Getting ready for your trip to Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast? Here are the 12 best things to do in Split, Croatia.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia and one of the oldest. It is nicely positioned in the mid-southern part of the country and is a part of the region called Dalmatia.
Did you know, Dalmatia is the origin of everyone’s favorite spotty fire-fightin’ pup, the Dalmatian?
Split is a fantastic city to vacation & travel in. There are some great resorts for those looking for a little R&R but for those looking to travel… there are LOTS to see and do, too. Most of what Split has to offer can be seen in a day at most, three. The real treasures lie beyond in some nearby day excursions. If you’re taking a road trip, this is the perfect stop for seeing a lot of Croatia.
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Here’s a brief list of the things to see and do in Split:
- Diocletian’s Palace/The Stari Grad
- Saint Dominus Cathedral
- Rive Promenade
- Klis Fortress
- Island Hopping
- Blue Caves
- Krka National Park
- Trogir & Primosten
- Night Clubbing
- Catch a Hajduk Split Soccer Game
History of Split:
Split has a long and turbulent history, to say the least. But in modern times has been catapulted into the tourism limelight. Split is a thriving city and the largest one in the southern part of Croatia. At one time it was the ruling city of Roman Emperor Diocletian in 286 B.C.. This city changed hands many times over the centuries but never lost its charm. In fact, Split is often referred to as a “walking museum”.
The city, in distinct Roman fashion, continued to be built around the old palace walls. Some passageways can’t fit two people wide and there are shops and restaurants jammed into tiny crevasses throughout the old town. It’s a marvel to see how small corridors and innocuous alleys have adapted to the modern city.
Dalmatia has changed ruling hands often in just a 2,000-year period. In brief, it has been under the control of the Romans, the Austro-Hungarians, and the Venetians. They faced invasions from the Turks, as well. One common theme for people who live near the Adriatic Coast is that they run on their own time. You will feel at ease with the pace of life they tend to live at.
Fun fact! So far, 12 Egyptian sphinxes have been discovered in the city, transported there by the emperor Diocletian, who was a fan of Egyptian culture in general.
Diocletian’s Palace/Stari Grad: 8/10
At first, when I told one of my friends that I had moved to Split, she asked me, “Have you been to Diocletian’s palace yet?”. Truth be told, I had but I didn’t realize I had. The old town or Stari Grad, (you will see this in almost every city/village you visit in the Balkans) is built entirely around the old palace, not within the old city walls.
When the Roman emperor Diocletian who reformed the government in the late Roman Empire and established the Tetrarchy (or split the management of the Roman Empire into five) decided to retire, he chose Spalatum (modern-day Split) for his last years. He ordered the construction of a massive palace.
When Slavs and Avars destroyed Salona in the seventh century, the modern-day suburb of Split, Solin, its displaced Romanic residents sought safety in the abandoned Palace and began a new life behind its walls. The new residents converted the Palace and turned the old private mansion into a town. It was a combination of luxurious villas for comfort, and a military camp for safety – simply known as Diocletian’s palace.
When you visit Diocletian’s Palace, be sure to look up
Like many of the other Balkan villages I have visited before, I assumed that the old town was an old city that was the remnants of a tiny village. In Split, if you’re careful to look around you will see the remnants of old palace walls, slave quarters, and villas. Shops and restaurants are crammed into tiny spaces and hidden in alleyways. While the big stone structures remain in Split, the contents of the city have changed to fit the tourism industry.
Nevertheless, Diocletian’s Palace is beautiful. It’s a fun place to walk around and just marvel at something built more than 1700 years ago. The city has transformed and adapted to keep up with each of its changing rulers. I rated this 8/10 – it’s packed with history and tons to look at, but the crowds and live-action gladiators can be a bit much.
One of the best things you can do in places like this takes time to look up. The architecture is amazing. I recommend spending some time dwindling through the streets and checking out some of the local shops. It’s also funny to see grocery stores plopped right into ancient buildings. The juxtaposition is quite amusing.
I would 100% recommend a walking tour through GetYourGiude. They are real pros and know a ton about the history of Split.
Be aware that getting good photos will require you to go to the city in the early hours before all the tourists arrive. And it DOES fill up.
Saint Dominus Cathedral: 7/10
The Cathedral of Saint Domnius, constructed around the turn of the seventh century AD, is regarded as the world’s oldest Catholic cathedral still in operation in its original construction. Smack in the middle of Diocletian’s Palace, the bell tower stretches well beyond any other building height.
Should you climb the bell tower? The views are AMAZING, but the cost/wait times can be a bit annoying. Pro tip: get there as early as you can in the morning. Climbing up and seeing the church will cost you. If you’d rather opt for a view from Marjan, just be sure you’re in shape. The bell tower is more accessible, but that also means many more people. If you want a great view, Saint Dominus is a good choice, but getting your steps in at Marjan is my preferred option.
I did it in the tourist off-season. This means that I didn’t wait in any lines, and paid less (also because locals are given a nice discount). For some people, it’s worth It. That’s up to you to decide.
Rive Promenade: 8.5/10
For me, this is the best place to get yourself oriented in Split. In the non-tourist season, it is full of locals when the weather is nice. During the tourist season – it’s full of pop-up shops, tourists, and people selling things. None of that is bad, actually. It makes the city feel very alive.
No one is likely to bother you to come to check out their shop, either. They’re happy when you do approach. Different from most other large cities that thrive off of tourism, Croatians are polite. You won’t see anyone trying to tie bracelets on you for “free”, like in Paris.
You will notice a lot of walking tours, and you can sign up for one if you so choose. Walking tours are a great way to learn about the history of any place you travel to. I personally have never taken a walking tour in Split, but I believe that the free ones are few and far between. Split is heavily geared towards tourism in the summer months and they take advantage of that.
Rive is one of the best places to visit in Split
This promenade is full of places to eat and plenty of bars to enjoy the lovely weather. Thankfully they built a small park just at the waterfront, to shield your view from some of the ugly cruisers that come in. If you enter at the southernmost entrance of the Rive Promenade, you can walk north until you get to the entrance of Marjan…and also past my favorite restaurant in Split, Bokmorra.
I give Rive an 8.5/10 because it is spacious, beautiful, and photogenic… so long as you don’t get the giant boats in the background. This is also THE most expensive place to eat and drink. And the food is okay. There are much better restaurants a short walk away from the Rive, but even in the main Square of Diocletian’s Palace…subpar. I mean you can find decent food – but it’s way more expensive.
Marjan (mar-yan): 10/10
10/10. Yes. This is a must-do. It is a bit of a hike, so be sure to wear some comfy shoes. It is also probably wise to avoid doing so in the heat of the day. If you don’t want to do the hike from Rive, there is parking that gets you MUCH closer to the top.
The view is stunning! In addition to being just a short distance from the Rive, there are beaches below Majan which are open for swimming. It’s a great place to pack a picnic and just enjoy the natural beauty of Split.
A great place to eat that gives you an awesome view of the port is Adriatica. They have two-restaurants-in-one thing going on. One side is reserved for more fine dining, and the other is for pizza, called Skipper. While a short distance away Bokmorra has my heart… this place truly has fantastic pizza as well. Bokmorra strays from the traditional pies you will find in almost any restaurant you go to
This is an excursion that takes you OUT of the city of Split and into the hillside overlooking Split. This site is included in a lot of day trips that also go to Krka National Park. Which you can find here.
Full disclaimer – I’ve never been. Honestly, if you are a huge GOT fan or a history buff, this might be something that interests you. Personally, I think that Croatia’s worst thing that they do is selling stuff for Game of Thrones. It is truly the least interesting thing about Croatia and takes away from the complex history, culture, and natural beauty that Croatia has to offer.
That being said, I’d come here for the REAL history. I can’t attest to what they say on these tours at Klis, but I do know that it is culturally significant to Croatia’s history. Especially as a fort and stronghold that is over 2,00 years old. It was the seat of many Croatian kings and was one of the main points of resistance from the Ottoman Empire.
If you’re into history, Croatia is one of the best places to get a taste of real-life cultural adaptation. You can hear it in the music, feel it in the culture and see the influence of several cultures coming together to make something marvelous. Modern-day Split exhibits some of the BEST of the best things the Mediterranean has to offer.
I have already mentioned a few of my favorite places like Skipper and Bokmorra, but there are many really great restaurants in Split. Below you will find a list given to me by a local of Spit. And there is another list I stumbled upon while reading a blog from before I moved to Split myself.
Keep in mind that the best local restaurants probably won’t be showing up on Tripadvisor. This can work great for your benefit if you’re feeling adventurous with food. If you are more inclined to stay within your comfort zone or want an experience catered to tourists, your best bet is Tripadvisor. I’m really not saying this to be an asshole, but I have seen firsthand that a lot of the local faves are not on TA. However, if you want somewhere vetted by other travelers TA is perfect for finding good food, too.
The Best Food in Split According to a Local will be posted here.
The best thing to do in Split is Island Hopping
One of the best things to do in Split is to leave Split (lol). Not that Split doesn’t have its own wealth of visual and experiential treasures, but everyone will tell you that a must-do activity is to leave the mainland. With over 1,200 islands belonging to Croatia, it has one of the longest (broken) coastlines in the world.
It’s no wonder that Croatia is home to sooooo many incredible coastal towns and insane island experiences. Nearby Islands include Brac, which is visible from Split, and Hvar. If you’re curious about some of the best coastal towns to visit in Croatia, you can read about them here.
Hvar is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. It is SUPER tourist-friendly and home to a lot of yacht traffic. It is a “rich people” destination for a reason, but also is perfect for travelers and vacationers alike. They have the resources and views to impress anyone. In addition to that, the island is small and provides a nice sense of privacy and safety.
Hvar can be a day-trip visit, but I suggest you spend at least a few days here. If you’re looking for a vacation spot, you can read about longer stays here. There is a lot to see and do in Hvar. Hvar has two main towns, the Stari Grad and Hvar (like New York, the island and town share a name).
Rajko and I spent a day going to another small island. We brought along our fishing/snorkel gear and saw all kinds of wildlife. There were Eels, octopuses, and many different types of fish. Rajko is a pro in the water and caught an octopus! The beach bar was tranquil and not crowded. We were even some of the last to get there. You have a choice of bars no matter which island you take a day trip to! Just don’t miss your boat in the evening.
Blue caves are a popular phenomenon all along the Adriatic Coast and you will find them in a few places in Croatia. The blue caves in Split are on the island of Bisevo. It’s quite a ways into the sea, so they usually pack on some other islands to fill your day. So if you’re dead set on seeing the blue caves, it’s a great thing to do because, and I have already recommended, island hopping is a fun and great way to see Croatia.
This is one of the most expensive things to do in Split, and even more, so that taking any other regular island hopping tour. Would I do it? Probably not. But don’t let my opinion stop you. There are plenty of tours departing from both Trogir and Split to get to the Blue Cave. As I have read on some other travel blogs, there are no accommodations on the actual island itself. So the only way to see the caves are for you to do a tour.
This blog has a really great and comprehensive guide for the Blue Caves!
Krka National Park: 9/10
My husband and I have some family that lives in Skradin, the tiny village just outside of Krka. And I LOVED this park! I am a huge fan of national parks in general, but Krka is a super fun way to get some exercise on vacation. There are tons of waterfalls, sights, swimming, and cultural things to do in and around the park. When Rajko and I took our honeymoon in Croatia this was one of my favorite destinations!
The park has two different entrances and a few modes to get there.
Krka is one of the best things to do in Croatia
If you’ve rented a car – take a day to visit the park and Skradin. We bought tickets for the park in the main office located in the center of town. We opted to add the boat tour for getting into the park. The only downside to this was hiking around the main falls at approximately the same speed as everyone else in the group. We ended up walking back into Skradin, which was easy. However, the road is exposed, so make sure you’ve already applied sunscreen.
(bonus tip: there is a small beach just near the entrance to Krka that is a perfect place to cool down afterward! It’s mostly river so it’s cool and WAY less salty than the sea.)
The landscape and photo ops are hard to beat. The sound of rushing water and all the critters who live around and near the water add a bit of Disney Princess joy to the experience.
**Please be advised that the swimming hole at the bottom of Krka falls is no longer open for swimming.** There is swimming in the other part of the park. Including some very funny water “tubs” that you may plunge yourself into.
Anticipate cool water and beautiful nature
The second entrance and second half of our day were a bit of a clusterfuck if I’m being honest. Parking was horrible and there were TONS of tour buses. However, once you enter the park again, you will feel some peace. As this IS a national park, expect to do some walking! We parked our happy little asses in a restaurant that sits IN some of the falls. The “tubs” that I mentioned earlier are from rushing water carving out the stone, making little pits you may plunge yourself into. The water is very refreshing.
We drank local rakija and ate local meats and cheeses with it. The hot day combined with a slight sunburn, tasty food, tranquil sounds of happy chatter, and cool water rushing over my feet was enough for me to proclaim it as the BEST day spent in Croatia thus far in my life. I have yet to have an experienced beat that… well.. except maybe the day we spent in Hvar. Either way, as an outdoors enthusiast, this was a top-tier experience for me.
Trogir & Primosten: 11/10
The Croatian Coastline is seriously unrivaled in its beauty. There is just one gorgeous village after another, each with a unique vibe to check out. If you’re in Split, you could easily make this two-village trip in just one day. If you are on a road trip, it’s a great idea to hit these as pit stops on your way into or out of Split.
Primosten took my breath away. This is really saying something because I was hungover, underfed, and overstimulated from the car ride. The town was still quite sleepy when we were visiting and had a hard time finding ANY food to eat for breakfast. Coffee places were abundant, but only a few were open. (I went there in March) I wouldn’t expect it to be that way after Mid-April. I’m just telling you because I have only one food rec: Bobis Pekarna
Primosten is for swimming, Trogir is for exploring
We walked through the entirety of Primosten in about twenty minutes. It is a village with some real charm and very clean streets! The whole old town has had a lot of renovations over the years. This place was less of a lived-in village and more of a summer retirement retreat if you ask me. I am not the expert, but my MIL who spent her summers in Primosten did tell me that the village has changed in demographics over the years. Regardless, I think a day trip is necessary for anyone who is traveling by car.
The excursions and day trips from Split are one of my highlights. As I previously mentioned, Split in and of itself is a great place to explore. Yet, I think a lot of the best things to do “in” Split are short day trips or even overnight stays outside of Split. It’s one of the best places for you to create a “base”. If you don’t want the hassle of spending the night in a different hotel/hostel or Airbnb every night, Split is a perfect place to spend four to five days seeing everything in the area.
Trogir is a hidden gem that I have written about before. However, I will likely not stop talking about it because it’s so damn CUTE! Every twist and turn leads to new shops and quaint cafes. What’s ironic is that I have never been to Trogir during tourist season… nor on a day when anything is open. I think, if I had visited then the experience in Trogir would trump that of Krka.
Both villages are worth the stop and provide ample opportunities for pictures. Primosten would be a great place to spend a couple of hours on the beach/swimming (both sides of the city are flanked by long beaches). Trogir is a popular place for people yachting and a lot of boat tours. Add the two together and you have a magical day filled with classic Adriatic beauty and culture.
Night Clubbing: 7.5/10
I love clubs. What I don’t love…but also don’t hate is the music. There are definitely clubs in Split that play American music and I’d venture to say that most play American songs until midnight. However, be aware that most clubs will switch to traditional turbo folk music at some point.
This is both a pro and a con. I know that I like dancing to anything upbeat and honestly, it’s kinda fun to see how people in the Balkans party. They LOVE their traditional songs and most people know all the words. It’s like American kids knowing all the lyrics to certain ACDC or Queen songs. At least, that’s how it feels. They have a very lively atmosphere and even though I don’t know the words I had a great time.
The music is VERY loud. If you want to have a conversation with anyone… you’ll have to be doing it with your hips. I tend to get overstimulated with such loud places, but in general, every time I went out in Split I had a great time!
Clubbing is the best way to spend your party nights in Split
If you’re wanting to go out there are a TON of great clubs in Split. Here are my recs from me, and also a local friend of mine (who goes out way more than me.
Hajduk Split Game:
There is no cultural event quite like a Hajduk Split football (soccer) game. If you come to Split, you’ll see Hajduk graffitied everywhere. You’ll see plenty of shops selling gear and even more people sporting the classic Blue and Red colors of the team.
If you didn’t know, this is where the origin of “hooligan” comes from. The Hajduk football club was established in 1911 by Split students studying in Prague. Hajduk has remained a favorite football team and a unique icon of the city ever since. People in Split and even all of Dalmatia are super fans.
Did you know that Split is sometimes referred to as one of the world’s most sporting cities? It has the highest number of Olympic stars per capita in the world. So far, 75 Split competitors have won 94 Olympic medals over 11 sports. Nineteen of them have won an Olympic medal twice!
If you have the opportunity and love live sports…this is a great activity! There is nothing quite like sitting in a stadium with 33,986 other fans.
Split is an AMAZING place to spend your entire vacation – there is a lot to do in the area, including relaxing on beaches, exploring nature, and sightseeing. Additionally, Split is a great location to make a few-day stop on a road trip. I’ve said a couple of times that a road trip is one of the best ways to travel in this region. It provides a lot of freedom and the opportunity to see the country on your own time.
Stay longer where you want, and less in places you’re ready to move on from. If you’d like to know more about taking a road trip, read this: Road-Trip in Croatia.