With lazing at the beach no longer an option, you'll need somewhere else to wile away your days. Re-opened in 2009 in a converted hospital, the Split Gallery of Fine Arts is home to one of the finest collections of modern and contemporary Croatian art in the country. Founded in 1931, the gallery originally comprised some 500 works, 300 of which were on display at its original base on Lovretska. The gallery now holds some 3,500 pieces, including some by Dürer and Venetian Masters from as far back as the 14th century – but it’s the modern, Croatian, works that have made the gallery its name. These range from paintings by Vlaho Bukovac to sculptures by Ivan Meštrović, and then there’s Edo Murtić’s abstract Sky Over New York from the early 1950s. Works in video and new media are also included, lending a contemporary touch and underlining the gallery’s position at the cultural forefront.
Split's recent gastro revolution hasn't turfed out traditional eateries, so the dining scene here is a winning mix of traditional cuisine and newer, hipper food joints, Try the, gregada, a local fish stew, best slurped up at Konoba Hvaranin. The best new restaurants include Bokeria, Kadena, Villa Spizat, Uje, Ma:Toni, Mazzgoon, Re di mare and Zinfandel.
The Diocletian’s Palace is the perfect backdrop for Croatia’s best bar crawl, a night of revelry in the secret alleyways and hidden corners of this atmospheric ruin overlooking the seafront. Certain bars stand out amid the blur – though whether you’ll be able to find them the next night is another matter. In fact, retracting your footsteps, or trying to, is half the fun. In any case, do look out for Charlie's Bar, Kavana Ovčice, Gaga, and the long-established Academia Ghetto Club. If you just want to sit down for ten minutes and observe, then the little hub on Majstora Jurja containing Teak and Na Kantunu should do nicely.
Cooler evenings call for culture - although Split doesn’t have an opera house per se, the eclectic, high-brow agenda at the Croatian National Theatre (‘HNK’) includes opera as well as ballet and local-language theatre over the length of the cultural season between September and June. The building itself is a landmark – the national theatres here and in Zagreb played a vital role in the development and promotion of the Croatian language before the country gained any kind of independence. Thus it is with great pride that citizens attend performances here, dressed accordingly, and so creating a real sense of occasion. The venue is a pleasant stroll along pedestrianised Marmontova, with plenty of spots nearby for a pre-show meal or drink. During the summer, the HNK hosts the Split Summer Festival, which also includes crowd-pleaseing opera outdoor performances at Peristil in the Roman Palace.
Croatia’s greatest sculptor spent many years in Split, where his villa and studio have since been converted into two major attractions: the Mestrovic Gallery and Kaštelet. The former shows the range of his works, the latter, his remarkable 28-piece work of wooden reliefs depicting the life of Christ. All is set on a leafy boulevard overlooking the seafront,beneath Marjan hill. Nearer to town, you’ll find the sculptor’s works around the Diocletian Palace: his statue of Grgur Ninski next to the Golden Gate and another of Renaissance writer Marko Marulić at Voćni trg.
Right in the heart of the historic Palace complex stands Cathedral Sveti Duje, once the site of the mausoleum of Roman Emperor Diocletian himself. After admiring the cathedral’s sumptuous pulpit, for a nominal entrance fee you can make the dizzying climb to the top of the bell tower for a stunning panoramic view of the palace, the city and sea beyond. Alternatively, to get a view of the bell tower rather than look out from it, you can scale up to the neighbouring heights of the Vestibule, the southern part of the Peristil and the entrance to what once was the emperor's residence. It may be lower than the Cathedral’s tower, but the view is worth it.
Marjan park, in the western part of the city, is Split's main green space. In autumn it goes gloriously copper, and makes for an invigorating uphill walk. Viewpoints are dotted along its incline, so even if you don't make it to the top you'll have plenty of wow-look-at-that-view moments. But if you do reach the summit, which will take about 4 hours at a steady pace, you'll be rewarded with far-reaching views of Split and the sea.
Surrounded by some of Croatia's best-known beauty spots, Split's an excellent base for exploring central Dalmatia. Hvar, Brac, and Lastovo are short ferry rides away. Though they're at their travel-agent-catalogue-picture best in summer, you can now enjoy their old towns and natural wonders without elbowing sweaty crowds out of the way. The nearby Krka National Park, an almost miraculously stunning place, is no less awe-inspiring without the summer heat.
The spectacular success of the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV series has had a strong impact on Croatian tourism. Though Dubrovnik is identified the King’s Landing, Split has gained its fair share of unexpected fame. Its narrow streets seem tailor-made for the filming of fantasy-city locations. Dark, atmospheric and full of theatrical menace, the alleyways around Dioklecijanova in the Roman Palace were used to represent the streets of post-siege Meereen, where former slaves are seen hunting down their deposed masters. The echoing subterranean halls of Diocletian’s Palace Basement have lent themselves to all kinds of interior shoots. Most significantly they provided the location for Daenerys’s throne room as ruler of Meereen, seen in the latter episodes of season four. A new addition is Kaštel Gomilica, a short drive from Split towards the airport. This doubles as Braavos, the place where Princess Arya Stark found refuge in season five.
Before Split developed, the biggest communal hub here was at Salona, the provincial capital in Roman times when it was a city of 60,000 people. What there is to see today is the remains of an amphitheatre, the public baths and the old city gates, all near the modern-day settlement of Solin about 5km north of Split. Salona was destroyed by Avar and Slav forces – its residents fled to Split and hid inside the Diocletian’s Palace. How they lived can be discovered by a visit to the unsung Archaeological Museum, halfway between the National Theatre and Poljud Stadium, a rare collection of mosaics and everyday objects gives you some idea of local life in the first millennium AD. There are also finds from the Ancient Greek and Early Christian eras, even Neolithic artefacts dug up from around the Dalmatian hinterland.