Fancy a weekend of lazing in cool curbside cafés, browsing indepedent boutiques for fashion finds, or exploring Roman ruins?
Forget Florence and bump Berlin off the bucket list, and consider Split as a contender for the title of Europe’s hippest city. With a Unesco World Heritage Roman palace at the heart of the city, Split is Croatia’s second largest city, but it’s much more than a museum piece. The famously chic citizens of Split (the Splicani) are proud of their Roman roots and march to their own unique Mediterranean beat with a passion that you’ll find in everything from food to supporting local football team Hajduk Split.
Here are nine not-to-be-missed things to do in the Croatian capital:
1. Walk with ghosts
Enter 1,700-year-old Diocletian’s Palace through the Bronze Gate and stroll shoulder to shoulder with the ghosts of legionnaires who once called Dicoletian’s lavish palace home. It may be hundreds of years old, but this remarkable Roman ruin still bustles with cafés, bars and restaurants. Some 3,000 Splicani are even fortunate enough to live inside the sturdy ancient palace walls.
2. Relax on the Riva
This grand floodlit pedestrian thoroughfare that fronts Diocletian’s Palace is basically one giant catwalk, where the Splicani take their evening_ passeggiata _or early evening stroll. Slip on your designer shades, pull up a pew in a pavement café and get set for some serious people watching. St. Riva Café handily has an upper level where you can see without being seen.
3. Savour boat fresh seafood
Straight out of the Adriatic Sea, the fishermen’s catch on the menu in most restaurants is incredibly fresh. Get in the mood by joining local shoppers checking out the morning fish market on the western fringes of Diocletian’s Palace. Return here at night to dine on simple fried fish at Buffet Zlatna Ribica or take things up a notch next door at fine dining establishment, Nostromo. A heaving platter of white fish and shellfish is more than enough for two to share. Wash it down with superb local white wine, Posip.
4. Visit tombs and towers
Delve inside Diocletian’s tomb, found inside Split Cathedral, which is rather ironic, seeing as the Roman emperor was pretty fond of flinging Christians to the lions. Look out for images of both Diocletian and his wife Priscia here. The views from the belltower of St. Duje, a symbol of the city, are worth the visit and the climb. It was added long after the emperor’s death, so you’ll be seeing a sight that the emperor himself never got to enjoy.
5. Play picigin
Split is sport crazy, supporting their local football team with a passion, as well as inventing whole new games and team events for the world to try. One of those special sports is picigin. As far as we can work out there are few actual rules and little exciting gameplay. It’s more a thinly disguised opportunity for the local beach boys to impress the ladies as they writhe around in the water bashing a small ball and going all Top Gun – but 100% worth a try, either as a competitor or just a willing spectator.
Read more: Top 10 things to do in Croatia
6. Marvel at Meštrović’s magic
Ivan Meštrović was arguably Croatia’s finest ever sculptor. Head to the Meštrović Gallery, which is housed in the expansive villa and studio he built for himself. You’ll find here a wide range of his works, including early drawings and designs, through to the distinctive sculptures this twentieth century talent was renowned for.
7. Take it to the next level
Many visitors leave Split without even realising there is a second, much quieter, level to Diocletian’s Palace. Slip up the stairs behind the Roman Peristyle and ditch the guidebook and camera, before joining the cool local crowd at bohemian bar Ghetto. Alternatively, savour hearty Balkan grills as you literally look down on the other tourists from Konoba Dioklecijan next door.
8. Dash to Bačvice Bay
As evening draws in, Diocletian’s Palace starts to empty as a curb on noise kicks in to protect palace residents. Join the Splicani wandering behind the port to Bačvice Bay. Here a glut of cafés, bars and restaurants are lined up along the sands to tempt you. The delicious thin crust pizzas at Karaka are good enough to keep any visiting Neapolitans happy. Anything with prsut (Croatian dried ham) on it is a winner – sorry vegetarians!
9. Hop to an island
You’ll watch ferries manoeuvring in and out of Split throughout your stay, so make sure you actually get on one! They’ll take you to isles such as Brac, with the highest mountain on the Croatian isles, Hvar, with its chic island capital Hvar Town and rugged Vis, the most remote of Croatia’s 1,244 islands.