Zadar might not be on your must-see destination list, but perhaps it should be. Several airlines, including Ryanair, Germanwings, and Lufthansa fly into Zadar Airport, and it’s well connected by bus with the rest of Croatia. It’s also an excellent base for exploring national parks Kornati, Paklenica, and Krka, as well as several nearby islands, like Pag, Ugljan, and Dugi Otok.
Zadar, like most cities on the Croatian coast, is a great place for passing time doing nothing in particular – simply strolling, sipping coffee at one of many sidewalk cafes, perusing shops, or sitting in the sun with a scoop of ice cream.
But this compact, coastal city has much to offer in the way of sightseeing, as well. Here’s a list to get you started.
The Church of Saint Donatus, known locally as Sveti Donat, has become something of an architectural symbol of Zadar. Its pre-Romanesque, cylindrical form makes it one of the most recognizable sights in the city. The church is named for Donatus of Zadar, who is credited with having the church built in the 9th century. Look for the fragmented columns used near the base of the church, likely taken from the nearby Roman forum. During the summer, the city puts on Musical Evenings at Sveti Donat.
The Roman Forum
Located in front of Sveti Donat, the forum, built from the 1st century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D., serves as a public square and gathering place even today. It was once home to a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, as well as other civil structures. Over time, the entire complex was destroyed, though several columns and other artifacts remain. At the northwestern side of the forum stands a monumental column that was used during the Middle Ages as a “Pillar of Shame.”
Cathedral of St. Anastasia
Just a stone’s throw away from Sveti Donat is the Cathedral of St. Anastasia, the biggest cathedral in Dalmatia. Though parts of the cathedral belonged to an early Christian church, most of it was built in the 12th century in a Romanesque style. It is currently on UNESCO’s Tentative List of World Heritage Sites.
Zadar is home to the Maraska factory, producer of Maraschino liquor, made from regional maraska cherries. Recipes for maraschino liquor date back to the beginning of the 16th century, when the pharmacists of Zadar’s Dominican monastery began experimenting with the maraska tree. Over the centuries, Maraschino became a very glamorous beverage, enjoyed by the likes of Queen Victoria, Louis XVIII, Napolean, Baudelaire, Hemingway, and Chaplin, among other big names. Buy yourself a bottle at the Maraska Shop, located at Mate Karamana 3, near the Cathedral of St. Anastasia.
Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun
Story has it that in 1964, Alfred Hitchcock, stunned by the amazing colors of the sunset he witnessed from his hotel room in Zadar, declared it was the most beautiful in the world. Almost half a century later, visitors are still inspired by the majestic scene of Zadar’s setting sun – albeit with a 21st century twist.
Located near Zadar’s waterfront, architect Nikola Basic’s permanent art installation Greeting to the Sun transforms solar energy into a stunning light show, best enjoyed at twilight when its colors explode.
Nearby, the Sea Organ, also designed by Basic, turns the movement of the sea into a surreal soundtrack. Rolling waves force air through 35 pipes of various lengths, creating simple and atmospheric melodies.
Basic’s work is a unique example of modern technology that works with nature to create urban art for the enjoyment of Zadar’s visitors and locals.
Museum of Ancient Glass
One of the more unusual museums on the coast, the Museum of Ancient Glass in Zadar holds one of the finest glass collections outside of Italy. Read more about the Museum of Ancient Glass in our post about unique coastal museums.
Zadar’s Walls and Gates
Zadar was the largest fortified city in the Republic of Venice, so take a few minutes to check out its walls and historic portals. Land Gate, one of the six remaining portals, is often cited as the most impressive. Designed by Venetian architect Michele Sanmicheli in 1543, Land Gate features sculpted coats of arms and a large, winged lion – the symbol of Venice – and leads to the picturesque port of Fosa, where you can grab a bite to eat at a restaurant of the same name.
Croatia’s oldest royal city
Often referred to as Croatia’s Bethlehem, Croatia’s oldest royal city and cradle of the Croatian state, Nin, is located just 14 kilometers north-west of Zadar. The small town has an astoundingly rich history, evident in the ruins of the biggest Roman temple on this side of the Adriatic, to name just one of its archeological findings. Read more about what you can do in Nin in our post dedicated to four of its attractions.