Planning a short break to Croatia? Head to Split, and you will find plenty to do in this historical coastal city. Split is Croatia’s second-largest city and is the perfect spot to enjoy good food, great beaches, and lots of culture and history.
The city of Split is centered around the ancient remains of the Roman emperor Diocletian’s palace and wandering the narrow winding streets, you will see evidence everywhere, making exploring an unforgettable experience.
But it’s not just about the history, from green spaces and beaches to waterfront markets and restaurants, Split is a great city break with something for everyone.
Wander the palace streets
Even if you don’t fancy going inside any of the ancient buildings – or if you only have one day in Split save some of it to wander around Split’s historic center.
There are four gates into the city, each named for a different metal. The grandest of them is the gold gate in the north, although most visitors to the city tend to use the bronze gate in the south which leads in from the Riva.
As with most popular tourist sites, head there early to avoid the crowds.
The name palace may be a little misleading, this retirement residence for Diocletian, it is much more of a fortress. The center of Split was the very heart of the palace and this sprawling UNESCO Heritage Site is a collection of the buildings, alleys and squares.
More than 3,000 people live and work here and the mix of modern with old is fascinating. It’s a fantastic place to stroll through, with twists and turns leading you down to your next discovery. There are a few places you don’t want to miss though.
The easiest and most popular place to start exploring Split is from the Riva, the harborside promenade. This is the Bronze Gate (or Southern Gate) and is one of four main gates into the Old Town.
What should you see in Diocletian’s palace?
Head in through the southern Bronze Gate from the waterfront Riva and you’ll find the Peristyle.
A peristyle was a feature found in the villas of wealthy Greeks and Romans. It is a surrounding set of columns and a courtyard which likely served not only as an emperor’s relaxation spot but also as a venue for various public and religious events. A tradition they continue today, in peak season (summer), this open-air venue is used for the Split Summer Festival each July. It’s also lit up at night with live music occasionally.
From the south end of the Peristyle head down the stairs to huge underground vaults. If you have read or watched the Game of Thrones series, this is where Daenerys Targaryen kept her dragons chained (FYI no dragons are included in this tour!). In Diocletian’s time, the cellars of the palace were used for wine storage, the middle-ages transported into a convenient dumping site and the last 50 years have been spent digging through all of this to unearth lots of treasures.
You can buy tickets on arrival but we would recommend booking ahead of time during peak season (June to September).
The Bell Tower
The bell tower of Katedral Sveti Duje or St. Duje (Domnius) Cathedral is the most prominent structure in the palace complex. Built around the 13th century, it was rebuilt in 1908 when it collapsed but is made from some of the oldest.
We passed on the experience of climbing up the bell tower for a panoramic view of the town and the ocean.
Climb the cathedral belltower
A very handy reference point when in and around the city, the bell tower is worth exploring too. Maybe not for the claustrophobic or those scared of heights but you can climb the 200 steps metal steps to the top of the belltower to give you a panoramic of the city of Split.
Tickets must be bought before you enter the cathedral complex– with a choice of single tickets or combined entry. The cheapest combined option, the blue ticket, includes the cathedral, crypt, and baptistery, while the purple ticket includes all the sites.
Just outside of the belltower, guarding the mausoleum, on the east of the Peristyle is an Egyptian sphinx. Diocletian was a big fan and had 12 of these black graphite statues shipped over from Greece. Only two remain today.
The Cathedral of St. Dominus
Once Diocletian’s mausoleum, it was transformed into a cathedral with the fall of the Roman Empire just over a century after his death.
The octagonal structure is one of the best-preserved Roman buildings still standing. There are original mosaic floorings, beautifully carved wooden doors and the 24 surrounding pillars create an impressive space.
Tickets must be bought before you enter the cathedral in the ticket office on the opposite side of the Peristil – you can buy individual tickets or combined ones, including the belltower, the treasury, crypt, and baptistery, although the crypt and treasury may not be open outside peak season.
Diocletian’s Dream VR experience
Diocletian’s Dream VR experience is fantastic for bringing the ancient Roman city back to life.
The experience leads you around ancient Split, transporting you to Diocletian time, traveling through the crypts, into the private rooms, and through the streets.
It’s great for helping you visualize what this palace would have looked like.
Visit the Baptistery
Just opposite the cathedral sits the former temple of Jupiter or the baptistry. Diocletian believed he was the son of Jupiter so it makes perfect sense to have a temple dedicated to him but again, it was converted by Christians and became the baptistry.
You will find another sphinx here, this time, headless! Destroyed for being a pagan symbol, the other sphinx is in much better condition, especially as it’s over 3000 years old!
Wander along the Riva
Split’s promenade is lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants but it offers so much more. Find yourself a bench under a palm tree, grab an ice cream, and spend your time people-watching and checking out the amazing range of luxurious yachts in the harbor. Look out for the bronze model of the city of Split too. Visit the green market which sells all kinds of fresh fruit and veg. Check out the peaches!
Visit the beaches
There are three great little beaches to visit to break up your city adventures, and all walkable too.
Bacvice Beach is the closest beach to Split.
A popular spot in the summer, with sun loungers and umbrellas ready for serious sun seekers. It’s a sandy stretch with a few kiosks and restaurants.
Keep walking and you will find the small cove of Ovcice beach. With clear turquoise water and a diving platform, this little pebbly beach is a pretty alternative.
Continue a bit further and you’ll reach Plaza Firule, a quieter beach and a narrow strip of sand.
A popular spot for the local game of picigin, hitting a small ball from player to player by hand –keeping the ball in the air.
Heading in the opposite direction will bring you to a few other beaches such as Obojena and Kasjuni.
Take a boat trip
There is a huge choice of day trips by boat as well as ferries to other islands. One of the top recommended choices is a day trip to the nearby island of Hvar.
Take a full-day boat tour visiting the Blue Cave and five islands, including time to swim and snorkel, stopping at the fishing village of Komiza (famous for the filming of Mamma Mia) as well as a visit to Stiniva Beach (Europe’s best beach… in 2016!).
Looking for something a little more unique?
Discover the Game of Thrones filming locations in Split
Split was used for many scenes but the whole fictional city of Mereen is actually Split. Find a local Game of Thrones tour in the city to take you to many of these locations, both explaining the historical background as well as the Westeros history involved in the filming scene. You can even feast on some of the local cuisine to help get you in the right mindset.
Ride a glowing stand up paddle board in the Riva
This unique and intimate nocturnal activity offers a truly special experience to see Split for a whole new perspective. Imagine getting to see the waterfront with the multi-colored luminescence along with the marine life and night time stars. Experience the quite and calming ambience you get from paddle boarding.
TOP TIPS FOR YOUR STAY IN SPLIT
- Save on transportation costs from Split Airport to the city center by considering alternative options like buses (30-40 minutes journey) or a catamaran line (20 minutes, up to 10 times daily) instead of taking a taxi.
- Get the free SplitCard for budget travelers in Split, available at hotels and tourist centers. It grants free access to museums and provides discounts at various attractions, rental car companies, excursions, and even 10% off at select restaurants and shops.
- Discover Croatian culture and history in Split’s museums and galleries. Some are free to enter, like the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments and Jaman Art Gallery, making them budget-friendly options. Visit during the Summer Festival or get a SplitCard for more free entry opportunities.
- Stay connected on your short stay travels with an esim.
So, is Split worth visiting? Absolutely!
There are so many exciting things to do in Split, Croatia. Bustling with life and energy, this beautiful city is a mix of the modern and historic.
Split is the perfect short break destination in Croatia.