The historic core of Split is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a fairly compact, bustling, and pleasant area to explore.
The walled portion of the historic area is called Diocletian Palace ♥♥♥, which is a bit confusing given that there is no actual palace to visit here. The name refers to the fact that the walls encompassed a Roman Emperor’s residence in the 4th century AD. Nowadays, it’s a grid-like maze of narrow streets that strongly evokes Venice, minus the canals. The palace’s main court, Peristyle ♥♥♥, retains a lot of Roman architectural features, as well as transplants from other schools and cultures. Off Peristyle, spaces such as the round vestibule ♥, where a capella singing can be heard through the day, or basements of the palace ♥, which house artisan shops, are well worth looking at.
The northern Golden Gate ♥♥ and the eastern Silver Gate ♥♥ are the most important points of entry to the palace, in different states of preservation. The huge statue of Gregory of Nin by the Golden Gate is an unmissable landmark; its big toe is a common rub-for-luck attraction.
At noon in season, there is a semi-curious “ceremony” at Peristyle, with actors dressed like Diocletian and his guards coming out on a balcony for the “emperor” to entertain the crowds for a minute or two with some semblance of address. No reason to make it a must in your itinerary.
The cathedral belltower ♥ is among the hardest of its kind to climb, not because of the number of steps (not too many, in fact) but because some of those are really tall and the spaces are tight with little headroom. The payoff in the form of views is pretty good. A limited number of people is allowed to climb at the same time, so newcomers have to wait until other people come out first.
The Cathedral of Saint Domnius ♥ is relatively small, occupying a former mausoleum. It is very well ornamented for such a space, using a variety of materials and techniques.
Temple of Jupiter (aka Baptistery of St John) ♥ has an interesting ceiling and a baptism font in its single compact space.
Beyond the eastern Iron Gate ♥ that connects the palace area with the rest of the historic center, lie a couple of atmospheric wide spaces, Public Square ♥♥ and Fruit Square ♥♥ (the latter is not a marketplace as its colloquial name would suggest; at least we did not see a market here on any of our days in town).
The seaside promenade, Riva ♥♥, is bouncing, especially at night, with restaurants, bars, artisan shops, street performances, and many people just strolling around. Most shops are open until 10 pm and some street vendor stalls remain open as long as there is demand. At the western edge of Riva, the fountain that changes patterns and colors every few seconds (albeit, without music) is a hit with the kids. If you walk along the water’s edge westward just beyond the fountain, you will in the evenings come upon a group of pensioners who sing in Croatian with a simple guitar accompaniment. Apparently, they do it nightly and not in order to earn money.
Split, in general, is full of street performers at different corners. It is quite nice to walk around in the evening and look and listen. At Peristyle, in the café that opens up on the square, a guitarist plays a large repertoire of rock and ballad classics.
The park of Marjan Hill rises above the town to the west. Even if you do not include hiking in your visit, go to the first belvedere – it is appropriately called Prva Vidilica Na Marjanu ♥♥ – for great views over Split. The viewpoint is not too hard to get to, either via stairways or the streets of the pretty Palmina ♥ neighborhood.
A walking tour ♥ with Gecko Tours was an interesting diversion, full of fun facts, and covered all of the major points of interest in the town center.
The possible targets for museum-goers in Split include the Gallery of Fine Arts, Mestrovič Gallery (the exposition of works of the famous local sculptor – he is the author of the Gregory of Nin piece – which is located some distance outside of the city center), and the potentially curious Froggyland. The synagogue is opened on a very limited schedule. For those with a car, Klis Fortress, about 20 minutes out of the city, could also offer something to see and do.
The main city beach of Bačvice ♥ is surprisingly not too bad – on a Saturday afternoon in mid-summer, worse crowds could have been expected than the ones we had encountered. Its main advantage is in being just about 15 minutes of walk from the city center; it is wide and it sports a shallow sandy floor. Many amenities, such as lockers, showers, lounge chairs and umbrellas (for a fee, of course), changing stalls, and a bar.
Ovčice is the neighbor to Bačvice moving away from the city center. No longer sandy – there are small pebbles on the shore and large rocks on the sea floor, which is not the most comfortable without water shoes. The beach is also quite narrow, although far from packed. There is no bar, but all other amenities, including lounge chairs and umbrellas for hire, are available.
Bene – frequently recommended as the top beach in town – is located quite some distance from town on the Split peninsula, and it turns out that you cannot drive close enough without a permit; you have to either walk or take a bus.
Kašjuni ♥♥♥ is in a different part of the peninsula and accessible by car. A rocky and narrow crescent around a small bay, its floor drops off pretty quickly. The water is gorgeous, and there are all possible amenities and a quieter vibe. Lounge chairs can be hired at the seaside club (rather expensive) or further down the beach. The parking area gets somewhat congested at the end of the day (when locals join the tourists after work).
In the “memorable stays” category, the Allura Split apartment (link) is about five minutes from either the Gold or the Silver gates of the Diocletian Palace. Its only downside is that it is on the top (4th) floor of a building without an elevator. The apartment is nicely appointed and furnished, with 3 large bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, 2 balconies in the front and back of the building, a large fully equipped kitchen/dining room, a washing machine, and USB ports in all bedrooms. Free parking is available five minutes away – the host will guide you there (street parking is not free in midweek).
As far as eating out is concerned, whether you reserve a table in advance based on online ratings or just pick a restaurant at random, it is hard to have a truly disappointing meal in Split. I personally prefer local vibes in less touristy areas, but sometimes sitting down in an eatery on a crowded square can have its rewards.
Worthy of specific recommendations are: Artičok (on the western edge of the town center), with somewhat conceptual food and a fairly reserved vibe; Konoba Kod Joze (tucked away on Sredmanuška ul. within a couple of minutes from the Golden Gate), serving excellent traditional dishes; DeListes (on Obrov street near the fish market), which is practically a hole-in-the-wall with a handwritten – changing frequently – menu and mom-and-pop vibe.
Ferries provide a variety of connections from Split. The islands of Brač and Hvar are among the most popular destinations.
For those with a car, a number of other coastal destinations are within an hour or so of driving.