Split is truly an ancient city. When we say ancient, we mean first century ancient. While Diocletian’s Palace, the major site most closely attributed to the foundation of Split, was built in 305 A.D., the city itself is believed to have been established by the Greeks as early as the mid 100’s to early 200’s A.D.
The History of Split and Croatia
It is therefore oxymoronic and hard to fathom that such an old city (nearing 2,000 years old) belongs to such a young country. Some travelers may not realize that Croatia was only established as an independent nation in 1991. That makes Croatia, the country, only 28 years old (as of the time of this post).
The country of Croatia has a very sorted and convoluted past, with it’s ownership and occupation changing hands multiple times throughout history. It has literally been under: Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, French, Austrian, Hungarian, and most recently, Yugoslavian occupation or rule. Let’s not forget a brief stint of German occupation in World War II either.
Croatia’s last occupation or ruler, on the path to independence, was Socialist Yugoslavia. Then, finally, Croatia became an independent nation in 1991 after seceding from Yugoslavia in the Croatian War of Independence. As such, Croatia still seems to be establishing it’s own identity, as we think any 28 year old can closely relate to.
- The History of Split and Croatia
- Article Summary:
- Contemplating Croatia
- Getting to Split / Getting Around Croatia
- Major Sites of Split
- Diocletian’s Palace
- Old Town and Peristyle
- Riva Waterfront / Cruise Port
- Bacvice Beach
- Uvala Firule
- Krka National Park
- Split Travelers
- Croatia’s Neighboring Countries
- Len and JJ’s Overall Rating:
This was our first ever visit to Croatia, a destination that had been on both our bucket lists for a long time. When JJ and I imagined Croatia in our minds, the only other European country we mostly equated it with was Greece. We had previously visited Mykonos, Santorini, and Rhodes (on a Mediterranean Cruise) and loved that “Caribbean in Europe” and “Mediterranean Life” feel. When we think of Croatia or Greece, we think of gorgeous Mediterranean water, sunny skies with warm temperatures, beautiful beaches, and breathtaking views. Having now experienced both of these stunningly beautiful countries first hand, we are happy to report that the rumors and our initial inclinations are true.
That isn’t to say that our Croatian experience (spanning over 22 days, and visiting 7 different cities or islands in Croatia, including sailing the Adriatic on a yacht for 7 days) was by any means perfect. Like any destination, there are Pros and Cons to consider, that only personal experience and personal preference can help you determine. This is all part of the beauty of travel and the nature of exploration. Cons and negative experiences aren’t something that should necessarily be avoided at all cost. Rather, Cons and Negatives can help you realize and appreciate the Pros and Positives of life or of a given destination that much more. It’s all part of the journey, and of developing your own travel style.
Getting to Split / Getting Around Croatia
We arrived to Split on a flight from Venice. In fact, one of the first things to note about traveling in Croatia, compared to most of the rest of developed Western Europe, is that it’s actually not that easy of a destination to reach. Meaning, we had spent and would go on to spend the better part of 4 months traveling all over Europe, and it was predominantly (and largely inexpensively) done by Train and Bus.
We quickly learned that there is no train or bus option to “reach” Croatia. Pretty much every visitor to Croatia flies into Dubrovnik or Split, or comes by way of a cruise ship to the Dubrovnik or Split Cruise Ports. The silver lining is that with Split located right in the middle of Croatia (almost splitting the country down the middle, as it were), and Dubrovnik at almost the most southern tip, it is somewhat straightforward to plan a trip that spans most of Croatia by beginning at one of these points or the other.
As you are reading, JJ and I chose the North to South option and began our Croatian adventure in Split. Once in Split, you can economically travel by bus throughout the rest of Croatia, including all the way south to Dubrovnik (with a noteworthy stop in between, I.E. Trpanj). Or you can of course fly from Split to Dubrovnik or vice-versa as well if you want to skip the interior of Croatia and skip the long (roughly 6-7 hour) bus ride that comes with it.
Major Sites of Split
Constructed in 305 A.D. for Roman emperor Diocletian, Diocletian’s Palace is THE major site of Split. If you want to understand the history of Split, and what makes this ancient city so unique, you have to start with it’s oldest landmark. Although more of a fortress and mini-city than a palace, it is predominantly constructed of limestone, a Croatian trademark it would seem to anyone who’s traveled to both Split and Dubrovnik. Given it’s authentic ancient history and inimitable design, it’s little wonder that Diocletian’s Palace was a filming location for HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Uniquely positioned on a peninsula, the palace has 4 Different Gates (North, East, West, South) with the South Gate originally providing direct water access and entry to the palace for the Emperor. Now the South Gate, or Bronze Gate, is a pedestrian passageway that provides entrance and exit to Diocletian’s Palace, as well as a passthrough from the Riva Waterfront to the Old Town Square or Peristyle, as it’s known. There are ticketing ropes on either side of this passageway (where you must show your ticket) to gain entry to the various exhibits and underground chambers of Diocletian’s Palace museum.
The shear architecture alone is worth the visit. It is among the best preserved monuments of early Roman architecture in the world.
The North Gate or Golden Gate:
A more detailed history about the intricacies of the various sections of Diocletian’s Palace can be further explored on the Split-Dalmatia Tourism website.
Old Town and Peristyle
Peristyle is the central square of the Palace, and was originally a religious center of Diocletian’s Palace. It is now home to cafes and coffee shops as well as live concerts on certain nights of the week due to it’s grand historical setting and ideal outdoor acoustics.
Riva Waterfront / Cruise Port
The Riva Waterfront or simply “Riva” as it’s called is one of the most bustling and beautiful areas of Split. It is home to the cruise port, and also very near to the ferry piers and several other excursion and tour boats. This pedestrian-only promenade is also home to scores of al-fresco dining options, shops, kiosks, and ice cream parlors.
As far as water front harbors and cruise ports (for that matter) go, this is one of the nicest one’s we’ve seen anywhere in the world. Croatia, and the city of Split, clearly takes pride in this area and it is a beautiful setting for a meal or gathering with friends, any time of day.
Bacvice is one of Split’s most popular and most crowded beaches, that just so happened to be very close to our rented apartment. In fact, we enjoyed views of this beach and the Adriatic from our Booking.com Apartment balcony.
This was our first taste of “Adriatic Life” and our first chance to take a dip in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea. The water is so clear that you almost don’t need snorkel gear to see the marine life, and the water is so salty that it’s pretty easy to float (even for a 6’4″ 220 lb. bald guy apparently).
In addition to this being our first taste and glimpse of the Adriatic Sea (the northernmost arm of the Mediterranean Sea), Split and Bacvice Beach provided our first taste of Croatian beach life.
We quickly learned that “sandy beaches” in Croatia are few and far between. Bacvice is actually an extremely rare example of a sandy beach in Croatia. The beaches found throughout the rest of Croatia and the majority of ones we visited were actually quite rocky or made up of seashells and pebbles instead of sand.
Rather than trying to lay claim to a tiny patch of overcrowded sand on the actual beach, we opted for rented chairs around the concrete embankments in front of several waterfront cafes that are all lumped together along the promenade.
While this certainly isn’t what JJ and I considered “traditional beach living”, when in Croatia, do as the Croatians do. These areas did have a couple of ladders and platforms making the water more accessible for swimming. There were also changing areas and showers for rinsing sand or salt water off.
The best thing about Bacvice, and what likely draws the crowds, is it’s proximity to the Riva Waterfront and Cruise Port area of Split. It’s only about a 15-20 minute walk from Riva and the Split Bus Station and Ferry Pier.
Just around the corner and along a walking trail from the Eastern coast of Bacvice was another less crowded beach and swimming bay called Uvala Firule.
It was a really gorgeous area, and one we wish we would have discovered sooner on our Split stay. There is also a youth tennis center nearby where some Croatian-born tennis stars got their start.
Krka National Park
Krka National Park is one of the most photographed and Instagrammed sites in all of Croatia. A crystal clear lake that’s home to 7 picturesque waterfalls? With day trips from Split starting at $30? Yes please.
But as we’ve now learned over 6 months and 30 countries later in our one year of travel, you really truly cannot do or see everything no matter how hard you try. You have to pick and choose your destinations, activities, excursions, and tours carefully. Tourism overload and shear exhaustion will ensue if you don’t. The reality is that I actually had to catch up on quite a bit of work while in Split. Given the ideal location of our apartment near Bacvice, we didn’t venture far outside the Bacvice-Riva-Old Town bubble, for better or worse. We were also admittedly resting up for the looming would-be spectacle known as Yacht Week.
Split is predominantly divided (you thought I would say “split” didn’t you!) into two ranges of travelers, the young backpacker crowd, there for the beaches and nightlife, followed by the cruise ship crowd, there for the daily port of call, and mostly to be found around the Riva Waterfront and Old Town areas by day, then gone by nightfall (which I’m sure is more than fine with the locals who get their city back at that time). Of course JJ and I fall somewhere in the middle in both age and travel style. We appreciate the youth and exuberance of the backpacker crowd and the “travel for a year” vibe that we’ve adopted, but we also enjoy the occasional cruise as well.
Croatia’s Neighboring Countries
Adventurous travelers may also choose to do a stint in the countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina or Montenegro while in Croatia, as some of our eventual Croatian Yacht Week travel partners did. These destinations are easily reachable by bus from Croatia. We did not personally reach either destination (other than driving through the Bosnian checkpoint by bus from Trpanj to Dubrovnik), but will definitely make time for them on a return trip to Croatia. Bosnia and Montenegro are very young and developing countries like Croatia, and definitely seem worth checking out. There are even day trips and overnight tours from Croatia to some of these destinations.
Len and JJ’s Overall Rating:
Worth Visiting At Least Once
Split, all in all, is a beautiful place and made for a great introduction to Croatia. We would come to learn that it was not our favorite place in Croatia, but is still the one we would recommend flying into over Dubrovnik. Mostly because Split’s proximity to the islands of Vis, Hvar, Broc, and Bol, or nearby Trogir and the marinas there, make it a great jumping off point to explore our favorite Croatian destinations (the islands). The key to Split, beyond the Old Town, is the water, and specifically the Adriatic. The beauty and majesty of the Adriatic Sea is Croatia’s crown jewel. It’s what makes the country what it is. Given the fact that the majority of Croatia spans the entire coastline of the Adriatic, it’s easy to see why the two are joint at the hip. Split, in our opinion, is only the tip of the iceberg of all that Croatia has to offer.
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