The Perfect One Day in Zadar Itinerary

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by Maggie Turansky

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Often overshadowed by the Adriatic gems of Split or Dubrovnik, the lovely city of Zadar located in the northern Dalmatia region of Croatia is a wonderful destination to visit in its own right. Compact and filled to the brim with history, you can see so many of the sites of the city by planning just a one day in Zadar itinerary, making it a perfect destination to break up the drive down the coast or as a day trip from Split.

Situated on a picturesque peninsula in the centre of the country’s Adriatic coast, Zadar is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia and has evidence of people living there dating back to the Stone Age.

However, Zadar has more to offer than just its history — its beautiful Old Town, seaside vibes and inviting promenade make it the perfect destination for those looking for a quieter side of Croatia. Though growing in popularity as a tourist destination, its visitor numbers still don’t hold a candle to those of hotspots further south.

How Many Days in Zadar?

Zadar is quite small and compact and the top sites of the city can be seen in just one day, so if you want to make sure that you have time to visit other places in Croatia, you don’t have to worry about not dedicating enough time to Zadar — it’s definitely worth visiting but you don’t need to carve out a significant portion of your itinerary for it.

That being said, though you can see the highlights of Zadar in one day, the city also makes an excellent base to explore not only several incredible sites along the Dalmatian coast, but it can be a good jumping-off point to explore some islands and even the incredible national parks of Krka or Plitvice Lakes!

Exploring Zadar's Old Town
Exploring Zadar’s Old Town

Getting To & Around Zadar

Though the historic centre of Zadar is quite small in size, it is actually the fifth-largest city in Croatia and the second-largest in Dalmatia. It’s also quite a sought-after holiday destination for European tourists, even if it’s not necessarily on the radar for those from further afield.

There is a small international airport located a few kilometres out of Zadar that has seasonal connections across Europe.

You can get a taxi or private transfer from the airport to the city centre, or hire a car from the airport – countless companies operate there (browse to compare prices!). Regardless, it will take around 15 minutes to reach the city centre.

Otherwise, Zadar is located about a 2-hour drive from Split and a 3-hour drive from Zagreb. You can also easily reach Zadar from most major cities in Croatia via direct bus, meaning that it’s easily accessible.

There is also a ferry terminal in Zadar that can take you to nearby islands. Note that there is a ferry port in the Old Town of Zadar and also a larger one a little bit south of the city centre – about 10 minutes driving or by taxi.

Once in Zadar, it’s very easy to get around the old town on foot. In fact, the majority of the historic centre is completely pedestrianised. If you’re venturing further afield, having your own car to explore nearby attractions (such as Sibenik or Krka National Park) can be helpful.

Zadar Pedestrian Bridge
Zadar Pedestrian Bridge

One-Day Zadar Itinerary

Whether you’re visiting Zadar as a day trip or are using the city as a base to explore the splendours that lie in central Croatia, this itinerary is the perfect route through this historic city.

Everything here is within easy walking distance of each other and allows enough time to be able to chill out and just enjoy the atmosphere of the city, as well.

Tržnica Zadar

A great place to begin your time in Zadar is at the city’s central market. Located in the old town, this is a lovely open-air market that sells plenty of fresh fruit, local produce, cheese and other products. It’s a great way to see what is seasonal, fresh and important in the local cuisine.

There is also a covered fish market area where you can see all of the incredible fresh seafood that comes from the waters surrounding Zadar.

Beginning your day at the market is an excellent way to get a good insight into the local culture.

Fresh Fish @ Tržnica Zadar
Fresh Fish @ Tržnica Zadar

Cathedral of St Anastasia

The next stop is the incredible and beautiful Cathedral of St Anastasia, also simply just called the Zadar Cathedral. As the largest church in the Dalmatia region, this beautiful Roman Catholic Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Zadar.

The church itself is worth entering and touring (keep note that it is closed to tourists on Sundays), but one of the real highlights of the Zadar Cathedral is its bell tower.

Construction of the bell tower began in 1452 but it wasn’t fully completed until 1894. Visitors have the opportunity to climb the stairs (which can be a bit windy and rickety!) to the top of the tower and enjoy an incredible view of Zadar and its surroundings. Climbing the tower is definitely one of the best things to do in Zadar.

If you’re visiting in high season during the summer months, it’s best to get here as early as possible so you can avoid crowds at the top of the tower and on the stairs.

Cathedral of St Anastasia
Cathedral of St Anastasia

Roman Forum

Just about a two-minute walk from the Cathedral of St Anastasia, you will find one of the biggest highlights of visiting Zadar and some of the evidence of just how long this small city has been inhabited — the Roman Forum.

First constructed between the years of 1 BCE and 3 CE, this ancient forum is well preserved and can serve as an excellent insight into ancient Roman life and are filled with fascinating Roman ruins.

Though not everything is completely intact at this forum, there are still remnants to explore of temples to Minerva, Jupiter and Juno and even a well-preserved pillar that was later used as shame post for public humiliation during the Middle Ages.

Set adjacent to the Church of St Donatus, the Roman Forum is a fascinating place to explore and really serves as a testament to just how historic and ancient the settlement of Zadar really is.

Zadar Roman Forum
Roman Forum

Church of St Donatus

Located behind the Cathedral of St Anastasia and to the left of the Roman Forum lies the Church of St Donatus, another major landmark worth exploring. This circular church is the largest pre-Romanesque building in Croatia and is one of the most iconic landmarks in Zadar.

Founded in the 9th century and named for Donatus of Zadar — the bishop who commissioned the church — this unique building is most definitely worth exploring. With views of the Cathedral’s bell tower behind it and the Roman Forum in the front, it is yet another reminder of just how historic Zadar is.

Church of St Donatus & Zadar Cathedral’s Bell Tower
Church of St Donatus & Zadar Cathedral’s Bell Tower

Zadar Archaeological Museum

If you want to learn more about Zadar’s vast history with a bit more context, then a visit to the Zadar Archaeological Museum is a must-do.

Located about a two-minute walk from the Church of St Donatus, this makes for an excellent pre-lunch stop where you can see ancient artefacts and learn a lot about the ancient history of Zadar, dating back to the Neolithic period.

Plan to spend at least an hour going through the museum, and more if you’re particularly interested in archaeology.

Narodni Trg & the Old Town

In the second half of your day, it’s time to take in more of the energy and unbeatable atmosphere of this beautiful city, and there is no better place to begin to do this than in the Narodni Trg, or the People’s Square.

As the main square in the city, this is a historic meeting place in Zadar and it is lined with inviting cafes and ice cream parlours for you to be able to people watch and take the edge off of a hot Croatian day.

After taking in the energy of the lovely square, it’s time to let your feet guide you and to wander along Kalelarga, the main drag in the old town, and get a bit lost in the backstreets. Take the time to admire the lovely architecture, find some hidden gems, and browse some local shops.

If you’re looking for an excellent, affordable place to eat, then consider heading to Bistro Pjat for lunch. They have set menus featuring local seafood and other delicacies for great prices. You can also order a la carte if that suits you more.

Another great option is Trattoria Mediterraneo, a small restaurant serving delicious Adriatic meals.

Fresh seafood @ Bistro Pjat
Fresh seafood @ Bistro Pjat

Land Gate & Queen Jelena Madijevka Park

At the entrance to the Old Town peninsula lies the Land Gate, one of the original city gates attached to the old city walls of Zadar.

Constructed in the 16th century, this gorgeous stone gate once served as the main entrance to the city and can really harken you back to a time when cities were walled and protected by fortifications.

Right behind the gate lies Queen Jelena Madiejevka Park, which is located atop the old fortifications of ancient Zadar and is not a lush green space in the urban centre. Especially if it is in the middle of summer, this park can offer a cooling respite from the hot Croatian sun and a quiet escape from the throngs of tourist crowds further into the Old Town.

If you want to see all of these above sites (and more!) with an experienced guide, consider booking this walking tour of Zadar!

Land Gate in Zadar
Land Gate

Zadar Riva, Sea Organ & Greeting to the Sun

And finally, end your day by enjoying one of the city’s best attractions, its absolutely lovely seaside promenade.

Known as a Riva in Croatian, this waterfront promenade surrounds the peninsula of Zadar from the Adriatic side to the Foša Harbour and beyond. It is incredibly pleasant to stroll along, especially as the sun begins to sink in the sky and many locals are also out for a pre-dinner walk.

One of the top attractions located on the Zadar Riva is the Sea Organ. What initially may look simply like a series of shallow steps leading into the Adriatic Sea, this art instalment is actually a musical instrument that plays melodic tunes with the water crashing into it.

This is also an ideal spot to settle yourself to watch the sunset, which legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock once described as “the world’s most beautiful.”

After the sun has sunk below the horizon, then you must check out another art instalment just behind the sea organ, and this is the Greeting to the Sun. This may look like a circular patch of solar panels by day but by night the sun powers a lovely light show on this very spot — making it the perfect place to end your one day in Zadar.

Zadar Sea Organ
Zadar Sea Organ

Have 2 Days in Zadar?

If you have 2 or even 3 days in Zadar, then you have a lot of options for what to do to spend your time.

As I mentioned earlier, Zadar makes for a fantastic alternative base for exploring a lot of what Croatia has to offer and it’s central location actually makes it more ideal to visit places like Plitvice Lakes National Park as a day trip rather than from Split or Zagreb.

Zadar is also a perfect jumping-off point to visit another fantastic Croatia national park, Krka! Though many visit as a day trip from Split, this park is just a far from Zadar and makes for a perfect day out.

You can visit both Plitvice and Krka independently, but if you want to go on an organised tour, check out this tour to Krka and this guided day tour to Plitvice Lakes.

Alternatively, spend another day in Zadar lounging on the beach – the nearby Kolovare Beach is a popular option.

And though it’s located only a short ferry ride from Zadar, a great day trip option if you want to get a bit off the beaten path, consider visiting the lovely island of Uglijan. You don’t even need a car to enjoy the main town of Preko or the laid-back village of Kali, everything is within easy walking distance.

And if you want to learn more about Croatia culture and cuisine, then consider going on a day trip to nearby Pag Island, famous for its delicious Paski Sir, or Pag cheese.

Or, if you want to get out on the water and explore the archipelagos that lie off the coast of Zadar, then this full-day sailing trip is a great option. Alternatively, if you want to fit in some more activities, consider taking this four-hour sailing trip instead.

Kali Town on Uglian Island
Kali Town on Uglian Island

Where to Stay in Zadar

Teatro Verdi Boutique Hotel – Located in the heart of Zadar’s historic old town, this luxury hotel is located within easy reach of everything the city has to offer. They have luxe rooms available, a fantastic breakfast included each morning and numerous other amenities to ensure that your stay is a great one.

Rooms Tisa Old Town – This lovely hotel located in the centre of the Old Town is perfect for mid-range travellers. They have a range of comfortable and clean rooms available to suit all kinds of travellers and a location in Zadar that cannot be beaten.

Private Rental – If you’d rather find yourself staying in your own apartment then there are countless properties available — like this superior sea view apartment in the city centre — that can suit all travel styles and budgets.

Downtown Boutique Hostel – If you’re a backpacker, travelling solo or on a budget, or just want a more social atmosphere, then this hostel is a great option for you. They have a range of private rooms and dorm beds available, excellent and clean facilities, and a killer location in the heart of Zadar.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Zadar hotels!

Whether you’re planning a Zadar day trip or want to spend more time here, there is no denying that this historic Croatian city on the Adriatic is worth visiting! There is so much to do in Zadar that it needs to firmly cement itself as a can’t-miss destination on Croatia’s coast!

Are you planning to visit Zadar? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie


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