Sleeping in an Ancient Roman Palace and Celebrating at the Biggest Festival in Split

Hi Friends,

I recently spent a few days in Split, Croatia. Upon visiting the city, I was initially filled with awe upon seeing the incredible Romanesque architecture and eventually, somewhat frustrated when I tried to find my way through crowds of people in a maze-like old-town, stumbling around with my backpack. This line very much sums up my experience – it was a mix of being in awe of the cities beauty and the cultural experiences and being frustrated/overwhelmed by large crowds of people. I will comment more about the crowds below.

The architecture of Split is unlike anything I have ever come across and I would recommend visiting for that reason alone – Split is renowned for its well-preserved Roman architectural remains. The most breathtaking part for me was the Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was essentially built as the retirement home for a Roman emperor in the year 305 AD. In the present day, the palace is the heart of Split – filled with restaurants, accommodation, homes and businesses of all kinds. The Palace has also been used as one of the filming locations for the TV show ‘Game of Thrones.’ The following are my recommendations for the city specifically for travellers on a budget.

My Favourite Sights

Bell Tower of St. Domnius

You can climb to the top the tower for 20 Kuna ($4.25AUD) for some spectacular views of Split. I, however, opted for a free option for a view of the city which I will share down below. I did enjoy viewing the actual tower from the outside, my hostel had an epic view of the tower and I was treated to the haphazard schedule of the bell tolling which was surprisingly entertaining.

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Bell Tower of St. Domnius view from my dorm at The Old Town Hostel in Split

Peristyle/Peristil

The Peristyle is the central square of the Diocletian’s Palace and the gateway to the Basement/Cellars of Diocletian’s Palace. The Peristyle was designed to be a place where Emperor Diocletian could be worshipped by his subjects. Due to the Peristyle’s incredible beauty and acoustics, the Peristyle was eventually used for performances of music, theatre and poetry. In modern times, a cafe operates within the Peristyle, so you can sit and enjoy a beverage while taking in the architecture and people watching.

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The Peristyle in Split has been a centre for social activities for centuries

The Basement of Diocletian’s Palace

The Basement of Diocletian’s Palace was originally the supporting substructure of the Emperor’s living quarters, designed to elevate the Emperor’s Palace above sea level to ensure that it received adequate sun and sea breeze. The substructures of the palace are quite true to the original form as they have seldom been modified since its initial erection.

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Exploring the basement of Diocletian’s Palace

The basement was used for practical purposes such as for pressing grapes and olives (an ancient press is depicted below). In the present day, the basement is used for events, exhibitions, theatrical and musical performances and trade fairs. There are also permanent market stalls in the entrance of the basement which sell a range of souvenirs.

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An ancient press in the basement of Diocletian’s Palace, it was likely used to press olives.

My friends and I were fortunate to visit when there was a flower show in the basement which was quite an interesting juxtaposition – an ancient building and modern, fresh flower arrangements.

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This particular arrangement reminded me of a fairy party I had when I was young child haha making my inner child happy.

The Riva Promenade

Just outside of the Palace is the Riva Promenade which is perpetually bustling with locals and tourists alike. It is home to restaurants, cafe’s/bars and market stalls. This is a great place to wander day or night, to people watch and relax by the water.

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The Riva Promenade from afar
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A kitty soaking up the sea views at dusk
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The Riva Promenade is perpetually bustling but is nevertheless an ideal place to relax

The Lucky Toe

The Statue of Gregory of Nin was erected in 1929, depicting the Croatian Bishop who was instrumental in introducing the use of the national language in religious services thus strengthening Christianity in Croatia. It is said that rubbing the golden toe of the statue will bring good luck – so, make sure you give it a rub haha.

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Rubbing the toe of the statue of Gregory of Nin is said to bring good luck.

Hiking Spot with an amazing FREE view of Split

Marjan Hill is a wonderful place to work out those quads (really – it is all uphill) and burn off that cheeky gelato and also to get a great view of Split from an elevated point – for free. Please excuse the phone photos.

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Accommodation

I stayed in ‘The Old Town Hostel Split‘. The hostel was decent – clean bathrooms, bedrooms and a somewhat well-equipped kitchen. The staff were incredibly helpful, answering any questions I had as I went along and were keen to have casual chats. The best part about this hostel is the location! Location, location, location!! The hostel is located within the Diocletian’s Palace so you have the very unique experience of sleeping within an ancient Roman Palace and as soon you step out the door you are within a world of architectural wonder. I highly recommend staying in this hostel as it is a great base to see the city.

Food

Food can be incredibly pricey in Split and what frightened me is the number of restaurants with menus boards or even menu books with no prices. In Croatian cities, you have to be aware there is a different price for the locals and a different price for the tourists and this applies to a lot of things like restaurants, markets and taxis. If you walk into a place with no prices you are playing budget Russian roulette. When I did see prices in restaurants and cafes they were similar to prices of dining out in Melbourne – which compared to other countries is quite expensive. If you are on a budget I highly recommend sticking mostly to eating from the supermarket or the markets.

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Fancy restaurants below my hostel

Budget Eats

  • Sandwich Bar Rizzo is Split’s answer to Subway – you get a delicious choice of fresh bread, fillings and sauces for the best price you can possibly get takeout food in Split. It cost about 15.50 Kuna or $3.30 AUD for a big sandwich for me.
  • Fife was recommended to me by one of the receptionists at my hostel. It is one of the cheapest places to get a decent cooked meal, with generous portions at a reasonable price. I spent 83 Kuna ($16.70AUD)on a seafood dinner of fried Squid with a side of fries and a cola.

Vegetarian

I visited Marta’s Veggie Fusion and had a fresh juice and a burrito bowl for 75 Kuna or around $15AUD. This is somewhat on the pricier side (but actually ‘cheap’ for Split and for vegetarian/vegan food) but for someone who is in need of some nutritious tasty food, they cannot miss this! The portion of the burrito bowl was also very generously sized. After being in a country for so long where food is a) expensive and b) meat-focused this place is exactly what I needed – highly recommended!

(FYI: I am pescetarian if me eating seafood and then recommending vegetarian food confuses anybody).

For the best Gelato in Split: Luka

Recommended to me by the staff at my hostel, Luka is everything it is cracked up to be  and I can confidently say this after sampling gelato at multiple locations in Split. I had the banana-chocolate and coffee cake flavours and they were wonderfully flavoured and textured. It set me back 17 Kuna (nearly $3.50AUD)for 2 scoops which I found quite reasonable.

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Me trying to be cute while eating ice cream (one of my hobbies)

Coffee

As a Melbourne coffee snob (who might be losing that status because of coffee desperation), I totally endorse D15 speciality coffee. I only had cold concoctions while there due to the humidity in Split but they were great. Prices are also in my opinion quite reasonable especially if you visit other coffee places within Split – they are all pretty similarly priced. A bottle of cold brew (with 2 serves) cost 26 Kunas ($5.30AUD) and an iced latte was 24 Kunas ($4.85AUD).

Special Events – The Festivities of St. Domnius – 7th of May

I was very fortunate to be in the city for The Festivities of St. Domnius (the cities patron saint) which is essentially the biggest celebration of the year in Split and to also share the moments with friends. In the 7 days leading up to the celebration, there are a variety of events held around the city, many of which at the Riva Promenade. I watched traditional dancing and listened to traditional music at the Riva Promenade one evening which was really a wonderful, fun cultural experience. On the 7th of May, the feast day, there were fireworks near the Promenade – the crowds kept me away from this event as it was simply too overwhelming for me but I managed to see the fireworks from afar.

Crowds

Split is the second most popular cruise ship stop next to Dubrovnik. When these crowds enter the streets it is overwhelming especially within the palace with narrow walkways. When multiple walking tours are happening at once, getting around can be very difficult. This is actually one reason I really liked staying at The Old Town Hostel because when I found the crowds to be too much I could fairly easily retreat back to my hostel. I also found that getting up early – even at 9am which isn’t that early, that the streets are fairly quiet.

Markets – TOURIST TRAP WARNING

So I did a dumb thing… I went out on a warm day without sunscreen (keep in mind that I am very fair skinned) and felt my soul melting – it was horrendous. So, out of desperation, I bought a hat without even thinking of the currency conversion as my judgement was clearly impaired while attempting to escape struggle town. I spent 350 Kuna or $70AUD (that was painful to type haha) on a straw hat which is apparently made in Italy (just going to tell myself it is…) at one of the markets across from the port. Be very careful when making purchases at these markets – you must actively use a currency converter app before handing the cash over. 

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In sum, I highly recommend checking out Split when visiting Croatia, as aforementioned the unique UNESCO heritage architecture alone is a great reason to visit. If you stay within the palace you can also have the very unique experience of sleeping within an ancient Roman Palace – how about that for an experience?!

Have you checked out my blog post on Plitvice Lakes yet? It is the most famous National Park in Croatia and it is also UNESCO heritage listed – it is a real bucket list destination and it is an easy place to from Split (and vice versa).

I would like to thank my American friends (Tyler, Scott and Shu Shu) who I spent some time with while in Split – thanks for the good times and taking some great photos of me which I have used in this post.

Mikki 🙂

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