5 Nights in Old/New Zadar – Roman Ruins, Relics, and Day Trips

9th Century Church of St. Donatus and the Bell Tower of St. Anastasia Cathedral

The historical center of Dalmatia, Zadar isn’t a delightful medieval town, it was bombed and mostly destroyed in World War II. What you see today is a mix, ancient Roman Ruins and relics, historic palaces and churches, and big blocky Communist era buildings.

You can see the main sights in Zadar in one super speedy or a more leisurely couple of days, but with 5 nights and a car, we had the chance to explore some of the surrounding countryside and return to our beautiful apartment right in the historic center.

Top Zadar Experiences

  • Sea Organ and Greetings to the Sun
  • Archaeological Museum
  • Self Guided Walk Around Zadar

Top Day Trip Experiences

  • Krka National Park
  • Šibenik


Zadar church steeples from the Saint Anastasia Bell Tower

Zadar church steeples from the Saint Anastasia Cathedral Bell Tower

Zadar

The gorgeous afternoon in Zadar was perfect for the climb up the Cathedral of St. Anastasia’s Bell Tower, just down the street from our apartment. What remained of the day we spent leisurely strolling around Zadar checking out some of the sights along the way that are on the Tourist Info map.

Tip: If your host didn’t provide a map, head over to the Tourist Info office on the main street at the big square Narodni trg (People’s Square).

Zadar pano view from the Bell Tower

View from the St. Anastasia Bell Tower

Zadar sights

View from the top of the Bridge Gate down to Jurja Barakovica Street
The remains of the ancient Roman Forum in front of St Donatus Church
Narodni Trg – The People’s Square
The impressive Land gate, the historical main entrance to the city


The top two activities in Zadar are along the wide seafront Riva promenade – the Sea Organ and the Greetings to the Sun.

Under the steps of the promenade, the Sea Organ is a system of tubes and cavities that resonate with deep melodious sounds produced by the action of the waves, as ever changing as the sea itself. After dark the Greetings to the Sun solar art installation slowly comes alive with colorful lights powered by the solar cells under the glass panels and connected to the Sea Organs, whose sound is transformed into random patterns in the huge circle.

Waiting for the sunset at Greetings to the Sun

Waiting for the sunset at Greetings to the Sun

Greetings to the Sun

Greetings to the Sun

Church of Saint Donatus

9th century Church of St. Donatus and the Bell Tower of the Cathedral of St. Anastasia


The next day started out rainy, REALLY rainy. Perfect for some R&R time in the beautiful apartment, and what else do you do as a tourist on rainy days? – Visit a museum! Zadar’s excellent Archaeological Museum fit the bill. There are 3 floors, start on the most interesting 2nd floor for the ancient Roman relics.

Zadar archeological museum

Zadar Archeological Museum
Reclining Nymph, end of the 1st, beginning of the 2nd Century – formerly a fountain
Horse head decoration from the post of a bed, 2nd Century


Driving Excursions from Zadar

With a car and 5 nights in Zadar, we had time for 2 driving excursions.

Day Trip #1 – Pag and Nin

Pag

Our first drive was to the island of Pag about an hour north of Zadar. Throughout it’s history Pag’s economy has been connected to salt production, believed to be dated back to Roman times. Now Pag is most famous for the cheese produced from the island sheep.

Pag

Pag Town; View above Pag Town; View of the rocky pastures and to islands from the road down the middle of Pag

We picked up a map of Pag and the beaches from the Tourist Info office and visited Pag Town briefly, then drove up the middle of the rocky island eventually realizing that the beaches were a long way from the road we were on. Not keen on making the effort down a long drive on a rough road just for a look at a beach, we looked at each other “What are we doing here?” Trying another narrow road close to Pag Town past homes and apartments, we gave up when any beach still seemed elusive. Pag wasn’t for us.

Nin

We drove back toward Zadar to historic little Nin, an important medieval Christian center and the seat of the first Croatian bishop. Nin was a pleasant place to take a break, eat a meal (Octopus salad – Yes!) and walk around to see the sights, but it doesn’t take long to walk around the tiny islet. A quick 25 minute drive later and we were back in Zadar.

Nin

9th Century Church of the Holy Cross; Main entrance to Nin; View of boats along the water in Nin

Day Trip #2 – Krka National Park and Šibenik

Krka National Park

We’d just spent 2 nights at the enchanting Plitvice National Park – if you have to choose between these National Parks, I’d immediately say go to Plitvice! But that depends on the amount of time you have (it’s 2 hours from Zadar), the time of year (really crowded in summer) and whether you can spend at least one night. Krka is closer, just over an hour from Zadar and makes an easy day trip. The section of the park most people visit are the beautiful, long, Skradinski waterfalls. It doesn’t take that long to walk the lovely wooden walkways and paths that loop around this beautiful series of falls, you can do it about 40 minutes and have a leisurely visit in a few hours. Plitvice is huge and you really should spend the night to have the best experience without the midday crowds.

Krka National Park

Krka river; Historic Mill; Skradinski Buk waterfall

We took the 11:00 boat from Skradin, walked the park loop, saw the historic mill, spent time looking at everything in the interesting museum, ate our picnic lunch, walked the park loop again, and took the 2:30 boat back, a 4 hour visit. I enjoyed Krka National Park and the interesting historic mill and fascinating history of this mighty river, but if you don’t want to swim near the waterfall or take another boat ride up to visit the Franciscan Monastery on the Visovac island, it doesn’t take that long to visit.

Tip: We took the boat up from Skradin, price included with your ticket, but this involves quite a bit more time not only for the boat ride but waiting for the boat in both directions. A less hassle way is simply to drive to the parking lot at the top of the park close to the historic sights, and walk the 40 minute park loop from there. Doing that would give you more time to visit Šibenik.

Šibenik

Šibenik is an interesting, pretty town and I wished we’d had more time to explore it, it would have been easy to trim off an hour or two from our visit to Krka National Park. Arriving late afternoon, we visited St. Michael’s fortress with it’s wonderful views over the town, the Cathedral, and had a little time and energy left to walk a few of the tiny streets.

Sibenik

Views of Sibenik from Saint Michaels fortress; Street in Sibenik; Cathedral of St. James


Mussels at Nostalgija in Sibenik

Mussels at Nostalgija in Sibenik


Great Eats: Konoba Nostalgija in Šibenik – Mussels in a red sauce, I could eat this dish every day, it was that good. Seated under the enclosed awning space of this terrific restaurant, great food, great service, great prices, our delicious meal was $36 including a small carafe of wine.

Last Day in Zadar

At first we thought it strange that Zadar was elected Best European Destination in 2016. Zadar doesn’t have the immediate eye candy appeal that Rovinj or Piran has, but with easy transportation, lots of restaurants and accommodations and fascinating historical sites, it makes sense.

Zadar really grew on me and I enjoyed the town a lot. Our last day we wandered through some parts of the old town we hadn’t visited before, loving the energy and vibe in the section near lots of hostels, and checked out more points of interest on the walking tour map, with of course a great café break!

Zadar days

Café Break; 5 Wells Square

Roman Column in Zadar

Roman Column in Petra Zoranica Square

Zadar main street at night

Zadar main street at night

Practicalities

Zadar’s location makes it a terrific choice for a couple of nights between Plitvice National Park and destinations further south. If I were doing it again, I would have skipped the daytrip to Pag and Nin and added another night to Dubrovnik.

Zadar Big Blue apartment

Big Blue apartment

Big Blue Apartment

Wonderful 5 night stay at Big Blue Apartment – the location can’t be beat, right on the main street and a short walk to the Greetings to the Sun, you’d think it would be noisy but if there was anyone walking the streets at night you wouldn’t hear them through the double-paned windows. You could really live in this apartment, it had all the features I love – a huge LCDTV with great couch to kick back, big comfortable bed, modern kitchen and bathroom – all beautifully decorated. WIFI here was one of the best we had on the entire trip.

Zadar with a Car

You can drive around the perimeter of the old town of Zadar, not in the pedestrian center. But watch out where you park, there’s very little free parking (check with your accommodation) but there are plenty of Zone lots. The closer to the center, the more expensive the Zone rates are per hour. The cheapest parking is in a Zone 4 lot, a walk through the park to the old town.

Arriving in Zadar

An easy 2 hour drive from Plitvice National Park on excellent roads and through many tunnels.

Leaving Zadar

Next stop: Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. The drive should have been about 4 hours, but we were turned around at the border on the road to Medagorje due to some demonstration. Backtracking, we took a little road to the alternate route through Pocitelj, the closure plus the torrential downpour added about an hour to the trip.

What do you think of Zadar? Did it grow on you too?

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