With the sparkling Adriatic on one side and the Mosor Mountains on the other, Croatia’s second largest city of Split seems to have it all.
Sunshine, beaches, culture and a rich history – this is a city that’s easy to settle into.
A magnet for any visitor, and resident, is the Riva – the city’s social stage for morning and afternoon coffee, a languid lunch or afternoon and evening drinks.
Numerous cafés and restaurants line this busy pedestrian thoroughfare – known officially as Obala Hrvatskog Narodnog Preporoda – that’s perfectly positioned between the south façade of the Diocletian Palace and the bustling harbour.
The centrepiece of the city is undoubtedly Diocletian’s Palace – a UNESCO site which dates back to A.D. 295. This 8-acre palace is a mini city itself, housing 200 buildings and several thousand residents – making the precinct a living and breathing space, not just a place for tourists to explore.
Roman Emperor Diocletian died less than 10 years after his palace was completed, so his elaborate home and military fortress lived on as a retreat for Roman rulers before it was abandoned for hundreds of years.
Landmarks include the Town Museum, the Cathedral of St. Domnius and its unmissable bell tower, plus the Temple of Jupiter which features a black granite sphinx shipped all the way from Egypt.
Just outside the northern gate – Zlatna Vrata – is the bronze statue of Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin), a medieval bishop that strongly opposed the Pope; also a great advocate of the old Slavonic language and national script. Touching the toe of the is believed to fulfil your wishes, so touch away!
Immediately west of the palace walls is the Old Town, and right next to it is the neighbourhood of Veli Varos – where we stayed. This part-residential, part-commercial area is also a great spot to explore, shop and get stuck into the local cuisine.
Here you’ll find lovely cafés and bars, decent supermarkets and little gems like Regina del Formaggio – a fab spot to sample and buy delicious charcuterie, cheese, vino, craft beer or a simple coffee.
Regina del Formaggio – Ul. bana Josipa Jelačića 21
Kruščić Bakery – Obrov ul. 6
Bakeries seem to be everywhere, as well, but one that stands out from the rest is Kruščić with it’s wonderful array of traditional and not-so-traditional goodies.
A few doors up from Regina’s is somewhat of an institution, and judging by the line of people often seen outside its door, it’s worth investigating.
Everyone comes to Kantun Paulina for their fix of ćevapi, which are served in lepinja – a roll akin to Turkish bread. Trick it up with ajvar (red pepper relish) or kajmak (clotted cream) and the obligatory onions and off you go. Personally we didn’t find the ćevapi the best ones around, but hey, you’ve got to see what all the fuss is about, right?
Kantun Paulina – Matošića ul. 1
If you want to find the best of what the Adriatic has to offer, then look no further than Peškarija (Fish Market in the local dialect). The best time to visit the market is early in the morning when it’s in full swing and fully stocked.
Sardines are big business here, but you can also find a wonderful variety of small and large fish, lobsters, octopus and shellfish. Come after midday and the prices reduce by almost half: just bring a bit of bargaining power.
One interesting fact about the market is its lack of flies. Why? That would be due to the sulphur water baths built by the Diocletian right by the fish market.
Whilst you can climb the Bell Tower in the palace for spectacular views over the city, there is one other spot with a very different outlook.
Up on Marjan Hill – the lungs of the city – there are many walking, hiking and biking tracks and viewpoints. The best of the lot has views over Split’s harbour and old city, and it doesn’t cost a single kuna.
Split has many beaches around it and one of the closest is Ovčice, a popular strip of sandy gravel that’s good for swimming and playing picigin – a ball game invented in Split almost a century ago, and one that’s now protected by the Croatian Ministry of Culture.
What’s it all about? Take five (or less) players, stand them in shallow water and give them a small rubber ball. The idea is to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible – and everything is allowed. Players hit the ball as hard as possible to the other players. They in turn run, dive, or jump to catch it – and the more acrobatic you are, the better.
Croatians love their kava (coffee) so there’s no shortage of cafés in and around the old town of Split. The best coffee we found is at 4coffee Soul Food, right by the northeast corner of the Diocletian Palace – a tiny hole-in-the-wall where you can get your cappuccino, flat white, espresso, iced Americano and Chemix fix.
Caffeine addicts – don’t pass this one up.
4coffee Soul Food – Ul. Hrvoja Vukčića Hrvatinića 9
My personal favourite place in Split is none other than Pazar – the city’s glorious greenmarket that runs along Hrvojeva Street. Ignore the made-in-China strip of stands selling low quality shoes and clothing by the palace walls and instead make your way to the real heart of the market.
Homemade jams and preserves, sheep and goat cheese, all the seasonal fresh produce around, cured meats, breads and pastries and so much more.
The colours and aromas of the fruits, cheeses and cured meats will have any visitor wandering around in foodie bliss. I could have spent all day at this place!
The Bol to Split catamaran departs Bol at 6.30am and arrives at 7.45am – travelling just once a day in the low season. Cost is 60 kuna per person. In the high season the boat runs a few times a day. Check this website for more info.