflect how Zadar came to be. However, if you are interested in learning the true identity of Zadar as one of the most beautiful coastal cities in Croatia, I highly recommend visiting the National Museum of Zadar which counts approximately 100,000 objects telling the tale of life in Zadar and its region.
The museum consists of four departments: The Ethnological Department, The Fine Arts Gallery, The Department of Natural History and The Zadar City Museum; as well as two regional collections: Veli Iz Ethnographic Collection & Mali Iz Cultural-Historic Collections. Furthermore, the City Lodge, the Rector’s Palace and the Small Arsenal are all cultural monument under the umbrella of The National Museum. As you can see, here you will gain an in-depth experience of what makes Zadar’s soul and will make you a local expert which is why we had to include it on this list of things to do in the gorgeous city.
Glitz and Glamour at the Museum of Ancient Glass in Zadar
I have been living in Zadar for over six years now and have truly gotten to know the city. And I must say, the Museum of Ancient Glass is probably my favorite historical tourist attraction on this list of things to do in Zadar. Itis located in the harbor of Jazine in the restored 19th century Cosmacendi Palace. Here you will find beautiful pieces of jewelry, elegant jars, royal goblets, glass urns and other objects made of glass stored in light boxes which emphasize their beauty and make them sparkle.
The visitors are guided by professionals who lead the tour through the history of glass-making by going through the thematically organized rooms while the ethereal music playing in the background heightens the overall magical ambience of this exhibition. Each object has a panel with an explanation in Croatian and English and the multimedia aids and interactive tools enrich the overall experience. Furthermore, you can participate in classes and demos of glassblowing workshops on the 2nd floor of the building and try your hand at glass making or buy a replica of the gorgeous ancient pieces in the gift shop.
The Land Gate in Fosa Harbor as a Witness to Zadar’s Time under the Venetian Rule
Once upon a time, Zadar was under the reign of the Venetian Republic and that period was marked by Ottoman conquest. In order to protect the city from the Turks, the Venetians built a fortification system whose remains can still be found in the city. One of such examples is the beautiful Land Gate located in the picturesque harbor of Fosa.
The Land Gate of Zadar, built by the Venetian architect Michele Sanmicheli, used to be the main entrance of the city which explains the richly decorated front of the entrance as it was meant to impress its visitors. It was built in a Renaissance style and features St. Chrysogonus, who is Zadar's patron saint, on horseback as well as the Venetian winged lion with an open book, signifying the peaceful surrender of Zadar to the Venetian ruler. This part of the Fosa harbour is an important piece of Zadar’s story and is ideal for taking a picture at. If you are feeling a bit hungry, we highly recommend Restaurant Foša right on the waterfront a few meters away from the Land Gate, as it is considered to be one of the best restaurants in Zadar.
Take a Walk on the City Walls and Get the Perfect Vantage Point from the Promenade Muraj
If you thought I would just brush over the Venetian fortification system, you are greatly mistaken. The City Walls of Zadar are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely deserve to be mentioned in this blog of things to do in Zadar.
The walls used to be the largest fortification system in the Republic of Venice to which Zadar owes the fact of never having fallen into the Turkish hands. The Venetian fortification system of Croatia, Italy and Montenegro, under which the Zadar City Walls also fall under, was inscribed into the list of world cultural sites of UNESCO in 2017 and in 2020 a beautiful pedestrian zone called Promenade Muraj was opened on the city walls. The Promenade Muraj offers the perfect vantage point over Zadar and its beautifully light bridge which connects the Old Town on the peninsula to the mainland.
Five Wells Square and Queen Jelena Madije Park as the Ideal Relaxation Spot
I have introduced you to a bunch of interesting historical monuments which are must-dos when visiting Zadar and I am ending the historical part of things to do in Zadar with a chill spot where you can get your energy back before continuing to explore this gorgeous Mediterranean city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. I am talking about the Five Wells Square and the Queen Jelena Madije Park.
The Five Wells Square is exactly what it says it is – five wells lined one after another on a square. However, as everything in Zadar, it has a very interesting story behind it. The five wells are contemporaries of the Land Gate as they were also built by the Venetians as a source of water during the Turkish siege. The square was built between the city walls and the Renaissance bastion Grimani and helped the city withstand the Turkish invasion. Eventually, the bastion Grimani was transformed into a gorgeous park, the oldest in Croatia, and was named after Queen Jelena Madije.
Today, The Five Wells Square features an extremely popular nightclub called Svarog which opens its terrace on the square in the summer months while a part of the Queen Jelena Madije Park was transformed into a café called Lounge & Bar Ledana where you can enjoy a refreshing cocktail right in the midst of nature.
Relax and enjoy the good vibes of Zadar:
Now that you have been introduced to the most interesting historical monuments of Zadar which will help you understand how Zadar came to be, it is time to show you some fun and unique things to do in Zadar, such as listening to an organ played by the Adriatic Sea and watching the most gorgeous sunsets, with which you will create beautiful memories during your amazing holiday in Croatia which you will cherish forever.
See the Most Gorgeous Sunsets at the Installation “The Greeting to the Sun”
The most recognizable symbol of Zadar, in addition to the Church of St. Donatus, is the modern waterfront installation called The Greeting to the Sun or Monument to the Sun. The installation was made by the Croatian architect Nikola Basic and consists of 300 multi-layered glass panels which are powered by the sun throughout the day in order to create an amazing light show in the evening. The installation reconstructs the planets of the solar system with the Sun represented by the biggest circle.
Plan your walk along the waterfront at sunset hours, as The Greeting to the Sun was built at the location “with sunsets even more beautiful than in Los Angeles”, as stated by Alfred Hitchcock, the famous English film director, screenwriter and producer. The ambience truly becomes magical with the islands becoming drenched in hues of orange, yellow and pink. And once the night hits, the Monument to the Sun starts its light dance which is great for taking an artsy photo in Zadar.
Listen to the Melody of the Adriatic Sea at the Sea Organ in Zadar
Another unique creation made by Nikola Basic is the Sea Organ which is right next to The Greeting to the Sun. Yes, it is a literal instrument played by the sea and its waves. The visible part of the structure consists of large marble steps on which you can sit and watch the spectacular sunset while a unique, almost haunting melody of the sea plays in the background and contributes to the overall magical atmosphere at that time of the day. Underneath the marble steps are organ tubes which produce a harmonic sound with the waves of the Adriatic Sea. The Sea Organ is a huge hit among tourists and was awarded the prize ex-aeqou of the European Prize for Urban Public Space in 2006.
Cross Over to the Old Town of Zadar with Heartfelt Locals on a Row Boat
The Old Town of Zadar is located on a peninsula which most people reach by crossing over the beautifully lit bridge. However, a more romantic way of visiting the Old Town Zadar is with the boatmen known as Barkajoli who will take you on a ride to the other side of Zadar in their row boats. The tradition of Barkajoli exists for hundreds of years and the ride costs less than a euro Therefore, it would be a shame not to experience something so simple, yet so unique.
Deceive Your Eyes at the Museum of Illusions in Zadar
We as humans tend to believe what we see with our eyes which is why the sentence “I saw it with my own two eyes!” holds a lot of weight. However, at the Museum of Illusions in Zadar, you cannot trust your eyes as nothing is as it seems.
Located in the heart of the Old Town Zadar, the Museum of Illusions is an exciting holiday activity for the whole family which will leave everyone amazed from children and teens to parents and grandparents. A room which defies gravity, a room of mirrors which will make you look bigger and smaller, holograms, a kaleidoscope, and a bottomless hole are all just a teeny tiny part of the fun found in the Museum of Illusions in Zadar. Therefore, make your plans now and play tricks on your mind.
Drink Coffee by the Sea at the Beach Bar Bamboo
If you have ever visited Croatia, you will know that drinking coffee in a café is a huge part of the Croatian culture and social life. In order to experience life in Croatia, you have to indulge in a cup of coffee and I am here to recommend you the most scenic place to do the – Beach Bar Bamboo. The café features a huge wooden terrace on the beachfront which will provide you with the most astonishing views of the sea and the nearby islands. Not a fan of coffee? No worries! Beach Bar Bamboo has a wide selection of beverages to choose from, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and offers the option of credit card payment. The ideal location of the bar and great service ensured the inclusion of Beach Bar Bamboo on this list of things to do in Zadar.
Cook with Locally-Grown Organic Fruit and Vegetables from the City Market
In addition to the culture of coffee drinking, Croatia is proud of its cuisine and puts lots of love and effort into producing organic vegetables and fruits which bring the taste of every single dish to the next level. Not believe it? Well, head over to the local city market called Pijaca in Zadar Old Town and get your groceries from locals who are growing their produces organically. In addition to fresh vegetables and fruits, you will find sellers of fresh fish, as well as of cheese from which you can buy the famous Pag cheese. If you need some ideas for what to cook during your luxury holiday in Croatia, you might get inspo from our blog on delicious delicacies of Croatia.
Explore the Beautiful Zadar Region by Organizing Exciting Day Trips
As you can see, there is quite a large number of things to do in the historical city of Zadar itself and I haven’t even mentioned all of them. However, Zadar is also an ideal starting point for amazing day trips to the surrounding area which has been blessed with numerous unspoiled sites of nature. Here, I will provide you with a quick overview of the most beautiful ones.
Four National Parks Adorn the Zadar Region
Even though Croatia is a small European country, it features eight national parks of which four are located near Zadar: National Park Kornati, National Park Paklenica, National Park Plitvice Lakes and National Park Krka Waterfalls. While the National Park Plitvice Lakes is certainly the most popular one, each of the four mentioned national parks are worth a visit as they feature breathtaking wonders of nature which will make you feel as close to mother nature as never before. I won’t go into a detailed description of them in this blog, as we have already introduced the national and nature parks of the Zadar region in another blog together with all the different routes one can take to reach them. So if you want to find out more, make sure to go to that blog which we will conveniently link here.
Go on a Boat Ride to the Islands of the Zadar Archipelago and Experience the Island Lifestyle
The Zadar archipelago features 300 beautiful islands and islets which are the perfect destinations for a day trip from Zadar. The islands are varied in character and guarantee that you will find the most perfect island to spend your holiday at. Looking for a crazy party destination? Go to the island of Pag where the Croatian Ibiza called Zrce is located at. Want to experience a beautiful sandy beach with turquoise water resembling the Caribbean ones? The Long Island (cro: Dugi Otok) is then the destination for you as it features the picturesque beach Sakarun. Perhaps, you are a true nature lover who appreciates completely untouched nature? Well, welcome to the island of Silba where cars are banned and the environment stays unspoiled by the human touch. We have already covered the islands of the Zadar archipelago in detail in another blog which you can read by clicking here.
We have come to an end of this “short” list of things to do in Zadar which can guide you in your plans for a fantastic holiday at the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Hopefully, you have learned a thing or two about this charming coastal city in Croatia. If you are looking for the most gorgeous accommodation in Croatia, be sure to check out our assortment of luxury villas in Zadar which feature only the most beautiful holiday homes with a private pool in the region.
For any questions you can contact us via our contact form. Adriatic Luxury Villas is always happy to help!
Thank you for reading and have an amazing holiday in Croatia!