Croatia's second-largest city, Split is one of the most interesting and picturesque destinations on the Adriatic Sea. Formerly part of the Roman Empire, Split houses some remarkably well-preserved structures from that era. It also boasts beautiful squares and markets, sunny beaches, azure waters ideal for swimming and water sports, a large port, and a number of interesting museums.
While it doesn't always attract the huge crowds that Dubrovnik does, old Split is less touristy, with a more local and laid-back vibe. Keep reading for 10 of the best things to do in the city.
Wander Through Diocletian's Palace and Old Town
Feel like taking a step back in time to the late Roman Empire? If so, visit Diocletian's Palace, a sprawling 4th-century structure in central Split that is one of the best-preserved Roman complexes on the Adriatic Coast. While it's often referred to as "Roman ruins," the fortified complex—built for the Roman Emperor after whom it's named—hardly matches that description; many parts of the original buildings appear remarkably intact.
Flanked by dramatic towers and the remains of gates formed with marble and granite columns, the complex stretches for some 320,000 square feet. Calling it a "palace" feels a bit misleading: It in fact literally forms the heart of Split's Old Town, and within its walls you'll find shops, restaurants, cafés, and residential apartments. An estimated 3,000 people live within the complex.
You'll want to spend a good amount of time wandering through its labyrinthine streets, admiring its columns and arched structures, and people-watching from a café within the complex. Also make sure to admire its 12 Sphinx sculptures, imported from Egypt.
Take a Whirl Through Split's "Green Market" (Pazar)
One of the most culturally authentic and absorbing ways to get to know Split is to take a whirl through its daily "green" market (Pazar). As you shuffle through lanes lined with stalls—each heaping with fruit, vegetables, nuts, olives, cheeses, and other Mediterranean specialties—take in the sights and sounds of locals bargaining and vendors crying out the deals of the day. Few places offer you a quicker point of entry to daily life in the city.
Open every day of the week from around 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Pazar market is located beyond the eastern walls of Diocletian's palace, near the Cathedral of Saint-Dominus. Consider gathering goodies there for a simple breakfast of typical Croatian bread, coffee, pastries, and fresh fruit, and find a place to settle near the harbor (see below) for sea views and fresh air. There are also several non-food stalls where vendors sell electronic items, clothes, books, and various other goods.
Amble Around Riva Harbor and Its Elegant Promenade
No visit to Split would be complete without a stroll around its picturesque promenade, known locally as "The Riva." Dotted with palm trees, the lively boardwalk area skirts blue waters bobbing with boats and ships.
The promenade, first developed in the late 19th century on the site of what was once the southern, sea-facing side of Diocletian's Palace, is abuzz with activity most days. With a variety of cafés, restaurants, and bars operating here, it's an ideal spot for alfresco dining in the sun, strolling, people-watching, and nightlife. Not to mention that the area affords some of the best waterside photo ops. The Riva is also a prime venue for popular events in Split, including the annual Carnival and traditional festivals.
If you're interested in learning more about how the residents of Split and greater Dalmatian coast lived during the prehistoric, Greco-Roman, and early Christian eras, don't miss this fascinating museum just a few miles outside the city center.
The rich collections at the Archaeological Museum in Split include thousands of artifacts ranging from rare and delicate mosaics to coins, sculptures, swords and other weapons, funereal objects, centuries-old maps and books, jewelry, and lamps. You can find more information about the collections, getting there, and buying tickets at the official museum website.
Climb the Tower at Saint-Domnius Cathedral for Panoramic Views
Another impressive structure dating to the Roman era, Split's iconic, octagonal cathedral was originally constructed as a mausoleum for the Emperor Diocletian in the early 4th century. But when Split was Christianized in the 7th century, it was converted into a place of worship and named after the city's patron saint.
The façade features 24 original stone columns dating to the 4th century. Inside, take in the impressive Temple of Jupiter (comprising a crypt and baptistery) and the lavish Romanesque interiors of the main cathedral, with its impressive friezes and Corinthian columns. The reliquaries, or treasury, are also worth a visit. Climb the early 20th-century tower (reconstructed after its medieval predecessor was destroyed) for panoramic views over the city and sea.
Take a Forest Walk on Marjan Hill
Many tourists never explore the vast, forested park stretching across the hilly heights of Marjan Hill west of the city center—but anyone interested in getting a taste of the area's natural beauty should make some time for it. Marjan Forest Park comprises several wooded trails, as well as paved pathways and stairs that lead to viewing platforms; at the very least, take advantage of the latter for its sweeping panoramic views.
To get there, you can take any bus from the city center to Marjan, or access the viewing platforms by climbing the Marjan Hill Stairs (around seven minutes by foot from the Riva promenade).
Hit the Beach
While Split's city beaches aren't generally considered the best in the Dalmatian coast (you'll have to head to nearby islands such as Hvar and Brač for those; see below), they offer some lovely spots for sunning, taking a dip in the sea, picnics, and people-watching.
Among the most popular beaches are those nestled in coves on the southern side of Marjan Forest Park. Most are pebble and stone beaches, though a few have been concreted in. Bene and Zvoncac beaches are closest to the city center and are both accessible by city bus, while Ježinac, Kasjuni, and Kastelec beaches can only be reached by foot or car. Some are equipped with bars, changing stations, and restrooms.
Enjoy a Sunset Drink (with Sea Views)
Split is probably at its best at or shortly before sunset—especially if you can enjoy it out on a terrace, nursing a cocktail or glass of white wine and drinking in the sea views while you're at it.
There are many places in the city ideal for a sunset drink overlooking the water, including bars situated on and around the Riva Harbor promenade. But for some truly memorable panoramas, head to Vidilica bar in the heights of the Marjan peninsula, where you'll be treated to breathtaking views over the open sea and Split's warm rooftops and port from the sprawling terrace. You can enjoy drinks and/or dinner, but make sure to pick a clear evening. Note that this can be a great way to cap a day of exploring the trails of Marjan park and the beaches beyond.
Take a Day Trip to Brač Island
In addition to being an essential Croatian destination in its own right, Split is a hub for exploring the wider Dalmatian coast and its many beautiful islands. Hvar is the most famous among these, but it can be overcrowded during high season, and its "party" scene isn't for everyone.
Wilder and more reputed for its natural beauty than its bars, Brač is only a few miles off the coast from Split, and can easily be reached by ferry. Famously resembling a long finger extending out into the sea, Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn) beach boasts crystalline waters ideal for snorkeling and water sports. Hikers will want to conquer Vidova Gora, the highest peak in the Adriatic islands, rising to over 2,500 feet. From the top, you'll be rewarded with remarkable views.
Rub the Toe of Grgur Ninski
One favorite place for photo ops in Split is the 28-foot statue of Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin), a 10th-century Croatian bishop who famously opposed the Pope on the convention of Latin being used in liturgical (religious) services. Looming just outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian's palace, the statue depicts the bishop dramatically raising one hand in the air and grasping a book in the other.
The creation of celebrated Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, the statue was erected in 1929. Its toes are noticeably shiny and polished-looking, owing to the fact that locals consider it good luck to briefly touch or rub them (while making a wish for maximum impact). Tourists regularly take part in the amusing ritual these days.