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48 hours in Split, Croatia – an insider guide

Visiting Split for 48 hours – an insider guide (Photo: Spencer Davis)

by Tina Kovačiček

First of all, let me tell you something about Split – 48 hours won’t be enough. Split is the second largest city in Croatia, and the largest in Dalmatia, as well as home to the second largest Croatian cargo harbour but also one of the largest passenger harbours in the Mediterranean.

Not only it’s always dynamic around there, but this ancient city is also surrounded with the sea as a peninsula and borders with surrounding mountains; Mosor on the northeast, Kozjak on the northwest and Marjan hill as one of the most important symbols rising on the west side of the peninsula. Not to mention the islands that are just a ferry ride away from Split such as Brač, Hvar, Šolta and Čiovo and you can visit them in a day or spend a weekend on the island. There are plenty of options what to do around Split but for now, let’s focus on the things you can do while in the city. 

Friday 

Noon – prepare wisely cause it’s going to be a nice long ancient walk

Before you start exploring Split, make sure you eat properly cause you will need energy. And why not have an early lunch in the old part of the city, on the little square which local people call Pjaca. This square is the town’s famous historic meeting place and a restaurant located here is Bepa, small tavern famous for brunch. The inspiration for Bepa restaurant comes from the true Mediterranean cuisine and local family taverns. “Our food is traditional and creative and each day we make it with passion. Fresh local ingredient is the most important element of every meal here while short menus are easier to read and to put freshness on the top of the priority list. So, we do keep it short, but while creating it we think of all our dear guests: vegetarians, meat lovers, fish enthusiasts, gluten haters, pasta addicts, salad fans, burger admirers and kids. Everyone is considered and welcomed.”– as they say in Bepa on their vision for food.

The little square Pjaca was formed during the 13th century as the middle-age city of Split spread beyond its walls west of the Iron Gate of the Diocletian’s palace. Also, it is circled by representative buildings: the Old Town Hall and still beautiful and preserved Palaces of notable Split families. In 1861, on this square, Morpurgo family opened the first Split bookstore which still exists today and bears the old family name of Morpurgo. The city clock has been ticking since the 15th century and its unique for its 24 digits.

Pjaca

Ok, now that you have got in touch with some still-live historical facts about Split, continue exploring the beautiful Diocletian Palace, one of the best-preserved monuments of the Roman architecture in the world. The Emperor’s Palace was built as a combination of a luxury villa – summerhouse and a Roman military camp (castrum), divided into four parts with two main streets. Southern part of the Palace was, in this scheme, intended for the Emperor’s apartment and appropriate governmental and religious ceremonies, while the north part was for the Imperial guard – the military, servants, storage, etc. The Palace is a rectangular building (approximately 215 x 180 meters) with four large towers at the corners, doors on each of the four sides and four small towers on the walls.

The lower part of the walls has no openings, while the upper floor is open with a monumental porch on the south and halls with grand arch windows on the other three sides. Over the centuries the Palace inhabitants, and later also the citizens of Split adapted parts of the palace for their own requirements, thus the inside buildings, as well as the exterior walls with the towers, significantly changed the original appearance, but the outlines of the Imperial Palace are still very visible.

So when you start walking around the walls, trying to find your own little ways among slippery cobbled streets, you will easily fell into the charming hands of this beautiful city. People like to say it is an amazing combination of history and modern Mediterranean spirit. While exploring the nowadays leftovers of the Palace, don’t miss Cathedral of Saint Domnius which finds its seat in the oldest building – the Mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Inside the cathedral, at the end of the second millennium, the history reconciles ancient pagan, Christian Medieval and modern heritage. Mausoleum of the Emperor – persecutor of Christians becomes a cathedral in the 7th century where altars with relics of St Domnius and St Anastasius, martyrs executed in the nearby Solin, take an honorary place. Walk The Golden Gate where emperor Diocletian walked through as he entered the Palace on the 1st of June 305. They were built in the shape of a rectangle, with double doors, as part of the defensive military tactics.

Check out the Cathedral of Saint Domnius (Photo: Samantha Hentosh)

The facade was decorated with niches containing figure sculptures of the four tetrarchs (Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus). These doors, starting from Peristyle, and then through Cardo street, led directly towards Salona as the capital city of the Roman Province Dalmatia, and could only be used by the emperor and the members of his family. Today they are, together with the nearby monument to the Bishop Gregius of Nin (Grgur Ninski), the work of a great Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, one of the favorite Split tourist spots.  Also walk the Silver Gate where it used to be an entrance for the palace from the east towards the west, all the way to the Iron Gate and to Pjaca square which we mentioned before.

The Silver Gate was more modest in its decorations than the Golden one, and it was closed from the Middle Ages till 1952, only to be thoroughly reconstructed during the destruction of the Baroque church Dušica. On each side of the gate, the remains of the octagonal towers are visible, hence making it easy to imagine the beauty of the construction and the strength of the control over the entrances from the north, east and west. Entering through those gates the passersby, even today, have the opportunity to walk the original ancient pavement on decumanus, walked also, so many years ago, by the Diocletian’s subjects.

Silver Gate has recently enriched its history with the greatest event for all the Split Catholics when in the year 2000 Pope John Paul II passed through them admiring the beauty of St Dominus Cathedral where he later prayed.

5 pm – time for a little coffee break

After all this information you will need a short break and one fine place to do that is a coffee bar Odmah iza (Right behind), located at Poljana Tina Ujevića 7. Their interior is as charming as their small terrace surrounded by old stone walls and coffee here is very important as it became their specialty. Also sweet is their thing as well so try one of their special hot chocolates. After some battery charging, continue to explore ancient times; visit The Iron Gate and The Brass Gate that will show you different entrances to the city in middle ages, monumental Vestibule that used to be an entrance to the residential part of the palace and admire the Temple of Jupiter, which is considered one of the most beautiful European monuments.

(Photo: Odmah Iza)

You still have left the Diocletian Palace Substructures to explore since they represent one of the best preserved ancient complexes of their kind in the world. In many ways, they could be a trigger for the reason why the historical core of Split was in 1979 included on the UNESCO’S World Heritage list.

7:30 pm – Finish your walk at the beautiful Peristyle

This was the central square of the Palace, intended for Emperor Diocletian, celebrated as the living son of Jupiter. The Emperor would appear under the architrave of the central part of Protyron, and his subjects would approach him, kneeling down, kissing the hem of his scarlet cloak, or they would fall in front of him, their entire body to the ground. The red color of the granite columns emphasizes the ceremonial function.

Namely, ever since the Emperor Diocletian color purple became the imperial one. With the construction of a new city square with the town hall (Pjaca) in the 13th/14th century, Peristyle became a religious center. Owing to its unique beauty and unusual acoustics, Peristyle became the ideal theatre scenery, perfect for opera classics and works of ancient literature, but also the stage where abundant urban life continues. During summer months you can enjoy some live program taking place on the square.

Peristyle (Photo credit: Bengt Nyman from Vaxholm, Sweden under CC)

So, finish your evening right here on the steps of Peristyle square. You can have a good glass of wine in the closest bar and when you feel hungry treat yourself with a fancy dinner at restaurant Lvxor. Beautiful view of the eternal square and the awe-inspiring bell Tower of Saint Dujam (St. Domnius), the patron saint of Split, will be your best deal for today. 

Saturday

10 am – Good breakfast makes a good start

Small Upcafe, located at Domovinskog rata 29a street, will give you a good light morning lift when it comes to breakfast. First vegan and vegetarian place in Split offers really nice healthy meals with also gluten-free options as well as making sure everything is organic and made from local ingredients. They have cream soups, vegan stews, freshly squeezed juices, matcha latte, organic teas, cakes, oat porridge, millet porridge, bajadera -Croatian dessert made on vegan way, wraps and much more to choose.

11am – Discover the most authentic side of Split

To discover authentic Split you have to visit the local market. There you will find everything you need to know and it doesn’t say at the guidebook. You can either book your place at one of the culinary tours or you can walk through the two famous markets by yourself. The outdoor market – Pazar, is located right next to the east wall of the Diocletian Palace, and around the church of St Dominic. It is one of the central places of life in Split. Vibrant atmosphere, colours, fruits and vegetables, people yelling while selling, everything is here, at this spot, favourite for locals as well as tourists.

Grab some fruit here and take a walk towards The Fish market which is just like Pazar, one of the central spots of the city life. Also, it is an interesting architectural monument, built over 120 years ago in Secession style. All that the Adriatic sea can offer comes to its tables, from sprats, picarels, sardines, mackerels, to more expensive red scorpion fish, dentex, red porgy, sea bass, lobsters, sea shells… The only thing that’s missing are flies, it seems that they don’t care for the smell of sulphur coming from the neighbouring spa, one of the reasons why Diocletian, burdened by rheumatism, chose exactly this place to build his Palace. 

Noon – Get closer to the sea

Walk down the Riva, pedestrian heaven, thrusting with Cafés and restaurants and an ideal place for having your first coffee, or for an evening out with friends over drinks. It started to look the way it does today two centuries ago, when the French, in time of Napoleon ruled these parts through Marshal Marmont.

Get down to the riva

Today this promenade is the cities living room, the most popular and most important public place in Split. In the meantime it has been widened and reconstructed several times, but it was always blessed with the most spectacular setting, the south facade of the Diocletian Palace, with the entrance into the Substructures, and later on with the buildings that were built west of the Palace, also the Franciscan monastery with the church of St. Francis, and the Bajamonti Dešković Palace and last but not least the Port Authorities building on the east end. Often it was the stage for meeting Split sportsmen after countless successes, such as Goran Ivanišević, Hajduk football club players and Jugoplastika basketball players, Olimpic medal winners…

2 pm – Lunchtime – make it special

Just 10 minutes walk from the city center and located on Sustipan cliff at the foot of Marjan hill, you will find restaurant Adriatic Grašo. A unique position with a view of the city, harbour, beautiful seaside and the islands of the archipelago makes this location perfect for a slow afternoon lunch. Also, it has been run by famous Croatian singer Petar Grašo for over 20 years attracting many friends and famous people. You will taste some really nice dishes typical for Dalmatia as well as fresh local fish.

4 pm – Walk up the Marjan hill

Since you are close, you should reserve some after-lunch time to climb the Marjan hill. There is a Belvedere spot where you can make your own magic photo overlooking the harbour. Linger a bit more around this green area as there are plenty of forest paths for hiking, running, climbing, biking and just relaxing. This green hill, on the west side of the Split peninsula, became, long since, the most important city symbol, almost resembling a natural patron of the city spreading at its feet. Marjan has, since the time immemorial, also remained the spiritual refuge for the local citizens, with its ancient small churches of which some, on the south promenade, are – literally carved into the hill’s rocks.

7 pm – Get an ice- cream and visit the museum

When you get back to the city, treat yourself with a nice scope of ice-cream at the Morits Eis place, located at Domaldova 1a street. For some of you, it will sound familiar since delicious Moritz Eis cream you can try at Montenegro, Romania, Hungary, Chile as it is well spread and known for its organic freshly made creams with no additives. If you decide to visit any of the Split’s museums, and you should, you can choose between the Museum of the Croatian archaeological monuments and the Archaeological museum, both preserving the treasures of the ancient times. Also worth visiting are the City Museum of Split, the Ethnographic Museum, the Art Gallery with one of the largest collections of Croatian and international art in the country, the Croatian Maritime Museum within the Gripe fortress, the House of Fame of Split’s Sport holding the memory of numerous sportsmen and women who have made Split the Croatian Sport metropolis.  

9 pm – Evening chill

Enjoy your evening time in the city in one of the many restaurants that offer a wide range of options from small plates combined with a good glass of wine or nice slow dinner. For tasty sushi and a great signature cocktail, hip Kinoteka restaurant & bar could be a good choice. It is located in Majstora Jurja 8, in a 500 years old noble family palace, which gives an extra impression. Also, live music every week is a good option to stay out a bit longer.

Sunday 

11 am – Breakfast by the sea

When in Split, spend as much time as you can by the sea. Why? Cause having breakfast close to beautiful view is a good idea and local people are very proud of the fact that they live by the most beautiful sea in the world, as they like to brag in a charming authentic way. So, breakfast at Brasserie on 7, located at Obala Hrvatskog narodnog preporoda 7, is one of the nice little bistros that offer some good proper breakfast options. French cinnamon toast, the asparagus omelet, poached eggs are some of the delicious menu offers and you can stay for a coffee here. The view towards the harbour might give you an idea about where to go next.

Brasserie on 7 (Photo credit: Brasserie on 7/Facebook)

1 pm – Pound into Mestrovic’s stories

You cannot leave Split before getting close with all the work and stories of one of the famous artists in the world, Ivan Meštrović who loved to spend time here. The Meštrović Atelier, an art museum with a permanent exhibition of works by Ivan Meštrović, is an adapted part of the complex which Ivan Meštrović purchased and renovated at the beginning of the 20th century, when he returned to his homeland and settled in Zagreb after he had become a successful and world-renowned artist after studying in Vienna and staying in Paris, Rome, Cannes and London, together with his first wife, Ruža Meštrović, born Klein. Also, throughout the second decade of the 20th century, Ivan Meštrović bought plots in the area of Meje, the western part of Split, with the intention of building his future residence.

Construction works began at the end of the 1920s. According to Meštrović’s instructions, the park horticulture is designed and Mediterranean herbs are planted. Meštrović’s concept of the villa in Meje was based on three purposes: work, living and exhibiting and today it is one of the nicest places to visit around Split. 

Meštrović’s Crikvine-Kaštilac is located in the Split area of Meje, below the southern slopes of the Marjan Peninsula, by the sea, near Meštrović Gallery. It is a sacral and artistic ensemble formed on a ruined farmed estate with the remains of the building of the Capogrosso family from the 16th century. This abandoned complex of the well-known name Kaštilac Capogrosso, which served various needs through history, was purchased in 1939 by Ivan Meštrović and his brother Petar wanting to renovate it and repurpose it.

7 pm – Last dinner in this beautiful city

One more gastro spot you have to visit before leaving the city is a vibrant Bokeria where Mediterranean flavours and Dalmatian vibe make a unique experience in Split and people really love it.

Bokeria Kitchen & Wine Bar (Photo: Bokeria/Facebook)

Located in Domaldova street, close to a small piazza with an authentic local atmosphere, this restaurant and wine bar will give you a high quality food paired with good wines and few of the dishes not to be missed are bombolini with prosciutto and almond crust, home-made gnocchi with pistachios pesto or  bass fillet with grilled zucchini. Your call!

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