City Spotlight: Split, Croatia

Known primarily as the gateway city to the Dalmatian sea, Split can be a bit overlooked, but in my opinion is really worth at least an overnight. Chances are you're going to be boarding a boat to head south, disembarking a boat on your way back north, or perhaps driving along the coast - and in any of those cases rather than being rushed and stressed, take a night to explore this fascinating jumble of a little city.

Where to Stay: You're going to want to stay as close as you can to the main attraction:  Diocletian's Palace, or at least on the western side of it.  Directly east of the walls is filled with tourist stalls leading down to the ferry docks, so that's not nearly as cute as the interior or western sides.  I loved my hotel, which shared one of the exterior walls with the palace and was extremely convenient to walk everywhere - from the port all through town.  It was also a little removed from the main "clubs", so it wasn't quite as loud as some apparently can be.  Everyone who worked at Hotel Perstil were incredibly friendly and sweet - and they even packed me a to-go breakfast full of fruit and such as I ran off to catch my ferry.  I forgot to take a pic of my room, but it was clean, comfortable, and spacious enough for more than just me.   Here are some pics of the building - the modern square gray one directly next to the Silver Gate (aka, one of the side doors of the old Roman palace): 

Where to Eat: Again, pretty much everything you'll want you'll find right in old town.  One thing I learned throughout the Dalmatian Coast, but especially here in Split, is that tourism is really the main industry, so TONS and TONS of restaurants/bars/cafes open during high season, but close during the winter when the tourists stay home, making it pretty difficult for the locals.  This leaves you, the tourist, with a bit of a dilemma - you want to support the locals and eat as the locals do, but there are just SO MANY pizza places around (for example).  Do yourself a favor and ask for a recommendation, or even help with a reservation - I got recommendations from both my guide and my hotel and ended up having a delightful meal over on "People's Square", aka: Narodni Trg (trg = square), but many of the places I was pointed toward were pretty full and I'd wished I had a table booked. In any case, NoStress was cute and very tasty (think: home made bread, fresh fish with interesting sauces, delicious wines!), if you want at least one place to look for.  The whole square had restaurants, which is fairly common throughout old town.  FYI -The cafes lining the Riva (the pedestrian street along the harbor) are better for an atmospheric drink before/after dinner I think.  

What to Do:  Ok, now that you have some guidance on where to sleep and eat, now how to fill your time.  It's actually pretty easy - you're going to want a detailed tour of Diocletian's Palace (or what's left of it), which dominates Old Town.  So- a little background: Diocletian was one of the Emperors of Rome (around 300 A.D.), and doesn't have the best legacy.  BUT- he was from this area and decided to build a lovely "little" palace for his retirement, which eventually then became a protected tenement in medieval times.  It was basically a giant square, with the northern part being for administration and the southern part (w/water views) for his actual living quarters.  Three of the four outer walls still stand.  The cellars have been found nearly completely intact, and partially excavated (and subsequently used as Game of Thrones filming locations).  Several of the important buildings that were within the palace, like temples and the grand entrance to his personal living quarters, are still there.  His mausoleum still exits now as a church, with a more modern bell tower now attached, if you consider a 14th century building "modern".  (Of course I climbed the tower - views were GREAT, ascent and descent were not that bad, but a little scary at points.)  All four of the main gates into & out of his palace still exist (and still are used as such).  Of course, the middle of the palace has been torn down, rebuilt, bombed (heavily in WWII), and rebuilt again.  Needless to say, it is SUPER cool, and you're going to want someone who knows the place to show you around.  I took one of the two popular walking tours for a good overview, but a private guide for a half day would also have been really good, particularly if you're especially interested in Roman history (there's just so much available here!).  Here are a bunch of pics in, around, under, and above the palace (including a model of what it originally looked like):

Running around and exploring all of the little streets and different buildings of the palace took up the time I had, but there are also some city beaches not too far from old town, and there's a short hike top of a hill just west of old town with awesome views if you've got a little extra time. There are also great day trips out of Split - either out to islands out in the water (like the town-museum of Trogir, which I wished I'd had time to visit), or inland to places like Krka National Park (a sort of mini sample of what you'd see at Plitvice).  Of course it is also the launching (or disembarkation) point for many of the ships that take you further down into the treasures of the Dalmatian Coast, which I'll dig into more in my next post!