Zadar is a town with the most unique and most interesting features on the Croatian Coast! Known as a place with the most beautiful sunset in the world, it is also a home to the Sea Organ (the only one of its kind in the world!) and the Monument to the Sun – an amazing light-show experience. If these are not the reasons for you to visit Zadar, read the article below and think again!
Why visit Zadar?
The City of Zadar is one of the largest Croatian cities on the Adriatic coast. This beautiful city has a rich history that goes back three thousand years. During that time, Zadar has been ruled by many different empires and nations. It was only after the Second World War that the city was finally annexed back to Croatia.
Because of this long and diverse history, the appearance Zadar has today is a result of various different influences. The historic center, situated on a peninsula, is full of cultural heritage and monuments dating to different periods in the past. Under the rule of the Republic of Venice, the city of Zadar was the largest city-fortress in the entire Republic. In 2017 the defensive system of Zadar, dating to that period, was inaugurated into the UNESCO World Heritage list!
Nowadays, Zadar is a modern city and a major tourist destination. People are coming from all over the world to see its main attractions – Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun, enjoy the beautiful architecture, relax on the lovely beaches, swim in the crystal-clear Adriatic sea, and admire the most beautiful sunset in the world!
years of history
m long Sea Organ
UNESCO’s World Heritage Site
What to see in Zadar
Zadar Sea Organ
The Sea Organ is by far the most famous attraction in Zadar. And this is not surprising since it is the only one of this kind in the world! The Organ is situated on the Zadar’s Riva, next to the Greeting to the Sun. At first glance, it is just a set of white marble stairs which descend towards the sea. But, what is hiding beneath the stairs is that matters! There are 35 pipes with whistles built-in under the stairs. The air is pushed through the pipes by the sea, making an unusual sound that comes out through the apertures in the stairs. Since the Sea Organ is played by nature itself, each sound is different and unique. It may seem a little strange at first, but it is definitely interesting to hear the “sound of the sea”!
Greeting to the Sun
At the very end of the Zadar peninsula, right next to the Sea Organ, the unusual installation is embedded in stone. Known as the Greeting to the Sun, this circular piece of art gave Zadar its modern look. Both the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun are work of the same man – architect Nikola Bašić. The Greeting is, in fact, a glass circle with built-in solar modules. The modules absorb the solar energy and transform it into electrical energy, that is then used for the lighting of the entire waterfront. After the sunset, visitors can enjoy a unique light-show experience. The entire installation is connected to the Sea Organ, which allows it to convert the sound of the Organ to different lighting effects!
The Zadar’s Forum was the largest Roman Forum on the eastern side of the Adriatic, which says a lot of the importance that Zadar had in the Roman Empire. There are several architectural remains in Zadar that testify to the time of the Roman rule. For example, the street layout in the old town center remained the same to this day. When building their cities, the Romans used the grid plan with a big square called Forum in the middle. Only stairs, pavements, and two monumental pillars have been preserved, but the ancient Forum has remained the main square in the city of Zadar. The park around Forum holds many remains dating to that period, that are exposed to the public in the form of an open-air museum.
St. Donatus Church
The most famous building in Zadar is the St. Donatus Church. This round pre-Romanesque church was constructed on the remains of the Roman Forum in the 9th century. Named after the bishop who had it built, it is the most recognizable symbol of Zadar. The sacred Mass is no longer served at this church, but St. Donatus still welcomes the residents of Zadar, as well as tourists who decide to visit it – the entrance to the church costs 20kn. Due to its cylindrical shape, and great acoustic characteristics, the church is a stage of Musical Evenings in St. Donatus, which are held during the summer.
St. Anastasia´s Cathedral
Right behind the St. Donatus Church, you can visit the biggest cathedral in Dalmatia – St. Anastasia’s Cathedral. This magnificent Romanesque cathedral got its present appearance in the 12th century, but some parts of the church are even older, dating all the way back to the 5th century. Its recognizable characteristics include Romanesque-style rose window and Gothic-style oculus, three portals with statues and a hexagonal baptistery. Near to the cathedral, there is a bell tower, built in two stages – the lower floors date to the 15th century, while the upper floors were built in the 19th.
The main street in Zadar is popularly called Kalelarga. The name comes from the Italian Calle Larga, meaning the Wide Street (Široka ulica). As its name says, Kalelarga is the widest street in the old town of Zadar, as well as the longest. It is a place with a lot of cafés and a lot of movement. The street leads from St. Donatus Church to St. Anastasia’s Cathedral, and it also connects the Roman Forum with People’s Square.
The People’s Square is the center of public life in Zadar. On this square, you will find some of the most beautiful buildings in the city, such as the City Guard, built in the late Renaissance style, or the City Loggia, which today serves as an exhibition space. There is also a small pre-Romanesque church of St. Lawrence on the square, as well as the City Hall and Ghirardini Palace.
Five Wells Square
The Five Wells Square is located right outside the city walls, next to the Captain´s Tower. The square was built by the Venetians as a large water cistern with five ornamental wellheads. Today, the wells are no longer in use, but they remained on their spot, giving the square its name. Close to the square, there is a park named after Queen Jelena Madije, which was the first public park in Croatia!
Being the largest city-fortress in the Republic of Venice, Zadar still houses city walls around the historic center. The walls are now turned into parks and promenades, but they remain as a reminder of the city’s glory. Today, only a few city gates are left in the town. The most famous one, as well as the most beautiful, is the Land Gate. This Renaissance gate was once the main entrance to the city. The gate has three arches, which are decorated with different statues and motifs. The other gates are Bridge Gate, Sea Gate, St. Rocco Gate, and Chain Gate.
There are many other historical monuments, attractions, and museums that you can visit in Zadar. For example, there is Mary’s Church and Convent, which houses a permanent exhibition of religious art. The church is located near the Forum, right next to the Archeological museum. Further on, you can take a walk on the Zadar’s Riva from the Greeting to the Sun installation to the University of Zadar, the most beautiful university edifice in Croatia. And, just outside the city walls, close to the Land Gate, there is a big park situated inside the old fort, where you can enjoy your free time in the shadow.
A lot has been told about the beauty of the sunset in Zadar. But the most famous observation is, probably, the one by Alfred Hitchcock, who said: “Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, in Florida, applauded at every evening“!
What to do in Zadar
Since the Adriatic sea is one of the cleanest and one of the most beautiful seas in the world, you should definitely consider visiting one of the nearby beaches. Despite being a moderately large city, Zadar has some nice beaches close to the city center. One of the best is Borik, a hotel beach opened for public, which even has an aquapark. There is also Puntamika, a sandy beach near the lighthouse, and rocky beach Punta Bajlo.
The Archipelago of Zadar counts several bigger islands and many more smaller uninhabited islands. This means that there are many bays and coves that hide some lovely beaches. All these islands are accessible by boat from the Zadar peninsula. There are various agencies that offer one-day excursions of all kinds, as well as a simple panoramic boat ride if you are short with time.
All those who are interested in Zadar’s nightlife offer will be happy to know that most of it is located in the historic center. There is a lot of pubs and bars that are open till late hours, but for the real nightlife experience, you will probably want to visit one of the nightclubs. The one that stands out is The Garden, a club situated on the city walls! There’s also Arsenal, an event venue, that houses a lot of concerts during the summer.
Weather in Zadar
Zadar is a coastal city, which means it has a mild and generally warm climate. With the average temperature of 25°C, July and August are the warmest months. But don’t be mistaken, the summer temperature can go as high as 35°C! The average winter temperature is around 7°C.
How to get to Zadar
How to get to Zadar from Zagreb
If you decide to drive from Zagreb to Zadar, you will need approximately 3 hours to get there. Get on the motorway A1/E71. Continue on E71 and take Exit 17, following the sign for Zadar. Next, continue on Jadranska Magistrala and you will soon reach the city of Zadar.
How to get to Zadar from Split
When heading to Zadar from Split, you will need less than 2 hours by car. First, follow the signs for Zagreb/Rijeka/Sinj to get to the road D8. On a roundabout, take the second exit to get to D1. Continue on D1 and get on the motorway A1 at Dugopolje, direction Zagreb/Šibenik. Continue on A1/E71 all the way to Zadar. Take the Exit 18-Zadar II and follow the sign Zadar Centar until you reach the town.
How to get to Zadar from Dubrovnik
Zadar is located about 4 hours from Dubrovnik. When leaving Dubrovnik, get on the road D8 and follow it until you reach the road D425. Continue on D425 and get to the motorway A1/E71 direction Zagreb/Šibenik. Follow A1 and take the Exit 18-Zadar II. Next, follow the sign for Zadar Centar until you reach the town. On this route you will be passing the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, so don’t forget to take your passport!
Where to eat in Zadar
Restaurant Kornat is located at the very end of the Zadar peninsula, on the entrance to the port. Along with the view of the boats coming in and out of the port, the restaurant serves the best Dalmatian dishes, which include a lot of fish and seafood. Nevertheless, it also offers meat dishes, such as veal or beef. The restaurant, decorated in the Art Deco style, has both indoor and outdoor seating. Check out the link.
Located in a small port called Foša, near the city walls and the Land Gate, Foša is a restaurant specialized in seafood dishes. The restaurant combines traditional recipes with modern ones and offers an unforgettable gourmet experience. It also has an extensive wine list, with more than 120 wine brands from all over the country. Get more info on the link.
Restaurant Pet Bunara
The Pet bunara dine&wine is a restaurant located right next to the square that shares its name. The restaurant offer is based on seasonal food and locally-grown ingredients, which include fresh and organic meat, fish, and vegetables. The food is accompanied by the best local wines and a great atmosphere. More information is available here!
Restaurant 2 Ribara
Located in the very center of the Zadar peninsula, 2 Ribara is a modern restaurant with a long tradition. The restaurant offers a variety of fish and meat dishes, as well as pasta and different types of pizza, baked in the traditional bread oven. With tasty food and great atmosphere, this restaurant is an ideal place for you to take a break from sightseeing! Follow the link for more.
What to visit near Zadar
Only 15km from Zadar there is a picturesque little town called Nin. The town of Nin is located on a small island, connected to the coast by two stone bridges. Nin is a place of great beauty and rich history, which makes it a perfect choice for your one-day trip. It is the oldest Croatian royal town, where you can also visit the smallest cathedral in the world! Its history, culture, and natural beauty have made Nin the European Destination of Excellence.
The island of Pag is one of the largest Croatian islands and the most indented island in the Adriatic sea. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, which you can reach from Zadar in 30 minutes. The island is famous for its lacework and its cheese, which is said to be the best in Croatia! The town of Pag is located in the heart of the island, and it is a lovely old town with many historical monuments. Pag is also an island with the most famous party beach in Croatia – Zrće beach, located in Novalja.
Zadar region is the one with the most national parks in Croatia. Five national parks are located near the city of Zadar, with the Paklenica National Park and the Kornati National Park being the closest to it. Paklenica is situated on the slopes of Velebit mountain, while the Kornati is a group of nearly 90 islands, all of different shapes and sizes, which you can easily reach by boat. The other parks are Krka, Northern Velebit, and Plitvice Lakes, all less than 2 hours away from Zadar.
Fun Park Biograd
Fun Park Biograd is located just outside the town of Biograd
Another beautiful Dalmatian city is the city of Šibenik. Rich in history and full of historical monuments and beautiful architecture, Šibenik is the city with the highest number of stairs in the historic center. The most famous monument in Šibenik is the Cathedral of St. James. The cathedral’s beauty and architectural value were recognized and it was put on the list of UNESCO‘s World Cultural Heritage. Another attraction is the fortress of St. Michael, situated on the hill above the historic center, which now serves as a concert venue, but is also opened for visitors.
The city of Split is the second-largest city of Croatia and the largest Dalmatian city. The historic center of Split, along with the Diocletian’s Palace, was included into the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. It is also one of the places where The Game of Thrones was filmed! The City of Split has the most famous boardwalk on the Croatian coast – the so-called Riva, which is full of restaurants and cafés. Full of archaeological monuments, old stone houses, and narrow streets, this old town is a real work of art and a must-see for all those who are visiting the region of Dalmatia.