Zadar Old Town at dusk

Zadar Cruise Port Guide: DIY Excursion to Old Town & Islands

Ahoy, DIY cruisers! If your cruise ship is making a stop in Zadar, Croatia, you’re in for a treat. This captivating city on the Dalmatian Coast boasts a charming Old Town brimming with history and stunning architecture. The Old Town is compact and incredibly easy to navigate independently.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through all you need to know for a memorable DIY adventure to Zadar. Let’s dive in!

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Zadar (Croatia) Cruise Port: Is a DIY Excursion Easy? ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž (Do-able but Needs Hustle)

Zadar, to my surprise, only earned a solid ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž out of five for DIY ease. Here’s why:

  • Limited Public Transport from Cruise Port: Getting from cruise port to Old Town is tricky. It’s not often that I have to recommend you using the cruise line’s shuttle service!
  • Compact Old Town: Old Town is walkable and easily navigable once you get there! The Sea Organ is unique, so don’t miss it!
  • Gorgeous Coastline but too bad a bit of hustle is needed to see more of it.

Zadar (Croatia) Cruise Port Essentials: All You Need to Know

  • Zadar Cruise Port Address: Gaลพeniฤka cesta, 23000, Zadar, Croatia – see location marked on my map below ๐Ÿ‘‡

Important Note: Zadar cruise port is 4km (2.5 miles) from Old Town. Some online sources state that Zadar cruise port is in the heart of Old Town – this is not the full story. Small ships, such as Azamara’s and Silversea’s ships can be accommodated at the dock near Old Town. Larger ships dock in the new cruise port 15-20 mins’ drive from Old Town, which opened in 2019.

Aerial shot of Zadar Old Town
Aerial shot of the dock near Old Town, where small ships will fit. Photo by DeLuca G
  • Currency: Euro
    • Croatian Kuna is no longer accepted as legal tender. Croatia changed its currency to the Euro on January 1st, 2023.
  • Language: Croatian
  • Official websites: Zadar Cruise Port Authority, Zadar Tourist Board, Zadar Local Bus Authority Liburnija has info on bus routes
  • Recommended Transport App: You’ll mainly walk, so use Google Maps to help you navigate from one attraction to another
  • eSIM for roaming in Croatia: For a great data connection without the huge roaming fees, use an eSim data pack from Airalo. I always recommend having a smartphone with a valid plan when youโ€™re at port touring independently. Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo when you use ROXANN1666 when you sign up or apply it at checkout
  • My Zadar (Croatia) Cruise Port Map: ๐Ÿ‘‡ Click on upper right hand corner to see a bigger map. Use buttons on bottom left corner to zoom in/out. If map is not loading, click here to see it directly on Google Maps.

Getting from Zadar Cruise Port to Old Town: Your Options

1. Cruise Line Operated Shuttle Bus

If your cruise line is operating a shuttle bus to Old Town, then I would recommend this as the easiest option. This is because the public bus – Option 2 below – doesn’t operate that frequently.

2. Bus #9 from Cruise Port (not easy nor frequent!)

This is not the easiest DIY port transfer! But I thought I’ll let you know that the option is available. If you can time it well with your disembarkation time, then it’s a less awkward transfer. Otherwise, you may lose some valuable sightseeing time!

  • Bus Stop is right outside the cruise port, see location marked on my map above.
  • Bus #9 to main Bus Station: Bus #9 will take you to the main bus station “Kolodvor
    • Timetables: Click to see (PDF). Buses depart the port roughly every hour.
    • Tickets: โ‚ฌ2.65 for return tickets. Each one-way ticket is valid for 50 minutes, so will be good for your transfer to Old Town. There is a ticket booth at the stop. Buy tickets there before boarding.
  • Change to Bus #2 or #4: At main bus station, change to Bus #2 (every 30 minutes) or Bus #4 (roughly hourly services). Both will take you into Old Town.
  • Old Town Stop is at Poluotok, marked on my map.

3. Uber and/or Taxis

An Uber to Old Town is about โ‚ฌ10-โ‚ฌ12 each way, though of course surge pricing may be active. There are also taxis at the cruise port. Unfortunately, Zadar is one of those ports where it is best to negotiate the price first before hopping into one!

Must-See Attractions in Zadar’s Old Town

Once you get yourself into Old Town, all the following attractions are within walking distance of each other.

1. Roman Forum

Roman Forum Zadar Old Town, Croatia
Image by Filip Filipoviฤ‡ from Pixabay

Constructed between 1st century BC and 3rd century AD, this Roman Forum was once the epicentre of social, political and economic life in the Roman colony of Jadera (Zadar’s Roman name). It was Julius Caesar who established Jadera back in 59 BC and the Venetians called it Zara.

Only remnants of its former glory remain but you can still trace the outlines of temples, colonnades and other buildings. It’s free to walk around.

2. Church of St. Donatus

Church of St Donates in Zadar, Croatia
Image by ngcanh from Pixabay

Dating back to early 9th century, the church’s cylindrical form, towering 27m (~90 feet) high is inspired by Byzantine architecture. Its double interior space features a central rotunda surrounded by a gallery. The church was built upon the foundations of the Roman Forum and repurposed Roman columns and materials into its design.

  • Opening Hours: 9am to 7pm daily from April to October, till 9pm during July and August
  • Tickets: โ‚ฌ3.50 for adults & kids aged 10+. Combined tickets with the Archaeological Museum is โ‚ฌ7

3. Sea Organ

Child at Zadar Sea Organ, playing with water
Image by Julita from Pixabay

The Sea Organ is a unique fusion of art, architecture, nature and a musical instrument! It consists of 35 polyethylene tubes of varying lengths and diameters, hidden beneath a set of marble steps that descend into the sea.

As the waves rolling and out, they push air through the tubes, thus creating a blend of tones and chords. The resulting music is ever changing, echoing the rhythm and intensity of the waves. It’s a fun experience at any time of day but if you’re still around at sunset, it’s an especially beautiful spot to watch the sunset. It’s free to visit.

4. The Greeting to the Sun

Lit up "Greeting to the Sun" light installation in Zadar Old Town
Photo by DeLuca G

Adjacent to the Sea Organ, this solar-powered light installation is truly mesmerising. It consists of 300 multi-layered glass plates are arranged in a 22-metre (72 feet) diameter circle. The plates are embedded with solar modules to power the light show starting at dusk.

You’ll see that the glass plates are arranged to scale, with each representing a planet or the sun itself. During the day, the plates reflect light, so you can still see some interesting reflections and patterns. It’s free to visit.

5. Five Wells Square (Trg Pet Bunara) 

Wedged between the old City Walls of Zadar and Queen Jelena Madijevka Park, the Square’s most distinctive feature is its row of five decorative stone wells, which are lined up in a row and date back to the 16th century. These wells were originally part of a larger cistern system designed to provide fresh water to the city during times of siege. The Park is a great spot for a rest stop.

6. Island Hopping to Oลกljak and Preko Islands

Old Town sightseeing can easily be done in an hour or two, so if you’re aiming to maximise your port day, go island hopping!

Oลกljak Island is a true hidden gem – it’s the smallest inhabited island in the Adriatic, with fewer than 50 people living there. Escape the crowds and wander through the olive groves and pine forests, or just relax and take a dip. Preko is a larger island known for its beautiful beaches and its 15th century Franciscan Monastery.

How to Get There: A half-day private boat trip leaving from Old Town is your best bet.

Note: Though there is a public car ferry that runs from Zadar’s ferry terminal (next to the Zadar cruise port) to Preko. While the car ferry takes foot passengers, I would not recommend it. As it is a car ferry, it drop you off at the Preko Pier, which is not close to the scenic parts of Preko.

Day Trips to Plitvice Lakes & Krka Waterfalls

I often see Plitvice Lakes and Krka Waterfalls, both very well known tourist attractions in Croatia, advertised as day-trips from Zadar. I’ll do the big reveal now. If you want to visit these, book an excursion through your cruise line.

Both are 1.5 – 2 hours’ drive each way, making most third party operated tours 9-10 hours long including pickup and drop offs. Unless your ship has a 12+ hrs scheduled at Zadar, it’s cutting it too fine for my taste. But nonetheless, I’ll cover these here, so you can see whether they interest you.

1. Plitvice Lakes National Park

Two people walking through waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia
Photo by Branimir Klaric

Plitvice Lakes is Croatia’s oldest and largest national park and a UNESCO heritage site. Renowned for its unique geological formations, it is nearly 300 square kms (116 square miles). It is located in the mountainous region of Lisa, near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina – about 90 minutes drive away from Zadar.

The park’s most striking feature is its series of 16 terraced lakes, interconnected by cascading waterfalls and lush vegetation. These lakes, formed over thousands of years create turquoise-coloured waterfalls.

2. Krka Waterfalls

Krka Waterfalls in Croatia
Photo by Ramon Perucho

Krka National Park is famous for its breathtaking waterfalls, especially the magnificent Skradinski Buk. This cascade of 17 waterfalls spills into natural pools along the Krka River. There are also smaller waterfalls, canyons and rich variety of flora and fauna to explore. Krka National Park is about a 1.5 hour drive away from Zadar. 

Note: Swimming has not been allowed in Krka Waterfalls since Jan 2021 but there are places elsewhere in the National Park where swimming is permitted.

Featured Photo by DeLuca G

Considering its impact size, Zadar is not the easiest town to organise a DIY excursion. But I hope that this guide has shown you the highlights and the alternative choices that you can add to a personalised itinerary that suits your interests. If you found this blog post helpful, I would appreciate you sharing it with fellow cruisers in your roll-call groups. Happy Cruising!

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