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Five full days in Zadar, Croatia: Itinerary

By February 14, 2024May 11th, 20244 Comments

A little piece of paradise that everyone seems to overlook sits opposite Italy on the map of Europe. Croatia is a gem waiting to be discovered in the Adriatic. Dubrovnik, Split, and the capital city of Zagreb are all on the “must see” list, a trip to Zadar holds many special experiences that appeal to all members of the family. I wouldn’t do this city in any less than 5 days. But if you have more time, definitely take a few days to sit by the beach or pool and relax. If you only have five days, this is the perfect way to spend them.

Day One: Zrmanja River Safari

The first day of your trip is dedicated to a little adventure. Take a tour bus up to Kaštel Žegarski where everyone in the family will be outfitted with life jackets, helmets, and waterproof jugs for their belongings like towels or cell phones. Once everyone is safely seated—two to each inflated canoe—the day really begins.

One guide leads the floatilla down the Zrmanja River, showing everyone how to paddle properly, while another guide takes up the rear to ensure that no stragglers get left behind. Kids of all ages will delight at having their own paddle and trying to figure out the intricacies of how to work it. This endeavor will take up a good 20 minutes of your trip as each person discovers that paddling on the same side of the canoe as your partner is ill advised and dragging your paddle in the water will cause your whole canoe to do an about face. For the tiniest humans—they can just sit back and enjoy the ride, no paddle required.

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As the mechanics of the whole thing become more clear, the group will start to approach waterfalls. These areas of white water can be anywhere from 1 foot to 4 or 5 feet in height. Various levels of shrieks can be heard as kids and adults alike move their canoes through them and down the river.

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Going over the waterfalls is most definitely the highlight of the trip but every family member will also enjoy taking a rest stop to swim in the clear blue-green water.

About ⅔ of the way through this excursion, there is a 10-foot waterfall dumping into a rocky area that isn’t safe to transverse in your canoe. Getting past this obstacle safely requires walking over a narrow rocky path with your paddles and waterproof jugs. Meanwhile, your tour guides send the canoes down. This will be a bit tricky for the kids, so be prepared to help them down the path while holding all the accouterments.

Near the end, participants will be allowed to go over another 10 foot waterfall that is safe, and this experience made the day for my kids. They were a little scared, but totally proud and exhilarated at the feat they had accomplished.

The waterfalls are fun and the scenery is simply stunning. The entire trip from Kaštel Žegarski to Muškovac is 12 kilometers (or about 7.4 miles). You will be pleasantly exhausted by the end! But I can guarantee that your canoe safari on the Zrmanja will be a big highlight of your Croatian vacation.

Day Two: Krka National Park

After a day in the sun out on the river, it can be nice to see the sites at a more leisurely pace. For day two, you’re going to adore visiting Krka National Park. Here, we opted for the less popular national park option simply because of the wine tour at the end! Plitvice Lakes are also an excellent option when you’re visiting Zadar.

Check out the wine tour via Get Your Guide here!

The day really starts when you arrive in the little town of Skradin. We caught the ferry, which will take you and the fam to the park. This is a nice, slow ride that allows everyone to enjoy a gentle boat trip while spotting local wildlife. (Our favorite were the swans!)

The boat will drop you at the park’s entrance. You’ll begin to follow the trail that goes up past a number of gorgeous waterfalls and then loops down the other side. The very first thing we came across on our walk was the Skradinski Buk waterfall, a wide natural pool with several falls flowing into it. While this one is definitely a showstopper, you’ll see many more falls as you follow the trail through the park. 

At the top of the falls, local merchants are set up to sell everything. We saw souvenir trinkets to pizzas and slurpees and old town buildings have been lovingly converted into shops. A few restaurants can be found in the market area if you’d like to sit back and enjoy some local fare while you soak up the views.

On the day we visited, we were with a tour guide, so we opted for a frozen snack and continued onward. As much as the waterfalls are wonderful to see, the kids’ favorite part of the day was walking the wooden boardwalks. Shaded from a good bit of sun during the hottest time of day, these boardwalks took us through what seemed to be an entirely different world!

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From atop the wooden planks, we traversed a lush forest of trees with bright blue-green waters on both sides of us—and sometimes under our feet as well! We took this part slowly, stopping at just about every turn to eye all the big fish swimming about. Our group even stopped for a while to find the singing frogs hiding low in the bushes at the water’s edge.

You could easily spend all day in this underrated national park! But after about 3 hours, we took the ferry back to Skradin and took a swimming break while others in our group explored the local shops. (Swimming used to be allowed within Krka, but it is no longer allowed within the park.)

After our dip, the tour took us to Sladic Winery about 30 minutes outside of Skradin. This may be the tiniest winery I’ve ever been to, but the selection did not disappoint. The winery team indulged us with a selection of meat and cheeses to accompany some lovely wines—the rosé being a favorite among our group. They ended our tasting with some luscious ice cream for the kiddos, so everyone ended this day tired and happy.

Day Three: Beach Day (or maybe the pool!)

Now, with two pretty active days under your belt, you may need a little vacation from your vacation—and there’s no better place to have that vacation than the beach. 

We worry so you don't have to.

We were a little disappointed to discover that the coastline in the Zadar area was very rocky. Enjoying a day at the beach wasn’t as simple as we had hoped. But if you don’t have a great place near your accommodations to kick back and enjoy the water, Sakarun Beach may be the place to go.

This little area is not super easy to get to, but it’s definitely a very pretty spot. The rocky beach turns sandy in a few places. It remains shallow a good ways out, so the kids had plenty of room to splash and play in the clear water overlooking a ton of boats floating at the entrance of the bay.

Our family really enjoyed this spot, but we were happy to spend a few extra hours in the pool at our hotel: Falkensteiner Premium Camping Zadar. Here we had access to a nice restaurant, a little grocery store, a kid’s club, and a great pool. Best of all, we had our own 3-bedroom camper with 2 full bathrooms and a little kitchen. It was the perfect place to stay with kids!

Day Four: Old Town Zadar & The Sea Organ

It would be silly NOT to spend a day in the old town of Zadar. This old city is known for its medieval churches and historical ruins. Our very first stop: the Sea Gate. Done in the Venetian style, this imposing gate is flanked by water on one side and the city just beyond it. We enjoyed looking at the boats over here before exploring.

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The old city is full of little restaurants serving a mix of seafood and pasta dishes. You’ll find some great ones overlooking the water if you venture far enough. While there isn’t any lack of things to see down here including the 12th-century St. Anastasia’s Cathedral and the round, 9th-century pre-Romanesque Church of St. Donatus—not to mention a Roman Forum outside of Rome—our main purpose was to experience the Sea Organ.

Croatian architect Nikola Bašić developed this musical instrument made up of many tubes underneath several meters of large marble steps that “play music” as the waves roll in and out of them.

The sound is lovely and haunting, and I definitely thought my kids would be bored quickly. Spoiler: Our children aged 4 through 13 were entranced. We had to force them to leave after about 40 minutes of sitting and listening to the tunes of the sea.

Bonus: If your young ones are good swimmers and you feel like taking a dip, you can go swimming at the Sea Organ as well!

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We stopped for dinner at Restoran Bruschetta, which had a lovely ambiance inside and a nice outdoor seating area. The staff was wonderful and every single member of the family was full and happy when we left. If you go, be sure to get the truffle and bacon bruschetta—it was to die for.

Day Five: Speed Boat

On your 5th and final day in Zadar, you have to take it all in from the water. Our destination for the day was the gorgeous caves of Dugi Otok. The weather was feeling a little spicy and the waves were too big for our tiny boat to make it out there safely, so we did activities a bit closer to town.

Our first stop: Shipwreck Michelle. You read that right, a shipwreck! This ship ran aground in 1983 and when you grab your snorkeling gear, you can check it out yourself. We had the opportunity to swim all around the ship. My teenager even got to stand on it where it was protruding from the water at the top. (I don’t recommend this as rusty old ships aren’t the safest things to touch.) Even so, this felt like a very special experience—especially on a trip to Europe!

Next our guide drove the boat to some secluded beaches. We were completely alone and got to splash and play in the bright, clear waters of the Adriatic. Then he took us out for an hour of tubing and I can honestly say, I’m not sure who enjoyed this more—the kids or the adults!

Before heading back to the marina, we made a pit stop in an old submarine bunker. Built during World War II, my kids (and husband, honestly) were absolutely in awe. The ride back was full of dolphins playing in the waves.

Hiring a boat to take you out for the day is a bit of an indulgence. But it is so, so worth it. It’s simply the best way to experience all that Zadar’s coast has to offer.

Shauna Armitage

Author Shauna Armitage

Shauna Armitage is a military spouse, mother of four, lover of Coca-Cola, and host of the Startup Renegades podcast, a raw conversation with powerhouse founders building amazing businesses. While Shauna is a marketer by trade, she is a traveler by choice and loves to explore the world with her family in tow. Connect with her on Instagram @shaunajarmitage

More posts by Shauna Armitage

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