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What are the best things do in Zadar, Croatia?
A historic port and peninsula city, Zadar is located on the Adriatic Sea and is one of the most walkable cities in Europe. Perhaps lesser known and more sedate than Dubrovnik and Split, Zadar is home to a unique Romanesque old town, much of which is pedestrianised. A maze of quaint lanes, narrow streets and sociable squares, Zadar is a marble-paved city where the old remnants of the Roman era charmingly intertwine with modern Dalmatian life. One of the best summer city break destinations in Europe, here are the 9 very best things to do in Zadar, Croatia!
Tip: Fancy seeing a bit more of Croatia? Then check out this 10 day itinerary for Croatia. Taking you to Dubrovnik, Split and beyond, it includes details of exactly how much it costs!
1. Listen to the Sea Organ
One of the must-see Zadar attractions, the Sea Organ (Morske orgulje) is a crossbreed of architecture and instrument that creates nothing less than a structural masterpiece. Designed by Nikola Basic and opened in 2005, the Sea Organ is located in the northwestern corner of Zadar’s waterfront. It consists of 35 pipes of differing lengths and sizes which go beneath the marble steps that lead down to the ocean. A visit to the Sea Organ is one of the best things to do in Zadar because when the sea flows into its pipes, it sounds the most soothing of musical tunes.
Tip: The steps of the Sea Organ are the perfect place to perch your bottom and watch the sunset to the symphony of the waves (although it can be a popular spot early evening).
2. Visit St. Anastasia Cathedral and climb the Bell Tower
Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Roman Catholic St. Anastasia Cathedral (also known as Zadar Cathedral) with its stunning facade takes pride of place in the old town and it is one of the top places to visit in Zadar. Vendors line the outer wall of the Cathedral, selling local products like paintings, crafts and tablecloths. Adjoining St. Anastasia Cathedral is the Bell Tower. For a small fee, you can climb the steps to the top of the Bell Tower for the most breathtaking panoramic views over Zadar and beyond (note: this is not for the fainthearted as there are around 180 steps which are both narrow and steep).
3. See the Church of St. Donatus and the Roman Forum
Dating from the 9th century, the Church of St. Donatus is the beating heart of Zadar’s old town. Relatively circular in shape and something of a local architectural celebrity, the interior is of basic stone composition. The Church of St. Donatus even managed to survive the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, demonstrating its resilience. Surrounding the Church is the Roman Forum, which, similar to the Roman Forum in Rome, offers a glimpse into early life in this Dalmatian city. (note: some of the slabs from the Roman Forum are built into the walls of the Church of St. Donatus.)
Tip: If you continue alongside the Roman Forum towards the sea, and cross over Ul. Mihovila Pavlinovica you will see a rough path that is (usually) lined with little stalls selling souvenirs and other bits and bobs.
4. Marvel at Plitvice Lakes National Park
Another of the top things to do around Zadar and a necessary item on any bucket list for Europe is a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park – an image you will likely be familiar with if you’ve looked at any Croatia travel guide. Located between Zagreb and Zadar and made up of 16 natural emerald-green lakes, the park is interconnected by rivers, waterfalls and meandering wooden walkways. Wandering around Plitvice Lakes, it will be hard to tame your imagination – it is the type of place you could envisage as the playground of pixies and fairies if they were real (I mean, who says they aren’t?).
Tip: You can NOT swim in Plitvice Lakes, so no need to pack your swimwear.
5. Wander around Five Wells Square
Imagine wandering through a serene and secluded little stone-washed square under the warmth of the Mediterranean sun, and you might picture somewhere that looks like Five Wells Square. Built during the 16th century to provide water to the city and help it withstand attacks from the Turkish empire, Five Wells Square is one of the top things to see in Zadar. A stone’s throw from the Land Gate (see best things to do in Zadar no. 9), it’s the perfect place to stop and enjoy a moment of peace and quiet and to appreciate the historical significance which surrounds.
Tip: There is a cafe on the corner which serves scrumptious pizza and is a nice spot to enjoy a quiet meal. Unfortunately, I do not know it’s name (and cannot find it), but it is literally opposite Five Wells Square and is somewhere I stumbled across on my trip.
6. Walk on the Greeting to the Sun
Located opposite the Sea Organ is another of the best (free) things to do in Zadar, the Greeting to the Sun (also known as the Sun Salutation). The Greeting to the Sun is essentially a 22 metre solar panel cut into the pavement of the waterfront, formed from 300 multi-layered glass panels. When night falls, the Greeting to the Sun comes alive with vibrant colours until the sun rises, creating an almost electric open-air dance-floor. It’s pretty busy here as the sun sets, so it might be worth coming back a little later in the evening in the hope that the crowds have dispersed?
Tip: The best time to visit Croatia is May-October. I visited in March, and although it was a little on the chilly side, it was still sunny and lovely and quiet.
7. Sail around Kornati National Park
If you fancy a day out of the old town and are looking for things to do near Zadar, then Kornati National Park might tickle your fancy. One of Europe’s natural wonders and covering an area of 218 square kilometres, Kornati National Park is an amalgamation of islands, islets, rocks, cliffs and reefs, with its own unique set of wildlife (including reptiles, birds and so much more). The National Park is quite barren in appearance and most of the islands are uninhabited, but time spent weaving amongst the islets on board a boat in the sunshine makes for a wonderful way to spend a day in Croatia.
Note: I boarded the boat in Zadar at around 9am to be presented with a very strong shot of Rakia. Perhaps this was because it was actually pretty chilly when I visited one March, and was a gesture to warm us up, but don’t be surprised if it happens to you!
8. Stroll the Riva
Riva is a term in Croatia used to refer to a waterfront (it also may be used in other countries, but currently I’m ignorant to this, sorry). The Riva outlines the edge of the old town and passes by some of the main things to do in Zadar city, the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun. A wander along the Riva is a great way to spend an afternoon, footstepping past landscaped areas and the waters edge as you go, perhaps stopping for a moment to absorb the views of the distant islands.
9. Photograph the Land Gate and Fosa Marina
The Land Gate is perhaps the most famous gate in Zadar and a visit is one of the best things to do in Zadar old town. Once the main entrance to the city, the Land Gate boasts some quite intricate Renaissance decorations and dates back to 1543. Beneath the intimidating city walls and adjacent to the Land Gate sits Fosa Marina (Lucica Fosa), a quaint and picturesque harbour home to a just a few local boats.
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