All Articles 3 perfect days in Split

3 perfect days in Split

Tim Johnson
By Tim Johnson29 Mar 2024 11 minutes read
Diocletian Palace, Split, Croatia
Diocletian Palace, Split, Croatia
Image: Guido Cozzi/Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images

Dubrovnik may get the spotlight, but if you ask me, Split is Croatia's real star. I’ve been coming to the Dalmatian Coast way before it was considered cool and here’s the truth: The famous sapphire seas and swaying palms along Riva Promenade in downtown Split are just the beginning.

Dalmatia’s largest city rewards travelers who like to venture out and explore. The ancient city has lived many lives, from serving as the capital of the Roman Empire to later heydays under Byzantium and Venice. And they’ve all left their marks. This three-day itinerary takes in all the history plus more modern attractions like great seafood spots and breezt beach bars, with help from Tripadvisor users along the way.


Riva Promenade, Split waterfront, Croatia
Francesco Vaninetti Photo/Getty Images
Image: Francesco Vaninetti Photo/Getty Images

MORNING: See some ancient history

On your first day, make a beeline to the city’s biggest attraction: Diocletian’s Palace. Trust me, it’s a good idea to go as early as possible, for two main reasons. To beat the heat—and the crowds pouring off the cruise ships that are often in port.

Diocletian was born anonymous and poor. But as a superstar soldier, he rose quickly through the Roman ranks. When both the emperor (Carus) and his son (Numerian) were killed in battle, his compatriots declared him head of the empire. As emperor, he moved the capital here to his hometown, built a huge palace (big enough to house a garrison of soldiers), and ruled from 284 to 305 AD.

Today, the ruins that remain still occupy about half of Split’s Old Town. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and large enough to spend a whole day (plenty of people do that). Marvel at massive marble blocks, Egyptian columns, and the mausoleum of the late emperor himself.

Travelers say: “We had a tour guide show us through the palace, and we didn't enter any areas requiring extra fees, only those that were free to access…The most fascinating part was seeing examples of both ancient/original construction and new construction right next to each other, and observing the ways that almost 2,000 years of continuous habitation has changed some things and left others the same.” —SnowyShasta

AFTERNOON: Wander the streets of Old Town

Kinoteka is my preferred place to fuel up before an afternoon of exploration. It’s tucked into a 500-year-old courtyard that was once part of a noble palace. It specializes in upscale twists on Croatian favorites, including fresh seafood—I highly recommend the prawn risotto.

Then, wander. It’s best not to follow a formal list of attractions to see and do. Rather, just get lost in the narrow lanes and surprise tunnels and lovely squares. That being said, it’s worth making sure you check a few boxes. You’ll stumble upon parts of the palace—they’re interspersed with all the other buildings.

You’ll pass through the Peristyle, which was once Diocletian’s main courtyard. (You don’t want to linger—by this time of day, it will be crowded!) It’s definitely worth taking some time at St Domnius Cathedral, built in the 7th century and regarded as the oldest Catholic cathedral in the entire world still in its original structure. The on-site Treasury includes relics from the church’s namesake saint, as well as very old chalices, books, and vestments. Climb the 200 steps to the top of the adjoining Bell Tower—the whole sweep of the city will be beneath your feet.

Walking tours:

  • Without a guide, you’ll miss a lot of the details and hidden corners—but you don’t necessarily want to spend all day with a tour group. Split Walking Tour will take you to most of the main sites and tell you some local legends along the way, turning you loose to explore on your own after 90 minutes.
  • Walking around Split can feel like a stroll through the Game of Thrones set, and indeed many scenes from the uber-popular HBO series were filmed here. If you’re a fan of the show, this tour will take you to a number of places you’ll recognize, equipped with video clips and photos.

EVENING: Stroll along the Riva

Walking down the Riva—the city’s main promenade—you feel like you’re strolling through a James Bond film. Or something else super-Mediterranean and cool. Go a little early, as afternoon starts to wane and cool breezes blow off the water, and settle into a table for some spectacular people watching. I like grabbing a gin and tonic and just watching the whole city walk by. Don’t hurry to dinner—the shops here stay open late, and a cone (or cup) from Gelateria Riva is also a worthwhile pursuit.

When you’re ready, stroll over to Marmontova, the main pedestrian shopping street. Near the top, Chops Grill is one of the most popular restaurants in town. As you’d probably guess from the name, the beef here is a speciality. But this is the Adriatic, so you might want to go with something from the sea—the local tuna steaks are my go-to choice.

Worthy detours along the way


Mussels at Velum, Split, Croatia
Mussels at Velum, Split, Croatia
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

MORNING: Get into the green

Spend the morning in Marjan Park. Surrounded on three sides by water, this is the sparkling jewel of Split. Again, it’s a place where you could spend a whole day, but is best visited in the morning, when you can hike before the hot midday and afternoon sun starts to scorch.

Marjan is sometimes known as “the lungs of Split,” and your own lungs will get a workout, climbing the 300-plus steps to the viewpoint. (I’ve never made it to the top without huffing and puffing, a lot.) You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the massive Croatian flag and huge, white cross. The views are the best in town, over mountains, sea, and city. Enjoy a morning snack or early lunch up here at Teraca Vidilica—I recommend the truffle macaroni.

Then, spend as much time as you like in the forest park. In terms of trails, I like the route that traces the coastline, running past a number of cool beaches. My favorite is Kasjuni, a crescent of sand on ultra-clear waters. Get a lounge chair under an umbrella, and laze away the day.

AFTERNOON: Check out island life

Croatia’s coastline is lined with so many islands, it’s easy to lose count. Most sources say there’s around 1,200—I think I’ve personally seen about a hundred of them. Some sit just near Split, and each one, I can tell you, is its own little world.

Unless you book an island-hopping tour (more on that below), you’ll have to take your pick of one or two to visit. Hvar is by far the most famous. Make sure to grab the fast ferry from the pier in the middle of Split—it will whisk you there in just over an hour. (The slower ferry takes two hours or more.) This is one of the country’s most glamorous islands, with a marina that’s often filled with super-yachts and celebrities sometimes spotted on the streets. If you’re feeling energetic, hike up to the medieval hilltop fortress.

If you’re not, wander around Old Town. Tourists have been coming here since the late 19th century, so you’ll have plenty to keep you busy. Visit the many galleries, the Franciscan Monastery, the Public Theatre (which dates back to 1612), and St Stephen’s Cathedral, which anchors the main square—one of the largest in Dalmatia. And when you’re ready to relax, check out a beach nearby, such as Mlini and its turquoise waters.

Boat tours:

  • When you travel by speed boat, you can see a lot more. This tour with Mayer Charter Day Tours will take you to five islands (including Hvar) and the famous Blue Cave, with an opportunity to snorkel along the way.
  • True story: Though set in Greece, Mamma Mia was actually filmed in Croatia. In addition to taking you to popular beach spots, this tour includes some of the prettiest locations from the movie.

Travelers say: “The Spanish Fortress is set high above the town with great views over all of Hvar and looks fabulous at night all lit up. If you walk through the main square you will see the steep steps and then walk up to the top, which can be quite challenging depending on your ability. Worth the climb as the views are special.” —Jo R

EVENING: Take it easy

If you manage to pack in all of the above, you’ll definitely be ready for a calm, peaceful evening. Fortunately, Split can be sedate, too. When your ferry docks, head west around the harbor—you can walk it in less than 30 minutes—to Sustipan. This park is the perfect place to watch the sunset. I like to grab an Aperol Spritz at Jadran Beach Bar, then walk less than ten minutes to Velum, which serves up fresh seafood (and really good pasta) at tables overlooking the sailboats in the marina.

Worthy detours along the way


Waterfalls at Krka National Park, Croatia
Waterfalls at Krka National Park, Croatia
Image: Sebastian Condrea/Getty Images

MORNING: Go for a drive in Dalmatia

It is definitely worth visiting the spectacular multi-braided waterfalls at Krka National Park, about an hour’s drive from Split. But it’s best to plan this as a full-day (or even multi-day) trip, perhaps staying nearby in the lovely seaside town of Sibenik.

Instead, rent a car and swing by some attractions a little closer to home, starting with Klis Fortress. It’s only about 20 minutes from town, and the drive, through arid hills and olive groves, with the Dinaric Alps behind, just keeps getting more beautiful. Built to (successfully) repel the Ottomans, today you can try your hand at archery, see the traditional weapons and uniforms, or just marvel at the clifftop vistas.

Travelers say: “Fantastic view! A lot of wind, so hang on tight to your summer hat. Inside the fortress you can't reach everything with a stroller, but walking up to the first gate with a stroller is relatively easy. View from that point is fantastic too. No restaurants up there but there is a bathroom in the artillery barracks. There are safety rails in difficult places, so if you are fairly agile, you can access all parts of the fortress.” —Stay

AFTERNOON: Get a taste of Croatia

A skinny territory stretching over the southern half of the Croatian coastline (and into Montenegro), the region of Dalmatia dates back some 3,000 years, into Illyrian times. Today, it is known, among other sunny things, for seafood, olive oil, and wine.

This afternoon, taste the latter two. Your admission to the fortress includes entry to the Klis Olive Museum, located up the mountain. On the way, grab lunch at Perlica Restaurant. Small, friendly, and unassuming, it serves up heaping portions of spit-roasted lamb, which you order (literally) by the kilo. It’s smoky, tender, and very tasty. Finish the meal with some local cheese and bread from the wood-fired oven.

After making your way through a small village, you’ll arrive at Stella Croatica. This was once a family estate and farm, but now serves as a showcase of Dalmatian cuisine. Explore the on-site olive and fig groves, a chef’s garden, and a vineyard.

At the Olive Museum, guides will walk you through the history of this “liquid gold,” from cultivation to production, and finish with a tasting. The guides are really passionate about olive oil—on my last visit, one explained how difficult the harvesting process used to be, climbing ladders to pick the olives, then crushing them by hand with a stone. He also gave me some tasting notes—a good extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) should have a fruity scent and a slightly bitter, pungent taste, he said. And if you love it (you will), buy a bottle (or a case) from the museum shop.

Though you might not find a bottle of Dalmatian wine at your local liquor store (I never have), wine has been cultivated in this region since ancient times. Vines were brought here by the Illyrians, the Greeks, and the Romans. The country has more than 130 indigenous varietals, and at Stella Croatica, you can taste a few, including the famous Zinfandel. (It’s Croatian.) If the weather’s nice, do the tasting in the stone courtyard—the wine pairs well with warm breezes.

Day trip tours:

  • The Krka Waterfalls Food and Wine Tasting Tour offers the best of all worlds. An air conditioned bus will take you to these iconic cascades, with a boat tour on the river. It’s followed by a visit to a wine estate, a tasting of three varietals, paired with local cheese.
  • On the Private Split and Trogir tour, you’ll have a chance to visit the UNESCO-recognized Old Town of a charming nearby town (Trogir). You’ll have the undivided attention of your guide, who will finish the tour with a visit to a hilltop winery, where you’ll taste some vino, as well as local prosciutto.

EVENING: Don’t miss Omis

As the sun casts shades of amber on the mountains around you, wind down to the coastal town of Omis, about 45 minutes from Klis. It’s a charming place, tucked beneath dramatic sea cliffs. Stop at the municipal beach, where the Cetina River spills into the Adriatic, and walk around the medieval heart of town, including St. Michael’s Square.

End your last day with a memorable meal. I love to grab an outdoor table on the cobblestones at Cocopazzo. If you’re tired of seafood, I’d recommend the pizza—especially the Neapolitan-style margarita. (The crust is just perfect.) If you’re not, try the squid, octopus, or sea bass. Afterward, Split’s not so far away—taking the coastal road, you’ll be back in about half an hour.

Worthy detours along the way

Know before you go

Split has a pleasant Mediterranean climate. Summers are (very) hot and dry, with temperatures averaging more than 85 degrees in July and August. Those months also tend to be sunny—and crowded. For me, May, June, and especially September are the sweet spots. Less busy, a tiny bit cooler, but still in most cases warm enough to take a swim. (Keep in mind that water temperatures at the beach will always be better in autumn versus spring.) November, December, January, and February tend to be rainy and cool, with nighttime temps dipping down into the 40s.

During the warmest months, it’s hard to know when the city will be busy—in many cases that depends on when cruise ships are in port. But in general, weekends tend to be packed in the summer, with Croats themselves seeking the sun and heading to the coast. The city will be quiet pretty much all the time during the low season. Keep an eye on festivals, including the Days of Radunica and Diocletian Days, when accommodations can get quite tight in town.

Shops and restaurants are open from Monday to Saturday, and tend to welcome customers until fairly late in the evening, especially during high season. On Sundays, many tourist-oriented stores will still do business, but be aware that many others do close. And almost everything is shut on national holidays. Some businesses close entirely in January and February.

Old Town: There’s a strong argument for staying in—or near—Old Town. You can stroll the Riva, have dinner, walk through a few remnants of Diocletian’s Palace with a gelato in hand, then return to your hotel. The five-star Cornaro Hotel is consistently ranked near the top, with cushy rooms and sweeping views from its terrace. The Piazza Heritage Hotel is small, lovely, and less than five minutes from the promenade.

The beach: A number of resorts, with pools and Adriatic views, are spread out along the sea. So you can tour during the day, then relax near (if not exactly on) the water in the evening. The Radisson Blu Resort and Spa is a family-friendly favorite.

Public transportation: Split doesn’t have a metro, but the city’s yellow buses are efficient, safe, and affordable. They run very early in the morning until late, but beware: service can be limited (or nonexistent) on Sundays. Public buses also service nearby towns, including Omis.

By bike: Cycling can be tricky in Old Town, which is consistently crowded. But you can take bikes on ferries and some buses, so if you’re heading out of the city, it’s a good way to move around. Check out the top-rated Rent a Bike, which offers a number of different options.

By taxi: Taxis in Split run on a meter, and while most drivers are honest, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s running once you pull away from the curb. Note: Many routes in Old Town are circuitous, so your driver isn’t necessarily cheating you if he makes a couple loops. Though Uber is available here, Lyft doesn’t operate in Croatia.

Airport transfers: Split’s modern Saint-Jérôme Airport sits about 15 miles west of Old Town. Drive time will depend on traffic, but you can make the trip in about half an hour if it’s light. Airport Taxi Split has stellar reviews, and Uber is also reliable.

Tim Johnson
Tim Johnson has visited 148 countries on all seven continents, always in search of a good story. He’s taken the Trans-Siberian across frozen landscapes during the coldest winter in a decade, cruised on a submarine below the Antarctic Circle, tipped back fermented camel’s milk in a Mongolian tent, and heli-hiked in Greenland.He contributes regularly to the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, Reader’s Digest and the Vancouver Sun, and also writes for CNN Travel, the New Yorker, National Geographic, Bloomberg, BBC Travel, the Daily Beast, the Telegraph (London) and many others.