Is the Croatian coast your next stop? Include one day in Split in your itinerary to enjoy the Adriatic sun as well as plenty of history, architecture, and food.
Split is an often ignored city on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. Located on a beautiful stretch of coastline extending from the country’s southern coast, this industrial port city connects the Adriatic islands and the Dalmatian mainland. In past decades, Split’s role as a central transport hub hid the coastal city’s appeal and intrinsic beauty. Many travelers and cruise ships saw the city primarily as a waystation to the more renowned islands off the coast.
No longer an afterthought, Croatia’s second-largest city has blossomed into fame as a low-cost alternative to Greek Islands or the Italian Mediterranean. Chock full of historical tourist attractions, like Rome or Athens, Split beautifully combines old and new. Although Split is a modern tourist destination, its heart still rests with its ancient past. Visitors and expats living in Split cheerily roam 4th-century Roman Palace walls directly adjacent to chic bars and trendy boutiques.
With so much to see and do, we asked for assistance from Marco Sison, an expat in Croatia and author of the European retirement website, Nomadic FIRE to give us the top things to see when spending one day in Split.
When Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit Split?
The summer tourist season is the peak period. The cruise ships ferry European summer holidayers up and down the islands on the Adriatic. The best time to visit is between August and September when tourist crowds fade, but the water’s average temperature is still warm enough for a morning swim.
Winter in Croatia is a slow period, with fewer tourists and crowds. Temperatures and weather are mild, and there is rarely snow, but a bone-chilling wind called the Bora will occasionally blow through.
What Is A Suggested Itinerary For One Day In Split, Croatia?
Enjoy a brisk morning swim at the city beach
Bacvice Beach, one of the most popular beaches, is also the most centrally located. This sandy cove is the heart of the city’s beach recreation during the day and entertainment center at night. Beat the crowds and enjoy the warm waters of the Adriatic coast by yourself with a morning dip. For visitors staying at Airbnbs or hotels in Old Town, Bavice is a lovely 15-minute walk through the historic center’s streets.
After your dip on a beautiful beach, continue your walking tour through the Silver Gate and back into the Old City.
Morning coffee in Old Town
Life in Split for expats and tourists starts with a morning cup of crna kava (finely ground Turkish-brewed coffee) and a burek (meat or cheese-filled Croatian flake pastry) at one of the many cafes in Old Town. There are tons of cute cafes and restaurants around the area, but to enjoy the area’s atmosphere and soak up some Split sun, visitors head to the coffee shops and bakeries around the Riva (what locals call the seafront promenade).
Several cafes have a terrace overlooking the water for coffee drinkers to savor a warm mug and watch the sailboats leave the marina and head into the sea.
To get to your next destination, walk north toward the Voćni trg (Fruit square). Here you can briefly admire the 14th-century Baroque facades of Croatia’s historically wealthy mercantile homes as we approach the ancient fortress from the Iron Gate (Željezna Vrata) entrance.
Explore the well preserved Diocletian’s Palace In the Afternoon
Diocletian’s Palace is the perfect place to start exploring Split. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best-preserved monuments of Roman architecture outside Rome, the Palace was originally built for Emperor Diocletian as a luxury retirement villa in the 3rd century.
It is alleged the Emperor only lived four years in his retirement Palace until he died in the Palace gardens. You should be visiting his tomb on the next stop of your Split itinerary; however, his body was lost when the Christians looted his mausoleum in the 7th century.
Explore the Old Walls and Gates
Although the Palace’s outlines remain starkly visible, Palace residents and eventually the city’s citizens modified parts of the Palace for their own requirements over the centuries. Lavish ancient family villas turned into medieval trade shops and dry good stores, which turned into today’s posh boutique and wine bars.
The buildings inside the Palace and the exterior walls are significantly altered from their original design; still, the architecture’s preservation is impressive. Visitors feel as they are still wandering the narrow streets and cobblestones of a fourth-century Roman city.
View the sunset from the top of Marjan Hill
The best panoramic view of the city center is atop Marjan Hill overlooking the city. At 124 meters above sea level, visitors have a majestic view of Split and its surrounding areas after climbing Marjan Hill.
The shade in the hills and lush forest, often called the Lungs of Split,” are the perfect reprieve from the crowded city center during the peak summer season.
While locals use the area for running, cycling, and hiking trails, the real reason to visit Marjan Hills is the sunset. Imagine sipping on a glass of Croatian wine while the sun sets at one of the most beautiful places in Croatia. Below you is Kasjuni Beach, a lovely pebble beach with families splashing in the shallow waters. To your left is a sweeping view of the historic city and nearby islands.
The sea is gently lapping at the shore, the air is crisp, and the sky is clear with very few clouds. The water sparkles as the sun beams down on a cruise ship sailing past the Dalmatian islands.
Have dinner and people watch on the Riva Waterfront Promenade at night
The Riva is the long, wide pedestrian walkway that stretches along the water’s edge of Split’s Old Town. The center of Split’s city life and a meeting point for tourists and locals in the summer.
People pack the Riva, flocking to the waterside to stroll, take photos, and enjoy the food, drinks, and entertainment street vendors have to offer. The Riva is particularly lively on Friday and Saturday evenings when the city’s hip young crowd comes out to hang out, people watch, and see and be seen.
The popular restaurants and cafés on the Riva can get quite pricey, but there are a couple of ways for visitors to get the most out of their dining dollar for less in the section below.
What Are The Top Food Recommendations For Local Cuisine In Split?
Best Place For A Cheap Lunch In Split
Kantun Paulina For Cevapchi– For the uninitiated, cevapcici is a typical Balkan dish. Visitors can find a delicious Croatian version in Split’s Old Town, which also happens to be the city’s best deal for dining.
Croatian cevapcici (or cevapčići) is a skinless grilled sausage made of minced meats (beef, lamb, pork, or veal) mixed with onions and garlic, then seasoned with salt and pepper. Kantun Paulina adds their savory paprika paste (ajvar) and shoves everything into a fluffy pita envelope. Deliciousness starting at less than $4 for a filling one-person sandwich.
Located in the historic core, walking distance from the Riva Promenade, just past People’s Square, Kantun Paulina is a perfect spot for lunch.
Affordable Place To Try Local Croatian Food
Squid Ink Risotto for $13 at Konoba Fetivi– Sitting a stone’s throw from the Adriatic sea provides Croatian a steady supply of fresh seafood. The best Split restaurants leverage the fresh fish to spin delicious seafood meals with the distinctive taste that only comes from “Fruta De Mare,” freshly caught the same day. Konoba Fetivi’s Black Risotto (Crni rižoto od sipe) is one of the best examples in the city.
To make this regional specialty, chefs simmer fresh squid with a mixture of tomato and wine until the squid is tender but not rubbery. Squid ink is an extraordinary special ingredient adding indescribable umami flavor.
Konoba Fetivi is walking distance from the marina, past the expensive speedboats, on a charming cobbled street close to the center of town.
What Are Some Tips For First-Time Visitors Spending One Day In Split?
1. Eat all the food. Like the two dishes above, Croatian meals are a unique mixture of their Balkan and Italian heritage. By sitting right on the sea, Split gets some amazingly fresh seafood.
2. Enjoy a swim early in the morning to have the beach to yourself. Especially in the peak summer months, Split’s popularity has soared. Beaches become a parking lot of sun umbrellas and loungers.
3. The best things to enjoy in Split are free: strolling by the sea, wandering the Old Town’s historic sites, exploring the city walls, watching boats by the marina, and people watching on the Riva.
4. Croatia is part of the European Union but outside of the Schengen area. The country is an excellent place for non-EU citizens to refresh a “Schengen Visa” when it expires after 90-days.
5. Many parts of Croatia, including several locations in and around Split, were prominently featured in Game of Thrones. If you have more than 24-hours, check out two of the areas below.
What Are Some Ideas If You Have More Than One Day In Split, Croatia?
With so much history to see, you may ask yourself mid-trip, “is one day in Split enough?” If you can extend your stay past 24 hours, Split is the perfect jumping point for day trips to Croatia’s fabulous islands, other UNESCO World Heritage sites, or more Game of Thrones film locations. Here are some examples of Split day trips available.
Relive Your Game of Thrones Fantasy at Klis Fortress
For visitors with more than 24-hours, a day trip to another ancient ruin is a must-do- Klis Fortress. This imposing medieval castle is located just 30 minutes from Split’s Old Town, making it the perfect day trip from the city.
Though early tribes fortified this area before Christ, the actual fortress was constructed in the 7th century and was once a key stronghold defending the area against Ottoman invasion in the 1500s.
While many historical Croatian kings called Klis home, its most famous claim is being the setting for the fictional city of Meereen in the TV series Game of Thrones.
Take A Charming Day Trip To A UNESCO site in Trogir
If you are only going to make one day trip in Split, make it Trogir. Following a similar theme for Croatia, Trogir is another UNESCO World Heritage site that was also a Game of Thrones film location. This well-preserved Romanesque-Gothic town is a mere 36 minutes away from Split’s Old Town.
The town itself sits on an island separated by the Croatian mainland by two bridges. A smaller, quieter mini version of Split, Trogir’s quaint charm is a perfect escape from the city. The town’s interior is a beautiful maze of stone buildings and narrow medieval streets surrounded by an imposing 15th-century exterior wall.
Visitors can wander for hours admiring the columns, arches, and facades of the Cathedral and Kamerlego Castle. Trogir is a fantastic representation of Renaissance and Romanesque architecture. It is little wonder Game of Thrones used Trogir’s Old Town to represent the coastal trading city of Qarth- “the Greatest City that Ever Was or Will Be.”
BONUS: Alternative Things To Do In Split
Play a game of Picigin
With only 24-hours, a quick dip in the ocean was all a visitor can spare and still see all of Split’s sights. With more time to spare, enjoying the beach, sunshine, and Croatia’s famously clear turquoise waters is a must. Visitors spending time on a beach in Split must jump into a uniquely local game of Picigin.
Picigin was purportedly invented in Split as a way for younger, handsome men to impress women at the beach. The sport has evolved into an all-inclusive, fun Croatian beach activity. Stand in an area long enough, and a friendly local group will ask you to join.
The game is fun in its simplicity. A circle of players stands in the water slightly above ankle deep. A stripped-down tennis ball is batted back and forth between players in the most creative way possible. Players must use anything they can to deflect the ball – hands, arms, shoulders, heads, legs, or feet.
The group’s goal is to pass it to another player in a single shot without the ball dropping into the sea. A game involves lots of jumping, thrashing, falling, and laughing.
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Until next time, my friends!!!