Lydia Swinsoce discovers stunning scenery and a vibrant food scene in Croatia’s second city
Once Eastern Europe’s best-kept secret, Croatia is now a firm holiday favourite. But while most people follow the crowds to the beautiful island of Hvar or the charming city of Dubrovnik, those in the know are heading to Split, Croatia’s second largest city, heaving with restaurants, bars and ancient sites.
What to do in Split
More a sprawling labyrinth than a palace, Diocletian’s Palace is a marvel even if you’re not into ancient architecture. Built by Roman emperor Diocletian in the 4th century, it forms roughly half of Split’s Old Town and is so perfectly preserved it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status in 1979.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan you’ll love it even more, as it was used as a location in the fourth season.
Marjan Forest Park
When you’ve seen enough of the palace, take a walk through coastal Marjan Forest Park, stopping along the way at little pebble beaches or jumping straight into the water from the rocks.
There are also great views of the city from the top of Marjan Hill. Head back down for a cool drink and a people-watch at one of the many bars on the pedestrian-only Riva.
Take a SUP tour
A brilliant way to explore the coastline around Marjan Park is by stand-up paddleboard, with opportunities to swim in little natural bays along the route. Book an outing with a local operator such as Given2Fly Adventures – their sunset SUP tour is particularly beautiful.
Explore the nearby islands
If you’re in Split for more than a few days, you should get out on the water and visit the surrounding islands. Brac is home to the highest mountain in the Adriatic and maybe the prettiest beach, Zlatni Rat. Vis, the setting for Mamma Mia 2, is also well worth a visit.
Split’s best restaurants
Split really is a mecca for foodies, and a day spent sampling the finest restaurants the city has to offer is a day well spent indeed. These are our favourite places to try…
Ignore the brash graffiti-covered bar and settle in for a leisurely lunch at this wonderful restaurant where the staff are super attentive and the food is sensational. Meat-lovers should try the Pasticada, beef cooked in brandy and red wine and served with Roman gnocchi. And your luck is in if the pumpkin and mussel risotto is on the specials board – don’t miss it.
Lunch comes with a side of social enterprise, too; there’s also the option to add a ‘meal for the needy’ to your bill for just 40 kuna (around £5).
Croatia’s weather lends itself to long lunches overlooking the sea. The only place to do this is at Dvor, above Firule Beach. The location is so beautiful you’ll want to stay forever. Try the sea bass tartare or pork belly with a glass of crisp white wine.
Vegan-friendly takeaway hotspot Daddy Cool is the perfect place to refuel during a walking tour of the city – the shrimp falafel comes recommended.
If you love seafood, Konoba Marjan is the place to head – the homemade pasta with truffle, prawns and pancetta is to die for.
If you spy a food truck on the side of a road, don’t miss trying a kebab called cevapcici; it’s mini pieces of grilled meat served inside the most delicious pitta-style bread you’ll ever eat, all for under £3.
Split’s best bars
If you like your wine served with a side of local knowledge, good chats and tapas-style food, head over to Zeru cafe and bistro.
Ciri Biri Bela
For cool twists on classic drinks, like fiery ginger Aperol spritz, drop in on Ciri Biri Bela. Set in a courtyard surrounded by plants and pretty lights, it’s friendly and atmospheric with great food and good music.
Where to stay in Split
Heritage Hotel 19
Hotel Heritage 19 is hidden down a quiet pedestrian-only street and has a more intimate feel with four room sizes to choose from. Wooden beams and exposed interior stone walls that are so typical of the area feature throughout. Deluxe rooms have sun trap balconies that are perfect an outdoor breakfast or afternoon glass of wine. Rooms start at £129 a night.
Perched on a hillside three kilometres from the city sits the Radisson Blu, with its own beach and stunning views. The rooms in the newer part of the building the best – book a premium suite with sea views and a terrace.
Briig Boutique Hotel
You can’t miss the futuristic white cube exterior of Briig Boutique Hotel in the centre of town, right by Bačvice beach. Large rooms (from £97 a night including breakfast) have an ultra-modern feel with Scandi-style furniture, wooden panelling and interesting artwork, plus some of the bigger suites come with bath tubs and private jacuzzis. There’s also a rooftop pool with stunning views of the Adriatic, plus a gym and spa.
Getting to Split
You can fly to Split from all major UK airports. The flight time from the UK is two to two-and-a-half hours.