Clustered around the charismatic ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, Split is the second largest city in Croatia and one of its cultural gems. It boasts a picturesque setting overlooking the Adriatic Coast and is packed with Renaissance, Venetian and Gothic architecture that makes it an undeniably atmospheric city to wander. Add to that magnificent national parks, charming towns and Roman ruins within a stone’s throw of Split and it’s easy to see why this is one of Croatia’s most visited destinations.
Wander the UNESCO-listed streets of Diocletian’s Palace
Dominating Split’s historic core are the imposing Roman ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, among the most impressive buildings dating to the Roman era on the Adriatic coast. It was built by Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the 4th century as a retirement villa and features not only his fortified palace but also military garrison housing that’s now occupied by shops, restaurants and apartments. The southern edge was designed to rise directly from the sea, with towers on the western, northern and eastern facades. Featuring local limestone and white marble, the narrow streets of this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site are drenched in history and a fascinating spot to explore.
People-watch in Pjaca Square
Located at the heart of Diocletian’s Palace is Pjaca or the “People’s Square”, which is lined with stately Renaissance, Venetian and Gothic architecture built by Split’s nobility. It lies at what was once the crossroads of the two main streets of Diocletian’s Palace and served as the central meeting area. Of particular note is the Renaissance-style Old Town Hall, which now contains the Ethnographic Museum of Split, as well as the Venetian-Gothic Cambi Palace. Pjaca Square is today clustered with alfresco restaurants, bars and shops that make it a central hub of Split’s social life.
Soak up the city views from Marjan Hill
Blanketed with cypress trees and Mediterranean pine, Marjan Hill is a green oasis that rises to the west of Split. It’s nicknamed the “lungs of the city” and is home to a Jewish cemetery and two historic churches - the 13th-century Romanesque church of St. Nicholas and St. Jerome’s Church that’s renowned for its Renaissance altarpiece by Andrea Alessi. Follow the walking trail that leads from the neighborhood of Veli Faros up the slopes of Marjan Hill, with splendid views of Split and its offshore islands. After exploring this natural landmark, take time to visit the Mestrovic Gallery and the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments that nestle at the base of Marjan Hill.
Admire the ancient interior of the Split Cathedral
Built atop the Mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the Cathedral of Saint Domnius stands as the oldest cathedral building in the world, with its central structure dating to 350 AD. It was consecrated in the 7th century and features relics of St Domnius and St Anastasius, martyrs who were executed in the nearby town of Solin. A ring of 24 supporting columns are juxtaposed against Romanesque wooden doors and ancient reliefs to create what is a spectacular historical landmark. Adjacent to the cathedral is Split’s iconic bell tower, which towers six-stories high and offers magnificent views of Split’s Old Town and the Adriatic Sea.
Cruise along the waterways of Krka National Park
A short drive from Split takes you to the magnificent landscapes of Krka National Park, which sprawls around the Krka River. It’s home to the natural pool of Stradinski Buk that is fed by numerous travertine waterfalls and surrounded by lush greenery and scenic walking trails. Take time to visit the photogenic falls of Roški Slap and the 5th-century Franciscan Monastery of Visovac Island that lies in the middle of the Krka River. The best way to visit the park is on a boat excursion, with plenty of time to stop and explore the walking trails and natural sights along the way.
Wander the medieval streets of Trogir
Another worthy day trip from Split is to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Trogir, which has changed little since the medieval period. It boasts outstanding examples of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic architecture and is set on a fortified island that’s connected to the mainland (and the island of Čiovo) by bridges. Walls dating to the 15th century surround is labyrinthine streets where no less than 10 historic churches cluster. Of particular note is the 13th-century Cathedral of St. Lawrence that is home to the Renaissance-style Chapel of St. John and a bell tower offering sweeping views of Trogir.
Explore the Roman ruins of Salona
Considered the most important archaeological ruins in Croatia, the ancient city of Salona nestles at the foot of a mountain range to the northeast of Split. It once served as the foremost city of the Roman Empire in the Balkans, with significant fragments remaining today that include an aqueduct and bath houses. But the most impressive ruin is undoubtedly the amphitheater, which once had the capacity for 18,000 spectators and stands as evidence of the gladiatorial fights that once took place here.
Relax along the Adriatic coastline
Aside from its historical and cultural wonders, Split is also blessed with a spectacular stretch of Adriatic coastline and a number of natural beaches where you can while away an afternoon. Head to the picturesque horseshoe bay of Strobrec that is popular with families for its shallow waters or the lively sands of Bacvice that boasts plenty of restaurants and sun loungers. Alternatively, charter a yacht or boat for the day to explore further afield, dropping anchor at hidden coves and venturing to one of the many islands that scatter offshore from Split.
Step onto a “Game of Thrones” film set at Klis Fortress
“Game of Thrones” fans will instantly recognize the Klis Fortress, which teeters atop a bluff overlooking terraced hills just outside of Split. It began as a stronghold for the ancient Illyrian tribe of Dalmatae and later became a royal castle and seat of the Croatian Kings. It was expanded into a larger fortress during the Ottoman wars when it held a strategic position on a pass between the mountains of Mosor and Kozjak. Witness the historic cannons, armor and uniforms in the fortress museum and soak up the views across the surrounding countryside from its fortified walls.
Rub the big toe of Grgur Ninski
Just outside the 4th-century Golden Gate that leads into Diocletian’s Palace is the Statue of Grgur Ninski. This 10th-century bishop defied the pope by conducting religious services in the Croatian language and helped to establish a national identity. The bronze statue was created by master sculptor Ivan Meštrović and it is believed that touching the big toe of Grgur Ninski brings good luck and will fulfill one’s wishes. As a result, the toe of the statue gleams brightly!
Hidden in one of the atmospheric alleyways of Split’s Old Town, Perivoj is renowned for its delectable desserts and cakes. Relax in the landscaped courtyard centered around a tranquil fountain while feasting on slatko o’ medulla, a traditional almond and citrus cake, or enjoy a romantic dinner amidst the art deco surrounds while sampling authentic Croatian fare.
If you want to feast on local seafood and traditional Dalmatian dishes, head to this rustic family restaurant that occupies the ground floor of a historic home. The black risotto is a particular specialty, but consider the seafood platter for two if you can’t make a decision.
Vegetarians and vegans won’t go hungry at this restaurant that’s dedicated to healthy eating, organic grains and fresh local vegetables. There’s a rotating menu of soups, stews, salads and pies, together with raw and gluten-free cakes.
Having established a reputation as one of Split’s best wine bars, Zinfandel also does an enticing menu of tapas-style dishes and cold platters to accompany their extensive drinks list. If you can’t choose between their Adriatic octopus salad, ricotta-stuffed calamari and file mignon, opt for the five-course tasting menu of Dalmatian-inspired dishes.