Croatia has become a popular holiday destination in recent years and for good reason. With more than 1,700 kilometres of coast, historic cities and incredible national parks, it’s no wonder it’s seen as the perfect getaway. While the capital, Zagreb, with its many museums, and the walled city of Dubrovnik get much of the attention, it would be a shame to overlook Split.
This city is located right on the coast and is entirely unique due to the fact it is the site of Diocletian’s Palace. Dating back to the fourth century, this sprawling complex is not a place to simply spend an afternoon exploring, it is truly intertwined with the modern city. You’ll find cafes, restaurants and shops cohabiting the city centre with ancient walls and fascinating monuments.
Five days is the perfect amount of time to discover Split and the surrounding area. You can take in its historic monuments, indulge in a buzzing café culture, delicious wine and food, as well as enjoying the proximity to the beach and a very special national park that is just a day trip away.
Day one – explore Diocletian’s playground
Start your first day in Split the way the locals do, with a coffee on the Riva promenade. This wide pedestrianised seafront route is the perfect introduction to the city and is peppered with cafes to sit in with a coffee and watch the world go by. It winds its way past innumerable sights and monuments, making it a great place from which to start your exploration.
Once fuelled for the day, head to Diocletian’s Palace, which is at the heart of the Old Town and has many sights intermingling with modern buildings and everyday life. Constructed by the Roman emperor, it is an impressive complex and one of the most significant monuments of the empire still standing today.
It’s almost impossible not to catch glimpses of the palace as you wander around the Old Town, but there are certain elements of interest you should specifically look out for. The four gates – Golden Gate, Silver Gate, Bras Gate, and Iron Gate – split the area into four quarters and help you to navigate this labyrinthine space.
The bell tower of the Cathedral of St Dominus can be seen from all over the city, rising up in its colonnaded beauty. Climb to the top for fantastic views. The centre of the palace is the Peristyle, which is now a small public square, surrounded by points of interest. Take the time to seek out the Temple of Jupiter and an Egyptian sphinx.
After a day of taking in the history of Split, it’s worth opting to dine in similar surroundings and Apetit offers such an experience. It is situated with the Papaliceva Palace, which dates back to the 15th century and the series of staircases it takes to reach it are well worth the exertion. From medieval stonework to impressive oil paintings, the surroundings would be enough to distract you from your food, if the fare wasn’t exceptional. Order the sharing fish platter for two for a feast you won’t forget in a hurry.
Less than a minute’s walk away is Figa, within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace. While it has a nice interior, it’s much more pleasant to sip a cocktail on the stepped street outside, where cushions have been conveniently placed and take in the unique atmosphere of Split.
Day two – hit the beach
No holiday is complete without a day at the beach and there are plenty of sandy and pebbly stretches within easy reach of Split. Bacvice Beach is just a six-minute walk from the harbour via the promenade and is a great place to start. Being close to the Old Town it can get busy, but you can continue further on to find more secluded beaches or catch a bus directly to one of these.
A local pastime called picigin, which basically involves standing in the shallow water and preventing a ball from falling in, is about the right level of activity for a relaxing day on the beach. The water along the Dalmatian Coast is beautifully clear and there are plenty of places that are perfect for swimming, with lifeguards on duty during the summer months.
Just above Bacvice Beach is Zbirac, a little bar that is the perfect place to get drinks, although be aware it doesn’t serve food. Its outdoor terrace has views of the beach and offers shade when the hot Croatian summer sun is high in the sky. You don’t have to walk far to get a good meal, however, with some fantastic restaurants close to the beach. Among them is Konoba Matoni, which is renowned for its local cuisine and extensive wine list.
Stay in the Bacvice Beach area for the evening and enjoy a sundowner at the Tropic Club. Occupying a fantastic location, with a terrace jutting out into the sea, it’s a great spot for early evening drinks. It turns into something of a disco joint later on if you fancy putting on your dancing shoes. Walk just three minutes back towards the port and you’ll find the homely Ostarija u Vidjakovi restaurant, serving up classic Dalmatian dishes at reasonable prices. Take a look at the old photographs of Split throughout history on the walls.
Day three – get active on Marjan Hill
Towering over Split and crowned with the Croatian flag fluttering in the breeze is Marjan Hill. It’s a great escape from city life and has officially been a park since 1964. You can walk to this oasis from Marmont Street and stretch your legs with some hiking or even hire a bike. Gaining some height, and even climbing the 314 steps to the tallest point on Telegrin, will give you fantastic views over the city and surrounding area. Plenty of well-positioned benches mean you can stop and relax to take it all in.
There are a lot of sights to draw the attention while exploring Marjan Hill, from the St Jerome Church, nestled among the rocks, to the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments and Mestrovic Gallery. Ivan Mestrovic is widely celebrated as the country’s best sculptor and he built a palace for his family to live in for a decade on Marjan Hill. Today it houses a museum dedicated to his life and a gallery of his works.
When it comes to lunch on Marjan Hill, there is nowhere at its heart to eat, so it’s a good idea to bring a picnic or head to one of the restaurants on the outskirts of the area. A nice option is to aim for Bene Beach, where you will find the Benedikt Restaurant, serving simple lunches in the pleasant surroundings of the beach.
Make your way back to the Old Town for the evening and wind your way through the backstreets until you get to Slaviceva ulica, where you will find Perivoj. This restaurant is one not to miss during your stay, especially if you’re a fan of art deco interiors or delicious desserts. Housed in a villa dating back to the 1900s and serving up typical Croatian fare, the whole experience from sitting decide a tranquil fountain to ordering the slatko o’ medulla cake with flavours of almond and citrus, is a complete delight.
If you can pull yourself away, then just a ten-minute walk to Tome Nigera ulika will take you to a real gem of a bar. To Je To has a wide selection of craft beers and live music from local artists performing on a regular basis. It’s open until late and serves homemade brandy known as rakija, which is the perfect way to finish the evening.
Day four – day trip to Krka National Park
The Krka National Park offers a wonderful network of hiking trails around the 142-square kilometre area, taking in the stunning scenery and beautiful selection of waterfalls. It’s worth getting up early to spend the whole day at the park, before stopping off at Sibenik on the way back to Split. Sibenik is located around one hour and 40 minutes from Split, with buses departing regularly from the airport and bus station. It is then just ten kilometres to Skradin, although some buses go direct, meaning you don’t need to change in Sibenik.
Regular ferries leave Skradin to take visitors up the river, under the bridge and into the national park, throughout the summer months. It’s a wonderful introduction to Krka National Park, where more than 800 species of plant life, 200 types of birds and 18 varieties of bat await. The real highlight of a trip to Krka, however, is the chance to swim at the base of Stradinski Buk waterfall, so don’t forget to bring a swimsuit.
When it comes to lunch at Krka National Park, you have two options. The first is to bring a packed lunch to stop and eat while exploring the trails. The second is to return to Skradin for a meal, which in all likelihood will mean eating a little later than usual. Both Cantinetta and Zlatne Skoljke are good options and offer a wide range of seafood and local dishes. Try the veal risotto, which is cooked over the course of six hours resulting in a dish that melts in the mouth.
Take advantage of Krka’s proximity to Sibenik before returning to Split and spend the evening in this charming city. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Cathedral remains open quite late in the summer months and is well worth looking around. It combines renaissance and gothic styles, which were brought alive by some of the Adriatic’s finest craftsmen when it was built between 1431 and 1555.
Hot on the heels of having been voted the Best Restaurant in Croatia for the second year in a row at the prestigious Dobri Awards, Peligrini is the place to dine in Sibenik. Its chef, Rudolf Stefan believes in combining tradition with innovation and this can be seen in the modern takes on its classic dishes. Try the mussel gnocchi or octopus with jari beans. Peligrini’s location in a palace within the heritage quarter of Sibenik means the venue lives up to the food.
Day five – stock up on souvenirs
On your final day in Split, you’ll want to do a bit of shopping to pick up souvenirs of your trip and even gifts for people back at home. Among the best products to remind you of your time in Croatia are likely to be foodstuffs. After all, the countryside and islands surrounding Split are known for producing everything from cheese and olive oil to wine. The best place to go to purchase such items is a wonderful shop right in the heart of the Old Town on Maruliceva ulica, known as Judita. It will be all you can do not to buy everything!
To get a taste of the wide selection of olive oil that Croatia produces, as well as various other seasonal ingredients, have lunch at the Uje Oil Bar. The farmhouse kitchen produces everything from delicious soups to marinated fish and the desserts are sublime. Find it on Dominisova ulica.
If you are more interested in taking a piece of authentic Croatian art or design home with you, then Art Studio Naranca is the place to look. Located in the Majstora Jurja alleyway in the palace, it is a treasure trove of tempting items. From printed T-shirts, tote bags and mugs to jewellery and original artwork and books, you’ll definitely find something to suit your tastes.
For a particularly special end to your stay in Split, book at table at Konoba Matejuska. As there are only five or six tables at this cosy, family-run eatery on Tomica ulica, just turning up means you could be disappointed. Order the squid ink risotto for a true taste of Dalmatia and wash it down with some delicious local wine.
After dining, take a stroll for less than ten minutes to Marvlvas Library Jazz Bar on Papaliceva ulica, which really can’t be beaten. Said to be the birthplace of renaissance poet and writer Marko Marulic, the 15th-century palace housing this laidback bar is dripping with history, from the wood beams of the ceiling to the cobblestones lining the floor.