I tried to come up with a witty title for this post, but sadly could only come up with lame ones, like “Let’s Split!” or “Side Splitting fun in Croatia”. So it was on those sad puns that I decided to just cut to the chase and write what I really wanted to say… which is how awesome Split is.
Croatia in general turned out to be the pleasant surprise destination during our whirlwind European adventure. For us it was one of those destinations that sounded a little different to the European regulars and peaked our interest. We didn’t really know much about Split at all (apart from the fact that Game of Thrones was filmed there). We went without any expectation and were blown away by how beautiful it was and how much we loved it. Sadly, we only had about 3 days in Split, so here are our picks on what to do with limited time.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia, with a rich history dating back beyond the 3rd century AD. Throughout history, it has flourished as a trade port, linking trade routes from the Ottoman Empire to Venice. Diocletian’s Palace certainly is one of the main drawcards of Split. An impressive palace built for Emperor Diocletian as a retirement palace in 305AD, it is still standing and an impressive testament to Roman architecture. Throughout its history various rulers, from the Venetians to the Germans, have governed Split but in 1944 Split was liberated and officially became a part of Croatia. This rich history is evident when you walk through the old city and admire the ancient buildings and observe how it has grown over the centuries.
Getting into Split
Surprisingly, Croatia isn’t as easy to get into as other European gateways. We flew with Croatian Air and you can take a bus (on the right when you exit the airport) into the main centre. The buses from the airport run in conjunction with the airline arrivals. It costs 30ku per person to get into the city and takes approximately 40 minutes. The bus drops you off where the ferries leave (15 minutes walk from the old town).
Being a port town, there are also plenty of ferries and buses that go to Split from various cities.
Things To Do
Unlike other European destinations, Croatia does not offer Free Walking Tours. Apparently, Croatian authorities have banned free tours, for what reason I do not know. But don’t let that deter you. We did one offered through Split Walking Tour and it was definitely worth the money. We learnt about Split’s fascinating history, mainly revolving around Diocletian and his palace. Did you know that:
- Diocletian is the only Roman Emperor to abdicate?
- Roman cement used to build the palace used slaves blood as congealment?
- Brac, a nearby island, produces the limestone used throughout the city and was even used to build the White House!
- The Fish market in Split is one of the rare markets not to have an insect problem due to the sulphuric levels (trust me, I don’t blame the insects for staying away! For a person who isn’t a fan of seafood, mixed with sulphur, there was certainly an overpowering stench!)
On the tour you can learn interesting titbits like the ones above and much more!
Cost: 90kn / €12 pp
Diocletian’s Palace, Cathedral and Bell Tower
This was certainly the highlight for us. As soon as you walk up to the palace’s exterior, you can immediately see why it is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. The palace, which took only 10 years to build, and the Cathedral of St Domnius are still in amazing condition and so well-preserved since it was originally built in 305a.d. – Do the math, that’s a hell of a long time to still be standing! Can you imagine anything built today to still be standing in 1,710 years??? In fact, the cathedral is one of the oldest cathedrals in the world still in original condition!
The bell tower though is a different story. It took over 400 years to build (from the 13th to the 18th centuries) and in the last century had to be restored, so it’s quite “new” in comparison to its historical counterparts. Be warned that the stairs are so steep that you have to practically lunge up them, but the 360º views from the top are worth it.
Oh, and for all the Game of Thrones fans out there, the palace has several scenes of Daenerys’ story filmed there.
Cost: You can wander through the main areas of the palace for free, however, if you want to visit the cellars, the bell tower or the cathedral, you will have to purchase tickets.
A combo ticket to enter the Cathedral, Bell Tower, Treasury, Crypt and Baptistery is 45 kn (or you can purchase separate entries at individual rates).
Entrance to the cellars of Diocletian’s Palace is 40kn per person.
Tour to the Islands & Blue Cave
This is a full day tour offered by every man and his dog lining the port. You can also buy tickets through the travel agencies throughout the city. It seems as though all the prices are the same, but some tours will try to put as many people on a boat as possible and don’t include lunch, so it’s good to check before booking. We booked through Amaranthus tourist agency and our tour was run by Split Tours and there were only 16 (including the driver) of us in total.
The day is spent visiting islands off the coast of Split and the famous blue cave. During certain times of the morning (normally between 10:30 and 12pm), the sun shines through a hole of the grotto and is reflected off the sea floor. The water practically glows and lights up the cave a magnificent blue. The effect is certainly breathtaking, and upon entering the cave, every passenger (including us) was awestruck and took in its beauty in utter silence. Due to this natural wonder, the cave is protected and can only be accessed by boats small enough to pass through a small entrance.
Visiting Hvar is also another highlight of the tour, where you can wander through the streets of this picturesque town at leisure.
Cost: €110pp (inc. lunch)
Trip to Klis Fortress
For the Game of Thrones fans out there, Klis Fortress served as the city of Mereen. In reality it has served as a medieval stronghold, a castle and finally a fortress, guarding Dalmatia against the Ottoman invasion in the 16th century. Nowadays, it is simply another visitor attraction, drawing in curious history buffs or aforementioned Game of Thrones fans (like myself).
The day we went, we had the whole place to ourselves. I’m not sure if it gets busier during the peak season, but it literally was abandoned, bar the ticket attendant at the entrance. Unlike other historical sites open for tourism, there are no facilities, so pack water and use the bathroom before you go.
To get out there you can take bus 22 from the square on Marmontova street for 22kn return. The trip takes about 40 minutes.
Alternatively, if you are a Game of Thrones fan, you can do a tour offered by Splitilicious. The tour costs 300kn/€40 and is four hours long. There are also other more expensive tours that take you to more locations (such as Arya’s scenes in Season 5) offered throughout the city and online. To be honest, unless you’ve got the cash to burn and prefer to have a guide, you can do a lot of it yourself. Not having said cash to burn, we opted to do it ourselves. Some locations are more difficult to get to without a car though, so it’s your call. We found getting to Klis Fortress pretty straight-forward.
Food & Drink
Eating in Split is quite the art form and you can expect to put on a few kilos of ‘excess baggage’ after a few days here! Gelato stores line the port, with generous servings of flavoursome ice-cream for 8kn per scoop. My favourite was the Blueberry Panna Cotta.
Enjoy a drink overlooking Split at Wine & Dine Skyline Cafe (also known as Teraca Vidilica) up Marjan Hill. Sadly, they only start food service from 12pm, but if you want a beautiful morning coffee to start your day, this is the place to do it. Alternatively, enjoy an afternoon drink and watch the beautiful city and port of Split glow as the sun sets from this picturesque vantage point.
For a refreshing drink, head to Kokolo Juice & Smoothie Bar set within the old town walls. With cool vibes and funky music, you’ll automatically feel rejuvenated when picking up a drink or fruit salad from this stand.
For lovers of pasta and pizza, Split has got you covered. Pizza is somewhat of a specialty here, with stores offering delicious pizzas by the slice. We also enjoyed dining at Portas. The pasta was tasty and the location good. When you are at the Gold Gate, inside the city and looking towards Diocletian’s Palace, turn left. This is a street filled with restaurants for different tastes.
For some more exotic flavours, you can also find a sushi restaurant there too. We enjoyed sushi at Adriatic Sushi & Oyster bar on a hot day when our appetites were small.
For bigger appetites, head to the belt-loosening, pant-splitting Buffet Fife, located at the far west end of the promenade. The place is packed, extending out over two buildings and the street. The numbers don’t lie; the food is good, offering both traditional Dalmatian and tourist friendly dishes and it’s incredibly cheap!
And for some live music and atmosphere, Luxor is the perfect place. Suitably situated right in square of Diocletian’s Palace, there are cushions, waiters on hand and live music every night from 8pm. Close your eyes, sit back and imagine that you are part of the emperor’s inner sanctum, being entertained by his musicians.
If you are after something a little quirky, literary bar Marcvs Marvlvs Spalatensis is a nice pick. Strong drinks are offered with chilled music, ranging from flamenco to jazz, and your bill is handed to you in a second-hand book. I’m still wondering whether we were meant to keep it or not.
Of course, if you can afford to spend longer in Split, do so! There are so many more places to explore, and a day spent wandering through the port and the old town is certainly not a day wasted! We certainly hope to return to Split one day and will put a lot more time aside for this charming town.
Have you been to Split? Any other highlights worth seeing or doing? Leave us your comment below!