Inside the fortified walls of an ancient Roman palace, the city of Split has grown organically amongst the ruins. The white stone buildings with peaked orange roofs are arranged along a small labyrinth of narrow car-free lanes. But the charming and tranquil downtown is only one part of Croatia's second largest city. With a beautiful waterfront and a captivating history, the city offers an Adriatic escape full of sun, seafood, and Croatian culture.
Here's how to spend 48 hours on your next holiday to Split:
A Palace fit for an Emperor
At the city's very core lies the ruins of Diocletian's Palace - a UNESCO world heritage site which was built by a Roman emperor. The charming modern day town has squeezed itself in among the columns and temples which date back more than 1,700 years. The stone walls of the fortified palace are now home to coffee shops, boutiques and a celebrated Cathedral. It is possible to wander between the four original walls - each of which has a gate at its centre. The "palace" was intended half as a residence and half as a military garrison, so while there is no single palatial hall to visit, a walk through the Roman site gives a glimpse at the city's imperial past.
Climbing the Cathedral
As lovely as it is to meander through Split's narrow lanes, the city's layout and typical Dalmatian coast architecture is best seen from above. The highest vantage point within the historic walls is the cathedral bell tower. Climb the 188 steps of the belfry for sweeping views of quaint rooftops which stretch down to the water's edge.
Sea and sand
After exploring the center, it is hard to resist the glimmering harbor that lies just beyond the walls. There are several beaches to the southwest - none too far from your Split hotel - but Bačvice is Split's most popular seaside stop for good reason: it is the only sandy beach in the area. When not lounging on the shore, beachgoers jump in the water for a round of picigin. The aim of the Croatian game, which was invented on Bačvice beach, is to hit a small ball back and forth in the shallow sea without ever allowing it to touch the water.
Drinks on the Riva
Wind down the day of sightseeing and sun tanning with an evening along Split's dynamic waterfront. Known as the Riva, the large promenade is filled with umbrella covered cafes serving drinks and classic Croatian food. The outdoor tables offer a perfect vantage point for people watching and basking in the glow of the sunset.
Start the day with a stroll through Split's famous fresh market called Pazar. Buzzing with local shoppers, the market specializes in produce (with the occasional souvenir stand thrown in). The stalls can be found outside the city's so-called Silver Gate, on the edge of the historic center. After perusing the green grocer stands, trek across the lovely historic center to pop into Split's popular fish market on the western side of the city. Be prepared to bargain in both markets as you stock up on fresh Adriatic goods.
Modern art watching
Following morning in the ancient downtown, indulge in more modern aesthetics at the Meštrović Gallery. The modern art museum sits just outside Split's stone walls and is dedicated to the work of Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović. The artist intended to use what is now the gallery space as a personal residence and his home offers gorgeous views of the sparkling Dalmatian Coast.
Explore Marjan Hill
The cozy city centre is Split's most famous feature, but locals know to head up Marjan Hill when they need to escape the lively streets. In addition to the Meštrović Gallery and several historic churches built into the cliffside, Marjan Hill is filled with forest trails. Dense with cactus and pines, the green area which sits to the west of the city is a beloved nature reserve. Round off a busy weekend in Split with fresh air and island views by hiring a bike to explore the tree-lined slopes and small neighborhoods that dot the peninsula.
Have you been to Split? What would you add to the itinerary?