Croatia Sightseeing: Best Things to See and Do in Zadar

City of Zadar is a fantastic destination for a Croatia vacation

Welcome to Croatia, one of the most spectacular European countries! Surprisingly, the lovely place manages to stay under the radar of most Europe-travel enthusiasts, but it’s time to bring it to the spotlight. This corner of paradise is home to dramatic coastline and crystal-clear azure sea, a land of ancient Roman ruins and majestic churches, and a dream-come-true for any gourmet. Let’s start the introduction to this beautiful country with brilliant Zadar, one of Croatia’s most remarkable cities. This Adriatic town prides itself on rich cultural heritage, and rightly so! It is the birthplace of renowned Roman emperors of the past, a treasury of memorable experiences, and a city to fall in love with. So, let’s talk about the best places to visit and the top things to do in Zadar.

Top Tourist Attractions in Zadar

Top things to do in Zadar
Top things to do in Zadar

St Donatus’ Church

If you are a history enthusiast, make sure to stop by St Donatus’ Church dating back to the beginning of the 9th century. Built in an easily recognizable Byzantine style, the building was miraculously spared from the passage of time and can boast an excellent condition. This piece of Italy feels almost alien to the city and perfectly at home at the same time, a window to Zadar’s Roman past. Today, St Donatus’ is the calling card of the town and one of Zadar’s most recognizable symbols, beautiful in its singularity. The sight is no longer a functioning church but a popular music venue. The specific shape and high walls create near-perfect acoustics, so don’t pass by an opportunity to visit a performance if you get the chance. 

Top things to do in Zadar
St. Donatus’ Church, Zadar

Zadar’s Cathedral

Another must-visit historical sight is the St. Anastasia’s Cathedral, also known as Zadar’s Cathedral, a remarkable building that dates back to the 1100s. But there is more! The current structure was built on a site of the 4th-century Christian basilica. It seems hard to believe, but the elements of the original building survived to this day. Sixteen centuries later, the visitors can still admire the early-Christian mosaic adorning the interiors!

Top things to do in Zadar
Zadar Cathedral, Croatia

Not in the mood for the trip down history lane? Head to the seaside and admire the gem of the Adriatic coast, the Sea Organ, one of the top attractions in Zadar. The sight is pretty much what the name suggests – it’s the first musical pipe organ played by the sea in the world! Just imagine taking a stroll along the coastline and enjoying a piece of soulful music coming out of thin air as if by magic. Amazing right? And there can’t be two identical melodies, as each performance is absolutely unique and utterly beautiful.  

Monument to the Sun

Another landmark inspired and empowered by nature is located nearby and called the Monument to the Sun. During the day, it doesn’t look very impressive, just a glass circle of 22 meters in diameter mounted into the pavement. But when the night comes, the whole area turns into a spectacular light show. The secret of this wonder is in the unique design – the art installation is made out of 300 glass plates that can convert light into electricity. It accumulates the sunlight during the day to provide a captivating show after dark, symbolizing communication with nature. 

What to do in Zadar
Monument to the Sun, Zadar

The National Museum of Zadar is a must-visit place for everyone interested in learning more about the region’s rich cultural heritage. It proudly displays artifacts from the 13th century to the present day and consists of four separate sections: natural history, ethnological, gallery of fine arts, and the city museum. It’s easy to forget about time and lose a few hours admiring the impressive collections on display, so make sure to free your schedule before visiting the site.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice lakes National park tour
Plitvice lakes National park

If you are a nature lover, you can’t leave the city without a trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park, the largest national park in the country. Actually, this incredible place should be on your Zadar travel bucket list, even if you are not an outdoorsman. The forest of 30 000 hectares is home to stunning caves created by the running waterfalls over thousands of years and blue lakes as clear as glass. Croatia has no better place to admire the region’s breathtaking landscapes, so make sure to put a short hike on your travel agenda.

What to Do in Zadar for a Day

Zadar coastline
Zadar, Croatia

All of it is great and well, but what if you don’t have a whole vacation to dedicate to the exploration of the city’s sights? Well, it’s a pity, but there is no need to panic. 

One-Day Zadar Itinerary

Start with a walking tour to get to know the lovely town. A local guide will take you around the most renowned sights in Zadar, including the historic city center, St. Anastasia’s Cathedral, and the St. Donatus Church. Then head to the world-famous Sea Organ to listen to the waves’ music before making a short break for lunch. If you are leaving early, stop by the Monument to the Sun, although it’s much more stellar in the evening.

Unfortunately, one day is not enough to tour the beautiful vineyards or visit the spectacular national parks nearby. If time is short, the city’s Museum of Ancient Glass is an interesting option to consider. Apart from an outstanding collection of Roman glassware, the visitors have a chance to see one of the skilled glassblowers at work. The daredevils can even try their hand at the craft, but keep in mind that the result might not be what you are hoping for. 

Top things to do in Zadar
Sunset in Zadar

And try to stay long enough to catch the sunset. Alfred Hitchcock, a man who famously knew a lot not just about suspense but about beauty as well, once said: “Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West in Florida, applauded at every evening.” Just find a table in one of the seaside cafes, order a glass of local wine or the legendary Maraska liqueur, and enjoy the views that charmed one of the most influential filmmakers in cinematic history. And after the dark falls, head to the Monument to the Sun if the time allows. The spectacular light show is about to begin. 

It’s true that Zadar is not quite as popular as Split or Zagreb when it comes to Croatia travel, but not because the city lacks the splendor, things to see, or a rich cultural background. Just the whole country is so magnificent that a traveler has to make a tough choice of choosing where to go, and unpretentious Zadar sometimes remains overshadowed by its larger and louder neighbors. But if you decide to add this scenic coastal town to your next vacation, there is no chance that you will be disappointed. And we will be happy to plan your grand Croatia adventure for you!

by Ksenia Zaiceva