Journeys, Travel Guides

Best Things to do in Split, Croatia – home to Diocletian’s Palace, Mother of Dragons, and the Best Calamari Ever

The “Lost Boys” welcomed us to Split on a late August afternoon, announcing the defining scent of the city – fresh seafood, and the local atmosphere – seaside destination covered in Antiquity charm and Italian vibes.

The white boat docked ashore served as a restaurant, a bit further away from Split’s Old Town, along the Riva promenade by the bay.

To be honest, I can never tell of the differences between squids and calamari, but I’m pretty sure the best ones I had are in Split, at a small local restaurant on Šperun Ulica, the kind so good that you have to wait in line for a table.

We did wait a bit to sit down, convinced by a generous plate of mussels in front of a lady sitting at their open terrace, and we weren’t wrong.

A fresh batch of calamari was thrown on a grill for a few minutes and sprinkled with a mouth-watering sauce before it was set in front of me, next to a glass of Croatian Rosé wine.

Out of all the Mediterranean countries I’ve been to so far, I finally found one that really knows how to turn this seafood dish into a work of art.

The fig liqueur at the end of the meal was the final proof that Split is also a great pin to put on your map of culinary adventures.


Best Things to do in Split, CroatiaThings to do in Split, Croatia


Split for History Buffs and Game of Thrones Fans

Vlad is a history aficionado, and that’s why I always try to include some historic site on our itineraries.

This time, Diocletian’s Palace is the gem that made me choose Split instead of the more visually appealing Rovinj, and it was a pleasure, although it was a bit more crowded than expected.

Also, we’re both Game of Thrones fans, so that made my choice easier.

Diocletian’s Palace, Split

Diocletian’s Palace looks more like a huge limestone fortress than a palace, and it’s such a picturesque site that I felt a bit sad seeing it invaded by tens of modern merchants.

While at first I thought it was pretty strange for a historical gem like this, I soon found out that the market around it has been there for ages (literally).

The feeling of walking into a street shopping area extends to its famous cellars, where the dragons are kept, in Game of Thrones TV series.

It’s one of the World’s Best Preserved Roman Palaces and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I loved wandering its almost empty streets in the morning when only old locals adventured on the white, slippery limestone alleys, and before the street markets came to life.

Diocletian’s Palace is not what you’d expect (a single building), but a maze of limestone defense walls and huge stone gates that abodes houses, squares, churches, cafés, and markets.

This ancient palace was built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian, at the turn of the 4th century AD, and it covers about half of the Split’s main old town area. (*via)

Even if Diocletian’s Palace seems big at first, you can actually walk around it in less than 10 minutes, once you know your way around it.

My first impression was that of a labyrinth of white streets and alleys that look the same, and the summer crowds made it even more confusing and difficult to navigate.

Therefore, I thought it would be a good idea to list some of the most important corners inside Diocletian’s Palace. I haven’t found them during my research, and that can be frustrating during your first day in the city.

Diocletian-s-Palace---Bell-Tower-of-Saint-Domnius-Cathedral,-Split


Diocletian’s Palace, Split, Croatia – Main Points of Interest

  • Cathedral of St. Domnius & The Burial Place of Diocletian
  • Peristyle
  • Vestibule, the former entrance to the imperial apartments
  • The Cellars of Diocletian’s Palace
  • The Gates of Diocletian’s Palace
  • Ethnographic Museum of Split
  • Papaliceva Street and Split City Museum
  • Temple of Jupiter, Split

Peristyle

The monumental courtyard in front of the Saint Domnius Cathedral is often used as a representation of Diocletian’s Palace itself, and it did deceive me too when doing research for the trip.

This inner courtyard is stunning! It’s bordered by Roman columns on three sides, and it used to serve as the imperial square of Diocletian’s Palace.

We only found it quiet during early mornings, around 7-8 a.m. During the day, tourists fill up the square, while at night young locals come to listen to the many concerts held here for the summer music festival.

Peristyle-Square-in-the-morning--Diocletian-s-Palace-in-Split,-Croatia


Cathedral of Saint Domnius, Split

The most important landmark inside the palace is Cathedral of Saint Domnius, and it includes not only a Byzantine bell tower that can be seen from many corners of the Old Town of Split but also the Imperial Roman mausoleum.

It’s the burial place of Diocletian, one of the most important Roman Emperors, who managed to bring stability to the Empire during a difficult time in its history.

He was also one of the very few Roman Emperors to die of natural causes, probably because he retired early. 🙂

Even though the construction of the Cathedral started from the Imperial Roman mausoleum in the 4th century, it now abodes the oldest Catholic cathedral still in use in the world; it was finished in the 7th century A.D.

The Roman columns on the three sides of the Peristyle – the courtyard in front of Saint Domnius, the stone guardians, and the black Egyptian Sphinx hint the visitors of the truly remarkable ancient heritage in front of them.

Cathedral-of-Saint-Domnius,-Split,-Croatia--Tower


Vestibule

Vestibule is a beautiful domed room that opens towards the sky, and it was once the formal entrance to the imperial apartments.

You can find it behind the columns of Peristyle. It’s such a well-hidden spot that we only found by a stroke of luck while wandering the old limestone alleys of Diocletian’s Palace.

Vestibule,-Diocletian-s-Palace,-Split,-Croatia


Papaliceva Street

Game of Thrones fans will be happy to discover Papaliceva Street, a lovely cobbled street inside the palace that was used as set in the famous TV series. The street abodes Split City Museum, which we found closed each time we passed by, so better check their schedule before you visit.


The Cellars of Diocletian’s Palace

While the cellars of Diocletian’s Palace served as filming spot (the dragons’ dungeon) in Game of Thrones TV series and we would have loved to see them, the ones we found were overcrowded with people and shops.

Don’t know if we found the right ones though, but the experience made us stop looking. If you really want to see them, then it might be a good idea to take a guided walking tour of Split in order to find them because they’re not easy to stumble upon.


The Gates of Diocletian’s Palace

Four huge limestone gates mark the entrance to Diocletian’s Palace, adding to the Ancient Roman charm of the city.

The most impressive ones are the Iron Gate and the Golden Gate, mainly because of their surroundings, while the Bronze and the Silver gates are not as imposing.

Two places not to miss near the Iron Gate and the Golden Gate are People’s Square or Pjaca, near the Iron Gate, and the Statue of Grgur Ninski, near the Golden Gate.

Iron-Gate-and-Old-Clock-Tower---Diocletian-s-Palace-in-Split,-Croatia


Split Ethnographic Museum

The Ethnographic Museum is another area you might want to explore for its old houses, secret passages, and narrow alleys.

Don’t know about the museum because we wandered this area during early morning and late in the evening, so we found it closed both times. But its picturesque surroundings make it one of the most interesting spots inside Diocletian’s Palace.

Around-the-Ethnographic-Museum-of-Split


Tips for visiting Diocletian’s Palace

If you’re visiting during the peak of the season (August) as we did, wake up early to enjoy your visit at Cathedral of St. Domnius and the Peristyle, as crowds tend to gather around it after 8 a.m. because the cathedral opens its doors to visitors at 8.30 a.m.

Wandering Diocletian’s Palace during early mornings has many perks, but perhaps the most rewarding one was seeing the impressive limestone gates without the shops or the crowds that usually block the view during the day.

I did wake up at 6 a.m. to explore Diocletian’s Palace and it felt as too late at times because most locals wake up early during hot summer days in order to avoid the mid-day heat wave.


Fortress of Klis, Split

Where Dragons Fly & Daenerys Targaryen gathers her army of slaves after hanging the masters

Fortress of Klis, a half an hour bus trip outside Split, looks straight out of a fairy-tale even though nobody would call it beautiful.

Still, it’s considered one of the most valuable surviving examples of defensive architecture in Dalmatia, and perhaps that’s the main reason Game of Thrones’ producers chose it as a set.

The medieval fortress isn’t much to look at when coming from Split into Klis village, but the setting makes up for its lack of grandeur: mountain and hill peaks covered in granite and limestone, ending in lush green valleys dotted with red roofs, towered churches, and winding roads.

On a clear day, Fortress of Klis offers a great panorama of Split.

The stunning landscape and the amazing setting of the Fortress of Klis can only be grasped from the State Route D1 before entering the highway, as I discovered while driving out of Split.

On this side, the fortress seems perched on the majestic cliff and the whole scenery looks surreal… as if it was used as a backdrop for the dragon flights in Game of Thrones TV series.

Fortress-of-Klis---Game-of-Thrones---Split,-Croatia

We found Klis to be the perfect half-day getaway from Split because it was quiet, with only 10 other visitors around, probably other Game of Thrones fans. It’s also a great place to escape the heat if you’re visiting Split during summer.

Fortress-of-Klis---landscape--Split,-Croatia


Old Town Split

Split’s Old Town is one of the most charming I’ve seen so far, so before trying to find its highlights, we took our time to slowly wander its many alleys. I recommend you do the same because there are lots of beautiful hidden corners inside and outside Diocletian’s Palace.

Beautiful-limestone-house-in-Split,-Croatia


Voćni Trg (Fruit square) & Palace Milesi

Venetian shutters adorning limestone façades make Voćni Trg one of the most beautiful squares inside Split’s Old Town.

The fairy-tale atmosphere of this square that used to be a fruit market is completed by the octagonal Venetian tower and the magnificent Baroque Palace Milesi that speak of the Italian influences in Split’s architecture.

I found the square filled with summer terraces, cafés, and restaurants, bustling with people at sunset and quiet during early mornings, looking like the perfect place to grab a bite to eat or enjoy a strong Croatian coffee.

The streets around Milesi Palace and Voćni Trg are worth exploring because they reveal many architectural beauties of similar design and narrow limestone alleys that make you feel like wandering an old Italian city.

The transition from Roman to medieval architecture is barely noticeable because of the stunning limestone houses inside and outside Diocletian’s Palace, and the entire Old Town of Split seems a charming time capsule.

Vocni-Trg-and-Palace-Milesi---Split,-Croatia

Vocni-Trg---Fruit-Square---Split,-Croatia

Vocni-Trg,-Split,-Croatia


Narodni Trg

Narodni is definitely the most interesting square in Split!

Each building has a different story and architectural style, from the impressive Iron Gate and its fairy-tale old clock tower to the Italian façades, and to one of the very few Art Nouveau buildings in Split.

No Stress Café and Kavana Restaurant offer the chance to spend more time here, over a seafood brunch, a coffee, or a Croatian wine.Lovely-courtyard-inside-Diocletian-s-Palace,-Split

Art-Nouveau-Building-in-Narodni-Trg,-Split,-CroatiaNo-Stress---Narodni-Trg---Split,-Croatia


Veli Varoš, the oldest suburb of Split

Old Town Split goes beyond Diocletian’s Palace and Voćni Trg. Once you pass Piazza Repubblica, on the Riva Promenade, a seemingly separate old town opens before your eyes – Veli Varoš, the oldest suburb of Split.

Veli Varoš is a lovely maze of narrow alleys bordered by limestone houses and adorned with old street lamps, filled with restaurants and cafés, but also cute houses with Venetian shutters.

Since we only spent 3 days in Split, we didn’t have the chance to properly explore it, but you should if you’re spending 5 days in the city.

Veli-Varos,-Old-Split,-Croatia


Prokurative or Piazza Della Repubblica, Split

The pink square with neo-Renaissance buildings on three sides adds more Italian charm to this seaside Croatian city. It’s the perfect place to rest on a hot day in Split, and we had lemonade at one of the terraces aboded here, at the shade of its arched hallways.

Prokurative-or-Piazza-Della-Repubblica,-Split,-CroatiaProkurative,-Split,-Croatia


Riva Promenade

Riva is a gathering place for locals and tourists alike mainly because of the many cafés and restaurants overlooking the bay and the tropical vibes of the seemingly endless palm trees rows.

It’s bustling with people during August, and we did our best to go around it as often as possible because we both dislike crowded places.

Postcard-from-Split,-Croatia


Marmontova Street, Split

One of the loveliest streets in Split is Marmontova, and not for the details that might first catch your eye. Although it’s one of the city’s main shopping areas, its beauty lies in the buildings it abodes:

Croatian National Theatre in Split, at the end of the street,
Kino Karaman, the oldest cinema in Split,
Sulphur Baths, one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in Split.

The fish market or Peskarija is also held here every day, from 7 a.m. to 14 p.m., right next to the Sulphur Baths’ impressive building.

Sulphur-Baths---Art-Nouveau-Building-in-Split,-Croatia

Croatian National Theatre in Split


2 Other things I would have loved to do in Split, Croatia

Spend a day at Firule Beach

While Split wasn’t a destination chosen for a beach holiday, I would have loved to spend a few hours on the city’s beautiful Firule Beach. Instead, we chose to take a ferry boat ride and enjoy a day on the famous Zlatni Rat beach in Bol, on Brač Island.

Hike to Marjan Hill

It is said that Marjan Hill is the best place to see Split from above, apart from the view offered by the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Domnius.

We had planned to go hiking to Marjan Hill on our last day in Split, but then we spent 2 hours at Sixt’s car rental office, trying to pick up our car in the same time with other 50 people. When we finally managed to get it, we were both sick from standing in the sun for too long, and we went for an iced coffee instead.


Where to eat in Split, Croatia – 3 Good Restaurants in Split

While visiting the fish market is a nice way to mingle with the locals and see the catch of the day, Split doesn’t have street food stands around it to let you have a taste of a grilled fish or calamari. But it has lots of restaurants serving seafood, and that’s even better.

Sperun Restaurant – where to taste the best calamari

To circle back at the beginning of the article, I must recommend you try those amazing calamari at Sperun Restaurant, the most delicious ones I ever had.

And if there’s a drink you should try in Split, apart from the Croatian wine, of course, that has to be the savory fig liqueur that comes with the check at Sperun. It’s honey texture is delightful!

Grilled-Calamari-at-Sperun-Restaurant-in-Split,-Croatia

Kavana Restaurant Central – try a seafood brunch

Kavana Restaurant was our first stop for a lunch in Split because it offers the chance to get into the vibe of the city. I went for a seafood, prosciutto, and cheese plate, Vlad got a seafood risotto – a “welcome to Split” type of brunch, considering the location of this historic café – near the Iron Gate, in Narodni Trg.

Seafood-plate-at-Kavana-Restaurant-Central---Split,-Croatia

Mia Fabia – where to taste a traditional Croatian dish (veal)

If you’re not into seafood or fish, then maybe you’d love to try a traditional veal dish at Mia Fabia, a hidden restaurant in the maze of narrow limestone alleys of Split.

And while I disliked the side dish (gnocchi), the veal was truly a work of art. It’s also the only thing on the menu that was traditional for this side of Croatia, except for seafood, of course.

Mia-Fabia-Restaurant-in-Split,-Croatia


Accommodation in Split, Croatia

We chose to book an apartment in a limestone villa, a 10 minutes’ walk from Marmontova Street and 30 minutes’ walk from the beach.

It was cozy and pretty, also affordable – 90€/night, in August – an element we sure did took into consideration when booking our trip to Croatia.

Upon our arrival, a bottle of Croatian wine was waiting for us, and I thought it was a very nice touch, especially after the poor hotel services in Russia.

When it comes to accommodation in Split, you must know that it’s impossible to find a hotel under 100€/night during August. When applying this filter on booking.com, two months and a half before our trip, all we got were apartments. So early booking might help the matter a bit, but it’s not going to be cheap, that’s for sure.


Tips for Visiting Split, Croatia

Croatia is pretty expensive, but you can enjoy lots of free attractions

And so is Split, especially if you visit during August or other summer months.

While we only paid 55€/night in a B&B near Plitvice and 66€/night in Zagreb, Split did compensate for those “cheap” accommodations.

When it comes to winning & dining, prices tend to be a bit higher than one would expect for this part of Europe, almost as high as in the Nordic countries. A dinner for two, 10% tip included, goes for 60€, but a bottle of water (0,5 lt) is twice as expensive as on the other coast of the Adriatic Sea.

There are many free things you can do in Split, and I honestly don’t remember paying any entrance fees except for the one at the Fortress of Klis. We didn’t visit the museums, probably because wandering the city surely felt like walking around one.


How much time to spend in Split

Funny enough, when you look at the attractions map of Split and even when wandering it, the city doesn’t strike you as particularly big or even charming, especially during the summer, when it’s crowded with people from all over the world.

But if you really want to discover all of its beautiful corners, 5 days would be the optimal time to visit all of its attractions at a slow pace, especially during August, when the heat really slows you down. We only spent 3 days and it wasn’t enough, even if the city seemed rather small.


Best Time To Visit Split, Croatia

Visiting Split at the peak of the season (mid-August) made the weather beach – perfect, but it was a bit too hot for exploring the city. Split gets good weather all year round, so if you’re only looking to explore, then spring and autumn might be better times to visit.


Hope you enjoyed my story of Split!

If you’re looking to visit another beautiful city in Croatia, a perfect autumn destination might be the underrated Zagreb.


Road Trip in Croatia: Split, Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes, Bol – Brač Island, and the Dalmatian Coast | August 2018 | All Photos ©Ana Matei > Instagram: @MateiAna

Ana
Last updated: October 25, 2018
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