Located south along the Adriatic Sea, the Romanesque city of Zadar is a little slice of Croatian paradise. Zadar is a holiday maker’s dream; hot summers and mild winters make it a perfect retreat no matter the time of year. Zadar has a complex and elaborate history dating back to before Roman Rule. Its Old Town peninsula displays signs of its Roman and Venetian history complete with a Roman-era Forum and buildings dating as far back as the 8th-century. The modern day layout of Zadar can be traced as far back as the late Stone Age and even has signs of the Neolithic Age. In a town so full of history and charm, it’d be a shame to miss out on visiting.
In recent years, Zadar has picked up titles such as “Entertainment Capital of the Adriatic”, “The Capital of Cool” and “Best European Destination” by many publications, which is why Zadar is now on most tourist’s wish lists of places to visit in Croatia during their summer holidays.
Read more: My Quick 6 Day Trip To Croatia
While it was my first time to the Croatian Coast and to the Adriatic Sea, I could see why people were falling in love with this tiny city after visiting. The streets are charming with Romanesque churches, bells chiming on the hour and cotton candy coloured painted buildings lining the alleyways, making Zadar the epitome of romance. Although Zadar was a little too busy for my liking during the month of August, I’d love to visit again during the slower months of the year. With people packed into the small marble streets of the city all throughout the day and night, my advice to all you travellers looking to explore the city comfortably is to set your alarms and embrace getting up early while all the tourists are still sleeping away their previous night’s drinks. 😉
I’d recommend staying in Zadar for at least two full days to be able to fully explore the city, but you could definitely see a lot in one full day as well. Here is my full city guide for visiting the Adriatic gem of Zadar, Croatia.
Read more: A Complete City Guide To Zagreb, Croatia
Alfred Hitchcock once said, “It must be the most beautiful sunset in the world,” while speaking of Zadar – and you know what? I’ll have to agree. I booked a romantic (solo lol) sunset cruise for my first night in Zadar through Viator and was blown away by the beauty that I saw. I could tell you that the sky was glowing with hues of yellow and orange and red, but that would be a simple way to describe the colours. Meeting at the main port, your captain and skipper will then guide you onto the beautiful sailboat and greet you with wine, local prosciutto, cheese, olives and delicious bread. The cruise lasts about two hours and can fit up to eight people (my group was only four, so it felt like a private and intimate cruise) and is the perfect way to wind down and relax after a long day of travel and sightseeing. Bobbing along the water while looking back at the city is a breathtaking way to spend the evening. Eating delicious food, having some drinks and engaging in entertaining conversation are just some perks that come along with viewing one of the most stunning and visually seductive sunsets of your life. If you are going to do one excursion in Zadar, THIS is the one to do!
One of the more fascinating things about Zadar, is the fact that real Roman ruins are located sporadically on the streets. It’s almost a surreal feeling walking where Romans once walked within the Roman Forum, which was erected between the 1st-century BC and 3rd-century AD. The Forum today acts as a wide open public space, which is literally an open air museum that you can walk through and admire. Fun fact: The Zadar Roman Forum is the largest in Croatia and as big as similar ones located in Italy.
Church of St. Donat
The Church of St. Donat is the perfect example of Byzantine architecture within Zadar. Located adjacent to the Roman Forum, this church is most know for its circular appearance and was built in the 9th-century. St. Donat hasn’t been used as an actual place of worship since 1797, but it still regularly holds concerts because of the incredible acoustics inside. The church’s exterior is made of creamy coloured stone, which was from the Roman Forum and stands out beautifully against the bright blue Dalmatian sky. The bell tower located beside the church is open for visitors to climb to the top to access amazing panoramic views of Zadar and the Adriatic sea and islands in the near distance. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to climb the tower because it is closed on Sundays and on holidays and I hit two birds with one stone one the morning I went to climb it as it was a Sunday and Croatian Victory (Independence) Day.
People’s Square in Zadar is a beautiful and iconic ancient square, or piazza, which is surrounded by an 11th-century church and other historic buildings and cute little cafés. The People’s Square is the site where the foundation of municipal institutions were laid as far back as the Middle Ages, making the square a culturally rich area of Zadar. The city hall which stands in the square today was erected in 1935 and is the perfect space to sit back, relax and people watch.
The Greeting to the Sun (Pozdrav Suncu)
This art installation along the promenade in Zadar is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Designed by Croatian architect, Nikola Bašić and completed in 2008, is a spectacular monument dedicated to the sun. It has a total of three hundred multi-layered glass plates placed on level with the stone-paved waterfront in the shape of a 22-metre diameter circle, complete with solar lighting fixtures underneath that stores the energy from the sun and at night time, you’ll be mesmerized by the music and light show that gives off a multitude of glowing colours that dance around the circle. It’s one of the must see sites in Zadar, especially during sunset. Beside the main Greeting to the Sun installation, above the Sea Organ, are some similar and smaller installations representing other planets of the solar system. Definitely a must visit, but be warned, in the summer months it will be packed with people.
Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje)
Do you hear the humming, whale like sound in the background as you’re walking along the promenade in Zadar? Well, the sounds you’re hearing is Zadar’s Sea Organ, or Morske Orgulje in Croatian. The Sea Organ is an architectural sound art installation designed by the same architect that designed the Greeting to the Sun, Nikola Bašić and was completed in 2005. The Sea Organ, plays a tune of deep hums made by the sea and wind with tubes located underneath the set of large marble steps. It’s the perfect place in Zadar to relax along the promenade while listening to the calming and soothing sounds created by nature and the steps. And because the sea and wind are always changing depending on the weather and water’s movements, no two sounds heard from the organ are alike, making each visit as unique as the first.
Church of St. Mary
The Church of St. Mary is a benedictine monastery located in Zadar and was founded in 1066 on the eastern side of the old Roman Forum. I couldn’t take any photos inside, but the exterior of the building and the bell tower are beautifully designed in a Romanesque style and they were both restored after Allied bombing damage during World War II. The stairs leading up to the monastery are perfect for perching yourself down on to people watch locals and tourists walking their way around town.
Relax and Enjoy the Views Along the Adriatic Sea
You can’t venture down to the Croatian coast and not relax along the Adriatic Sea. The Adriatic Sea, or The Pearl of The Mediterranean, isn’t known for its sandy beaches, but beaches covered in rocks and pebbles, which is why the sea is as clear as it is. Bright turquoise and cobalt blue in colour and crystal clear like a sparkling diamond, the Adriatic Sea will put you in a relaxed trance and you’ll instantly feel like you could sit there forever as your worries melt away. In Zadar, walking along the promenade on a clear and sunny day, or calm and cool nights while listening to the waves slosh around is a perfect way to spend an intimate evening. Head south to Zadar and see for yourself why holiday makers from Europe and beyond are obsessed with the Adriatic, it’s hidden gems, towns and romantic alleyways and promenades.
Wander Around Zadar’s Old Town Streets
Zadar’s Old Town is steeped in history, beautiful maze-like streets covered in slick glistening marble stones and sleepy cats snoozing in the sun. Take the time to get up early and explore the Old Town and enjoy a peaceful morning before the crowds start spilling into the streets. The early morning scent of coffee wafting through the narrow streets, the sounds of shoes echoing between the cotton candy coloured buildings and shop owners setting up their patios while they patiently wait for their first customer of the day are all part of the sights, sounds and scents of the city as it comes to life. As you venture down unknown streets and come out to open courtyards, Roman ruins and other hidden gems, you’ll see what makes discovering the Old Town of Zadar so special.
Day Trip To Pag
From Zadar, you can take a day trip to the island of Pag to discover its moon-like landscapes and pebble covered beaches. At approximately 68kms (42 miles) long and surrounded by two mountain chains, Pag has a very unique topography and terrain and is connected to the mainland by a massive bridge. The island has been around since the Neolithic Age and as you drive along the roads, you feel as though you’ve been transported onto another planet. Slavs settled on Pag in the 6th-century to become sheep farmers, hence the famous salty sheep’s cheese (Paški sir) that comes from the island. Pag doesn’t have many trees, or much vegetation with the exception of olive trees and herbs. The Old Town of Pag consists of white stone, which gleams in the bright sunlight. The town has tiny little alleyways with high stone walls to explore and get lost in, a large town square that has some shops and cute restaurants to sit down and get a bite to eat and an all around relaxed vibe. Pag is also famous for its intricate lace designs and for centuries, the women of Pag would spend their days making the beautiful designs that would decorate beds, tables, couches and even clothing. Stores selling lace can be found all throughout the island of Pag.
For my first time down to Croatia’s coast, I can see why its one of the biggest draw cards for the country. Pristine turquoise waters, hundreds of islands to explore during day trips and quaint medieval streets that look as though they came straight out of a history book; what’s not to love? Zadar was the perfect introductory city to the Adriatic and it made me want to come back and visit other cities and villages along the coast as well, just not during peak season, of course. 😉
Have any of you guys visited the cities and villages along the Croatian coast? If so, which was your favourite and do you have any other suggestions for my next visit? Let me know in the comments below! xo