Split might not get the headlines that Dubrovnik does, but it is giving the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ a run for its money. Croatia’s second city is also its coastal capital, a famous town of rebellion, revolution, passion and play, all centred around the famous palace of 3rd century Roman Emperor Diocletian.
Morning: Enjoy market mingling and magnificent coffee
Most of your time in Split is going to be spent getting lost among the winding streets of Diocletian’s Palace, so start by skirting the edges of the palace on your first morning and wander the stalls of the Green Market. Colourful fruits and vegetables dominate but there is plenty more to discover, from vintage souvenirs to clothes. The main takeaway is the chance to mingle among local people going about their morning business – conversation is as valuable as currency here.
After the market, head into the Palace (Dominisova 16, to be exact) and seek out the finest coffee in Split. D16 has been flying the flag for speciality coffee in Dalmatia for years, emphasising quality over quantity and embracing Split’s long history of caffeine-fuelled innovation. Coffee has played an important role in Split society since the days of the Venetians and the Ottomans, and that tradition is continued through D16 today.
Afternoon: Explore the Palace
Diocletian’s Palace was built in the fourth century for the Roman Emperor Diocletian (obviously), although the common use of the word ‘palace’ is misleading. This network of narrow streets was the leader’s personal domain, half for his own use and half for a protective military garrison. This isn’t a palace in the Buckingham or Versailles sense; this is something else entirely.
Cobblestones are king and it feels like a labyrinth, a seemingly never-ending system of alleys and lanes hiding quaint shops, and squares flooded with light. St. Dominus Cathedral is the main attraction, one of the city’s finest Roman-era buildings and undoubtedly one of Croatia’s most elegant pieces of religious architecture. You could quite easily spend 48 hours ambling around these streets, so give it an afternoon at the very least.
Evening: Feast at the jewel in Split’s culinary crown
It is no great surprise to find plenty of fantastic restaurants in the city centre. All types of food seem to be available but Bokeria Kitchen & Wine still manages to stand out from the pack. Heavily inspired by Barcelona’s La Boqueria market, the walls of this chic wood-floored restaurant are covered in bottles of wine and liquor, giving thirsty diners plenty of choices when it comes to an accompanying beverage. Mediterranean cuisine dominates the menu with a focus on seasonal ingredients, many of which come from the very market that you explored earlier. The wine list is one of the best in town.
Night: Immerse yourself in history, wine, culture and jazz
Sticking with wine, oenophiles should make a beeline for Croatia’s best wine bar. Marvlvs might have an unpronounceable name but you don’t need to worry about that; all you need to think about is the gorgeous location, magnificent staff and smooth, smooth jazz. The bar is found in the birth house of Marko Marulić, the father of Croatian creativity and Dalmatia’s great Renaissance Man, and it is run by Argentinian emigres with a deep love for Split, wine and jazz – in no particular order. There is no better combination of exciting nightlife, history and culture in Split.
Morning: Combine coffee and art for a marvellous start to the day
With Krka National Park only an hour north and medieval Trogir just down the road, you have lots of options for getting out of the city on day two in Split. That all-important morning coffee must come first, so stop by 4coffee Soul Food for a hot brew.
The excellent Museum of Fine Arts is right around the corner, so head this way once the beans have settled. Established in 1931, the gallery tells the eventful story of Croatian art from the 14th-century to the current day, passionately detailed across a selection of permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Afternoon: Savour sumptuous cuisine and take in the work of Yugoslavia’s greatest sculptor
You’ve got a long walk ahead of you so be sure to fill up beforehand. Brasserie on 7 is one of Split’s unique restaurants, blending French and Croatian cuisine together in effortless fashion, creating some special dishes in the process. The grilled octopus salad is a particular favourite.
And then, the walk. Follow the water’s edge for 30 minutes or so and you’ll eventually come to a stunning marble villa, an imposing structure that hints at importance even from afar. This is the Ivan Meštrović Gallery, one huge love letter to Croatia’s greatest artist, a man who was born the son of a peasant and died as arguably one of the most beloved sculptors on the planet. Many of the region’s most famous monuments are the work of Meštrović, including the Grgur Ninski statue on the edge of Diocletian’s Palace. The Meštrović Chapel lies just five minutes or so further on, home to more of the great man’s work.
Evening: Experience pure romance at Split’s finest sunset spot
Who doesn’t love a romantic sunset? With the glistening Adriatic open in front of the city, Split is a great town for watching the sun lazily slip over the horizon. The very best spot? The Marjan Hills viewpoint. The stairs to the viewpoint are just a short walk from the Meštrović Gallery back in the direction of the centre, and guide visitors some 178 metres (584 feet) up towards a truly special view. On a clear day you can see as far as Brač and Hvar, so imagine that image with the added glamour of the setting sun. Put bluntly, your camera likely won’t be able to capture the magnificence of what lies in front of you.
Night: Revel in a personalised palace pub crawl
What would Diocletian make of it all? We’ll never know, but the walls of his palace are full of energetic bars and quirky drinking spots, establishments that are as likely to create some colourful new cocktail concoction as they are to pull you a crisp pint of craft ale.
Fabrique is a great place to start, a charming pub on the outskirts of the palace that has more than 40 different beers on offer. Head along the Riva to Antique Bar, a gorgeous spot for a drink and a bit of early evening people-watching, before heading into the palace and the madness of Noor Bar, with its unique range of cocktails. Marvlvs is one-minute around the corner from Noor and always worth a second visit, while Sanctuary is full of craft beer and cocktails for the connoisseur.