A guest post from Florine – a divemaster and travel blogger at World Adventure Divers.
If you heard Croatia was better 10 years ago, don’t believe a word of what everyone is saying. While Croatia has become one of the trendiest holiday destinations in Europe in the last couple of years, from the moment we landed at the airport, it was an entirely different story. It was stunning, pristine and incredibly charming. When you thought you had seen it all in Europe, give Croatia a try and you will marvel at this country like if it was the first time you were travelling around the Old Continent.
Croatia is quite large, and anyone attempting to visit it all in a week may fail to capture its real beauty. That is why we chose to fly to Split, to focus on this beautiful region of Southern Croatia. By doing so, with just a week, you can enjoy the fantastic sights and attractions that the city and its surrounding islands offer.
Day 1 – Get lost in the street maze of the old town with an ice-cream
From the moment you will arrive in Split, don’t rush directly to visit the main attraction of the old town. The city of Split is quite small, so you will have plenty of time to explore Split’s main monuments. It was maybe our favourite activity to get lost in the maze of the narrow streets of Split, discovering ancient palaces turned into fancy restaurants, the most delicious ice cream for only 7 kunas the scoop (less than a pound), or the elegant Republic Square with a seaview. Best ice-cream in town: Hadjuk, Ulica Matošića 4, 21000 Split
Try all the mouth-watering delicacies from the bakeries
The most amazing surprise we had in Croatia was food. We were not expecting anything special, but when we entered our first bakery, we were stunned by all the delicious pastries that were available. If you feel like having something savory, have a try at the burek (puff pastry with cheese) or the soparnik (flat pie with a spinach filling). If you have a sweet tooth, try the krempita (cream pie) or the savijaca visnja (cherry strudel). Best bakery in Split: Bobis, Ulica Ispod ure, 21000 Split
Walk to the very end of Split promenade for the best sunset view
Toward the end of the day, walk all along the pleasant seafront promenade leading to the marina. In only 30 minutes, at the end the day, you will be able to enjoy one of the most beautiful views as the golden light will highlight in a superb way Split’s seafront and the mountains in the background. This is the best place to go for your holiday selfie in Split!
Have a drink, or two, or more within a Roman Palace’s walls
The highlight of Split is the Palace of Diocletian. Built by one of the latest Roman Emperors for its retirement, the remains of the Palace is not a monument you visit: the city is the Palace! Through the centuries, people from Split used the ruins to build their homes. In the Peristyle square, have a seat on the cushions that Luxor Café put on the stairs. Enjoy your favourite drink while listening to live music. Then you can head to the north wall where many quirky bars are hiding.
Day 2 – Do your groceries at Split’s Green Market for the best products from Croatian countryside
Every morning, between the ferry docks and the Palace of Diocletian, you can find the Green Market. On long tables, the farmers from Dalmatian countryside come to sell their best products: fruits and vegetable, honey, cheese. If you are renting an apartment while staying in Croatia, this is the best place to go for shopping as supermarkets tend not to have so much choice or freshness available.
Visit a Roman Mausoleum turned into a Cathedral
Make sure to buy the combo ticket for 40 kunas (£5) that includes the tour of the Bell Tower, the Cathedral and the Crypt, to save some money. Once the mausoleum of Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd Century, the Cathedral St Domnius is the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the world since the 4th Century. Architecture lovers will enjoy how the Roman dome was converted into a Cathedral. Next to the entrance of the Cathedral, do not miss the Vestibulum that was a part of the Emperor Private quarters, the open sky dome might be the most photographed part of the Palace of Diocletian.
Climb the Bell Tower of Split for a breath-taking view
There is no better place than the Bell Tower to enjoy a 360° view of Split and the islands of Dalmatia. The ascent of the tower can be challenging: the tower is 60 m high, and its old metallic stairs are quite vertiginous. Be brave, do it, and you will be rewarded with a breath-taking view.
Day 3 – Hop on the World Heritage Island of Trogir by bus
Trogir is a charming medieval town on a tiny island that is only separated from the mainland by a narrow canal. It takes 30 minutes to go to Trogir by bus for as little as 17 kunas one way (less than £2). In only half a day, we enjoyed going to the top of Saint Lawrence Cathedral, wandering the cobblestone streets and walking along the seafront promenade until the Kamerlengo Fortress.
Indulge yourself with Dalmatian Gastronomy in Split
Once back in Split, make sure to book a table for dinner at Konoba Lucac (Ulica Sv. Petra starog 2, 21000 Split). This small restaurant, well hidden behind the train station, offers traditional Dalmatian recipes served with style for a reasonable price. We tasted the octopus salad, the cuttlefish black risotto and a beef stew; all served with a crisp white wine from Korcula and a full-bodied red from Hvar.
Days 4 -5 – Hop on Vis Island to go scuba diving
The islands of Dalmatia are so close to Split that it would be unfortunate to miss visiting some of them. In only an hour and a half with the fast catamaran of Kapetan Luka, for only 45 kunas (about £5), you can visit the island of Vis. This island is still an out-of-the-beaten-track destination as it only opened to tourism in 1999. It used to be the base of the Yugoslavian army. If this is your thing, you can join one of the military tours. In our case, we visited Vis as it is gaining more and more fame as the scuba diving paradise of Southern Croatia. With many shipwrecks covered in marine life and stunning sea caverns to explore, the most experienced divers will have a blast. If you never tried scuba diving, why not taking the opportunity to go on a discovery dive in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea? Best scuba diving centre in Vis: Manta Diving Centre, Plazni objekt, 21485 Komiza
Discover the “Modra Spilja” Blue Cave, one of the most famous natural landmarks of Croatia
For information, you can visit the Blue Cave by booking a tour directly from Split, but these tend to be pricey, ranging from 90€ to 110€ (note how the prices are indicated in euros and not in kuna anymore) and you will spend the entire day on a speed boat in relative comfort. The best solution is to go to Komiza, on the island of Vis, where you can take the water taxi to the isle of Bisevo where the Blue Cave is. From the ferry pier to Komiza, the bus is 20 kunas (£2), the water taxi is 100 kunas (£12), and the entrance to the Blue Cave 50 kunas (£6) in low season, and 100 kunas in July/August. For a few years, it has now been forbidden to swim or dive inside the cave (contrary to all the pictures you will see on brochures). The boat tour does not last more than 5 minutes, as it is a very popular tourist attraction, but the blue light which is coming from the water is a show you do not want to miss, ideally between 11 am and noon.
Days 6-7 – Hop on Hvar Island and taste some of the best Croatian wines
Another island you should not miss while spending a holiday in Split is Hvar. The ferry will take you to the town of Hvar, where, in only an hour for 40 kunas (£5). The island is appreciated for its summer parties by the European jetset and young electronic music fans. However, the island is so much more than just venues to party; it produces lavender and some of the best wines in Croatia: the Plavac red wine. You can either book a wine tour in one of the vineyards or sample the best wines at one of the fancy wine bars of Hvar Town. If you are more into hiking, kayaking or scuba diving, the lower season in June or September would be the best bet to enjoy the beauty of the island without the crowds. Don’t miss the view from the top of the Spanish Fortress and The protected Pakleni Archipelago, just a stone’s throw away from Hvar town. These wild islands are a protected natural habitat perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving. Best scuba diving centre in Hvar: Viking Diving Centre, Put Podstina 7, 21450 Hvar.
Florine is a Divemaster and a Dive Travel blogger at World Adventure Divers. She dives in tropical like extreme cold waters, selecting her destinations when both adventure diving and cultural discoveries are part of the journey, without breaking the bank.