A nearly two-mile walk circumnavigating Zadar’s Old Town is a journey across a timeline that spans nearly every stage of Croatian history. And it’s a long history, dating back to the 9th century B.C., when the Liburnians first settled this peninsular spit of land on Croatia’s spectacular Dalmatian coast.
Start your stroll on the northwest corner of the peninsula at the Morske Orgulje, or Sea Organ: a set of 35 pipes spread under a 230-foot section of the city’s seaside promenade, known as the Riva. Awarded the 2006 European Prize for Urban Public Space, the Morske Orgulje plays beautifully discordant melodies as the Adriatic laps the stone and pushes air through the pipes beneath — converting the walkway into an invisible, ethereal orchestra.
After the tidal concert, continue past the “Greeting to the Sun” installation (you’ll have a chance to linger there at the end of your walk) and around the Old Town’s northeast corner.
Continue southeast, walking along Zadar’s harbor-facing walls, constructed and reinforced between the 12th and 17th centuries as part of the Venetian Republic’s Adriatic defense network.
Before moving on, stop at the Garden Lounge, which sits atop the fortifications with views of ferries shuttling passengers to nearby islands, for a local Garden I.P.A. (3.50 euros, or about $3.75), then walk along the walls until you reach the City Bridge on your left. Take a right through the Nova Vrata, or New Gate — an archway built during Italy’s pre-World War II occupation — and into the pedestrian-only Old Town.
Hang a left on the ancient avenue’s southern extension, Elizabete Kotromanić Street, which changes names three times as you pass the coral-colored Baroque Church of St. Simeon, walk under a solitary pillar from Zadar’s Roman Forum, and cross the expansive Petar Zoranić Square, where you can view layers of history — Roman and medieval — frozen in time under glass.
Go right onto Trg Pet Bunara Street, which leads to Five Wells Square. Guarded by the 85-foot Kapetanova Kula (Captain’s Tower), the wells provided the city water during a 16th-century, Ottoman Empire siege. Climb the stairs to the tranquil Queen Jelena Madijevka Park, established in the early 1800s as one of the region’s first public parks. From this elevated vantage, you’ll look south over tiny Foša Harbor and your next two stops.
The first is the monumental Land Gate, the most ornate of the wall entrances, built in 1543 with carvings of Venice’s winged lion and Zadar’s patron saint, Chrysogonus. Then walk halfway down the harbor, where it opens to the sea, and take a waterside table at Restaurant Foša. The grilled sea bass with sunchoke purée and vegetables (€34.51) and a glass of local white pošip wine (€7) will provide fuel for your journey’s final stretch.
At the harbor’s end, turn north to walk the length of the 19th-century Riva, the city’s seaside esplanade. “The Riva is where friends and family meet,” said Iva Bencun, the managing director of Zadar Outdoor Festival, which hosts activities both here and on the island of Ugljan, a 25-minute ferry ride across the channel. “This is also where we find peace and realize our troubles are not that big after all.”
As daylight wanes, find your own peace near the Riva’s pier to witness the city’s famous sunset, which Alfred Hitchcock once called “the world’s most beautiful.” With the scattered ruins of the Roman Forum, dating to the first century B.C., and the cylindrical, ninth-century Church of St. Donat behind you, follow the sun’s last flash into the sea. Then, finish your loop, appropriately, at “Greeting to the Sun,” a circle of nearly 4,100 square feet of solar panels embedded in the promenade that absorb energy all day and provide a pulsing light show all night.
Distance: 1.75 miles
Time to walk: About two hours, allowing time to linger.
Good for kids: Yes. The mostly car-free walk mixes history, the sea and science into a fun, varied outing.