It’s amazing how fast a month goes by.
We left Dubrovnik a little over a month ago en route to its somewhat less well-known sister-city to the north, Split.
It was our first European driving experience, and I’m happy to report that everything went smoothly with our little blue Benz.
It was all they had in an automatic, so we got lucky 🙂
We were a little nervous to start off (it had nothing to do with the $5,000 deposit they put on our credit card), but there was virtually zero traffic and the roads were in surprisingly great shape. I’m not sure why I expected them to be otherwise, but nonetheless, it was a great time.
Driving along the Croatian coast was very similar, in my opinion, to driving along the Pacific Coast Highway. The views are a little less ‘dramatic’ in terms of the cliffs and huge waves you see in California, but it was equally beautiful.
After passing through a little sliver of Bosnia-Herzegovina (we just mastered how to say that), the road curved inland toward the countryside, leading us through miles of beautiful mountain valleys full of vineyards and olive tree groves.
When we first arrived in Split, my first reaction was surprise (again) at how much bigger it was than Dubrovnik.
From what I read about Split, and what I’d heard from other travelers, I suppose I was just expecting a quaint tourist town full of beachside resorts, but it was far from that. It had a really ‘lived in’ feel, so we got an opportunity to experience the authentic side of life on the Dalmatian Coast, as it’s really lived.
At this point in our journey, we had been moving from place to place fairly quickly for the last six weeks, so we were ready to settle in and just be somewhere for a while.
A month to be exact.
I know, I know. What could we possibly do for a month in Split? And WHY? Well, that answer is three-fold:
First, why not?
Second, we’re trying to conserve Schengen days. Long story short, the options were to either spend time in Croatia or the U.K. (both non-Schengen countries), and since we had just been in Amsterdam, we were a little sick of being cold.
Third, I was in the midst of launching an online business, and I needed to be still for a while to do that.
But overall, I just refer back to my first point. If you have the time, why wouldn’t you want to spend a month in Split?
Although it’s typically viewed as a stop-over city for tourists on the way to Dubrovnik, Split is absolutely worth taking the time to visit on your next trip to Croatia.
To be honest, I prefer Split over Dubrovnik in terms of a ‘home base’ in Croatia.
Obviously, I’m a little biased because I spent a month in Split versus only a week in Dubrovnik, but Split has so much to offer in terms of its location. You’re situated right in the center of the coast, so the opportunities for day trips and weekend getaways are endless.
Split has a complex history that’s rich with influences from all the various empires that once occupied it. It’s an incredible dichotomy of modern and traditional, where dozens of bars and restaurants thrive alongside some of the world’s most impressive Roman ruins.
With its dramatic backdrop of coastal mountains and several picturesque beaches to choose from, we spent a LOT of time just soaking in the beauty that surrounded us. For the history buffs out there, Split’s Old Town center will keep you busy for days. For the ‘outdoorsy’ types, there are tons of opportunities for cycling, hiking and rock climbing. (Our version of ‘outdoorsy’ is drinking small-batch local wine on a sailboat, and there’s lots of that, too.)
Other highlights from our time in Split include:
BEACHES. Lots and lots of beaches.
This is an obvious number-one activity for us on any coastline, so given how beautiful the beaches are in Croatia, suffice it to say that 99 percent of our time was spent within 50 yards of the water.
We got lucky because our apartment was a two-minute walk from Bavice Beach, one of the most popular beaches in Split. It has a sandy area (score!) but even the rocky areas have plenty of smooth spots that are perfect for a picnic, BYO-happy hour or working on your tan.
Bavice Beach is also where the popular Croatian game of Picigin originated. It’s a traditional ball game where players have to keep the ball from touching the water. They use their hands to volley the ball back and forth, and it’s really entertaining to watch. Lots of face plants in the ‘that-was-too-shallow-not-to-hurt’ water.
I just kept wondering what would happen if I gave them a ping-pong paddle. #mindblown
Bavice Beach truly comes alive after sunset with tons of seaside bars and live music venues. We were glad to be there in shoulder season, because it’s easy to see what a hotspot it becomes in the summertime.
Split’s Old Town gives ‘hole in the wall’ a new meaning
The Old Town center received its UNESCO World Heritage classification in 2014. The entire area is completely dominated by Diocletian’s Palace, a 1,700 year-old Roman Ruin that, today, houses many local families, tourist accommodations, shops and restaurants.
The narrow passageways are so intriguing. We felt like little kids running through a maze, trying to find which path leads where, and often getting chased out of dead-ends by little old ladies.
A few things you should definitely check out while you’re in Old Town:
Cathedral of Saint Domnius and Bell Tower: In the heart of the palace, the Cathedral was originally built as Diocletian’s mausoleum. Refugees turned the mausoleum into a church in the 7th century, which is ironic, since Diocletian was a famous persecutor of Christians. The bell tower was built in stages between the 12th and 16th centuries, and offers incredible panoramic views from the top.
Jupiter’s Temple: Your ticket for the bell tower is also valid for Jupiter’s Temple, so there’s no reason not to pay it a visit. It’s the last of the three original temples that still stands within the palace walls.
The domed Vestibule was once a dramatic entry way to Diocletian’s private quarters. Today, you can witness groups perform Croatian folk music here because of the great acoustics.
The Riva – a people-watcher’s paradise
Yeah, we’re creepy like that.
The Riva is Split’s iconic harbor-side promenade, and it’s a great place to hang out and watch Croatian life buzz all around you. There’s always something going on, from fish markets to concerts, and everything in between.
There’s an abundance of restaurants and coffee shops along The Riva, most of which are fairly touristy, but there are a few hidden gems among them. One of which, The Olive Tree is where we had one of our favorite meals in Split. They have fantastic regionally-inspired food and wine, and impeccable service.
Marjan, known as ‘the lungs of Split’ is a serene place to escape for some quality time with nature. From Old Town, just head west toward the big hill. If you’re going up, you’re going the right way.
We spent half a day hiking all over Marjan. This was one of my favorite things to do in Split, and I hate hiking, so that’s saying a lot. There are several lookout points to stop and take in the panoramic views, trails through the dense pine forests (where you’ll even find wild asparagus growing!) and mysterious little churches that are built into the cliffside.
Best of all, there are great beaches (yes, again) on the south side of the hill. Kasuni Beach, Kastelet Beach and Jezinac Beach are all beautiful and have great amenities, and food and drink options nearby.
There’s also a little café bar at the base of the hiking trail where you can have a coffee or glass of wine and take in the views. A great reward after a long day on your feet!
Get on Island Time
Split is the biggest port on the Dalmatian Coast, so there are great ferry connections available for the nearby islands.
Pat and I happened to have our sixth anniversary (!!!) while we were in Split, so we decided to do a little getaway to Vis Island to celebrate. It’s an easy two-hour ferry ride that leaves from Split mid-morning, so you get there just in time for lunch.
Unless you go when we went (late March) because EVERYTHING was closed. Our only food option was the grocery store.
We even walked into a pizzeria that was open, because obviously they would have pizza, right? Wrong. Just drinks.
It was so weird. We’re not sure where these people eat, or if they eat. Or why they all looked at us like we were crazy for expecting a pizzeria to serve food. I know Vis is known as a ‘mysterious’ island, but this was a little much.
Not to worry, though. With Pat being a chef, it’s basically like traveling around with my own personal restaurant, so I knew I would be okay. I’m sure Pat felt the same way.
Despite the whole ‘shoulder-season-really-means-ghost-town’ thing, we still had a great time. On the plus side, we had the place to ourselves! #nonewfriends
Vis, like most things in Croatia, has a fascinating history. It’s the most remote of the central Dalmatian islands, and served as a military base for the Yugoslav army– and, thus, was cut off from foreign visitors– from the 1950s until 1989. The isolation drove many of the island’s inhabitants to move elsewhere, which left it underpopulated for decades. However, its lack of development is what we liked best about it… It’s so authentic, peaceful, and quiet.
And that was only amplified by the fact that it was just us and the locals while we were there.
For my birthday, we took a sailboat to Brač Island. Brač is the largest island and closest to Split, with several little villages dotting its shores. We happened to stop in a town called Milna, which is on the western side of the island, about 18 km from Supetar. It’s a great little spot, and word on the street is Beyoncé is a fan.
If you do any sailing charters while you’re in Split, which you absolutely should, you MUST go with Adris Nautic. We had a FANTASTIC time with Dubravko– he takes couples and small groups out on his private boat (day-trips and multi-day cruises) and is incredible knowledgeable about the area. By the end of the day, you’ll feel like you’re sailing with an old friend.
Seriously, if you do nothing else I recommend, DO THIS.
Split may never shine as brightly as ‘the Pearl of the Adriatic’ by tourist standards, but general consensus among locals is that they wouldn’t have it any other way. And we couldn’t agree more.
Needless to say, we had an incredible month in this place, but it’s time to keep moving! Luckily, we have no plans to leave Croatia anytime soon (they may have to drag us out kicking and screaming) so keep checking back for more on our road trips, Croatia’s beautiful national parks, and our journey through the Istrian Coast.