If you’ve been following our Road travel through Croatia, we’ve so far been to Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Plitvice Lakes National Park. We decided to put Zadar, Croatia, on our list of places to stay and visit as our next stop. After leaving Plitvice Lakes, we headed to the coastal city of Zadar to explore and spend the night there.
Neat Facts About Zadar
- Zadar (pronounced Zaa-dar) is a coastal city in Croatia located at the heart of the Adriatic Ocean in Northern Dalmatia.
- It’s been dubbed as having the “most beautiful sunset in the world” by Mr. Alfred Hitchcock himself in 1964.
- Zadar used to be the largest fortified city under Venetian rule. There’s evidence of this with structures left behind, such as the Land Gate in the city.
- It was where the first Red Cross Branch was initiated in Croatia.
- The city has a mixture of structures from Byzantine, Venetian, and Roman influences (so it’s got tons of history).
Arriving in Zadar
We arrived early afternoon after spending half the day at Plitvice Lakes National Park (check out that blog here). From Plitvice Lakes, it was a two-hour pleasant drive. We immediately checked into our Airbnb right in the heart of the city and within walking distance to everything in the city center. Since most of the heart of the city is Pedestrian-Only; parking included in our Airbnb was important for me in finding a place to stay at.
*** Side note: the situation was practically funny for parking. Our car is a standard SUV in the states, so, it was a sight to see trying to fit in between two walls to get into our parking spot. I think the locals enjoyed watching in amusement as we pivoted our car into the opening. European roads are made for smaller cars. ***.
Ok, back to the important piece, after settling into our Airbnb and admiring the city views from our room, we headed off the enjoy Zadar and found some of the most amazing things to do around the city.
Best Things To Do in Zadar
1. Explore the Roman Forum and St. Donatus’ Church
After admiring the views from our apartment, the first thing we did was explore the front of our doorstep. Literally, where we were staying was where the Roman Forums were. The city is full of history and Venetian-like structures.
- The Roman Forums in Zadar is considered the largest one on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea commissioned by Roman Emperor Augustus and is located in the centermost of the City.
- At present, you’ll only find the remaining stairs and original pavement, and two columns that once served as a Pillory (Pillar of Shame)
- We found one of the Pillars of Shame with the original chain still attached. It’s been said that during the Middle Ages, people that were being punished were tied to the pillar and received their punishment here (brutal!)
Located on the northern edge of the Roman Forum is the Church of St. Donatus (Crkva Svetog Donata)
St. Donatus’ Church is a circular-looking two-story round church in Byzantine Style (lonely planet source) named after a Bishop who commissioned it.
- It dates back to the 9th Century (how cool is that) but hasn’t been used for services for 200 years! But you can visit the inside of the church.
- Today, it is used primarily as a concert hall.
2. Explore Old Town
After admiring the City Center with its historical Roman-like structures, we delved right into Old Town itself and explored what Zadar is really all about.
**Now, before I continue, the City Center itself is in Old Town, so you’re not walking far from anything when I say Old Town. Old Town is Pedestrian Only.**
Walking along Old Town, the first thing I noticed are the walkways. I’m used to cobblestone walkways in Germany, but this was different here in Zadar. The streets along Old Town were limestone tiles and sometimes quite slippery when wet.
We quickly noticed the Roman Catholic Church of the Cathedral of Saint Anastasia. The cathedral dates back to 1452 but was not completed until 1894. It is considered the largest church in Dalmatia on the Croatian Coast. It’s a quite impressive church in which it has been submitted for a tentative spot in the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. It also houses the relics and of Saint Anastasia herself.
** To enter, it’s recommended to dress modestly, and the church is only open mostly in the afternoons.
After checking out the Cathedral, we found a Gelato shop directly right outside the church and had a quick afternoon snack while admiring the square in our outdoor seating area. We then continued to walk around and admire Zadar and its many structures and shops along the city, including the tall Bell Tower (more on that in a bit). We found dinner with a view of the ocean (kind of) and then enjoyed a walk along the Adriatic Sea via the Promenade Riva.
4. Walk Along the Promenade Riva
Promenade Riva is the ocean-front sea promenade walking area, you can find it just right across the street from the Roman Forums. It was the perfect sunset walk along the Adriatic Ocean after dinner. The Promenade also had a beautiful view of the islands Ugljan and Pasman.
The Riva is full of life, and people enjoying the ocean view and sounds of the waves. We found a playground along the Riva and let my little one play before hitting up the western end of the Riva to visit two places that were on top of our lists to see in Zadar, the Sea Organs, and Greeting to the Sun.
5. Find the Sea Organs (Morske Orgulje)
Wanna find the most unique Harmonica-like sounds on the Riva? Find the Sea Organs. The Sea Organ is probably one of the most popular attractions in Zadar. It’s located on the western end of the Promenade Riva, where you can find people sitting along the stairs next to the ocean. We followed suit and sat on the stone steps and just listened to the sounds. What makes these steps popular are the sounds coming from the stairs themselves.
Designed by Zadar’s very own local architect, Nikola Bašić, there are pipes under the stairs. When the water hits these pipes, they make the most beautiful, unique sounds. I would compare it to the sounds of whales talking or sighing of the waves. It was quite amazing to experience. It’s also the best place to watch the sunset and see why Mr. Alfred Hitchcock, himself, wrote about Zadar’s beautiful sunset. Here’s a site I found for a sample sound of the Sea Organs (my video had some technical difficulties loading).
6. Bust Out Those Moves on the “Dance Floor” of the Greeting To The Sun At Sunset
Directly next to the Sea Organs is this huge (22m wide) round-disc looking, flat solar panels on the floors of the Promenade Riva called the Greeting to the Sun or Monument to the Sun. It really looks like a dance floor as you see people walking along it and/or dancing when the sun sets. The solar panels harness the sun’s energy during the day to form a neat light experience at night for visitors. The key to enjoying this is to visit right about when the sun sets, and from then, the discs light up in different colors as you walk or dance on them. Pretty cool, huh?
7. Wander Around the City in the Evening and Early Morning and Find the Secret Garden by the Land Gate
We explored the city at night after the Monument to the Sun and loved all the sights and sounds Zadar had to offer.
The next morning we wandered around the sleepy, quiet city to enjoy it before the rush of the morning crowds. We visited one end of the City where the entryway to the City stands, the Land Gate (Kopnena vrata).
I like to think of it as the Secret Garden since we stumbled upon the entryway on our walk. The cool thing about this park, you can find an amazing view of the city on high ground. You can find this Secret Garden right by the Land Gate. Here is a video of what the Garden offers.
Address for the Land Gate: Trg pet bunara 1, 23000, Zadar, Croatia
Address for Queen Jelena Madije Park: find it here.
8. Take A Peek into the Local City Market
Take a glimpse of the local flair and life of Zadar by exploring one of the biggest and oldest markets in the Dalmatian Region (as far back as the Middle Ages), the local City market. After our Secret Garden encounter, we walked towards the back end of the city (still within the Old Town walls) to find ourselves immersed among the locals and tourists alike in a local Farmer’s Market. We found several booths and stalls with many local fresh produce and flowers, along with some local specialties of tablecloths and clothing and so much more. There’s a Seafood market that’s neat to check out too and find the local catch.
- Address: Ulica Pod Bedemom 1/A
- Opening hours: Daily: 6 am-1 pm
10. Climb the Bell Tower
Want to get an awesome view of the City? Climb the Bell Tower directly behind the Cathedral of Saint Anastasia (see above for information about the Cathedral) by the Roman Forum. This bell tower has about 180 steps to reach the top of the tower on a landing with an amazing 360° view of the city and ocean. Take your time as the stairs can be narrow. I, for one, am afraid of heights, but I couldn’t resist seeing the views of Zadar. It costs to climb the tower; for my family of four, it cost about 40 kunas (about 5,30 Euros).
Address: Široka ul. 24A, 23000, Zadar, Croatia
11. Find the Sphinx of Zadar
We didn’t get to do this, but I hear there is a Sphinx in Zadar that makes it the largest Sphinx in Europe. The story has it that this monument was built in 1918 as a memorial for one of Zadar’s citizens in memory of his wife and that the Sphinx grants love wishes.
Find the location of the Sphinx Here.
Places To Eat
I don’t want to not write about some of the places we ate at without listing them here during our stay.
- For our obligatory Gelato, we grabbed ours from Sladoled Donat, located right by the Cathedral of Saint Anastasia.
- For dinner, we ate at Restaurant Bruschetta on the main street directly across from the Promenade Riva. I wanted authentic Mediterranean/Dalmatian food, and this place offered a variety on their menu. It was good, but a bit pricey on our end, but we wanted good food after a long day of exploring.
- Don’t forget to try some baked goods from the local bakeries in the area. We tried one of the bakeries, Pekara Viktor, inside the City and loved their baked goods. But go early to get the good stuff. Also, don’t forget to try baked goods and specialties at the City Market.
- For other best places to eat, find them here.
Driving in the City Center of Old Town Zadar is not allowed, there are metered parking located on the side of the road outside the walls of the city. Parking is charged on weekdays from 0800- 1600, Saturdays from 0800-1400. Parking is free on holidays and Sundays. More information HERE.
Overall, we loved Zadar! It had a lot to offer for a small, Coastal city for the amount of time we spent there (we spent half a day with an overnight inside the city and a half of the morning the following day). It would be a wonderful home base area if you wanted to explore the northern coast of Croatia and easily make a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park and Krka National Park. I have heard this is a destination spot in the summer, but thankfully, during our visit in early April, we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves with the number of tourists there.
I hope you found this post helpful for your trip in finding the Best Things To do around Zadar. Now, on to our next adventure! Let’s head to Krka National Park. Until next time! Do sljedećeg puta!
April 5-6, 2019