Zadar or Split: Which Croatian City to Visit?


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Choosing between staying in or visiting the cities of Zadar or Split on a trip down Croatia’s coast can seem like an impossible task. On the surface, these cities seem to be fairly similar and can seem to offer more or less the same things to see and do. However, once you dig a bit deeper, you will find that both Split and Zadar are diverse and dynamic cities that can easily stand up on their own. They are both historic and beautiful cities worth explore but can offer different things to travellers depending on what you’re after.

So if you’re trying to determine whether Split vs Zadar is the right Croatian city for you, then look no further. If you don’t have the time to include them both on your Croatia itinerary (and you really should try, they are both amazing!), you will need to make the choice between them.

Whether you’re looking for a great destination to explore on its own or are hunting for the perfect base on the Dalmatian coast, we’re here to help you choose between Zadar or Split to ensure that you make the best decisions for your Croatia trip!

Having visited both cities and spent a significant amount of time in Croatia over the years, we know what unique things each city has to offer and are dedicated to ensuring that your trip to the Croatian coast is a perfect as possible!

In general, I would choose Zadar if you’re looking for a quieter place to stay and a base to get more off the beaten path in Croatia. Alternatively, I would choose Split if you want to stay in a busier city and explore the highlights on the coast.

However, there is a lot more to it when choosing between Split or Zadar so read on to understand which is the best choice for you!

Zadar

Located in the northern Dalmatian region in the centre of the country, Zadar is believed to be the oldest continuously-inhabited city in Croatia. Packed with history and bursting with an undeniable charm, Zadar is an excellent place to visit in this Adriatic nation.

Accessibility

One of the key determining factors when it comes to deciding between Zadar vs Split is how accessible the city is and how easy it is to reach from elsewhere in the country and abroad. Well, luckily for those looking at Zadar, it is a major metropolitan area in Croatia and there are numerous connections to and from the city each day.

If you’re relying on public transit to get around while visiting Croatia, then you will be happy to know that there are frequent connections to Zadar from cities like Zagreb, Split or Dubrovnik. If you’re trying to get to Zadar from the capital, expect to bus to take about three hours.

Walk along the harbour on your one day in Zadar - even if its cloudy!
Walking along Zadar’s harbour on a cloudy day

Zadar is also home to its own international airport that serves a handful of budget airlines like Ryanair, meaning that, if you’re coming from around Europe, it is possible to visit Zadar simply as a stand-alone destination or as a city break – browse on Skyscanner for possible routes.

Due to its central location in the north of the Dalmatia region, Zadar also makes for an excellent base to explore a lot of what the region has to offer. There are countless day trips from Zadar that you can take including to some islands, historic cities and natural sites like Krka or Plitvice Lakes.

In fact, basing yourself in Zadar is ideal if you want to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park as a day trip as it is located much closer than Split, meaning that you can have more time to enjoy the park itself.

When you are in Zadar, you will find that the city is incredibly easy to get around. The old town is quite small and very walkable, no need to use public transit or your own vehicle. However, if you plan to use Zadar as a base, it can be worth renting a car. This will give you a lot more flexibility than just relying on the bus and will give you the freedom to visit where you want when you want it.

If you plan to hire a car, we suggest using RentalCars.com in order to find the best deals across all major companies.

Plitvice Lakes Waterfall
Plitvice Lakes is a day trip option from Zadar

Affordability

Next thing you need to consider when trying to decide between visiting Zadar vs Split is the affordability of the cities, especially if you’re travelling on a budget. Unfortunately, there really is much of a difference between the prices in Zadar compared to the prices in Split.

Not counting Dubrovnik and some of the islands, which tends to be a fair bit more expensive than elsewhere in the country, you can expect the prices in Croatia to remain fairly consistent no matter where you may be. Croatia is not the most affordable country in Europe, however, a trip to the country isn’t going to break the bank.

Generally speaking, though, if you’re wondering whether Split or Zadar is the more affordable city, you may find that prices in Zadar are marginally cheaper. This is not too significant of a difference, however, and it really makes very little difference between the two cities.

What you may find is that there are fewer really expensive options in Zadar than there are in Split, primarily due to the fact that it is a smaller city that attracts fewer tourists. Therefore, you may be more likely to get a “local price” on things in Zadar and therefore, spend a little bit less money than you may in a city like Split.

Wandering through Zadar’s Old Town
Wandering through Zadar’s Old Town on a quiet day

Things to Do in Zadar

Now it’s time to discuss one of the most important determining factors in the great Split or Zadar debate — which place has more things to do? Well, here is what Zadar has to offer.

As mentioned before, Zadar is quite a small city and has a compact historic centre that can easily be seen and explore in just one day. Some of the top attractions in Zadar include the Roman Forum, the Sea Organ, the Church of St Donatus and many more.

If you’re looking for a city that will keep you occupied for a few days, you likely won’t find it in Zadar, however, there is lots to see in Zadar in one day and the city makes for an excellent base to explore a lot of other areas of Croatia.

Zadar may also be a great choice for those who are looking for something a bit quieter and more subdued than a city like Split. Because it is smaller, it has a bit more of a laid-back and easy-going atmosphere to it, which may be perfect for those looking for a relaxing escape along the Adriatic coast.

Roman Forum
Roman Forum in Zadar

Where to Stay in Zadar

If you’ve decided that Zadar is the city for you on your trip to Croatia, then you’re going to want to find an excellent place to stay. If you’re struggling to find the perfect place, then make sure to check out these top choices:

Downtown Boutique Hostel — The perfect option for backpackers, budget travellers, and solo adventures, this boutique hostel is located in the centre of Zadar’s historic old town. They have both dorm beds and private rooms available, great common areas, and clean facilities. Click here to see their availability

Rooms Tisa Old Town — If you’re travelling on a mid-range budget and looking for the perfect hotel, then this is a great choice for you. Centrally located within easy walking distance of all Zadar has to offer, they have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available to suit everyone from couples to families. Click here to see their availability

Teatro Verdi Boutique Hotel — This luxury hotel is perfect if you have a higher budget and are looking for a piece of the good life while travelling in Croatia. Located in the heart of the Zadar old town, this boutique hotel is within easy walking distance of all of the city’s main attractions. They have a number of great rooms available and include a great breakfast in the price. Click here to see their availability

Private Rental — A private rental can be an excellent option in Zadar if you’d rather stay in an entire apartment. There are properties of all shapes and sizes available in Zadar — like this superior sea view apartment — and you’re sure to find something that suits you. Click here to browse more Zadar private rentals

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

Zadar's Sea Organ
Zadar’s Sea Organ

Split

As the second-largest city in Croatia, Split is a gorgeous and historic metropolis located in the heart of the coastal Adriatic region. One of the top tourist attractions in the entire country, Split has a lot to offer visitors and can make for an excellent base for exploring a lot of what lays in the region and even beyond.

Accessibility

As mentioned above, Split is the second-largest city in Croatia and, therefore, it is a major transport hub and is well-connected throughout Croatia and even abroad. You can find a number of direct buses from cities like Zagreb, Zadar, Dubrovnik and many others. It is also easy to reach Split via bus from cities like Mostar in bordering Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Split is also a major ferry port and there are countless boats today to nearby Adriatic isles and even some connections to Ancona in Italy or to Rijeka in the north of the country. Because of the sheer number of ferries that leave from Split, the city makes for a great base if you’re keen to explore some Croatian islands, particularly places like Brac or Hvar.

Like Zadar, Split is home to its own international airport that does serve more airlines and has a few more connections across Europe than Zadar and can be a great option for those who are looking at making Split a city break destination or are only interested in exploring the southern part of Croatia.

Much like Zadar as well, Split can serve as a great base for exploring a lot of the things that lie in the region and having a car while you’re there can prove a great convenience. While it really isn’t necessary to have it in the city itself, it can really be an asset if you want to go on any of the fantastic day trips from Split there are to choose from.

Once in Split, you will find that you can get around most everywhere that you may want to go on foot. Like Zadar, old town and historic centre is incredibly walkable (Diocletian’s Palace is actually pedestrianised) and it is perfect for exploring on your own two feet.

Central Square in Diocletian's Palace
Peristyle, or Central Square in Diocletian’s Palace

Affordability

As we discussed in the Zadar section, is affordability is one of the major determining factors in deciding if you want to visit Split or Zadar, you may struggle to make the best decision. That’s because there really isn’t much of a difference price-wise between the two cities.

Because it is a major Croatian city and a bigger tourist attraction than Zadar, you may find that prices for things like accommodation and some restaurant meals (depending on where you’re eating and staying) may be slightly more expensive than Zadar. All in all, though, you’re not really going to notice a super huge price difference between the two cities.

Historic Streets of Split
Historic Streets of Split

Things to Do in Split

So what is there to do in Split and is there more (or is it more interesting?) to do than in Zadar? Well, it honestly depends on what you’re looking for. Split and Zadar both offer similar things to tourists, they are both incredibly beautiful cities with similar vast and fascinating histories. However, Split is a bit bigger and may have a bit more to do in the city centre.

Some of the top attractions in Split include exploring the charms of Diocletian’s Palace, climbing to the top of the Cathedral’s Bell Tower for incredible views, gazing in awe at the real Egyptian Sphinxes and taking in the marvels of Jupiter’s Temple. There is also a fantastic seaside promenade, called a Riva in Croatian, that is filled with inviting outdoor cafes.

Strolling down Split Promenade is a relaxing addition to your Split itinerary
Split Promenade

There are some fantastic open-air markets including a one for local fruits and vegetables and a great fish market that is set in the city centre. If you want to get active, make sure to climb up the hill at Marjan Park and enjoy the best views over the city you can find.

As mentioned, Split makes for an excellent base for exploring the highlights of southern Croatia and beyond. There are countless great day trips from Split that are worth taking. Consider heading to the charming towns of Trogir or Omis or hop on a ferry to explore islands like Brac, Hvar or Korcula. You could even hop across the border and take a day trip to Mostar in neighbouring Bosnia (or, better yet, spend the night there)!

Split has a lot to do in and around it and it can make for an excellent place to visit on any Croatian holiday.

View from the top of Marjan Park
View from the top of Marjan Park

Where to Stay in Split

If you’ve decided that the lively atmosphere and great transport links of Croatia’s second-largest city are for you, then you’re likely looking for some accommodation. If you’re wondering where to stay in Split, check out these top choices:

Tchaikovsky Hostel — If you’re travelling solo or on a budget or are simply looking for a cool, social atmosphere, then this hostel is an excellent choice for you. They have a range of both private rooms and dorms available and great common areas to make meeting other travellers easy. Click here to see their availability

Il Giardino Luxury Rooms & Suites —If your budget is a bit higher and you’re looking for a more luxurious stay in Split, then this is a great choice for you. They are centrally located and have a number of luxe rooms available. They include a fantastic breakfast in the room price and there are a number of other amenities to ensure your stay is a great one. Click here to see their availability

Private Rental — A great option if you’re looking for a private apartment or a room in a local’s home, there are numerous properties available in Split, like this luxury apartment near the city centre. Click here to browse the best private rentals in Split

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Split

Split from above
Split from above

Zadar or Split: The Verdict

So which city reigns supreme in the great Zadar vs Split debate? Well, it really depends on what you’re particularly after.

If you’re looking for a quieter stay in a small area, then Zadar may be a good option. It also makes for a great base for exploring some more “off the beaten path” areas of the Croatia coast (like Pag island!) and makes for a better jumping off point to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Split, on the other hand, may be a better option for you if you’re looking for a city that’s a bit more lively with a few more things to do. There is a bit more going on in Split. It also makes for an excellent base if you’re interested in having a more “traditional” Croatia itinerary and seeing a lot of the highlights of the Croatian coast.

All in all, whether you choose to base yourself in Split or Zadar, you’ll find that neither is a bad choice!

Split Harbour
Split Harbour

Whether you end up choosing Zadar or Split to visit on your trip to Croatia, there is no denying that both cities pack a significant amount of charm and history in a relatively small area. You are sure not to be disappointed regardless of what choice you make!

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 struggling to choose between visiting Split or Zadar? Have you been to either city before? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. When she’s not dreaming of far-away lands, Maggie enjoys drinking copious amounts of coffee, Harry Potter, and coaxing stray cats into her home.

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