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Getting acquainted with the Old Town is one of the best things to do in Zadar, Croatia. We spent two weeks in Zadar navigating the lanes and seeking out the historic attractions in the compact Zadar city center. The best sights in Zadar can be seen on a looping route through the city. We created a Self-Guided Zadar Walking Tour – and are sharing it for free to help other travelers discover the city as we did!
Zadar Walking Tour
Our free Walking Tour of Zadar is about 2 miles (3.5km) in length and should take a little less than an hour to complete. Whether you have one day in Zadar – or one week! – our walking tour of Zadar is the perfect way to get acquainted with the city.
The route includes 26 Zadar attractions and plenty of places to get distracted along the way, as well! We include step-by-step directions from one sight to the next and, at the end of the post, there is a useful Zadar, Croatia Map. Additionally, we offer more advice on what to do in Zadar, tips on where to stay and other essential information for your Zadar trip.
Save, Pin or Bookmark our Zadar Travel Guide so that you can easily access it during your trip!
Zadar, Croatia History
Before you take off on our Zadar free walking tour, it helps to understand a little bit about the history of the city.
The history of the City of Zadar dates to the 9th century BC – and is considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in the country. In the 1st century BC, the Romans ruled over Zadar. It was under the Romans that the main public square, the Forum, was built – which still survives today.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, Zadar changed hands – being ruled by the Byzantine Empire, then the Frankish Empire, then the Republic of Venice and, in 1186, the Kingdom of Hungary. From the 13th to 15th centuries, control bounced from the Venetians to Hungary then back to the Venetians.
Zadar became a significant trade port for the Venetians and life in the fortified city flourished. With the rise of the Renaissance, Zadar became a center of the arts – and especially popular with writers.
In 1797, when the Venetian Republic fell, Zadar came under Austrian rule. In 1920, power was passed to the Italians (which resulted in the city being bombed during World War II). After the war, Zadar became part of Yugoslavia and – in 1991 when Croatia declared independence, Zadar became a Croatian city.
Zadar Self-Guided Walking Tour
Our Zadar city tour includes 26 must-see city sights! During our trip, we covered every street in the old town, noting the constant mix of old and new. We popped into bakeries for fresh baked treats. When the mid-day sun became too strong, we ducked into cafes and sampled the local specialty, Maraschino, a sweet cherry liqueur that is made in the local Maraska factory. And, we navigated our way to the top city attractions.
Follow in our footsteps to the top places to visit in Zadar, Croatia starting outside of the old town on the east end at the Land Gate.
#1 Kopnena Vrata (Land Gate, Zadar)
Built in 1543, the Land Gate (also called the City Gate) was once the main entrance into the walled town. The ornate gate features six columns and three archways. The Coats of Arms of the Venetian Republic and the City of Zadar are above the two outer arches, while St. Mark’s winged lion and a smaller statue of St. Chrysogonus decorate the space above the center arch.
Directions: Walk through the Land Gate and take the first right, up a flight of stairs, into the open square.
#2 Trg 5 Bunara (Five Wells Square, Zadar)
Trg Pet Bunara translates to 5 Wells Square. The 16th century wells in Trg 5 bunara 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.
Directions: Find the staircase on the south side of the square and take the steps leading up from the square into the park.
#3 Queen Jelena Mdijevka Park
A lush escape from the old town, the Queen Jelena Mdijevka 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 encircle a small hill, which is just fun to climb. The park is one of the top Zadar places to visit to escape the busy streets of the city.
Directions: Make your way back down to Five Wells Square and exit the square by walking past The Captain’s Tower. Take the steps that lead down to another city square.
#4 Trg Petra Zoranica (Petar Zoranica Square, Zadar)
Trg Petra Zoranica 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, there is a stone sarcophagus said to contain the remains of a 1st century monk (and three other unknown skeletons).
Directions: 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 yet another square.
#5 Narodni Trg (People’s Square, Zadar)
This typical old town square feels more enclosed, with city buildings making up three sides of Narodni trg. 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.
Directions: Before leaving the square, walk into Café Lovro next to the Sentinel and find a hidden gem.
#6 Crkva Sv. Lovre (St. Laurence’s Church, Zadar)
Not much remains of the 11th century church, Crkva Sv. Lovre, that is tucked inside the cafe. However, we think that it’s one of the top things to see in Zadar. It is simply fascinating to know that ancient architecture is hidden behind modern structures.
Directions: Leave the square on Jurja Barakovica – the street to the right of City Hall – and exit through Bridge Gate. Cross the street to the bridge.
#7 Gradski Most (City Bridge)
The Gradski Most itself is not one the Zadar tourist attractions – the current bridge only dates to 1962. (The first bridge to cross the city harbor was built in 1928 and was destroyed by bombs during World War II.) However, standing on the bridge provides an encompassing view of the Old Town. For the best angle, walk halfway across the bridge and then look back toward the high, thick walls.
Directions: Back on the peninsula, walk northwest past the day excursion boats and passenger ferries. At the end of the line of boats are taxi row boats.
Long before there was a bridge across the harbor, small rowboats – called Barkajoli – were used to transport people from one side to the other. Most rowers have followed in the footsteps of their fathers – continuing an 800-year-old tradition. One of the fun Zadar activities is hopping in a Barkajoli for a rowboat ride to the other side.
Directions: Retrace your steps back toward the Jadrolinija Office to the Sea Gate.
#9 Morska Vrata (Sea Gate, Zadar)
Built in 1573 to celebrate victory over the Turks, the Sea Gate provided access from the port to the Zadar Fish Market. Climb the stairs to the right of the gate to stand atop the old town walls and get a better view of the port.
Directions: Enter the Old Town through the gate and walk to the church on your left that is set back off the street.
#10 Crkva Sv. Krsevana (St. Chrysogonus Church, Zadar)
Dedicated to the patron saint of Zadar, the Church of St. Chrysogonus was consecrated in 1175. The church was one part of a large Benedictine Monastery complex that no longer exists. Plans for a church bell tower materialized in 1485, but the project was left unfinished.
Directions: Facing the church, walk down the narrow street on the right-hand side, Ulica Brne Karnarutica, to the city market.
#11 Zadar Market
There has been a market in Zadar, Croatia since the Middle Ages, but the market moved to its current location after World War II (when bombs destroyed buildings, leaving the spacious square). Vendors sell colorful fruits, locally produced olive oil and handmade cheese. The famous Zadar Fish Market is located within the city walls and is the best place in town to buy the freshest seafood! The market is generally open from early in the morning until around 1:00pm.
Directions: From the southern corner of the market (at the intersection of Zlatarska and Hrvatinica), walk southwest on Zlatarska, continuing up the steps toward Malo Misto (one of the top-rated Zadar Restaurants specializing in seafood). At the restaurant, turn right on Jurja Dalmatinca and walk down the narrow street to Ulica Simuna Kozicica Benje (look for the bright yellow signs at the Posta – post office – building). Turn left and walk into the city’s most iconic square.
#12 Zadar Forum
Of all the Zadar sights, seeing the Forum is a must! A cluster of historic churches dating to the Middle Ages and pieces-and-parts of Roman ruins come together in the Forum. The ancient city square tells a story that is 2,000 years in the making. Designed by the Romans and completed in the 3rd Century AD, the Forum was the thriving center of the city – as it still is today.
Over time, the Forum was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. The square features a fascinating array of the historic past, some of which dates to the 1st century BC. What is interesting, however, is that much of the Roman remains were buried below the surface until the area was bombed during World War II.
Directions: Stand in the center of the Forum and take in the sights, starting with the rising bell tower.
#13 Zadar Bell Tower
The 183-foot-tall Bell Tower belongs to the cathedral, but it was built separately from the church. The tower was completed in two stages…more than 400 years apart. The first two floors were completed in the middle of the 15th century. The upper floors were added in the late 1800s.
Top Tip: One of the best things to do in Zadar is to the hike up the 180 (wide and spacious!) stairs to the observation deck. There is a small fee to go up the bell tower and it requires a little effort, but the views over the town and sea are spectacular!
Directions: Next to the bell tower is a rounded church.
#14 St. Donatus Church, Zadar
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. Known for its incredible acoustics, concerts are often held inside church. Summer visitors can enter the church (for a small fee), but it is closed in the wintertime.
Directions: Look on the southeast side of the Forum, across the walkway, to the stone church and bell tower.
#15 St. Mary’s Church, Zadar
The St. Mary’s Church and Convent belongs to Benedictine nuns. Originally built in 1066, the façade was redone in the 16th century and the interior was decorated in the Baroque style in the mid-1700s. However, much of the church was destroyed in WWII and had to be rebuilt.
Top Tip: Two Zadar museums are located adjacent to the church: the Archaeological Museum and the Benedictine Monastery Art Museum.
Directions: In the center of the Forum, find the pieces of stone laid out in rows on the grass.
#16 Zeleni Trg: 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.
Directions: Southwest of St. Donatus Church (along the side of the southern, angular building by the old rock wall), find the lonesome pillar.
#17 Pillar of Shame
The single column standing to the west of St. Donatus’ Church is the Pillar of Shame. An ancient form of punishment, criminals were chained to the pillar to endure public humiliation and ridicule.
Directions: Next to the pillar, on the raised platform to the left are three column bases.
#18 Remnants of a Temple
All that remains of a former Roman temple are the bases of three columns on a platform. The temple 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). Much of the ancient past is still buried beneath the Forum.
Directions: Walk north into St. Anastasia’s Square.
#19 St. Anastasia’s Cathedral, Zadar
Building commenced on the Romanesque church in the 12th century (by reconstructing a former church). The St. Anastasia Cathedral facade is adorned with decorative rosettes and a stone carved doorway.
Top Tip: 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.
Directions: Turn left (northwest) on Jurja Bijankinija and walk to the next square.
#20 Trg 3 bunara (Three Wells Square) and Park
Three wells were placed on the square in 1761. A road now runs through the 3 Wells Square, so the wells were moved across the street. Beyond the square is a small park with a church and the busts of Zadar’s most prominent citizens displayed on columns.
Directions: If the doors are open to the church, walk inside.
#21 Church of Our Lady of Health, Zadar
The pretty little Church of Our Lady of Health 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.
Directions: Continue straight through the park along the right side of the church. Pass the Customs House to the end of the peninsula. Turn left (southwest) and walk to the end of the dock to find the famous Zadar Sun Salutation.
#22 Pozdrav Suncu (Greeting to the Sun, Zadar)
The large, circular technological art installment isn’t much to look at in the daylight; in fact, I didn’t really understand why it was such a highly touted attraction…until we saw it at night. After dark, Pozdra Suncu – the Greeting to the Sun – puts on a fantastic light display.
Directions: Follow the sounds of music and continue around the corner to the left to find another Zadar must-see attraction.
#23 Morske Orgulje (Sea Organ, Zadar)
Not an ordinary organ by any means, the organist of Morske Orgulje is the sea itself. The water pushes air into thirty-five pipes positioned below the steps to play chords of music. The soothing sound entertains locals and tourists alike. The steps and sounds attract many for sunset.
Directions: Continue walking the length of the seaside walkway.
#24 The Zadar Riva
For many years, Zadar, Croatia 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.
Directions: Continue walking to the seaside statue.
#25 Statue of Spiro Brusina
Near the end of The Riva, near the University of Zadar, is the statue of Spiro Brusina. The statue depicts Brusina holding a conch shell and looking out to see. Born in 1845, Brusina excelled in natural science and the study of birds – and he was a member of the Croatian freemasons.
Directions: Follow the shoreline into the small marina.
#26 Fosa Marina
The little Fosa Marina is packed with boats and schools of small fish. Walk around the marina to the stairs, which lead up to the Land Gate – officially completing the loop of our self-guided Zadar walking tour!
Self-Guided Zadar Walking Tour Map
Visitors can use this Old Town Zadar map with our walking tour route. Free tourist maps are available in the Tourist Information Office on Narodni Trg.
Interactive Zadar, Croatia Map
You can this interactive Zadar Old Town Map to locate the sights on our walking tour – but only if you have an internet connection. (We recommend renting a wifi mobile hotspot, like Roam Free Ninja, or purchasing one, like GlocalMe.) Use this link to Google Maps for the Zadar city map online.
Zadar Sightseeing Options
Sightseeing is not limited to the Old Town! Some of the best things to do in Zadar, Croatia are beyond the Old Town walls.
Looking for Zadar things to do in the sweltering summer? We recommend heading to the beaches! There is not a Zadar, Croatia beach directly in the Old Town, but there are two beaches just south (which can be reached within 10 to 15 minutes from the end of our Zadar Walking Tour!).
Golden Wave Beach: The beach is small, but the triple level diving board is what attracts people to this beach! There is also an on-site cafe.
Kolovare Beach: The pebble beach is popular with locals and tourists; there are beach bars, bathrooms, showers and lifeguards.
Zadar Day Trips
After sightseeing in Zadar, head out of the city on a day trip! The city’s location is prime for exploring Croatia sights inland- as well as out to sea. During our stay, we visited Krka National Park, Sibenik and took boat trips to nearby islands.
Croatia Waterfall Tours
Two of Croatia’s most renowned waterfall parks – Krka and Plitvice – are within easy reach from Zadar. Both parks are known for their thundering waterfalls and picturesque landscapes. Visitors can join organized tours of Krka National Park or plan the trip on their own using the convenient city bus (like we did! Read our tips for a Day Trip to Krka.). It’s also possible to use public transport to get to Plitvice Lakes, but – being further away with fewer bus routes – we actually recommend taking a tour – Read the Reviews of this tour!
Day Trip To Sibenik from Zadar
The coastal town of Sibenik is another fabulous Croatian destination. The city boasts multiple fortresses, a gorgeous Cathedral and an appealing Old Town. We spent an entire day in Sibenik, but because of its proximity to Krka NP, many visitors see both attractions in one day. Use our guide of Things To See in Sibenik to plan your trip!
Zadar Cruise: Ferries and Boat Trips
If you are anything like us, you won’t be able to resist setting sail from the mainland to one of the nearby islands. For an inexpensive way to spend the day on the water, take the Zadar ferry to Dugi Otok or a short ride to Ugljan. On Ugljan, visitors can explore the island on a self-guided bike ride.
One of the most popular boat tours from Zadar is a sailboat trip to the Kornati Archipelago. Find out more about the Kornati Sailboat Trip!
Find out all of our recommendations in our Zadar Day Trips post!
Top Tips for Your Trip To Zadar, Croatia
Now that you know what to see in Zadar, we have a few tips for your trip!
Is Zadar Worth Visiting?
Honestly, we haven’t been to a Croatia destination that we didn’t like! That said, before we arrived in Zadar, we did wonder how it would compare to other Croatia holiday spots – like Hvar, Korcula, Split, and Dubrovnik.
While there are some comparisons that can be made other Croatian destinations, we think each seaside city is unique with its own charms and characteristics. Zadar might not be as incredibly romantic as Rovinj or have as many impressive ruins as Pula, but it certainly isn’t crushed with crowds like Dubrovnik.
The Zadar Old Town might be small, but it’s easy to navigate and packed with sights – from Roman ruins to historic churches to a modern seaside promenade complete with new age art. Something else Zadar has is a university – and its students fill the streets and cafes, bringing a lively, youthful feel to the city. So, yes! If you ask us, Zadar is definitely worth visiting!
Find all of our tips and advice for Croatia destinations on our Croatia Travel Guides Page!
Where To Stay In Zadar, Croatia
We think the best place to stay in Zadar is in the historic Old Town. During our trip, we opted to stay in an apartment in the Old Town, which we booked through Airbnb – and we loved the location! We could step out our front door and already be in the city to explore on foot. Staying in an Airbnb Apartment was also great for making simple meals – especially breakfast – and we had much more space than a hotel room. Search for Airbnb Zadar Old Town Apartments for your stay!
Top Tip: Use this link to create your account and save money on your first Airbnb stay!
However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many Zadar 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: Art Hotel Kalelarga, Hotel Niko and Bastion Heritage Hotel.
When looking for a hotel in Zadar, start your search on Booking.com!
Getting To Zadar, Croatia
Zadar can be reached by plane, boat, bus or car.
If arriving by bus (from Zagreb or Split), the bus station is not very convenient to the Old Town (map), but within reasonable walking distance. Although not 100% reliable, bus schedules can be searched on Bus Croatia. We recommend checking the bus schedule at the station upon arrival.
If driving, it’s important to note that most of the Old Town is a car-free zone and parking near the Zadar Old Town is somewhat limited.
It’s best to get around Zadar on your own two feet; start by using our above outlined free Zadar Walking Tour!
A Few Things You Will Need For Your Zadar Trip
Flip flops are perfectly fine for navigating Zadar streets. However, some travelers may want to pack a pair of lightweight travel shoes for climbing the bell tower! I wear shoes by Columbia and Kris likes his Merrell shoes for everyday exploration.
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 use a Canon Rebel with an 18-135mm lens and think it takes phenomenal pictures! For a lighter camera, we also use a Canon PowerShot.
We think travel insurance is essential! Not only can trip protection come in handy for canceled flights or lost luggage, it can also come in handy for injuries and illnesses abroad. If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
We want to know: Have you been to Zadar, Croatia? What would you add to our Zadar self-guided walking tour? Let us know in the comments!
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