Things to do in Split

The first time I travelled to Croatia I didn’t make it to the coast. For various reasons I got stuck in Zagreb, and spent three days moping around the capital until I retreated to Italy. I was painfully aware that this was like going to France and skipping Paris, or traveling to Italy and bypassing Tuscany. So when I had an opportunity to return to the country two years later, I was determined to experience Croatia’s famed Dalmatian Coast.

The easiest coastal city in Croatia to reach by train is Split. It’s a remarkable town set in the midst of the 4th century fortress-like Diocletian’s Palace. With a labyrinthine network of roads and alleyways, beautiful views, pristine beaches, and a bustling port with ferries that’ll get you to most islands, there’s never a shortage of things to do. Here are some of them.

8 things to do in Split

  1. Stay in the palace

The best decision you can make when visiting Split is to stay in the heart of the palace. This doesn’t mean forking up a fortune for an exclusive suite in an actual palace. These days there are hundreds of hotel and hostel rooms, as well as apartments, available in the confines of the old palace walls. In the shoulder season you’ll even be able to pick up a quaint, original apartment on a quiet back alley for a bargain. It’s the only way to properly experience the remarkable atmosphere that defines this movie-set like destination.

Insider tip: On a budget? Check Airbnb for apartment shares and rentals – there are dozens to choose from right in the middle of the town.

2. Get lost

During the course of my four-day stay I must have walked most of the streets of Split at least twice, sometimes more. On days when I had little to do I’d simply set off and follow the crowds, or avoid them, and walk until something looked unfamiliar. The town is small enough for you to get lost enough to feel just a bit adventurous without ever really fearing you’ll never find your way back. And even the most inconspicuous streets and alleyways have authentic details – fluttering laundry, crumbling stone walls, or flowering bougainvillea – that are thoroughly rewarding.

Insider tip: Feeling hopelessly lost? Figure out which direction is west and walk that way, and you’ll end up on the main promenade.

3. Take in the views

The bell tower of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius, also known as Sveti Dujam, offers incredible views over Split. From the top you’ll have a bird’s eye view over the network of streets and alleyways. It’s a short but steep walk to the top, but the 360-degree views over the town and ocean are well worth the entrance fee and physical exertion.

Insider tip: Time your visit in the late afternoon. It closes after dark, but you might be lucky enough to catch the beginnings of the sunset.

4. Walk up to Park Marjan

Park Marjan is a beautiful green hill located on the peninsula just to the west of the old town. In spite of its convenient location, it feels wild and unaffected by the nearby city. It’s the perfect spot to breathe some fresh forest air, and the views over the town, ocean and distant mountains are dramatic.

Insider tip: Wear good sneakers or walking shoes. There are many stairs to reach the summit of the hill, and once there you’ll still have to cover some distance on foot.

5. Cool off in the Adriatic

There are several beaches in and around Split that offer the opportunity to cool off on a hot summer’s day. Though many are busy and a bit chaotic in the peak of summer, if you put in some effort and travel away from the main urban beach of Bačvice you might just find some peace and tranquility. Beaches also vary from small pebbles to sand, natural to artificial, so a bit of research and planning goes a long way.

Insider tip: Check out this Google Map for the most convenient beaches accessible from Split.

6. Dine out on The Riva

This may be the most touristy part of Split, but if your budget allows it’s a great place from which to enjoy a meal, cocktail, or even a quick coffee. From your seat on the promenade you’ll be able to watch the passing parade of people and cruise ships, and feel like you’re living the good life.

Insider tip: Research your restaurants carefully. Competition on the busy tourist strip is fierce, and there’s a good chance fast talking hosts will attempt lure you into sub-par establishments.

7. Explore the history of Klis Fortress

Klis Fortress is a medieval fortress just outside the town of Split. It used to stand as the castle that controlled the valley, and as such it’s full of fascinating historical sights. Visitors can climb across the fortifications and soak up the details that date back to the Illyrian times. There’s also a small museum that contextualizes the castle’s fascinating but tumultuous history.

Insider tip: You can reach Klis by bus from Split – catch city bus number 22 for about 7.5 miles.

8. Head for the islands

Split is the starting point for many island adventures. You’d be remiss to travel all the way to the city and not visit any. During summer, regular ferries to most islands, but these tend to taper off as the winter weather arrives. Most popular and convenient from Split is Hvar, which though beautiful can be extremely busy during peak season. Other options include Brač, Vis, Korčula and Šolta. You can also continue all the way to Dubrovnik by ferry during summer.

Insider tip: This is one aspect of your trip worth planning ahead. Ferry seats can fill up during summer, leaving you stranded. And in winter, many stop running. Check the main ferry websites and book your trip online ahead of time if possible.

Many simply consider Split as a gateway to the Dalmatian Islands. But the reality is that it’s a whole lot more than this. Split is a fascinating historical town that will capture your imagination and allow you to journey back to an altogether different time, while still treating you to modern day comforts and surprises.

You can easily reach Split by train from Zagreb on one of two daily trains. The most convenient of these is InterCity 523 that leaves at 15:20 and arrives at 21:21. There is also an overnight train that departs at 22:56 and arrives at 06:45 the next day. Both are covered by any Eurail Pass valid in Croatia, though the InterCity requires a seat reservation and the overnight train will require a reservation if you want a couchette or sleeper.

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