Affordable Adventures: Zadar, Croatia

August 13, 2017

Zadar! A small seaside town on the coast of Croatia. Before we decided to go to Croatia I knew very little about the country and even less about its cities. We chose the city of Zadar because it was the closest port connection from Italy. Excited to learn about a new destination I took off with a car full of camping, swimming, and adventure supplies. Heading from Tuscany to the east coast I made my way to the port of Ancona.

My partner and I took the night boat which departed from the port of Ancona at 8:00 pm and sent us on our way to Zadar where we arrived at 7:00 am. I found it to be a long trip but much more comfortable than the small cramped seats on a plane. And since it was an overnight ride I didn’t lose any time in my vacation getting to the destination. I had purchased economy tickets which gave us seats but instead, I was able to find couches in the lounge to spread out for the night and sleep on until I arrived to my destination.

How to get there

To get to Zadar from Italy you can take a 30- 45 minutes flight from Rome, or you can take a nine-hour ferry from the port of Ancona on the Eastern coast of Italy. I chose to travel by ferry because I was road tripping for this adventure and wanted to take the car. Interested in taking the ferry? You can buy tickets here.

Cost: for an economy ticket was €100 per person, including the car, round trip.

Port of Ancona

Upon first glance, Zadar was nothing of what I was expecting. Outside of the city center, many of the building are falling apart. Decay has touched each building as time and humidity has done its work to the stone structures. It’s an old city and with historical roots that stem all the way back to the stone ages. An ancient city placed on the Adriatic Sea with a long history of shipping and travel industry which has passed through its harbor.

I arrived at my apartment which was two blocks from Old Town Zadar and as soon as I was settled I headed out to grab a bite. I found the center to be extremely well-taken care off and its buildings preserved. The city streets are washed in the morning leaving its stone floors shiny and new.

As usual, I dove into this new city with no plan and a little research on what to expect. After all, I am an adventurer! And I was able to find plenty of fun affordable things to do for those who want to have some good cheap fun. Here is a small list of things you can do and see for next to nothing in Zadar.

Note: I have converted the prices below into Euros but the currency in Croatia is Kunas, however, most places accept Euros. XE currency converter.

Be A Beach Bum

While you’re out and about you can head to the beach! The summers are very hot in Croatia and it can difficult to walk around and explore the city in the heat of July. It was for us… so I decided to cool off at the beach.

The closest public beach is Kolovare Beach. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from the city center and, if you don’t have many things to carry, it’s a nice way to see the size of the city. Otherwise, there is plenty of parking space if you have a car. Be warned we took our trip the last week of July and it is incredibly hot and the beaches are full so if you go in this time of the year, make sure to get to the beach early and bring lots of sunscreen.

If you get there early you’ll be able to find a shady spot to lay under and stay cool. The water was a lovely place to cool off but the chaos of people made a little less pleasurable. I would suggest coming in May or September, the heat won’t be as terrible and the crowds will also probably be less crazy.

The beach has a diving board on one side where you can jump straight into the sea. It also has an air ballooned water playground where kids can jump and slip and slide around. If you need a snack or beverage there is also a few bars and small stands you can get a cold drink or an ice cream at, so don’t worry if you forgot to pack a lunch.

All of the Croatian water places we went to the beaches and rivers were all pebbles and rocks, so I highly recommend bringing water shoes to protect your feet. It hurts walking in and out of the water several times on the hot sharp stones.

Cost: Free

Eat Seafood or Lamb

My partner and I had the worst luck with finding good seafood because although I had intended on eating seafood for the full 10 days of our trip, we had a difficult time finding it. We did enjoy some of the red meat dishes the restaurants had to offer. Lamb is one of Croatia’s specialties and I really enjoyed it grilled with baked potatoes and cheese. One really great restaurant we enjoyed in Zadar was Proto: Food and More. It had a really great staff and a nice atmosphere.

(The photo below is from the restaurant we found outside of Zadar.)

Cost: Depending where you go €20 – 50

Affordable Adventures Zadar

Get Lost

This is always my favorite thing to do. It’s always a good idea to get a little lost in a new city. Zadar has many fun and picture worthy streets that will make you want to snapshot of every street corner. The streets are clean and lined with little stores and shops for those who need a bathing suit or a souvenir to take home with them.

Although it is a maze, this city is not very large so it’s not too difficult to find your way around. So don’t be afraid to randomly turn left and right. You never know what amazing things you’ll stumble upon. Not to mention all of the cathedrals and towers that were scattered throughout the town.

Cost: Free

The Church of St Donatus

The Church of St Donatus

St. Anastasia’s Cathedral

St. Anastasia's Cathedral

If you take a tour through these cathedrals individually they cost about €60 if you take the walking tour to all of them it will cost €150 or higher.

Sea Organ

One place I highly recommend to see is the sea organ. This is a completely unique place that is a must-see. At the end of the harbor are a set of stairs with carved holes in the sides and tops of the stairs which create music when the wind blows.

On a nice day or the weekend, this place is pretty packed and there are often noisy street performers that may distract from the sounds of the organ. I went very early in the morning to document the sounds of this beautiful musical instrument and practically had the place to myself.

Cost: Free

Sea Organ - Zadar

Greet the Sun

Near the sea-organ is the “Greeting Sun” installation created by Nikola Bašić. During the day the sun charges a platform with energy which is then transformed into electricity. And when the sun sets the converted energy creates a beautiful light show under your feet. The lights are quite mesmerizing and many people come to hang out and enjoy the “Greeting Suns'” performance.

Greet the Sun art installation

Cost: Free

Watch Street Performers

In the high and shoulder season, you can see all sorts of street performers out to entertain the crowds. Dancers, singers, musicians, contortionists, costumed characters, and much more are scattered all over the harbor hoping to make a little cash.

Cost: Free (Depending if you want to donate)

Take it all in

I ended my evening by grabbing a beer and sat at the edge of the pier observing people, listening to music, and watching the blue water change colors as the sunset on the horizon. Zadar is a popular tourist destination so it was difficult to understand who was Croatian and who was a foreigner. It was fun trying to guess where everyone was from or what language they were speaking.

Cost: Free

A Little Shopping Never Hurt Anyone

While I don’t suggest spending lots of money in stores that you can also find in your hometown, it is always nice to window shop. You can check out the local shops that sell jewelry and art that can only be found in Zadar. I almost never buy anything but if I see something that I really love and want it in my home to help me remember the trip I might get one small item to can take home with me.

Cost: Depends if you buy anything, but window shopping is free.

With a full day of activities, I had only spent money on food and drinks. It felt good to do and see so much and spend so little. I hope you have found this article helpful and enjoy your upcoming adventures!

Overall, the trip to Zadar had started out a little rough but in the end, it was a complete success. Everyone I encountered was very friendly and spoke English, in fact, language was never an issue. In general, Zadar is not a very expensive city. I would say it is one of the more inexpensive European countries.

Want to see more? Here is a list of festivals you can check out in Zadar.

Comment below if you have any questions or suggestions or Pin for later!

Do you like affordable adventures? Check out my Affordable trip to San Francisco.

Affordable Adventures- Zadar, Croatia
Affordable Adventures: Zadar, Croatia - Here are some fun affordable things to do and see in Zadar. For the cheap traveler.
26 Comments
    1. I think Zadar is a great place where you visit and try delicious eat seafoods. So eat seafood with some quality wine.

    1. Croatia was already on my bucket list, now its just moved up the list. Great article and beautiful photos.

    1. I’ve never been to Zadar, but it sounds like it would be a really lovely side trip. The sea organ has me completely intrigued, and I think that would be my first stop! I also love the idea of wandering the streets just getting a little lost and enjoying the buildings and the atmosphere. And, of course, a dinner of lamb and potatoes sounds like a pretty good way to celebrate a successful day of exploration. 🙂

    1. Zadar seems like a charming little town with plenty of beautiful architecture! I can imagine how fresh the seafood is since it’s right on the coast.

    1. The food sounds amazing….seafood and lamb, two of my favorites. Seems like there is quite a bit to discover in Zadar. Have not been to Croatia yet, and love to visit soon!!

    1. Sounds like you had an amazing time! And so cheaply which is what I like to hear haha! I feel like Zadar is overlooked by other Croatian cities but based on your write up Ill definitely be stopping by on my trip to the region 🙂

      1. Yeah, I wasn’t sure what to expect when we made our travel plans but I was pleasantly surprised at how charming the city was. I love being surprised.

    1. The sea organ and Greeting the Sun look so cool! Something a little different for sure. Croatia is so gorgeous, it would be so fun to road trip there from Italy.

    1. I loved Zadar, even though I only ever visited on my way to one of the surrounding islands. Would love to spend a little more time next time – and explore the things you mentioned!

      1. Croatia is such an interesting country and there is so much to see, especially all the islands. If you get the opportunity, definitely check out the sea organ, that was my favorite spot.

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