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This month’s A Weekend Away post features Zadar, one of our favorite cities in Croatia. The weekend itinerary below includes a full day in the Old Town of Zadar along with a day trip to a nearby national park (Plitvice Lakes or Krka Waterfalls). It is perfect for a 2 day trip or you can easily extend it to a 3 day itinerary by seeing both of the national parks at once!
Aside from Dubrovnik, we found Zadar to be one of the most beautiful cities in Croatia. Even though it has a historic old city, there were some aspects that were very modern and we found this combination to be super interesting.
“Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, in Florida, applauded at every evening.”
– Alfred Hitchcock
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see a sunset (it was far too hazy, boo) while we were there, hopefully we’ll get to go back someday and experience it! Still, we found the city of Zadar to be super magical in its own unique way.
We stopped in Zadar while we were road tripping across Croatia and the city is definitely worth a stop for a couple of days and could even make for a great weekend trip! We recommend at least 1 full day in Zadar and you can spend another day as part of a day trip.
If you’re a more leisurely traveler, then 2 days in Zadar by itself would be the best plan. Note that this itinerary assumes that you will be spending a full day in Zadar, you can adjust the sights as you see fit to allow for half or more days. 🙂
Fun Fact: Zadar is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia, people have been living here since the prehistoric times.
Even though we had originally wanted to stay in the Old Town of Zadar, it proved to be much cheaper to get an Airbnb farther out on the modern side of Zadar. Our Airbnb host told us about the different ways to get to the Old Town of Zadar. There are one of two ways: walking the City Bridge (Gradski Most) or taking a boat from the Boatmen of Zadar (Barkajoli Zadarski).
Here is our guide to 2 amazing days in Zadar!
DAY 1- Old Town of Zadar
Mlinar OR Pekara & Fast Food Dalmatinka
Literally these two spots are EVERYWHERE in Zadar so you’ll be able to easily find them. To my knowledge they are also within the old city, if you’re in a time crunch you can grab breakfast once you’re in town too.
We loved the pastries they sold there! Our favorites in particular were any of the bureks. Burek pastries are circles of phyllo dough baked with a cheese, meat, or spinach filling. They are SO delicious!
Boatmen of Zadar
The boatmen of Zadar (barkajoli Zadarski) are the coolest method of public transportation ever! Like I mentioned earlier, we didn’t know about them until our Airbnb host told us about it and we enjoyed our experience a lot.
This tradition of the boatmen taking people across the channel to the Old Town of Zadar began over 800 years ago and has been passed on from father to son throughout the generations.
It’s the best and quickest way to get to the Old Town! Another option is to take the City Bridge (Gradski Most) to get to the Old Town.
Important Note: If you’re staying in the Old Town of Zadar, you will not have to take either of these options to get to the Old Town because you’re already in it!
Related Post: Unique Local Experience with the Boatmen of Zadar
In the heart of the Old Town of Zadar lies the largest Roman Forum on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea. The beautiful ruins of this forum seemingly sprout up out of the grass!
You’ll see many bits and pieces of columns from the forum as well as some walls that were once rooms. It’s so amazing that you can still see much of the detail in the carvings and sculptures.
Fun Fact: This Roman Forum was erected by Roman Emperor Augustus and was completed in the 3rd century.
The city turned this area into a combination of an open air museum and a public park to encourage people to hang out and experience the ruins. For this very reason, it’s my favorite Roman Forum, I love how you can walk in and amongst the columns.
To the northwestern side of The Forum, you will also see a standing column known as “The Pillar of Shame.” During the Middle Ages, people were tied to the pillar and punished, hence the name. People were publicly punished for hours and citizens would stop and observe the spectacle.
Church of St. Donatus (Crkva Svetog Donata)
The Church of St. Donatus (Crkva Svetog Donata) is located at the northern edge of the Roman Forum. This was once a church of worship that has turned into an event space.
Built in the 9th century in the Early Middle Ages, the church is the largest pre-Romanesque building in Croatia. This means that their architectural style was signified by roughly cut stone with a layer of malter on the exterior, smaller narrow windows, and 3 apses. Its rounded shape is also typical of Dalmatian architecture of the time.
Fun Fact: The Roman Forum was harvested to provide building materials for the construction of the building.
You can pay a few kunas to get in and explore the building. On the ground floor is a large open space with many columns and ruins. Walk upstairs to see more of the building and take in views of the city.
St. Mary’s Church (Crkva Svete Marije)
St. Mary’s Church or Crkva Svete Marije, is on the other side of the Roman Forum. The church was founded in 1066 and was built in the current Romanesque style in the 16th century. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the inside since it was closed when we visited, but we’ve heard that there are treasures stored within!
Zadar Cathedral aka Cathedral of St. Anastasia (Katedrala sv. Stošije) and its Bell Tower
There are beautiful churches throughout the Old Town of Zadar, but this one is one of the most architecturally ornate. The church began as a Christian basilica in the 4th and 5th centuries and the version you see now was rebuilt in the Romanesque style in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Fun Fact: The Zadar Cathedral also known as Cathedral of St. Anastasia (Katedrala sv. Stošije) is the largest in Dalmatia.
The church bell tower was built much later. The bottom two floors were erected in 1452 and the upper three floors were built between 1890 and 1894 by Thomas Graham Jackson, a English architect and art historian.
Don’t forget to visit this spot! It does have an entrance fee, but it is SO worth it. The views from the top are the best in the city!
You can see up and down the main street, Siroka Ulica, the top of Church of St. Donatus, Roman Forum, and the Adriatic Sea. Note that you will have to climb several flights of stairs to get up.
Shop along Kalelarga (Siroka Ulica)
Kalelarga (Siroka Ulica) is the main avenue that traverses the old city and is full of various shops and restaurants. The leather goods shops have amazing quality leather and there are great shops along the street for keychain and magnet souvenirs.
Fun Fact: Also known as “The Wide Street,” this street was once the Roman street, Decumanus Maximus. It even predates the existence of the city of Zadar.
There are also Mlinar and Pekara & Fast Food Dalmatinka outlets located on this street. They are great spots for a light snack or lunch if you’re so inclined. Pekara & Fast Food Dalmatinka in particular has a few tables outside so you can enjoy your food.
Restaurants abound on this street, so if you want something more, there are many choices here!
Canzona is a great lunch spot and has super delicious Italian food. We loved their pizza and highly recommend it. The pizza was huge and we could barely finish it! We appreciated that they use a wood burning oven for their pizzas, it made the crust so much better.
The anchovy crostini above was amazing! The anchovies were super fresh and we loved the arugula and cheese toppings.
People’s Square (Narodni Trg)
Also known as Narodni Trg, this square has been the center of citizens’ lives since the Renaissance. Located in the architecturally beautiful plaza are government buildings, such as the City Guard (Gradska Straža), Church of St. Lawrence (Crkva Sveti Lovre), City Loggia (Gradska loža), and the City Hall building.
The City Guard (Gradska Straža) is recognizable by the large clock at the top, it was built with a stone barrier with holes for cannons. The Church of St. Lawrence (Crkva Sveti Lovre) is the oldest building preserved from the 11th century and is of the pre-Romanesque style. It can also be visited from the back of Cafe Bar Sveti Lovre. was once the city’s courthouse, council chambers, and library.
On some days there are also street performers and various events going on in the square.
Five Wells Square (Trg Pet Bunara)
This square is best known for its five wells in a row and is located towards the south of the city, just below the city gates.
Fun Fact: The square was built by the Venetians to withstand Turkish sieges by maintaining the city’s supply of water underground with 5 ornamental wellheads.
The place is great for creative photographers since you can easily line up the 5 wells together for a cool shot!
Gates Along the City Walls
The city gates are some of the more interesting parts of the city. In some ways, they represented the ways in which people would enter the city, by land or by sea.
Look out for the Land Gate (Kopnena Vrata) by the port of Foša, known for the sculpted lion at the top. This lion is also the coat of arms of the Venetian Republic. Underneath it is the mounted St. Krševan, who is featured on the coat of arms of Zadar. The gate is located right on the city walls at Ulica Ante Kuzmanica and Obala Kralja Petra Kresimira IV. It is also the largest city gate in the Old Town of Zadar.
The Sea Gate (Morska Vrata) is located at Polijana Pape Aleksandra III and Ulica Bedemi Zadarskih Pobuna. Similar to the Land Gate, but much smaller, it also has a few carvings, including a lion.
If you walk to the Old Town of Zadar via the City Bridge (Gradski Most), you’ll be walking through the New Gate (Nova Vrata). The New Gate is the newest entrance into the city and has a great pedestrian footpath leading into the old town. There are ads all around the sides of the gate so you can learn about all the local events, and there’s even an entrance to a shop inside!
Walk along the Adriatic Sea on the promenade. Aside from beautiful views of the sea, you can also see one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Unfortunately, we can’t vouch for that since it was super hazy the day we were there.
First, you’ll pass by the Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje), while you’re walking along the promenade it can be a tad difficult to find them.
I thought this was one of the coolest spots in Zadar! I loved the beautiful music the waves made as they hit the tubes underneath the marble steps. There is a similar musical instrument in San Francisco called the Wave Organ, but it’s nowhere near as musically pleasing or beautiful.
Fun Fact: The Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun artistic pieces were created by Nikola Bašić as a method of revitalizing the waterfront in 2005.
Greeting to the Sun (Pozdrav Suncu) is also an amazing piece, but in a completely different way. The solar panel installation looks pretty unimpressive during the day, but at night it’s totally one of the most unique works.
Over the course of the day, the solar panels absorb energy from the sun and at night, they light up into beautiful rainbow colors. The views of the Greeting to the Sun are best around sunset as the bold, colorful panels blend into the sky.
Fun Fact: Not only does the Greeting to the Sun show the sun, but there are also other lighted solar panels showing the planets in the solar system. On the metal plating surrounding the sun include names of saints worshipped in Zadar, their feast days, and the sun’s coordinates on those days.
Proto Food & More
For dinner, enjoy our favorite spot, Proto Food & More. They serve local Dalmatian cuisine at a reasonable price. Note that this does not mean the food is “cheap,” but it is definitely worth the price for its quality. Don’t expect fast food in price of quality from this spot!
Their menu looked so good we had trouble deciding what we wanted. If only we had the stomach space and the funds to order everything on the menu! But alas, we had to narrow down our options…
Our first order was a charcuterie with local cheeses and meats. It was so yummy, definitely the best cold cuts and cheeses we could’ve asked for. We also loved how everything was from Croatia since the chances of us finding Croatian meats and cheese are slim in the Bay Area.
This was also one of the few places we were able to find homemade pljukanci with Adriatic prawns. Pljukanci is a type of hand rolled Croatian pasta that is super delicious! We loved the texture and the prawns were fresh and amazing.
We also ordered a cuttlefish ink gnocchi with delicious local shrimps. We also loved the mache that was included. Veggies are an important part of a balanced diet!
Palacinka Bar Slatka Tajna – Croatian pancakes
Dessert while traveling is always a must, and of course, we had to get a Croatian specialty, palacinka, also known as Croatian pancakes! They are a crepe-like rolled pancake from the Balkan region and can be filled with various toppings.
Since we were pretty full from the scrumptious dinner we had at Proto Food & More, we split a pancake and a drink. When we went the restaurant was packed with locals and the server was still very attentive. Knowing we were visitors to her country, she was worried we wouldn’t like the pancake and made an extra effort to ask whether we enjoyed them. We appreciated her thoughtfulness and were so glad we tried the pancakes, they were delicious!
DAY 2 – National Park Day Trip
For your day 2 itinerary, we’ll discuss the main 2 jump off or day trip spots from Zadar. These are Plitvice Lakes National Park and Krka National Park.
Depending on your road trip or travel route, one national park option might be better than the other. Plitvice Lakes National Park is northeast of Zadar, while Krka Waterfalls National Park is located to the southeast of Zadar.
This will be a taste of the two parks since we’ll be writing guides to each park soon!
Plitvice National Park
This was the option we ended up doing with our Zadar itinerary! And it was well worth it. From Zadar, Plitvice National Park is a little less than 2 hours away and approximately 133km/83mi.
It is also located to the north of Zadar so depending on where you’re headed after Zadar this might be a better option for you.
The maps here cost money, but there are signs with maps all around the park so making that purchase isn’t absolutely necessary. The signs will show all of the various trails throughout the park along with estimates for length of time.
Important Note: Swimming in the lakes is NOT permitted so please don’t! Also stay on the trails, due to Croatia’s history of wars and conflicts, landmines may still remain. Plus it has the added purpose of helping conserve the flora and fauna.
All of those photos you’ve seen on Instagram? Well it looks EXACTLY like those! The only sucky thing was, for us, the weather was overcast with light rain. We wished the sun could’ve been out so we could’ve seen more of the beautiful colors in the lakes. All of the lakes and waterfalls were still super beautiful so we’re not knocking any points off for them at all on account of the weather.
Your second option would be seeing other waterfalls!
Krka Waterfalls National Park
If you’re headed to the south after Zadar, then Krka Waterfalls National Park might be a better bet. From Zadar, Krka Waterfalls National Park is on the way down to Dubrovnik.
Depending on which entrance you’re trying to get to Skradin or Lozovac, the approximate times and distance may vary. To Skradin, it is only about 1 hour and 76km/42mi away. To the Lozovac entrance, you will need to drive about 1 hour and 10 minutes and 90km/56mi.
We were interested in visiting the Visovac Monastery so we had to drive to the Lozovac entrance. The Lozovac entrance is the only one that had ferries over to Visovac Island.
More about that in a little bit… when we arrived, the ferry had just left so we decided to hike to the famous Skradinski Buk waterfall instead! And yes, this is where you’ve seen all those Instagram shots of people swimming in the water!
List of the Sights
Note that all sights are located within Zadar unless otherwise stated.
Siroka Ulica 10E
- Pekara & Fast Food Dalmatinka
Siroka Ulica 20
- Boatmen of Zadar (Barkjoli Zadarski)
- City Bridge (Gradski Most)
- Roman Forum (Zeleni Trg)
Siroka Ulica, Ulica Simuna Kozicica Benje, & Ulica Nadbiskupa Mate Karamana
- Church of St. Donat (Crkva Svetog Donata)
- St. Mary’s Church (Samostan Benediktinki sv. Marije)
Ulica Simuna Kozicica Benje
- Zadar Cathedral/Cathedral of St. Anastasia (Katedrala sv. Stošije) and its Bell Tower
- Shop along Kalelarga (Siroka Ulica)
Stomorica Ulica 8
- People’s Square (Narodni Trg)
- Five Wells Square (Trg Pet Bunara)
- City Gates
- Promenade (Riva)
- Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje)
- Greeting to the Sun (Pozdrav Suncu)
- Proto Food & More
Stratico Ulica 1
- Palacinka Bar Slatka Tajna
Ulica Spire Brusine 16
DAY 2 – National Park Day Trip
- Plitvice National Park (Nacionalni Park Plitvicka Jezera)
Accessible via A1 motorway
- Krka Waterfalls National Park (Nacionalni Park Krka)
Accessible via E65 and 33 motorways
Map of the Sights
This map includes a list of all of the Sights to See, Restaurants as well as the routes by day (i.e. Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3) within specified layers.
By default, only the Sights to See and Restaurants are shown but you can select to view the daily routes. Use the slide out panel to select layers to toggle them on and off using the checkboxes.