Best Things to Do in Split Croatia
Split, Croatia has to be one of the most underrated destinations I’ve had the pleasure of exploring. Originally founded by the Greeks, the city became significant when the Roman Emperor Diocletian decided to build his retirement home here around 300 AD. Split’s entire old town is a walking history museum, with picture-worthy views around every corner. If you’re interested in the best things to do in Split Croatia including where to stay and what to eat, we have you covered.
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What to do in Split Croatia
The beautiful city has grown exponentially since its early days, but the main attraction is still Split’s old town core, namely the remain’s of Emperor Diocletian’s Palace. Spend some quality time exploring the city and savoring its local dishes, it’s time well spent.
Where is Split Croatia
Split is centrally located along the Croatian coast, making it the perfect starting point for many itineraries. The Split Airport (SPU) is located about 15 miles northwest of the city center and is serviced by many international carriers.
The city is also a good base for visiting the surrounding islands. Some of the favorites are Brač (famous for its Golden Cape beach), Hvar (one of the sunniest islands in Croatia), and Vis (a starting point for trips to the Blue Cave, similar to Capri’s Blue Grotto). Each of the islands can be reached from ferries in Split’s port. It’s also centrally located to many of Croatia’s hidden gems.
Nearby destinations worth exploring include Trogir (a beautiful, small medieval town whose foundations date back to the 3rd century BC), Krka National Park (a smaller version of Plitvice Lakes National Park with stunning waterfalls), and Klis Fortress (a medieval fortress that was the filming location of Meereen in “Game of Thrones” and the perfect spot for views of Split).
During the summer months the city can be quite busy, so be sure to make reservations in advance.
How to Travel Around Split
The old town of Split is made for walking. There are cobblestone streets and many stairs. It is not the most stroller-friendly or wheelchair-accessible city.
Surrounding the remains of Diocletian’s Palace is the present-day city of Split. This is where you will find the city bus service. Parking in Split can be complicated, even locals complain of the inability to find spaces. There are some pay lots near the Riva (on the waterfront). This is also a place to find taxis, should you wish to hire them. Trains in the city come in and out of the main train station, but know those trains are not as efficient as other modes of transportation and are rarely used in Croatia.
If you wish to take day trips outside the city, we would highly recommend hiring a private car transfer. We used Octopus Transfer Croatia. Our driver picked us up at our hotel and took us to Plitvice Lakes National Park for the day (about 3 hours each way).
The car had wi-fi, water, and was very comfortable, and my husband and I were both able to enjoy the scenery along the way. Our driver Bozo was a wealth of information and told us the best way to hike in the park to avoid the crowds and even helped us secure tickets. Using this service definitely made our travels throughout Croatia easier.
Main Attractions in Split Croatia
Visit Diocletian’s Palace
It is hard to miss the top tourist attraction of Split, Diocletian’s Palace. Diocletian’s Palace and the central part of Split are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Emperor Diocletian was born in the nearby town of Salona as a slave, and worked his way up through the Roman military ranks, eventually finding favor with the Roman Emperor Carus. The entire history of his rise to power and rule is fascinating, and we would highly recommend hiring a private guided tour of the palace and city.
Dino Ivančić was recommended to us by the Croatian Tourism Board, and his walking tour did not disappoint. Not only did he give us an extensive history lesson, but he also showed us different “Game of Thrones” scenes shot in Split, which was fascinating. We also booked him for a side trip to Trogir and Klis Fortress as well, and Dino’s knowledge of the area is second to none.
Climb the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Domnius
One of the best places for a sunset view is the bell tower next to the Cathedral of St. Domnius. There’s a separate entry fee for the bell tower and the cathedral, but both are worth it.
Know that the climb to the top is not for the faint of heart, and I highly recommend trying to look straight ahead instead of looking down. Try not to be near the bell when it chimes as it can be quite loud (on the half hour). The views from the top provide the best overview of the palace boundaries and Split in our opinion.
Visit the Cathedral of Saint Domnius
This octagonal building was originally built as the mausoleum of Diocletian, who persecuted Christians during his rule. In the 5th century, the Christians turned the game around, desecrating his tomb and converting it to a Christian church. It is the oldest Catholic cathedral in Split.
The ticket for church admission is separate from the ticket for the bell tower, but it does include admission to the crypt and the Temple of Jupiter as well.
Take a look at the Temple of Jupiter
This temple was built by Diocletian to worship the Roman god, Jupiter. Diocletian considered himself to be Jupiter’s representative on Earth. Christians took over the temple in the 6th century and it became the baptistry of St. John the Baptist. It’s not very big, but worth a look if you have the combo ticket with the cathedral.
Shop with the locals at the Green Market or the Fish Market
Shopping in Split runs the gamut from stores and market stalls around the town to small stands in the tunnels beneath Diocletian’s Palace. If you’re planning on staying in Split for a few days, stop at the Green Market or Fish Market to buy fresh produce and/or seafood.
Other popular Croatian items sold around town are lavender products, truffle and olive oils, Croatian crafts, and local honey. It’s a shopper’s paradise.
Stroll along the Riva
Along the main waterfront of Split is the Riva, a pedestrian walkway lined with palm trees. This is where you will find many restaurants, shops, and food stands. It is a popular place for grabbing a bite to eat and people-watching. Grab a table and take it all in. Better yet, go at sunset and enjoy the beautiful views.
Hike Marjan Hill
Locals refer to Marjan Hill as the lungs of the city, and it’s easy to see why. Not only does it take quite a bit of effort to climb to the top of Marjan Hill (leaving you a bit breathless), it’s a beautiful park with an abundance of pine trees not found in the city below.
It’s hard to know what to see and do in Marjan Forest Park because the area is not signed at all. Many of the tourists (including ourselves) were using GPS on our phones to navigate.
The park has several small churches to see, including the 15th-century church of St. Jere and 13th-century St. Nicholas, Karepic’s Tower, built into the rock face of the hill, a Jewish cemetery, and even a small zoo. Several trails even lead down to the beaches on the southern side of Marjan Hill. It’s worth the hike to see the panoramic views of the city.
TIPS: I would recommend going early in the day or later in the evening as it can be quite warm in the middle of the day. There is a café at the top for water, food, or coffee, or simply enjoying the view.
Make time for the beaches in Split Croatia
There are several beautiful beaches in Split, each one popular for different reasons. Bačvice tends to be the most crowded beach, probably because it is the closest to the tourist attractions and city center.
This is a popular spot for games of picigin, where players try to keep a small ball from falling in the water by any means necessary. The sandy beach has plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent and food available for purchase. Families will love the shallow water for kids.
Kaštelet is on the south side of Marjan Hill, with beautiful clear water, fewer crowds, and plenty of locals. This is a pebble beach and most people bring their own snacks and drinks as available service seems to change from year to year.
Bene beach is on the west side of Marjan Hill, and it is a great place for families. The beach is one of the few that has natural shade from local pine trees, making it highly desirable. There is a playground, soccer field, and tennis courts for those who don’t want to swim. A bar and restaurant are right next to the beach, making it the perfect spot for a day out.
Enjoy one of Split’s museums
Meśtrovič Gallery – Ivan Meštrović is one of Croatia’s famous sculptors and the creator of the enormous statue of Grgur Ninski that stands in front of the palace’s Golden Gate. This gallery features close to 200 of his works and it is surrounded by peaceful gardens perfect for escaping city crowds.
Ethnographic Museum – Located in a courtyard just off the Vestibule of Diocletian’s Palace, this museum features a large variety of traditional Dalmatian clothing and tapestry, pottery, and other artifacts. It is part of the archaeological museum in Split.
Probably the most unique feature is that the museum is located where the former Emperor’s bed chambers once existed. The true find in this museum though is the staircase that leads to the top of the Vestibule for views of Split and the Cathedral. If you time it just right, you can hear the Dalmatian men’s choir singing in the Vestibule below.
Where to Eat in Split
Villa Spilla – This restaurant has delicious pasta and seafood dishes, but seating is limited. Find a seat in the alleyway or grab a chair inside and watch the chefs at work.
Bokamorra Pizza – Not far from the stairs leading to Majun Hill is one of Split’s best restaurants. A fun and friendly staff, unique cocktails, and out-of-this-world pizza make this one of our favorite places to eat in Split. We would go time and time again.
Pizzeria Portas – Located on one of the small streets, not far from the City Museum, this place has a charming courtyard setting that’s perfect for lunch or dinner. The Greek salad was delicious, as was the prosciutto pizza. Highly recommend.
Bepa – Centrally located in People’s Square, this cute café is perfect for cocktails, a snack, and people-watching.
Pumparela Gelateria – Located next to St. Dominius Cathedral, this place has the best gelato in Split. Well-priced with generous scoops, don’t miss dessert here any time of day.
Waffle Express – Outside the palace walls, not far from the Grgur Ninski statue, this cute little shop serves up ice cream delights in bubble waffle cones. Quite indulgent, but good to share, and a delightful courtyard in the back.
Where to Stay in Split
Hotels in Split, Croatia are quite reasonably priced compared to other big European cities. Within Diocletian’s Palace, most, if not all, buildings are protected by UNESCO, so elevators cannot be added. This usually means climbing stairs to reach your room, but thankfully most Split hotels offer luggage service.
Central Square Heritage Hotel – Brilliantly decorated large room on the top floor of a building overlooking People’s Square. Very centrally located, with no noise issues. Breakfast was available, but we just grabbed a bite at the café across the street every morning. Note: No elevator, only stairs
Bella Notte di Spallato – Beautifully appointed self-catering apartment with breakfast available next door at Hotel Vestibul Palace. The property arranged a car service from the airport, but assistance once on site was minimal (we didn’t know quite how to work tv/air conditioning and there were no instructions).
Views from the top floor attic room are spectacular (cathedral, rooftops). A bit noisy at night with music and crowds, but if we had been able to close the windows and use air conditioning, that might not have been a problem. Note: No elevator, only stairs
Villa Split Heritage Hotel – Beautiful hotel just off People’s Square. We had a large attic room in the annex building, which had all the amenities and breakfast included. Rooms are in a 13th-century historic building, so know there are stairs only and no elevator, but the staff is helpful and happy to assist with luggage.
If you’re thinking of exploring other parts of Croatia, don’t miss our post on Dubrovnik and the best islands to visit in Croatia with kids!