Reasons we love Split. And why it is the perfect base for an extended stay in Croatia.

Reasons we love Split. And why it is the perfect base for an extended stay in Croatia 875

Our 2 month stay in Split has been the highlight of our first year of travel. For slow travellers like us, it has been a perfect base.

This post recounts our stay in Split and covers all our favorite things about the city: sights and activities, our favorite restaurants, and a few stories of the people we met along the way. I’ve included lots of photos to show you what a special place Split is.

We arrived in Split on Easter weekend. The 1st  thing that hits you as a first-time visitor to this region is the rugged topography. A bare, impenetrable mountain range skirts the coast, ranging from Northern Dalmatia down to Dubrovnik and across the border into Montenegro. It is some of the most dramatic scenery you will see anywhere.

views and split and snow covered mountains, CroatiaAbove: It was actually pretty cold when we arrived in Split on April 3rd. Look at the snow on the mountains!

The 2nd thing we noticed were the laid-back people. After the constant hustling and scamming of taxis in the Czech Republic and Thailand, I was a bit aggressive with the taxi driver when asking him how much it would cost to get to the city from the airport. The middle-aged man just kind of shrugged and said “meter, maybe about 40 Euro”. Oh, ok, a meter.
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I’ll write more later about our fabulous Airbnb host. For now I just want to recount the story of our arrival. Vedran met us at our meeting point. He looks a bit rough and we weren’t sure at first if he was friendly. He brought us to the apartment where ‘Mama’ was waiting for us. A beautiful, warm lady, she had cooked us an Easter meal of fish and potatoes. She had also bought us an Easter cake. In the fridge was a large bottle of beer. We talked with them for 15 minutes, sitting at their kitchen table. After a year of staying in various Airbnb apartments, it was the warmest reception anyone had given us. The food and beer ended up being a blessing – because nothing was open Good Friday. Absolutely nothing. We found out that Croatians take their religious holidays seriously.

 

Atmosphere and Highlights

What makes Split special is that it is a real, functioning city within the boundaries of what was a palace. I’ve covered Diocletian’s Palace in great detail here. While there are other Unesco World Heritage sites in Croatia, Split’s has the largest urban center and is the only one that doesn’t feel like a ‘tourist’ town. You can sit at a square and have a beer along with locals, find grocery stores within the palace walls, and still encounter cafes and restaurants where the majority of the clientele are locals and not tourists. I got a haircut at a small place within the palace that only cost me $8. Things are changing, Split has become more touristy in recent years. But for the most part you can still wander around town and find everyday stuff you need. It’s not Dubrovnik where every establishment is either a souvenir shop, brand name designer store, restaurant or gelato stand.

Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia.
The thing with Split is that even when you’ve seen all the sights of the palace, it is an enjoyable place to walk around, have a coffee or beer on a square, or to just sit on the Riva watching all the people action.

Below: A few photos from the Riva

restaurants along the riva, Split, Croatia

Riva, or promenade, in Split, Croatia

Ok, what else is there to do in Split after you’ve explored Diocletian’s Palace (including the bell tower) and the rest of the old town?

Visit Marjan Hill. The lookout is a 10-15 minute walk up depending on what kind of shape you’re in. Come here to get the best views of the city. Marjan Hill is the “green lung” of the city and a great place to come for a walk and/or jog.

Below: the lookout on Marjan Hill.

lookout on Marjan Hill, Split

views from Marjan Hill

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– Walk around the harbor (not in the direction of the large boats, the other way) towards Sustipan Park at the promontory of the harbor. It’s a nice walk and when you get to Sustipan Park you’ll be looking right out at the sea. A very pretty spot with cypress trees, benches, monuments and a tiny old church. Looking towards the city you’ll see all the boats in the harbor and have some great views of the palace and bell tower.

sustipan park views over Split, Croatia

views of Split, Croatia.

– In the same direction as Sustipan Park but just a little further is the Ivan Meštrović Gallery. Meštrović was one of the greatest sculptors in the world and he built his family home/working studio in Split on a spot overlooking the sea. It’s a beautiful building and he has some phenomenal pieces on display (you’ll see his work all over Croatia). Our guide didn’t say many good things about the museums in Split – but said that the Meštrović Gallery is a definite ‘must see’.

Ivan Meštrović Gallery

– The other museum worth seeing is the City Museum in the palace walls. Lots of history in a beautiful building.

City Museum, Split, Croatia.Above: On the map, you can see the extent of the Roman Empire during the time of Diocletian (244 – 313 AD)

The above may not seem like a lot of things to do. A tourist rushing through can see all of the above in a couple of days. As slow travellers who also work while travelling, we feel that we ‘lived’ in Split. We made Split home, frequenting the cafes and bars and discovering a few restaurants that became favorites (further below). Split also became an excellent base to explore nearby attractions (Trogir, Omiš, Mount Mosor) as well as some further away (Dubrovnik, Mostar, Kotor). In fact we missed a lot of places that are within easy reach of Split, historical sites such as Klis Fortress and Salona as well as all the nearby islands of Hvar, Brač, and Vis. I can’t believe we spent 2 months in Croatia without seeing any of the islands or once stepping on a ferry. All reasons to come back to Split. My point is that there is lots to see in the Split area.

 

Restaurants in Split

Croatian food, when done right, is just fabulous. If you’re sick of Central European meat and potatoes you’ll find yourself in heaven on the Croatian Coast. Fresh fish, scampi, squid, oysters, octopus and mussels. Zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, and all kind of peas and beans. You can get fantastic risotto. You’ll also find pasta and pizza everywhere.

We came across a couple of fantastic restaurants in Split which I’ll list here. We also came across many mediocre restaurants as well as a couple that were just plain bad.

Two great restaurants where you can’t go wrong:

1) Konoba Matejuska.

Our favorite and it happened to be about a 1 minute walk from our front door. Below is the food from our first visit. The 2nd time coming here I had a tuna steak, something I’ve never liked anywhere else. Fantastic. Lissette had an incredible black squid risotto.

Konoba Matejuska, Split, Croatia

 

2) Konoba Marjan.

Right next to Konoba Matejuska. Food equally good, which means fantastic. Konoba Matejuska edges out Konoba Marjan by a fraction just because of a cozier ambiance and friendlier service.

We found the quality dropped off sharply after these 2 restaurants. Konoba Sperun and Konoba Korta were mediocre. Buffet Fife, which everyone tells you is great (and which was packed with tourists when we came) was a horrible eating experience with the worst service in Split.

Konoba-Marjan-Split

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People

People are what make a place special. I mentioned Vedran, our Airbnb host. Besides the great reception on arrival, he helped us out when our hard drive was down (a friend of his had it replaced within 24 hours), his Mama baked Lissette a birthday cake (and bought her a bottle of wine), and he invited me on a hike up Mount Mosor with his best friend Goran. He even accompanied me on the hike to the Starigrad in Omiš. It didn’t end there; on our last weekend we all went drinking, Lissette included, until the early hours of the morning.

Below: Lissette’s cake and wine, Goran showing off his tiny Filipino phone, eating beans with Vedran and Goran.

airbnb friends in Split, Croatia

We’ve met some great people on Airbnb but nobody has gone above and beyond like Vedran did. When saying goodbye on the last day, he gave us a little mascot to take with us on our travels. You’ll see him from time to time on our photos. We’re thinking of calling him “Crazy Bastard”. That seems to be what everyone calls Vedran. So we’re bringing a little bit of Split with us on our travels 🙂 .

Below: Crazy Bastard in Ljubljana, Slovenia

little bastard in ljubjana

Vedran’s Airbnb apartment.

Generally speaking, people in Split weren’t instantly friendly. But a couple of times at the local grocery store, or Laundromat, or at a favorite café, bar or restaurant and we would make friends. We found people very relaxed and easygoing.  We’ll miss the people of Split.

 

So why did we love Split? It was a bit of everything above. Lissette says it’s ‘Kismet’; everything coming together perfectly at the right time in the right place. With the right people. For Lissette it is often about the people. She fell in love with ‘Mama’ from the first day and it opened her heart to Split. It is often about the vibe for Lissette and for her Split has a special vibe. For me it was several things. The landscapes are stunning and different than anywhere I’d ever been. I love the hiking here. If I lived in Split I’d be a regular in the mountains. I love the food. And the people. Travelling as we have I haven’t made many friends over the past year so meeting Vedran and Goran and doing manly stuff like hiking, drinking, and eating beans and sausages were things that stick out for me. We both love Split 🙂

 

Have you been to Split? What did you think of it? Have you been to a place (for an extended period of time) that you fell in love with? 

 

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Comments

  1. What a nice way to wind down before heading to Canada! Your host sounds wonderful, and the views look amazing! What’s not to like indeed. I look forward to visiting this place at some point, probably right down to the airbnb apartment . Nice post. Do you think you guys would come back to Eastern Europe?
    Kemkem recently posted…Marrakesh, as exotic as you picture it – go visit! Post & PodcastMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Kemkem. We will definitely be back in the region. We want to explore more of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro. And we want to see Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania as well.
      Maybe we can meet up sometime in the future!

  2. thanks for the always interesting travel articles! re yr article switzerland/lauterbrunnen, just one small remark: you write about the bernese oberland to be situated in central switzerland. in switzerland, however, central switzerland are the counties uri/schwyz/unter/obwalden/lucerne. and as to yr comment on yr geneva dining experience etc: i’d be surprised if yr host was swiss. because in switzerland rich people, meaning old money, don’t show off. this is considered very low class! the newly rich do that!

    wish you lots more of good moments abroad

    ps have you ever visited porto portugal. that’s one of europe’s gems!

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Evina.
      Berner Oberland – looking at the map it is right, smack in the middle of the country! I’m sure you’re technically right about the cantons, but I’ll still stick to my assertion that it is geographically located in central Switzerland 🙂
      Geneva – Interesting what you say about old money vs new money. You are right – he is rich but it is new money. And having known him in further detail after having written that post, I would say you are 100% correct about him being low class. Interesting, you are the first person to comment on that post. Appreciate the feedback.

      Would love to see Portugal. Went over 20 years ago to Lisbon and the Algarve. But have never been to Porto. I’m sure we’ll make it there in the next year or two, thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Wonderful. I particularly enjoyed reading about the people. Maybe I’m somewhat like Lissette in the way you say she is affected by the locals and the vibe.

    Are you going to get sick of responding to all this feedback you are getting Frank?

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I’m never sick of responding to feedback- I’d get discouraged if nobody was reading! I enjoy the dialogue, hearing other people’s stories, even opposing views. We’ve even had some really good recommendations from readers that we would never have known about otherwise. So always appreciate feedback.

      • Chance Schroeder says:

        I dont know how I stumbled upon your articles/blog/whatever this is called, lol, but I am loving it. We are heading to Croatia in the Fall for the first time, and I am very curious about the airbnb you stayed at. We have never stayed at one, and are unfamiliar with the experience.
        Can you give me the contact information for the one you stayed at, and pleaseeeeeeeeeee keep posting!!!
        Thank you,
        Chance

  4. Great post! We considered Split during our RTW trip (we just got back from the 9 month trip) but, ultimately, went with Sicily, particularly Cefalu. Cefalu in March was so lovely – it was a wonderful place to be. Split is top of our list now of places to go next! Thanks for your post!

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Great comment – Cefalu in Sicily? I was wondering how comfortable southern Italy would be in March. Good to know, Sicily a place we’ve been curious about. I’ll make sure to check out your blog.
      Happy I could help out with Split 🙂

  5. Frank, We only have spent one day in Split and felt it was really overrun with tourists, mostly off of the cruise boats. Even though we thought the city was pretty, it was not a place we wished to spend more time, so it’s great that you’ve really delved into all things great and good about the city.
    Corinne recently posted…Ride of the Kings VlčnovMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Corinne. What a shame – yes, it can happen in the summer and especially on weekends it gets busy. When we arrived in April we really had the city to ourselves, it was great. We noticed that first week of May the tourists started arriving and the old town could get quite busy. I can only imagine July and August – I’ve been told that its really packed. Honestly, they’re the worst months because on top of all the tourists you have intense heat. And then there’s the cruise ships…
      Europe in the summer months can be a bummer. We don’t like crowds at all and going forward we’ll be visiting Europe in the shoulder seasons. Best time to go.

  6. I was wondering what could be a good base in Croatia. Thank you for recommending Split. Seems like a beautiful place. The perfect location to begin the exploration of the country.
    Laura recently posted…3 Destinations to Fly to from Scotland’s CapitalMy Profile

  7. We stayed in Split for three days before visiting Vis and Hvar. We rode bikes around Marjan Hill and swam off the Peninsula, went to Split film festival (heard about that from our Airbnb host) and ate icecream. Loved the place.
    budget jan recently posted…The Church on the hill in Trebinje BiHMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Great! It’s terrible – but we missed the islands on our last visit. Planning to go back this year though and exploring all of them.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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