You’d probably never heard of Split before this year. Hey, some of you maybe haven’t heard of Split yet. Well, get ready folks, because, like the country in which it resides, the city of Split is poised to become a major destination in coming years.
Split is Croatia’s second largest city (Zagreb beats it to the number one spot) and offers sun drenched beaches, a harbourside promenade, historical buildings, daytrips to nearby islands and, of course, that must have for every city – a cosmopolitan social life, with shops, restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs all buzzing with activity. Stay near the centre to make the most of your time and enjoy this vibrant, increasingly popular destination.
The essentials – top five
Diocletian’s Palace – If ever a city had a heart, that city would be Split and that vital organ at its centre – Diocletian’s Palace. This sprawling ruin encompasses almost half of the city, as surely is befitting an ancient building that was was once a palace for the Roman Emperor Diocletian. But don’t go expecting a traditional palace or castle – built as a military fortress and town, as well as for luxury, the Palace offers labyrinthine streets packed with people, bars, cafes, shops and restaurants. Perhaps the best way to encompass that atmosphere in words is how Lonely Planet describes it: “The narrow streets hide passageways and courtyards, some deserted and eerie, others thumping with music from bars and cafes, while the local residents hang out their washing overhead, kids play football amid the ancient walls, and grannies sit in their windows watching the action below.”
Cathedral of St Dominus – The cathedral of St Domnius is situated with the Palace walls and is comprised of two parts, the church and a bell tower, which is also the city’s emblem. The second oldest structure in the world which is still functions as a Christian cathedral, this Roman monument was originally built as a mausoleum for Diocletian, the last famous persecutor of the Christians. Conversely, the mausoleum of the Emperor was converted into a cathedral in the 7th century, with relics of the executed martyrs St Domnius and St Anastasius taking an honorary place. If you love a good view then make time to climb the stairs all the way to the top of the bell tower for the amazing, panoramic views.
Temple of Jupiter– Not straying too far from the Palace. In fact staying within its walls and just a few steps from the cathedral, is the “small but worth a quick visit” temple once dedicated to the Jupiter, Ancient Roman God of sky and thunder and king of the Gods. When Diocletian’s mausoleum became a cathedral (oh, the irony), the temple was converted into a baptistery with a font large enough to immerse a person, as they traditionally did back in the day. A headless black sphinx statue sits at the entrance to this single room temple and next door is the Let Me Pass (Pusti me da prodjem) Street, Split’s narrowest thoroughfare. Top tip: buy a Blue ticket at the Cathedral which also gives you entry to the temple.
Bacvice – A popular beach, the neighbourhood surrounding Bacvice is party central with late opening bars and clubs. The beach itself is within walking distance of the Old Town and can get very busy during the peak season but, on the upside, that means there are lots of facilities, from lockers and showers to sunbeds for hire, as well as a lovely beach bar, Zibrac, with reasonable prices. Fun fact kids: Bacvice is also the birthplace of its own sport and you can still see locals playing Picigin (standing in a circle and batting a ball with your hands, aiming to keep it out of the water for as long as possible) in the shallows.
The islands – Croatia has some utterly stunning islands and, just a short distance from Split is some of the best. An hour’s catarmaran from the city and you can reach glamourous Hvar, offering lush, lavender-heavy hills, glorious beaches and the island’s hub – bustling, cosmopolitan Hvar Town. The less developed island of Vis is a calmer, more reserved destinations well worth exploring to uncover both Greek and Roman ruins. And of course, there is picturesque Brac island – home to Croatia’s famous (and gorgeous) Zlatni Rat beach.
The Budget or Broke Recommendation (i.e. free)
Laze on the beach, stroll along the promenade – Split is perfect for those with limited funds. Our suggestion is to take a day and explore Diocletian’s Palace, drinking in the hustle, bustle and that wonderful Split atmosphere. At noon, head to Peristil Square for the changing of the guard ceremony – it’s free, it’s cheesy but hey it’s fun.
For a sweet treat, why not grab some fritula from a street stall. These sweet, fried dumplings are flavoured with rum and raisin. Yum! For something a little more hearty, Pasticada is a stewed beef dish cooked in a rich, sweet and sour sauce and usually served with gnocchi.
When in Split, you will want to grab a memento you can get nowhere else. We suggest you look local, perhaps some lavender scented oils, local wines or rakija, a famous – and super strong – Croatian spirit.
Photograph of Diocletian’s Palace from Interrailing Packages’ travel blogger, Tara O’Connell.