Aw how fantastic, you’re planning your next trip? I couldn’t be happier for you! Travel is one of the things I love most in life, and visiting places where I can afford to live like royalty — hey, that’s even better. As you’re searching for your next destination you probably don’t need me to tell you why you should visit Barcelona, Amsterdam, or Naples; those cities are as tried as they are true. But if you’re looking to stretch your dollar in a place that is beautiful, romantic, and full of charm then I might have just the thing for you.
How to Live it up in Split, Croatia
From unbelievably sunny weather to plentiful green spaces, Split has many of the elements I look for when choosing a city to set up shop for a while. It’s beautiful, it’s affordable, and it embodies the food and spirit of the Mediterranean. So have I convinced you to go yet? Cool. Now let’s talk about what you can’t afford to miss while you’re there.
First things first. If you want to live it up during your time in Split, that means you need to schedule your travels accordingly. Split is beautiful anytime of the year, but mass tourism and the intense heat of July and August won’t make you feel as if you’ve discovered your own private paradise. Book your visit during May or September and enjoy temperate weather, sparsely crowded streets, and lower prices on accommodations, tours, and even things like dinner. When we arrived in late May not only did we have discounted hostel rates, but we were upgraded from a private room with a shared dorm shower to the deluxe apartment + kitchenette. When we asked why the upgrade they responded with a simple, “hey it’s still off-season.” Um, ok…😀
You already know that traveling during the off-season has its fair share of benefits, and of course it’s no different in Split, but the good news here is that the peak season only lasts two months. That means that 10 months of the year, this beautiful city is all yours, baby.
I haven’t been so impressed with the natural geography of a country since our trip to New Zealand back in 2008. As we explored the city I felt the magnitude of the jagged limestone slopes towering over us on one side and enjoyed the aqua eye-candy ready to lap at my ankles on the other. You would think that since we lived in Florida for the last few years that we would have spent our time in the states sunbathing on the sand and swimming in the surf, but nope. Tyler loathes sand and murky waters have always creeped me out, so swimming in Split’s clear, pebbled bay was an incredible treat.
Save Time and Money by Visiting Split’s Ancient Ruins
I might be guilty of picturing present day Italy when I think about ancient Rome and I doubt I’m the only one! While it is true that famous ruins like the Roman Colosseum are located in the heart of it all, Roma was a vast empire that spanned much more than just the Adriatic. Present day Split is just a skip away from the ancient capital and thus has Roman ruins all of its own. Avoid long queues and spend your money elsewhere — Diocletian’s 1700 year-old Palace is free to explore. Oh yeah, did I mention that scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed in this very basement? Two-for-one, check.
I love to learn about the history of cities I visit; whether that be through my own research or walking tours, I really think the value increases exponentially once you realize things like, “Hey, this cobblestone under my foot is over 1500 years old.” Who knows, maybe I’m a total nerd, but I just love that kind of thing.
So yep, you guessed it — you’re going to learn about the history too. Come on, it’ll be fun.
Constructed at the turn of the 4th century, Diocletian’s Palace originally spanned 30,000 square meters (or 7.5 acres) and was built in such a way that Diocletian himself could step straight from his ship to the palace without ever setting foot on the dock. #Diva
Water levels have changed a considerable bit in the 1700 years since it was originally built, and today it is hard to imagine the palace as it once was with Split below sea level. Today, numerous shops, restaurants, market stalls, and apartments for more than 3,000 residents are housed in the old palace remains.
As we walked through the basement halls (which actually ended up happening a lot; there are everyday market stalls down there) we saw stolen columns from various trade routes in Italy and Greece. Stealing materials and stone was commonplace around Europe back then, but it isn’t everyday you can walk amongst stones from the ancient pyramids or see a fully intact sphinx outside of Egypt! Seriously, who isn’t fascinated by the world of the ancient Egyptians?
While it’s common to find sphinxes scattered throughout the world, it is not nearly as common to come across one in such great condition as this guy. A certain religious group really went to town devastating prized relics like these back in the day, and finding a sphinx that hasn’t been decapitated by the Christians is a pretty rare find.
This Vestibule below was the entrance to Diocletian’s personal apartment. Originally adorned with marble slabs, statues and mosaic tile work, the domed ceiling eventually collapsed and left this rather charming, er… skylight… in its place.
Remember from history class that Roman emperors considered themselves to be gods so it comes as no surprise that they needed to be highly adored — this elaborate Peristyle below was simply the front door to Diocletian’s private quarters. The purple columns represented his royalty, while the white columns (located just outside the edge of the photo) represented the commoners’ area. It was here in the Peristyle that the commoners prostrated themselves, laying flat on the ground with arms outstretched overhead, to show their devotion to Diocletian.
And if coal-receiving Christians and Roman emperors still don’t get you fired up about these ancient ruins, then you can scratch that GOT fan-kid itch of yours and set Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons free in the basement halls 😉
Stretch Your Dollar and Indulge
When traveling around Europe we’ve had to choose between satisfying our taste buds and satisfying our budget more often than I’d like to admit. In the land of food and wine it has taken incredible willpower to stay on track with delicious food and drink around every corner. Actually, you know what — I’m lying to myself. We sucked at keeping the budget in Barcelona. But at least here we could revive our finances and indulge in the incredible Mediterranean food that Split has to offer!
Bottles of wine and platters of cheese, dinners of freshly caught seafood and wild truffle risottos…meals like this are available all over the city and for a quarter of what we would have been asked to pay in the states. While I’ve heard some people complain about the lack of upscale restaurants, I believe that will all come in due time. Even though July and August’s tourism may tell you otherwise, remember that Croatia is still just outside the Eurotrip loop (which is part of the reason why I love it!)
For now, I love the attentive service and melt-in-your-mouth seafood at local places like Konoba Marjan, the welcoming, home-cooked meals served up at the tiny and charming Villa Spiza, and the California-esque food and wine pairings at Zinfandel.
To me, it’s a mark of truly good, fresh food when you can pop in anywhere and dine on starters, salads, entrees, and wine (of course! 😋) for less than $40 per couple.
Shop the Green Market
Ahhh the green market. This may truly be my favorite part about Split; I love it here and so will you. As the name denotes, this market has everything a hungry little plant-lover like myself could want (except cilantro…🙄) and often we enjoyed a lunch of nothing more than freshly baked bread, fresh nuts, and cherries. My god, the cherries!
This is also the place to buy your straight-from-the-farm meat and eggs, and head down the corner a bit to find your seafood selections. Certain vendors stay open until 4pm or later, but come early and buy from the stalls with the narrowest selection for the most local and organic results.
As a whole, Croatia has an incredibly affordable cost of living. 1lb pistachios, 1lb cherries, 1lb apricots, 1lb peaches, red bell pepper, lemon, .5L extra virgin olive oil, .5L vinegar, 1/4lb romano-ish cheese, freshly-baked bread, herbs and garlic, candied ginger and orange peel…all local and organic for $28!
While you can negotiate a bit with the vendors, we’ve found that the quality here varies greatly and most of the more expensive sellers are offering a fair price. Across the board the pricier cherries were velvety and full of juicy flavor and paying an additional 5HRK more for oil provided us with one that was luscious and rich.
Notice the antique baker’s scale on the left in the photo below. The majority of vendors still use this vintage method of measurement when selling you their kilos, and they really like repeat business. By the end of our stay they would throwing handfuls of extra cherries in the bag!
Explore Artisan Heaven
Croatia has a unique individual touch that is rarely seen in this day and age. This is due in part to the division of land amongst heirs after the heads-of-house passed away back in the olden days. Instead of passing his land onto the eldest child, the father’s assets were evenly divided among all of his children –creating smaller, and smaller, and smaller parcels of land as time went on. Now land is so small that growing for commercial purposes is pretty much out of the question.
We found everything from homemade pressed olive oil, house-made fermented red wine vinegars, handmade jewelry and clothes, and even locally cultured cheese. At a fraction of the price of what you would pay in other cities, this cheese is as fresh and as farm-to-table as you can get. France may still take the cake when it comes to all things culinary, but I’m sorry it’s so been there, done that and their competition is stepping up their game. Seek out the brand “Paski sir” and experience the cheese that bested 4,285 other cheeses to win the title of The Best Sheep’s Milk Cheese In the World.
In the meantime, catch this grumpy old man at the Green Market for a taste of the best artisan cheese in Split. Don’t be fooled by his grubby hands and grouchy facade..he has every right to act however he wants to; his cheese is far better than anyone else’s out there. Catch him while you can, he’s only at market when he has available product and that’s by no means everyday.
Let me tell you, staying fit on the road can be a freaking challenge; I’ve been looked at like a lunatic countless times for doing jump squats and burpees all over city streets. Factor in crackly bread and creamy cheeses in an apartment too tiny to exercise in, and the waistline can quickly get out-of-hand. Indulging without regret is fine every now and then when there are fat pants nearby to lounge around the house in, but when you’re on the road you can feel screwed really fast if your one pair of pants are too tight to button.
Don’t worry though, we’ve already talked about this — you can still indulge here in Split! Your bank account can afford it, and with plenty of outdoor parks to exercise in you can rest assured that no one in Split will watch you like a zoo animal when you’re sweating atop Marjan Hill.
With so much ground to cover, it was easy to get really thirsty really fast. Thankfully, Split was built on a aquifer system and there are many fountains around the city that draw up crisp, cool water deep from below the earth. Because of this, Split’s groundwater flows refreshingly cold even when it’s hot as hell outside.
So there you go — no excuses. Plenty of green spaces are spread throughout the city for killer outdoor workouts and the expat community on Facebook is booming. Make a new friend and go for a run, sign up for one of the many free yoga classes during the summer, or be a solo artist and follow our Marjan Hill Routine.
Soak up the Romantic Charm
With its charming lanes and old stone buildings, Split is the ultimate city for modern romance. You can stroll hand-in-hand with your beaux or your bestie and just get swept up in the streets for hours.
Tyler and I had the best impromptu day-date here in Split, one that I’ll remember for years. Do like we did and take advantage of Split’s beautiful weather with a morning hike up Marjan Hill. Get lost, explore the park, and afterwards wander the lively market streets as you pick up ingredients for dinner.
After that, indulge in happy hour and stop by Zinfandel for hors d’oeuvres on your way home. I think we ate here at least three times during our stay and everything we tried was completely fresh and delicious, but I would say to be sure to order the cheese platter. The top local cheeses are paired with local wine varietals and it’s amazing; yes — believe it or not Croatia has incredible wine!
In fact, the famous “indigenous American” zinfandel grape isn’t so American after all. While Italians have long claimed Zinfandel to come from their Primitivo, it’s actually been DNA-test proven to have come directly from the Crljenak Kaštelanski grape native an area just outside of Split! I love a nice spicy, peppery zinfandel and to learn that its birthplace is right around the corner blew my mind.
Take a stroll down the oldest street in Split and later end your night with the best ice cream ever for dessert.
Use Split as the Perfect Hub
If you choose to stay in Split you’ll be right in the center of all this beautiful country has to offer — and believe me, it has a lot. After a full six weeks of living here we still missed out on so much. Take as much time as you can afford to spend in Croatia and pick just a few things to really dive into.
Set sail around the surrounding islands or plan a day trip to Brac and Hvar. Take the bus to Plitvice Lakes and spend a few nights at the campgrounds or visit the nearby Krka falls and return to the city center that night. Sightsee around Sibenik — an entire city carved from stone — and enjoy strenuous hikes and top notch seafood. Play on the pebbled beaches on Primosten and take dips in the blue green lagoons — I swear you’ll think you’re in paradise! Get your Game of Thrones fill with a 20 minute bus ride to Klis Fort (aka the city Meereen!) and look out upon Split and all the surrounding islands of Dalmatia.
So what are you waiting for? Do you really need any more reasons to visit this gorgeous city?
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