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Croatia has been the top place I have wanted to visit in Europe for years after seeing a TV show about the gorgeous Dalmatian coast. Usually such high expectations can only end in one way – in disappointment. However, that was certainly not the case when we finally hit the Northern Dalmatian coast after driving from Zagreb.
We started our Croatian coastal adventures in the small city of Zadar and its surrounds. Although we had initially been attracted to this region thanks to my friend SJ of Chasing the Donkey who lives here, we found a lovely little city with many opportunities for fabulous day trips so we could see more of Croatia.
And wow, we saw some amazing sites. This slice of Croatia is stunning!
Zadar itself is a medieval walled city on the Adriatic Sea in Northern Dalmatia. The Old Town is small but pretty with roman ruins, a pretty harbour and some unique attractions such as the Sea Organ (more below). It has a real sense of history thanks to the large amounts of Roman relics, such as well preserved random columns and bits in the forum, and large sections of a well preserved Venetian city wall.
You do not need long to see Zadar itself so we recommend getting out and about and doing some of the things to do around Zadar. Below you will find our guide to what to do in Zadar, what to see around Zadar, Zadar with kids and our accommodation recommendations.
Here is our top 10 list of what to see in Zadar and around. We recommend at least a few days in Zadar – one in Zadar itself and a couple of day trips to whatever takes your fancy.
My favourite way to explore a destination is to always just take a walk and soak it all in. Zadar’s Old Town is very pedestrian friendly and there is plenty to see as you walk around as well as many bars, cafes and restaurants to take a break.
The best place to start is at the impressive Land Gate, built in 1543. There are also some old Roman ruins, The Forum, of the former main square and medieval churches to explore.
The Bell Tower of the Zadar Cathederal is the highest structure in Zadar’s old town. The peak of its steeple is 56 metres high and there’s an excellent viewing platform 42m above the ground. The entrance is located just off the edge of the Forum, opposite the archaeological museum.
Compared to other towers we’ve climbed, the Zadar tower is a straight-forward climb but a bit hard for kids under 5.
The viewing platform gives great views over Zadar’s Old Town, the port and the surrounding areas. It was one of my favourite Zadar tourist attractions.
Entry price is 15 kuna or 2 euros.
This museum is one of the main attractions in Zadar and for good reason. It contains one of the best Roman glass collections outside of Italy with items retrieved from archaeological sites across Dalmatia.
It’s a new museum and it has been laid out superbly and even has ethereal background music to complete the effect. It also explains the history of glass and there is an interesting video of one of the discoveries of one of the pieces and the use of it, how it has been preserved, etc.
Entry price is 30 kuna.
The other exhibition worth visiting in Zadar is The Permanent Exhibition of Religious Art – The Gold and Silver of Zadar. Located in the monastery of the church of St Mary is this stunning collection of amazing gold and silver reliquaries, crucifixes, vestements and paintings from the 8th to the 18th century which show the wealth that has existed in Zadar.
It is amazing, even if you are not religious. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed.
Entry is 30 kuna.
One of the most unique Zadar attractions is the magnificent Sea Organ on the Old Town’s waterfront.
There is a system of pipes and whistles underneath the steps that go into the sea which result in hypnotic music. It’s a lovely place to sit, take in the views and literally listen to the sounds of the sea. It is best on a windy day, although it was quite still when we were there and we still heard a lot of music thanks to passing boats.
Another of the unique top things to do in Zadar is the Sun Salutation located next to the Sea Organ.
It’s a 22 metre circle cut into the pavement full of glass plates that collect the sun’s rays during the day and then, combined with wave energy, produce a very cool light show during the night. You can check it out in action here:
Just 15 kilometres away from Zadar is the pretty, historic town of Nin. It has been inhabited for an amazing 3000 years and has an interesting history including being the first capital of the Croats. You can find old remains in Nin including of the largest ancient temple on the Adriatic.
Nin is located on a small island with a pretty pedestrian bridge to take you across. It is a lovely place to take a stroll, see some history and have a drink or meal – although not before 12pm! We made the mistake of arriving before this time and could not find anything to eat!
In addition to the small town, it is also nice to walk around the island by the water. There is some stunning scenery. There is also a small playground and several of the restaurants had playgrounds as well. There are also some sandy beaches in the Nin area.
Nin is an easy drive from Zadar. It does not take long to explore Nin. Even with a stretch in the playground, we were only an hour. I recommend combining a visit of Nin with Pag Island.
I had actually never heard of Pag Island until SJ suggested we visit there. I still didn’t know what to expect and was quite shocked when we pulled up to the bridge to the island. Above is what we saw!
It has scenery like nowhere else we have seen – its rocky and the contrast to the blue, blue sea and the sky was just absolutely stunning. It looked other worldly. In fact, it strangely reminded me of a tour I did high up in the Bolivian Andes. I would never have expected to see something similar on the coast of Croatia.
Once on the island we drove into Pag town and had a look around. It’s a cute little town on a beautiful harbour with beaches and many restaurants and ice cream shops. There is also a great playground by the water and it was an easy place to enjoy. I could easily spend a few days here.
Pag is also known for its cheese, and it is definitely worth eating some of this. There are cute little cheese stalls on the main road.
Pag is definitely worth adding to your itinerary. I am surprised it isn’t already on the beaten track and in every guide book (it’s not even mentioned in ours). It is our favourite things to do near Zadar.
There are some amazing national parks which can be visited on a day trip from Zadar. The most famous of which is Plitvice National Park.
This national park looks and sounds amazing and I think it is a must visit for anyone visiting this area. However, as we are travelling with a three year old who basically refuses to walk and this national park isn’t pram friendly. We had to skip it 🙁 I hope you don’t have to though! You can find more information here.
Other national parks you should consider visiting are Krka National Park and Kornati National Park.
Another great thing to do in Zadar is to visit a beach. There are places you can swim in Zadar as well as many an easy drive away.
As a spoilt Australian, I can’t say I saw any beaches that compare to anything back home. However, there are plenty of lovely spots. The water is beautiful and it was plenty warm enough for us to go swimming in mid September.
The beach at Privlaka particularly worked well for us as it was nice and shallow – perfect for little ones. You should not have any problems finding many others though. We saw plenty of people swimming around Nin and Pag town as well.
We travelled to Zadar with our kids. This is an easy place to explore with children. The many outdoor attractions helps to keep them interested and the Falkensteiner Family Hotel Diadora ensured we had some very happy kids! Below are our best things to do in Zadar with kids that won’t interest adults so much.
In the non-summer months, there are puppet shows at Kazalište lutaka Zadar in a great little theatre in the Old Town. They are in Croatian but that didn’t matter to our kids at all and they enjoyed watching Little Red Riding Hood when we were in town.
Shows run for about 45 minutes and there are short breaks throughout. The tickets currently cost 25 kuna. You can find more information here.
Zadar has a street train ride that can take you around central Zadar. The kids have wanted to go on one of these trains everytime we have seen one in Europe so it was good to finally do it. However, it wasn’t a particularly scenic ride.
Tickets cost 30 kuna adults and 20 for kids
One of the best parts of our visit to Zadar was getting to stay in an amazing hotel, the best we have ever experienced for families, the Falkensteiner Family Hotel Diadora. To say this hotel blew the four of us away in just how awesome it is for families is an understatement. We have never experienced anything like it.
There are multiple pools, a big water slide, beach with inflatable water park, a pirate boat pool area for toddlers, a baby pool area, swimming lessons, indoor play centre, cinema, best kids’ club we have experienced, restaurants, bars, activity programs for adults and kids, petting zoo… the list goes on and on!
Between the fabulous scenery and attractions of this region, hanging out with our friends and the fabulous Falkensteiner Family Hotel Diadora, we had a fabulous time in this beautiful part of Europe. We spent nearly a week which gave us enough time to have a great mix of exploring and down time.
We also very much appreciated the chance to take a break from each other at the Family Hotel. As much as we love our kids, after 3.5 months of full on travel together, we were very happy to have some adult time!
I had not heard much about this part of Croatia before visiting but it is definitely a winner with us. I liked the low key mix of things to see in Zadar, the stunning attractions in its surrounds and how the city is just not as full on and touristy like Split and Dubrovnik. Zadar gets a big thumbs up from us!
Have you been to Zadar? Any tips?