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Split Old Town: Croatia’s Fascinating Roman City

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The ancient walled city of Split is an incredible place.  

Walking around Split Old Town (or Old City Split, depending on who you ask), there’s history literally everywhere you go.  

The city’s bustling port, on the Adriatic Sea, was first established by the ancient Greeks who built a settlement here.  Split was later colonised and developed by several empires, from the Romans to the Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans.  Today, it’s still one of the most important trading ports in the Mediterranean.

Split Old Town is both beautiful and unique, with a modern city built amongst (and incorporating) some of the most impressive ancient ruins in the world.

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Split Old Town is a beautiful mix of old and new

Split’s city centre is compact and mostly pedestrianised, making it a perfect place to explore on foot.  The whole place is extremely atmospheric, despite the increasingly large number of tourists who flock here during the high season.

It’s easy to see why Split is one of the most popular destinations in Croatia.

Split is also a fantastic place to base yourself when exploring some of Croatia’s beautiful islands, including Hvar and the Pakleni Islands.

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Doorway in the ancient Split city walls

* Want to see some more of Croatia?  Check out this excellent Croatia road trip itinerary over on PlacesOfJuma. *

** Or take a day trip to Mostar in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. **

*** If you’re looking for other alternative city break destinations, check out some of my posts on:

Croatia is not currently in the Schengen Area, although it is assumed that it will join later in 2022.  Still, many nationalities can visit visa-free for up to 90 days.
 
If you require a visa, I recommend iVisa.com.  Their online visa processing service is quick, secure, and easy to use.

Top Sights And What To See In Split Old Town

The long and varied history of Split, Croatia has blessed this city with a wealth of stunning sights, buildings, and architectural features.  

A winding maze of cobblestone streets and tiny alleyways, Split’s Old Town is bursting with history and culture.  Everywhere you look, you’ll find stunningly well preserved Roman and medieval architecture.

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Typical narrow alleyway in Split Old Town

Even if you’re not particularly interested in ancient history or architecture, it’s hard not to be blown away by this place.

I recommend coming either early in the morning or in the evening.  At these times, it’s likely to be less crowded, and the light is at its best.

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People live in and among beautiful ancient buildings

The following places are some of the highlights.  Aside from the cathedral, all are free to visit. 🙂

Diocletian's Palace

The most famous attraction in Split is Diocletian’s Palace.  Part luxury residence, part fortified military garrison, this vast complex was built in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD for the Roman Emperor Diocletian.  (Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, to his friends.)

Diocletian’s Palace is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the complex contains some of the best preserved Roman architecture in the world.  The remains of over 200 Roman buildings are still standing today.

Some buildings are so well preserved, it’s hard to believe they were built over 1,700 years ago.

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Good as new - fantastic Roman architecture in Old Town Split, Croatia

Much of Split’s Old Town grew organically out of the Roman palace.  After the Romans left, subsequent inhabitants developed and extended the existing buildings.

The result is an intricate patchwork that spans from ancient to modern.  Today, thousands of people live in and around this amazing place.  Far from being a dusty old archeological site, the ancient ruins are woven into a living, breathing modern city.

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People live modern lives among ancient ruins in Split's Old City

Whilst you could see many of the most notable areas of the palace in a couple of hours, I recommend taking your time.  

Explore the tiny backstreets and dead-end alleyways.  Keep your eyes and ears open.  Some of the most magical corners of this ancient city are hidden away, waiting for you to discover.

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Split Old Town is a photographer's paradise

The Peristyle (Peristil)

The Peristyle is the central courtyard of Diocletian’s Palace, and is where the Emperor would meet his subjects.  Today, it’s still a popular meeting place at the heart of the city and is one of the most beautiful places in Split.

In the summer, the Peristyle hosts outdoor concerts, theatre, opera performances, and other public events.  It’s a fantastic venue, lined with elaborately carved Roman columns and arches that are just as impressive today as when they were first built.

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Iconic Roman columns and arches of the Peristyle

On the west side of the Peristyle is the Temple of Jupiter, built in honour of the king of the Roman gods.  Guarding this temple lies a black granite sphinx, carved around 1500 BC, which Diocletian brought back from Egypt.

The Vestibule

The Vestibule was the grand entrance to Diocletian’s personal chambers.  This circular room has an amazing domed ceiling, and excellent acoustics.  

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Diocletian's Vestibule

Today, the Vestibule often hosts performances of klapa (traditional Croatian folk singing).

Diocletian's Cellars (Podrumi)

Underneath the Palace is an enormous network of vaulted cellars and hallways that were once used for storing wine, food, and other goods.

Parts of this basement complex are open to the public and house a museum, art exhibitions, and souvenir shops.

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Vaulted central passageway through Diocletian's cellars

You can explore the central passageway, which connects the Peristyle to the Riva Promenade and the sea, free of charge.

Saint Domnius Cathedral (Sveti Duje)

Consecrated in the 7th century, Saint Domnius Cathedral is the oldest surviving Catholic cathedral in the world.  Located next to the Peristyle, it’s an important landmark in the centre of Old Town Split, Croatia.

Parts of the building itself predate its use as a church.  The oldest section was built to house Emperor Diocletian’s mausoleum at the end of the 3rd century, and the cathedral’s wooden doors date back to the 1200s.

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Saint Domnius Cathedral from the Peristyle

The Cathedral’s beautifully ornate bell tower is a later addition, built in the 12th century, and is an iconic feature of Split’s skyline.

Those who choose to climb to the top are rewarded with the most spectacular views over Split, the surrounding mountains and sparkling Adriatic coastline.

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Great views over Split's Old City from Saint Domnius Cathedral bell tower

Split Old Town Walls

Large sections of the original ancient Split city walls remain intact to this day.  

25 metres tall and two metres thick, these impressive walls have protected Split Old Town from countless enemy attacks over almost two millennia.

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Parts of the walls have been converted into modern buildings

Each of the four main walls has a gate.  These guard the entrance to the city, and are each named after metals:  Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. 

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Window in the walls overlooking the harbour

People's Square (Narodni Trg / Pjaca)

People’s Square (known affectionately as Pjaca) has long been a meeting place for the people of Split.

In the square itself, and the side streets and alleyways leading into it, you’ll find many trendy shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.

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Split architecture - a medieval clock overlooks People's Square

A beautiful old clock with a gothic bell tower faces into the square, and marks the edge of Old Town Split.

This is another favourite place for outdoor concerts and other live entertainment.  Surrounded by intricate and varied architecture, it’s a pleasant place to linger.

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Evening falls over People's Square

Riva Promenade

Located on the edge of Split’s Old Town, the Riva Promenade is a beautiful walkway running between Diocletian’s Palace and the harbour.

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Riva Promenade in the day time

Lined with palm trees, restaurants and cafes, it’s the perfect place to take a stroll, or simply relax.

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and in the evening

You can browse the quirky shops by day, or just sit and watch the world go by (called fjaka, pronounced “fee-ah-ka”, in Croatian).

At the end of the day, grab a drink and watch a perfect sunset over the Adriatic Sea.  You’re welcome.

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Sunset over Split harbour

Easy Day Trip From Split, Croatia

There’s more than enough to see in the Old City of Split itself to warrant spending at least a couple of days here.  If you have more time, there are several other places nearby which are easy to visit.

Two of the best are Salona and Klis Fortress, which can be combined into one (fairly full) day trip.  

(Hiring a car makes this more straightforward, and gives you increased flexibility with timings, although both sites are easily accessible by bus from Split.)

Salona

Split’s Roman ruins are not all located in the centre of the city.  

About 8 kilometres from modern-day Split, Salona was the ancient capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia.

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Split's Roman ruins - The Amphitheatre at Salona

The remains of this ancient city make up the largest archaeological site on the Adriatic coast, and one of the most significant in Europe.

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Roman arches

The highlight in my opinion is the Salona Amphitheatre.  Built in the 2nd century, this giant arena could accommodate 18,000 spectators, who would come here to watch gladiators fight to the death.

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This house's back yard is a ROMAN AMPHITHEATRE!

The vast structure was destroyed in the 17th century by the Venetians, who feared that the Ottomans might try to set up a fortress here.  However, the ruins that remain are still pretty impressive.

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Salona Amphitheatre is well worth a visit

Klis Fortress

While Croatia’s Roman ruins are (rightfully) celebrated and famous, there are many other equally impressive historical sites located throughout the country.

Klis Fortress is an amazing medieval castle perched at the top of a steep hill in the mountains above Split.

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Epic views of Split and the Adriatic coast from Klis Fortress

The castle played an essential role in defending the region against enemy attack for hundreds of years.  It was the scene of countless sieges and battles during its long history.

Perhaps most significantly, Klis Fortress was a pivotal location during the Ottoman invasion of Europe in the 1500s.

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Klis Fortress defended one of the most strategically important locations in the Balkans

From the walls of Klis Fortress, the views out over the surrounding area are incredible.  You can see clearly all the way to the coast and out to sea.

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Defend!

Fans of the Game of Thrones series will also recognise Klis Fortress as the filming location for Meereen, a city which Daenerys liberates from the Slavers.

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The city of Meereen, from Game of Thrones

Check out the official website of Klis Fortress for further info, including opening times and ticket prices.

How To Get To Split, Croatia

Several airlines fly to Split, Croatia from many other European cities.  If coming from the UK, you can fly direct with EasyJet, British Airways, Wizz Air, or Jet2.

I use – and recommend – Aviasales to find the best deals on flights.  Their search engine is really easy to use and often picks up on promotions and discounted fares that are missed by other comparison sites.  You can search across a range of dates, and it suggests the best dates and times for you.

Give it a try!  Click here to compare the cheapest flights available.

Accommodation In Split

There are many excellent places to stay in Old Town Split, with something to suit all budgets and preferences.

You’ll find a number of Airbnb properties in and around the Old Town.  Most of these are high quality and relatively affordable.  Prices are somewhat lower outside of the Old Town.

If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel, Booking.com is a good place to look for deals.

Click here to compare the latest prices.

Map courtesy of Wanderlog, a trip planner on iOS and Android

Split Tours

Split (and Croatia more generally) is a very safe destination and is easy to explore independently. 

However, if you would prefer a guided tour to see the highlights, there are many excellent companies to choose from.

Click here for more information.

Split, Croatia Car Hire

If you’d like to see more of Croatia, hiring a car is straightforward and fairly affordable.  Croatian roads are, generally, in very good condition and the driving is easy.

For deals on car hire in Croatia, check out either rentalcars.com or discovercars.com.

I often find that Discover Cars finds the cheapest and best deals. They have more than 500 partners in 145 countries, and a helpful app that you can use to compare prices and book your car.

Most countries’ driving licences are recognised in Croatia.  If you’re coming from the UK, you can drive with your UK driving licence, without the need for an International Driving Permit (IDP)

Car hire companies may impose their own requirements, so it’s always best to check with them before arriving if you need to hire a car.

** Love road trips?  Me too.  Check out some of my road trip-related posts, including:

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IMPORTANT: Never travel without travel insurance!

Here are two companies that I use, and thoroughly recommend:

  • HeyMondo – the best value travel insurance provider on the market. They cover virtually every country in the world, they have an easy-to-use app, and their policies are straightforward and upfront, with minimal (often no) deductibles and excesses.
  • SafetyWing – if you’re a digital nomad like me, it’s essential that you have suitable insurance. It’s super flexible and affordable, you can sign up for as little or as long as you want, and can activate and deactivate it whenever you need to.

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  • I’m Alex Tiffany.  Former corporate city robot; lifelong travel addict.

 

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