panoramic view of Split Croatia, on the Adriatic Sea
I visited beautiful Split Croatia before I became a travel blogger. And I adored it. It was my base in central Croatia, after visiting Dubrovnik, before moving on to the more serious country of Slovenia.
In my veneration of Split, I quickly wrote a massive article on its top site, the UNESCO-listed Diocletian's Palace. Then, I ... er ... just neglected to write more, as I got distracted with other geographical cures. Croatia is such a string of "holy crap, that's gorgeous" destinations that it's easy to be overwhelmed. Or have writer's block.
Now, I'm here to remedy that grave omission because Split is an unmissable town in Croatia. There are just so many incredible things to do and beauty, spectacular beauty, everywhere you look. So pardon the throwback!
Most people day trip to Split. That's a mistake, I think. Split's an ancient town that dates back to Roman times. It has an incredible natural setting and isn't just a beach/party town. There's a whole range of drool worthy historical, cultural, and natural offerings. There's literally something for everyone. And I've done my level best to summarize the best sites in Split below.
historic People's Square in Split
1. Visit Diocletian's Palace, A Living Museum
With a fetching location on the dramatic Split harbor, Diocletian's Palace is Split's #1 attraction. And justifiably so. It's one of the most imposing ancient Roman structures in existence today. It's not just a standalone palace, or a museum, or a UNESCO site. It's the living, breathing, vibrant heart of Split.
The grounds of the palace are bisected by two main streets. They divide the palace area into four distinct quarters, each one ending in a large gate. The Golden Gate is by far the most famous and where you'll enter.
The 4th century complex is a sprawling maze of beautifully preserved ancient ruins, shops, restaurants, apartments, and people. It's a delightful confluence of ancient history and modern life, happily commingled as a "living museum." And like a reclining Roman Emperor, it beckons you inside.
Peristyle Square, the heart of Diocletian’s Palace and a breathtaking example of a surviving Roman architectural ensemble.
panoramic view of Split from the Bell Tower of Diocletian's Palace
I've written a lengthy article on the palace already. The key highlights are the Peristyle, the Cathedral of Saint Dominus, the Bell Tower, the Temple of Jupiter, and the four palace gates. The bell tower is where you'll get a stunning bird's eye view of the palace grounds and Split's incredible setting. Avoid it if you're scared of heights though.
If you want to visit a Game of Thrones filming location, head to the palace cellars, where Daenerys stashed her dragons in Season 5. It's a little disheveled and haunting. If you look closely, you'll see an old olive press used by Diocletian's staff.
the National Theater in Split
2. Stroll Through the Old Town
While Diocletian's Palace dominates the old town, there are still some pretty pedestrianized squares, impressive churches, and markets outside the palace walls that you shouldn't miss. Be sure to take in Narodni Trg (the main plaza), Vocni Trg, and Trg Republike. Check out the National Theater and the fish market (Ribarnica).
ancient stone street in the old town of Split
the Riva Promenade in Split
3. Stroll on the Riva Promenade
The Riva Promenade, dubbed "the Riva" by locals, runs along the coastline, spanning the entire length of the old town. With impressive views of the Adriatic Sea and swoon worthy palm trees, this promenade provides a taste of Split's idyllic coastal lifestyle.
But the Riva is busy. It's home to restaurants, cafes, and luxury hotels. Sit down and have a coffee or cocktail. This is probably not the best place to dine though. The restaurants are rather touristy, and hence overpriced with mediocre food. Strolling is the best activity.
view of Split from Marjan Hill
4. Hike Up Marjan Hill
Just 10 minutes from the Riva lies Marjan Hill. This is where you'll find the best view over Split. To get there, walk up Sperun Ulica at the end of the Riva. Then take the stairs to the Prva Vidilica Na Marjanu viewpoint. At the very end of the adjacent park is Bene Beach, one of Split's more secluded spots. (You can also take a bus there from the Riva.)
Klis Fortress, outside Split
4. Visit Klis Fortress
Just 30 minutes from Split lies Klis Fortress. Built on a rocky ridge, with an impenetrable wall of mountains surrounding it, the rugged Klis Fortress dominates the skyline.
Klis Fortress is very secluded. It's a rare chance to step back in time, admire ancient ruins, and scamper across old stones. If you want to have a special place in Croatia all to yourself and bask unhindered in the rawness of a historic site, Klis beckons.
scene from Season 5, Episode 2 of Game of Thrones featuring Klis Fortress
Aside form the killer view, the imposing Klis Fortress is also a filming location for the medieval fantasy show, Game of Thrones. Sprinkle some dragons and, voila, you're done. No extra expensive set building required at Klis.
Game of Thrones superfans and Khaleesis in training will recognize Klis as the setting for Meereen in Seasons 4-6, the exotic city on Slaver's Bay in Essos. It's here that Daenerys murders the slave masters, presaging her future "madness."
To get to Klis, you have several options. You can sign up for a Game of Thrones tour, make the half hour drive via rental car, or take Bus 22 from Split's National Theater.
panoramic view of Trogir from the Kamerlengo Fortress
5. Day Trip to the UNESCO Town of Trogir
I loved storybook Trogir, known as Croatia's "stone beauty." Trogir is secluded on a tiny island and encircled with medieval walls. It felt like the entire town was made of limestone and tangled alleyways, and sprinkled with fairy dust. And, only 30 minutes away, it's an easy day trip or half day trip from Split.
All you need to do is stroll the medieval streets and find a quaint nook to dine in. This isn't hard! For a view of the pretty town, climb either Kamerlengo Fortress or the tower of the St. Lawrence Cathedral. Or both.
pretty street in medieval Trogir
my daughter admiring a trumpet vine on the ubiquitous stone walls of Trogir
6. Take a Dalmatian Island Hopping Tour
Island hopping is a must do activity in Split. The coastal town makes a great jumping off point to sail the Adriatic Sea.
You have many tour options/permutations from half day, to full day, to a super extended day. You can choose to visit Hvar only, Hvar and the Blue Cave, or take a grand 5 island tour.
We opted for the later and it was a lengthy 12 hour affair, when all was said and done. But it was a beautiful way to spend the day. Bring your swimsuit. There will be multiple chances to take a dip.
The UNESCO town of Hvar is known as the “sunniest island in the Adriatic Sea." And also as a boozy party island. The sunny place attracts tourists galore. But if you go off season, you'll skip this rather dreary side note and be medievalized by the enchanting place.
If you need to detox from tourists or cocktails, hike up to the hilltop fortress, Fortica Španjola, surrounded by pine trees, for excellent views. Or visit Hvar's archaeological site, the Stari Grad Plain, which became a UNESCO site in 2008. Remnants of prehistoric buildings make it “the best-preserved Greek cadastre in the Mediterranean,” according to onsite archaeologists.
view of Hvar from the hilltop fortress
my daughter on the limestone streets of Hvar
The popular Blue Cave is on Bisevo Island. This magical grotto glows with the preternatural blue hues, created by sunlight bouncing off its white limestone floor. You can only visit via boat; you can't swim in the cave itself.
Aside from Hvar and the Blue Cave, the other islands you can visit includeVis, Budikovac, and Hell Islands (with Palmižana beach). We had lunch on Budikovac. The most scenic beach was the tiny cove-like Stiniva Beach on Vis, voted the “best beach in Europe” in 2016.
my daughter and I getting ready to see the Blue Cave
the little cove where you access hidden Stivina Beach, as seen from our speedboat
7. Day Trip to Šibenik
Situated on a sheltered bay, an hour from Split, tranquil Šibenik (pronounced Shi-beh-nick) is a hidden gem in Croatia. You can stroll its labyrinth of stoney alleyways and visit a magnificent piece of Gothic-Renaissance architecture, the UNESCO-listed St. James Cathedral. The gleaming white building is the beating heart of sleepy Šibenik.
Šibenik is one of the oldest towns on the Adriatic, dating from the 9th century. In 1160, it was conquered by the Venetians. They left their architectural and cultural imprint on both the town and its elegant cathedral. For lunch, try cozy Tinel, where I had a delicious risotto.
tiny medieval street in Sibenik Croatia
Sibenik Cathedral, a UNESCO-listed site outside Split
8. Ivan Meštrović Gallery
On a rainy day (or any day really), the Ivan Meštrović Gallery is the perfect cultural outing in Split, especially if you love sculpture galleries. It's just a 20 minute walk from the Riva. Meštrović is Croatia's most famous sculptor and world famous. His most celebrated statue is Gregory of Nin, right outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian's Palace.
It's a massive statue of a figure that, on first glance, appears to be a wizard. On second glance, getting a little closer, you can tell that it's a religious figure. On third glance, you can see that the man has a shiny well worn bronze toe. It's widely considered good luck to rub it.
tourists crowded around the lucky toe of Meštrović 's Gregory of Nin sculpture
the lucky well worn bronze toe of Gregory of Nin
The Galerija Meštrović is housed in a lovely Neo-classical building, which was the artist's former home. It hold the sculptor's masterpieces, carved mostly in marble and bronze. There's a short film on the artist's life. Across the road, you can visit the Kastilac Chapel, which boasts large wood bas-relief carvings that Meštrović created to line the chapel. It's included in the ticket price.
Skradanski Buk waterfall at Krka National Park
9. Chasing Waterfalls at Krka National Park
Krka National Park is just an hour from Split. Overshadowed by its further afield neighbor, Plitvice Park, Krka is by far the more manageable day trip from Split. A trip to Plitvice is a minimum 12+ hour day. Krka is more relaxed, less crowded, and can also be combined with Šibenik on a day trip.
And Krka is lovely, with soaring birds and splashy white waterfalls pooling into emerald green ponds. The highlight is Skradanski Buk. Below, you'll spy people swimming at the base of the waterfall. Remember to pack your swimsuit if you'd like to take a dip yourself. Swimming is permitted at Krka (though not at Plitvice).
You've got to stay on the boardwalks designated for tourists and can't do independent hiking. There's an upper and lower path. If it's hot, wear flip flops. You don't need comfortable shoes or hiking boots.
crowd free boardwalk paths at Krka National Park
10. A Few Tips for Visiting Split
I have to confess that, unexpectedly, restaurants in Split weren't all that dazzling to me. I thought pizza was the best option, and you'll find locals at the pizzerias. And definitely don't eat on the touristy Riva.
I did enjoy some tasty mexican food in the Jupiter Temple at To Je Take and had a good meal at Bokeria Wine Bar. If you want to sample Croatian wine, try Zinfandel Wine Bar, a spot with a nice ambience.
Try to visit Split in the spring or fall. In the summer, it can be hot and crowded. Even the spacious Diocletian's Palace can seem claustrophobic.