Zadar or Split: Which City is Worth Visiting?

When planning a trip to Croatia, a common dilemma is choosing between Zadar and Split. Both cities have their unique charm and attractions.

As someone with a personal connection to Zadar – my husband is from there, and we own a house just outside of the city – I naturally lean towards Zadar. However, I strive to provide an unbiased comparison.

Is it Zadar, with its unique sea organ, or Split, known for Diocletian’s Palace? The truth is, both Zadar and Split are worth visiting!

As different travelers have varying interests and budgets, your preference between Zadar and Split will depend on what you seek in your travels. In this article, I’ll break down the key aspects of both cities, from attractions to food to day trips.

This comparison aims to help you make an informed decision in the great debate of Zadar vs Split – which city is worth your visit.

Is Zadar worth visiting? 

This Croatian city, located on the stunning Dalmatian coast, is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. There are many things to do in Zadar. As you wander through the city, you’ll be walking through centuries of history, from ancient Roman ruins to medieval churches, all set against the backdrop of the sparkling Adriatic Sea.

Zadar’s skyline is a unique mix of old and new, where the ancient city walls and historical buildings blend seamlessly with modern-day marvels like the Sea Organ, an architectural sound art object that plays music by way of sea waves. This fascinating blend of history and innovation draws countless visitors each year.

You can take many day trips from Zadar and explore nearby natural wonders, including Croatia’s famous national parks and beautiful islands.

Is Split worth visiting? 

As you set foot in Split, the second-largest city of Croatia, you’re greeted by a stunning blend of ancient history and lively modern energy. Located on the picturesque Dalmatian Coast, Split is a city where every corner tells a story, from its well-preserved Roman architecture to its waterfront promenade.

The heart of Split is the Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This ancient palace is not just a monument but a living part of the city, with shops, restaurants, and homes nestled within its walls. The fusion of historical sites and everyday life makes Split a unique experience for any traveler.

Split’s Riva, a seafront promenade lined with cafes and palm trees, is a perfect spot to feel the Mediterranean atmosphere. Whether you’re exploring the maze-like streets of the old town or enjoying a coffee with views of the harbor, Split captivates with its charm.

Just like Zadar Split serves as a gateway to the stunning islands of the Adriatic. 

Zadar or Split: Top Attractions

Zadar Attractions

  • Sea Organ and Sun Salutation: Experience the unique Sea Organ, an architectural sound art object that creates music from the sea waves. Nearby, the Sun Salutation, a large solar panel that lights up at night, offers a modern art spectacle.
  • Roman Forum and St. Donatus’ Church: Explore the ancient Roman Forum, the social heart of Roman Zadar, and the circular Church of St. Donatus, a symbol of the city known for its pre-Romanesque architecture.
  • Kalelarga (Main Street): Wander through Kalelarga, also known as Wide Street, the main and most famous street in Zadar. It’s a place filled with cafes and shops, running from the Forum to the city’s waterfront.
  • Zadar’s City Walls and Gates: Walk along the impressive city walls, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and pass through its gates, including the Land Gate, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.

Split Attractions

  • Diocletian’s Palace: Discover the heart of Split, the Diocletian’s Palace. This ancient palace complex, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a unique blend of Roman architecture and modern life.
  • Riva Promenade: Relax and enjoy the Mediterranean atmosphere along the Riva, Split’s waterfront promenade, lined with cafes and offering beautiful sea views.
  • Marjan Hill: For a breathtaking view of the city and the sea, hike or cycle up Marjan Hill. This park-forest is a favorite local retreat for nature and recreation.
  • Cathedral of Saint Domnius: Visit the Cathedral of Saint Domnius, originally built as Diocletian’s mausoleum. The cathedral’s bell tower offers a panoramic view of the city, the sea, and the surrounding islands.

There are many things to do in Zadar and it gets my vote for top attractions, as they are more concentrated and within walking distance.

​​Zadar vs Split: The Food


Zadar’s culinary scene is a delightful mix of traditional Dalmatian flavors and fresh seafood. A must-try is the Brudet, a rich fish stew cooked with a variety of sea creatures, served with polenta. It’s a hearty, flavorful dish that encapsulates the essence of Zadar’s cuisine.

For a unique local treat, try Pag Cheese, a savory sheep’s milk cheese from the nearby island of Pag. Its distinct flavor comes from the island’s aromatic herbs that sheep graze on.

Another local specialty is Octopus Salad, a refreshing mix of tender octopus, olive oil, vinegar, and fresh herbs. It’s a perfect appetizer to start your culinary journey in Zadar.

For dessert, don’t miss out on Fritule, small deep-fried dough balls flavored with lemon zest and raisins, often served during Christmas time but delicious year-round.

A great place to enjoy these delights is at Pet Bunara, a restaurant known for its traditional dishes made with a modern twist.


In Split, the food scene is characterized by its rich history and Mediterranean influences. Start with Split-style Pašticada, a slow-cooked beef dish marinated in wine and served with gnocchi. This dish is a staple at any Dalmatian celebration.

Seafood lovers will enjoy Grilled Fish, freshly caught and simply prepared with olive oil, garlic, and parsley, often served with Swiss chard and potatoes.

For a quick bite, try Ćevapi, small grilled minced meat sausages tucked into a flatbread with onions and ajvar, a red pepper-based condiment.

And of course, you can’t leave Split without tasting Soparnik, a traditional Dalmatian dish similar to a pie, filled with Swiss chard, garlic, and olive oil.

Konoba Varos is a great place to experience these local flavors, offering a cozy, authentic dining experience.

Zadar gets my vote for food! I am a big fan of mussels from the Novigrad Sea, which are often featured in their local dishes. The freshness and quality of seafood in Zadar are simply unmatched.

Zadar vs Split: Day Trips


  • Plitvice Lakes National Park: About 1.5 hours drive from Zadar, this UNESCO World Heritage site is famous for its stunning series of terraced lakes and waterfalls. Hike along the scenic trails and enjoy the breathtaking natural beauty.
  • Kornati Islands: Take a boat trip to the Kornati Islands, a gorgeous archipelago off the Zadar coast. It’s a place for snorkeling, swimming, and enjoying the tranquil beauty of unspoiled nature.
  • Paklenica National Park: Roughly 45 minutes from Zadar, this park offers dramatic canyons, hiking trails, and the chance to explore the beauty of the Velebit Mountain Range.
  • Nin: A short drive from Zadar, the ancient town of Nin is known for its historical significance, including the smallest cathedral in the world and lovely sandy beaches.
  • Benkovac: A hidden gem where you can see dozens of abandoned mansions.


  • Krka National Park: Around an hour’s drive from Split, Krka National Park is famous for its series of stunning waterfalls and natural pools. Enjoy a swim in the refreshing waters or explore the walking trails around the park.
  • Hvar Island: Take a ferry from Split to Hvar, a chic island known for its nightlife, beautiful beaches, and lavender fields.
  • Trogir: Just 30 minutes from Split, Trogir is a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasting a well-preserved medieval town center, charming streets, and a beautiful waterfront.
  • Brac Island: Another short ferry ride from Split takes you to Brac Island, home to the famous Zlatni Rat beach and quaint villages that showcase traditional Croatian life.
  • Vis Island: I took a day trip from Split to Vis and I would do it again.

Zadar gets my vote for day trips! A day trip from Zadar to Kornati is still in my memory despite it being almost 40 years ago.

Zadar or Split in Summer

  • Summer in Zadar: Summer brings a special charm to Zadar. The city’s beaches provide a peaceful retreat, while the clear waters invite swimming and boating. Cultural events, such as the Festival of the Sun and Sea, enrich the city with music and traditional dance. As evening approaches, the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation add a unique touch to the waterfront.
  • Summer in Split: During the summer months, Split becomes a lively center for outdoor activities. The Riva promenade is filled with people enjoying the sea breeze at cafes and bars. Bačvice Beach offers a traditional Split experience, with locals and tourists alike engaging in beach activities. The Split Summer Festival brings a variety of cultural events to the city.

Zadar or Split in Winter

  • Winter in Zadar: The winter season in Zadar is quieter, offering a peaceful atmosphere for exploring the city’s historical landmarks. The festive season is marked by Christmas markets, where visitors can enjoy local crafts and seasonal treats.
  • Winter in Split: In winter, Split offers a unique experience with its historical sites and festive activities. The Diocletian’s Palace and the old town are especially enjoyable during this time, with holiday decorations adding a special touch. The Advent in Split festival brings together local music, food, and crafts, creating a festive environment throughout the city.

While I’m biased toward Zadar and would usually choose it over Split, I must admit that during the winter, Split should be your go-to place.

How far is Zadar from Split, and can I visit both in one trip?

Zadar and Split are about 160 kilometers (100 miles) apart. The journey between these two cities is quite manageable, taking around 2 hours by car or about 3 hours by bus. Visiting both cities in a single day is possible, but you won’t be able to see everything you’d like to see.

How many days in Zadar and Split?

Zadar and Split can be briefly visited for a quick experience. For a thorough exploration, spend 3 nights in Split to see its historical sites and nearby islands. In Zadar, 2 nights are enough to explore its history and coast, along with nearby attractions like Plitvice Lakes and the Kornati Islands.