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Zadar’s notoriety is slowly growing. A necessary, comprehensive ferry system connects Croatia with the Adriatic islands nearby, and more cruises stop in Zadar each passing year. Zadar’s centuries-long history of occupations before it became part of Croatia makes it a melting pot of types of architecture, home to scattered Roman ruins and also unusual modern art installations like the waterfront Sea Organ. While on your cruise to Zadar, Croatia, stop into Old Town for delicious eats or a coffee break, or take a walking tour of the city’s many ancient churches. History buffs will love the Zadar Archaeological Museum, and kids will adore the Sun Salutation exhibit at the waterfront.
Zadar is beautiful but quirky, historic yet modern, conveniently in proximity to Saharun Beach for swimming or Paklenica National Park for challenging hiking and climbing. The area could be disjointed or incohesive, but it’s not. It’s clear that Zadar is a place where people really live, not just pass through or vacation in, and that makes it special in its own right. While on your Mediterranean cruise, you’ll appreciate how Zadar manages to be uncrowded, unfussy, and unforgettable all at once.
Less crowded than Dubrovnik’s Old Town, you’ll discover this gem of a promenade sets Zadar apart. There are cafes, shops, and three sides of fortress walls dating back to Venetian occupation in the 16th century. Meander around Old Town for a while and you’ll immediately understand why hurrying just doesn’t suit this Croatian town.
One of Croatia’s most beautiful, off-the-beaten-path beaches is just a ferry ride from Zadar. Unlike other beaches along the Dalmation coast, Saharun has unusually white sand and waters that seem a little too turquoise to be real. Take a swim, sunbathe on the beach, or collect shells as you walk the shore.
It’s one of the quirkiest attractions you’ll ever see. The Sea Organ along the waterfront of Zadar is an art installation that makes sound when its underwater pipes take in water from incoming waves. When the water is shallow, it sounds like a sigh. When the waves are powerful, so is the Sea Organ’s “music.” Words don’t fully encapsulate the beauty of the experience, so don’t miss it on your Zadar cruise.
Foodies will love a day trip to Pag Island, where they can taste-test the island’s signature Pag cheese. It’s one of Croatia’s most famous foods. Strangely, Pag Island’s crater-filled landscape could fool you for the moon. It’s dramatic and a little intimidating, but a stop at this island will charm you with its devotion to cheese, wine, and excellent food. Head into the village of Novalja for a taste of vibrant nightlife.
This Romanesque, Gothic cathedral has some huge bragging rights—it’s the largest church in the entirety of the region of Dalmatia. After near destruction during World War II, the cathedral has seen been restored as one of Zadar’s most visited historic sites. Make the bell tower climb for unbeatable views of Zadar from the summit.
Zadar’s prehistoric history and its strong Roman influence during various occupations is beautifully honored at the Zadar Archaeological Museum. Tickets are only 30 KN and free for kids. Head into the museum for an indoor, air-conditioned adventure if you need a break from exploring Old Town.
Come to the Museum of Ancient Glass in the morning for glass-blowing demonstrations or to watch bead-making. You’ll be amazed by the sheer volume of glass that has been miraculously preserved despite Zadar’s turbulent history. This Museum is a quick pit stop, and a must for anyone wishing to learn more about Roman influence on this corner of Croatia.
After you’ve seen the Sun Salutation and heard the Sea Organ on the waterfront, stay for a pink-and-orange Croatian sunset unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Stick around a bit longer, and the Sun Salutation monument will light up once night has officially fallen. A perfect way to rest and unhurriedly soak up Zadar.
If you’re itching to get outside while on your cruise to Zadar, Croatia, it’s just a 45 minute drive from Zadar to Paklenica National Park. Head northeast deeper into Croatia for hiking trails, steep canyons, and opportunities for cycling, too. Climbers, rejoice! Paklenica National Park is a climber’s paradise, and one of the most visited climbing sites in all of Croatia.
Discover this national treasure while you’re on your Zadar cruise. After all, it’s only an hour’s drive from Zadar to Krka National Park. Go hiking on along the Roški Slap, where you can swim in the designated areas near the waterfalls. Take the walking trails to reach the cascading waterfalls. Some of the ruins within the park date back to Roman occupation centuries earlier. The area is immaculately kept, showing Southern Croatia’s true beauty along every footpath.
Address: Mihovila Pavlinovića 12, 23000 Zadar, Croatia
You might not be in Italy, but Restaurant Bruschetta sure does make you feel like you are, though with a Croatian twist. The back squid ink risotto is a must, dramatic and delicious for a special occasion, or stick with the shrimp risotto if you’re not feeling adventurous. Restaurant Bruschetta serves its namesake dish—bruschetta—as well. Don’t miss their octopus pulled straight from the Adriatic and fried into calamari.
Address: Ulica Borelli 7, Zadar 23000, Croatia
Indulge in your sweet tooth at this handmade chocolate shop in Zadar. They’re known for their pralines, and chocolates with lemon, ginger, almond filling, or other decadent ganaches. Bring a box back home to share with the entire family.
Address: Stratico 1, Pet Bunara Square, 23000, Zadar, Croatia
Pet Bunara prides themselves on having their own herb garden in the nearby village of Poljica, providing a farm-to-table experience for diners in Zadar. Organic and sustainable ingredients rule the menu, as well as homemade breads as your starter and the freshest fish and meats available. Options for vegetarians, like handmade pasta entrees, are plentiful here too.
Address: Convallis d.o.o., Široka ulica 22, 23000 Zadar
Daily fresh fish set Restaurant Groppo in Zadar apart. Located just steps from the Zadar Archaeological Museum and the Church of St. Donatus, stop in Groppo after your tours to fill back up before you continue exploring. Squid, sea-bass, scampi, and more fresh from the Adriatic, octopus carpaccio, and the Dalmatian lamb are highlights for many diners.
Zadar’s history is nothing short of fascinating—the city has changed hands countless times, seen dozens of occupations, faced destruction, and somehow persevered through it all. Though evidence of settlement dates back to the Neolithic era, the Romans began to invade parts of what is now modern-day Croatia in the 2nd century BC. Evidence of the Roman colonization is still apparent in Zadar.
By the 10th century, Zadar was brought under the umbrella of Croatia as part of a treaty in 1069. Attacks and invasions by Venice, then Turkey, then the Austrians took over in the early 1800s. The Italians occupied Zadar after Austria-Hungary collapsed starting in 1918, but World War II brought a lot of damage to the city. Post World War II, new importance was placed on reconstructing and rebuilding Zadar as not only a beautiful city to live in, but as a place where tourism could flourish. Zadar’s culture is a rich amalgam of all of this—its monuments and ruins reflect various periods of history, and Zadar is critically important for understanding Croatia’s history, literature, and arts.
Today, Zadar is placing more importance than ever at maintaining a strong economy and making the city appealing to tourists. Though Dubrovnik holds the spotlight and welcomes many more tourists each year, Zadar holds its own, and its quieter vibe and welcoming spirit give visitors a much needed break from Dubrovnik’s crowds.
The port of Gaženica is only three or so mile from downtown Zadar. Of the twelve piers at the port, three of them service cruise ships and six of the piers are dedicated to Croatian ferries. It’s also an easy walk to explore Zadar from the port of Gaženica, so if you haven’t booked a shore excursion, you can also find plenty to see solo. Zadar continues to grow in popularity as a cruise destination each year, so updates and improvements on the port facility are frequently being made to improve infrastructure and traveler experience.
Getting around Zadar is easier than ever, as the town continues to adapt to tourism and make improvements to their already efficient transit system.
There are bus routes covering the entire city of Zadar, and buses in the city center of Zadar run every fifteen minutes. Should you need to get to the airport, there is also a bus shuttle to the Zadar Airport from downtown.
Taxi is also an option for you, and taxi drivers are allowed into the port area to pick up passengers and take you wherever you need from there. Uber has also been available in Zadar since 2017.
See the entire city via private car while on your cruise to Zadar, Croatia. Don’t wait till you get to Zadar to reserve your private car; book in advance for the best rates.
Once you get off the free shuttle, Zadar’s old town is fairly walkable during your stop, with easy-to-navigate streets made of beautifully smooth marble.
You won’t find much shopping at the cruise port itself other than souvenir stands, but head into downtown Zadar for more chances to shop. Take a shuttle from the cruise port of Gaženica into town.
The local currency in Croatia is called the Kuna (KN), and some businesses will accept Euros as well. You’ll want to keep a little Kuna on hand to enter attractions and sightsee while you’re in Zadar. Find ATMs throughout the city, and the exchange bureau can be found in Old Town. Tipping isn’t mandatory in Croatia, but rounding to the nearest Kuna or leaving a 10% tip for great service is always kind.