Planning your Croatia holidays? Make sure to include Zadar on the Dalmatian coast in your Croatia itinerary. There are many things to do in Zadar to explore its historic heritage and current developments and of course, watch an awesome sunset. Let’s begin with some insights into the history of Zadar. Zadar is one of the oldest cities in Croatia with a three thousand years long history. It was a part of the Roman Empire until the 5th century; later Zadar became the administrative centre of Dalmatia under Byzantine rule. From the 15th to the end of the 18th century it was an important trading port and the largest city-fortress in the entire Republic of Venice. Then Zadar was ruled by Austrians until 1918 and became part of Italy between the two World wars.
After World War II it was annexed to Croatia in the Federation of Yugoslavia. Following the Republic of Croatia’s declaration of independence and subsequent Serbian aggression, Zadar and its surroundings were attacked in 1991 with a destructive force that had never been seen before. The city was repeatedly targeted and the cultural heritage of Zadar was heavily damaged. Today Zadar is a preserved monument of various historical times and cultures. In 2017, the defensive system of Zadar was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List thanks to its three kilometre long defensive walls that the Venetian Republic built in the 16th century for protection against the Turks. So here are things to do in Zadar in a day during your trip to Croatia.
Admire Zadar city walls and city gates
Some sections of the defensive walls were built during the Middle Ages, and some were built by the Venetians much later as a fortification against the Turks, who mounted relentless attacks on the city. Today, only portions of the walls and a few gates remain. The Land Gate, built by Venetian architect Michele Sanmicheli in the 16th century is the best known of all the gates. The gate is known for its ornate renaissance design and comprises three triumphal arches adorned with allegorical statues. It is decorated with Zadar’s main patron saint St. Chrysogonus on his horse, and the Shield of St. Mark, the coat of arms of the Republic of Venice. Between the ferry port and the Church of St. Chrysogonus is the Sea Gate, also known as St. Chrysogonus’ Gate, because of its proximity to the church of the same name. Above the Roman cornice on the gate’s land-facing side, there is a great renaissance panel depicting the naval battle at Lepanto and a fine relief of St. Chrysogonus above it. The gate is adorned with a relief of St. Mark’s lion on the side facing the sea.
Visit Five Wells Square
Five Wells Square contains the remnants of the 5 wells once responsible for supplying water to the city of Zadar. The wells were built in the early 16th century by the Venetians, who invested heavily in the city’s defenses in order to ward off a potential threat from the Turks. The square is overlooked by the Zadar’s old city walls, dating back to the era when Zadar constituted the largest city-fortress in the Republic of Venice. Queen Madijevka Park is filled with scenic gardens and relaxing walking trails. The old city ramparts on the border of the park offer spectacular views of the city.
Admire St Donatus Church
In the centre of the Old Town is St Donatus Church (Crkva Sveti Donata), built at the beginning of the 9th century and standing at 27m high. It’s stopped being used as a church in the late 18th century but is still an excellent concert venue and an icon of Zadar.
Climb the bell tower of the Cathedral of St Anastasia
The bell tower of the Cathedral of St Anastasia, located almost next to St Donatus Church, can be climbed for gorgeous views over Zadar, out to sea, and particularly to watch people strolling down below on Kalelarga, the main street of Zadar. The steps up to the top are fairly narrow but not scary and the views from the top are more than rewarding for a climb.
Visit Rector's Palace
The Rector’s Palace (Kneževa palača) was recorded in historical sources as early as the 13th century. It was completely restored in the 16th century and later in the 19th century, according to the designs of classicist architect Frano Zavore. Then the Rector’s Palace was joined to the Proveditors Palace, forming a joint Viceregency, the government headquarters for Dalmatia within the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. The central hall of the palace was used throughout the centuries for various functions as a courtroom, city theatre, a hall for games and entertainment, and a concert hall. During the Homeland War, in 1991, the Rector’s Palace became the target of demolition, undermining the structural integrity of the building, making it unusable. It’s now renovated and housing permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Have lunch at Pet bunara
The “Pet bunara dine & wine” restaurant has been part of Zadar gastronomic scene for more than 35 years. It has delicious food, gorgeous wines, and local seasonal-organic ingredients, with its great staff offering a sincere and enjoyable experience. The restaurant has its own herb garden in the village of Poljica, providing the freshest ingredients and organic grown olive & fig yards exclusively for Pet bunara. The restaurant’s wine list compliments delicious meals with grace.
Listen to the Sea organ
This masterpiece of acoustics and architecture was created by expert Dalmatian stone carver and architect Nikola Basic in 2005. He received the European Prize for Urban Public Space for this project. The musical Sea Organ (morske orgulje) is the world’s first musical pipe organ that is played by the sea. Simple and elegant 70 metre long steps, carved in white stone, were built on the quayside. Underneath, there are 35 musically tuned tubes with whistle openings on the sidewalk. The waves create random harmonic sounds, allowing this organ to offer a never-ending concert of numerous musical variations, where the performer is nature itself.
Watch the sunset
Famous English film director Alfred Hitchcock once said about the sunset at the Zadar quay: “It must be the most beautiful sunset in the world!” Many tourists enjoying the view of the sea agree with him, watching the sunset at the very end of the Zadar peninsula.
Zadar has its own airport located a bit more than 10 kilometres from downtown. It is well connected with many cities in Europe and served by Ryanair, EasyJet, Lufthansa, LOT and other airlines. There is Zadar archipelago with Dugi Otok island easily reachable by ferry from Zadar if you looking for awesome beaches. If you have more time you can try swimming with horses near Zadar. The distance from Zadar to Plitvice National park is about 130 kilometres, to Split is 160 kilometres and to Skradin, one of the Krka national park entrances, is about 80 kilometres, so it’s a good starting point for your Krka park visit. If you use public transport, GetByBus is a good website to buy your ticket online. The central bus station is about twenty minutes by foot from the old town.
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What did you think? Have you been to Zadar? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Author: Anita Sane
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveller, passionate photographer and a retired career woman from Latvia, travelling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner who plans and executes her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Bloglovin.