I booked a flight to Zadar on a whim right before the travel restrictions changed in the UK in October 2021. I found a super cheap £20 return ticket on Ryanair and spent 3 nights in this lesser known Croatian city! Before you go hunting for flights to Dubrovnik, let me introduce Zadar, and share some of the things to do in Zadar to make you seriously consider it.
Zadar is one of the most vibrant cities in Croatia. Full of history, culture and the nicest people, it’s impossible to be bored in Zadar. And Zadar is also a perfect base for you to explore more of Croatia.
1. Explore the Old Town
Exploring Zadar Old Town is a joyful thing to do in Zadar because the streets are beautifully polished, sparkling clean and made for pedestrians. Most of the historical sights in Zadar Old Town are within walking distance of each other and it’s really lovely to stroll around admiring the Old Town’s many squares and enjoying the friendly greetings and smiles from locals.
Also, as I walked around, I noticed that Zadar Old Town looks a lot like Italian cities and this is probably due to Zadar’s long history under Venetian rule.
2. Listen to the Sea Organ
One of the most memorable things to do in Zadar and one you HAVE to experience is the Sea Organ. You can’t actually see it as it’s made of tubes hidden behind the stone steps that go into the sea. If you look down at the steps, you’ll notice small openings where the sounds come from. When the waves from the sea pushes into the pipes, you can hear the odd but weirdly relaxing series of sounds. On a stormy day, you can hear the sound on the other side of the island and apparently some of the residents aren’t big fans as you can image.
3. Catch the Sunset
On his visit to Zadar in 1964, Alfred Hitchcock described the sunset as “the most beautiful sunset in the world”. And honestly, Alfred did not lie! The sunsets in Zadar are truly something to behold and one you have to experience for yourself. The best spot to watch the sunset is the southwestern quay with the view of Ugljan island as the big beautiful sun lowers in the horizon. There are steps, benches, the pier, lots of seating spots and food stalls to take it all in.
4. Enjoy the Sun Salutation Light Show
Before you leave the waterfront after the sun has set, check out the Sun Salutation light show. It is a 22m wide circle filled with 300 glass plates and 10,000 solar panels that collects energy from the sun during the day. At night, together with the energy rom the Sea Organ, it creates a spectacular light show until sunrise. This 22m circular plate is one of Zadar’s most beloved attractions. Especially at sunset, it gets busy with tourists nightly waiting to catch a bit of the show, I missed the show throughout my time in Zadar but you should definitely try to catch it at least once during your visit.
5. Take a Day Trip to Plitvice or Krka
If you’re visiting Zadar for 3 days or more, I would recommend spending at least a day exploring either Plitvice Lakes or Krka or even both! Plitvice Lakes are about 1.5 hour drive away from Zadar, while Krka takes about 1 hour so they’re both doable on a day trip. I spent a day in Plitvice during my visit and it was easy to do and breath-taking!
I have done a trip to Krka waterfalls on a previous visit to Split, and it was beautiful!! Zadar is a great base to explore both these national parks and I would 100% recommend it.
6. Do a Walking Tour
Walking tours are one of my favourite ways to get to know a new city and also a great way to meet people if you’re a solo traveller. It’s also one of the best things to do in Zadar. Old town is literally made for walking and he walking tour helps you familiarise yourself with the city so you can note what sights to return to.
I booked the Free spirit Tour Zadar and our guide Tanja was wonderful! She took us through Zadar’s long history including the Roman occupation, the bombing during the war and so on. Throughout, she also gave us recommendations on where to eat, thins to do, where to shop which were all awesome!
7. Climb the Zadar Bell Tower
Zadar Cathedral’s Bell Tower is hard to miss from most angles as it’s the tallest structure in Zadar and climbing it, as you can imagine, is one of the most popular things to do in Zadar. Tickets to climb the 180 steps of the bell tower cost only 25 kn (€3.50). The steps are a little narrow at first but very doable an there are breaks where you could rest if you need to. At the top, you’re rewarded with stunning views of Old town, Zadar city, the roman forum and the Adriatic sea.
8. Take the ferry to Ugljan Island
Ugljan Island is only a 25-minute ferry ride from Zadar but it’s a completely different vibe. It’s very green, quiet, calm and makes a perfect escape from busy Zadar. You can rent a bike near the ferry port in Preko and go on a scenic coastal bike path to Kukljica. Alternatively, you could bike up to St Michael’s Fort or hike but I would recommend getting a bike because the walk up is steep in areas and a bike would make that journey a lot easier. I hiked both ways and gosh I wish I got a bike, my legs were goneee so learn from my mistakes!
9. Go for a swim at Kolovare Beach
Kolovare Beach is the closest beach to Old town, just a short walk away, which makes it super convenient to visit. It’s a mixture of concrete and pebble beach which is actually pretty cool if you want a sturdy platform to lie back on. Like most beaches in Croatia, It is a pebble beach so if you want to enjoy it, you need some water shoes here. There are changing pods dotted along the beach, as long as restaurants and little stalls to buy snacks. I spent an afternoon here and it was a very enjoyable experience, I would definitely recommend.
If you’re not feeling the beach but still want to have a dip in the ocean you can do that straight off the waterfront! Along the promenade, there are steps going down into the sea, that you can jump in and swim from. The water is sparkling clean and clear and looks like a great respite on a hot summer’s day.
10. Discover the Kornati Islands
If you have time for another day-trip, an adventure out at sea is the perfect activity. Kornati National Park is one o the most stunning places to se in Croatia. It’s a group of over 100 islands that are protected because of their unique nature and wildlife. Walking down the marina, you’ll see advertisements for Kornati Island tours pretty much at every turn. In addition to being visually stunning, you can spend your day swimming in the ocean, snorkelling, scuba diving, relaxing on the beach and exploring the island buildings and fortresses. There are lots of companies offering tours and you can book either before you go or negotiate when you get to Zadar.
I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed if you choose to visit Zadar Croatia.