Zadar, often overshadowed by more famous Croatian destinations like Split and Dubrovnik, is waiting to be discovered. Our guide will lead you through the best things to do in Zadar, from historic landmarks to bustling squares; we'll show you where to go and what to do in Zadar to make the most of your time in this captivating city. Get ready to explore Zadar like a local and discover what makes it worth visiting.
1. Sea Organ
The Zadar Sea Organ is not just another tourist spot; it's an experience that merges art with nature in a unique way. The town is rich in history, boasting ancient buildings and fortifications, but the Sea Organ offers something different. Built into the coastline, this audible art installation uses the sea's ebb and flow to create ever-changing melodies. The sounds it produces are contingent on the sea's activity, varying from calming tunes to what some describe as “distressed whale” noises. The organ operates 24/7, providing a constant soundtrack to Zadar's scenic ocean views.
We recommend you arrive at least 20 minutes before sunset as the area becomes a hotspot as locals and tourists gather to enjoy the captivating view and unique sounds. But be warned: it's so popular that nearby dining spots get packed as soon as the sun dips below the horizon. One curious fact? The organ can't be turned off, causing some locals to leave. Nonetheless, its novelty and the stunning views make it a must-see in Zadar.
2. Greeting to the Sun – Il Saluto al Sole
What is Zadar famous for? The Greeting to the Sun, of course. Known locally known as Il Saluto al Sole, it is more than just a landmark in Zadar; it's an unforgettable evening spectacle that draws crowds like a magnet. Situated just 10 meters from the Sea Organ, this amazing light installation comes alive from sunset to sunrise, providing a mesmerizing backdrop to the already captivating landscape. It's a marvel of modern art and technology, featuring solar panels that soak up the sun during the day and transform it into a light show by night.
Once the sun sets, the lights start getting better, offering countless photo ops. The vibrant illumination makes it a perfect venue for families with kids and adults looking to enjoy a beer near the ocean. And yes, it's an Instagrammer's paradise. The installation also affects the local dining scene; restaurants fill up fast post-sunset as everyone's been holding off for this moment. It's an experience you don't want to miss when in Zadar.
3. Land City Gates
The Land City Gates of Zadar is a striking introduction to the city's rich history and Venetian influence. Dating back to 1543, these gates are more than just a passageway; they're a statement of grandeur.
But don't just walk through—take some time to explore this area. Head up the stairs to the adjacent park for the best views and photo opportunities. Here, you get a fantastic vantage point showing the architectural details. The nearby marina makes the setting even more picturesque, where boats gently bob in the harbor, adding another layer of charm. Whether you're on your way to one of the best beaches in Zadar or just exploring, the Land City Gates are an impressive must-see landmark that encapsulates the essence of Zadar.
4. Five Wells
The Five Wells Square in Zadar is more than just a unique historical site; it's where past and present merge in a beautiful setting. Named for its distinctive feature—five ancient wells—the square offers a glimpse into Zadar's storied past, set against modern eateries and buzzing cafes. Visitors can read plaques dotted around the square to delve deeper into its history while appreciating the remarkable construction of these ancient structures.
Located adjacent to Queen Jelena Madijevka Park, the area offers a fantastic blend of greenery and stone, providing a tranquil spot for a stroll. It's not just the wells that catch your eye; the area is surrounded by Roman columns and exposed ancient foundations that add another layer of historical allure.
5. Degarra Winery
Degarra Winery offers more than just a tasting session; it offers a whole experience. The knowledgeable and passionate staff immediately strikes visitors. These experts have lived the winemaking process from start to finish and are eager to share their experiences with you. The winery may give off a small, cozy vibe, but it boasts an impressive range of wines, from sparkling to unique aromatic reds.
What sets Degarra apart is their unusual yet delectable dessert wine, a blend of red wine and cherries. Each wine tasting comes with a generous charcuterie board, enriching your palate and complementing the wines beautifully, and the atmosphere also adds to the experience.
Affordability is the cherry on top, so it should be on people's list of things to do in Zadar. Whether you're a wine novice or a seasoned connoisseur, Degarra Winery promises a memorable experience that might even have you taking home a dozen bottles.
6. Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum in Zadar offers a journey through time, covering the local area's history from the Prehistoric era to the Middle Ages. While not particularly large, it more than makes up for it with well-arranged and insightful exhibits. A standout feature is the focus on Ancient Rome, which is detailed and engaging. Everything is conveniently described in English, making it accessible to international visitors.
This museum isn't about bells and whistles; you won't find cartoonish displays or interactive exhibits for kids. Instead, it provides an authentic and straightforward look at history, making it a real treat for history buffs. The Roman exhibition is particularly noteworthy, showcasing a range of relics and monuments that tell a compelling story of Zadar's rich history.
7. Trznica Zadar
Trznica Zadar is the go-to spot for a genuine local market experience right in the heart of the old town. Frequented by both locals and tourists, the market is bustling with various stalls selling local produce, meats, and fish. You can find these items on a nearby street for those interested in clothes and souvenirs. The market is a treasure trove for food lovers, offering a wide range of fruits, perfect for grabbing snacks before hitting the beach.
Visiting in mid-September? You'll still find this Zadar market lively and filled with plenty of choices, including fruits and local olive oil.
What makes Trznica Zadar stand out is its atmosphere. The market buzzes with energy, the air filled with the scents of fresh produce, meats, and fish. You can even grab some free cheese samples as you walk around. Croatian supermarkets might have a limited selection of fruits perfect for snacking, so this is your chance to stock up on treats like raspberries.
8. Museum of Illusions
If you are after things to do with kids in Zadar, then the Museum of Illusions is a fun-filled escape that offers something different from the city's historic sites. Perfect for young adults—or anyone with a sense of wonder—this small but captivating museum has a variety of exhibits to keep you entertained. Among the favorites are the vortex tunnel and the tilted room, both immersive experiences that will leave you amazed and maybe a little dizzy.
Besides the trippy rooms, the museum offers solo games like tricky puzzles and the opportunity to snap some seriously cool photos in an upside-down room. Whether you're looking to be entertained, amazed, or simply confused for a while, the Museum of Illusions is a must-visit when you're in Zadar.
9. Eat At Fosa
If you want some of the best food in Zadar and are in the mood for an exceptional dining experience, Fosa is a Michelin-starred restaurant that ticks all the boxes. With its scenic seaside location, this restaurant isn't just a feast for the palate but also for the eyes. Nestled up against the city wall and overlooking a small harbor, Fosa offers a meal and an experience.
Customers rave about the great service, where the staff goes the extra mile to help you pick the perfect wine for your dish. Speaking of dishes, the menu here is a culinary delight. From sea bass and mixed shellfish to exotic tempura, every dish is a masterpiece in flavor and presentation. Many who dine here opt for the tasting menu, a curated selection that lets you experience the breadth of the chef's skills.
But what sets Fosa apart is the atmosphere. Guests often spend hours here, soaking up the ambiance and enjoying the soft sea breeze. In a place where the staff makes you feel like family, you'll leave not just with a full stomach but a full heart—highly recommended for anyone looking to splurge a little for an unforgettable meal.
10. The Church of St. Donat
The Church of St. Donat in Zadar is not just a religious site but a place filled with history and culture. This iconic Zadar landmark is right in the city's heart, close to the Roman Forum, making it a visitor focal point. From the outside, the church is impressive and offers great photo opportunities. Once inside, the simple yet captivating interior design also catches the eye.
Entry to the church costs around 20hrk, a price most find quite reasonable given the rich experience that awaits inside. Whether climbing the bell tower for panoramic views, attending a concert for an auditory feast, or simply absorbing the historical and religious significance, the Church of St. Donat offers a multi-faceted experience worth your time.
11. Museum of Ancient Glass
Housing an extensive collection of glass artifacts, some of which date back to the 1st century, this museum offers a deep dive into the world of ancient glass.
Here, you can watch skilled artisans perform intricate glass-working techniques, like bead making and glass blowing, adding a dynamic layer to your visit.
Another aspect is the museum's focus on educating its visitors. Informative displays, complete with cards in English, guide you through the history and origins of glass, allowing you to explore the museum at your own pace without needing a guide.
Tickets won't break the bank, making this an affordable yet enriching experience. Plus, the museum keeps things fresh with new events and temporary exhibitions, so you can return multiple times and always find something new to explore.
12. Roman Forum
Originating from the time of the first Roman Emperor, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian, the forum has stone inscriptions that mark its completion in the 3rd century. Despite many of its original structures being lost to time and natural disasters like the 6th-century earthquake, a few elements, like a surviving pillar of a colonnade, still stand as witnesses to its grand past.
The layout of the city and the forum show the Quadrata planning used by the Romans, a fact more evident to those familiar with ancient city planning. As the sun sets, the area transforms into a lively social space reminiscent of an Italian piazza.
It's a place where locals and tourists seamlessly mingle, all against the backdrop of ruins that have stood for millennia. Whether you're there to soak in the history, let your kids play, or simply relax and people-watch, the Roman Forum in Zadar offers something for everyone.
13. Narodni Trg
Narodni Trg, or People's Square, is the beating heart of Zadar, both today and throughout history. Whether you visit during the day or at night, you're guaranteed to find something going on as it's a hub of social activity, filled with cafes, some of the best restaurants in Zadar, and many attractions that draw locals and tourists alike.
The square is more than just a place to grab a coffee or a bite to eat; it's a living testament to the city's history and culture. People gather here to catch up on the latest news, just like they did in the Middle Ages. If you want to feel the pulse of Zadar, there's no better place to do it than Narodni Trg. It offers a unique window into the local way of life, blending the past and the present in a lively and unforgettable setting.
Are you still wondering is Zadar worth visiting? We hope our guide has given you a comprehensive look at what makes Zadar so special. If we’ve missed any must-visit spots in Zadar, please share in the comments below and let us know. Your insights will help us and future travelers explore this underrated Croatian city.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.