Croatia is indeed one of the most beautiful Mediterranean countries. And while you may have already heard of Dubrovnik or Split, there are hundreds (yes, hundreds) of beautiful coastal places to explore. Zadar still has an atmosphere of a smaller town, but boasts attractions and rich heritage. It also has the most magical sunset in the world, at least that’s what Alfred Hitchcock once stated. One day may not be enough to see everything this charming Mediterranean city has to offer, but you’ll be able to see quite a bit. Definitely a city that shouldn’t be missed on your trip to Croatia!
What’s the best time to visit Zadar?
Just like anywhere else on Croatia‘s coast, you should come here in spring or summer. July and August are the peak season and maybe a bit crowded with tourists. However, this is the time of the year when there are loads of activities all along the country’s coast, including Zadar. Not to mention it’s when you absolutely must hit the beach – the weather is ideal for that. Early June and early September would be perfect for people who don’t want huge crowds and still but still want to experience fine weather and summer atmosphere. If possible, skip visiting during winter.
a Few facts about Zadar
Zadar stands for the oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia. In the 4th century BC, it was founded as an Illyrain settlement named Iader. Three centuries later, it became a Roman municipium and, later, Roman colonia. The Old Town of Zadar still holds the characteristics of an ancient Roman city. During history, it used to be under the rule of Byzanth, Franks, Venice Republic, Austria, France, Italy and was finally brought back to Croatia after World War II. During that war, the whole city suffered a lot due to bombing, and more than 60% of the buildings suffered a lot of damage.
Today, 70 years later, Zadar has fully recovered. During the past few decades, it has established itself as one of the greatest Croatian student cities, so it’s quite easy to spot many young people living there. Rich heritage, newly opened museums and attractions like Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun attract more and more visitors every year.
One Day in Zadar Itinerary
All of the sights from the list are located on the Zadar Peninsula and are therefore within a walking distance from each other. Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Zadar.
Check out the Forum and drink coffee on this ancient square
Start your day on Zadar’s ancient square – Forum. One can describe it as an open air museum due to the number of artifacts that can be found on the site. When you look closely, it’s pretty easy to spot where the Roman streets and the square once used to be. There are also some very important buildings around the square – Cathedral of St. Anastasia, the iconic Saint Donatus church and the Archaeological Museum. The Forum is a perfect place to capture some amazing photos and do some people watching. Since there are many cafe bars around the square, it’s surely the best spot for your morning coffee.
Visit the church of St. Donatus
While still at the Forum, make sure to visit the St. Donatus church, one of the city’s landmarks. Constructed in the 9th century and dedicated to St. Donatus in the 15th century, the St. Donatus church is the largest pre-Romanesque building in Croatia.
The materials from the Roman forum were used in its construction. It’s built in a circular shape, with three radially situated apses and a circular gallery. Climb that gallery and explore the pretty unique interior and enjoy the peaceful and serene atmosphere of the church.
Visit the museums
Zadar may not be that big, but it still has a variety of amazing museums. Since you only have one day in Zadar, you’ll only have time to properly visit one museum. Archaeological Museum really is an excellent museum for those who enjoy history and arts. It holds a huge (three floors) collection of historical artifacts, especially those from the Roman time.
Another great museum is the Museum of Ancient Glass. It features some very unusual glass pieces and traces the history of the region through the prism of the glass treasures. On the top floor, you can learn about the glass blowing technique by watching a blower’s demonstration.
The last but not least is the Museum of illusions. It’s an interactive museum, full of optical illusions that will be extremely interesting to kids, but even adults can enjoy it. Bring the camera inside, since many illusions get more exciting with the use of a camera.
Stroll Kalelarga street and visit the People’s Square
After you’re done with the Forum, walk the Kalelarga street, also known as Široka street (Wide street). It’s the most famous street among locals and definitely the liveliest one. There are numerous shops, bars, bakeries, ice-cream shops, so it’s pretty easy to get distracted. At the end of the street you’ll reach Narodni trg (People’s Square), another picturesque Mediterranean square. There are many important historical buildings here. You’ll easily spot City Guard, City Lodge, city hall and the pre-Romanesque church of St. Lawrence.
Check out the Five Wells Square and the park above it
Not far from the People’s square there is another one, but slightly different – the Five Wells Square known as Trg 5 Bunara. The cistern and these five wells, lined up in a row, were built by the Venetians during the 16th century to help the citizens withstand a Turkish siege. It’s definitely a great place to capture some amazing photos. Afterwards, climb the lush park above the square for a nice view and some refreshments during the warm months.
Walk the Promenade
Exit throughout the charming City Gate, built in 1543 in the Renaissance style. It has the shape of a triumphal arch with three entrances and was, at the time, the main entrance to the city.
Walk the promenade that goes all the way from that point to the top point of the peninsula. The promenade is the best spot to enjoy the most magical sunset in the world, which is how Alfred Hitchcock described it.
Finally, check out the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun
The most popular Croatian audio-visual attractions are definitely the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun. The best thing is – they’re located just next to each other, at the final point of the promenade. Sunset time is the best time to enjoy these artistic installations, especially the Greeting to the Sun, as the light that was absorbed during the day transforms into a light show at night. The Sea Organ, on the other side, will make the waves sound more melodic than ever. Overall, it’s an extraordinary experience and a great place to relax during a long day!
Dinner at restaurant Kornat
While there are many great Croatian dishes that include meat, while in Zadar you need to try some amazing seafood. The best restaurant, Kornat, is quite close to the sea promenade and really offers a wide selection of fish and seafood. Try the stuffed calamari, octopus salad, fish soup, but even just a grilled fished with some vegetables on the side would be a great pick.
If you crave some burgers or pizza, check out the restaurant 4 Kantuna. They offer super crispy pizza, but also some great risottos or pastas, tasty steaks and delicious seafood. Save some space for their delicious desserts.
Where to stay in Zadar?
Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel
Ulica Brace Bersa 2, 23000 Zadar
Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel is a modern and stylish hotel in the centre of the city, located only a block away from the Sean Organ and the Greeting to the Sun. Fine design, passion for detail and modern rooms full of light make it one of the best hotels in Zadar.
Boutique Hostel Forum
Široka ulica 20, 23000 Zadar
Boutique Hostel Forum can’t be more central – it’s actually located right next to the Forum square. The hostel is designed by a famous Croatian architect and is one of the most unique hostels in Croatia. The design and the colors in the interior fully reflect Zadar – blue color as the blue sky above and crystal clear sea below and the orange colour of the most beautiful sunset in the world.
Extra tips for visiting Zadar:
– Zadar is the perfect base if you want to make a day trip to Plitvice Lakes or Krka Falls, since it’s located less than an hour from both of the National Parks.
– Be aware that the euro is not Croatia’s currency, so look for an exchange when you arrive.
– You won’t find tips included in the price here, but tipping is customary although not obligatory. 10% will be fine.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).