The performance of the new wave diffraction feature of the shallow-water spectral model SWAN, particularly its ability to predict the multidirectional wave transformation around shore-parallel emerged breakwaters is examined using laboratory and field data. Comparison between model predictions and field measurements of directional spectra was used to identify the importance of various wave transformation processes in the evolution of the directional wave field. First, the model was evaluated against laboratory measurements of diffracted multidirectional waves around a breakwater shoulder. Excellent agreement between the model predictions and measurements was found for broad frequency and directional spectra. The performance of the model worsened with decreasing frequency and directional spread. Next, the performance of the model with regard to diffraction–refraction was assessed for directional wave spectra around detached breakwaters. Seven different field cases were considered: three wind–sea spectra with broad frequency and directional distributions, each coming from a different direction; two swell–sea bimodal spectra; and two swell spectra with narrow frequency and directional distributions. The new diffraction functionality in SWAN improved the prediction of wave heights around shore-parallel breakwaters. Processes such as beach reflection and wave transmission through breakwaters seem to have a significant role on transformation of swell waves behind the breakwaters. Bottom friction and wave–current interactions were less important, while the difference in frequency and directional distribution might be associated with seiching.