Croatia is definitely on the top of my list of countries that I love visiting over and over again. I love the old cities, the history, the clear water, coastal cities and all of the architecture. Recently, we spent two days in the beautiful town of Split which is one of the most popular cities on the coast of Croatia. There are lots of amazing things to do in Split, both within the city and around it. In this guide I’ve outlined all the best things to do in Split, Croatia and other suggestions of how you can best enjoy this part of Europe.
SPLIT – CROATIA
For those of you who have not heard of Split before, it is the second largest city in Croatia. It is located alongside the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. The Old City of Split is definitely the place to be, it has so much history, ruins, sight seeing spots and one of the best old city streets to explore.
The history of Split is both rich and turbulent. Although the Split area was earlier inhabited by the Greek colonies, Emperor Diocletian should be considered its first founder. It is Diocletian who started the build of his lavish villa of around 300 square meters in 293 AD. This palace served as his retirement villa which took ten years to build. Diocletian lived there until he died in 313 AD. After his death, many Roman rulers continued to use it as a retreat.
During the 11th century and after, the city of Split grew considerably in the areas around the palace. However the city did find itself conquered by the Venetians in 1420. After the fall of Venetian rule in 1797, Split was ruled by the Austrians, and briefly by the French.
In the 20th Century, after the break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Split became a part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes that was formed in 1918. Modern age and the 20th century guided Split from the kingdom of Yugoslavia, through the Italian and German occupation during the Second World War to the Socialist Yugoslavia and the present period of the free and independent Croatia.
If you are planning to visit one of the most stunning coastal cities in Europe, Split is the perfect place.
If you are looking to enjoy nature and some of the best scenic spots in Split this is the best place to visit. You will find Marjan Park at the western peninsula of the city. The easiest way to get there is by walking via the waterfront heading west and taking the stairs which are marked as an entrance to the park. Like us, you may get greeted by some friendly neighbourly cats who love to get some attention. At the top of the stairs you will reach a view point of the city. This is where you can take amazing scenic photos of the harbor, the city and mountains in the background. You can also sit at the Vidilica Cafe to take in these amazing views and have a refreshing drink.
Past the view point atop of the stairs and the cafe – Marjan Park offers the greatest walking and biking loop. We chose to walk and it took us roughly two hours to explore the whole area. Don’t get discouraged by the duration as it usually takes an hour and a half or less, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the sea and the lush landscape. We also made multiple stops to take photos and pat some cats :). If you choose to walk, it does begin as a steep incline but the track gets flatter and easier. You will also discover the most amazing churches that have been around for hundreds of years. Marjan Park also has the best views of the Adriatic Sea.
I would recommend you do this walk towards the evening as this is when you will discover the most amazing sunset views. You are also less likely to get exhausted from heat during this time of day. There are many locals out and about as well who utilize this as a recreational park and a place to walk their dogs. You will find the first Church right after the first slope, and the other few churches are located further up the track, roughly a half hour walk.
VISIT THE DIOCLETIAN PALACE
One of the most popular things to do in Split is to visit the Diocletian’s Palace. The Diocletian’s Palace is an ancient palace built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD. Today, the remains of this palace makes up about half of the old town of Split. Despite this being called a palace, it was more of a retirement villa for the retired Emperor who is said to have settled here in 305.
You can visit the substructures of the old palace which are considered some of the best persevered ancient complexes of its kind. For this you need to get tickets which are located below the main structure, near the markets. You can also explore the upper remains of the palace. This includes the church and bell tower as well as the crypt of the Church. At the markets you can pick up unique souvenirs or gifts for your friends and family.
CATHEDRAL OF ST DOMNIUS
To the left of Diocletian’s Palace you will find the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Domnius. This is a complex of a Church, bell tower and Crypt. The Church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the bell tower is dedicated to Saint Domnius. The Cathedral is seen as the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the world which is still used in its original structure.
At the top of the stairs of the palace you can purchase tickets which give you access to the bell tower. The stairs of the tower are rather uncomfortable as they are very narrow so take extra care. We only managed to make it half way up the tower, my fear of heights took over. You can also grab tickets to the Church and the Crypt. The Church is located near the bell tower and the crypt is located down the stairs to the left. The Crypt is dedicated to Lucie of Syracuse who was one of the last victims of persecutions under the rule of Diocletian. The crypt was the highlight for me of this particular Cathedral complex because it has a peaceful and private vibe.
VISIT THE ISLAND OF HVAR
Hvar is the perfect little getaway where you can find an amazing hill-top fortress, old city walls and beaches. You can catch one of the boats at the Port of Split. They offer speed boats which are a 30 minute ride, or a normal boat which is about an hour journey. During peak season, boats run to the island of Hvar all day. However off-season is when the boats tend to go only three times a day.
When you arrive to the Island of Hvar, take a walk up to the medieval Fortica Fortress which is located above the town. This walk takes roughly 20 minutes. Instead of walking you can also rent a scooter. We decided to take a scooter as we wanted a fesh, new experience. You can easily rent a scooter at a near by rental and it is an easy 5 minute drive up the hill. After exploring the Fortress we took a short ride around the island to explore the landscape and local life. Hvar also has great eateries. Have lunch or dinner at restaurant by the waterfront if you love the views of the harbor and boats. There are also near by beaches if you wish to have a swim or to have a relaxing day.
STATUE OF GRGUR NINSKI
Outside of the old walls, you will find this large statue of Grgur Ninski, a 10th century Bishop and a Croatian icon. He is known for spreading Christianity around Croatia which helped the country establish a national identity. The statue of Grgur is extremely large, it is something you have to see in real life in order to capture its scale. Apparently rubbing the statues toe brings you good luck. Many tourists seem to do this and as a result it has been torn smooth and shiny from lots of people touching it.
EXPLORE THE CITY BY FOOT
Walking doesn’t sound like one of the most exciting things to do, but trust me, you will want to spend a good part of your day exploring the old town by foot. The waterfront walk is truly amazing. It is kept clean and there are lots of bench seats where you can sit with an ice-cream and absorb the views. During off-season you will encounter less tourists and many locals. There are many restaurants in this area as well. You should also explore the little city streets within the old city. This is where where you can find local bakeries, cafes, restaurants and shops. The architecture of the town itself is amazing and definitely worth exploring. Walking is a great way to experience what this old part of Split was once like.
Blue Caves – Visiting the Blue Caves is another popular thing to do while in Split. The caves are located on the Bisevo Island. They are one of the most spectacular natural wonders of Split. The caves receive their bright blue color due to the sunlight bouncing off the white limestone floor. You are not allowed to swim in this cave. Some tour guides may tell you that you are allowed but this is not the case. Try visiting the cave between 11 am and 2 pm for the best experience. Be aware that you will spend up to 15 minutes at most here. This is because a lot of tour guide boats come in and out.
Plitvice Lakes – Take a day trip to the oldest National Park of Croatia where you will find Plitvice Lakes. The national park is located in the mountain region of Croatia and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The Plitvice Lakes offers seven different routes to tour and four hiking trails. It is truly a beautiful place to visit. Make sure to devote a whole day here as it is roughly a two hour drive from Split.
Island Tours – Take a day trip to visit the islands around Split. During peak season there are many boats which can take you island hopping. In this way you can explore the coastal area and nearby islands that also have historic sights. If you head to the port of Split you will find lots of places that offer boat ride deals. Ideally you can book a trip online. Some of the Islands you can visit are Hvar, Brac, Korcula, Vis and Solta.
Split has an amazing energy unlike many other cities around the world. We really enjoyed our time here and I hope to come back again soon to explore many other sites. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have visited Split or if you have any other travel experiences to share. You can also check out the travel highlights of this trip on my Instagram Page.