By Alex Cote
The Mindful Mermaid visits the stunning seaside city Split to get the lowdown on what to do, see and taste …
When I decided to venture out of Dubrovnik and embark on my first solo trip this summer, I knew immediately where I wanted to visit first: Split. An iconic city of the Dalmatian coast, it would be a dishonor to miss this historic hubs while visiting Croatia.
Now, I’ve already explored Split a handful of times over the past two years, but seeing it on my own and hanging out with the locals gave me an added perspective.
Although you may be able to find numerous guides to Split with a quick Pinterest search, I’m bringing you an exclusive insider’s perspective from locals and an expat. Here’s everything you need to know about an authentic travel experience in Split.
Split is located on the Southern point of Croatia’s coast, in between Zadar and Dubrovnik. As the second largest Croatian city next to the inland capital of Zagreb, Split has over 178 thousands inhabitants and covers a total of nearly 80 square kilometers. The rustic Old Town is decorated with preserved, historic monuments, while the urban outskirts of Split are rougher around the edges.
How to get there:
Split is extremely accessible by plane, boat, or bus, depending on where you are coming from. Split does have a small airport if you’re coming from an international destination. You can take a scenic ferry across the Adriatic if you’re coming from Italy or the Dubrovnik area. Otherwise, the cheapest and easiest option if you’re already in Croatia is to go by bus.
Hint: You can use Uber here! Actually a lot of people use it, and it is way cheaper than taking a cab. If you do end up taking a cab, many times they try to rip off tourists. If you’re going only a few kilometers, it should not be more than 70 kunas. Don’t let them charge you more!
Where to stay and how long:
Being as most of the attractions are centered into the Old Town, I would recommend staying close to the city center. Airbnb has incredibly cheap places, especially during the off-season months.
If you’re looking to stay somewhere a bit more upscale, I recommend Cornaro Hotel. I stayed here for a few nights while studying abroad, and the rooms are gorgeous. So is the all-inclusive breakfast.
You can easily see the Old Town of Split in one day, but honestly you’ll probably feel rushed. I’d recommend at least a day or two to see Split’s major attractions. It really depends on if you want to take other day trips to neighboring attractions and islands.
What to do:
Most of Split’s attractions are centrally located in the Old Town or near the city center. So get up early and put on your comfortable walking shoes.
Explore Diocletian’s Palace
These roman ruins are considered Split’s most well known attraction. Built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, this former palace dates back to the fourth century. And yes, segments of Game of Thrones were shot here as well.
The best time of day to explore these monuments is in morning, to avoid large crowds and heat, especially in the summer. Check out the underground market, selling many unique and local souvenirs.
Look over the city from the Bell Tower
This has to be my favorite tourist attraction in Split, which somehow many overlook. Here, you have a 360-degree view of the entire Split region. I recommend going early between 8-10 a.m. to avoid crowds. Be prepared for wind.
Walk along the Riva Promenade
Palm trees, coffee shops, and smoothie stands look out over Split’s harbor along the Riva Promenade. Arguably the best place for people watching or simply enjoying the view in solitude.
Wander through the colorful Old Town
Without a map or sense of direction, one can easily discover the top attractions within the Old Town. First, you’ll pass through narrow, colorful streets packed with cafes, clothing boutiques, and souvenir shops. Along the main promenade, you’ll find big names like Zara, Bershka, Guess, with the Croatian National Theatre behind. My favorite area is Republic Square, painted beautiful salmon and turquoise shades.
Hike to the top of Marjan
A 30-minute walk to the top of Marjan will reward you with perhaps the most scenic view over Split’s city center. You can rest and have a coffee while taking in the view, or if you’re the outdoorsy type, the entire park has beautiful trails. You’ll find many locals frequenting this area, often walking their dogs or running. Also, I found this solar charging station at the top. YAY to renewable energy!
Take a day trip to Krka National Park or neighboring islands
Last winter I took a trip to Krka National Park, which is a must-see if you’re staying in Split for over two days. Imagine this: waterfalls, rushing rivers, and even a swimming area where you can bring your mermaid dreams to life. 10/10 would recommend for anyone looking for a serene escape.
I’ve actually never been to Split’s neighboring islands, but Hvar and Brac are the most popular for different reasons. Hvar is much more flashy with the highest prices in all of Croatia. No surprise why Beyonce and Jay-Z love it here. Otherwise Brac has sandy beaches with crystal clear water for a more relaxing island day trip.
Even if you don’t make it to these islands, there are several beaches within the Split area.
Experience the Hajduk Cult(ure)
Last but not least, if you want a slice of authentic Split culture, you need to go to a football (soccer) game. Hajduk is the football team based in Split, which is obvious with the endless amounts of Hajduk swag and graffiti decorated throughout the city. In Split, Hajduk is not just a game; it’s almost a religion. It’s a cultural celebration of shared identity and pride.
The season runs August through May, and is truly one of the best ways to experience authentic Split culture. Be prepared for a rowdy and noisy crowd.
Where to eat:
Smoothie Stands (breakfast)
Taking a walk down the promenade you’ll easily find several stands with fresh squeezes juices, smoothies and shakes. Many places you can create your own fresh blend with a kick of protein or caffeine.
Toto’s Burger Bar (lunch or dinner)
Vegan? Gluten Free? Backpacker on a budget? Toto’s Burger Bar has it all, and for exceptionally cheap prices. I can’t rave enough about this place, and it is one of my favorite restaurants in all of Croatia.
Wok Me Away (lunch or dinner)
I’ll admit that the “gluten free noodles” sign on the front door is what originally drew me in. However, if you’re looking for something to go that will hold you over all day, Wok is perfect.
Bistro NoStress (lunch or dinner)
I always end up coming back here to eat and it never disappoints. It’s perfect if you want to be in the center of the Old Town, where there is often live music.
Bota Sushi (lunch or dinner)
Also check out this chic sushi restaurant in the Old Town as well if you’re looking for something a bit more upscale.
Where to go out:
Split sometimes has a wild, untamed energy about it, reflected in its nightlife. If you’re looking to have a few drinks and relax, I recommend La Bodega or Bar Gaga. If you want to experience Split’s nightlife to the fullest, I recommend Tropic Club or Vanilla Club. Split is overall safe, but don’t be the typical wasted tourists or you will be a target for theft (happened to some travelers I met), just like in any other European city.
Cultural note: Split has a unique attitude to it, different from other Croatian coastal cities. Based off my own experience, some people in Split can act standoffish and won’t always bend over backwards for tourists. Most Croatians will attest to this. Before you take it personally, just remember that’s simply a cultural norm here. However, it is a bit refreshing to have people be genuine instead of always forcing a smile to get tourists to take their business.
Overall, Split has an energy unmatched to any other Croatian town. From the Roman ruins towering over the Adriatic and ancient Old Town to graffiti decorating the urban outskirts, Split is a combination of old meets new. If only those narrow cobble stone streets could tell stories.
(All photos by Alex Cote)