We planned a Croatia itinerary to work our way down the Dalmatian coast, starting in Split and ending in Dubrovnik. We flew into Split which required two connections and 18 hours of total travel time from Houston. In Split, we chose an Airbnb accommodation located right outside of Diocletian’s Palace walls, the owner told us it has been in the family for many generations and we appreciated the historic charm in addition to the prime location. We wasted no time, dropping our luggage and setting out to see the town.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia and is home to the impressive, UNESCO world heritage site, Diocletian’s Palace. The palace, constructed in the 4th century by Roman Emperor, Diocletian, is a labyrinth of bars, restaurants and shops. No cars are allowed within the palace walls and it can be challenging to get around with many, narrow, alley-like passageways and few, small, directional signs. The palace gets very crowded with many tourists coming in from cruise ships and yachts during the day, though the mornings are wonderfully quiet and empty. The preserved limestone and marble structures make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, though the cheesy, costumed “guards” set up for photos at the city gate do not.
We loved wandering the old town and found ourselves mostly dining within the palace walls because of the charm; though, to be honest, we never had any great food within the palace. Mazzgoon is a restaurant that has a great little alley seating area which is partially covered by an archway; we grabbed a table here one rainy afternoon to sip some beers. This location must be marked as a photo-op spot because family after family showed up to take their portraits on the staircase beside us; it is a very cool spot. We liked this establishment so much that we came back to try their cocktail bar and dinner which were good. They were very accommodating as we made friends with the table next to us and chatted until long after closing time, but they never kicked us out. Other restaurants we tried within the palace were Diocletian’s Wine House which has a beautiful interior and awesome patio, they also have a hotel above which would be interesting to check out. We tried some oysters and a sampler of anchovies, prosciutto, cheese, prawns, etc. We found Dalmatian prosciutto to be very good on multiple occasions, the cheese not so much. We really appreciated the waitress’s wine suggestions at Diocletian’s Wine House, we tried a few different Croatian whites and enjoyed all of them. We read good things about the olive oil tasting at Uje, while this chain establishment can be found throughout Croatia, we decided to try it while in Split since we had a rainy afternoon to kill. We would not recommend the Uje tasting as it was unorganized and not very informative, though we did make some fun, German friends at our table. Apetit is the first restaurant we visited in the palace and, again, loved the interior, found the waitstaff helpful, but weren’t very impressed with the food. Paradox wine bar has an upstairs terrace with some pretty good views during daylight hours, maybe come for a bottle of wine at sunset, but skip the Croatian cheeses.
Our biggest food recommendation for Split would be to get out of the old town, take a walk down Bacvice Beach, spare a few minutes to watch the Picigin players (hands only hacky-sack-type game invented on this very beach in Split), but do not eat at the beachside bars here. Keep walking around the beach’s promenade to where there are old locals competing in daily chess tournaments and take the steps back up the cliffside and across the park to Dvor. Do NOT miss Dvor while in Split, this was by far the best meal we had; Amanda even proclaimed it a suitable “final meal” of a lifetime. Make sure to arrive early enough to catch sunset at this cliffside eatery, it is a very special experience and the views are amazing. We had our favorite wine of the trip, a surprising red blend from a vineyard called Zure in the Lumbarda region. Ryan had the pork belly which was good but would recommend going with seafood here. The crispy skin seabass and chard were out of this world phenomenal and the Belgian chocolate terine was one of the best desserts we’ve ever had – must love chocolate. The waitstaff was very attentive and helpful, we cannot recommend Dvor enough.
Along the harbor outside the old town, Split’s Riva promenade is one of the best spots in town for people watching, and there are plenty of waterfront restaurants to choose as your post in this prime location. We enjoyed the breakfast options at Olive Tree and Brasserie on 7 (beware of the two-tier breakfast, literally two full plates of food), we also read really good things about Brasserie’s dinner options and would’ve loved to spend an evening in this spot if time had allowed. Heading west from Riva, toward Marjan peninsula, there is a long, boardwalk type stretch which was packed with yachts and superyachts during our stay. This is a wonderful stroll as the views of Riva and the old town get better and better as you continue down the pier, plus it’s fun to check out the docked boats and make up stories about who’s aboard the superyachts.
If you head up Marjan Hill, there is a little restaurant/bar and viewpoint which is not too difficult to get to and worth the views over the old town from a slight elevation. We wandered up here one evening, we did not get any food or drink (there are terraces for viewing which are not affiliated with the restaurant), we just enjoyed the view as the sun set. Speaking of Marjan Hill though, we did spend a full day hiking around the park and absolutely loved it, this was one of the best days of our trip! The peninsula has beaches, hike and bike trails, a “summit” of sorts with a Croatian flag proudly marking the highest point, an old church built into the cliff face, a variety of vegetation and more. Our Airbnb host told us about a “secret beach” where he loves to swim and marked its location on our map, we went to the spot and climbed down the steep hillside to find large boulders and jagged rocks. There was one person down here already, he jumped in then laid out on a large flat rock, but we found the water to be a little too rough and not optimal footing with moss and small mollusks attached to all the rocks. There is a large, popular, rocky beach called Kasjuni Beach on the south side of the peninsula which was quite crowded and had full sun exposure, we opted to head around the north side of the peninsula in search of calmer water and shade. We had our sights set on Bene Beach, but followed a cut in the trees down to the shore about a half mile west of the designated beach. Here we found a great, private spot to set up in the shade and wade into the clear blue water! The Dalmatian coast has the absolute clearest, bluest water we have ever seen, it is a total dream.
We left our little “beach” spot and continue on toward Bene Beach where we grabbed some food and drinks at the restaurant, Benedikt. This is the only food option on the peninsula and it really isn’t very good, so if you have the forethought to pack snacks/drinks then I wouldn’t even bother with Benedikt, though we did enjoy watching the families and groups out on this sunny day. As we headed back to the old town along the north side of the peninsula, we realized that this really is the more optimal side for sitting and relaxing. There is more shade from tree cover and more spots to gradually wade into the water, which is also calmer on this side. Of note, there are water fountains all over the island so bring a bottle to fill up and keep hydrated; even though the temperature showed 70s-80s throughout the trip, the sun felt hotter and the humidity kept us sweating buckets.
We arrived in Split Saturday afternoon and departed Tuesday morning on a ferry bound for Korčula, effectively 2.5 days exploring the city. We are content with the amount of time that we allotted for in this city. Though with more time or a more aggressive itinerary, we might have climbed the Bell Tower at the Cathedral of St. Domnius (the few times we passed by during open hours it was just too crowded), and we could have spent more time at Bacvice Beach to intermingle with locals and try out Picigin for ourselves. Also, if you are interested in the show Game of Thrones, there are plenty of GoT tours in Split (as there are in many areas of the country) since plenty of scenes were shot in and around this city.