Must-Visit Attractions in Split, Croatia

View from Marjan Hill over the old town of Split at dusk, Split, Croatia, Europe
View from Marjan Hill over the old town of Split at dusk, Split, Croatia, Europe | © Oliver Wintzen / robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Peterjon Cresswell

Its heart comprised of the major historical sight of Diocletian’s Palace, Split contains a scattering of mainly old-school museums. You’ll also find striking statuary by Ivan Meštrović, whose villa is a must-see gallery. Other attractions include two busy markets, a hidden synagogue and a cathedral once built for a Roman emperor.

Split City Museum

Housed in the former mansion of the noble Papalić family, the Split City Museum covers over 2,000 years of urban history. An artist’s impression shows how the surrounding Diocletian’s Palace would have looked in its heyday a map indicates where Allied bombed fell during World War II.

Temple of Jupiter

The cathedral baptistery, down a narrow passageway opposite the church itself, is worth investigating for the ornate carvings you’ll find within. Originally a Roman temple to Jupiter, with a likeness of Apollo still visible above one portal, the baptistery contains an 11th-century font that displays a relief of Croatian King Zvonimir.

Statue of Marko Marulić

Created by Ivan Meštrović, the statue of Split-born Renaissance poet Marko Marulić centrepieces Trg Braće Radić, the square known as Voćni trg as it once housed the fruit market. Captured mid-stanza, Marulić is known for his Latin-language treatise on psychology but more revered for his Croatian poetry.

Archaeological Museum

Filled with finds from around Dalmatia, the Archaeological Museum is based around a collection first established 200 years ago. Highlights include a late-Neolithic ceramic bowl discovered on Hvar and a bust of the Emperor Trajan unearthed in Split. There’s also a warrior’s helmet from the Graeco-Illyrian period of 400BC.

Sv Frane Church & Monastery

Built by Franciscan monks on the site of an early Christian church, Sv Frane contains the tomb of the St Felicia from the time of Diocletian and a crucifix by 15th-century master Blaž Jurjev Trogiranin. In the adjoining cloister, a library is lined with 3,000 works dating back to the 1500s.

Riva

Running between the Diocletian’s Palace and the sea, the café-lined Riva is the city’s communal meeting place. Officially named Obala Hrvatskog narodnog preporoda (‘Waterfront of the Croatian National Revival’), the Riva was landscaped by Napoleonic ruler Marshal Marmont. Revamped in 2007, the Riva hosts prominent cultural events and celebrations.

Fish market

Known by locals as the Peškarija, Split’s fish market has been in place since the late 1800s. Comprising an indoor hall and a outdoor space giving out onto pedestrianised Marmontova, the fish market purveys all kinds of seafood, from baracudas to squid to shellfish. Browsing is an education in itself.

Bačvice

Split’s urban beach of Bačvice, near the harbour and bus station, comprises a half-moon of sand bookended by bars and cafés at each end. In the shallows, locals engage in boisterous games of picigin, outdoing each other to hit a rubber ball in artistic fashion.

Diocletian’s Palace

Built in the early fourth century as a fortified retirement home for a Roman emperor, Diocletian’s Palace is a grandiose construction of white stone transported from Brač. A labyrinthine complex of courtyards and alleyways, it’s a hive of activity. Many live and run businesses within, even around focal Peristil, with its sphinx from 1,500BC.

Kaštelet

Purchased by Ivan Meštrović in 1939 as a ruined 16th-century residence, Kaštelet houses his great work The Life of Christ, a series of 28 reliefs in wood guarded over by the Crucifixion. Exiled to America, Meštrović returned to continue his work here 20 years later, his last visit to Croatia.

Synagogue

Hidden away in a passageway off Bosanska in Diocletian’s Palace, the synagogue is one of the oldest still active in Europe. Set on the second floor across adjoining medieval houses, with a tasteful interior dating to the early 1700s, the synagogue is open to visitors whenever ceremonies aren’t taking place.

Statue of Grgur Ninski

Designed by Ivan Meštrović, the statue of Grgur Ninski stands outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace. With his finger pointing and clasping a book, this dramatic figure is part of the urban fabric. No-one knows why, but touching the big toe of this early medieval cleric is said to bring good luck.

Ethnographic Museum

Near the Cathedral, the Ethnographic Museum is of modest interest to the layman, its old-school collection focusing on Dalmatian peasant life of 150 years ago. But part of the museum extends into what were Diocletian’s imperial bedchambers, where a Roman-era staircase leads up for superb views over Split and the sea beyond.

Gallery of Fine Arts

A bright, contemporary space with an attractive café, the Gallery of Fine Arts displays around 400 works from its permanent collection of 5,000. The upper level concentrates on Venetian Masters while downstairs is more modern and localised, with paintings by Vlaho Bukovac and a bronze statue of Leo Tolstoy by Ivan Meštrović.

Meštrović Gallery

This stand-out collection of sculptures, plans, drawings and furniture by Ivan Meštrović are ranged across two floors and the garden of a property he built himself as a family villa, studio and exhibition space. Meštrović Gallery was bequeathed to the nation after the artist’s death.

Cathedral of Saint Domnius

Created as a staid mausoleum for the Emperor Diocletian, Split Cathedral is less spectacular than its landmark tower would suggest. Built in a combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles, it attracts swarms of tourists keen to climb up the six-flight campanile for the panoramic view.

Croatian National Theatre in Split

An impressive example of fin-de-siècle architecture, the former Split Municipal Theatre, now the Croatian National, was created by Split architects Ante Bezić and Emil Vecchietti at the behest of city mayor Gaj Bulat. Opened in 1893, it stages some 300 productions a year, music as well as mainly Croatian-language drama.

Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments

Once housed in a monastery in Knin, the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments occupies a former barracks near the Meštrović Gallery. Only a quarter of the 20,000-strong collection is on display, focusing mainly on ecclesiastical carvings, jewellery and weapons, created by and for Croats around 800-1100AD.

Split Market

Pretty much a 24-hour operation, setting up before dawn, its bars filled until late evening, Split’s market lines the eastern flank of Diocletian’s Palace. Amid the piles of fresh fruit and vegetables, you’ll find honeys, olive oils and various home-made spirits, as well as towels and accoutrements for the beach.

Croatian Maritime Museum

The little-known Croatian Maritime Museum, set in the Gripe fortress, contains artefacts from the seminal Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and the Battle of Vis in 1866, as well as early torpedoes, invented in Rijeka in the 1860s. Boats of a similar era stand on view in the courtyard.

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