“Croatia has been glorious – it’s so beautiful, and I want to go back as often as I can.”Emilia Clarke
“I don’t want to have things anymore,” she said, “I want to go places and see things instead.”
It was hot and I’d bought an ice cream, scanning the Riva for a bench in the shade. I found one across from an elderly couple and almost immediately they started talking to me.
The woman asked me in heavily accented English if I’d bought my ice cream from a particular shop as they were meant to be the best. I couldn’t quite understand her but I nodded and smiled. The pair of them smiled back.
They’d emigrated from Chile to Canada years ago and now lived in the cold centre of that enormous country. Every year they escaped winter by returning to Chile but this year, she told me, she had always wanted to go to Croatia and so they came.
I heard about how much they enjoyed Zagreb and wish they’d had more time there. How they were staying just out of the city centre here in Split but their room was so lovely and so cheap, and the young man running it was so very helpful. How there was a hotel nearby with a breakfast buffet that was only eight euros and the room they served it in was so elegant. How they were here for six days and were off to an island next and had to catch the ferry there.
The old man told me they had a huge apple tree in their yard in Canada. A magic tree. Not much in the way of fruit grows there but this tree delivered baskets of apples every year. They’d juice them and make pies and give crates of the fruit away to friends.
We talked of Australia and my connection to Canada. How people in the two countries were similar and it was likely the Commonwealth influence.
Today was their wedding anniversary. They asked me to take a photo and I did, the pair of them posing with big smiles on their faces and the picturesque harbour in the background. I wish I’d captured them in motion, earlier when they were laughing as she discovered her husband had a piece of napkin stuck to his head.
When she said to me that she didn’t want more things, she wanted to see things instead, I nearly cried. I knew exactly what she meant. Don’t get me wrong, I like things too but I have made a decision to prioritise seeing things over having things. Things like a house or a fancy car or a hundred other lifestyle choices.
I don’t want to wait until I’m 80 to see things. I want to go when I’m able to enjoy them, to be strong and (relatively) young. To tick off lists of things I’ve only read about in books or seen on screens.
And so here I am now. Talking to this beautiful couple and seeing things.
(But to still be curious at 80 is a wonderful, wonderful thing.)
Where to stay.
Split isn’t as hilly as some other Croatian cities (cough Dubrovnik cough) but it’s still a veritable maze of cobbled streets and alleys. When I first arrived and walked from my hotel down to the Riva, I was slightly concerned I wasn’t going to be able to find my way back.
The Riva area is a really good starting point for booking accomodation – you want somewhere close to this as it’s the centre of the Old Town area and where all the action is. I stayed at the Divota Apartment Hotel, which is a lovely modern hotel and spa scattered around the north west corner of the Old Town area. I say scattered because the reception, rooms, and breakfast area are all in separate locations. The staff were just gorgeous though and will very helpfully walk you between buildings if you get lost (and you probably will get lost).
I thought this was an excellent hotel – very clean, bright and modern, well priced, in a safe area, and an easy walk to the Old Town/Riva. It’s also accessible by taxi, which becomes increasingly difficult the more you get into the older area. Techically you can walk to the port area, which also houses the bus terminal, from here but I thought it was a touch too hard with a suitcase and in the heat. If you were travelling light it’s absolutely do-able. Otherwise it’ll cost you about 10 Euro in a taxi.
Where to eat.
Coming into Split, I’d been horribly ill with food poisoning in Dubrovnik so my appetite wasn’t great. My energy levels were also pretty low so I knew I was going to have to try and get a decent meal into me so I’d be good to go for sightseeing the next day, especially in the heat.
With that in mind, rather that hunt down the local cuisine I decided to stick with tried and true on my first night and headed to Toto’s Burger Bar which is right on the water down the Marjan end of the Riva. Really good food, huge burgers, great chips and decently priced. Plus you can sit overlooking the water and make the most of Split’s gorgeous views.
The next day I went with a hotel breakfast and plenty of ice cream while walking around the Old Town. It was so bloody hot that I couldn’t really stomach the idea of anything else. For dinner I tried one of the restaurants lining the Riva – sure, they are a bit touristy but I just wanted to eat an easy meal with a pretty view. Have a walk along them before you make your choice as the prices vary quite a bit, as do the menus. I ended up having local fish and a huge beer to try and ward off the heat. This isn’t necessarily the cheapest option for dinner but I’d definitely do it at least one night.
What to see and do.
Split is a fairly small city and most of the main attractions are concentrated in one area, making it really easy to get around. The Riva is the main boardwalk area along the water and backs on to the Old Town. Along the Riva you’ll find plenty of restaurants, cafes and stores and it really comes to life at night with market stalls and glittering lights everywhere. It’s the most buzzy, populated and touristy part of Split. There’s also benches all along the waterfront so you can take a break, eat a meal in front of the view, or head there in late afternoon to catch one of Split’s glorious sunsets over the water. The Riva runs for maybe a kilometre so is infinitely walkable.
At one end you’ll find the Diocletian’s Palace which – rather than being a single castle building – is really a historical complex once you pass through the city gates. It’s open 24 hours so you can head in there whenever you choose and take your time looking around. The complex includes an array of ruins as well as restaurants and shops. The key areas to visit are the Peristyle (main square), each of the city gates (gold, silver, iron, brass), the Vestibule, and the Temple of Jupiter.
Possibly the main attraction within the Diocletian Palace is the Cathedral of Saint Dominus. Outside the cathedral is an open area where you can sit and relax, there’s often music playing here and restaurants nearby will bring you a drink to enjoy. While it is free to enter the Palace complex, there is a small fee to enter the Cathedral and it’s definitely worth it. You get to have a good look around a number of buildings including the Mausoleum and can also go up inside the Bell Tower for amazing views over the city. Massive disclaimer: I paid to go up the Bell Tower but chickened out after the first level. The building is old and the steps are narrow and heights petrify me.
If you’re a scaredy cat like me, the other spot to get an incredible view of Split is from Marjan Hill. Marjan is a national park area to the west of the city. You can walk a lap of the park over a couple of hours or climb to the lookout/restaurant in about 15 minutes or so. (You can imagine which I chose.) The climb is not especially steep and is well maintained stairs for most of the way. The access point is down the far western end of the Riva and it’s decently signposted so if you stroll down there, you shouldn’t get lost. I came up close to sunset so got some really amazing views, though it does get packed around that time.
Where to shop.
To be honest, I really didn’t do any shopping in Split. That said, I did discover a store called BIPA which is like Priceline, Walgreens and Boots all rolled into one and made Croatian. It has a huge array of skincare, toiletries and cosmetics all at very decent prices. I ended up buying a few random things in there like shower gels and if this is your kind of jam, then I definitely recommend you head in. There’s a massive store just metres from the water down the western end of the Riva and you can’t miss it’s bright pink paint trim.
Split: a snapshot.
How long should I stay: I had a day and a half there and don’t feel like I needed any more. Unless you’re looking to head out to the islands or do any day trips, you don’t need more than two full days in the city.
Getting around: I walked everywhere in Split, with the exception of getting a taxi to the port/bus depot because I was sick/tired/hot. I caught a bus into Split from Dubrovnik and a flight out to Prague, with both leaving and arriving at the same location. There’s an airport shuttle which I just paid for a ticket for at the depot, no pre-booking.
When to go: I was there in late September and it was still pretty hot. Split isn’t really a cold weather town though; all of it’s attraction is for beautiful sunny weather. For that reason I’d stick with summer or late spring/early autumn.
Key places for first timers: Diocleatian’s Palace, the Riva area, Marjan Hill.
Underrated gem: Definitely do the climb up to Marjan. Surprisingly, I didn’t see it rated too highly in travel guides before I left but it gave me the absolute best views over Split and a nice step out of the crowded city area.
If I could only eat at one place: At least have one meal down by the water along the Riva. Yeah it’s touristy but it’s a nice experience to have.
Best photo opportunities: Sunset along the Riva, Marjan Hill, the Bell Tower within the Diocletian’s Palace.