What to Do in Split: Roman Ruins, Olive Oil Tasting, & More

I really enjoyed Split: I kinda felt like I was in Italy due to the extensive, well-preserved Roman ruins throughout the city and the architecture that is at times reminiscent of Venice. Realistically, Split can be seen in a solid day, although a second day will allow you to enjoy the city at a more leisurely pace and squeeze in a few more activities. Below are 3 suggestions for what to do in Split!

A word on travel logistics: We arrived to Split on the Jadrolinija boat line from Dubrovnik: we left at 7 AM and got there around 2 PM (yes, the boat ride was long) but we should have arrived at about 1 PM – still unclear why we were running so late. Our boat ride back from Split to Dubrovnik on the Kapetan Luka line was much quicker: we left at 7:40 AM and arrived around noon. For more deets about these kinds of logistics, check out my post on planning a trip to Croatia.

What to Do in Split

#1. A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Diocletian’s Palace

This should be high on your list for what to do in Split as an important cultural and historical activity. Diocletian’s Palace is one of the world’s best-preserved Roman ruins, but it’s actually not really a palace; rather, this ancient Roman imperial complex, built between 295 and 305 by the Roman emperor Diocletian, is the walled heart of the city. Although I recommend hitting all the spots on the walking tour below (inspired by Lonely Planet’s walking tour in their Croatia guide), also take some time to roam and let yourself get lost among the charming stone streets of the city: just strolling this area feels like a throwback to the 3rd century.

The charming stone streets of Diocletian’s Palace
The pleasant details of the labyrinthine streets of D’s Palace
The arched windows in Split remind me of Venice!
Some Croatia love on the streets of Split

Begin your walking tour at the Gregorious of Nin Statue, located right outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace. (Fun fact: the ancient walls of Diocletian’s Palace actually have four main entrance gates – the Golden Gate in the north, the Bronze Gate in the south, the Silver Gate in the east, and the Iron Gate in the west.) Gregorius of Nin was a Croatian bishop who advocated for the right to use old Croatian in the Catholic liturgy. He is a popular stop for tourists who like to rub his left big toe for good luck and the guarantee that they’ll return to Split!

The Gregorius of Nin Statue outside the Golden Gate – rub his toe for good luck!
The Golden Gate entrance to Diocletian’s Palace

Continue to ramble through the picturesque streets of the area: remember that you see more good stuff looking upward then straight ahead! Duck into side streets until you find yourself at the Peristil, the focal point of D’s Palace. Note the tall, ornate Romanesque belfry and the columns all around the plaza. Also note the black granite sphinx, imported from Egypt and dating back to the 15th century BC!

The tall belfry in the Peristil
Columns along the exterior of the cathedral in the Peristil
The beautiful columns of the Peristil
Ancient ruins of the Peristil

A visit to the Cathedral of St. Domnius is a highlight of this walking tour and one of my top recommendations for what to do in Split. This cathedral is so intriguing because it combines both ancient Roman and Christian history. Built as a mausoleum for Diocletian, known for his persecution of early Christians, this cathedral ultimately fell into the hands of the Christians when they converted the tomb into a church in the 5th century – an act dedicated to one of D’s victims. Your ticketed visit begins inside a creepy yet cool treasury, filled with relics and icons. Inside the church, you’ll find a frieze that still bears the face of D and his wife! The golden altar, the columns, and the architectural details in the church are also particularly beautiful: it’s crazy to think that this structure was standing over 1700 years ago! Your cathedral ticket also includes entry to the Temple of Jupiter, but don’t forget to buy your separate ticket to climb to the top of the belfry!

Inside the Cathedral of St. Domnius
Golden altar in the cathedral
Look out for Diocletian’s face on the frieze above!
Views of Split from the belfry
Views from the belfry – note the northern wall of D’s Palace that encloses most of the buildings

With cathedral ticket in hand, head to the Temple of Jupiter, now also known as the cathedral’s baptistry. This ancient building was originally constructed as a temple dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter. Now, a statue of John the Baptist is the centerpiece of the small temple. Of note are the cool designs on the vaulted ceiling; the single column outside the temple, which is the only one remaining from those that once held up a porch; and the headless black sphinx outside the temple, beheaded by Christians as a pagan icon.

The Temple of Jupiter. Notice the headless Egyptian sphinx!
The vaulted ceiling of the Temple of Jupiter

Walking southward from the Peristil, you’ll find the Vestibule, a weird-looking (at least to my 21st-century eyes) stone room that has a circular opening in the ceiling. This was once the entrance to the imperial chambers, so the acoustics were designed so that Diocletian could hear someone coming!

The circular opening of the Vestibule

#2. Olive Oil Tasting – yes, sip on some EVOO!!

I know it sounds weird. But that means you’ve probably never done it before, so this is exactly the kind of unique activity that should be on your list for what to do in Split. We did our tasting at Uje Oil Bar, right in the heart of the city. We paid about 100 Kuna (about $15) for a tasting that included three different olive oils along with bread, cheese, and olive tapenade: we really enjoyed it! Olive oil tasting was pretty similar to wine tasting in that you have to take small sips and inhale with your mouth open so that you get the full flavor. The oil then leaves an interesting tingle in your throat, depending on the quality and flavor. Honestly, you gotta try it!

Olive oil tasting at Uje Oil Bar!

#3. Have a sunset drink overlooking the city and harbor in Marjan Forest Park

Marjan Forest Park is Split’s expansive green area and a great location for a stroll. After an uphill yet pleasant walk to the park entrance, you’ll find Vidilica Cafe, a wonderful place for a sunset beer and meal with views over the entire city (see the main pic for this post above). We were lucky enough to be in Croatia for the World Cup final, and, while we were in Split, the Croatians held an animated welcome celebration for their players down by the harbor – we could see the jersey-clad mass and hear their singing all the way up in the park! We really enjoyed our time at the cafe, so I’d say this is a must when planning what to do in Split.

Views from Vidilica Cafe in Marjan Forest Park! We were lucky enough to catch a rainbow while the people of Split celebrated their World Cup players down below!
Jenna enjoying the views from Vidilica Cafe!
Trying Ožujsko beer with a view at Vidilica Cafe
Marjan Forest Park along the water
The nice stroll down from Marjan Forest Park

Have you been to Split? Any more ideas about what to do in Split?

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