One decision that should not be split when visiting Croatia is the choice to visit the city of Split. It tends to be less popular than Croatia’s other most known city, Dubrovnik (click to see my review), but it shouldn’t be. It’s an equally beautiful city, and one that actually has more to offer. In Split, you still have a historic walled city like Dubrovnik, but you have a bustling metropolis too. It’s situated right on the sea, has incredible restaurants, lots of unique shops, beautiful parks and plenty of history. It’s a city with something to for everyone.
The walled city, otherwise known as Diocletian’s Palace was built around 600 as a palace for the Roman Emperor, Diocletian. The size of it boggles the mind, even today. (It’s massive). Thinking that one Emperor had the whole place created as a retreat for himself is pretty remarkable. It seems like he might have been a pretty important guy, or so he thought. Walls however didn’t come into the picture until Split became a Venetian territory in the 1400’s. Today, the area is a busy port city. Because of it’s age, mixed in with new modernism are plenty of ancient wonders.
It’s amazing what you can cram into less than 48 hours in one place when you’re on vacation, which is the amount of time I had in Split. You can definitely see a lot if you try! Since most of the touristy stuff falls in or around the Palace, you can pretty much walk everywhere, and see a lot while doing so. It’s quite a peaceful place to stroll around (thanks to a no cars allowed policy), wandering from shop to shop, or bar to bar, whichever you prefer.
Getting Around: Split has an international airport, so it’s a good starting or stopping point on your journey through Croatia. It happened to be my last stop in the country, so I came into town via the Jadrolinija ferry. Split has Uber service, and actually offers very cheap rides, so this was the best way to get from the ferry to the hotel, and then to the airport at the end of the trip. Other than these few rides, walking was the way to go.
What To Do: As I mentioned, there is something here for everyone! From historic sites to toad museums (yes, it’s a real thing), Split has it all. Below is what I recommend.
- Cathedral St. Domnius: The oldest Cathedral in the world that has not been substantially rebuilt at any time. It was originally the masoleum of Emperor Diocletian, but his remains were removed in the 7th century and replaced with those of St. Domnius, at which time the Cathedral was consecrated. Domnius, a 3rd century Bishop happened to be martyred by Diocletian during his persecution of the Christians. It’s ironic that the Cathedral in his palace is named after someone he martyred. You can tour the Cathedral and the crypt for a small fee. It’s well worth it!
- Riva: The promenade along the harbour is known as the Riva and is basically one restaurant after another, intermixed with gelato shops and bars. It’s a great place to stroll in the evening, sit for lunch and watch the sea (and the people), or get some early morning exercise.
- Marjan Peninsula: You can walk all the way out to the end of the Marjan to get to a great lookout point in a beautiful park. The walk there, while steamy in the summer months, is wonderful, as you will get to see all the yachts coming into the harbour. You also get a chance to get out of the busyness of the city for a bit. The lookout is in a beautiful park and leads you right to Jadran Beach (see below).
- Beaches: For a city on the water it’s a little surprising how few beaches Split has. The ones they do have though are pretty breathtaking. Not in the normal “beachy way,” you know with sand and all, but rather with the views they offer. Mountains and lush greenery in the distance with crystal clear turquoise waters as far as the eye can see. And while they don’t have sand, you can easily pull up a spot on the cement, float in the sea or pay for a lounge chair for the day. The two beaches I recommend are Bacvice Beach and Jadran Beach. (See map below for location information.)
- A Capella Group: You know those moments when you just happen to be in the right place at the right time and everything feels magical. Seeing the A Capella group singing in the Cathedral was one of those moments. In the rotunda their voices echoed gloriously and it felt like they were singing to the angels. The talent that people in this world have is incredible, and it’s always a joy to witness it, especially in the middle of such an historic place.
- Outdoor Market: By the Silver Gate entrance to the palace (east side), you will find a local market with fruits, veggies, clothes and trinkets galore. Be sure to take cash and your haggling skills to get a good deal.
- Game of Thrones: I have never seen a single minute of the widely popular HBO show, but for those die hard fans out there, you can take Game of Thrones tours and even go to the museum. Much of the show was filmed within the palace walls.
- Gregor of Nin Statue: By the Golden Gate entrance to the palace (north side) you will find the gigantic statue of Gregor of Nin. Gregor was the Croatian bishop of Nin, who introduced the local language to worship services, which previously had only been said in Latin. The statue is most impressive at night.
Where To Stay: Hotels and Airbnb’s seem to fill up quite quickly in Split in the summer months. My recommendation is to book as early as you can. I also recommend staying near old town but outside of the walls. No one wants to cart luggage through the cobblestones, am I right? In Split, I chose to stay a hostel-like hotel. I have not stayed in a hostel before, but was told this was like the grown up, cleaner version of one (from some Irish backpackers I met in the lobby). The hotel, Split Urban Rooms, was just a block from old town, had luggage storage for before and after check out, was very clean and had big rooms, plus it was really well priced. (We had a room without an exterior window, and it was fine. It had plenty of light and since we were only in it to sleep, we didn’t even notice. It did have a window to the lobby, which helped!) The Cornaro, nearby, also seemed like a great option.
Where To Eat: You can eat any type of food you want in Split! There are more restaurants than one could count, with cuisines from all over the world. There are a lot of healthy options too. Sometimes the best way to find a place to eat is to just walk and see what restaurant catches your eye. It’s also always helpful to get recommendations from locals, so I asked the front desk associate at the hotel and was more than happy with her suggestions. So, if you want to go in with a food plan, I recommend…
- MakaMaka: For a short visit, I am a little embarrassed to admit how many times I ate here, which was at least three. It was just so good! And I can report that everything here is delicious. The acai bowl, the poke bowl and the acai daiquiri were my favorites. This one was a place I stumbled upon and was very thankful for.
- Bajamonti: This was a recommendation and after eating here I can see why. I had breakfast at this gorgeous restaurant in the middle of the Prokurative (a Venetian-esque square). Plenty of space to dine al fresco if you like (I do!), or inside in an elegant setting. If you like yogurt, I highly recommend the granola bowl. It was one of the best I have ever had.
- Gelateria Emiliana: For some reason I couldn’t get into gelato on this trip. In every stop, it just didn’t taste good to me. The one exception was Gelateria Emiiliana. The flavors were very unique (they had kefir gelato, which was a gem to find and delicious), smooth, creamy and oh so tasty. It doesn’t hurt that it’s an elegant little shop that draws you right in as you stroll by.
- No Stress Bistro: Another recommendation, with yummy food. I can’t say the same about the service. It felt like they forgot us. But the restaurant is situated within the busy People’s Square (aka Narodni trg) so sitting outside watching the hustle and bustle around helped pass the time.
- Chops Grill: This restaurant is popular, so make a reservation in advance. We unfortunately weren’t able to get in, but did stop by to browse the menu, which was incredible, and take a peek at the festive atmosphere.
- Pizza: I cannot seem to track down the name, but there is a great pizza place across from The Fresh Box juice stand on the Riva. It has red and white checked table clothes, Italian style Coke’s and pizza that just melts in your mouth.
Below are couple maps I hope will help you easily find your way in Split. My restaurant picks are the first map, followed by the main points of interest on the second map.
What do you say, don’t you think it’s time to Split?!
(P.S. I recommend buying the DK EYEWITNESS Croatia travel book. It has great maps, details everything to see within the palace and recommends good hotels and restaurants.)
Signed with Style,