With 1,700 years of history, a UNESCO heritage site at its core, direct access to Croatia’s islands and National Parks and a plethora of adventure activities and restaurants, Split really has everything you could want in a destination. Yet in many ways people have traditionally thought of Split as Dubrovnik’s poor relation; a destination that isn’t worth much more than an overnight stopover. But I’m happy to tell you that Split is on the rise and with over 100 tour operators lining its bay; offering everything from walking tours of the city’s Diocletian Palace to dive courses in the crystal blue waters of the Adriatic you’d be foolish to omit Split from your Croatian itinerary – plus it’s on EasyJet’s schedule – making it an achievable European weekend getaway destination!
Split Airport is located about 20km outside of downtown Split in a small town called Kastela. The transfer from the airport to the city center is an easy one and can be done by airport bus, local bus, taxi, and even a water taxi if you’re feeling super fancy (not suitable for those seeking a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget). The airport shuttle service is provided by Pleso Prijevoz and tickets can be purchased in advance from their website (which is luckily available in English). Local bus services are provided by Promet, whose website can be found here (fortunately, although the entire website isn’t available in English the section on airport buses is!). Taxi services are available at the taxi rank located right outside the terminal building. Water Taxi Services can be booked in advance through Adriatic Express; their prices aren’t exactly fixed so be prepared to haggle if you do decide to book!
As with most Croatian Cities (and in fact most of the countries on the Adriatic) Split provides fantastic domestic and international connections by boat, bus, and train. The south side of town is flooded with ticket offices, transfer services, and tour operators; but if you want to do a little advance planning then ferry schedules can be found here and catamaran tickets to Dubrovnik (stopping at some of the islands en route) can be purchased here. If you’re headed inland (or, I guess, if you suffer from sea sickness) then the bus terminal can also be found waterside by Split’s main port (in fact, it’s right by the ferry terminal). Bus service options can be perused here and here (I’m also a fan of the comprehensive routings of Autotrans). Finally, if you fancy catching the train to Zagreb then you can find the schedule here.
As always, I’ve focused my destination guide on the destination in question; in this case, Split. But the great thing about Croatia is how easy it is to use a hub-city as a base from which to explore a wider set of sights. Split is one of those cities where a few of the main sights in Croatia can be reached on day trips (admittedly some of them are a bit of a stretch and it’s better not to rush around if you can spend a few days in each place). In terms of islands, Solta, Hvar, Brac and Korcula are all day-trip options (Vis is a step too far for a day trip in my opinion as it takes several hours to reach). Another great option is a combination day-trip to Trogir and Krka Waterfalls. Blue Cave can be reached by speedboat in a reasonable amount of time and a trip to Plitvice National Park is 3 hours away (perhaps too far for an enjoyable day trip if you want enough time to truly explore the park). Tickets for trips like these (and a whole host of others) are easily available when you arrive and you will often find great deals on the day from tour operators in the down-town harbour and Riva area.
If you’re touring Croatia and plan to visit a number of the country’s main sights (or want to hire a car) then you might want to consider purchasing a Croatia Pass. In addition to offering discounted entry in to a whole host of things you’ll also get a 10% discount on Nova Car Rental. If you’re just visiting Split then the Split Card might be worth looking at as well.
Diocletian’s Palace: The UNESCO protected old town and Roman-era Diocletian Palace is the undeniable highlight of Split. Construction began on the 1,700 year-old Palace (essentially a retirement home for Emperor Diocletian) in 293 and the area is so much more than merely a palace or a museum. Today it is the central hub of Split and a living museum with a dizzying array of maze-like cobbled alleyways, restaurants, bars, boutique hotels and artisanal shops. If you’re directionally challenged then you may wish to hire one of the hordes of walking guides available at the entrances and major sites within the old town. Alternatively, and especially if you’re armed with google maps, then the palace is a great place to just wander and soak in the atmosphere.
Cathedral of Saint Domnius: There are a number of must-see sights within the Palace area. My personal favourite is the Cathedral of Saint Domnius and its bell tower. Guarded by the one remaining sphinx shipped from Egypt (the other eleven were destroyed by the Christians who weren’t that keen on Egyptian imagery guarding their cathedral), the cathedral was originally built as Diocletian’s mausoleum and was later converted into a Cathedral by the Christians. If you want to explore the entire cathedral then you can buy combination tickets that provide entry into the Bell Tower, Treasury (which houses a collection of gold artefacts and church garments) and Crypt. Just so you know, if you don’t have a head for heights then you might want to steer clear of the Bell Tower; the views from the top are spectacular but the climb can be a little daunting on the rusting metal stairs as you squeeze past people on their way down. The area outside the cathedral (essentially a square) is better known as the Peristil and was designed as the area where people could come to worship Diocletian when he appeared.
Temple of Jupiter: Diocletian was a bit of an eccentric-cookie and actually declared himself as the divine son of the God of Sky and Thunder, Jupiter (he was in fact the last Roman Emperor to declare himself divine). In honor of Jupiter Diocletian built the Temple of Jupiter; which was originally located on its own square opposite Diocletian’s mausoleum. Today the Temple sits within a warren of narrow alleyways making it, at first, a little more difficult to find (and definitely more difficult to photograph from the outside). Still, it’s worth the small entrance fee to view the barrel-vaulted ceilings inside what was later converted into a Baptistery.
The Palace Cellar: Originally known as Diocletian’s Basement, the Palace Cellar was relatively unexplored until 1956; when it was finally cleared out. It’s now open to visitors and is the perfect way to get your head around the original layout of the entire palace. If you don’t fancy spending money on heading underground when the sun is shining outside then you should at least pop in to the cellar’s shopping area (entry to that part is free) where a number of small artisanal stalls have been set up selling locals crafts.
Riva: Officially known as the ‘Quay of the Croatian National Revival’, Riva seems to be the locally adopted (and significantly catchier) short-hand for this waterside promenade. Running the entire length of the south side of old town, Riva is the preferred spot for locals to gather for lunch, coffee, or ridiculously cheap gelato (he says, having devoured 3 tubs of gelato over the course of a single hour). In the evening the waterside bars provide a picture-perfect setting for a sundowner or two.
Museums: As you’d expect of any ancient city, Split has a diverse array of museums on offer for those seeking out a bit of culture. The best of the bunch are probably the Archeological Museum (which is a bit further north of the city center), the Ethnographic Museum, and the Split City Museum (which is located in the small Papalic Family Palace). If you’re an art buff then you have the Ivan Mestrovic Gallery and Museum of Fine Arts. As a personal fan of forts and castles (I know, what an exciting guy I must be) the only other museum I would recommend visiting is the Croatian Maritime Museum which is housed in the completely restored Gripe Fortress. The Fortress sits a quick 10-minute walk away from the Old Town on a natural hill overlooking the harbour and was originally built to protect the city from the Ottoman-Turks in 1682.
Green Market and Fish Market: If you read my destination guides regularly then you’ll know that I often recommend local markets. I personally find them a great way to get acquainted with what life is really like in a destination. Split is no exception and there are two different markets on offer. The city’s main market, the Green Market, can be found alongside the eastern wall of the Diocletian Palace and sells everything from fruit and veg to leather (perhaps, more likely, ‘pleather’). On the western wall of the palace is the fish market. Get here early in the day to see the bulk of the action as the stalls set up.
Marjan Peninsula: If you’re looking for a little relaxation and peace and quiet (or some exercise after too much gelato consumption) then look no further than the Marjan Peninsula. It’s a fairly easy walk (depending on how hot it is and how often you frequent the gym) from the old town through Veli Varos to the woodland heights of Marjan. Once you’ve walked up through Veli Varos (which is itself a picturesque area reminiscent of a traditional Dalmatian village) the entrance to the Peninsula begins at Café Vidilica. Even if you don’t have the legs for the climb deeper in to Marjan it’s worth making it as far as Café Vidilica for the fantastic views over the port and old town. Once on the peninsula there are a few points of interest (in addition to the walking trails and beaches the Peninsula is most famed for) including hermitages, chapels and a Jewish Cemetery. From the peak of the Peninsula at Telegrin the views out into the Adriatic stretch as far as the islands of Hvar, Brac and Solta (and Vis on a particularly clear day).
Republic Square: There are a few squares in Split but the most picturesque of the bunch is Republic Square. Three sides of the square are occupied by neo-Renaissance buildings known as the Prokurative (and today they house a few cafes from which the people-watching is almost a sport). The fourth side of the square opens out on to a small fountain and then to the ocean which makes for great views as you sip on your morning coffee. If your timing happens to be good (and you visit in the warmer summer months) then the square often becomes a central hub for cultural and social events; so make sure you check-out the Split tourism website before you depart to see if anything particular is happening during your stay. I’ve included the link in the additional resources section below.
Split Airport Bus Website: http://www.plesoprijevoz.hr/en
Split Public Bus Website: http://www.promet-split.hr
Adriatic Express Water Taxi Website: http://www.adriatic-express.com
Croatia Pass Website: www.croatiapass.com
Split Card Website: http://www.splitcitycard.com/
Split Tourist Board Website: www.visitsplit.com