Before we arrived in Zadar, we felt sorry for it. After our three-week stay in idyllic Rovinj, we thought our next destination would surely disappoint. The fact that we were trading in one seaside town perched on a peninsula for another made us think we would easily draw comparisons and, in our minds, nothing could beat Rovinj. After staying in Zadar, experiencing the city and seeing the sights (which are included in our Zadar self-guided walking tour), we felt differently.
While there are some comparisons that can be made between Rovinj and Zadar, the two cities are drastically different. Even though Zadar may not be dripping with charm like Rovinj, it certainly has it. And, something it has that Rovinj doesn’t is a slew of sights – from Roman ruins to historic churches to a modern seaside promenade complete with new age art. Something else Zadar has: a university – and its students fill the streets and cafes, bringing a lively, youthful feel to the city.
During our stay, we took advantage of Zadar’s close proximity to Krka National Park, Sibenik and a couple of boat trips to nearby islands by taking more day trips than normal. In between day trips, we eased into life in Zadar. Our apartment in the old town (booked through Airbnb) was ideally located for us to explore the city on foot. We covered every street in the old town, noting the odd mix of old and new. We popped into bakeries for fresh baked treats and, when the rain came, we ducked into cafes and sampled the local specialty, Maraschino, a sweet cherry liqueur that is made in the local Maraska factory.
After spending two weeks in Zadar, we discovered a route that loops around and through the city, passing by the best sights in town. The stroll can serve as a Zadar self-guided walking tour. It should take a little less than an hour (but up to three hours for those walking a more leisurely pace), with plenty of places to get distracted along the way.
Zadar Self-Guided Walking Tour to 24 city sights to see
Start outside of the old town on the east end at the Land Gate.
Kopnena vrata (Land Gate)
Built in 1543, it was once the main entrance into the walled town. It features St. Chrysogonus and the St. Mark’s Lion because, well, the Venetian’s built it.
Walk through the gate and take the first right, up a flight of stairs, into…
Trg 5 bunara (Five Wells Square)
The 16th century wells were built to supply drinking water to the city at a time when the Turks threatened to invade. The Captain’s Tower, built as another protective measure against the Turks, dominates the square from the far end.
Take the steps leading up from the square into…
Queen Jelena Mdijevka Park
A lush escape from the old town, the park was built on top of a former military bastion. The peaceful garden has a few benches, walking paths and a café. In the center, trails circle a small hill, which is just fun to climb.
Back in Five Wells Square, exit past The Captain’s Tower and take the steps that lead down to…
Trg Petra Zoranica (Petar Zoranica Square)
This square feels different than most old town squares, probably due to the large trees and wide open space. A single, Roman column stands on the far end and other ruins that were discovered below ground level can be viewed through glass covers. Also on the square is a stone sarcophagus said to contain the remains of a 1st century monk (and three other unknown skeletons).
Leave the square by the Roman column, passing between the Rector’s Palace and St. Simeon’s Church and continue straight along Kotromanic Street to…
Narodni trg (People’s Square)
This typical old town square feels more enclosed, with city buildings making up three sides of it. The columned City Lodge previously served as a courthouse, council chambers and library. Across from it, the Renaissance style City Sentinel features a clock tower. On the far end of the square is the current City Hall.
Before leaving the square, walk into Café Lovro next to the Sentinel and find…
Crkva Sv. Lovre (St. Laurence’s Church)
Not much remains of the 11th century church, but it is fascinating to see how a café has been built around it.
Leave the square on Jurja Barakovica – the street to the right of City Hall – and exit through Bridge Gate. Cross the street to…
For a view of the old town, walk halfway across the bridge and look back toward the high, thick walls.
Back on the peninsula, walk west past the day excursion boats and passenger ferries before heading back into the old town. At the end of the line of boats are the…
The taxi row boats transport people from the peninsula a short distance to the pier – an 800 year old tradition.
Go back toward the Jadrolinija Office to the Morska vrata (Sea Gate). Built in 1573 to celebrate victory over the Turks, it provided access from the port to the market. Climb the stairs to the right to stand atop the old town walls and get a better view of the port. Then head back down and re-enter the town through the gate to…
Crkva Sv. Kresevana (St. Chrysogonus Church)
Consecrated in 1175, it was part of the Benedictine Monastery.
Continue straight ahead to the…
The cluster of historic churches and pieces of Roman ruins come together in one place to tell a story that is 2000 years in the making. Interestingly, however, is that the Roman past was buried until the area was bombed during World War I.
The 183-foot-tall bell tower belongs to the cathedral, but was built separately from it. For views over the town and sea, visitors can hike the 180 stairs (wide and spacious!) to an observation deck for 15 kuna ($2 USD).
St. Donatus’ Church
The centerpiece of the Forum is the St. Donatus’ Church. Built in the 9th century, the round church looks exactly as it did when it was built.
St. Mary’s Church
On the east side of the Forum, across the walkway, is St. Mary’s Church and convent belonging to Benedictine nuns. Originally built in 1066, the façade was redone in the 16th century.
Park of Roman pieces
Broken pieces of Roman ruins are displayed within the Forum. Unlike many ruins that have a look-but-don’t-touch policy, people are welcome to get up close and personal with these fragments from the past.
Pillar of Shame
The single column standing to the west of St. Donatus’ Church is the Pillar of Shame where those who committed crimes were chained for public humiliation and ridicule.
Sparse remnants of a temple
On the raised area beyond the pillar are a few columns that constitute the remains of a Roman temple, which was dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. On our visit, excavations were underway behind the columns near St. Elias’ Church (an Orthodox church that was built in the 18th century for the Greek population).
Walk north toward St. Anastasia’s Square and…
St. Anastasia’s Cathedral
Building commenced on the Romanesque church in the 12th century. Decorative rosettes and a stone carved doorway complete the façade.
Look along the side of the church that leads back to the bell tower, local women sit chatting as they knit sweaters, booties, caps and socks, which they offer for sale. Turn left (west) and walk to the…
Trg 3 bunara (Three Wells Square) and park
A church, Our Lady of Health, and a small park are found on this square. The three wells were placed here in 1761 (a road now runs through the square and they are located across the street). The busts of Zadar’s most prominent citizens are displayed on columns in the park.
If the doors are open, walk into the…
Church of Our Lady of Health
The pretty little church became a city favorite in 1447 when the painting of Our Lady of the Kastelo was hung behind the altar. (The original is now kept in the Permanent Exhibition of Religious Art, but a copy is still displayed in the church.) Since then, it has undergone several expansions and even endured a 1944 bombing and subsequent reconstruction.
Continue straight through the park on the right side of the church, past the Customs House to the end of the peninsula and turn left (south) to the…
Pozdrav Suncu (Greeting to the Sun)
The large, circular technological art installment isn’t much to look at in the daylight. But, after dark, it puts on a light display.
Follow the sounds of music and continue around the corner to the…
Morske orgulje (Sea Organ)
Not an ordinary organ by any means, the organist is the sea. The water pushes air into thirty-five pipes positioned below the steps to play chords of music. The soothing sound attracts many at sunset.
Continue walking the length of…
For many years, Zadar was a heavily fortified city with double walls protecting its inhabitants. In 1813, previous threats were no longer a concern and the outer wall was removed, leaving a lovely space along the waterfront. Gardens were planted and parks created – as well as the Riva, a long promenade for evening strolls.
Continue walking to the…
Statue of Spiro Brusina
Near the end of The Riva is the University of Zadar and the statue of Spiro Brusina holding a conch shell. Born in 1845, Brusina excelled in natural science and the study of birds – and was a member of the Croatian freemasons.
Follow the shoreline into the…
The little marina is packed with boats and schools of small fish.
Continue to the stairs, which completes the loop of our Zadar self-guided walking tour.
Note: Free maps and guide books are available in the Tourist Information Office on Narodni Trg.
Where To Stay
During our visit to Zadar, we stayed in this awesome Airbnb Apartment. (Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create an account and save money on your first stay!) However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center. Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip:
Or These Hostels:
Before You Go: Our top tips for your trip
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- Be sure to have a good guidebook for Croatia prior to arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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