Where: Split, Dalmatia, Croatia.
When: July 2015
Why: We visited Split on our honeymoon. We stayed in the resort of Podstrana which is south of the city.
We started our honeymoon in Dubrovnik, then moved on to the island of Korčula (where Marco Polo is supposedly from), stopped for a few days in Hvar town on the island of Hvar, then we went to Split, back on the mainland, before catching a train up to the capital Zagreb, which is where we ended our trip.
There’s very few cities that I have been to that are truly unique. Split is unique. Built up amongst the remains of a Roman emperor’s palace, this wonderful, atmospheric city has grown up in and around this ancient building. It’s a wonderful mish-mash of temples, arcades, churches, palaces, gardens, restaurants, shops and museums. I’ve been to cities where they have taken the stones from ancient buildings and have used them to rebuild, but nowhere have I been where people have used the existing building as their foundations; and so much of the ancient palace remains that you feel as if you are walking through it still, whilst also walking through a modern city.
The current city is a city of layers: physical layers and layers of history. We saw a 3,000 year old sphinx head buried in a wall, drank water from a Roman fountain, the water coming from the Roman aqueduct, and saw people dine under the ancient gateways. It’s wonderful.
Split is built in the remains of Diocletain’s Palace. Diocletian was Roman Emperor around 300AD. For all intents and purposes, he was a pretty successful emperor: he stabilised the empire, secured its borders and set up the rule of four. In 305, he became the first Roman emperor to abdicate and he retired to Dalmatia, where he spent the last years of his life in his magnificent palace – now modern day Split.
Away from the central palace area Split is a large, modern sprawl of a seaside city; the second biggest city in Croatia. There are malls here, a huge port, lots of industry and lots of business.
The city is a large transport interchange. The port is really busy with ferries coming in and going out to the islands, and next to the harbour there’s the intercity bus station and the train station. The airport to the south of the city is a major gateway to Dalmatia and the mid and lower half of Croatia.
Split is a good base for visiting the middle of Croatia, though it may be better to stay in a resort a little further up the coast, as it is a big, busy city too, rather than a holiday place. There’s loads of interesting towns, cities and islands in the vicinity.
We stayed in Podstrana, which is 8km, about half an hour bus ride, south of the city. Podstrana is a beach resort and much quieter than Split. Truthfully, there’s not that much here but it was a nice place for us to base ourselves, we had a great apartment overlooking the island of Brač, and we had a small beach, which was wonderful.
Getting there and getting around
We travelled to Split from the island of Hvar. The catamarans from Hvar are run by Jadrolinija. The journey took approximately an hour. We booked our tickets in advance, online at www.jadrolinija.hr/en/ferry-croatia and they cost us 60 kuna each (£6). The Jadrolina catamarans are big comfortable boats with seats for everyone and a small cafe.
A really cool way to get from Hvar to Split is to take the float plane, which we were very tempted by and which is not too expensive. European coastal airlines (ECA) fly from Jelsa to their seaport at Resnik, and provide shuttle services at each end to transport people to downtown or the resorts. The total journey time is about the same as the boat, but getting a float plane would be so much cooler and apparently you get amazing views. Prices start from €35 (about £30).
ECA also fly the float planes from Split to Pula and Rijeka in the north, which would be an amazing way to see this gorgeous coast. They even fly to Ancona in Italy. If we go back to Croatia, we are going to use these to get around as they’re not too pricey and they’re float planes!
The harbour in Split is right in the centre of the city. Our catamaran pulled up by the Riva (the promenade), which is right next to Diocletian’s Palace. The intercity bus station and the train station are located next to the harbour. There is a shuttle bus to the airport which departs from here too.
We caught the train from Split to Zagreb. You can find out more about this on the Zagreb page.
We took bus 60 from Split to Podstrana. The bus left from the right of Green Market. If you are standing on the Riva looking at the palace with the sea behind you, then Green Market is to your right. Just past this there’s a busy intersection with some bus stops. This is where the buses to the south depart from. Tickets cost us 11kn (about £1) per journey.
Just a quick note: it’s not a local custom to queue or let people on before you, and because we hesitated whilst boarding – everyone else got on first and pushed us out of the way. It was like being back in Korea.
You can find further local bus information at www.promet-split.hr. It is in Croatian, but most of the functions are pretty self-explanatory.
What we did on our honeymoon
The centre of Split has been built amongst the ruins of the 1,700 year old Roman palace. To be honest, the whole centre of the city is the palace, so I’ve gone into more detail about individual areas below.
The Riva is the promenade at the front of the city. The front of Diocletian’s Palace runs along the promenade (this used to be the sea front).
The Riva is the main access point to the ancient city. This is also where many of the boats pull up, and it feels like the centre of Split.
The promenade is a nice walkway with trees and flowers and lots of cafes and touristy shops. The tourist office is here and they have loads of useful maps, guides and leaflets. I’d definitely recommend popping in here for information before visiting the rest of the city.
The best way to get from the Riva to the city interior is to go via the basement of the old palace, which contains market stalls. For Games of Throne’s fans, you might recognise these basements as they are Daenerys Targaryen’s dragon’s caves.
The entrance to the palace basements is approximately halfway along the Riva, and you can spot it as there’s often some Roman centurions hanging around outside (they were there on the three days that we were there).
We entered by the city by the basements of the palace. This ancient basement is half thoroughfare and half tourist attraction. You can just walk through, past the touristy market stalls, and experience being in the basement of the Roman palace; but you can also pay to explore the wider basements, if you so wish (40kn for an adult/ 20kn for students). I did this, and I found it interesting, though it was just empty room after empty room. It’s amazing to be amongst the foundations of the palace. The walls look so solid, and yet they were built nearly 2,000 years ago!
Apparently, the basements used to be filled with what our guidebook described as ‘shit’, and it was only in the 1960s that they cleared this ‘shit’ out and discovered what an amazing space this is.
Today, most of this area is filled with tourist shops – and occassionaly dragons, as the basements were a filming location for Game of Thrones. They starred as Daenerys Targaryen’s dragon’s lair.
If you leave the peristyle basements at the city end you emerge into the Peristyle/ Peristili (main square). This is a famous area of Split and the centre of the city.
When we were there much of this area was closed off as they were using the vestibule area as a stage and they were putting up staging and chairs etc. It meant that we had to navigate around the Peristil using the smaller streets, which was interesting.
The vestibule is next to the Peristyle. It is a circular building with an open roof and perfect acoustics. I think that Diocletian used to pretend to be a god from here. The vestibule is above the basements.
I returned to this area on our second day in Split and there was a beautiful concert taking place in the vestibule. There was a group of Croatian acapella, male singers, and their harmonies, reflected by the walls of this ancient, domed, open room – were just magnificent. Because of the open roof, it felt to me like they were flinging their singing to the gods. Their songs made me stop to just listen and be – just for a little while.
Cathedral of St Dominus and Diocletian’s mausoleum
To the right of the Peristyle (main square) is the Cathedral of St Dominus (cathedral Sv Duje), and under this is Diocletian’s mausoleum.
The cathedral is gorgeous: it’s circular, with a beautiful domed roof and ornate paintings.
The mausoleum underneath is an empty, circular room.
You can climb the bell tower, though we didn’t.
There’s a 3,500 year old sphinx outside.
Up a small alley/road on the opposite side of the Peristyle is Jupiter’s Temple. This was a beautiful, simple, small temple with a 3,000 year old headless sphinx outside and gods carved into the lintel. Inside the temple is a statue of St John and two sarcophagi of 11th century priests.
When I was there, some of the tourists were trying to sit on the sphinx, which I think was a bit disrespectful, considering how old she is – but it’s a sign of how ancient history is just there in Split – in public, out on the streets.
Running alongside the side of the Jupiter Temple is Grab Sirina, the smallest street in Split. It’s so small that I had to walk down it sideways.
On our explore of Split, we first went to the left out of the Peristyle square. This led us past shops to the Iron Gate, a huge Roman archway/gateway, three stories high, which now has restaurants and cafe tables dotted around it. This would certainly be a unique place for dinner.
We then turned off to the right and followed the walls and the streets around to the Golden Gate. En-route, we passed an ancient Roman fountain, a lions head, from which you can still get fresh drinking water, which comes to the city on the Roman aqueduct!
Just past this, we stopped to have a look in the tiny Church of St Martin, which was built into the Golden Gate in the 5th and 6th Century. This was a beautiful, peaceful, tiny chapel (just a room really) where a very friendly nun welcomed us.
From St Martin’s we made our way through the arched passageways to the Golden Gate, which used to be the main gate for the city. It is on the opposite side to the sea-side. This is a stately, important looking gateway, with Roman centurions outside. It’s very cheesy, but I paid to have my photo taken with them (see photo at the top of the page). It was fun and silly and I enjoyed it.
Next to the Golden Gate is a large statue of Gregory of Nin. Gregory of Nin was a medieval Croatian bishop who strongly opposed the pope and who introduced church services in Croatian, rather than Latin. It is believed to be good luck to rub the statue’s big toe.
After playing around with the centurions, I went off to have a look at Split City Museum and Papalic Palace and J went to the pub.
Split City Museum is based in the home of the Split nobleman Dmino Papalic (Papalic Palace) and it contains some remains from Salona and the old city of Split. From what I remember, although it was interesting, I didn’t get a lot of context of what I was seeing and so I just wandered through and looked at things. Also, I was hot and tired so I didn’t take much in. Plus, the whole city is a museum – so the Split museum seems slightly superfluous to requirements. The building is very pretty though and it’s worthwhile popping in just to have a look at the courtyard. www.mgst.net.
(I think the museum I was really looking for was the Archaeological Museum, which looks amazing. See the what we didn’t do section for more info).
On the way to meet J at the pub I passed a beautiful courtyard garden with a friendly cat and a 3,500 year old sphinx’s head buried in the wall – just there, being all sphinxy and 3,500 years old!
This city is amazing.
What we didn’t do in Split
The Green Market is a touristy market, located at the end of the Riva, close to the train station. We walked past a few times but didn’t venture in. Most of the stalls seemed to be selling fun, touristy stuff, rather than local products. If we’d have been here for a bit longer I probably would have ventured in.
Being a major city, Split has many franchise shops and a few malls. The Mall of Split has international stores, such as Debenhams, and they offer a hop and shop bus, which takes people from the old city to the mall. We saw this at the bus stop by the harbour. There’s information about the bus and the mall, in English, on the Mall of Split website: mallofsplit.hr.
Croatia Expert also has a great guide to shopping in Split which details some of the other malls and supermarkets in the city.
If you’re looking at Split from the harbour, to the left is a pretty, peninsular of pine-woods, beaches and a mountain. This is the Marjan Peninsular; a natural area, close to the city. Apparently this is only a ten-minute walk from the old city and is a lovely place to go to for some peace and quiet.
Apparently there’s two chapels, some pretty bathing areas, a few cafes and lots of good hiking. Rough Guides and In Your Pocket have more info.
Split’s Ethnographic Museum contains exhibitions on Croatian culture, with a particular focus on Dalmatian culture. This is located in the old town, just behind the vestibule. There are some amazing Roman moasiacs outside, which I went to see on our second day in Split. www.etnografski-muzej-split.hr.
Split Archaeological Museum is the oldest museum in Croatia and it apparently contains treasure the Roman cities of Split and Salona, plus artifacts from prehistoric times and Greek remains from the island of Vis.
The museum is not located in the centre of town, but ten minutes to the north. I would have loved to have gone here but we just didn’t have time. We shall have to go back. www.mdc.hr.
There aren’t a lot of beaches in Croatia. People tend to just jump into the crystal-clear sea from rocks. However, there are one or two beaches around Split if you are looking for somewhere to sunbathe.
Podstrana, which is the resort we stayed in to the south of Split, is famous for its beaches. Although on the small side, they are made of real sand, which is a rarity in this country.
There’s a few bays and beaches on the Marjan Peninsular. The main one seems to be Bene Beach.
There’s also a beach just to the south of the harbour called Bačvice.
Croatia Expert has a list of beaches on their website.
Being on our honeymoon, we weren’t really out to party. However, I hear that Split is great for nightlife and that there’s loads of cool bars, nightclubs, festivals, pub crawls, beach parties, boat parties etc.
Time Out and In Your Pocket have comprehensive guides to Split nightlife.
Ultra Europe takes place in July and features big-name dance acts, such as the Chemical Brothers and Deadmau5: ultraeurope.com.
Split Beach Festival takes place in early August and features loads of cool Dance acts: www.splitbeachfestival.com.
Split and the surrounding resorts make a good base for Central Dalmatia, with loads of wonderful things to see and do is the local area.
From Split, you can catch ferries to the islands of Brac, Hvar, Korcula and Dubrovnik.
Krka National Park is a national park of wonderful waterfalls, gorges and monasteries. This is about an hour north of Split. The park website has visitor information in English: www.np-krka.hr.
Tour operators also offer excursions to the Plitvice Lakes National Park, a unique landscape of lakes and walkways. However, from what I understand, the national park is actually in the middle of Croatia, four hours away from Split – so if you did do this as a day-trip you would spend a lot of time on the road and would have limited time in the park. www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr.
White water rafting
At the end of our honeymoon, because of visa requirements, J had to fly back to Canada and I had to fly home alone to the UK. Our original plan had been that I would fly home from Split and that Jeff would spend a few more days here before flying back to Canada. Whilst looking for things to do on these extra days, J found out that you can go white water rafting in the Cetina Gorge, which is about three hours drive from Split. A few companies offer white water rafting tours which include transport too.
In the end, he decided not to do this as he thought the water level might be quite low at the height of summer, and he wasn’t sure if it would be worth it. Also, I was able to extend my holiday so that we could both end our trip together in Zagreb.
You can access the Cetina Gorge from the coastal, pirate city of Omis. You can get a local bus to Omis from Split.
If we go back and have a car and more time, this is somewhere that we’d like to visit and perhaps stay in for a few days.
Salona was the former capital of Roman Dalmatia, and the fourth largest city in the empire. It is located just inland from Split. Most of Salona is unexcavated, though they have found a 17,000 seater amphitheatre.
Where we stayed
The Residence Hotel
We stayed in The Residence Hotel, which is in the village of Podstrana, about half an hour south of Split. The Residence is on the Le Meridian complex and we used their beach facilities (though we weren’t sure if we were supposed to – sorry, Le Meridian).
We had a self-catering apartment here. It was lush. We had all the utilities we could need in the room, a million pillows on the bed, and a balcony overlooking the sea. In the immediate complex there was a pool that we didn’t use and a small shop; and the Le Meridian had tennis courts, pools, spas, restaurants etc.
Podstrana is a small village, 8km from Split, famous for it’s beaches (partly because beaches are so rare on this coast).
I don’t think our complex was quite in the centre of Podstrana. I think most of the village and the infrastructure was a little further south, around a big bend in the road with no pavements. In our little area though, we had everything we needed for a few days: there was a small Tommy supermarket for champagne and picnics, a great pizza place and a wonderful fancy restaurant (Restaurant Arkada), where we had one of the best meals of our trip.
The studio apartment cost us €450 for three nights (about £330).
We booked The Residence through booking.com.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is my own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.
Hi. I read you saw the sphinx head in the wall. I’m here in Split now and I can’t find it. Can you tell me where it is? None of the locals seem to know. Thanks, Elke
Hi Elke, It’s off a garden, I think it is on Dominisolva ul. https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=17NhHWgoYuTiH5Y0ZIDX36PLIeR4&hl=en&ll=43.50888980024109%2C16.44004844999995&z=20
Thank you. I found it last night simply ’cause a Game Of Thrones actor had happened to visit the park and sat on the stairs. Cheers.
(Strange how none of the locals I spoke to seem to know anything about it, and say it can’t possibly be a sphinx head. So have asked the local museum to confirm i’s legit just in case.)
You and I are the only ones that have that version of a lion’s head water basin that I can find out of thousands of Split photos! My wife and I went in Oct of last year (2018).