Split is the second largest city in Croatia, with over 350,000 people living in its urban area. The city spreads over a peninsula and surrounding area on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. It’s the largest city in the area called Dalmatia, where the famous spotted dogs originated. Development of the area first began as a Greek colony in the second or third century BC.
Founding of the city is associated with a palace built in 305 AD when a Roman named Diocletian wanted a retirement residence built there. The city developed within and around the walls of that early palace, which was subject to raids and sackings over the centuries.
Rule changed hands depending on the winners of various wars including 377 years under Venetian rule. Some of the streets through the old town area are narrow alleyways between tall buildings resembling the alleys winding through Venice. Croatia was part of Yugoslavia after WWII, gaining independence in 1991.
SPLIT CRUISE PORT
Smaller cruise ships dock near the ferry terminal a short distance from town, larger ships anchor in the bay and tender to a dock even closer to the old town area. It’s less than a 15 minute walk from the cruise port to the old historic castle, which is pretty much unrecognizable as a castle since the town is built throughout the castle grounds and destruction and rebuilding occurred in ancient wars. There are some visible ruins and castle walls, and places where walls of the old castle are part of more recent buildings. An area of shops lies within an intact portion of the old castle.
The language of the area is Croatian, but many of the people also speak English. Their currency is called Kuna. It takes over 6 kuna to equal one US dollar. Price tags make things look expensive since they are in kuna, but when translated into dollars the prices there were actually quite reasonable. Shops generally open at 8 on weekdays and 9 on Saturdays. Many are closed on Sunday. The old town area is easily reached by foot, being about 500 meters from the cruise dock.
There’s a tourist office with free maps just outside the city walls near the historic center. It’s quite a unique place since the old town grew within the walls that once encircled Diocletian’s palace. Some of the original palace buildings that still exist have been converted to other uses while additional buildings and cobblestone streets built within the walls make it look more like a medieval city than a former palace. Outside the old castle walls the Riva Promenade is a nice place to walk with views of the port area.
The MSC Lirica docked in Split, Croatia late on a Friday morning. It was quite windy next to the ship, as is often the case. Large cruise ships seem to make their own wind tunnels, especially when docked near each other or at ports with large structures as this one had. You can see the town across the bay from the ship, and to get there you walk along the water past the ferry docks and then other ships docked along the seawall.
Once we walked beyond the ship the wind lessened dramatically. In town it was just a breeze. The ship offered a few tours for that port, cheap compared to usual cruise ship excursions. Once we cleared the port gate there were numerous locals offering taxi or van tours ranging from 1-4 hours. Had their prices been in the local kuna they wouldn’t have been bad, but since they were in euros they were actually higher than the cruise ship excursions, which is opposite what local tours at the port usually are.
One of the stop options on the taxi tours locals offered was the Fortress of Klis around 13 km away, which was used as the city of Meereen in the filming of Game of Thrones.
Some scenes in Game of Thrones were filmed right in old town Split in the basement area of the Dioecletian’s palace where it is still intact. This area was used for Daenerys’ throne room as well as where the dragons were kept. Another scene filmed in Split was at Papalićeva Street, which was one of the Streets from the slave rebellion scene. We found a shop where all the merchandise in the entire store was GoT oriented.
We opted to just walk into town as the old town area is just past a bunch of ferries on the other side of the little bay area where the ship docked. For the most part it’s hard to tell there was once a palace there. Some of the streets are cobblestone and some of the sidewalks some sort of whiteish stone or brick. Some are quite narrow. Others are not quite that slim, yet narrow enough to give the feeling of walking through a medieval town or something out of Harry Potter as the lanes are surrounded in ancient buildings.
Split is a UNESCO world heritage site with 1700 years of history. As mentioned earlier, Split is Croatia’s second biggest city. Only Dubrovnik is larger. Split is located in the center of the country on the Adriatic coast. Its most famous monument is the 4th century Diocletian’s Palace, so basically the entire old town area.
If you don’t have a specific agenda it really doesn’t matter where you go in the old town area because there are ancient structures everywhere. Some are in ruins, some current buildings use portions of the ruins as part of their walls, and some buildings are fully intact and though old, were not part of the original palace. A sort of tunnel filled with shops through an ancient and still intact basement of the palace leads from the seaside to a stairway up to an open area with an old church and some tall columns and other ruins, and is the basement mentioned earlier where the GoT scenes were filmed.
Just outside the walls we came across other interesting things like a fountain, tower, and statue all in the same area near an entrance through the wall.
The seaside walkway outside the old castle walls in the Riva Promenade area follows a wide open space next to the edge of town with palm trees and lots of little restaurants along a long row of outside tables. There’s a good view of the cruise ship from there.
We came upon a little train ride that seemed out of place among all the historic buildings.
THINGS TO DO IN SPLIT
You can easily walk to all the main historical attractions in old town on your own, but if you want more information about the things you see there guided tours are available including a Game of Thrones walking tour. Segway tours are also an option. Split has lots of galleries and museums. Split also has lots of beaches. Bacvice is the most popular local beach, the only sandy beach around, and it’s the closest beach to the old town area. Expect crowds in warm weather. This beach also has water sports and stylish cafés. Snorkeling and diving are popular things to do in warm weather on islands near to Split. Excursions offered by MSC in Split included a city tour, walking tour through old town, bus tours to other historical cities, a walking tour through a national park that is a 1.5 hour bus ride away, and a mill tour.
The view from the ship is pretty awesome with all of the town in front of a range of tall, desolute and barren looking mountains. It’s an interesting place to visit.