Choose from 5 Fun Things to Do in Zadar
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Zadar’s Church of St Donatus is a sight to behold, its towering circular walls rising out of a plaza scattered with Roman ruins. Commissioned by Donatus of Zadar (the church’s namesake come the 13th century), the Pre-Romanesque building dates back to the 9th century, and now stands as a classic representation of Byzantine Dalmatia architecture.
With a captivating and grand exterior, the interior might seem relatively austere. But there’s more here than just a humble church: given that it is built atop the Roman forum, you can still pick out ancient remnants from those times, including two preserved columns, and even a sacrificial altar. Moreover, St Donatus is especially loved for its impressive tower-top views — that stretch across the city to the sea and islands beyond — and as a concert hall, for which it is used given its phenomenal acoustics.
If you don’t feel like paying to enter, consider contemplating the church from outside while sitting at a café terrace, or even among the Roman forum ruins. Meanwhile, if you wish to go up to the tower top, note that you’ll need to scale quite a few steps.
Address: Trg Rimskog Foruma, Zadar, Zadar, Croatia 23000, Croatia
Hours: Daily 9am-9pm, though closing hours may shift during different seasons
Admission: Adults: 20 kn; Children: free
From $ 35
Zadar is one of the oldest cities of Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline and has its roots way back in Roman times, when the first fortified walls were constructed around the little peninsula where the old town still lurks prettily. By the 16th century, Zadar was the prize possession of the Venetian Republic and its walls were further extended and modified with a series of decorative and imposing entry gates.
The main entrance to the old town is the ornate City Gate (also called the Land Gate), which was finished in 1543 and is close to Foša harbor on the southern side of the old town. Adorned with six columns supporting a pediment, the gate is classically triumphalist in style with three arched gateways – the middle one designed for
wheeled traffic and the two side gates for pedestrians. It is topped with the coats of arms of both Zadar and the Venetian Republic, with a winged lion in between as the symbol of St Mark (the patron saint of the Republic).
The other five gates into the city are the St Rocco and Sea gates – both built by the Venetians; the medieval St Demetrius Gate, which was walled up and subsequently reopened in 1873; the Chain Gate (built under Austrian rule in 1877); and finally the Bridge Gate, built when Zadar was under Italian rule in the 1930s.
This site is best accessed on foot through the pedestrianized old town.
Address: near Foša harbor, Zadar, Zadar Region, Dalmatia 23000, Croatia
From $ 35
On your visit to the coastal Croatian city of Zadar, follow the sound of music to find your way to what is arguably the city’s most popular sight. And it’s not just any music, but rather ocean-made melodies produced by a sea organ, or morske orgulje. The massive underground instrument is composed of 35 organ pipes, which play musical chords prompted by wind and waves from the sea. The result is a haunting harmony of tunes that lures visitors to the coast to commune a bit with nature.
The wave-played instrument was opened in 2005, and was created to give new life to this stretch of peninsular coastline, which had fallen into a rather unloved state after the Second World War. Now locals and out-of-towners alike flock to the harmonic marble steps — where the sounds are pushed through the stone surface via holes — to watch one of the best sunsets around, and while listening to a soundtrack produced by nature itself.
The Sea Organ is located at the far western end of Zadar’s peninsula. It’s a popular destination during sunset, so get there early to claim your perfect spot. Once the sun goes down, squeeze in yet another sensory experience by heading to the tip of the peninsula, just beyond the organ, to check out the lit-up solar panels.
Address: Obala Petra Krešimira IV, Zadar, Zadar, Croatia 23000, Croatia
From $ 35
Walking around Zadar’s old town, you might be surprised to suddenly find yourself amidst the city’s most historic sight, the Roman forum. Constructed between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD, the forum is the largest in Croatia. Today it still features remnants of an infamous “shame column” of sorts (where offenders were publicly humiliated), and a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva — among other relics from the past.
Sadly, not a lot of the original forum endures, but what you can see is a healthy scattering of Roman artifacts laid out in the area in front of the Church of St Donatus (and within it, actually, as it is built atop the forum and is home to two Roman columns, and a sacrificial altar). Though Zadar’s forum may seem sparse compared to that of Rome, for example, it’s the fact that these remains very much exist among the city, and not enclosed beyond a ticket booth. This allows visitors and locals to experience Zadar’s forum to the fullest as they walk among it freely, enjoying one of the outdoor concerts, or while simply snacking on a refreshing ice cream.
The forum can be found in the area in front of the Church of St Donatus, and is situated near or on the way to many other Zadar sights, including the Archeology Museum, and the famous wave-playing sea organ.
Address: Poljana Pape Ivana Pavla II, Zadar, Zadar, Croatia 23000, Croatia
From $ 35
Lying inland from Zadar in northern Croatia, the River Zrmanja rises in the Dinaric Alps and runs for 44 miles (70 km); the bulk of its course lies within the Velebit Nature Park before it empties in the Novigrad Sea after passing the cute, pastel-colored town of the same name built along its meandering banks. Along with its tributary the Krupa, the upper reaches of the Zrmanja are one of the country’s hottest spots for rafting and kayaking through its spectacular limestone canyons – in parts 656 feet (200 meters) deep – and underneath its tumbling cascades. The most spectacular falls are Veliki Buk, a crescent-shaped mini-Niagra where the pristine waters hurls itself 65.5 feet (20 meters) in two steps over a limestone cliff face; a popular hike to the falls starts at Muskovci, with amazing views over the lush Zrmanja river valley.
An hour’s drive east from Zadar. No previous experience is necessary for rafting trips; children must be aged six to participate and all participants must be able to swim. Safety equipment provided.
Address: Zadar, Croatia
From $ 46