Zadar, Croatia is a very family-friendly city, you’ll see a lot of families roaming around town at all hours. We’ve compiled all the best things to do in Zadar, where to eat, and where to stay in this beautiful coastal city. “The Pearl of the Adriatic”, Zadar often gets overlooked in favor of more touristy cities like Split and Dubrovnik, but we think that’s part of its charm.
Old Zadar is a beautiful walled city with a mix of activities for families- from ancient roman ruins sprinkled throughout the city, to beaches and water activities to keep everyone cool. Located right on the Adriatic, you’ll find the ocean a big part of life here- from sunsets along the seaside promenade to fresh seafood, to beaches and boat trips.
We visited Zadar as part of a trip through Croatia during our Family Gap Year (what is a Family Gap Year?), when our kids were 5 and 7. We visited in the summer of 2022, when Croatia was still using its own currency, the Croatian Kuna before it switched to the Euro in January of 2023.
Important: As of January 1, 2023, Croatia IS now part of the Schengen Area, so you’ll need to plan your EU visa days accordingly.
Don’t miss our full itinerary for 2 weeks in Croatia with kids.
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What is Zadar, Croatia Known For?
Zadar is known for its fabulous sunsets, and its pedestrian-only old town of narrow streets with Roman ruins sprinkled throughout. Zadar is also famous for a number of music and dance festivals that are held there throughout the year.
Located in a sheltered bay, the waters around Zadar are calm and clean. You’ll often see people jumping off the piers and waterside promenade to take a dip.
A Brief History of Zadar
Dubbed by the media “Croatia’s New Capital of Cool” in 2007, Zadar has a complicated past. It has suffered through many invasions and many rulers due to its strategic location on the Adriatic Sea.
In the year 925, Zadar was part of the Kingdom of Croatia, soon after, it was occupied by the Venetians. The Ottomans attacked repeatedly. Eventually, Venice (and Zadar as part of it), became part of the vast Austrian empire.
In 1806 Zadar was given to Italy, and then in 1809 to France, before being returned to the Austrian empire, where it stayed until 1918. After the collapse of the Austrian Empire Zadar became part of Italy.
During World War II, 80% of Zadar’s buildings were destroyed by Allied bombs. In 1947, Zadar became part of Yugoslavia. In 1990, during the Croatian War of Independence, Serb forces bombed Zadar extensively, forcing much of the population underground. The war ended in 1995, and extensive rebuilding has taken place since.
The Best Things to Do in Zadar
There are a lot of things to do in Zadar- from museums to beaches to exploring Roman ruins that often appear to be just scattered throughout the town. Here are the best things to do in Zadar that may interest families visiting together, from museums to the best day tours. We’ll focus mostly on the Old Town which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.
Please note: The churches in Zadar require conservative clothing to enter. We encountered people checking and rejecting outfits at some of the churches, so if you plan to visit any, please be prepared. This means no knees or shoulders showing for men or women.
1. Hang out in Narodni Trg
This is “The People’s Square” or one of the main squares in the historic center of Zadar. Look for the clock tower on the City Guard building. This is a great place to chill in a cafe, look for events happening here.
2. Explore the Roman Forum
The Roman Forum was established by Emperor Augustus and dates to between 1 and 3 centuries BC. Bombs damaged much of the forum during WWII, some rebuilding has been undertaken.
3. Take a Walking Tour of Zadar
A walking tour of Zadar is a great way to get yourself acclimated and learn about the city when you first arrive. This 2-hour walking tour is an amazing deal- you’ll see some out of the way places you are likely to miss on your own.
Book Now: 2 hour Walking Tour of Zadar
4. Visit the Archeological Museum
Located on one side of the Roman Forum, this museum houses artifacts from Rome, Byzantine, and more. First opened in 1832, this archaeological museum has a large collection and a stellar reputation. Admission 4€.
5. Admire the Church of St. Donatus
This round building is unmistakable in Zadar, you’ll see it at the edge of the Roman Forum. It is the largest pre-Roman building in Croatia. Once a church built in the 9th century, it has gone through many uses as the city changed hands It is now used as a concert venue due to its superb acoustics. It is mainly used for the International Festival of Medieval Renaissance Music each year.
6. Dive in from Zara Subacquea
This is a large pier that juts out into the ocean from the Riva Promenade. You can sunbathe here, jump into the ocean and then climb back out. In the evenings it becomes packed with people waiting to watch one of Zadar’s epic sunsets.
7. Play at the Riva Playground and Fair
Also along the Riva, you will find a small kid’s fair, and a playground with a slide and swings. Trampolines are set up for kids to use (for a small fee), craft vendors are set up on certain days, and you may find a magician or other entertainer. Strolling along this oceanfront area in the evening is part of passing the cool evening hours in Zadar.
8. Listen to the Sea Organ
The Sea Organ is Zadar’s most famous attraction. This art piece is built into the pier- the pipes underneath the steps of the promenade are played by the motion of the waves. Sit on the steps and listen to the mournful music of the pipes. This art installation was built in 2005 by artist and architect Nikola Bašić. This is one of the most popular places to watch the sunset in Zadar.
9. Watch an Epic Sunset from the Riva
Zadar is known for its consistent, amazing sunsets. Each evening, crowds gather along the seaside Riva promenade to watch the sky turn pink over the ocean. Alfred Hitchcock famously called it “the most beautiful sunset in the world”. There are many great places to watch, some of the most popular are the Zara Subacquea (pier) and the Sea Organ.
10. Dance to the Sun Salutations
Just north of the Sea Organ, a second art installation by the same artist entrances tourists after the sun has set. Sun Salutations, or Greetings from the Sun, is a series of solar panels that light up in the dark, creating swirling and pulsing displays of colored lights.
11. Climb the Bell Tower
The bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Anastasia gives you wonderful views of Zadar and the Adriatic coast below you. The bronze statue of an angel on top of the tower indicated the direction of the wind. The inside of the cathedral (built in 1117) is worth a visit as well, but make sure you are dressed modestly to be allowed to enter. Admission 2€.
12. Visit Five Wells Square
Called Trg Pet Bunara, this square in the historic center has five wells built in 1573 during the siege of the Ottomans. In this square, you’ll also find the Captain’s Tower from the same time period. Many events and concerts take place here.
13. Enjoy an Ice Cream at Slasticarna Donat
There are many places to get ice cream in Zadar, but Slasticarna Donat is known for its fancy ice cream sundaes. Grab a table on the street and enjoy the experience, or get a cone from inside for takeaway. Trg Svete Stošije 4.
14. Relax in Queen Jelena Madijevka Park
You’ll find this park on the south end of Old Town, just beyond the Square of 5 Wells. It was built in the 1800s on top of the fortifications and is a great place to relax in the shade. This is the oldest public park in Dalmatia and a great place to escape the crowds.
15. Shop at Zadar Market
This is a great market to stroll around with everything from fresh produce to dried strings of garlic and beans. Pick up some fresh fruit to snack on as you wander through Old Town.
16. Take a Dip in a Sheltered Swimming Hole
This is a swimming area on the edge of the old town that is great for young kids or anyone that wants a shallow, sheltered swimming area. You’ll see many people swimming off the pier or the Riva promenade, but the water is deep, so you need to be a decent swimmer to jump in and then climb out.
This area is marked as “Sights of Zadar” on google maps- it is a sheltered rocky area where the water is only waist deep, and rocks protect it from the swells of the ocean. It’s on the corner of the island just after the Statue of Spiro Brusina.
17. Sunbath at Borik Sandy Beach
This beach is a 15 drive from Old Town. Here you’ll find a wonderful beach with sandy areas and beautiful turquoise water. The water is shallow and the waves calm, making it a great spot for families. If you head up here, check out Beach Bar Bamboo for drinks and sunset views.
18. Swim at Kolovare Beach
This is a great beach that is easy to walk to from the Old Town. This is a pebble beach, so bring water shoes to make getting around easier. The water is fairly calm and shallow, great for enjoying the ocean on a hot day. The area can get crowded, but everyone seems to find a place to lay a towel and make room for each other.
19. Admire Land Gate
On your way to Kolovare Beach, check out the Land Gate. This impressive gate was built in 1573 and prominently features the Lion of St Marks, the symbol of the Venetians who built it. This used to be the main entrance into the fortified city.
20. Kayak Around the Adriatic Sea
Zadar is surrounded by amazingly beautiful, clear waters, and is close to a lot of small islands. That makes for great kayaking! The secluded island of Dugi Otok is one of the best places to kayak.
This full-day kayak tour starts on the island of Dugi Otok and includes visits to a sea cave and the “Dragon Eye” natural pool, as well as kayaking and snorkeling around a shipwreck in the afternoon, with the option of cliff jumping as well. People call this tour “the best day on my week-long trip” and “A brilliant day out kayaking”. Great for novice and experienced paddlers, minimum age 6 years.
Book Now: Full-Day Kayak Trip to Dugi Otok Island
21. Learn at the Museum of Ancient Glass
This is a small museum, but worth a visit. There are a lot of glass pieces on exhibition in this repurposed palace, but the highlights for us were the temporary exhibition (colorful, modern pieces at the time), and the glass-blowing demonstrations.
There is a studio on the top floor where you can watch larger pieces being hand-blown through a glass panel to the hall. Check the timing of these demonstrations, as they weren’t going on the day we visited.
On the first floor, an artist demonstrates making hand-made beads for jewelry. Though she wasn’t scheduled when we arrived, she gladly did a demonstration for us which the kids loved. Don’t miss their small gift show with some beautiful glass pieces. Located at Poljana Zemaljskog odbora 1. Admission is 6€ for adults, Children 3€ Seniors free.
22. Ride in a Traditional Row Boat
Once you’ve explored the highlights of Old Town Zadar, it’s time to head across the harbor to check out the other side of town. You could walk across a footbridge, or you could take a traditional row boat, called a barkajoli.
Boatmen have been rowing passengers across this bit of water for hundreds of years. Spend a € per person to experience this traditional way of crossing the bay.
The boatman rows in a straight line over to the small red and white striped lighthouse at the end of the pier by Barka Bar & Cafe. Follow his route in a straight line to the Old Town side, right next to the bigger boats. You’ll see a small posted sign, and possibly other people waiting for the boat.
We chose to take the rowboat across the bay, then walk back over the Most bridge on our return.
23. Be Dazzled by the Museum of Silver and Gold
Located in St. Mary’s Church, this display of religious artifacts made from silver and gold spans the time period from 700-1700. One of the most valuable collections in Croatia, these items are protected by the Benedictine Nuns of St. Marys.
24. Admire Artifacts at St. Simeon’s Church
This church is rather plain on the outside, but world famous for the Chest of St. Simeon located inside. This UNESCO-protected art is a wooden sarcophagus covered with detailed reliefs in silver and gold. Dating to the late 1300s, it illustrates the life and death of St. Simeon.
25. Visit the Lover’s Sphinx
Once you’ve crossed the bay, head to see the sculpture of the sphinx! Supposedly, a woman who was too ill to travel asked her husband for a sphinx, so he had one built for her in their garden! You can enter the garden and walk around the sphinx, though when we visited it was in a bit of disrepair.
You may want to rent a bike for this journey, as we didn’t find there was much to see along the road from the pier to the Sphinx. We continued along to the harbor, then turned back. With a bike, you could continue along the coast up to Borik Beach.
26. See a Performace at the Zadar Puppet Theatre
The Zadar Puppet Theatre has been putting on performances for more than sixty years. Their repertoire includes kid classics like “Little Red Riding Hood”, and shows for adults based on classic Croatian tales. This is a great way to explore another side of Croatian culture. Check out their current performance schedule and purchase tickets online. Most shows are for ages 3 and up, tickets are 4€ person. Located at Sokolska 1.
27. See a Show at the Croatian National Theatre
The Croatian National Theatre offers a series of programs, including their famous Zadar Summer Theatre. For most performances, they offer same-day tickets. Located at Široka ulica 8.
28. Take a Food Tour
A food tour can be a great way to get to know a new city- like a walking tour but with snacks! This 3-hour tour includes tastes of a wide variety of foods from cheese to seafood, to sweet cake. It includes a lot of food, so come hungry. Try to schedule this early in your visit so you can go back to the places you like the best. Travelers rave about this food tour, add this to the top of your list!
Book Now: Zadar Food Tour
29. Snorkel and Swim in Kornati National Park
Explore the beautiful Kornati islands in the Adriatic. This day-long boat tour takes you to several places to swim and snorkel in Kornati National Park. This is a small group (capped at 12 people), with a relaxed vibe. It also includes breakfast, lunch, and refreshments! This is exactly the day you need to recover from too many historical sites!
30. Charter a Boat
If you love to sail, Zadar is a wonderful place for it! A boat with a skipper costs around 200€ per day. This is not my area of expertise, but this article has detailed information on sailing, sailing courses, and chartering boats in Zadar. They recommend SamBoat for renting a boat with or without a skipper.
31. Go Rafting on the Zrmanja River
This is a great family activity! A full day of white water rafting in an inflatable kayak or a larger raft. With pick-up from Zadar, you’ll head to the town of Obrovac to enjoy the Zrmanja River at the base of beautiful mountains. This river is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. These are not difficult rapids- this is a great rafting trip for beginners and kids looking for a bit of adventure.
Book Now: Rafting on the Zrmanja River
32. Visit Nin Island
Located a half-hour drive north of Zadar, is the small island of Nin. It’s connected to the mainland by two stone bridges. Nin is famous for its saltworks and as the first seat of the Croatian Kings. It has beautiful beaches and the smallest cathedral in the world. Buses head in this direction frequently, or you can take a taxi (or Uber).
33. Visit Pag Island
Pag Island is known for its cheese, wine, salt, lace, and olive oil. Since it has a bridge connecting it to the mainland, a one-hour bus from Zadar is the easiest way to visit. Half of this large island is a rocky lunar landscape, while on the other half, you’ll find vineyards and sheep grazing on grasslands.
34. Visit Krka National Park
Krka National Park makes a great day trip from Zadar. This national park is known for its Skradinski Buk, a giant, wide set of waterfalls that until recently, you could swim around and under. There is no longer swimming allowed, but the park is still a beautiful place with boardwalks running across stunning lakes. While if we had to choose, we preferred Plitvice, at just under an hour from Zadar, Krka makes a much easier day trip and is a wonderful park.
Krka can also be visited from Split- we wrote a full post on tours and transportation options to Krka from Split, but the details on what to expect once at the park are the same.
35. Visit Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes is a must-see National Park in Croatia! About two hours from Zadar, it makes for a long day trip, but it is possible. We recommend spending two days in Plitvice if you can, but even a half-day is worth it!
Plitvice Lakes are a series of connected lakes that are an unbelievable color of bright turquoise. You walk along a series of boardwalks to explore the lakes and waterfalls and even take a boat across them. This is a protected area, so you cannot swim at Plitvice.
This day tour to Plitvice includes your transportation to and from the park and then leaves you to explore the park on your own, at your own pace, rather than following a tour guide around on the narrow boardwalks.
How Much Time Should I Spend in Zadar?
We advise spending 3 nights in Zadar, which gives you two full days to explore the city. There are Roman ruins sprinkled throughout the town, as well as a lot of beautiful churches. Rather than feeling rushed, take some time to sit on the steps of the famous sea organ and gaze at the sea. The sunsets here really are incredible!
Where Should I Stay in Zadar?
You’ll want to stay close to or inside the Old Town. This area is pedestrian-only, so cars can only circle around the outside. There are lots of options for where to stay in Zadar, from the old town to beach resorts.
We stayed in this apartment and highly recommend it. It is a fantastic location right next to the Roman Forum, with a view of the ocean from a lovely balcony. It’s just a few feet to the road, so getting your bags to the door is easy. There are a lot of steps to the top floor, but it’s worth it! The apartment is newly renovated and has everything you could need for your stay.
Book Now: Zadar Dream 2 Bedroom Apartment
Where to Eat in Zadar
We are generally looking for delicious food, that doesn’t break our budget and presents options that will work for all four of us.
Coffee & Cake– Despite its name, this cafe also serves brunch. Many of the dishes include fresh avocado. We also returned here for an espresso and a slice of cake. Ul. Brace Vranjana 14.
Slatka Tajna Pancakes– This place was recommended to us, but we didn’t make it here. Crepe-style pancakes are available in savory and sweet flavors. They actually have two locations in Zadar. Ul. Miroslava Kreze 3A.
Bezburger– Located next to the Roman Forum, this burger place is an easy family choice when you’re looking for something simple. The staff was very friendly, and the portions were large. They serve salads, burgers, chicken burgers, and vegetarian burgers. Poljana Ivana Pavla II.
Tratoria Mediterraneo– A mix of Mediterranean food from risotto to pizzas, everyone in your family should find something to their liking. All the dishes were well prepared and tasty. Madijevaca ul 4.
Primavera Restaurant– We enjoyed eating here before heading to the Sea Organ for sunset. Some of the meat dishes on the menu can be pricey, but if you order carefully, you can keep the cost reasonable. We enjoyed the vegetable risotto (highly recommend!), and the linguini with clams. Trg tri bunara 4.
Fosa– This is the most famous restaurant in Zadar. We didn’t try it, but if you can sneak out for a date night, or have older kids, head over! Tasting menus start at 70 Euros per person, or you can order a la carte.
Slasticarna Donat– Zadar is full of places to eat ice cream or gelato, but this place has been around for decades. You can certainly get a cone “to-go”, but if you have the time, have a seat and enjoy a scoop of ice cream or a sundae in a glass dish.
How to Get to Zadar, Croatia
You can fly into Zadar International Airport (ZAD), though most people reach it by bus as part of a larger Croatian itinerary. Zadar is on the same bus line as Zagreb to Split, so there are many buses daily going in both directions, whether you are traveling South from Zagreb or North from Split. There are also direct buses from cities in Europe.
Getting Around Zadar
Zadar is very walkable. To get to and from the bus station or airport, we recommend using Uber. We talked to a taxi driver at the bus station who quoted us 100 kunas (about 13€) to get to our apartment- Uber charged us 35 (about 4.50€).
There are local buses that will easily take you to destinations outside the Old Town. Don’t miss taking a traditional rowboat across the bay!
Renting a Car in Croatia
While you don’t need a car in Zadar (the old town is pedestrian-only), having a car gives you freedom to explore the areas around greater Zadar as well as other parts of Croatia. Zip up to Borik Beach for a new sunset view, spend the day in the quaint town of Nin, or drive yourself to Krka National Park.
Whether for a day or a week, we recommend Discover Cars for our car rentals. They show you all the options and are upfront about the pricing, so there are no surprises!
Book Now: Rental Car at DiscoverCars.com
FAQ: Things to Do in Zadar, Croatia
Yes! Some restaurants do not accept credit cards. We also found that some smaller sandwich shops or gift shops only accepted cash.
Croatia switched to the euro on January 1, 2023, so expect some confusion while this transition happens, and have cash on hand.
Yes! You can absolutely drink the water in Zadar. Most restaurants on request will bring you glasses of tap water with your meal.
When we fill our water bottles for the day, we still use our Steripen to purify the water as a precaution.
Both Zadar and Split are wonderful, friendly cities, but they have a different vibe.
Zadar is smaller and has wonderful access to clean, clear water all along its edge. It sits in a bay, so the water is protected, and not rough. The focus is more on strolling the city and enjoying the water and the epic sunsets.
Split is a bit larger- and centered around the incredible Diocletian’s Palace. This palace has been integrated into the city itself, so you are walking through it constantly, though in some sections you will need tickets to enter.
There are sulfur hot springs in Split, so the waterfront area has a sulfur smell, and the waterfront is more open than in Zadar, so it is not as clean in general. Split is best as a base for day trips to the outer islands- from the famous Blue Cave to Hvar Island.
Yes, you can swim in the sea in Zadar! You’ll see people swimming off the main seafront promenade (there are ladders built in), as well as by the famous Sea Organ. There are also beaches a short walk from the center of town.
Yes, English is widely spoken in Zadar, you will have no trouble communicating. The locals are very friendly and happy to help you anytime you have questions.
There You Have It: Things to Do in Zadar, Croatia
There are so many wonderful things to do in Zadar, Croatia. It’s a captivating city where you can soak up the ancient history and also relax by the sea. Zadar is great for families, it is easy to navigate on foot and feels like a small town.
Traveling through more of Croatia? We found lots of things to do in Zagreb, the often-overlooked capital of Croatia, as well as the beachside town of Split. We also highly recommend a visit to Plitvice Lakes!