The best things to do in Split, Croatia
The historic centre of Split, once a Roman palace, is the obvious highlight of this Croatian coastal city.
But look further and you’ll realise there are so many things to do in Split, from the museums, to the nearby nature, the islands, and some fantastic day trips.
Along the paths that the Roman emperor and his courtiers once walked, tourists now walk with their cameras and ice creams. A once grand palace is open to all, its exclusiveness gone, but its splendour still intact.
The historic centre of Split was once the palace of Diocletian, who reigned for 21 years from 284 AD. He built it here in Croatia for his retirement, because this was his hometown (and was then known as Spalatum). But when he did abdicate in 305 AD, it wasn’t finished, even though construction had been going for about a decade.
When you see the scale of the complex, you’ll understand why it took so long. Calling it a ‘palace’ is a bit misleading – it’s really a small city, a bit like Hadrian’s Villa in Italy. And that’s why exploring it is the highlight of all the things to do in Split.
With marble from Italy and Greece, and columns and sphinxes from Egypt, Diocletian’s Palace must have once been an incredible sight. Even today, though, the streets are still paved in large white stone squares and, amongst the labyrinthe paths, are dozens of beautiful ancient facades.
Like many Croatian coastal cities, the historic centre is a symbol of the important heritage along the Adriatic Sea. Maritime and military power, trade and economic growth, religious and artistic inspiration. It can all be seen here in Split, as it can in places like Dubrovnik and Porec.
But what makes visiting Split so special is that it’s also an excellent base to explore the region – to nearby cities like Trogir, to the islands like Hvar, and into the beautiful nature of inland Croatia.
Aside from the history – which is one of the most obvious aspects of the city – there are so many things to do in Split. Museums impress with their variety of exhibitions, the beaches are a perfect way to spend a summer day, and the fresh food in the restaurants will never leave you wanting more.
Diocletian may have chosen to build his palace here for sentimental reasons, but he also managed to pick one of the most stunning coastal locations in the Balkans. If it was good enough for his retirement, you’ll certainly find a few days in Split easy to fill.
Is Split worth visiting?
It is definitely worth visiting Split. Croatia’s second-largest city has plenty of things to do for visitors, especially the historic sites within the Palace of Diocletian, which is a World Heritage Site. The city is also full of culture and has a host of excellent museums. There are also beautiful beaches and good day trip options.
How many days do you need in Split?
There are lots of things to do in Split but you can probably see the main sights in two days. But I would recommend basing yourself in Split for a few extra days to explore places like Trogir, Krka National Park, and possibly even one of the islands (although somewhere like Hvar is worth staying for a couple of nights itself).
Is Split safe?
Split is a reasonably safe city and almost all visitors will encounter no problems. Because it’s very popular with tourists, the authorities make an effort to make sure there are no major problems, especially around the historic centre. Petty crime can occur, like any other large city, but Croatia is generally a safe country and you’ll find that here too.
The main sights in Split are easy to find because most of them are concentrated in the World Heritage Site that covers the historic centre. It sits in the centre of a harbour and, wander in either direction along the coast, you’ll discover beautiful views – especially at sunrise and sunset.
Although Split is Croatia’s second-largest city, it never feels too big and only has a population of about 160,000 people. You’ll be able to walk to many of Split’s tourist attractions in the city, or easily get an Uber or public transport to others.
One of the wonderful things about visiting Split is that the relaxed coastal vibes of the Croatian coast radiate through the city and nothing seems too hard or stressful. Kick back, immerse yourself in some history, explore the region, and enjoy these things to do in Split.
Palace of Diocletian
The highlight of all the things to see in Split is the World Heritage Site in the historic centre, the Palace of Diocletian, which is now part of the city and has pedestrian streets crossing through it.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s much larger than you might expect when you hear the word ‘palace’. Stretching about 200 metres in each direction (with later extensions adding another 300 metres along one length), it feels like many of the other historic ‘old towns’ you visit when touring around Europe.
But try to imagine it without the shops, restaurants, and tourists. To appreciate how it originally was, you need to realise that the large stone walls around the boundary were fortified to keep everyone out except Emperor Diocletian and his inner circle, the staff who managed the complex, and the large military garrison based here.
Even after Diocletian died, the palace was owned by the Roman Empire and used by other senior officials, possibly even by other retired emperors. It wasn’t until around the 7th century that ordinary citizens started to move in and turn it into more of a city than a compound.
During the Middle Ages, there was a fair amount of development on the site with new houses and other buildings constructed in the open spaces that were once courtyards and gardens. Some of the original Roman buildings were also modified.
But many of the original structures are still here, and lots of others that were added over the centuries are just as historically important. These are some of the key things to see in the Palace of Diocletian.
Each of the four fortified walls that protected the palace had its own gate and, when you visit today, you’ll likely go through one of them to enter the site.
Each was named after a metal – there’s the western Iron Gate, the northern Golden Gate, the eastern Silver Gate, and the southern Bronze Gate. The choice of metals is no accident – gold was used to describe the main entrance for the emperor, for instance, while bronze was used for the name of the gate that was probably a service entrance.
While there’s nothing too spectacular about any of them, they’re worth having a look at as you pass through, because they offer the first impression of how the palace would once have looked.
Peristil Square is in the heart of the palace, opening up towards the southern end, which was the main residence of Diocletian (much of the northern part of the palace was used by the military). It’s also the focal point for visitors today.
This large square would once have served as the entrance to the main hall and a gathering place for the residents of the complex. With colonnades on either side, it’s said that Emperor Diocletian even addressed the crowd from here.
You’ll certainly find yourself here when you visit Split because coming off Peristil Square are three of the most important sights in the palace St Domnius Cathedral, the Vestibule, and the Temple of Jupiter.
St Domnius Cathedral
Of all the landmarks within the World Heritage Site, St Domnius Cathedral is the most iconic and it’s one of the most important things to see in Split.
The main structure of the church was built in 305 AD as the mausoleum for Diocletian. Octagonal in shape, it’s constructed with white limestone and marble. It was converted into a church in the 7th century.
Inside, you can still understand how the Roman monument would’ve looked because it’s original shape and columns are still here. But the beautiful golden altar in the centre is now the focal point.
The 57-metre-high bell tower was added in the 12th century and you can climb it with an additional entry ticket for panoramic views across the city.
The Vestibule, at the southern end of Peristil Square, was once an important meeting hall for Diocletian. The tall conical structure with exposed brick would once have been topped with a dome, making it even more magnificent.
When I wandered in, there was a small choir in the centre, with their melody echoing off the walls and filling the space, creating a wonderful atmosphere. There are regular performances here, so you’re likely to catch one yourself.
Temple of Jupiter
Off to the west of Peristil Square, down a small alleyway, is the relatively small Temple of Jupiter, one of the best preserved Roman monuments here in the historic centre of Split.
The inside isn’t as richly decorated as the cathedral, although it would once have held a lot more items and been a major site of worship. Several artefacts on display, though. Out front is one of the 12 sphinxes that Diocletian brought from Egypt to decorate his palatial complex.
The temple was converted into a baptistery in the 6th century and you can see evidence of how the building had different uses over the eras.
At the southern end of the palace is a large area beneath all the houses and remaining historic buildings. Officially called the Substructures, this space is also known as the Cellars of Diocletian’s Palace because that was one of its functions.
The rooms in this basement area not only elevated the emperor’s chambers above, but were used as storage and for other functions to keep the palace running. They could be accessed from the Bronze Gate at the south, which was mainly a service entrance.
These days, the central corridor is free to walk through and is lined with shops selling souvenirs and other trinkets But you can also access a preserved part of the cellars to see their heritage (and the area used by Game of Thrones to depict where Daenerys kept her dragons).
People’s Square (Pjaca)
The People’s Square, also known as Pjaca, is not technically within the original area of Diocletian’s Palace and is just beyond the western wall but, as a visitor it will look the same and you may not even notice the difference.
It dates from around the 15th century and is surrounded by important buildings in Gothic, Venetian, and Renaissance styles. The Town Hall and Cambi Palace are a couple of landmarks that are worth noting in particular.
It’s also famous for its clock which has 24 numbers on it, rather than the usual 12. Within the square, there’s al fresco dining and this is a popular meeting spot for locals and tourists.
Nearby is Fruit Square (Voćni trg) which is smaller but just as striking, with an imposing octagonal Venetian tower on one side and the Milesi Palace with a spectacular Baroque facade on the other.
The square gets its name from the fruit markets that were once held here, but now it’s mainly a meeting place and another area that’s nice for an outdoor drink or a bit of shopping.
Other historic sights
The historic sights of Split aren’t limited to the area of the former palace and, as you wander through the streets around it, you’ll find some wonderful monuments from the successive periods of rule – from the Byzantine Empire to the Hungarians, Venetians, and then the Habsburgs.
I would also recommend seeing a few of the historic sights on the outskirts of the city, which are all relatively easy to access.
You haven’t truly seen Split until you walk up Marjan Hill to look out across the city, across to the mountains around it, and down to the glittering Adriatic.
The start of Marjan Hill is only about ten minutes’ walk from the historic centre and the trail is relatively easy up to the Vidilica viewpoint, where there’s a stunning panoramic view of the city (and a cafe, which is great for a meal or a drink while you enjoy the view). Walking up here is one of the most scenic things to do in Split.
But this is just the start of Marjan Hill, which is essentially a large park covering a three-kilometre-long peninsula. Another viewpoint higher up called Telegrin will give you even better views, and then there are plenty of trails that take you to different parts of the park.
Along the way, are quite a few historic churches that have been built here over the years. Bit of particular interest are the rock cave dwellings dug into the cliffs in the 1500s!
About five kilometres northeast of Split’s historic centre are the Roman ruins of Salona in the suburb of Solin. This ancient city was once the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia and was founded around the 3rd century BC.
When Salona was at its peak, it would’ve had about 60,000 residents – and it was here that Emperor Diocletian was born. Like most important Roman cities of the time, it had a forum, a theatre, baths, and an aqueduct which were all surrounded by fortified walls.
Although the site is now in ruins, the foundations of these main structures are still evident and it’s a fascinating place to visit. It’s the largest archaeological park in Croatia and it’s easy to spend at least an hour here.
To appreciate it fully, I would recommend this guided tour of Salona so a local expert can help bring it to life for you. (It’s actually great value because it also includes Klis and Trogir.)
Just a little further out, about 10 kilometres northeast of Split, is Klis Fortress, a towering medieval castle above a small town.
Although there were fortifications here from as early as the 2nd century BC, it was in the 1500s that it was expanded and strengthened to become the home of Croatian nobility. It’s spread across a limestone bluff and reaches 385 metres at its highest point.
As you walk up into the fortress, through large gates and past imposing walls, you’ll see the view of the Split region open up beneath you. It’s almost worth it just for this!
But visiting Klis Fortress is a fantastic experience in its own right, especially as it’s never too crowded and it’s quite an adventure to climb amongst all this history. You may even recognise it from Game of Thrones, in which it depicted the city of Meereen.
To make the logistics easier, I would suggest this guided tour of Klis Fortress that also includes Salona and Trogir.
With so much to see in the streets, and so much to see outdoors, you may wonder why you should spend time inside a building. The answer is that there are some excellent museums in Split and each of them offers something different for your visit.
Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments
This museum has quiet a specific goal – to collect cultural items from the Middle Ages of Croatia. This was the period when Diocletian’s Palace was starting to be lived in by the general population, so it fits well with what you’ll see in the World Heritage Site.
As well as everyday and household items, the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments has collections of jewellery and weapons. And there’s a large number of stone monuments that were part of the interior of early Croatian churches.
Ivan Meštrović Gallery
The first thing you’ll notice about the Ivan Meštrović Gallery is the building. Designed by Meštrović himself as a summer villa, his family lived in it for about a decade before he donated it to the state.
Meštrović is one of Croatia’s most celebrated 20th century artists and his focus was on sculpture. The gallery today has almost 200 of his sculptures, along with hundreds of drawings, four paintings, and even two furniture sets. Even if you don’t know much about his work, there’s plenty here to see.
Ethnographic Museum of Split
Probably the most interesting thing here is the building, which is an old convent built in the space that would once have been the emperor’s bedroom. But, if you want to find out more about the region’s cultural heritage, you’ll find lots here.
Ethnographic Museum of Split has exhibitions with traditional costumes, as well as examples of local crafts, toys, and weapons. From the terrace at the top, you can look down into the Vestibule, which is pretty spectacular!
Museum of Illusions
For something a bit more fun, there’s the Museum of Illusions, where you can explore weird experiences like optical illusions, puzzles, immersive installations, and playrooms. If you’ve heard of something like this before, that’s because there are about 35 of these museums around the world – but it began in Croatia (in Zagreb, to be precise).
Although normally I don’t recommend visiting museums that have nothing to do with their location, this is a fun way to break up all the cultural sightseeing.
And for something truly bizarre, there’s Froggyland. The museum is made of of 21 dioramas with taxidermied frogs posed to look like they’re in scenes of everyday human life. There are more than 500 frogs in total, doing things like drinking at a bar, working in a carpenter shop, or going to school.
It was all put together more than a century ago by master taxidermist Ferenc Mere who has done an excellent job with the preservations. Even though it’s a bit weird, it’s considered the biggest and best of its kind in the world (yes, there are others apparently).
Many of the things to do in Split that I’ve mentioned so far can be done as day trips, but there are a few other sights that I think deserve special mention as wonderful day trips from Split. It’s certainly worth staying here for some extra days to try to fit in a couple of these.
Krka National Park
The waterfalls of Krka National Park are the main attractions of this natural wonderland, with tendrils of white flowing down the rocks into a large turquoise pool beneath them.
About an hour’s drive from Split, Krka National Park is a large protected area around the main river, with verdant hills full of hiking trails with excellent opportunities to spot wildlife. At the main waterfalls, known as Skradinski Buk, you can take a swim or just enjoy the view.
A boat trip is an excellent way to explore the park, with an old monastery on the tiny island of Visovac. And there’s also Roski Slap, another series of waterfalls with 12 cascades spread along a length of 450 metres.
To get there and make the most of a visit, this excellent tour from Split will get you to all the highlights, or there are some other great options here:
One of the best day trips from Split that you can do is to Trogir, another World Heritage Site about 30 minutes’ drive away. This historic city seems small – contained on a small island just 20 metres off the coast – but it has been an extremely important centre over the millennia.
It was founded by Greek settlers in the 3rd century BC and surrounded by large fortified walls. During Roman times, it was extended and then in the Middle Ages it became a significant outpost for several empires, including the Byzantines, Venetians, and Hungarians.
All this has left it as the best preserved medieval town on the eastern coast of the Adriatic, with churches, palaces, castles, and dozens of other important Romanesque and Gothic buildings. It may not take long to walk the streets, but you can easily spend all day exploring the landmarks here.
The small town of Omis, just 30 minutes down the coast from Split, shows you a different side of this part of the Croatian coast. Once a base for pirates in the 13th and 14th centuries, it’s now a quaint little port.
Steep cliffs rise up not far from the water with the town nestled around the mouth of a river. As well as historic sights like Mirabella Fortress (and tours of the pirate history) , there are also beautiful beaches, traditional crafts, and some wonderful dining.
It’s easy to reach and there’s plenty to fill a day. Even though Omis is popular with tourists, it’ll feel a bit quieter than Split or Trogir.
Another possible day trip from Split is Dubrovnik, the ‘Jewel of the Adriatic’. Another World Heritage Site, the historic centre of Dubrovnik is a beautiful fairytale city – even if the hordes of tourists take away from its charm slightly.
I would normally not recommend this as a day trip because it takes a few hours of travel each way and you’ll be limited with your time when you are there. I think it’s better to visit Dubrovnik for a night or two.
But, of course, not everyone has the luxury of time – so here’s a great day trip to Dubrovnik from Split. It’s a very long day but you’ll see lots of amazing stuff.
The same goes for Plitvice Lakes, the stunning national park about 250 kilometres’ drive north of Split. A series of cascades is the highlight of the park, with white water draping over lush green pools and walkways for you to explore them from all different angles.
It’s a fantastic sight – one of the best things to do in Croatia, I think – but it’s a long day trip from Split. If you’re planning to go further north at any point, it would be better to do it then. But, if not, then this day trip to Plitvice Lakes from Split is excellent and you’ll have a long but great day.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN SPLIT
You’ll be able to find some hotels in gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings and there are lots of affordable options in Riga’s historic centre.
With clean modern rooms and a great location, Gravitas Hostel has the best value for money in Split.
As well as being a welcoming and good value guesthouse, Nirvana Rooms is also close to all the main sights and transport.
The way that Hotel Vestibul Palace has incorporated the original heritage elements into its modern design makes this a beautiful option.
For a special splurge, the incredible rooms and water views of Hotel Posh are unbeaten in Split.