Split had been a favorite of my boys and mine on that first visit to Croatia 13 years ago, and I was excited to return with David. It’s a fascinating place: a medieval city built into and incorporating the ruins of Roman emperor Diocletian’s palace. Happily, Split proved to be one of those places that’s just as good the second time around.
As with Dubrovnik, tourism has boomed in Split in recent years and cruise ships periodically dump large crowds on the city, but Split managed to retain the charm I remembered in spite of it all. It’s popular with Croatians from surrounding areas as well and the cafés were filled on sunny weekend days. We ran into our young guide from the Winery Miloš with a girlfriend one evening and caught up with the status of the wine competition in the US. There’s always a kick to actually recognizing a familiar face in a foreign city.
Simply wandering the streets or the waterfront, enjoying a drink or a meal in one of the many cafés or restaurants constitute some of the greatest pleasures of Split. There aren’t a lot of paid must-see destinations in the old city. It’s more a matter of taking in the atmosphere and the most beautiful sights are free. The peristyle of Diocletian’s palace is magnificent and there for anyone to see, and you can wander for free among the vendor’s counters in the dark, cool cellar of the old palace. Likewise, the harbor front is open to everyone. There’s a fee to get into the church and crypt by the peristyle, but I was honestly underwhelmed. There’s a separate 20 Kuna charge to climb the bell tower and a fee to view some of the preserved ruins inside the cellar, neither of which tempted us.
Another free outing, open to anyone who likes a hike is Marjan Park (“MAR-yan”) which occupies a large hill on a peninsula west of the city. The steps to access the park from the city begin off Marasovica ulica. There’s also an old Jewish cemetery in the park, old churches built into the hill and a zoo (not free). David and I spent hours walking the many steps to the top of the hill where a large cross perches high above the city then wandering footpaths down the other side. The terrace there offers spectacular views of water on three sides and the city. Continuing on small paths through the pine forest on the far side of the hill, we explore an old stone hut where I nearly stepped on a snake. Finally making it to the foot of the far side of the hill, we walked back to our left (west and then south) along the water. Unfortunately, the map we’d brought from our apartment didn’t show topography, so the restaurants we’d hope to stop at for lunch were on a beach far below the road we found ourselves on. It was a long hike back to Split proper and, while we enjoyed it, we were tired and very hungry by the time we made it back. (There were a bus stop or two, but none seemed to be running.)
April 15-17, 2016