With ruins dating back to the Roman Empire, a bustling waterfront, and fresh seafood served daily, Split is the perfect balance between tradition and modernity and offers something for every taste, from historic sites and active excursions to world-class nightlife and restaurants.
The 4th-century Diocletian's Palace forms the heart of Split. It is by far the city's main draw where most everything worth seeing is concentrated around the various remains and conversions of the palace behind the waterfront Riva in Old Town. Beyond the tangle of the pedestrian-only streets and neighborhoods around the palace, lies the wooded Marjan peninsula as well as a handful of pebble and shingle coast-hugging beaches, all within easy reach of downtown.
Then there is Split's version of suburbia: a sprawl of palms and exotic plants tucked among blocks of socialist-era housing with the not-too-far Dalmatian hinterland, or Zagora, a delightfully unpopulated region just beyond the city's limits to the northwest.
Planning Your Split Itinerary
Centrally located along the sunny Adriatic coast, Split is the hub around which everything in Dalmatia revolves. Plan to stay at least a day to properly explore the main attractions before continuing on your Croatian adventure. This Best of Croatia 13-day itinerary features two nights in Split and includes a historical walking tour to cover those noteworthy sites, like Diocletian's Palace, Pjaca Square, and the 15th-century Town Hall to name but a few.
Meanwhile, you can discover nearby hotspots and lesser-visited towns as Split makes for an excellent home base from which to plan a day trip. Spend four nights in Split with three activity-packed days sailing to Šolta island, visiting famed Krka National Park and underrated Šibenik, and touring Trogir, Klis fortress, and the ancient Roman settlement of Salona on this 10-day trip of Dalmatia's hidden gems.
When to Go
Split can be considered a year-round destination and offers something for every kind of traveler. If you're escaping colder weather, heading to the Dalmatian coast in the winter months is an idea. There's a definite chill in the air, but Split's historic center is devoid of crowds, the arts are in full force, and closeby destinations like Krka National Park undergo a seasonal makeover worthy of your attention. Not to mention, too, there are deals to be had for airfare and accommodation.
Though by far the best time to visit the Croatian city is during the shoulder-season months of April, May, and beginning of June when the weather warms, there are few tourists about, and costs for hotels and transportation are low (keep in mind the summer ferry schedule is announced the end of May). And while the Adriatic might not be enticing enough for casual swimmers during this time (particularly during April and May), visit Split toward the end of September or in October for all the perks mentioned above, plus the bonus of having the sea as an optional venue for watersports.
See Best Time to Visit Croatia for further insight on when to go.
Split's central European location makes it an easy destination to reach by plane from most major cities as well as a perfect start or endpoint for any adventure within the country or elsewhere in Europe. Accessing downtown Split from the airport is quite straightforward, inexpensive, and takes about 30 to 40 minutes. From most costly to least, hail a taxi, board the airport shuttle, or ride the bus. Though bear in mind, the bus from the airport drops you off about a 25-minute walk north of the city center (a significant portion of Split is pedestrian-only).
With that said, it's easiest to explore the city on foot, and if you have plans to visit the Marjan peninsula or outlying neighborhoods and museums, you need to take one of the city's buses. The bus station is on Obala kneza Domagoja opposite the ferry terminal and runs buses frequently to towns near and far, including Dubrovnik (hourly; 4 hours and 40 minutes) and Zagreb (12 daily; 5-9 hours). There are also international routes that include Belgrade, Ljubljana, Mostar, and Sarajevo.
North of the bus station and a five-minute walk to Old Town is the train station, offering passengers the option to travel to Zagreb. There are three every day, one of which is an overnight (6-9 hours).
Serving as the Adriatic's main ferry port, Split provides travelers with a heap of destination options via ferry, catamaran, and hydrofoil. Book passage to Dubrovnik, Lastovo, Korčula, Hvar, Brač, and Šolta. The main terminal resides at the end of Obala kneza Domagoja at Gat sveti Duje. You can purchase most tickets and reservations from several kiosks along Obala kneza Domagoja as well as inside the main passenger terminal. Alternatively, hire a speedboat or go on a sailing tour to venture to some of the Adriatic's more popular islands directly.
If you opt to rent a car, do so after your stay and be sure to allow yourself extra time when making travel plans as delays in the summer months are common from heavy coastal traffic.
Highlights & Things to Do in Split
Discover Diocletian's Palace
Impossible to avoid, the UNESCO-protected Diocletian's Palace in Old Town was adapted long ago to serve as Split's town center. A (palatial) retirement home built by Roman emperor Diocletian in the early 4th century is hardly recognizable as a Roman structure today due to the centuries-worth of tinkering. Medieval tenements took the place of the imperial apartments using salvaged stone. Shops, cafés, and a series of small flats now line the palace walls that stretch along the Riva. What does remain are the mausoleum and Temple of Jupiter, now the cathedral and baptistry.
Begin in the Peristyle, the former central courtyard of the palace complex, and now a lively square and meeting place (best to arrive early before the crowds). Say hello to the black stone sphinx brought back from Egypt 3,500 years ago, then climb the six stories of the Romanesque campanile of the Cathedral of St. Dominus, a smart way to get an overview of the city's orientation. Follow the narrow alley to the baptistry to see well-preserved figures of Hercules and Apollo with later additions of Christian iconography.
Step into the basement next to the Bronze Gate, for a sense of how the palace might have once appeared. The basement layout mirrors that of the original palace complex. Though now you're welcome to purchase souvenirs and gifts from the handicraft stalls that line the halls.
Expert tip: Take an evening stroll along the Riva and then wander into the palace for a serene and romantic take on the otherwise bustling complex.
Stroll the Medieval Streets
Traipse the gleaming tiles of Narodni trg, the "People's Square" (though it's better known simply as Pjaca), outside the Iron Gate. Here you can check out the temporary art or history exhibit hosted on the ground floor of the 15th-century Gradska Vijećnica (Town Hall), noting the Romanesque clock tower. Work your way through the narrow medieval streets and passages west of the square or south toward the small square of Mihovilova širina for your choice of café-bar to spend a warm evening.
Further west is the pedestrianized thoroughfare of Marmontova, a boundary to medieval Split and one that leads to Trg republike at its southern end. Here you can explore the three-sided neo-Renaissance (and colorful) city council buildings or Prokurative that also act as a summer venue for outdoor concerts.
Shop Like a Local
Planning an outing that involves a picnic or want to experience local color? Head to any of Split's markets. East of Diocletian's Palace and outside the Silver Gate is the Pazar Market (Green Market), a lively fruit and vegetable market. Farmers from the surrounding areas of Split come to buy and sell everything from local produce and brandies, olive oils, cured meats, cheeses, and even kitchen supplies and clothing.
Expert tip: Visit Pazar after 12 pm when you can bargain for a lower price.
Follow your nose to the pungent Peskarija fish market halfway up Marmontova Street. Fishmongers yell out their daily catch, and locals come to buy the freshest seafood. It is open from 6:30 am until 2 pm daily. Conveniently, you won't have to worry about any flies spoiling your experience or the seafood, thanks to the smell from the underground sulfur springs.
Make like the fashion-forward Split women and peruse the boutiques for trendy clothing, footwear, and accessories contained within the streets of Diocletian's Palace.
Deep Dive into Split's Past
Split hosts many galleries and museums worthy of your attention. Contained within the walls of Diocletian's Palace are three, all of which flesh out Split's history throughout the centuries. See folk costumes displayed in renovated medieval rooms of the Božičević Palace in the Ethnographic Museum, look upon the works of local Emmanuel Vidović and his curios in his re-created studio inside the Vidović Gallery, or tour the 15th-century Gothic Papalić Palace complete with a display of archaeological finds from Diocletian's Palace held within the City Museum.
For a small collection of Illyrian, Greek, and mostly Roman artifacts, find your way to the Archaeological Museum, Croatia's oldest, where much of its findings are sourced from nearby Salona (the former capital of Dalmatia). Exhibits include votive figurines and amulets, and Greek, Roman, and early Christian stelae and sarcophagi. Meanwhile, the Museum of Croatian Archeological Monuments focuses on Split's medieval heritage—often overshadowed by all things Diocletian's Palace—and the Croatian Maritime Museum inside a 17th-century bastion offers nautical-related finds.
Be Moved by Art
Art enthusiasts will want to deep dive into artworks done by local and national artists, most works focusing on Dalmatia, at the Split Art Gallery. Housed in the expansive halls of a renovated hospital to the northwest of Diocletian's Palace, the gallery is a beautiful place to see the history of local Croatian art, from the 14th century to the present day.
A 20-minute walk from the city center is the Ivan Meštrović Gallery in Marjan Forest Park. A palatial estate-turned-gallery showcases 192 sculptures, hundreds of drawings, and a few paintings of Croatia's most famous modern sculptor, Ivan Meštrović. Even if you are not an art lover, the gallery is worth a visit for the scenic views alone. About a five-minute walk up the road from the gallery is the Kaštelet, a former 16th-century fortified residence that Meštrović bought to display his powerful Life of Christ series.
Expert tip: Get free admittance or up to 50% off admission on select museums and galleries with the SplitCard. The card is free depending on your stay duration (5 nights in summer, 2 in winter).
Take to the Trails (and Beaches) of the Marjan Peninsula
Just outside the city center is an undeveloped green oasis around the same size as New York City's Central Park, the Marjan peninsula. Surrounded by pine and cypress trees and the sea, it's a great place to escape the crowds with endless trails for running, walking, and cycling as well as access to beaches for kayaking, swimming, sunbathing, and rock climbing. For more on kayaking the Marjan peninsula's scenic coast, read day two of Dalmatia Family Adventure.
Bring a picnic lunch and walk to the top of the near 560-foot (170-m) Marjan Hill to Telegrin Peak for panoramic vistas of the city and closeby islands. Better yet, come in the late afternoon to take in the setting sun as it sinks into the Adriatic. There are also a few attractions less visited: the Jewish cemetery (some tombstones dating back to the 1700s) and the 13th and 15th-century churches, St. Nicholas and St. Jerome.
Hire a bike near the northern entrance of the park or join a half-day cycling tour (see day nine of this Discover Croatia article) to pedal the shaded paths that weave through the woods and take a dip at the secluded Kašjuni beach. A strip of fine shingle with little access to accompanying facilities faces the green island of Čiovo, further adding to the feeling of being far away from the bustle of Split.
Expert tip: Take bus #12 for Bene bay to find a mix of concreted and rocky bathing areas and cafés, hopping on and off the bus throughout the park. The bus leaves every hour from the end of the Riva in front of the Church of St. Frane.
Splash at Bačvice Beach and Play a Round of Picigen
Elsewhere in Split, there are a couple of popular beaches, namely centrally located Bačvice beach. Popular with locals and families in part for its ideal location but also because of its sandy, shallow bottom, children's well-equipped playground, and cafés and restaurants close at hand. It is here too that the sport of picigen was born, a game only played in and around Split. A netless version of volleyball played in the sea, watch participants leap and splash as they attempt to keep the peeled tennis ball from touching the water. If you're brave, make friends and join in a round or two.
Spend the Day Under the Water
Walking around Split, you'll notice all the dive shops and for good reason: islands and reefs surround the coastline and the visibility is clear due to the calm waters. If you have more than a few days in Split, try a half-day scuba diving venture to admire the colorful schools of curious fish, delicate corals, and foreign-looking sponges and snails.
Watch a Football Match
Catch a Hajduk Split football (soccer) match from February to May in Split's Poljud Stadium, within walking distance of Old Town. Besides the magnificent views of the sea and mountains, you'll rub shoulders with the locals as they fanatically cheer on their team. You're in for a real treat if you happen to snag tickets to a match against arch-rivals Dinamo Zagreb.
Expert tip: You can buy decent tickets on the day of a match for around $10.
Savor Wine in Split
To get a little taste of Dalmatian wine, visit the Klub Gurmana I Hedonista wine bar, a 10-minute walk from the city center. The wine bar is inside a traditional stone building where the host speaks perfect English and serves tasty finger foods paired perfectly with the right wine. Elsewhere, consider making the 25-minute drive outside of Split to the town of Kastela where Zinfandel is popular, and visit the Putalj Winery. You can visit on your own if you have a car or go on a wine tour.
Expert tip: Reservations are a must if you join a tasting/tour, and you'll want to book far enough in advance as they occur once daily (at 5 pm).
Take in the Setting Sun
If you're in Old Town during sunset, grab a blanket and a bottle of wine and walk to the western end of the Riva, where the dock extends out into the harbor. It's a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of Old Town and a romantic spot to watch the sky transition from day to night.
To get a view from above, check out the laidback Konoba Dioklecijan, a local favorite that serves small nibbles (be sure to try a snack or sandwich of pršut) alongside cocktails. Its outdoor terrace is built directly into the wall of Diocletian's Palace, near the Bronze Gate. Grab a drink, sit out on the terrace overlooking the waterfront, and take in the sun as it dips below the horizon.
During the summer, the younger locals will sit and drink around a popular spot called Matejuška, the old fisherman's cove near the Riva. Pick up some beer from Mali dućan (Little Shop), which has the largest selection of beers in town and mingle with the locals.
Roam the Riva and Practice the Art of Fjaka
After a full day of sightseeing, do as the locals do and practice fjaka, the simple art of doing nothing. Not to be confused with laziness, fjaka is the sublime state of mind and body in which you aspire for nothing. Though it can't be learned, head to Split's waterfront promenade and stroll the Riva without purpose, letting the body relax as you empty the mind. And if that's a tall order, choose a café to people-watch from and see if you can spot locals in a languor state inherent to fjaka.
Day Trip From Split to Nearby Locales
Hike, Climb, Swim, & Zip Down the Cetina River
Get an early start to the day to drive south along the coast to Zadvarje for a full-day excursion where you'll get outfitted to go rafting and canyoning down the Cetina River, ending with the option to zip-line in Omiš.
Sail the Sparkling Sea to Nearby Adriatic Islands
Enjoy the sea breeze and sunshine as you relax and delight your senses onboard your private sailboat, stopping along the way to swim, snorkel, and explore charming coastal towns of Vis, Korčula, Hvar, and Brač.
Join a Cooking Class in Trogir
A mere 45-minute drive to the west of Split sits the island-city of Trogir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site chock-full of fascinating architecture. Learn the secrets of Dalmatian cuisine from this centrally located gem and discover how to cook a traditional Croatian gozba (feast).
Zoom Through the Zagora
Explore the Zagora, the hinterland beyond Split, on a kid-friendly ATV tour that sees you traversing gravel roads and people-less fields along the Cetina River, as well as enjoy a dip in the river and a barbeque lunch.