There are plenty of things to do in Split now that – thankfully – its days as a departure point to the nearby islands are gone. Brimming with recently opened high-quality bistros, antiquities aplenty and the best bar scene on the Adriatic coast, Croatia’s main ferry port is also the country’s most promising all-round city-break destination. Our local experts pick the best things to do in Split.
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Savour Split’s new gastronomy
Year after year, Split is becoming an increasingly important hub of Croatia’s burgeoning gastronomy scene, with new quality restaurants opening all over the place. Until a few years ago, dining in Split meant standard grilled fish and meat. Now, there are at least half a dozen restaurants that can hold a candle to almost any other in Croatia. These new names include Bokeria, Kadena, Villa Spizat, Uje, Ma:Toni, Paradigma, Mazzgoon, Re di mare and Zinfandel. If you throw in a few old favourites, such as Nostromo, Appetit, Tinel, Konoba Hvaranin and Konoba Matejuška, and you’ve got exactly a fortnight’s worth of delicious dining to look forward to.
Admire some Meštrović
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.
Barhop around the Palace
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, To je to, Figa, 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.
Browse Split’s Markets
Set beside the Silver Gate entry to the Roman Palace, and the main road leading down to the bus station, Split market is a local institution and practically a 24-hour operation. Arrive here, in fact, by some overnight bus from somewhere and you’ll see stallholders setting up shop not long after the rest of the city has gone to bed. Once the market opens up, the many bars all around it do a roaring trade from unfeasibly early hours of the morning. The main attraction is the fresh fruit and vegetables, a Mediterranean tableau of colours and flavours, presided over by age-old vendors with faces creased by decades in the hot sun. Here’s the place to stock up for your picnic, buy cheap stuff for the beach or just browse. If you’re self-catering and need something more substantial to cook for dinner, at the other side of the Old Town is the equally traditional fish market, by Marmontova, where the day’s catches are laid out for discerning local shoppers.
Spend the day on Bačvice beach
No, it’s not in the least bit exclusive or elegant, but the point about Bačvice – not ten minutes’ walk from Split’s main bus station and ferry terminal – is that it’s a city beach, used by everyone. A modest half-moon of shingle lined with a couple of bars (most notably Žbirac) and few nightclubs just metres from the sea, Bačvice is all things to all men and even provides showers too. If you’re feeling really adventurous enough, try and join in with a game of picigin, a popular local pastime for which Bačvice is famous. It involves a group of lithe-looking lads arranged in a circle who use their acrobatic skills to hit a small rubber ball between themselves – the more outrageous the dive to save the ball from hitting the water, the more admiring the looks from everyone on the beach.
Strike oil on Dominsova
The new wave of Split’s culinary prowess can now be felt at dozens of cutting-edge venues around the city. But there is a small street in the north-western corner of the Diocletian’s Palace which can offer a gastronomic tour all of its own. Dominisova, in the heart of what once was a medieval Jewish quarter, is where you’ll find the four venues belonging to Uje, the Dalmatian word for ‘Oil’. Uje started out as an olive oil distributor, but now it has its own mini empire, right on Dominsova, four doors long. You can start at the Uje’s Dnevni boravak, ‘Living Room’, with an aperitivo. You then proceed to Pikulece, Uje’s Dalmatian tapas bar, where you can pick at fine hams, cheeses and olives, before moving next door to the main act, the Uje restaurant itself. Meatballs, pašticada stew, tuna steak, all is fine and fresh and served in a bistro atmosphere. Afterwards, move alongside to the Uje wine bar, to finish it all off with a glass of crisp Dalmatian white.
Climb Split’s cathedral
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.
Grab a breakfast
So, you’ve been bar hopping around the Palace, dancing away the night on Bačvice –you need a starchy breakfast. There are several places offering such essentials, starting with NoStress or Brasserie on 7, where you can indulge in a distinctly continental way of starting the next day, from pancakes to all kind of pastries. Each has healthy options, too. Many other venues also open earlier in the day. Quality pastries with reviving coffee are offered at Fro and Crème de la Crème. For those who just like to grab a bite on their way to a beach, excellent bakeries and pastry shops such as Bobis and Babić are strategically scattered everywhere. The two near the main produce market are open round the clock. Just right for re-fuelling after party time.
Dine Dalmatian-style for cheap
Although not approaching the kind of prices charged in Dubrovnik, Split is no longer an easy option for the budget traveller. Gone are the days when every eaterie offered a seafood pasta and the catch of the day. Split has gone gastronomic. Nevertheless, there are still places where your kunas can stretch a little further. For years, the inimitable Buffet Fife was the wallet-friendly mainstay, set just in from the seafront. It’s still very popular, but now almost too popular, so prepare to have to wait to be seated. Still, portions and prices of classic Dalmatian dishes are still generous. Just as the Fife is in every guidebook, so the Dioklecijan, known by locals as the Tri Volta, is invariably overlooked. Yet, set within the sea-facing walls of the Diocletian's Palace, it can provide the best prosciutto in town, as well as standard local dishes and drinks at knock-down prices.
See how the Romans lived
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.