Escape the maddening crowds of larger cities along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast and pay a visit to Zadar, the country’s oldest continually-inhabited city! With just 1 day in Zadar you can explore Roman ruins, bustling markets, immersive art installations, and more. Come along and see why we fell in love with Zadar.
Kicking off our 10 day trip along the Croatian coastline was Zadar. Situated around the centre of the Dalmatian coastline, Zadar is in a prime location if you’re coming south from the capital, Zagreb. It’s also conveniently located for anyone looking to take a day trip (or longer!) to the Plitvice Lakes National Park, Krka National Park, and Paklenica National Park.
Read on to discover the best things to do in Zadar with one day and how you could schedule your time.
1 Day In Zadar Itinerary
How should you spend 1 day in Zadar, Croatia? This itinerary outlines what we got up to and highlights all the best places to visit in the city.
8am – Walk to Old Town
Most of your time in Zadar will be spent in the beautiful Old Town. It’s here than most of the main attractions can be found. We stayed in a conveniently located Airbnb just a 10 minute walk to the Old Town of Zadar. On arrival inside the city walls, we were met with a labyrinth of smooth stone alleyways and streets of bakeries, restaurants, and shops.
I find the best way to become acquainted with a new city is to walk without purpose. You’ll be surprised at what can be found along the way! Armed with a map provided by our Airbnb host, we stumbled across several sites we wanted to give more attention to. We soon made up a list of stops to add to our itinerary!
I would highly recommend starting your day as early as possible to make the most of your visit!
The advantage of having started our day early was that many shops were closed, the streets were quiet, and we had the space mostly to ourselves. Not only does this appeal to my need to escape the crowds on trips (and take uninterrupted photos), but it meant we could get a lot done in a short amount of time before attractions became too busy.
We also quickly realised that Zadar is a small and easily walkable city. It’s very flat and despite uneven paving, is easy to manoeuvre. This is an underrated plus when seeing a city in a short amount of time!
9am – Listen to the Sea Organ
Our first attraction was a visit to the Sea Organ, or Morske orgulje, an architectural sound art installation created by Nikola Bašic. It’s location on the coastline and stretching promenade gives is a prime location to pause on your visit to Zadar.
The creation of the Sea Organ is, quite honestly, genius.
It was invented as an experimental musical instrument and uses the lapping sea waves which hit tubes hidden beneath marble steps to produce a lulling, continuous, and largely atonal tune. I personally love it.
Being a relatively recent addition to the city since 2005, it has certainly reinvigorated a unique piece of character into Zadar. Being musical, architectural, and artistic makes it quite the trifecta of culture!
You’ll find it a strangely calming place to sit and enjoy the never-ending melody. It’s an ideal place to people watch or soak in some Croatian sunshine before continuing onto your next attraction.
9.30am – Visit the Roman Forum
Roman ruins can be found emerging from the ground all around Zadar. These ruins have been kept and preserved while also seamlessly integrating with the modern parts of the city. Interestingly, they are not hidden behind barriers or roped-off in any way. I was glad to see so, as it ensures the foundations of the city continue to be at the forefront of the city’s aesthetic. There’s no putting them behind glass to collect dust, they stand proudly as a part of the city’s structure.
The ancient Roman Forum in Zadar is the best example of these broken columns and statues built between 1st Century BC and 3rd Century AD. With several unidentifiable altars and mythical carvings right outside the St Donatus Church looming over, there is one lonely pillar that is in tact and is the centre-piece of the ruins. It was once used as a “shaming post” for criminals to be chained and humiliated in the Middle Ages… No one’s history is perfect, right!
9.45am – Climb the Bell Tower
Continuing the historical theme of the morning, head to the Bell Tower right behind St Donatus Church and next to the Cathedral of St Anastasia. “Towering” over Zadar (sorry), it stands at around 56m high and after a steep climb up the narrow staircase you’ll be greeted with incredible panoramic views. Don’t worry about doing the climb in one go, there are a couple of larger platforms at points along the steps to catch your breath.
Once you’ve passed the impressive bells and reached the top, enjoy all the red tiled roofs across Zadar and the Adriatic Sea ahead! Entry to the bell tower (closed on Sunday’s) is 15 kuna per person (around £1.75) so a very affordable way to get an aerial view of the city.
10.30am – Try a Donat Ice Cream
After all that climbing you’ll be ready for a mid-morning snack. The BEST ice cream in Zadar comes from Donat’s Ice Cream Shop. For just 10 kuna per scoop (£1.15) you can savour the most authentic, creamiest, and most flavourful ice cream in town. This spot sure gets popular, so expect a slight delay in getting your hands on some iced treats!
The city is yours to explore, see what treasures and small moments of joy you can find!
Either people watch from the ice cream shop or continue walking through the city. We chose the latter, and enjoyed inspecting the many shop fronts, churches, and quirks in Zadar. We came across an abandoned-looking water well and attempted to walk along part of the city walls which were unfortunately closed, but made for a mini adventure anyway.
11am – Explore the Markets
Meandering through the cobbled streets of Zadar, you’ll notice the city start to come to life for the day. As the shops are opening up, head over to the City Markets to catch the end of the stall-seller’s day. From 6am to 1pm you can pick up your groceries of fruit, veg, meat, fish and more!
As well as fresh produce you’ll find olives, cheese, herbs, and stalls that sell clothes and cheap items to help with anything you might have left at home. There are even a few antique stalls to browse for any hidden gems. If you fancy a haggle and enjoy the chaotic comforts of a bustling market, this is for you!
12pm – Meander Through Town to find a Bakery for Lunch
As the sun beats down at the peak of the day, time to find some lunch! The many pekara (bakeries) around Zadar make it impossible to resist a doughy bite to eat. We headed to one near the market and grabbed some cheesy pizza-style items. For just 13.50 kuna it’s a very budget-friendly way to eat, and so tasty too!
1pm – Walk Through Perivoj Vladimira Nazora Park
As we ate and walked, stopped, walked, and ate, it was time to work our way back to the Airbnb for a quick change before heading to the local beach.
On the way, we chose to walk along the water front, passing by several gorgeous buildings. Finally reaching the elaborately decorated Land Gate, we were at the end of the Old Town of Zadar. Take a detour through Perivoj Vladimira Nazora Park for a dash of greenery during your day in Zadar.
2.30pm – Visit Kolovare Beach
The later part of our 1 day in Zadar took us to Kolovare Beach. Just 10 minutes walk from the Old Town you can soak in the sun and bathe in the cooling Adriatic Sea. Don’t expect this to be a pristine beach, though. The area is small and being so close to the harbour the water is not as crystal clear as elsewhere in Croatia. Still, it’s a nice break from sightseeing and a good chance to relax on your holiday!
In the height of summer I imagine Kolovare Beach will be packed with people eager to sun themselves. However, on our visit we had plenty of space. A few neighbouring beaches might be worth exploring if you have the energy, but otherwise the main Kolovare Beach will do nicely for a couple hours of down time.
5.30pm – Head back to Apartment
After swimming and sweating it was time for a quick shower and chance to chill for moment after a busy day. Be sure to include time out as part of your jam-packed itinerary for a day in Zadar. Your body will thank you for it and it’ll mean you can fully enjoy the experiences!
We also took the chance to stop by a small supermarket to pick up supplies for the remainder of our trip. Breakfast items and snacks for day trips is a great way to save money while you’re busy out and about!
6.30pm – Sunset Dinner at Bon Appetit
If you only have 1 day in Zadar, you absolutely must have dinner at the waterfront. Our delightful Airbnb host booked us a table at Bon Appetit, which we’d selected on her recommendation that the sunset views were just fabulous.
BOY did the views not disappoint! Our booking left plenty of time to enjoy the end of golden hour and with wine in hand we watched the sun melt into the horizon ahead. It was truly magical. Best of all, our Airbnb host must have a good referral system with the restaurant as we got the best corner table in the grassy alfresco seating area.
It was pure bliss to end the day on such a high.
As for the food, it was delicious!! I took a risk and tried truffles for the first time, as they are the local delicacy in this part of Croatia. It’s not the cheapest restaurant in Zadar, but with good reason. The service and quality was outstanding and had this been in London it would surely have been double the cost. We paid just 260 kuna which is just £32. That included two drinks and two mains, plus free bread!
8pm – Stop by the Sun Salutation
Tummies full, amble back along the waterfront and listen out for the Sea Organ as you approach. At night, the Sea Organ is joined by the Monument to the Sun (or Sun Salutation) – an installation by the same artist, Nikola Bašic. Comprised of 300 multi-layered glass plated built into the ground, the 22m-wide circle uses solar power to illuminate a light show at night.
The main circle represents the sun and is surrounded by smaller displays nearby to represent the solar system. More than just an art installation, the panels also generate enough energy to power the lights along the harbour!
Over time the glass panels have been damaged with cracks on several occasions. This means that on our visit there was a barrier around the main panel. However, this didn’t detract from the magical display and I’m glad measures are being taken to protect it.
Be aware that the area gets especially busy after sunset as tourists and locals enjoy the light show. Some food and toy stalls are also set up along the waterfront if you happen to fancy some last minute souvenir browsing too.
8.30pm – One Last Ice Cream Before Heading Home
Round off the night with a final visit to Donat for an ice cream! As you walk through the now-familiar city streets notice how different it feels at night. The city truly comes alive in a whole new way.
As we made our way back to the apartment once last time, we were satisfied to have seen and done as much as we could with one day in this beautiful city.
How much does 1 day in Zadar cost?
Zadar was the cheapest Croatian city we stayed in. Generally, accommodation, food, and activities were lower in price than the more popular cities likely due to fewer competitive demands. However, we noticed that some costs such as our splash-out meal were higher than anticipated. While this still was certainly not higher than an equivalent meal in the UK, we were glad to have over-budgeted for our trip to allow ourselves to splash out where we wanted.
- One way flight London – Zadar for 2 people: £135
- Ryanair flight add-ons: £38
- 3 nights in private flat Airbnb 10 mins walk from Old Town: £139
- Bell Tower entry for 2: £3.44
- Supermarket food shop: £7
- Bakery lunch + smoothie: £2.81
- Ice cream trip x2: £4.58
- Dinner at high quality restaurant: £32
TOTAL for 2 people: £361.83
Day expenses excluding flights + accommodation: £49.83
(£180.92 per person in total)
As you can see, a day in Zadar is incredibly affordable! While we were on a mission to enjoy this trip on a budget, we didn’t miss out anything we wanted to do. We even allowed ourselves a treat dinner which covers over 60% of the daily spend. This shows just how easy it is to enjoy Zadar without breaking the bank.
Is 1 day enough in Zadar?
Many people will ask how long to spend in Zadar. The truth is you could easily spend longer, but if you are really after just a taste of the city 1 day is enough. How long you spend in Zadar will be greatly affected by your budget, time restrictions, and if there’s anywhere else you’d like to see on your trip!
For full transparency, we stayed a total of 3 nights in Zadar. However, we only enjoyed one full day in the city itself. We would have loved a bit more time to really get to know Zadar. But we found 1 day was plenty of time to see and do the highlights of the Old Town. We also enjoyed using it as a base for our Plitvice Lakes day trip, as well as a place to rest after a day of travel from the UK.
- Day 1: Arrive late evening from London. Check in to Airbnb and organise following day’s activities.
- Day 2: Spend 1 full day in Zadar exploring the sights and enjoying many awesome things to do.
- Day 3: Take a day trip from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Arrive early evening back at Airbnb and prepare for onward travel early the next morning.
Is Zadar Worth Visiting?
Um, YES! Lonely Planet listed it as one of the 10 best cities to visit in 2019, so of course it’s an awesome destination.
While Zadar might not have the same grandeur and attraction of Dubrovnik or Split, it has plenty of charm and quirks that make it all the more appealing. Furthermore, it has an artistic side that other cities lack. Plus, being significantly less commercialised than the larger cities makes it a pleasure to be a tourist.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of things to do in Zadar with one day. But, it is certainly a good way to tick off the main activities and sights in the city.
So, in short: Zadar is DEFINITELY worth visiting. I hope seeing how beautiful and endearing the city is will encourage you to add Zadar to your Croatian trip. You won’t regret it I promise!
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