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 spending just one day in Zadar, 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. Because of this, it is absolutely incredible to comprehend the amount of history that lies within this small city. With artefacts ranging from the Illyrians, the Romans, the Ottomans and more, there is so much to take in in this incredibly Dalmatian city.
However, Zadar has more to offer than just its history — it’s 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, it’s visitor numbers still don’t hold a candle to those of hotspots further south like Dubrovnik or Split.
So if you’re interested in visiting this beautiful city and are interested in what to do with one day in Zadar (or two or three!) you’ve come to the right place! Zadar has a lot to offer within its city limits but it also makes for a great jumping-off point to explore the highlights of central and northern Dalmatia and beyond, as well.
How Many Days in Zadar?
Before we jump into the ideal Zadar itinerary, you’re likely wondering how many days in Zadar is enough to get to know the city properly. Well, luckily for you, it can be however few or many you can accommodate in your Croatia itinerary!
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 a number of 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!
So whether you’re just interested in visiting Zadar as a day trip or would like to use the city as a base to explore central Croatia, you can’t go wrong with any length of time to spend in Zadar.
How to Do a Zadar Day Trip from Split
Many people visiting Zadar do so as a day trip from Split. Located about 160 kilometres north of Croatia’s second-largest city, Zadar can make a great day trip destination if you get an early start. There are a couple of different ways that you can get to Zadar from Split including public transport options and by your own personal vehicle.
Split to Zadar by Bus
If you’re getting around Croatia while relying on the public transportation network, you will already be aware that the humble bud reigns supreme in this Balkan nation and that there is no real developed train network. However, bus connections between major cities in Croatia are frequent and extensive and the same lands true for the Split to Zadar bus.
There are countless bus connections between Split and Zadar each day carried out by a number of different companies, including some connections through Flixbus, departing from the central bus station in Split (located just a bit outside of the old town) and a bus journey only takes about two and a half hours.
If you’re travelling in high season between the months of June-September, it is recommended to book your bus connections at least a few days in advance to ensure that you’re able to get a seat and the best bus time in order to enjoy Zadar as much as possible.
Split to Zadar by Car
One of the easiest (and best) ways to get around Croatia is by car, and this is also the easiest way to go a day trip to Zadar, as well. Though you certainly do not need a car in the city centre in the least, having your own vehicle can give you the flexibility to leave when you want and not be beholden to bus timetables.
The drive from Split to Zadar takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to two hours. You also can make some stops along the way, including in charming Trogir, historic Šibenik or the gorgeous Krka National Park!
If you want to rent a car while you’re visiting Croatia, we suggest booking through RentalCars.com, which aggregates all of the best prices across all major car hire companies to ensure that you get the best deal on your rental.
It can also be worth taking out a third-party excess insurance policy through iCarHireInsurance to ensure you’re covered for any damage that may happen to the vehicle and avoid any of the high insurance fees if you buy directly through the rental company.
Split to Zadar by Tour
If you would rather do a guided day trip from Split to Zadar, there are not too many options for affordable group tours. However, if you’re Croatia travel budget allows for it, this private tour from Split to Zadar could be a good option for you.
Otherwise, you will find it is straightforward and pretty easy to get to Zadar independently, either by bus or by your own car.
One Day in 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 one day in Zadar 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.
Cathedral of St Anastasia
Begin your time in Zadar at 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 and the reason it’s the first entry on this Zadar itinerary 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 over Zadar and its surroundings. 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.
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.
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.
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 on your Zadar day trip. 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.
Zadar Archaeological Museum
If you want to learn some more about Zadar’s vast history with a bit more context, then a visit to the Zadar Archaeological Museum is a must-do on during your 1-day Zadar itinerary.
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 an learn a lot about the ancient history of Zadar, dating back to the Neolithic period.
Entry into the Zadar Archaeological Museum costs 30 HRK per person, with discounts available to students and pensioners with a valid ID. Children under 10 can enter for free. 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 one day in Zadar, 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 through the lovely cobbled streets of 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.
Land Gate & Queen Jelena Madijevka Park
At the entrance to the Old Town peninsula lies the Land Gate, one of the original city gates to the old city 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 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!
Zadar Riva, Sea Organ & Greeting to the Sun
And finally on your one day in Zadar, end it by enjoying one of the city’s best attractions, its absolutely lovely seaside promenade. Known as a Riva in Croatian, this promenade surrounds the peninsula of Zadar and 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, this art instalment is actually a musical instrument which 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.
Have 2 Days in Zadar?
If you have 2 days in Zadar 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.
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. If you’d rather stay in the confines of Zadar city limits, then this market tour and cooking class is a great option for you.
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 from Zadar instead.
Where to Stay in Zadar
If you’re planning on spending more than one day in Zadar or visiting for longer than a Zadar day trip, then you’re going to need to find a great place to stay. Though the city isn’t as popular a destination for tourists as places like Split or Dubrovnik, there are still countless great places to stay. If you’re looking for accommodation in Zadar, check out these top options:
Teatro Verdi Boutique Hotel — If you’re searching for luxury during your stay in Zadar, then this boutique hotel is the place for you. Located in the heart of Zadar’s historic old town, this hotel is located within easy reach of everything the city has to offer. They have a number of luxe rooms available, a fantastic breakfast included each morning and numerous other amenities to ensure that your stay is a great one. Click here to see their availability
Rooms Tisa Old Town — This lovely hotel located in the centre of the Old Town is perfect for mid-range travellers looking for an excellent place to stay in this Croatian city. 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. Click here to see their availability
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. Click here to browse more Zadar private rentals
Downtown Boutique Hostel — If you’re a backpacker, travelling solo or on a budget, or just want a more social atmosphere, then then this hostel is a great option for you. As one of the top-rated hostels in Zadar, they have a range of both private rooms and dorm beds available, excellent and clean facilities, and a killer location in the heart of Zadar. Click here to see their availability
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 2 days in Zadar or more, 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!
When travelling in Croatia, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you planning to visit Zadar? Have you been to the city before? Let us know in the comments!