Split is a popular jumping off point to some of the most stunning island beaches in the world but it's also a destination in itself. Of the places I visited in Croatia, Split is my overall favorite because it melds the energy of a big city with the more relaxed vibe of a beach town.
If you're in Europe, you can do Split and nearby islands in four days. If you're coming from further, I'd recommend at least six so that you can fully unwind and explore.
Like much of Croatia, Split has excellent tourist infrastructure. You can easily book your tickets and activities online or at one of the local agencies that dot every corner. Split is unique, however, because it also has the variety of cuisine, activities and experiences of a larger, more cosmopolitan city. You will feel both the vibrancy of a big city and the laidback vibes of a beach holiday destination.
Split doesn't feel like it's exclusively geared up for tourists (e.g. like old town in Dubrovnik) nor does it feel like it's lost its soul to overbuilding (e.g. like Makarska.) The city has struck a balance between history, culture and tourism. This is why it's my favorite of all the Croatian cities and towns that I visited.
You can visit Split as a stand-alone destination or tack it on to a larger trip. This guide will give you highlights of my holiday and inspiration for your own active holiday with a playful spirit.
Marjan Hill is referred to as the "lungs of the city" because it's here that you swap urban vibes for the calming ones of nature. As you delve deeper into the forest, there's a hypnotic mix of greenery and panoramic coastal views. You'll be completely surrounded by trees, unable to imagine that there's an urban sprawl next door and then the next moment the trees will open up to coastal views like the one above.
There are multiple trails (both paved and unpaved) that can be done guided or unguided. No matter how you choose to explore it, Marjan Hill makes for a gorgeous backdrop to your workout; expect to be surrounded by pines, cacti, wild flowers and butterflies! (Just be sure to download a map if you go solo because it's easy to get swallowed by all the greenery and come out the wrong side. Let's just say I had the wildflower scratches to prove it!)
Marjan Hill lies west of the old town and can be reached by car or a twenty minute jog, depending on your location. Be sure to leave some time after your workout to relax or wander!
Trogir is a tiny island town that takes you back to medieval times. It's a scenic half-day getaway, which is easily accessible from Split by way of a forty-five minute drive or one hourish ferry. The UNESCO protected mini town is connected to the mainland by multiple bridges and can be explored within a few hours by foot.
One of the best ways to get familiar with Trogir is by joining the One Day Dalmatian Cuisine Class. Your focus will be on preparing a sumptuous lunch with multiple courses but you'll also learn interesting tidbits about the culture and history of the region. The class is led by the very quirky Ivana whose colorful nails, jewellery and clothes match her colorful house and strong personality. There aren't many people who can still shock me but Ivana has the humor and boldness to make even the most seasoned traveler wonder if they heard her right!
While the experience is more of a demonstration than a traditional cooking class, you'll still learn valuable techniques like how to make delicious soup using simple ingredients or how to keep seafood moist as it bakes. Ivana accommodates different dietary preferences and tastes so if you don't eat meat, dairy or you're picky (like me,) don't worry because she'll have a dish for you!
Through Ivana's class, you'll experience all the steps involved in preparing a local meal - from shopping at the market to cooking in a local home. It's an intimate experience and one that I recommend if you're a foodie or just curious to learn more about Croatian local life in an unusual way. The class is among the highest rated in the area and was personally sourced by our foodie guru of the group, Mei. (Thanks lady!) You can read my review and those of others here.
Once your cooking class is over, be sure to explore more of Trogir in the afternoon! The highlight is climbing to the top of the Saint Lawrence Cathedral for a spectacular view of the town. (Remember to pack your swim suit too since it gets hot in town and all that turquoise water will look very inviting!)
Places don't often look like the postcards but Zlatni Rat is the exception. Located on the island of Brac, this beach is the most gorgeous one that I saw in Croatia and among the top ten that I've visited in my life.
You'll feel like you're swimming in the middle of a secret forest paradise (except for all the people there with you but you won't mind them because it's that stunning here.) While this may be one of the most famous beaches in Croatia, it's surprisingly not too crowded. Perhaps because it's not so quick to get here...
The first part of your trip is easy. Just hop on a ferry from Split to the island of Brac. It should take about an hour and drop you in the port of Supetar. If you didn't take your car on the ferry, you'll need to jump in a taxi van to make the drive from the ferry to the other side of the island. For fifty kuna, you'll pack in with nine strangers for a thirty minute ride (the maps will say longer but they don't account for Croatian driving!) The drive gives you a taste for the layout of the island and for the eclectic taste that is Croatian radio. You'll likely listen to everything from clubby electro beats to opera - and your driver will nod his head along to it all.
Once you arrive the beach, your driver will arrange to meet you all at a set time. You can try to go back to Supetar with a different taxi but it's best to stay with the same one, especially if you have a ferry to catch. (Ferries are every hour fifteen or longer.) Of course who knows who or what you'll meet that will keep you at Zlatni! It's a gorgeous place and there is a nudie part after all! (We joked that the two older ladies that came in our van missed the return because they found some grandpas!)
Once on the beach, you can lie out, eat at one of the concession stands or even catch a game at one of the beach bar TVs. The more remote you go along the beach, the closer you'll get to the nudie side. Unlike other nude beaches, this one isn't really hidden. You might be walking around and all of a sudden you stumble into that one bold person that's baking naked in the sun. As you continue to walk past them, that person becomes the majority.
This is where I recommend you do my number four experience and go for that nudie swim! Imagine being in a giant outdoor bathtub except the sun is shining on your face and you're floating in clear salt water. People might stare at you initially but then they look elsewhere...remember you're just one nudie of many!
We went to Zlatni for an afternoon but I highly recommend going for the morning so that you can rent one of the sunchairs. They go quick because it is a pebbly beach.
Even after reading about the palace and seeing pictures, you won't be prepared for the sheer size of it. It's so intact that you will feel transported in time rather than left imagining what some ancient ruins must have once been. For me, this palace is second in impressiveness only to the city of Dubrovnik. It's that good AND it's less crowded.
From 4th century AD, Diocletian's Palace was intended to be the retirement home of ONE emperor (and of course all his staff, protection and minions.) Today, the Palace is home to shops, bars and restaurants. It's worth exploring at least two times - once early in the morning before most tourists arrive and once in the evening so that you get the magical ambiance of soft glowly lights and live performers. Be sure to stop in the main square in the evening, before midnight, because there's usually live music and dancing! Have a drink and sit on one of the cushions from the sidelines or join in on the dance floor...don't be shy, we saw all ability levels out there during our stay!
Many know Hvar as the party island but it's also renowned for a rich history and stunning nearby beaches. Although our group did a day trip, I recommend staying at least one night because there's so much to explore! The main highlights are the Fortress at the top of the island (spectacular views), the city center, the promenade and the surrounding Palkeni Islands that you can easily reach by boat taxi from the Hvar town center.
The city center is filled with shops, restaurants and a gorgeous promenade. These are definitely worth a wander but can be done in the evening. Use the sunshine time instead to explore the nearby Pakleni islands. You can choose to go with an organized tour to get a taste for multiple islands or you can go independently to one or two specific islands with one of the taxi boats. These guys leave every 20 minutes or so (usually once they've filled up with enough customers.) You buy a return ticket and go at your leisure but beware that each boat does a specific route so realistically you can only do one route per day unless you go early or privately.
Each island has a different vibe. Some islands are more for families, some are for partying and some are for nudies. (Some can be for all three!) Ask the taxi boat drivers about what they offer and choose your vibe(s) for the day. Also be sure to get the return boat times so that you're not rushed...or stranded.
Plan for an evening return back to the Hvar city center. That should leave you just enough time to hike up to the Fortress for sunset or stroll around town before taking your boat back to Split. If you choose to stay over in Hvar and have the energy, you can cap off the night with one of the many island parties.
Hvar is a one hour boat ride from Split. (Make sure you take the speed boat and not the ferry!)
This activity should go under the Body section but it's just so enjoyable that I'm putting it in this special category of Play. It will take you back to a feeling of kiddie wonderment and awe.
I always try to do water sports when I travel because it gives you a great workout in a unique way. The Glow SUP tour was the exception because it was more than a workout, it was a full sensory experience. From the sights to the sounds, to that calming feeling you get while floating in water at night, it was all very mesmerising.
Your Glow SUP experience starts at sunset as you paddle out into the water of a deserted beach in the suburbs of Split. When night descends, the LED glow underneath your board gets brighter. As you paddle along the gentle ocean waves, small fish swim along with you (attracted to the glow of your board.) Soon it's just the glow of the board beneath you and of the stars above that light your way. The tour is two hours but it will fly by, leaving you feeling relaxed, inspired and, yes, slightly accomplished because it can still be a workout as you move against those currents and the wind!
The bonus? There's a giant inflatable obstacle course next to the beach that you can tackle at the end of your tour. It's not officially part of it but...I'm never going to pass the chance to master a floatie wipeout!
See my full review and details on the experience here.
From the people to the scenery, Croatia continually lived up to the hype. The only underwhelming part of my entire trip was the coffee. Unfortunately, that's quite a big thing because my morning ritual involves a nice cuppa no matter where I am in the world.
Now, I know a lot of the coffee in Croatia is made in the Turkish style and it isn't for everyone. It's very strong and it can taste burnt if done poorly. Well it seemed like it was always burnt for me! It got to the point that I was seriously considering giving up coffee for the trip...until I discovered 4Coffee Soul Food in Split.
4Coffee is a hole in the wall cafe (the wall being Diocletian's Palace but a wall nevertheless.) It's tiny with just enough space for a coffee bar and two stools. There aren't any hipster extras. People who come here are coming for the coffee and the coffee alone, which is made exceptionally well!
I'd religiously go here each morning, take my coffee to go and sip it on the steps outside the palace. It was the highlight to my mornings as a non-morning person...that's saying something! If you don't believe how good this place is, see my review and those of others here. We can't all be wrong ;)
(We didn't do an overnight in Hvar but all of us wish we had so I'm including it here.)
DAY 1 - Explore Split old town city center & pier
DAY 2- Morning workout and exploring in Marjan Hill, afternoon ferry to Hvar, explore one route of islands, stay overnight
DAY 3 - Explore more of Hvar and Islands, evening back to Split
DAY 4- Trip to Trogir and cooking class, evening Glow SUP tour
DAY 5- Trip to Zlatni Rat beach, return to Split and go on to next destination or head home
Wear what you would on a typical beach holiday but always have layers ready! It can go from rainy and slightly chilly to scorching hot within a few hours. People do tend to dress up at night but it's still mostly casual chic.
High season is end of June through August. If you can get the shoulder part of that (early June or September) you're better off for avoiding crowds, finding higher quality accommodation and still getting the good weather. October is also recommended by locals as the water can still be warm and most cruises and family trippers have already visited over the summer school holidays.
There's a variety of accommodation in Split at many price levels. Make sure to stay somewhere near the old town and not far from the ferries to help ease your days of exploring. Parking is a nightmare near old town and expensive if you go into a private garage so if you're traveling by car, arrange parking with your accommodation beforehand to avoid a lot of headdache!
Of all the places I visited during our Croatia trip, the food was consistently good in Split. There's also a lot of variety including vegan and vegetarian options. Just be sure to eat before midnight if you're staying near old town as many places close down the kitchens. This isn't a 24 hour foodie town (although you may find exceptions.)
The one meal that I suffered most with was breakfast. Every day I went out looking for breakfast that would consist of more than just cornflakes, bread or eggs. If you love your brekkie, do yourself a favor and make it yourself (many supermarkets are nearby) or get a local recommendation.
Most everyone that you will interact with at the shops, ferries, etc. will speak a decent level of English. Of course, it's always good to learn basic Croatian phrases as these seemed to be appreciated. (Pronunciation is a tough one though!!!)
If you've got questions about Split or Croatia, leave them in the comments or email me firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to help you get this one off the bucketlist!