Your full travel guide to Zadar

From its delicious Dalmatian cuisine to the pristine outdoors, most travellers are yet to fully tap into the star quality of the Zadar region. Here’s our travel guide to this Adriatic gem…

Peter Moore
13 April 2023
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Discover Zadar

Zadar is the perfect blend of history, food and adventure. It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Croatia, set on the sparkling Adriatic Sea and surrounded by nature. Here you’ll enjoy the freshest fish you’ll ever eat, the tastiest olive oil and wines that are at once hearty and refreshing. There’s adventure on the doorstep and culture at every turn. Zadar is a city that preserves its past but looks excitedly towards its future.

Getting there and around

Zadar International Airport is only 11 km from Zadar city’s Old Town and is served by direct flights from London and major cities across Europe. There are regular bus connections from Zagreb and Split, while regular ferry services are a great way of reaching the Zadar region’s islands.

Once you arrive, Zadar is best explored on foot or by bike. Local barkajoli take passengers across the Zadar peninsula to the mainland in row boats, an tradition passed down from father to son that dates back to the 14th century.

Meet the locals

Zadar city’s Kalelarga street has an infectious café culture (Zadar Region Tourist Board)

It’s not hard to start up a conversation in the city of Zadar. From the city’s main artery of Kalelarga to the cafes on Central Square, even the smallest transaction can lead to a discussion about the weather or advice on a hidden gem in the city that you must visit. No more so than in the historic district of Varoš. This atmospheric warren of cobbled streets and tightly-packed houses is a tableau of random encounters and socialising. Here ćakula (chit-chat) has been elevated to an artform and it is unlikely you’ll escape without being drawn into a conversation or being asked your opinion on the pressing matter of the day.

The pijaca (market), too, is more than just a cacophony of sights and sounds and a wonderful assault on all the senses. The locals call it the ‘breadbasket of the city’, but it’s a social network, too. People come from all over the Zadar region, the hinterland and the outlying islands to buy groceries and, more importantly, to catch up with friends and the latest news as well. For the best gossip, however, chat to the barkajoli boatmen as they transport you in their small boats across the Zadar peninsula. Nothing in Zadar escapes their attention.

Get outdoors

The Kamenjak lookout in Vrana Lake Nature Park serves up spectacular views (Aleksandar Gospić/Zadar Region Tourist Board)

Is there a better situated region in Croatia for outdoor adventure? Zadar’s position in the centre of the Croatian coast has blessed it with wonderful nature whichever way you turn. Wild, untouched places are quite literally on the doorstep. It is the glistening Adriatic that beckons strongest. From the harbour there’s a whole archipelago to explore, particularly the Telašćica Nature Park, regarded as the pearl of Dugi Otok island. Here, wild cliffs emerge from the sea on one side while beautiful deserted beaches lay protected on the other, with reminders of tumultuous history and unique Mediterranean nature within.

Inland, Paklenica National Park awaits. It is a wild place of mountain peaks, forests and canyons that UNESCO has recognised for its unique beauty and significance. You’ll find adventure at every turn. Little wonder, then, that it is popular with climbers and hikers alike, with rafters taking on the rivers nearby. Or, you could hike amongst the clouds in the Velebit mountain range, picking between its highest peak Vaganski (1,757m) or Sveto Brdo (Holy Mountain; 1,751m). This is arguably the wildest place in Croatia and where locals come to truly escape.

Top three activities

Hiking in Paklenica National Park (Ivan Čorić/Zadar Region Tourist Board)


The Zadar region boasts over 150 trails of varying difficulty and terrain. Some, like the Trail of the Prophetess Vrana, will gently lead you to the ruined Templar fortresses and hidden springs of Vrana Lake Nature Park. The trails in Paklenica National Park scamper over mountain peaks, river canyons and forests and lakes, while the trails weaving across Zadar’s islands offer a refreshing dip at the end.


The islands, mountains and towns of the Zadar region are criss-crossed with unique cycling trails, each revealing the rich natural and cultural heritage side of the region. Download the Zadar Bike Magic app for information on close to a hundred different trails, from a gentle 25km cycle through history to the tiny royal town of Nin, to an adrenaline-fuelled dash down a rocky trail high in the Velebit. Road bike, mountain bike or e-bike, there’s a cycling adventure to suit everybody.

The Zadar region is veined by many cycling trails (Vedran Metelko/Zadar Region Tourist Board)

Sail among cerulean waters in Dugi Otok (Aleksandar Gospić/Zadar Region Tourist Board)

Water sports

The canyons of the Zrmanja River and the Krupa River, not far from Zadar, offer world-class rapids for white water rafting as well as more gentle stretches, perfect for kayaking. The Zadar archipelago itself is a water sports playground, ideal for sailing, jet sking, parasailing and kiteboarding. For something truly memorable, head to the the waters of Telašćica Nature Park. Here, amongst the iridescent reefs caves and spectacular sea life, you’ll experience some of the best diving in Croatia.

See the past and the present

Zadar Cathedral (Zadar Region Tourist Board)

Zadar has had a long and complex history and proudly wears the architectural legacy left to it by the many civilisations that have called it home. Enter through its UNESCO-protected city walls and you’ll find Roman ruins, medieval churches, and Renaissance-era bastions. But Zadar is a city with a modern outlook, too. Many of its most interesting architectural treasures have been converted into art galleries, modern museums and lively bars. Kalelarga, or Wide Street, is probably older than the city itself. Yet, it is here that locals come to drink coffee, eat fine food and celebrate special occasions and festivals. The city’s museums, like the Archaeological Museum and the Permanent Exhibition of Religious Art, preserve the city’s varied history, but the II Palaces Museum celebrates a more modern art form.

Most tellingly, in a city dotted with sculptures that are centuries old, you’ll also find two of the most extraordinary art installations of the modern age, created by the local visionary, Nikola Bašić. Sea Organ is a set of steps leading down to the sea that make music when waves wash through them, while Greeting to the Sun is a huge disc of solar panels that soaks up the sun during the day and converts the power into a dazzling light show at night. Zadar is a city that preserves its past but is not afraid of embracing the future.

Top three culinary experiences

Zadar is well known for its wines (Zadar Region Tourist Board)

Try vintages at a local winery

The people of Zadar have been making wine for centuries and have gotten very good at it. Zinfandel can be traced back to this region, except here it’s known as Crljenak. Some of the best grapes grown for the region’s Zinfandel vintages are grown in the hills above Punta Skala and Petrcane. But Zadar isn’t just known for its fine Zinfandels. Merlot is another, while more local vintages like Plavins, Pošips, and Maraštinas, as well as cherry and fig liquers, are produced throughout the region. The best way to try them is to visit one of Zadar’s many wineries, where they offer vineyard tours and tastings accompanied by local cheeses and condiments.

Sample cheese in Pag

Locals on the island of Pag will tell you that the sheep’s cheese made there is so good because of the strong bora wind. It scatters sea salt on the fragrant shrubs the sheep eat, you see, giving the cheese its uniquely aromatic flavour. Dairies on the island offer tours that culminate with a cheese tasting accompanied by local wines, breads and olive oil. Or, you could visit a local Pag shepherd for an altogether more rustic experience. Locals will tell you there is nothing better than Pag cheese, tasted at the source.

Paski Sir is one of the many unique cheeses from Pag (Zadar Region Tourist Board)

The traditional fishing town of Kali (Shutterstock)

Fishing tradition of Kali

Kali, on the island of Ugljan, is a village famous for its fishing. Every family boasts a fisherman amongst its ranks, who in turn regard themselves as the best in the world. They’re good at cooking fish as well. The fish is so fresh here that it is best cooked on a gradele (grill), brushed with a sprig of rosemary dipped in the local olive oil and a selection of local wild herbs. Their version of brudet, (fish broth) is legendary, too, using eel and potatoes for a uniquely Kali taste.

Feeling inspired?

For more inspiration, head over to the official Zadar County Tourist Board website.

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