Split, Croatia, is a city of pure joy to explore. You can easily navigate its small and nicely-laid out center by foot. Its enviable location in southern Croatia, hugging the Adriatic, makes it a popular port and resort. Split, Croatia, is 321km from the Italian border and about half that to neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nicknamed “the sportiest city in the world” because of the number of famous athletes born there, Split is an accessible metropolis that allows you to get up close and personal with its history.
1. Roam Around Diocletian’s Palace
Much of Split’s Old Town is the site of former Roman Emperor Diocletian’s palace, and that palace must have been extravagant in the 4th Century given how much of the city it occupies today. The ancient sphinx nearby is a must-see. Diocletian brought a dozen sphinxes to Split after putting down an Egyptian rebellion around 267 A.D. However, only one, made of black granite, survives today. It is located in the heart of the city, at the Peristyle, a former courtyard of a fortress built by one of the last Roman emperors.
Today, the remains of the fortress are home to 3,000 inhabitants and regular markets selling fresh fruit, vegetables, artisan cheese, and award-winning olive oils. Look out and listen for a cappella singers strolling near the Peristyle and nearby Temple of Jupiter. The temple and Peristyle have been integrated with Saint Domnius Cathedral, which initially was Diocletian’s mausoleum. Together, these structures comprise some of the best preserved examples of Roman architecture in the world. After examining this grand past, hit up nearby Noor Bar to sip on Old Pilot’s Gin for a contemporary bohemian experience.
2. Gatecrash a Picigin Game
One of our favourite places to cool off in the city is Bacvice Beach. This central sandy beach is home to an intriguing ball game called Picigin. Water polo is a popular pastime in Croatia, but Bacvice’s shallow waters make it unplayable. So, at the start of the 20th century, university students improvised by using the palm of their hands to keep a squash-sized ball in the air. Typically, groups of up to five often do what seem like magical things to avoid the ball from falling into the sea. It is a rare non-competitive game. So, look out for a foursome and see if you can join in. If you prefer to watch, picigin is a fun spectator sport too. Stick around to watch the sun go down in one of Split’s true beauty spots.
3. Dine Fine at Bokeria Kitchen & Wine
Join the beautiful people at a central eatery where food and drink are as substantial as they are stylish. Spain knows a cold soup refreshes when the seasonal heat kicks in. Bokeria Kitchen & Wine appreciates this Iberian rationale and reinterprets the classic gazpacho as Bokazpacho: a tomato and pepper base with gin, black olive dust, and rice paper strings. Afterward, try a pasta that combines truffles, mascarpone, prosciutto, and arugula. If you like bubbles with your meal, there is an impressive list of drinks, including local sparkling wines that hold up well when compared to France’s notorious export, Champagne. Other tasty eateries in and around downtown Split include Green House, for brunch, Terina Healthy Food Bowls, for a take away lunch, or Mexican-style dinners at Bistro Toć.
4. Stroll the Promenade at Riva
One of the joys of hiring a professional guide is they may take you to parts of the city you come to love and can return to at your leisure. Thanks to Paul at Dalmatia Untouched, who showed us around Riva Harbor. It was a pleasure to retrace our steps later and enjoy the area at our own pace. The waterfront is pleasantly shaded with tall palm trees. That means you can enjoy it during midday. Riva acts as a bridge between Diocletian’s southern wall and the port. At night, this is a clubbing area. For a more formal dinner, book a table at Kinoteka, a new Michelin entry in 2022, which updates classic Dalmatian dishes. Tucked just behind the main promenade, a branch of Croata sells traditional cravats and ties. For an aerial harbor view, book a table at Mediterranean cuisine hotspot ZOI.
5. Capture the City With Dalmatia Untouched
Split is a compact metropolis. Two hours is enough to experience its beauty and to book a private photoshoot with Dalmatia Untouched’s Creative Sunset photoshoot. This is misleadingly titled as they have both morning and evening options to book. Paul was our guide on our night tour. Highlights included Prva Vidilica Na Marjanu. This is well worth the ascent you must make in order to be rewarded with a panoramic view of Split. There’s also the statue of Gregory of Nin outside the Golden Gate. Gregory was a medieval bishop who became a Croatian folk hero when he pushed for religious services to be delivered in the local language rather than in Latin. His 28-feet tall depiction is bronze except for the big toe of his left foot, which has been burnished gold thanks to rubbing by Croatians, who consider it good luck to do so.
6. Catch a Match at Hajduk Split’s Home
The founding fathers of HNK Hajduk Split, Split’s own soccer team, were university students, studying away from their home country, Czechoslovakia and were inspired by watching a match between the Czech capital’s two rivals, Slavia and Sparta. They pledged to create a club for Split after some drinks at the U Fleků tavern and made good on the promise. Hajduk was formed in 1911. Famous players who have worn the white jersey include Slaven Bilic, Niko Kranjcar, and Ivan Perisic. They played at the highest level in England’s Premiership as well as for the national side at tournaments including the European Championship and World Cup. Their stadium, Stadion Poljud, holds just over 30,000 fans.
7. Claim the Iron Throne at Game of Thrones Museum Split
Croatia is one of the main locations of HBO’s Game of Thrones and prequel House of the Dragon, both filmed in Split. Throne’s fans will recognize Meereen from the episodes chronicling Daenerys “Mother of Dragons” liberating Slaver’s Bay. Appropriately, the salivating fangs of one of Daenerys’ dragons greets you at Game of Thrones Museum Split. It is a compact yet faithful monument to the long-running series. You can pose in front of a replica of the Iron Throne. There also are displays of costumes worn by cast members, along with the weapons they wielded. The museum is open from 9 AM to midnight every day.
8. Culture Vulture at the Museum of Fine Arts Split
There are more than 5,000 works of art to feast your eyes on Galerija umjetnina Split, aka the Museum of Fine Arts Split. It opened in 1931 and occupies a prime location just north of Diocletian’s Palace. The gallery offers a window into the work of Old Masters from the Renaissance and into the 18th century. These include religious works from the Byzantine-influenced Venetian artist, Paolo Veneziano. There also are more contemporary collections to browse. The Gorgona Group of avant-garde artists are well represented here. There are some arresting posters to look for too, including Boris Bućan’s daring promotion of the Croatian National Theatre’s 1982 production of Aristophanes: Lysistrata. Closed on Mondays, the museum opens Tuesday to Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM with extended hours to 9 PM on Thursdays.
9. Hop on a Ferry
There are over 1,000 islands off the Adriatic coast. However, the majority are small and uninhabited. Only 15 have enough land mass to host a population of more than 1,000. From Split’s central port, there are ferry rides to Brač, an island whose quarries provided the stone from which the American White House’s West Wing was constructed. The island of Hvar is home to Stari Grad, Croatia’s oldest settlement, and nearby Vis is where the American film, Mamma Mia 2, was filmed. You can buy tickets ahead of time from the Jadrolinija and Krilo websites or queue on the day of your visit at the port. The popular catamarans leave from the harbour, but their schedule is usually cancelled during rough weather. In summer, Caffe Bar Adria is a conveniently-situated venue for fresh squeezed juices and smoothies.
More Things to Do in Split, Croatia
There are many more things to see and do in Split, Croatia. But we caution you not to cram too much in. You’ll enjoy so much more by seeing less, taking it all in at the more relaxed pace of a local.