Welcome to Split, capital of Dalmatia and the second-largest town in all of Croatia. Thanks to the unstoppable style of its natives, this bustling city-by-the-sea is a fantastic place to visit and one of Eastern Europe's best-kept secrets.
The first must-do of any visit to the Dalmatian Coast is to head for the water, which is likely the reason you're here. Set off down the gleaming pedestrian boulevard of Marmontova ulica, holding your nose as you pass the historic fish market. When you reach the Adriatic Sea's edge, turn left to stroll Riva, Split's proud city promenade. Grab a drink and a pastry at one of the sidewalk cafes, and catch a meditative moment watching the water as you ingest your favorite jet-lag remedy.
Far off to the right you can glimpse the port where, if you're joining our Backroads adventure along the Dalmatian Coast, you'll board our private boat to begin the journey.
Three of the city's original Roman gates still stand and are definitely worth a visit. Halfway down Riva, duck to the left through Morska Vrata, the Gate of the Sea, to find yourself in the historic heart of what was once the Roman Emperor Diocletian's Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The complex breaks down into three sights with separate entrance fees: the Temple of Jupiter (also called the Baptistery), the Palace foundations and the bell tower of St. Dujam's cathedral--the magnificent view from the tower make this a must-see.
Head down the block and under the stone tower of the City Clock to find yourself on Narodni Trg, the People's Square. It's the epicenter of Split's great discount shopping. In the alleys around the square, stores selling shoes, sunglasses and watches offer big brand names at Balkan prices.
If you're hungry, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the city's fast food: pizza by the slice, fresh prosciutto sandwiches and burgers heaped with every topping you never knew you wanted. You can take a post-lunch siesta at one of the city's many spectacular beaches (read on for beach info).
But first, if you're open to a strange sense of humor, there's one more museum that you can't miss: Split's weirdest attraction, Froggyland (Kralja Tomislava 5, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.). A Hungarian artist made it his life's work to create the whimsical dioramas displayed at this museum, which show hundreds of taxidermied frogs who can be seen doing everything from drinking at a bar to practicing gymnastics.
If you've lucked out with average Dalmatian summer weather, then by this point, the heat is probably getting serious. It's time to get off the streets and onto the sand... or rather, pebbles.
The main city beach is Bačvice, where you're sure to see and be seen. Here, a throng of tanning bodies and splashing children becomes part of the carnival. To get off the beaten track, though, grab a taxi to Žnjan beach, a few miles east. This dusty neighborhood is in its first stages of development, and it's redolent of Baja Mexico or Tel Aviv, peppered with hastily-constructed beach bars that bear names like "Congo" and "LOL." There are also amenities for thrill-seekers, who can buzz around on jet skis or jump from a diving board onto a giant floating landing pad, while their partners snooze.
If beachcombing isn't your thing, lace up your walking shoes and head to Marjan Forest, the main city park. Here, paths wind around a green hill that juts out into the sea. Snap pictures of the town below while you hide from the hottest part of the day beneath fragrant Aleppo pines. You might want to have a swimsuit handy too--the peninsula is lined with hidden crystal coves.
If you long for the thrum of the walled city, let yourself be invited in by the unmistakably trendy stone arches of Zinfandel, a wine and tapas bar (Marka Marulića 2, 8 a.m. - 1 a.m.). Or for great seafood surrounded by classic elegance, grab an outdoor table at Bajamonti on the gorgeous Square of the Republic (Marmontova 3, 8 a.m. - 1 a.m.). But location is everything, and you can't go wrong with food here--especially fresh fish and olive oil--so don't be afraid to wander the lanes and step into any konoba (tavern) that calls to you.
You'd be excused for heading home for some post-feast Z's, but in Split, the night is just starting. Ulica Majstora Jurja, near Zlatna Vrata (the Golden Gate), is a street full of small bars. If you're feeling bold, try one of the many flavored rakija (grappa) shots at Shotgun (Majstora Jurja 5), then bar-crawl your way down the street.
On the other hand, if you're winding down for the night and want to stay low-key, return to where you started today and grab a table and a nightcap on Riva. The sea is dark now, but you can still smell the salty air which will surround you for the next week. Get ready to dive in. The vibrant Dalmatian Coast is yours to explore.
Want to see the best of the Dalmatian Coast? Join us for a week-long biking or hiking tour through this Mediterranean paradise!