Exploring Split, and Other Awe-Inspiring Places in Croatia
January 1, 1970
by Kim McKeay
Croatia’s second largest city, Split, is the perfect mix of lively modernity and captivating history, enticing you to explore it. This was the impression I got while looking for my hostel at 2 am, and it continued to charm me when daylight came. For accommodation, I would recommend using the Hostelworld app.
Situated on the Dalmatian Coast and edged by the beautifully azure Adriatic Sea, Split’s promenade comes alive with cafes, gelato, fashion and the selling of boat tours during the day. After sunset, there are restaurants, bars and night markets to wander through, and a long line of people if you go to Luka’s for gelato. Which you will. Multiple times.
Must See Places
Diocletian’s Palace was built for the Roman Emperor in the 4th century and is now a vibrant and eclectic town centre with lots to explore. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s well maintained Roman streets buzz with the energy of tourists and locals. Music, smells and sun enveloped me as I wandered around the Old Town, captivated by the people, the food and the architecture. Was I lost? Almost always. Did I mind? Not at all. The girl in the hostel was super helpful marking things on my map, and Split isn’t huge, so by the end of my stay I was comfortable with my growing sense of direction.
Cathedral of Saint Domnius
The Cathedral of Saint Domnius is comprised of a Catholic church, still in use after being consecrated in the 7th century, and a bell tower which was started in the 13th century but not finished for more than 300 years. The cathedral is one of the smallest in the world, but the bell tower is 60m high, and rising from within Diocletian’s Palace, it offers a panoramic view of Split which enchanted me.
Temple of Jupiter
Another construct within Diocletian’s Palace, the Temple of Jupiter is small but well preserved. Originally built to honour the God Jupiter, it is now the Baptistery of Saint John. An ancient sphinx brought from Egypt under the orders of Diocletian sits erect at the entrance.
Peristyle Square was the formal entrance way into the hall of Diocletian’s Palace. Much of it has now been rebuilt, influenced by the original Roman architecture. I joined the many others sitting in awe on the marble steps, trying to soak up history. Musicians played in the courtyard, unperturbed by the heat.
This was a favourite of mine which I gravitated toward daily. Colourful and noisy, the green market is a delightful place to buy fresh produce and talk to locals. There’s also shade available when you need a break from the sun. It’s easy to find, opposite the bus station and just outside the walls of the Diocletian Palace.
This was not my favourite, and although lively and often comical, after the first visit I tried to avoid it, as well as the water running through the gutters afterwards. Seafood is a big part of Split’s cuisine and economy though, and there is a huge variety available, caught fresh from the Adriatic the night before. It’s situated on the western side of the Old City, but you just need to follow your nose.
I wasn’t sure what this was when I started climbing, but hundreds of steps later it was totally worth it. There are lots of places to hike, cycle and climb, gorgeous beaches, museums and a Jewish cemetery. I really wish I had found Marjan Hill earlier and spent more time there. I walked to the top from the Veli Varos neighbourhood, but there are other ways to explore the park which also sound amazing!
Bacvice Beach isn’t massive, and has a lot of stones and paved areas, but is easy to walk to and fun to swim at. You can keep walking around to further beaches until you find one that is less crowded, which is what I did. Either that or I just got hotter and less fussy. The beach bars and nightlife here are also epic.
Things I Didn’t See
The Mestrovic Gallery, built by the sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, and the Split City Museum would have been worth a visit if I had more time.
Klis Fortress +/- Game of Thrones Tour
I’m not a Game of Thrones fan, but this tour still looked really interesting.
Surrounding Areas to Explore
Croatia’s stunning national parks were the inspiration behind my trip here, and I was not disappointed. There are lots of day trips available to explore the parks, but I did a slightly longer road trip that included Zadar, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Krka National Park, Pag and Zrce Beach. I love travelling in summer, but the views in the national parks were so phenomenal, I now want to explore them in winter as well.
Boat tours are also a popular activity and can be easily booked along the waterfront or through hostels. Highlights from the one I did include Blue Cave, Hvar, dolphins and sweet swimming spots.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which showcases majestic cascading lakes and waterfalls that took my breath away. It boasts the largest waterfall in Croatia and alluring crystal-clear water. There’s no swimming here, which seems unthinkable in 40-degree heat, but I wouldn’t ruin the landscape for anything. My group and I spent a few hours hiking the trails, and I left feeling like there was lots more I wanted to explore. I would recommend spending a whole day here.
Krka National Park
Another park within the Dalmatia region, and one which I wish I had more time to explore, Krka is named after the river that runs through it. Roski Slap is a phenomenal 650m long stretch that ends in another cascading waterfall, and Skradinski Buk is the incredible backdrop in many people’s photos. Although crowded, it was still a beautiful place to swim and sunbathe.
Pag is an interesting island in the Adriatic, with a barren and rocky landscape, weirdly similar to the moon. It’s famous for the tough sheep that graze mostly on herbs, the flavoursome cheese that’s made from their milk, and the open-air nightclubs at Zrce Beach. An unusual combination.
Croatia is a favourite destination of mine, and I am inspired to explore more of it. I loved my time in Split, and it was a place I briefly came back to in between adventures. The atmosphere was relaxed, and the beauty of the ancient city and it’s surrounds fueled my wanderlust. In hindsight, I would plan for more time to explore each national park, and more time at Marjan Hill. I would return in a heartbeat if the world didn’t have so many other places to explore.