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After living in Croatia for several months in 2022, I can’t rave enough about Split Old Town. Exploring the atmospheric alleyways is surely one of the best things to do in Split with fantastic restaurants, cosy coffee shops and ancient temples jumping out at every turn.
The buildings in the UNESCO-protected Old Town are known as some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world, dating back to the 3rd century when the Diocletian (the Emperor of the Roman Empire) had the palace built as his retirement complex.
The remains of the palace are mixed into the Old Town, making it a unique living museum!
Accomodation: Booking.com / Hostelworld
Getting there: flight (Skyscanner) / car hire / bus (Flixbus)
Activities: GetYourGuide / Viator
Read next: the ultimate Croatia itinerary and my Balkans backpacking itinerary
Split is the second-biggest city in Croatia after Zagreb with 200,000 residents but the Old Town feels tiny. It’s bursting with history and unsurprisingly popular with tourists. If locals own houses here, they’ll definitely be rented out on Airbnb or Booking.com.
Although the old city walls are not well preserved like those in Dubrovnik, you can identify the Old Town as the area beside the Riva with the tall church tower at its heart.
Is Split Old Town the best place to stay?
Unhelpful answer: it depends on what you want!
It’s certainly the most atmospheric and historic place to stay. But it also gets very busy and crowded. Personally, I’d be annoyed popping to the shop for milk and finding the streets rammed.
I preferred living just outside of Split Old Town (I spent one month up the hill beside the entrance to Marjan Park and another month in residential Varoš neighbourhood). This meant I could escape the hustle and bustle but walk into the Old Town in 10-15 minutes to eat, drink coffee and generally enjoy this idyllic area.
Split Old Town parking
The Old Town is pedestrianised so there’s nowhere to park. The closest place is Riva promenade parking with space for 100 cars, open 24 hours a day. It costs around €1.30 for the first hour and €2 for additional hours.
Things to do in Split Old Town
Although it’s small, there’s plenty to do in the Old Town to keep you busy. Let’s start with the key attractions and move on to the best food and drink.
Take a free walking tour
For a Split Old Town walking tour, I’d recommend the free one that departs daily from the park near Golden Gate. It takes around 1 hour 15 minutes, led by a local guide who will fill you in on the history and legends as you explore the key sights.
Book your space on Freetour.com.
Explore the Diocletian’s Palace
At the heart of Split is the Diocletian’s Palace complex where 220 buildings comprise one of Croatia’s 10 UNESCO heritage sites. Around half the buildings in the Old Town are linked to the ancient palace.
The location was chosen carefully, 6km from the old Roman capital of Salona in Dalmatia. The southern buildings were designed as the Diocletian’s lavish living quarters while the northern ones were intended for his servants and soldiers.
Without an official entrance, the Diocletian’s Palace is free to enter and always open (although some attractions have fees and opening hours as I’ll list).
Places to visit in Split Old Town’s Diocletian’s Palace complex include…
The Peristyle (central courtyard)
The main courtyard of the Diocletian’s Palace complex is a must for sightseeing in Split Old Town. Even in the winter months, I didn’t have it to myself unless I visited VERY early.
This is where to admire the exquisite buildings and get your bearings. It’s free to visit. The ticket office where you can purchase different packages for the palace attractions is also located here. In the summer, there are often free public events like opera and theatre.
This impressive circular tower with no roof is easily one of the most impressive buildings in Split. For the best photo opp, place your phone on the ground and grab a selfie with the dome and sky (but prepare for double chins!). Alternatively, try and get a wide-angle shot of the whole dome.
Once upon a time, the Vestibule was an imperial corridor that led from the Peristyle courtyard to the Emperor’s personal chambers. Its purpose was to impress guests and I can confirm it’s still succeeding today! According to Roman tradition, it also allowed the god of Jupiter to easily look down upon the Emperor, thought to be his son.
Nowadays, traditional Croatian folk music shows are held here. It’s always open with no entry fee.
The Bell Tower
Climbing 200 steps to the top of the Bell Tower is easily the best thing to do in Split Old Town. From here, you can see the whole city, Marjan Park and the coastline. I took pleasure trying to spot my Airbnb but unfortunately, many of the buildings in Split are built with the same golden stone and blue shutters, so it was hard to tell!
Opening times: 8am-7pm, Mon-Sat and 12.30-6.30pm, Sun.
Entry fee: €2.60.
Cathedral of St. Domnius (Sveti Duje)
Connected to the Bell Tower is St Domnius Cathedral, the oldest remaining Catholic cathedral in the world. It’s dedicated to Split’s patron saint executed by the Diocletian when Christians were expelled and persecuted. When Croatia became Catholic much later, St Domnius became considered a martyr.
The cathedral was designed by the Diocletian as his mausoleum; a morbid move some might say. He was indeed buried here but the Christians returned to move his body and replace it with the bones of St Dominus. Over the emperor’s dead body… Literally!
It’s not the most impressive cathedral I’ve been in (and usually they’re free). Still, there are a few fascinating details like the wooden door decorated with detailed engravings by Croatian artist, Andrija Buvina.
Entry is €3.50 including access to the Bell Tower.
Golden Gate (entry to Split Old Town)
Nowadays, there are plenty of entrances to the Old Town and no need to enter via the gate. However, this magnificent structure dates back to the 3rd century when thick city walls 25m high surrounded the palace to protect against invasion from enemies such as the Turks (it worked – compared to other Balkan countries like Kosovo and Albania, there’s no Ottoman influence in Dalmatia).
Originally, only the Emperor and his family were allowed to walk through.
All the original gates were named after precious metals: the Silver Gate, Bronze Gate and Iron Gate. Perhaps as you’d expect, the Golden Gate was the most spectacular.
Gregory of Nin statue
Bishop Gregory of Nin is the man credited with keeping Croatian culture and language alive when Rome ruled the roost. The Pope wanted church services in Latin but thanks to Gregory, the locals managed to keep their lingo.
It’s thought that rubbing the statue’s big toe will bring you good luck. Worth a try!
If you’re wondering where Nin is, I can tell you it’s a lovely small town near the larger (but just as lovely) Dalmatian city of Zadar.
Podrumi (the basement)
Hidden underneath the palace complex is the basement area that would have allowed the Diocletian to sneak, undetected, all the way to the port. I suspect this was so he could escape onto a boat if ever the palace was captured.
The vaults, also used for storage, are now home to touristic markets. I think there are better places to shop however you can’t deny these ancient passageways are impressive, plus performances are held occassionally. Another draw is that they were used during Game of Thrones filming. I STILL haven’t watched but apparently, Daenery keeps her dragons here.
These are a free part of the Diocletian’s residence to visit, acting as a corridor between the port and the main courtyard.
The Jupiter Temple was built and dedicated, as the name suggests, to the Roman god of Jupiter but later was converted into a baptistery dedicated to St John the Baptist.
Nestled down a small alley in the Old Town of Split, it looks relatively plain from the outside but boasts an elaborate ceiling inside. It’s worth heading inside this 2nd-century temple to learn a few facts from the exhibits.
Outside the temple sits one of the oldest relics in Croatia, a 3,500-year-old black granite sphynx brought from Egypt. As you may notice (you can hardly miss it!), the sphynx is missing its head. Why? After the Christians returned from exile, things associated with Rome were deemed ‘pagan’ and destroyed or damaged.
Entry fee: €1.30.
Opening times: 8am-7pm, Mon-Thurs & Sat; 12-6pm Sun; closed Fridays.
The Treasury at Split Cathedral is a small museum where you can learn more about the palace and Roman Empire. Most of the artefacts are religious ones made of gold including a gold bust of the Diocletian.
It’s not the best museum I’ve been to but, if you’ve bought a combo ticket that includes it, you may as well swing by.
Ticket prices for Diocletian’s Palace attractions
Note – after the Kuna to Euro switch in 2023, these prices are subject to change.
- Split Cathedral – €3.50 inc the Bell Tower
- Bell Tower – €2.50 kuna
- Treasury – €3.80
- Basemet – €5.50
- Baptistery (Temple of Jupiter) – €2.60
- Crypt – €2.60
- Note – the Crypt can be skipped as it’s not very impressive.
- Blue package (€6.60) – Cathedral, Crypt & Baptistery
- Red package (€8) – Cathedral, Crypt, Treasury & Baptistery
- Green package (€9.30) – Cathedral, Treasury & Bell tower
- Purple package (€10.60) – Cathedral, Treasury, Crypt, Baptistery & Bell Tower.
More things to do in Split Old Town not associated with the ancient Palace…
Whether you’re shopping for fresh groceries or exploring atmospheric corners of the Old Town, don’t miss the Green Market. There are stands selling everything from veggies to pastries, meat, honey, cheese, bread, local sweets and more.
Don’t visit hungry or you’re sure to buy everything… Although if you are peckish, there are plenty of free samples including raki!
Prices are affordable and it’s cheaper than shopping in the grocery stores, although there’s a high chance you’ll get a tourist tax. Always the way!
The Fish Market is a real contrast to the historic, touristy attractions in Split Old Town. It’s a hectic, local environment where you’ll need a fairly strong stomach when confronted with fish guts!
Still, for an alternative to the tourist scene, I’d advise visiting this buzzing local spot early in the morning. If you have a barbecue at your accommodation, which some of my friends did, buy fresh and affordable fish from shrimp to sea bass and more.
We had a delicious seabass feast on my friend’s rooftop for around €5 each. I’m sure a seabass would cost four times that at any Split Old Town restaurant!
Discover the charming squares
Republic Square – if this large, grand square looks familiar, it may be reminding you of St. Mark’s. I took my first trip to Venice right after visiting Croatia and I have to say I prefer this one in Split because it’s much quieter with no €17 espressos! The large central area has no shade, so it’s more common to see locals and tourists sipping coffee in the corners.
People’s Square – in the middle of the Old Town, Pjaca is one of the most popular plazas surrounded by shops and restaurants. A notable feature is the ancient city clock. Like the Riva, it’s a better place to wander and sightsee than dine because the prices are inflated. But grabbing a coffee or Aperol Spritz is worth it for the atmosphere!
Fruit Square – with a statue of Croatia writer, Marko Marulic, at its heart (carved by famous local architect, Ivan Meštrović) and a preserved 15th-century Venetian tower, this a pretty square just inside the city walls near the Riva.
Museums in Split Old Town
- Ethnographic Museum – dedicated to folk art and clothing through the ages, this is the best place to learn about Croatian culture and ways of life.
- Museum of Fine Art – browse art from Croatia and wider Europe in a refurbished former hospital with a charming, sunny courtyard and cafe.
- Split City Museum – learn about the history of Split Old Town through art and exhibits.
- Game of Thrones Museum – dedicated to filming locations in the city, superfans can browse costumes and props in this small museum.
Walk the Riva and shop at local markets
The Riva is a walkway between the Old Town and the ocean. Visit (very) early to have it to yourself, in the afternoon to enjoy coffee with the locals, at sunset for the best views, and at night when restaurants and bars get going.
There are often local markets held on the Riva where you can buy local produce, jewellery and the like.
Lined with palm trees and grand Austro-Hungrian architecture, it’s an impressive place especially in the sunshine. Although there are a few okay restaurants here (in my opinion, the best being Brasserie on 7 where I tried almost every dish on the menu during a discounted restaurant week in March), it’s generally a fairly touristy and expensive place to eat.
I’d recommend instead…
Where to eat in Split Old Town
- Villa Spiza – this cosy restaurant down an alleyway is an absolute GEM with delicious, home-cooked Dalmatian food. I had a wonderful meal of giant shrimp pasta, wine and tiramisu. Bliss!
- Corto Maltese Freestyle – this is another place that serves Croatian and Italian food with meat and seafood dishes like steak and risotto. The cocktails are great and there’s a lively atmosphere at night.
- Adriatic Sushi & Oyster Bar / Mini Bota Sushi – these places offer the best sushi in Split. Mini Bota is cute and cosy while Adriatic is a spacious, cool venue.
- SILK – from bibimbap to pad Thai and dumplings, this is your best bet for Asian food.
- To Je Tako – who expected authentic Honduran food in Croatia? Not I. My friends and I loved this atmospheric restaurant with live music and margaritas. We ordered a few of every type of taco. What a feast!
- Kantun Paulina – if you’re on a budget, try the €5 Balkan burgers at this takeaway restaurant topped with ajvar paste and kajmak clotted cheese!
- ST Burek – this budget restaurant serves, unsurprisingly, burek! This flaky pastry dish is a Balkan fave with plenty of filling options. Here you can try every flavour under the sun from cheese to stewed apple.
- Luka Ice Cream & Cakes – the best ice cream around!
Related read: 18 best restaurants in Split, Croatia
Where to drink coffee in Split Old Town
As an AVID coffee drinker, I bring you the goods…
- D16 – without much natural light in an old building, this isn’t my all-time favourite cafe but you can’t deny they serve the best coffee around. Beans from Peru and Brazil are used to make espresso-based drinks, cold brew and more.
- KaKantun Specialty Coffee & Gin – combining two heavenly liquids, this colourful cafe VERY well hidden in the maze of Split Old Town is worth finding. The coffee is fantastic plus there are tasty gin cocktails served in the cafe or pleasant courtyard.
- Daltonist – this is a great bar with cocktails and food (brunch, burgers and other modern eats) that gets lively during weekends and evenings. But in the daytime, it’s a chilled spot with great coffee where you can socialise or co-work.
Related read: best coffee shops in Split
Nightlife in Split Old Town
- Marvlvs Library Jazz Bar – the birthplace of the most famous Croatian writer (Marko Marulic) is now a bookshop, jazz bar and even a Game of Thrones filming location! The owner is also a poet and artist who will gladly chat while pouring you a beer or cocktail.
- Charlie’s – for the best parties in town, head to this tiny bar. Drinks are cheap and the atmosphere is always buzzing. People smoking inside is my only complaint, but that’s the Balkans for you!
- The Daltonist – as mentioned above for its coffee, this cool bar also serve the best cocktails in town with generous discounts between 6 and 8pm.
- Harats – an Irish pub. I need say no more!
Where to stay in the Old Town
- Hostel – Stay at Old Town Hostel for the best parties and amenities like aircon and security lockers. Book from €15.
- Budget hotel – stay at B&B Central Palace for comfy rooms in a central location. Check availability from €65.
- Mid-range hotel: right inside the Diocletian’s Palace, Slavika hotel has air-conditioned rooms, TV, Wi-Fi, terraces with sea views and tasty breakfasts. Check availability from €90.
- Apartments – for all your amenities in a private setting, stay at Apartment Linda or Split Inn Apartments.
- Browse all Split accommodation on Booking.com and Hostelworld.
Where to go next?
- Marjan Forest – I loved having this beautiful park on my doorstep. My friends and I hiked to the Vrh Telegrin flagpole each morning before work which requires climbing 314 stairs but offers views for miles around. With beaches around its circumference, another option is spending half a day following the coastline, entering via Spinutska Vrata and arriving back in the city centre via Varoš neighbourhood.
- Krka Waterfalls – it’s easy to visit this beautiful national park by car, group tour or bus.
- The islands – Brac is 1 hour away, Hvar is 1-2 hours away depending whether you take the fast or slow boat, Vis is 2 hours away and Korcula is 2.5 hours away. Each island offers something special and different so I’d suggest visiting them all if you have time!
- Trogir – just 30 minutes away by car or bus, this charming town on an island is nothing short of idyllic. It only takes half a day to explore.
Read next: the best day trips from Split
Thanks for reading!
Read more Split blogs: | Things to do in Split | Split restaurants | Split coffee | Krka falls from Split day trip | What to do in Trogir | hiking Marjan Hill for sunset
Read more Croatia blogs: 7 day Croatia itinerary | Things to do in Dubrovnik | Lokrum island guide | Croatia solo travel | What to do in Zagreb | Zagreb cafes | Plitvice day trip from Zagreb | Zagreb street art | Zadar things to do | Dugi Otok island | Pag Island
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TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING CROATIA
Getting around by air – I use Skyscanner to find the best-value flights, using the ‘search by month’ tool to find the cheapest dates. You can also use the ‘to anywhere’ feature if you’re flexible on where you’re going.
Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in European countries (and all around the world).
For trains, I use RailEurope. The search feature allows you to compare prices, and they show live departure times on the website.
For buses, I use FlixBus. Find journeys between European countries from €1!
Use Omio to compare trains and buses in one search. It’s so handy!
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide and Viator.
Need travel insurance? I use True Traveller (for UK & Europe residents) since it’s affordable but covers everything you’d need including various activities, valuables and pre-existing conditions. Unlike some companies, they insure you if you’re already travelling / don’t yet have your flight home booked. Get a quote.
For travel insurance for other nationalities, I recommend Hey Mundo and for long-term digital nomad travellers, I suggest Safety Wing.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!