insider-guide-split-croatia

Once a jumping-off point for travellers en route to the glitzy and ever-popular neighbouring island of Hvar, in recent years Split has seen tourists choosing to linger a little longer – and it’s not hard to see why. Framed by majestic coastal mountains and the turquoise Adriatic, Croatia’s second-largest city boasts all the natural beauty of its more high-profile Dalmatian counterpart Dubrovnik, which has been propelled to international stardom thanks to Game of Thrones. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that Split has a more authentic, lived-in feel.

Split’s historic old town, with its labyrinthine marble streets and ruins dating back to the Roman empire, is one of seven Croatian UNESCO World Heritage sites and a rarity in that it is still inhabited by locals. Down narrow streets, you’ll find boutiques and cafés jostling for space alongside a smorgasbord of dining options. Its palm tree-lined pedestrianised waterfront, known as the Riva, is where you’ll find tourists and locals leisurely sipping coffee or enjoying a nightcap to the sounds of a cappella singers performing “klapa” (traditional folk music) after dark, when the area really throbs with activity.

Though the gothic and romanesque old town might be its lifeblood, Split’s identikit communist-era apartment blocks outside the centre contribute to the architectural landscape just as much – and are equally as impressive. The city also offers an expanse of pebbly beaches and rocky coves, as well as the sandy Bačvice beach, with the water staying warm throughout September and October, when it is a less congested and often more pleasant time to visit.

TO EAT

Konoba Pizzeria Maslina

Tucked away from the bustle of the main Riva and busy squares, this cosy joint is quite a challenge to find; pass through a narrow, hidden passageway and then down some steps before reaching its secluded courtyard. Famous for its artisan pizza, they use Česmina wood from the island of Brač for the grill, though seafood lovers can go in for a beautiful fish platter to share. It gets crowed in summer months, so be prepared to wait – it’s worth it.

Konoba Hvaranin

Located in the residential and less touristy Veli Varoš neighbourhood, this no-frills family-run restaurant specialises in grilled fish and meat dishes. The walls are decorated with vintage sepia-tinted photos of the city with shelves stacked with books written by local authors, adding to the homely atmosphere. The food is fresh and served with homemade bread (the pasta with mussels and clams is particularly good). Space inside is quite limited however, so booking ahead is advisable if you don’t want to queue.

Konoba Marjan

Continuing with the family-run theme, this charming little restaurant also located in the Varoš quarter is a long-standing favourite amongst locals and tends to get booked up quickly in the height of summer. Specialising in seafood, the menu includes grilled fresh fish, seafood risottos and scampi, as well as traditional Dalmatian dishes like pašticada, the trademark local stew made from beef marinated in wine and prunes.

Konoba Ma:Toni

Housed in an atmospheric stone-clad basement close to Bačvice beach, Ma:Toni’s out-of-the-way location means a dining experience relatively unmolested by tourists. The menu offers non-conventional Mediterranean creations, from homemade pasta with beef cheeks to gnocchi with sautéed spinach, arugula and almonds as well as imaginative vegan and gluten-free options (which are hard to come by in the rest of the city), all to the soundtrack of jazz, funk and bossa nova.

  • +385 02 127 8457
  • Go to Website
  • Prilaz braće Kaliterna 6
    Split
    21000

TO DRINK

La Bodega

Located near the Voćni Trg (“fruit square”), La Bodega is a chic, high-ceilinged wine bar kitted out with rustic furniture, old sewing machines and picture frames hanging on the walls, as well as swinging legs of pršut ham. The menu lists over 250 different Croatian wine labels as well as nibbles to accompany, and there are cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages aplenty. It spills out onto a buzzy terrace which features a romantic booth made out of high-stone arches, and has live music during the summer season.

Teraca Vidilica

Tackle the steep climb through the picturesque Varoš neighbourhood and awaiting you is the cafe-bar terrace of Vidilica, which comes with sweeping views of the whole of Split from atop the Marjan peninsula. Soft heart-shaped cushions adorn the chairs with the front tables facing out onto the view, making this a lovely spot for a coffee during the day or shot of rakija (grappa) at night.

Academia Ghetto Club

Nestled in the crevices of Diocletian’s Palace is this closed-off ivy-covered courtyard which offers some privacy from the tourist-swarmed bars along the Riva. Its bohemian décor and underground vibe tends to draw in a relaxed, arty crowd of locals and travellers. Inside is a muralled red room which plays host to live music and stand-up nights, whilst the upstairs houses a gallery which puts on intermittent shows.

TO DO

Diocletian’s Palace

Dating back to around 298AD when Split and the rest of Dalmatia was under the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, this sprawling fortress compound was intended to be his retirement home, before the fall of Rome and the palace’s abandonment. Ironically for the emperor, who was an ardent persecutor of Christians, his mausoleum is now the Cathedral of Saint Dominius, which you can enter for about £2 and climb up to be rewarded with sweeping views of the city. Alternatively, wander freely through the complex of shiny-slabbed corridors at ground level and enter the Palace’s vaulted central hall, which is a treasure trove of stalls selling jewellery and local artwork, before finishing your day at the steps of the Peristyle (the old town’s main square) where live music plays on warm summer evenings.

Marjan Forest

This enormous, fragrant pine-forested park covering the westernmost tip of Split is a complete sanctuary from tourist-filled Old Town, and where its inhabitants flock to in the busy summer season. Following the city’s edge, it is bounded by the sea and offers lots of shaded trails for hiking and biking, and the rocky coves that go all around its perimeter offer secluded spots for a swim. Strewn around the forest are also several clandestine little chapels and small hermit dwellings to discover, making this a park abundant in little treasures.

Ivan Meštrović Gallery

Just outside the old part of town lies this gallery dedicated to the famous 20th-century sculptor Ivan Meštrović, often dubbed Croatia’s answer to Rodin. Meštrović’s sculptures, heavily influenced by Greek mythology and biblical themes, can be found on the streets of Croatia, though the museum holds some of his biggest and best works, as well as his wood carvings. Housed in a Neoclassical marble villa perched on a hill overlooking the sea, the gallery is almost as impressive as the works held inside, and its tranquil open garden, dotted with eight of his bronze carvings, is completely free to enjoy.

  • +385 21 340 800
  • Go to Website
  • Šetalište Ivana Meštrovića 46
    Split
    21000

Ivan Meštrović Gallery

Marjan Forest

Diocletian’s Palace

Academia Ghetto Club

Teraca Vidilica

La Bodega

Konoba Pizzeria Maslina

Konoba Hvaranin

Konoba Marjan

Konoba Ma:Toni

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