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During my recent trip to Croatia, I decided to split (see what I did there?) my time between Zagreb and the coast. I haven’t been to many places on the famous Adriatic coast, so I knew I had to visit more of it during this trip…starting with the most popular seaside city of Split!
Split is the second largest city in Croatia, as well as the largest city in the Dalmatia Region along the Adriatic Coast. Being that Split is one of the largest cities on the Adriatic, it is deemed as one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Croatia, due to having its own airport, as well as being very accessible by bus, train, car and ferries as well.
The medieval historic centre of Split, which was once a Roman palace as mentioned above, is the obvious highlight of this Croatian coastal city, but if you look beyond the city centre, you’ll find that there is so much to see and do in and around Split. As you walk around the city centre where Romans once walked, you’ll see that today the streets are ruled by many tourists snapping photos and eating gelato as they disembark from their Jadrolinija ferry boats.
Split’s history is a long and complicated one, which starts off as being founded by the Greeks back during the 2nd or 3rd century BC. The historic centre of Split was once the palace of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, who reigned for 21 years from 284 AD. Later on, Split would become part of the Byzantines then eventually was ruled by the Venetians and was under Venetian Rule for many years. Split was part of the Kingdom of Italy, the French Empire and then the Austrian Empire, where Split remained a part of the Austrian Kingdom of Dalmatia until the eventual fall of Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, which then formed Yugoslavia. During World War II, Split was annexed by Italy, then liberated by the Partisans after the Italian Empire left in 1943. Split was then re-occupied by the Germans, which gave the city to the Independent State of Croatia. Split was liberated again by the Partisans in 1944 and was included in the post-war Socialist Yugoslavia, as part of the Republic of Croatia. In 1991, Croatia broke free from Yugoslavia amid the Croatian War of Independence.
The main sights in Split are easy to find because most of them are centrally concentrated in the World Heritage Site of the medieval centre. It sits in the centre of a harbour and if you wander in either direction along the coast, you’ll discover beautiful views of the city and of the sea, especially along the Riva at sunset.
If you’re planning a trip to Split, I would definitely suggest 2 – 3 days in the city to see and do as much as possible. If you aren’t into large crowds and higher prices, I would also suggest NOT going during the months of June – August, as that is prime time holiday central for all of Europe. Visiting Split during the shoulder season (April – May) would be the most ideal, but if you’re looking for mild temps and no crowds during the winter months, then October – November is just as lovely…if you can deal with some occasional rainy days.
With all that being said, here is my extensive list of how to spend two days exploring Split, Croatia.
How To Get To Split
Being that Split is the second largest city in Croatia, you’ll have zero issues reaching it by any method of transit you desire, such as plane, train, car, bus and ferry. Split’s bus, train and ferry stations are all located right next to each other, so you’ll certainly find that you will be arriving in the main centre of the transit hub of Split. Split’s airport (SPU) is located about 20 kms from the downtown area and is a short taxi ride away. If you’re looking to save money, take the local bus number 37 or number 38. Both lines have a scheduled stop not far from the airport. Split is very well connected by bus routes if you are travelling to the city from inside Croatia, with regular bus routes from all other major cities, including Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Zadar, and Sibenik. Flixbus (my preferred choice) is the most popular and affordable bus company in Croatia with an easy online booking system. I personally have travelled with Flixbus numerous times and can highly recommend them. If travelling by car, you will need to take the A1 motorway, which is a toll highway, but if you want to save some precious Euros and don’t mind driving through smaller villages and taking a bit longer to arrive, you can certainly take the old back roads, rather than the newer fancier highway.
Read more: A Complete City Guide To Zadar, Croatia
Read more: How to Create the Perfect Travel Itinerary
Getting Around Split
Although Split is Croatia’s second largest city, it never feels too big and only has a population of about 160,000 people. You’ll be able to walk to many of Split’s tourist attractions in the city, or easily get an Uber or public transport to others. Other options are local buses, or taxis, although you will rarely need to take any public transit while in Split and you will be happy to know that you can get around to all the attractions easily and conveniently on foot.
If there is one place you will be spending a lot of your time while in Split, it’s walking, or sitting along the beautiful Riva. Split’s claim to fame is its gorgeous promenade lined with large, fluffy palm trees that seem to dance and sway in the Adriatic breeze. Grab a beer from one of the local shops and pop yourself down on one of many benches facing the sea and enjoy a calm afternoon people watching, or watching the ferries and boats in the harbour. At any point of the day, Split’s Riva is busting with locals and tourists sitting at one of the many cafés and restaurants chatting and laughing the afternoon away and during the night, the Riva really comes to life as people flood to the restaurants for a seaside meal and a few boozey cocktails. This is truly Split’s living room when it comes to places to be.
Another claim to Split’s fame and glory is the magnificent Diocletian’s Palace. This structure was built for the Roman Emperor, Diocletian during the 4th century AD. The palace is a well preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to a handful of attractions, such as the Cathedral of Saint Domnius (offering stellar views from its tower), Temple of Jupiter, Peristil Square, and a statue of Marko Marulić – the founder of Croatian literature. With beautiful marble from Italy and Greece, and columns and sphinxes from Egypt, Diocletian’s Palace must have been one of the most opulent sites back in its heyday. The streets are still paved in large white stone and amongst the tightly woven labyrinthine paths, are dozens of beautiful ancient facades, which will have your mind spinning imagining what the palace must have looked like in earlier years. Diocletian’s Palace has four gates. Each of the four fortified walls that protected the palace had its own gate and when you visit, you’ll likely go through one of them to enter the palace walls. Each one of the gates was named after a metal – there’s the western Iron Gate, the northern Golden Gate, the eastern Silver Gate, and the southern Bronze Gate. One of the most iconic parts of Diocletian’s Palace is the Perstil Square, which is the main focal point for visitors today. Surrounded by towering white marble columns and the St. Domnius Cathedral and bell tower (which you must climb for spectacular views of Split and the surrounding area), Peristil Square is also home to the only surviving black granite sphinx of twelve that were brought to Split after Diocletian put down a rebellion in Egypt somewhere around the year 297. Make sure to visit the almost hidden Substructures below Peristil Square, which is the space also known as the Cellars of Diocletian’s Palace. These rooms in this basement area not only elevated the emperor’s chambers above, but were used as storage and for other functions to keep the palace running. Today you will find dozens of stalls selling everything from trinkets, to jewellery and local artist’s works. Last, but certainly not least, the palace Vestibule is something unlike anything I’ve seen before and will literally stop you in your tracks as you look up to the open sky in awe as you enter the round room with the open dome.
Climb the St. Domnius Cathedral Bell Tower (Campanile)
The St. Domnius Cathedral is a 7th century church that is regarded as the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world that is still in use as its original form. If you’re strolling through Split Old Town, (or much of the city for that matter) it’s hard to miss it, as its tower rises higher than all of the other buildings. Grab a ticket from the tourist centre across Peristil Square and make your way up the tower for commanding views of the Old Town, Riva Marjan Hill and surrounding area.
People’s Square (Narodni Trg)
People’s Square, or Narodni Trg dates from around the 15th century and is surrounded by important buildings in Gothic, Venetian, and Renaissance styles. The Town Hall and Cambi Palace are just a few of the landmarks that are worth noting while walking around the square. Narodni Trg is also famous for its clock which has 24 numbers on it, rather than the usual 12. Within the square, there’s al fresco dining and this is a popular meeting spot for locals and tourists. You can sit here for hours and people watch as you sip on a few espressos throughout the morning hours.
Fruit Square (Voćni Trg)
Another square worth visiting while wandering around Old Town Split is Fruit Square, or Voćni Trg. This smaller, but just as striking public square is home to an imposing octagonal Venetian tower on one side and the Milesi Palace with a spectacular Baroque facade on the other. The square gets its name from the fruit markets that were once held here, but now it’s mainly a meeting place and another area that’s nice for an outdoor drink, or a bit of shopping in the many little touristic shops.
Wander The Old Town Streets
I know, I know. It may sound redundant when a travel blogger tells you to “WaNdEr ThE sTrEeTs,” however, Split is one of those cities where you will (literally) get lost while exploring. The labyrinthine maze of small, narrow stone streets that make up the Old Town of Split are unlike any other that I’ve walked through. Every corner is more photogenic than the next and after a few Karlovackos, they may all start looking the same and spin you around. I promise I’m not speaking from experience…or am I? 😉 The Old Town streets of Split will transport you back in time as you meander through them and marvel at the flowers draped above you from the green shuttered windows and catch wafts of fresh baked goods from local bakeries tucked into old stone buildings. Time slows down in Split, so enjoy every moment getting lost in the city.
For fantastic views of Split from above and to burn of some calories, head to the top of Marjan Hill. Marjan Hill is located on the peninsula of Split and boasts incredible views of the city and sea below. Getting to the start of Marjan Hill is easy and can be accessed in many ways, however, if you are coming from the Old Town, you’ll want to walk along the Riva and head up Solurat Ulica. You’ll be able to see the sign marking the trail. As you ascend the hundreds of stairs to the first viewing platform, you will be surrounded by a dense Mediterranean pine forest. Further up the trail from the platform, you’ll come across a small chapel called St. Nicholas’ Church. This tiny chapel was built in 1219 when Marjan was a spiritual haven for the citizens of Split who expressed their faith by going on a pilgrimage to Marjan Hill. These miniature churches were one of the most important witnesses of the way life developed in Split. From that point, you will see another set of stairs, which will take you higher. If you wish to go to the top by the Croatian flag in the distance, you will need to climb an absurd amount of stairs to get there. I didn’t quite go to the flag, but I walked enough stairs to the point of obtaining some sore knees. Let me tell you though, the views are worth it. No pain, no gain, right?
If you like shopping, then head to Marmontova Ulica. This long, pristine marble lined street in Split is home to all things fashion and frills. You will find jewellery, clothes, shoes and other goods from artisanal and mass market brands. Street performers can be found here at night, busking for cash and selling CD’s on the street. You’ll also find that this is the place where people go to be seen. Dressed to the nines in high fashion, Marmontova Ulica is the place to walk for those that are into people watching.
Rub The Toe Of Bishop Grgur Of Nin
This massive 28 foot tall statue of Bishop Grgur Ninski stands just outside the palace’s Golden Gate and towers over people as they pass by. In 926 AD, Gregory Ninski advocated for the Croatian national language to be used in churches, which went against Rome’s wishes. He defied Rome and has since been revered as a protector of Croatian ideas and culture. Make sure to rub his big toe when you walk by. It is said that if you do, you will one day return to Split. FYI, I rubbed his toe. 😉
Looking for a place to wander away from the crowds and the hustle and bustle of Split? Then head to the quiet neighbourhood of Veli Varoš. Charming Varoš (as known by locals), is known for its labyrinthine alleyways, medieval churches, and white stone houses dotting the slopes of Marjan Hill. Within this neighbourhood, you’ll be able to hear a pin drop, unlike walking through the Old Town during the high season. You’ll hear the locals cooking in their homes as they pop the windows open, so you can hear the pots and pans in their kitchens. You’ll see that this area is also home to many high-end restaurants as well as cheaper family run eateries (konobas) serving traditional Dalmatian cuisine, such as grilled seafood and other local delicacies.
Crkva sv. Nikola
Another gem tucked away in the tiny streets of Veli Varoš, is the miniature stone chapel of Crkva sv. Nikola, or St. Nicholas Church. And yes, there are a few chapels and churches with the same name. This cute chapel was built in the 11th century and if you walked by quickly, you’d surely miss it. It is one of the oldest churches in Split and certainly the oldest in Veli Varoš.
Trg Republike (Prokurative)
One might think they’ve stepped into Venice upon entering Trg Republike, or Republic Square in Split. This beautiful Venetian style square is home to many markets, festivals, concerts and much more throughout the year. The elaborate pink Neo-Renaissance building known as the Prokurative, is a hot meeting place for locals and is surrounded by coffee shops and eateries.
Day Trip To Trogir, Klis Fortress, Brač, Hvar or Vis Islands
While staying in Split, you will have endless options for day trips. Some options may be heading to the small coastal town of Trogir, just shy of 30 kilometres away from Split. Trogir is a historic town and harbour on the Adriatic coast in Split-Dalmatia County, Croatia and its historic centre has now been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1997 for its Venetian style architecture. For all my Game of Thrones fans, you can head to the famous Klis Fortress where scenes from the show were filmed. The Klis Fortress is a medieval fortress situated above a village bearing the same name and the hilltop castle dates back to the 7th century and has housed many Croatian monarchs over the years. You can easily get to Klis Fortress from Split in less than 30 minutes by local bus, car, or even as a day tour. Split is also one of the major ferry points to exploring nearby islands. Why not pack a day bag, hop on a ferry and venture off to Brač, Hvar or Vis Islands. For all ferry info, including dates, times and schedules, head to the Jadrolinija site. During the busier months, you may also be able to hire a private boat, or book a tour to the islands as well.
Where To Eat
Since Split is a mecca for tourists, you will never go hungry while wandering the streets. Typical Split dishes with be grilled meats, fish, veggies and risottos. You can also find traditional fast food joints that serve up savory phyllo-dough pies, called burek, with various fillings like cheese, spinach, potatoes, or minced meat, as well as cevapi, which are finger shaped minced meat grilled and served with red pepper spread (ajvar), onions, and pita bread. Whatever your budget is, you’ll always have many options to choose from when it comes to restaurants. You can snag a great upscale meal for around 30 € , or a budget meal for 6 €. Here are just some of the places I checked out while in Split:
Marvlvs Library Jazz Bar: Located in the small streets of Diocletian’s Palace, this cozy little bar is a great place to stop and grab a drink. When I was there it was filled with locals enjoying a chat with friends and listening to great music. There is a small room in the back area that is both intimate and private, so it’d be a great place for a date, or a small gathering with your closest crew.
Anonima Bottega Italiana: Just a few minutes walk from Trg Republike in the Veli Varoš neighbourhood, you’ll come across this hidden gem. Selling everything from light snacks, to wine and craft beers, this cute little shop makes for a great getaway from the otherwise busy, tourist filled streets of Split’s Riva area. If you end up visiting, make sure to grab a bottle of craft beer to take back to your room for later on, or to enjoy while perched on one of the many benches along the waterfront.
D16 Coffee: Located on Dominisova Ulica within Diocletian’s Palace, you’ll find this cozy coffee shop that specializes in great coffee, delicious pastries with a gorgeous modern interior setting. If you want your coffee to be freshly roasted, fair trade, single origin and packed full of robust flavours, then make sure to give D16 a try for your daily jolt of caffeine.
Kantun Paulina: Ok, ćevapi is to Croats what pizza is to the Italians…it’s a staple of culture. There is no better place in Split to grab a delicious ćevapi served in the fluffiest bread than at Kantun Paulina. If I could give this place a 12/10, I would, it’s just THAT damn good. Located on Matošića Ulica, Kantun Paulina cannot be skipped. There’s a reason why it has been around since 1967. With standing room only inside and a bench outside, this place gets busy! If you don’t feel like eating outdoors, do as the locals do and snag a spot at the standing bar top with your meal and beer.
ST Burek: I feel like the smaller the establishment, the better quality food you get. ST. Burek is no exception to this. Cheap and delicious, the small, casual diner-like atmosphere of ST. Burek is what I love most about finding these little local gems. Make sure to bring cash with you, as ST. Burek is a cash only establishment, which makes me like it even more. 🙂
Konoba Favola: Konoba Favola is located in the center of Split, on Voćni Trg, or Fruit Square, one of the most beautiful squares of Split. There is ample outdoor seating for those warm summer nights, however when I visited, I was seated indoors because of some heavy rainfall. The food here was good, not incredible, but I’d still recommend trying it out if you are in Split. The tuna steak with honey was really nice, although I would’ve preferred it a bit more well done, but that’s just personal preference. For price point, I thought it was a bit pricey for the amount of food I received, but it could have been because tuna is not cheap. Overall, a good experience and the service was very friendly!
Where To Stay
Split offers world class accommodations no matter what your budget is like. Everything ranging from luxurious Old Town lofts, to budget friendly hostels, Split has what you are looking for. Most travellers, especially first time visitors to Split, will opt to stay in the Old Town, as it is the most centrally located area for attractions, restaurants and of course, the waterfront. While visiting Split for the first time, I stayed within the magnificent walls of Diocletian’s Palace at Split Luxury Loft. The loft is beautifully decorated and comes with all the amenities one would need when staying somewhere, such as a fully stocked kitchenette, large comfy bed and a great shower.
My first time in Split was everything I could have hoped for. Yes, it was rainy for the first day, but once the rain subsided, I was able to fully enjoy what Split had to offer and with less crowds. I got to experience beautiful scenery, great hikes, amazing restaurants and friendly locals that loved to talk about what I should do and see while in town. I originally had an ATV tour booked, but because of the nasty weather, it was cancelled, but I have a feeling I will be back (I did rub Grgur Ninski’s toe, after all). 😉
Have any of you ever been to Split? If you have, what was your favourite thing to do, or see while in town? Let me know in the comments below. xo