The bustling port city of Split on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is one of the jewels in the Adriatic crown. Dotted with cafes, restaurants and galleries, its history and atmosphere make it one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, with many using it as a base from which to explore the myriad idyllic islands located off the coastline.
Split is also home to one of Europe’s most beautiful Old Towns, built into the alleys of the 1,600-year-old Diocletian’s Palace. Strolling around this part of the city is an essential activity for anyone visiting Split. However, if you’re also interested in delving under the surface of the city, there are also a wide number of slightly more unorthodox things to see and do here. We’ve picked out 12 of the best.
One of Split’s most original tourist attractions is a shrine to the humble frog – and a masterclass in taxidermy. Housing 507 intricately stuffed frogs, the Froggyland museum depicts the famously green amphibians in a variety of every-day scenarios – and some unlikely ones too. There are frogs walking to school, playing tennis, taking photos, playing instruments, painting, sewing and even running a circus, with the attention to detail simply extraordinary. So who is the mad genius behind the magical compilation? You have to go back to early 20th century Hungary to find out, when taxidermist Ference Mere devoted 10 years to stuffing and meticulously arranging the frogs. They passed from owner to owner before finally making it to Croatia, where they were put up for display in their own – truly unique – museum.
LOCATION Ul. kralja Tomislava 5 HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-11pm
2. Pirate Ship Sea Tour
There are endless options for exploring the crystalline waters off the coast of Croatia and around its idyllic islands, but this is perhaps the most unique. Aboard a handmade replica of Christopher Columbus’ flagship Santa Maria, the family-friendly, pirate-themed tour transports up to 15 guests on a magical, fun-filled adventure that takes in swimming, snorkelling, food and drinks, Run by Split Sea Tours, they offer a variety of tours and activities, including Blue Cave tours, and their pirate tours among the most popular. You can either book a half-day tour, a sightseeing tour with drinks and swimming, or a private tour. Your guides dress in classic pirate attire, and the boat is dotted with skeletons, skulls and cross-bones, and other paraphernalia. Guests are encouraged to enter the spirit of things too by rocking up in their own pirate gear.
LOCATION Riva Promenade and Harbor
3. St. Duje’s Cathedral
Originally built as the mausoleum of the legendary Roman Emperor Diocletian, the central portion of this grand old octagonal-shaped building dates all the way back to 350, affording it the prestigious title of the oldest cathedral in the world. Fascinating remnants from its Roman past, including the original ring of 24 supporting columns, still stand, while the cathedral’s romanesque wooden doors, have survived unchanged since 1200. A ticket for the cathedral includes admission to its eerily quiet crypt, as well as its treasury and baptistery.
LOCATION Ul. Kraj Svetog Duje 5, Peristil HOURS Mon-Sat 8am-7pm; Sun 12.30pm-6.30pm
4. Culinary Tour
Croatian cuisine is unique in the region, combining traditional Mediterranean fare with some flashes of Eastern European and Middle East influences too. One of the best ways for serious foodies to get to know the country’s culinary landscape is offered by Split Walking Tour, a company that offer Split-based tours in five languages, each run by highly qualified guides with a passion for all things Croatia. Among their most popular trips is the Split Culinary Tour, a 90-minite odyssey that takes in the city’s finest gastronomic spots, including a fishmarket, a greenmarket, and a wine house in the centre of Diocletian Palace, where you’ll tuck into a gourmet three-course lunch. The tour costs €20,00 per person and you can also combine it with a number of other tours, including a Split Walking Tour, a traditional Dalmatian dinner, and Wine Tasting.
LOCATION Golden Gate/north entrance of Diocletian Palace HOURS 10am-11.30am (Apr–Oct)
5. Klis Fortress
Located a quick drive northeast of Split, this eye-catching medieval fortress is balanced on a limestone bluff above terraced hills. It’s a bit of an arduous trek up an upland pass to reach it, but it’s certainly worth the effort – not least because it has taken far greater exertions to preserve it over the past two and a half millennia, having played a prominent role in major conflicts including the Ottoman Wars. Inside, you can clamber all over the fortifications and visit a small museum, which has displays of swords and costumes along with fascinating facts about the castle’s tumultuous past.
LOCATION Kliška tvrđava, Klis HOURS Tues-Sun 10am-7pm Closed Mon
6. ShotGun Shooters Bar
Perhaps not for the prudish, but anyone with an open mind and a taste for exotic shots should head to Shotgun Shooters for the best night out in Split. Nestled in the heart of the city, in a bohemian enclave near the Diocletian Palace, the atmosphere is electric and the drinks mouth-watering – and not a little risqué too. Scroll through the menu and you’ll see such creative names as Leg Spreader, Ben Dover and Boob grower – but it all adds to the fun and the choice of shots is genuinely impressive. As well as something to satisfy all taste buds, there’s also great music, friendly staff and a funky interior that will look even funkier after your 6th drink.
LOCATION Ul. Majstora Jurja 5 HOURS Sat-Weds 8pm-12am; Thurs-Fri 8pm-1am
7. Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments
Founded in the 2nd or 3rd century BC, the city of Split is a historical goldmine. But while many of its ancient relics remain in situ, some 20,000 of them have been moved to the comfort of this magnificent museum. Most of the pieces on display here date back to medieval times and include such esoteric items as include jewellery, weapons, armour and everyday household accessories. Among the highlights are an assortment of stone inscriptions, reliefs and carvings relating to the Croatian kings, nobility and clergy from the 800s to the 1100s.
LOCATION Gunjačina ul. bb HOURS Mon-Fri 9am-1pm; 5pm-8pm Sat 9am-2pm Closed Sun
8. Statue of Grgur Ninski
Standing proudly and imposingly outside Split’s ornate Golden Gate, this giant statue depicts Grgur Ninski a 10th-century bishop and veritable national icon, who risked his life to help spread Christianity in the region against the will of the pope. Visitors to the sculpture rub the big man’s toe for good luck – with so many people indulging in this superstitious practice that the bronze toe now positively gleams. The statue’s late creator, called Ivan Meštrović is also something of a legend in Croatia and beyond, including in America where his public works are revered to this day.
9. Watch a Hajduk Split football match
Impressively for such a small country, Croatia has a rich footballing history and one of its biggest clubs is Hajduk Split. The team play their home games at the Stadion Poljud in the scenic neighbourhood of Poljud, with its distinctive shell-like construction making it one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. But the truly unique experience can be found inside at a live game, where 35,000 fans regularly congregate to scream themselves horse for 90 minutes. It delivers a real sensory overload – particularly if you manage to catch a so-called Eternal Derby against arch rivals Dinamo Zagreb. If you can get a ticket, wear neutral colours, keep your head down and prepare for some serious noise.
10. Kašjuni Beach
Situated on the southern foothills of Marjan peninsula, just west of Split city centre, this beach is pretty low-key compared to many of its national counterparts – but that’s what makes it unique. In a tourist-thronged country like Croatia, it can be hard to find a secluded spot to while away the hours, but that’s precisely what Kašjuni Beach offers. Surrounded by pristine nature, there’s no plastic or concrete to be seen, allowing you to enjoy the natural environs unimpeded. Walk west from here and you’ll also reach Split’s only beach that allows dogs, as well as a nudist beach (though we’re glad to say they don’t combine the two).
11. Klub Gurmana I Hedonista wine bar
For wine lovers, there’s one stand-out destination that you’re required to add to your itinerary. Nestled, in Split’s charming Radunica neighbourhood within a traditional stone building , this shop-cum-wine bar stocks arguably the country’s finest selection of Croatian wines. The English-speaking owner, Igor, has also become something of a local celebrity and will invariably be found chewing the ear off patrons – gathered around the venue’s only table – with his insights into the intricacies of wine-making . The bar also hosts regular wine-tasting events.
LOCATION Kuzmanićeva 13, Radunica
12. Croatian National Theatre
High culture may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering things to do in Croatia, but those seeking something a little more lofty than the country’s more traditional attractions will find it in Split, courtesy of the Croatian National Theatre. Housed in an imposing building along pedestrianized Marmontova, the venue stages a diverse programme of theatre, ballet and opera. It has become something of a tradition for audiences to come dressed for the occasion, so prepare to dust off the glad rags.
LOCATION Trg Gaje Bulata 1