Zadar is the second largest city in the Croatian region of Dalmatia, yet despite that, it often goes under the radar with tourists preferring to visit the popular city of Split, Croatia’s second largest city.
Despite being the second largest city in Dalmatia, spending one day in Zadar is surprisingly easy thanks to the city’s compact fortified old town located on a peninsula and being mostly pedestrianised.
Zadar is in fact one of the longest continually inhabited cities on the Adriatic coastline with a history that can be traced back over 3,000 years.
And there are still remnants of that history all over the Old Town and in the Zadar Archeological Museum.
Earlier this year, my partner and I moved to Croatia as Digital Nomads and our road trip through Croatia took us to Zadar before we arrived in Split. We absolutely love the city and have returned countless times since.
We love Zadar because it has all the historical and cultural charm that many Croatian cities offer and yet it feels much more local and authentic, prices are generally cheaper than when you travel to places like Split and Dubrovnik and yet the city’s central location on the Dalmatian Coast is perfect for day trips in the region.
However, I know many people only pass through the city, so if you’re stopped here on your journey towards Split, or if you’re just visiting on a day trip from Split, here’s my Zadar itinerary for spending 1 day in Zadar.
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Zadar one day trip: what to do in Zadar
Where to find breakfast in Zadar
If you’re staying in a hotel in Zadar or you’re just taking a day trip to the city then you might not be in need of breakfast.
However if you are looking for where to eat breakfast in Zadar, look no further than La Famiglia restaurant in Zadar Old Town.
The restaurant seems to be popular all day for breakfast, lunch or dinner but we happened to go in for breakfast and even though their menu was small, we loved the Breakfast Board for two! It came with local cheeses and meats as well as omelette and yoghurt so we were set for the day!
Explore Zadar Old Town
Of course exploring the Old Town is on pretty much every European itinerary you’ll ever read, but with the longest standing history of any city in Croatia, it’s worth wandering the beautiful stone streets of Zadar.
We covered all these Zadar Old Town sights in a morning because they’re so close together, so don’t worry that it seems like a lot, it’s really not!
Especially amazing to me is how much history and archeological remains are left as they are, you’re able to walk on, touch or see these remains and ruins as they were millenia ago!
If you’re staying outside the Old Town, cross the pedestrian bridge into the Old Town and you’ll walk through the Bridge Gate.
This is one of two traditional gated entrances to the Old Town, the other being the Land Gate which serves as the entrance to the Old Town peninsula to the east.
From the Bridge Gate, you can climb the stone steps immediately on the left as you walk in and take a quick walk along the top of the old walls.
It’s not a long walk as not all the walls remain, but you can see views over the coastline, rooftops of the old town and the newer part of Zadar across the water.
As you walk towards the Cathedral and Forum in the Old Town, you’re very likely to pass through Narodni Trg, or the People’s Square.
This square is alive with local stalls, al fresco dining and street music. It’s bathed in sun for a lot of the day so it’s also the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and people watch in the sun.
Visit the Cathedral of St Anastasia
As part of your Old Town exploring, you’ll no doubt come across Zadar’s Cathedral.
The Cathedral of St Anastasia is the largest church in Dalmatia and the Roman Catholic Church plays an important role in the religion of the area, being the seat for the Archdiocese of Zadar which was established in the 3rd Century AD.
The Church is free to visit although please be respectful in behaviour and dress if you do enter.
Climb the Bell Tower
Attached to the Cathedral is the Bell Tower, however it also has an independent entrance so you can visit without having to enter the Cathedral itself.
The Bell Tower took over 400 years to complete and offers beautiful views across the Old Town and the coast.
It’s around 200 steps to climb and only costs 15 kn.
Bear in mind that the Bell Tower is only open during the season, we visited it in March and it was closed!
Wander through the Roman Forum
Right behind the Cathedral and beside the Bell Tower are the remains of the Roman Forum.
Although there’s not much left of the Forum, it’s really spectacular to wander through the ruins and be able to touch them and think about how long this city has existed here in some form.
Some parts of the Forum date back to the 3rd Century AD however the Forum has existed as a gathering place since the 1st Century BC.
Also the Archeological Museum is located right next to the Roman Forum if you are particularly interested in learning more about the archeological history of Zadar.
Church of St Donatus
The St Donatus Church is the circular shaped building on the edge of the Forum beside the Bell Tower.
It began construction in the 9th Century and now stands as one of the most iconic landmarks and attractions in Zadar.
If you plan to visit Zadar in one day, all of these incredible historic buildings and remains are in such close proximity that it’s easy to see and explore them all.
Get Ice Cream at Slasticarna Donat Gelato
No explanation needed, just good, authentic and well-priced gelato!
We always try to avoid the ice cream that’s piled high on display with vibrant colours and this place looked super popular even in March so we’ve made the effort to go back here each time since!
Take to the water
Of course one of the top things to do in Zadar, Croatia is to take advantage of its location on the water.
It might seem unusual to suggest a boat trip with only one day in Zadar, but a one day itinerary should show you the best of what the city has to offer and I think a good way to do that is to take a boat trip from Zadar.
A boat trip around the islands and through the Zadar Canal is one of the best things to do in Zadar Croatia. Thankfully there are a few half day boat trips from Zadar which are perfect if you only have 1 day in Zadar.
This 4 hour Zadar islands sailing trip is perfect to explore the Zadar coastline and cruise around the inlets and coves between Zadar and the island of Ugljan.
You’ll also have the chance to get off the boat at the charming island village of Preko, have a chance to swim and also see the historic sights of the surrounding area.
This sailing trip is 4 hours long and leaves twice a day, either 9am or 2pm, so you have the opportunity to either sail in the afternoon after you’ve explored Zadar, or sail first thing in the morning and explore later if you prefer.
If you’d prefer a more active experience when you’re planning what to do around Zadar, there’s also the opportunity to see Zadar from the water on a 3 hour sea kayaking tour.
Or if you’ve heard all about the lush nature and marine paradise of Kornati National Park, this 4.5 hour speedboat exploration of the stunning Kornati national park also leaves at 9am and 2pm, making it another great option for a half day of adventure.
Eat at a local Konoba for dinner
If you’ve decided to go out on a boat tour or water activity, then you’ll be back in time to grab dinner before the sun sets, but where to eat in Zadar?
A traditional Konoba is to Croatia what a taverna is in Greece. A Konoba is most likely to be a small, independent and family-run business with recipes that have been passed down through generations.
Konoba Dalmacija Tavern is in the heart of the old town with a beautiful outdoor area and a selection of traditional Croatian dishes plus so much yummy fresh seafood.
The dark wooden beams add to the traditional atmosphere and the outdoor area is a beautiful place to eat as the day starts to cool down.
There are of course plenty of Konobas and other places to eat in Zadar depending on your preferences, but seafood is a must in this coastal city!
See the light show at the Greeting to the Sun at sunset
One of the most famous things to see in Zadar is the Greeting to the Sun monument.
This modern monument is an installation of solar panels in the floor of the promenade at the south west corner of the Old Town.
The 300 solar panels absorb light from the sun throughout the day and then put on a beautiful light show every evening with 10,000 bulbs in the whole installation.
Zadar is said to have some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, so come down here for the sunset, see the light show and listen to the Sea Organ too. It’s no wonder this is one of the top things to do in Zadar, Croatia.
Listen to the sounds of the Sea Organ
The Sea Organ is located right next to the Greeting to the Sun instalment and is designed by the same designer - Nikola Bašič.
This western side of the Old Town - Riva is made up of steps for you to sit on and enjoy the sunset, but the real treat is how the stone of the steps has been used to create a unique musical instrument - the only Sea Organ in the world.
Using the eb and flow of the water as well as the wind coming off the water, a series of 35 holes and pipes stretch 70 metres along the waterfront underneath the steps.
Sit on the steps, watch sunset and listen to the rhythmic music of the waves and tides.
Zadar Beach Bar
Ready to make the evening last a little longer?
Whether you’re staying overnight before heading to your next destination, or you’d prefer to have dinner and a drink at sunset, I highly recommend taking an Uber to Beach Bar Bamboo.
It’s not in the Old Town, but instead just a short 10 minute car drive from the Old Town.
This beach bar is a really popular spot for afternoon and evening drinks with stunning views of the town and the sea, being located right on the water and overlooked by the lighthouse.
Two days in Zadar or more?
Of course this is a very full-on itinerary that could easily be split across 2 days in Zadar.
But if you are looking for more Zadar things to do in and around the city, or Zadar day trips consider these options.
See the Land Gate and Five Wells Square
Wander around the lush Queen Jelena Madijevka Park
Take a boat trip to Pag Island, famous for the Pag Cheese made from sheep’s milk. Also famous for music festivals.
Go island hopping around Dugi Otok on a day trip from Zadar
Discover more beaches around Vrsi
Go hiking in Paklenica National Park, home to two mountains over 1,700m
Take a day trip to Lake Vrana
Summary: things to do: Zadar one day itinerary
I hope this guide has inspired you to add Zadar to your Croatia itinerary or even just include a couple of these activities if you pass through Zadar on your way to Split.
There’s so much history and things to do in and around Zadar, you could easily spend a long weekend here to maximise your time and see it all!
Pin this for later to plan your future trip!