Travel Guide: Split, Croatia
Here's our handy guide to the coastal city of Split, Croatia – a city where Roman ruins and old town charm meet 21st-century cool
Published: Friday 4th August 2017
What to do
Of course you're going to wander around the sprawling Roman ruins of Diocletian's Palace yourself, but you'll get much more out of it with a guide. Sure, it might sound a bit school trip, but it's not too fact-heavy, and with over 200 buildings to take in, there's plenty to learn. Three thousand people still live within the city walls, so when you're not marvelling at the history you'll be wandering along narrow alleyways packed with local kids playing football and grannies in rocking chairs.
Day-long sailing trip
Don't just look at that lovely turquoise water – swim in it! With Toto Travel you can take day-long sailing trips along Croatia's coast. For maximum vibes, there's the company's sunset package, which involves an hour-and-a-half's sail to the island of Solta, where you have a couple of hours of free time for swimming and sunbathing, followed by the sail back to town. There are day trips following a similar route, too, and they include the price of the skipper, safety gear, insurance and drinking water. From £57. excursion-split.com
Plitvice Lakes day trip
When the city gets too hot to handle, head to the nearby-ish UNESCO-listed Plitvice Lakes National Park. Here you can hike along peaceful woodland trails packed with wild flowers alongside 16 turquoise lakes interconnected by waterfalls, and you may even spot wild boars, bears and wolves. It's a bit of a drive (you're looking at two hours), but with sublime coastal scenery you won't be complaining. The park is open all year round, too, and it's no less beautiful when the leaves begin to turn, orwhen the trees are dusted with ice and snow.
Where to eat
Bokeria Kitchen & Wine
Bokeria blazed onto Split's food scene in 2015, with the owners taking inspiration from Barcelona's famous La Boqueria market. Expect a similarly lively vibe in this spacious, high-ceilinged restaurant, where the walls are lined with hundreds of bottles of the best Croatian wines (ask for recommendations, as it's tasty stuff that you're unlikely to find elsewhere). Food is in tapas style, but Croatian, of course – a great way to sample the region's classics, as well as more creative concoctions.
Domaldova ul. 8, 21000
For traditional Croatian classics and bucketloads of seafood, try this rustic family-run taverna located in the picturesque Varoš quarter, which is packed with typical Dalmatian stone houses. The restaurant isn't fancy, but that's why we love it – so expect basic but carefully prepped dishes like grilled fish (priced by weight), marinated tuna and fish platters. It's cramped and pine-clad (in a cosy way), so book ahead, especially if you want a table at a certain time, or one on the street.
Tomića Stine 3 21000; konobamatejuska.hr
If you've spent the day at Split's Bačvice beach, make Ma:Toni a refuelling point on your way home – not least because its basement setting makes it a welcome break from the heat. Focusing on cuisine from the Dalmatian coast, you'll find a modern spin on traditional Croatian cooking using Split's fresh local produce. The duck breast gnocchi is a must-try, but there's a wealth of excellent vegetarian and vegan options, too.
Prilaz bracé Kaliterna 6, 21000; ma-toni.com
Where to drink
Marcvs Marvlvs Library Bar
If you like your drinks with a dash of sophistication, head to this library and bar in the heart of Diocletian's Palace, where it's believed that famous renaissance writer, philosopher and the godfather of Croatian literature Marko Marulic once lived. Browse the vast collection of books while you quaff a cup of coffee (or a whisky or three) and soak up the laid-back jazz soundtrack, or drop in for one of the literature evenings that feature both Croatian and international poetry being read to an attentive audience. Papalićeva ul. 4, 21000
For a different kind of sophistication and heaps of local personality, head to Ghetto Bar at the top end of Dosud street. It has a near-cult local following; plays reliably decent funk, soul and disco music; and frequently hosts live performances and art exhibitions. Initially opened in 1988, the bar's path to popularity wasn't always easy – it became the first and only gay-friendly bar in the city, and was a known liberal hangout at a time when the country was under a strict right-wing liberal agenda. Dosud ulica 10, 21000
New kid on the block Sanctuary brings something a bit different to Split: a proper craft cocktail bar with more than 60 mixed drinks largely inspired by the prohibition era. Craft beers (including Split's first craft beer, Barba, on tap, among others) and more than 37 high-end whiskies have been sourced from all over the world to stock the bar, and it boasts a seasonally rotating menu created using produce found in Split's Green Market. It also has one of the city's largest collections of tequila. Obviously. Poljana Stare gimnazije 1, 21000
Where to stay
Divota Apartment Hotel
Cosy room, two-bed apartment or big family house – at the Divota Apartment Hotel you can choose whatever suits you. Located in Veli Varoš, a quaint neighbourhood close to Split's harbour, Divota Apartment Hotel makes for a chilled stay that combines quirky floor plans, high ceilings, bright and bold artwork and balconies for soaking up the balmy evening sun. You can even organise to have a breakfast hamper delivered to your room, which sounds like the best possible way to enjoy a lie-in to us. From £69 a night. i-escape.com
If location's your game, it can't get better than this. You'll find the swanky Vestibul Palace located in the heart of Diocletian's Palace, and surrounded by the city's UNESCO-listed pedestrianised Old Town. Eleven rooms feature exposed centuries-old stonework, wooden floors, dark sheets and sleek, contemporary design flourishes. The breakfast buffet is one of the best in town (trust us to highlight the important parts). We'd stay here just to get our hands on the tiny, utterly delicious doughnuts. From £72 a night. slh.com
This luxury B&B sits just within Diocletian's Palace, a labyrinthine Roman ruin that forms half of the city's Old Town. You'll
find slick modern furnishings – hello, Murano crystal chandeliers – contrasting beautifully with ancient stone walls (the building is an impressive 2,000 years old) and wooden-beamed ceilings. It boasts air con, too, and sits right by Split's main square, making it the perfect base to explore the city, as well as the beach, which is only an 11-minute walk away. From £171 a night. villasplitluxury.com
What to see
Marjan Forest Park
Bored of Split's almost sickeningly pretty medieval architecture? Er, no, but for some respite from the city buzz – and to see those tiled roofs from a different perspective – take a long stroll through the city's Marjan Forest Park, a hilly nature reserve with pine forests, scenic lookout points, medieval chapels and caves that were once inhabited by Christian hermits. You can explore the park by hired mountain bike – kudos to you if you cycle up those hills in the blistering Croatian summer heat. If you're on foot, we'd recommend taking a bus back to town.
Split Archaeological Museum
Split has a long tradition of caring for its monuments – fortunate, given that it's a city steeped in so much history. The Archaeological Museum was first set up in 1820, making it the oldest museum in Croatia, and holds items from as far back as prehistoric times through to the early medieval period. It's a treasure trove of classical sculpture and mosaics, most of which were found in Split's ancient Roman settlements and the neighbouring city of Salona (or Solin, by its modern name). mdc.hr/split-arheoloski
St Domnius Cathedral
The Emperor Diocletian was one of the last famous persecutors of Christians, known for his ruthlessness and horrific methods of punishment. It's fitting, then, that his mausoleum was turned into this church in the fifth century, dedicated to one of his victims.
British Airways operates flights from London Heathrow to Split, Croatia, four times a week in the summer months. Fares start from £97 one-way.
Today, the unusual octagonal building is one of the best-preserved ancient Roman buildings you'll find, making a visit well worth the price of entry. You'll get access to the crypt, treasury and baptistery, too, but you'll need another ticket to climb up to the top of the belfry.