Updated post: 18/04/20 | April 2020
Split is not exactly a hidden gem.
A lively university city, Split is also a magnet for those on a gap-year, seen hauling their backpacks along its harbourfront. Ferry boats lining its quayside bear testament to its popularity as a jumping-off point for island-hopping around the Croatian coast.
Split is also a popular port of call for cruise ships. Each year, 260 cruise ship calls disembark a total of 130,000 passengers.
Diocletian’s Palace is the jewel in Spilt’s crown. Built by the eponymous Roman Emperor in the 4th Century, this is now a seductive tangle of churches, chapels and houses that form the city’s old town.
Like bees to honey, cruise passengers and day-trippers to Split swarm this area. The sheer volume of people can become overwhelming.
But how can you avoid these crippling crowds? To help you get off the beaten path in Split, here are some quiet corners of the city and hidden gems to explore.
How to get off the beaten path in Split
Welcome to one of Europe’s most deliciously bonkers experiences.
Maybe its weirdness keeps visitors at bay, but when we visited Froggyland there was a grand total of six visitors. A proven way to avoid the crowds in Split!
The life work of enthusiastic taxidermist Ferenc Mere, 507 stuffed frogs are arranged in inventive dioramas, representing life in early 20th Century Croatia. Although undeniably eccentric, Mere’s handiwork is remarkable.
Descend a set of the dimly-lit steps, accompanied by the soundtrack of ribbiting, to view carefully arranged groups of frogs in glass cases lining the museum’s walls.
There’s a frog convict on chains awaiting the verdict of his fate in a packed courtroom. Drunken revelry is portrayed with stuffed frogs carousing over barrels of wine. An angry teacher tries to maintain control over a classroom of naughty froglets.
My favourite diorama was ‘The Village Party’. Frog couples dance to the strains of a band on the stage. In one corner, an intense game of poker is underway, whilst in the opposite corner, a small group of frogs are getting seriously sloshed. It’s wonderfully imaginative stuff.
Hungarian by birth, Ferenc Mere took inspiration from his surroundings and took his frogs from the lake alongside his house. His creations went on tour before finding a permanent home in Split’s Froggyland.
Fun fact: Mammals are more common taxidermy subjects as their fur hides any stiches. To hide visible evidence of his handiwork, Mere stuffed his frogs through their mouths.
Shop at a UNESCO-protected supermarket
It’s not often you can select your smoked cheeses from a chiller cabinet nestled amongst Corinthian columns. But then again, Split’s SPAR store isn’t your run-of-the-mill supermarket.
This supermarket is housed on what was the ground floor of the 13th century Mala Papalićeva Palača. This historic building sits within the larger complex of the Roman Diocletian’s Palace, which comprises the Split’s historic centre.
The area covered by Diocletian’s Palace became a UNESCO site in 1979. Therefore, technically speaking, the SPAR store is also protected by this World Heritage Site designation.
The choice of location of the supermarket has been controversial. Split’s locals and officials have argued against the choice of location and the effect of its presence on the conservation of the building.
However, the combination of a modern supermarket housed within a historic building is compelling. Spilt’s SPAR supermarket is well worth a visit, if only for the great deli counter.
Walk along the Majan Peninsula
But perhaps the best way to get off the beaten track in Spilt is to take to the hills.
Walk 10 minutes west along Riva, Spilt’s café-lined, seafront promenade, towards Trg Republike, an elegant square, lined on three sides by porticoed Neo-Renaissance buildings.
At Sv. Frane church you’ll see a sign for Marjan. From here. it’s an easy uphill walk along stone steps through shaded parkland to the viewpoint at the Vidlica Café.
Bag a table on the café’s sun-kissed terrace and soak up the view over a glass of refreshing Ožujsko beer before continuing the climb to Telegrin, the Marjan Peninsula’s highest point. Look out also for the 13th Century St. Nichols’s Chapel with its one-sided belfry.
Take a stroll through Split’s Varoš neighbourhood
When you have finished exploring the Marjan Peninsula, head back towards the Vidlica Café. Continue past the café and down Senjska which will take you back to the harbour.
This walk takes you through Varoš, Spilt’s first real neighbourhood, dating from the 12th Century. It’s a delightful, crowd-free area, boasting lovingly restored stone buildings with red-tiled roofs.
Final tips for getting off the beaten path in Spilt, Croatia
I hope that these suggestions help you escape the crowds in Split. They certainly helped me!
As I visited Spilt on an Adriatic Sea cruise from Venice to Greece, I had to use my time there wisely.
I braved Diocletian’s Palace before the crowds built up – this area was rammed by lunchtime – and then escaped to the Marjan Peninsula. Before getting back onboard the cruise ship, I returned to Diocletian’s Palace. By late afternoon, Split’s old town was considerably quieter.
How I visited Split on a cruise
- Cruise operator: MSC Cruises
- Cruise ship: MSC Sinfonia
- Time in port: 7 am – 5 pm
- Local currency: Croatian Kuna (HRK)
- Language spoken: Croatian but most people speak English
Getting to central Split from the cruise terminal & getting around
- Cruise ships park up at Split’s port, a ten-minute walk along the quayside from the old town, which lies within the area once occupied by Diocletian’s Palace.
- As Split’s main attractions are scattered over a relatively compact area, everything is walkable. Consequently, you should not need to use public transport within Split.
LEARN ABOUT OTHER PORTS OF CALL ON THIS ADRIATIC SEA CRUISE!
- A War Walk in Dubrovnik: A Scarred Beauty
- Exploring Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia
- A Day in Urbino: A Renaissance Gem
- Should You Visit Santorini on a Cruise?