Split, Croatia is a mix of old and new, city and nature, past and future. The city of Split is mesmerizing with its gorgeous sea views, ancient architecture, delicious food, and incredible hospitality. I wasn’t prepared for Split to capture my heart as it did. Be prepared if you visit, there is a good chance you may never want to leave.
There is so much to do in and around Split I wasn’t sure where to start. On our first morning we headed out just to walk and ended up at Diocletian’s Palace. The palace is a small complex with the Cathedral of St. Domnius, underground tunnels, Jupiters Temple, Imperial Apartments, a central square and remains of the ancient wall. Each piece of white stone reflects the amazing Dalmation sun. Built 1800 years ago the complex is an architectural marvel. Something about the warmth of the sun on the stone, the openness of the square and the immaculate surroundings invites all passer-by’s to stop and hang out. As we spent time here we couldn’t help but think about what it took to build the complex, and what the Emperor would think of it now.
They were so good at building that the aqueduct they built to supply water to the city still functions today as the water supply for the old town. Engineers studying it now are doubtful they could recreate the pitch and flow now even with modern equipment.
Close to the palace is the green market. Locals bring their fruits, veggies, flowers, cheese, honey, lavender products and more to the area everyday to sell. It is a big part of the culture in Croatia and Split. Walking through the market was a great way to start understanding the Croatian culture. It was also a chance to purchase some great local food to cook in our apartment. I only wish I could have taken the gorgeous flowering plants back t ostart a garden on the balcony in our apartment.
Walking through old town Split is stepping away from reality. Cobblestone walkways, extremely narrow streets, ancient architecture and ancient stone structures surround you. Numerous squares are filled with restaurants and cafe’s serving some of the best coffee in Europe. (Croats are crazy about coffee. They have mastered it in a way no one except the Italians have.) We visited in March so it was a bit cool. Blankets are laid across the backs of the chairs in restaurants and cafe’s ensuring outdoor people watching even in the cool months. I couldn’t help but sit longer at restaurants snuggled under the blankets admiring the gorgeous views of the sea or the ancient architecture.
We spent several days walking the Riva (the exquisite promenade along the sea), the marina and the beaches, which even in the cool months are filled with people on the weekends. The wide promenade is paved with the beautiful white stone found everywhere in the old town. The Riva is lined with restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. Outside of each are tables set to perfection. Palm trees and benches line the seashore providing a welcoming spot to enjoy the incredible view. Like every part of old town the Riva is immaculate. You will find no trash, graffiti or run down buildings here. It is truly perfection.
I was surprised to find most of the beaches have no sand, they are stone or concrete promenades with stone entrances to the sea. The culture in Split is very community oriented, people love sitting outside drinking coffee, beer or wine while they talk and play with their children. Unlike America it was very difficult to find people on their phones. They were interacting with each other or their kids instead.
Saturday night we headed to the soccer stadium to take in a game. An easy walk from old town the soccer stadium is located in the newer section of town overlooking the sea. While no one at the ticket office spoke English it was easy to purchase tickets. With the friendliness of the Croats we easily found our seats and settled in for a great game.
Little did we know that a tradition in Croatia is to bring flares and set them off at climactic points in the game. At one point the field was filled with smoke from the flares and the fireworks the fans threw on the field that it was difficult to see the game. At first we were uneasy seeing all of this smoke but the Croats love it, allow it and amidst the smoke they chant for the success of their team. Walking back to town with the crowds of people was a great experience. All of the fans, including us, were filled with joy at the incredible win against a rival.
Nature is an important part of Split. Not just the sea but also their parks. There are two hills in Split that are easily accessible and well worth the treks. The first one is accessible if you walk past the marina and up the hill. It is Sustipan. Sustipan offers some incredible views of the sea, the cities around Split all stacked along the seashore, as well as a quaint white stone church. The walk up is pretty easy and definitely worth spending some quiet time on a bench looking out at the sea and passing sailboats.
Marjan hill can be climbed starting just off the Riva. The trek starts through a residential part of town with stone houses and fantastic views of the city. (If you walk up the street next to the church and monastery of St. Francis you are on the right road.) The walkway turns to wide stone steps through trees leading up to a small church and incredible views of the sea and the cities surrounding Split. There is a playground for kids towards the top. Of course I couldn’t stop there, so we trekked to the top, which actually didn’t offer the best views as those we found along the way. It was a great way to spend an afternoon and get a little exercise and bragging rights to climbing the highest point in the city of Split.
Croatia immediately captured our hearts with their relaxed lifestyle, appreciation for moving slowly and enjoying life. They will go out of their way to help whether it is with directions, information or recommendations. It was almost immediately apparent that the Croats are just as beautiful as the country they inhabit.
While we found it so incredibly easy, relaxing, inspiring and fun to be in Split we did venture out on 5 different day trips. You can read about them here.
Getting to Split was as easy as getting to many other European destinations. We flew from the U.S. to Frankfurt. A quick layover of 3 hours and we had a 1 1/2 hour flight directly to Split. From the Split airport you have the choice of arranging for a driver beforehand, taking the airport shuttle bus directly to Split, or catching a local bus, or taxi. Knowing we would be jet lagged we arranged for a driver beforehand who met us at the airport and drove us directly to our Airbnb. The wonderful owner of the Airbnb we stayed in took care of all of the arrangements with the driver. During our drive (about 25 minutes) the driver gave us a great introduction to Croatia and to Split.
Where to Stay
There are many hotels in Split to choose from so you really can’t go wrong. We chose this Airbnb and couldn’t have been happier. Perfect location, amazing owner and comfy apartment. I would definitely stay in the Old Town or as close to it as you can. We loved being close to the Riva so we could take morning strolls along the sea.
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Where to Eat
While there are so many good restaurants in Split these were our favorites:
Articok (Beautiful mural on the wall, small so make reservations during high season. Made me a special vegetarian dish.)
Brassierie on 7 (Delicious Acai smoothie bowl)-expensive but amazing location on the Riva and beautiful interior
Corto Maltese (Amazing vegetarian Goats Milk Risotto with beet chips. Quirky with great atmosphere!)
Sexy Cow (Try the grilled veggie salad & other delicious wraps for meat eaters)
Marta’s Fusion (I loved the food at this veggie restaurant. Even J. who loves meat found great food here.)
Luka Ice Cream & Cakes (You MUST try the salted caramel gelato. You will thank me I promise.)