36 Hours in Split, Croatia


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36 Hours in Split

Surrounded by mountains and sea, Split has it all: Roman ruins, trendy shops and fashionable restaurants.


By Fritzie Andrade, Max Cantor, Chris Carmichael, Will Lloyd, Dinko Paleka and Sarah Brady Voll on Publish Date June 24, 2015.


Photo by Max Cantor for The New York Times.

Split, in central Dalmatia, has it all: Roman ruins and grand museums alongside fashionable cafes and trendy shops. But what makes this city most alluring is not just its proximity to the sandy beaches and rocky coves of nearby islands, but its location overlooked by mountains and edged by the deep blue Adriatic Sea.

Thanks to a number of discount European airlines, Split (the second-largest city in Croatia after Zagreb) now buzzes with weekend visitors eager to sample the region’s Mediterranean cuisine, nightclubs and sleek galleries. Still, it is the breathtaking centerpiece of the city — Diocletian’s Palace, a Unesco World Heritage site dating back to A.D. 295, and a recent film location for “Game of Thrones” — that makes Split so memorable. With more than 200 buildings and 3,000 residents within an eight-acre enclosed space, the “palace” is a mini-city of its own, full of stone-paved pedestrian paths on which visitors can explore the palace’s treasures, which include a Romanesque belfry, a 16th-century synagogue, a courtyard filled with music, and a store selling exotic olive oils.

What’s more, the water lapping on the promenade just outside the palace is warm enough for swimming from mid-May through late September, giving a visitor little excuse not to linger just that much longer on the mainland.

Friday

1. Through the Centuries | 5 p.m.

Before investigating Diocletian’s Palace, a stone’s throw away, bone up on your history by walking through the Gallery of Fine Arts, which houses more than 3,500 works of art from the 14th century to modern day. Housed in a 1792 building that was the city’s first hospital, the nearly 24,000-square-foot space is now a bright and airy spot in which to explore the works of not just Croatian artists, but also those from the former Yugoslavia and the Czech Republic. Be sure to stop at the gallery’s breezy outdoor terrace cafe for coffee or a cocktail. Here you can marvel at the palace’s Baroque outer walls and the Golden Gate entrance (one of four palace gates named after metals, the others being Iron, Silver and Bronze). Admission, 20 kuna or about $3 at 6.5 kuna to the dollar.

2. From the Seas | 7 p.m.

It goes without saying that the most appropriate first meal in this seaside city involves fresh fish from the Adriatic. Look no further than Nostromo — not surprisingly a short casting distance (across the street) from the fish market. Before ordering some delectable starters (fried anchovies, an aromatic fish soup and a tangy Dalmatian octopus salad), we chose our main course from a platter of raw fish brought to our table. Forty minutes later, the sea bream, tuna, sea bass and scorpion fish were returned to us grilled to perfection, alongside a medley of succulent eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and peppers. Dinner for two with a bottle of Croatian white wine (there are more than 300 geographically defined wine regions in Croatia) that our waiter described to us only as “powerful” came to 800 kuna.

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36 Hours in Split

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3. On the Promenade | 11 p.m.

Walk off your dinner along the Obala Hrvatskog Narodnog Preporoda, otherwise known as the Riva waterfront promenade; the palm-tree-studded walkway is a prime spot for people watching. In this public space bordering the front of Diocletian’s Palace, you can count the number of languages you hear (my companion and I heard six), while sipping a nightcap at one of the cafes tucked under a row of white awnings, and watching the boats (island ferries, cruise ships, fishing vessels and sailing rigs) bob in the twinkling harbor.

Photo

The city of Split.

Credit
Max Cantor for The New York Times

Saturday

4. Emperor’s Quarters | 10 a.m.

Given how bustling the ancient palace is today, it is hard to imagine how the Roman Emperor Diocletian built this now-sprawling maze of passageways and courtyards to be not just his home but a military fortress. But fewer than 10 years after completing it in A.D. 305, he died. It continued to be a retreat for Roman rulers long after his death before being abandoned for centuries. In the 12th to 14th centuries it became an ecclesiastical center, and later a fort. Finally, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was an Austrian outpost. Not only is it one of the most impressive Roman ruins in the world, residents still inhabit it, leaning out their apartment windows to watch the happenings below. Visit the Town Museum (a restored home from the Middle Ages) and Cathedral of St. Domnius, filled with murals, carved altars and a steep bell tower that you might regret, as I did, not climbing, as well as the Temple of Jupiter, guarded by a headless black granite sphinx from Egypt.

5. Urban Swim | 1 p.m.

Bacvice is one of the most popular swimming spots in Split. Before settling into your lounge chair (40 kuna a day, including umbrella) sample the street food on the waterfront: grilled sweet corn and Croatian doughnuts filled with jam and sprinkled with sugar, to name two. Then take in the scene — children jumping off rafts, boys on Jet Skis and old men and women diving expertly into the turquoise water. For a less-crowded experience, walk down to Ovcice beach, where a more fashionable crowd checks out one another in a cafe overlooking a sandy harbor. Be sure to bring your own towel so you don’t have to buy one there for 120 kuna after an irresistible dip.

6. Palace Shopping | 5 p.m.

Head back to the palace, this time for retail and restaurant therapy. Wander through every alley — there are countless wonderful clothing shops carrying designer handbags and shoes, as well as souvenir stores peddling local arts and crafts. For avant-garde jewelry, fashion and home products, visit Arterija, and leave with a funky leather necklace or sleek black dress that feels perfect for the club that night.

7. Olive Oil Extravaganza | 8 p.m.

Uje Oil Bar is a brand of its own. Not only does it have a shop where you can buy more than 50 varieties of Croatian olive oils, along with olives, sweets and wines, but it also has a bar and restaurant. Reserve ahead for dinner (a stone’s throw from the bar), as the daily menu draws crowds, as does the décor — wooden tables, garlands of hanging garlic cloves and shelves of olive oil. We had feta cheese with roasted peppers, plump shrimp and a thick tuna steak with new potatoes and green beans — all glistening in a golden hue of olive oil. Dinner for two with wine was 391 kuna.

8. Happy Ending | 10 p.m.

For a magical end to the evening, park yourself on the steps bordering the center courtyard outside the Lvxor Café. The waiters will find you since they frequently have musicians playing for their outdoor guests. Sitting there sipping a cold beer, you might find yourself, as we did, watching a bride and groom kiss in the balcony overhead while couples danced in the courtyard to an acoustic guitar version of Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.” All in all, a perfect summer night.

9. Purple Pleasures | Midnight

If you are after a less mellow music scene, try the nearby Caffe Bar Inbox a short walk from the palace. While the most popular club scene is a ferry ride away on the island of Hvar, Split also has night life, though the best spots are farther down around the Bavcice beach area. This purple-lit club should check all the boxes (a dipping pool, plasma screens, lounge chairs and a circular bar).

Photo

A view from the second floor of Galerija Mestrovic, dedicated to the work of Ivan Mestrovic.

Credit
Max Cantor for The New York Times

Sunday

10. Croatian Luminary | 10 a.m.

Walk 40 minutes along the harbor sidewalks to Galerija Mestrovic, a museum originally designed by one of Croatia’s most famous artists, Ivan Mestrovic, to be his home, studio and exhibition space. But instead of retiring here, as he had planned, he emigrated to the United States after World War II. He was a sculptor, painter, architect and writer, and one of his statues adorns the gates of the palace. But here at the sweeping structure Mestrovic built in the 1930s, you will see all forms of his work. Inside, you will find his carvings in marble, bronze and wood. The gardens are filled with more of his striking sculptures, but it is the view of the sea and islands that will vie for your attention. Admission, 30 kuna.

11. Nautical Lunch | Noon

For lunch, stop at F de Mar, a waterside restaurant, with blue and white striped awnings and matching seats. We started with a delicate fish carpaccio in a white balsamic vinaigrette, and then shared a prawn risotto sprinkled with pine nuts and chopped sun-dried tomatoes and accented with pesto. Next up was grilled eggplant stuffed with a homemade creamy ricotta followed by a white chocolate and sour cherry parfait. Lunch for two, about 400 kuna. This is the perfect place to lose yourself during your final hours in Split, mesmerized by the boats and the lapping sea.

Lodging

Luxe Boutique Hotel (Kralja Zvonimira 6; hotelluxesplit.com). Just steps from the heart of the city, this hotel is truly the most fashionable in Split. Modern décor is showcased not just in the rooms (many of which have balconies with harbor views) but in the lobby and wellness center, which includes a spa and whirlpool. Rooms start at 195 euros.

Hotel Villa Diana (Kuzmanica 3; hotelvilladianasplit.com) This charming small hotel five minutes walk from the center of the city, does not only have an on-site restaurant with welcoming staff, but also single, double and even a quadruple room for a family. Rooms start at 149 euros.



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