Metropolitan Split is by no means a typical Dalmatian town. Croatia’s second-largest city, it is more a cultural center than a beach resort, boasting a wider variety of activities and nightlife than any of its neighbors. Stari Grad, wedged between a high mountain range and a palm-lined waterfront, is framed by the luxurious palace where Roman emperor Diocletian spent his summers. In the seventh century, the local Illyrian population fled to the palace to escape marauding Slavs, built a town, and incorporated the walls and arches of the palace into their houses and public squares. The result is a UNESCO-protected city with some of Europe’s most puzzling and interesting architecture.
The train and bus stations lie on Obala Kneza Domagoja across from Gat. Sv. Petra, where the ferries arrive. With your back to the stations, follow Obala Kneza Domagoja, often referred to as Riva, to the right along the water until it runs into Obala hrvatskog narodnog preporoda, which runs roughly east to west. Behind this boulevard, opposite the water, lies Stari Grad (Old Town), centered on the main square, Narodni trg, and packed inside the walls of Diocletian’s Palace. To reach Stari Grad from the local bus station, go right on Domovinskog Rata, which becomes Livanjska and then Zagrebacka. Go right on Kralja Zvonimira at the end of Zagrebacka and follow it to the harbor.
With its rich history and rocking nightlife, the coastal city of Split is more a cultural center than a beach resort. Here, centuries of history collide with modern life, making the city a fascinating labyrinth of perfectly preserved Roman monuments, medieval streets, and hip bars.
The second-largest city in Croatia, Split offers plenty of sights to see. Here are our top picks. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
Croatian cuisine is defined by the country’s varied geography. In continental Croatia and to the east of Zagreb, heavy meals featuring meat and creamy sauces dominate. Also popular are burek, a layered pie made with meat or cheese, and the spicy Slavonian kulen, considered one of the world’s best sausages. Paticada (slow-cooked meat) is also excellent. On the coast, textures and flavors change with the presence of seafood and Italian influence. Don’t miss out on lignje (squid) or Dalmatinski prut (Dalmatian smoked ham). If your budget does not allow for such treats, slane sardele (salted sardines) are a tasty substitute. Vegetarian and kosher eating options can be difficult to find in Croatia, albeit not impossible. In both cases, pizza and bakeries are safe and ubiquitous options. Mix red wine with tap water to make the popular bevanda, and white wine with carbonated water to get gemišt. Karlovačko and Ožujsko are the two most popular beers.
Bacvlce is where all the clubs are – tons of bars and clubs sit side by side and play all types of music in a two-story complex. Head away from Stari Grad, past the bus and train stations, and continue left along the water (after crossing the bridge over the train tracks) and down the hill; just follow the crowds and the noise. In Stari Grad, the popular bars for young people are just off Trg Brace Radic. Head toward the Slavija Hotel and continue up the stairs to find bar after bar of local hipsters.
There are many cinemas throughout the city. In early may, Split honors its patron saint, St. Domnius, with festivities in Stari Grad, which includes Dalmatian klapa singers, folk dancing, and a lot of bingo. From mid-July to mid-August, Split hosts an annual Summer Festival. The region’s best artists and international guests perform ballets, operas, plays, and classical concerts in the town’s churches and ruins.
Croatian texts first emerged during the 9th century, but for the next 600 years, literature consisted almost entirely of translations from other European languages. Because Dubrovnik was the only independent part of Croatia after 1102, it produced literature that had a lasting impact on Croatian culture. But the city’ devastation by an earthquake in 1667, the nexus of Croatia’s literature shifted north. The 16th century dramatist Martin Drzic and the 17th century poet Ivan Gundulic turned to Italy for literary models. During Austrian and Hungarian repressions of the Croatian language in the 19th century, Ljudevit Gaj led the movement to reform and codify the Croatian vernacular. August Senoa, Croatia’s dominant 19th century literary figure, played a key part in the formation of a literary public. Croatian prose sparkled in the 20th century. Dubravka Ugresic’s personal, reflective novels, which discuss nostalgia and the revision of history, have become instant bestsellers. The novelist Slavenka Drakulic is popular abroad.
Croats has a vibrant music scene featuring folk and contemporary styles, as well as unique hybrids of the two, such as the Turbo-Folk genre, which gained popularity in the 1990s and drew controversy for its nationalistics and sexualized content. Pop singers like Miso Kovak and rock groups like Prijavo Kazaliste have enjoyed longstanding popularity. Other performers include Tony Cetinski in the pop genre, rapper Edo Maajka, and surf-rockers The Bambi Molesters.
Characterized by the rejection of conventional and “civilized” depictions, native art presides as the most popular painting style. This movement begun with Krsto Hegedusic (1901-71), is highly influenced by folk traditions. It eliminates perspective and uses only vivid colors. Croatia ‘s most famous modern sculptor and architect, Ivan Mestrovic, has achieved fame outside Croatia. His wooden religious sculptures can be seen in London’s Tate Gallery and New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as in squares throughout his homeland. Vinko Bresan is Croatia’s most prominent contemporary filmmaker.
If you wear shorts and sandals, you’ll stick out as a tourist in the cities but will blend in along the coast. Though southern Croatia tends to be beach-oriented remember that this land of skin and shorts is also devoutly Catholic. In cathedrals, wear long pants or skirts and closed-toed shoes. Croats have few qualms about drinking and smoking, but abstain in buses, trains, and other marked places. Maintain eye contact when clinking glasses or face seven years of bad luck. Tipping is not expected, although it is appropriate to round up when paying; in some cases, the establishment will do it for you – check your change. Fancy restaurants often add a hefty service charge. Bargaining is reserved for informal transactions, such as hiring a boat for a day or renting a private room directly from an owner. Posted prices should usually be followed.