Split is the second-largest city in Croatia, and a popular tourist destination for many good reasons. The ancient history, the wonderful food, and the surrounding beaches make it a must-visit for anyone going to Croatia, plus it’s a convenient stopover on the way to the islands. But in high season, it can be a busy and pricey place to visit. Wondering how to enjoy a few days here without going broke? Here’s your perfect plan for three days on a budget in Split, Croatia.
Day 1: Poke Around the Palace
The central attraction of Split, on a very literal and also metaphorical level, is Diocletian’s Palace. The Roman Emperor Diocletian renounced his throne and built his dream retirement house (which was also a fortress) in his homeland of Dalmatia. He settled here in 305 AD, and his palace has become a medieval town, an ecclesiastical center, an Austrian empire outpost, and today’s bustling tourist center.
But it’s not all tourists – there are plenty of locals who still live within the walls of the palace too and fill the cafes from morning until late in the evening. You can wander around on your own through the two remaining gates and into the central courtyard, into the basement shopping arcades for free. But don’t miss climbing the central bell tower for incredible views of the city and coast, and head to the restored Temple of Jupiter for a little ancient Roman vibe.
You can also check out a little hidden spot that’s often missed by visitors – the tiny, ancient Church of Saint Martin. It’s just inside the Golden Gate – take the first left after you enter, and head up the little set of stairs next to the church plaque. This church was once a Roman barracks, and then converted to a Christian church in the 6th century. It even has an altar partition from the 11th century. Hand the adorable nuns who run it 5 kuna, and poke around (the convent has been next door since the 14th century, and if you’re under the windows early on Saturday mornings you can hear them singing). It’s a microcosm of how life is Split has adapted and adopted new forms over the centuries, while retaining its beauty and charm.
Eat: I’m a fan of the bakery breakfast when I’m in Croatia, as it’s cheap and delicious. The pastry called burek comes in a variety of fillings and you can grab one to go and eat at a coffee shop (they usually don’t serve food, so BYO is fine). I like to sit among the locals at Caffe Bar Kala, which has great coffee and perfect people-watching. Drink a macchiato or a beer and enjoy the local life.
For lunch or dinner, pop into Pizzeria Portas by the Golden Gate. They have delicious pizzas, great house wine, and some of the best prices in the old town for a good, sit-down meal. Don’t miss a pizza topped with przut, a local version of prosciutto that’s heavenly. They also have plenty of pastas if you’re not that into pizza. Croatian cuisine has a lot of influence from Italy, its next-door neighbor, so you can get some great authentic meals.
Day 2: Get Some Culture
Croatia has a lot of rich history – lots of it involving art. You can get a glimpse of some as you wander the old town, like the statue in Fruit Square. But today you should go deeper into, well, all of the art!
The Gallery of Fine Arts is right outside the palace, so that’s good place to start if you’re staying in the center of the city. You can see art from all over Croatia, the former Yugoslavia, and beyond, and stop for a coffee or a drink at the cafe (aren’t museum cafes the best?). Then into the palace to check out the Town Museum, which is a medieval house. It’s probably time for another coffee break – pick one of the many cafes along the Riva promenade along the sea outside the palace walls and watch the sea and the strollers in the shade.
Next, it’s time for a walk along the sea to Galerija Mestrovic, about 30 minutes outside the center by foot (and it’s a lovely walk, so you should walk!). Take in the views of olive trees and villas and the sea as you go, and enjoy the beautiful museum filled with sculptures and carvings by the renowned artist. He planned this spot as his retirement home, but ended up heading to the US after World War II. The art is gorgeous, but so are the views over the sea with the islands in the distance.
Eat: Tonight is a great night to go really low-budget but high-impact. Head to Kantun Paulina in the old town to grab a cevapi pita (a kind of delicious Balkan sausage) to go, and a beer from one of the little stands, and head to the harbor to eat and admire the sunset. Then grab a gelato from Emilio’s (I recommend the pistachio) while you wander the ancient streets at night and take it all in – this is one of the best times to enjoy the old town.
If you’re looking for a post-dinner drink in beautiful surroundings without a hefty price tag, Galerija Bar has a little nook in a garden within the palace walls where you can sit and sip and try to pet the local cats as they stroll through.
Day 3: It’s Beach Time, Baby
Ok, you’ve been so cultured and cool the last two days – all that history and art have expanded your brain, but probably tired out your feet. It’s time for a chill day. Sleep in and start with a hefty brunch at Brasserie on Seven on the Riva – I’m a fan of the two-tier breakfast when I’m truly starved. Then pack up your beach gear and head off to Jezinac, my favorite beach within a brief walk of town. Bacvice is more popular with tourists, but it’s crowded and the sand is not super appealing.
I prefer the local vibe and spectacular views of the pebbly Jezinac instead. Take a nap on the shore, plunge in for a warm and calm swim out into the bay, and there’s even a little beach bar with ice cream and beer for when you get peckish. Walk back to town along the paved beach bath and check out the scenic swimming holes in the rocks (this is also an incredible sunset spot, with or without a few beers or a bottle of wine).
If you’re not the type to sit on a beach all day, I don’t understand you as a person but hey, you have options too. Head out away from town and walk all around the beautiful peninsula of Marjan Forest park, where you can check out the hills and beaches around the point. You can climb up the slippery steps of the Marjan Stairs for a high-level view of Split, if you’re so inclined (I am more of a fan of reclining but you gotta be true to yourself).
Eat: For a pre-dinner drink, head to Sidi Bar in the port for an Aperol spritz with a sea view – only 29 kuna. This is also prime sunset strolling territory for the locals, including teenage boys whipping around on bikes, elderly women walking tiny dogs, and local families out taking the air. Plus the boat views are unbeatable.
Go for dinner at La Bokeria in the old town to complete your day in the Palace – they have an incredible list of Croatian wines, which are wonderful. Plus lots of tapas made from local Croatian products, and an ever-changing menu reflecting everything that’s fresh. Add in the friendly waiters and the beautiful setting in an old square, and it’s heaven. It’s a bit of a splurge – but worth it for your final night.
Getting There and Around:
Split is the second-largest city in Croatia, so it has an international airport and a pretty extensive bus network that can get you anywhere you need to go for cheap. A cab from the airport is about 30 euros (yikes) so I prefer to take the local bus for 30 kuna, or 5 euro, instead.
If you’re staying in the center of Split, you can get everywhere in this itinerary by walking, but you can also hop the 12 bus to the beach or the end of Marjan Park if your feet get tired. The old city is pedestrian only and it’s really difficult to park anywhere in the center, so I don’t recommend a car rental while you’re here.
It’s also easy to get buses from the main station to the other cities in Croatia, like Dubrovnik, Zagreb, and Zadar, and ferries to the islands like Korcula and Hvar from the same spot.
When to Visit Split, Croatia:
The weather in Split, Croatia is generally pretty mild – it’s the Mediterranean, after all. But it’s a bit cool and rainy in the winter months, and very hot in August.
I love visiting in the shoulder season – May-June, and September-October. It’s still warm enough to swim, at least for a New Englander like me, without being too hot to enjoy a few hours of strolling around. And the crowds are smaller and prices lower then too.
Where to Stay in Split, Croatia:
There are plenty of hostels to choose from in Split, but I liked the chill vibes and comfy beds of the Beach Hostel by Bacvice beach. They have a little kitchen and a big terrace for meeting other travelers and relaxing after a day exploring.
If you’re looking to have a place to yourself but stay in the center of the action, Kaleta Apartments are inside of Diocletian’s Palace and offer lots of value for the price – and local hostess Negri will take wonderful care of you.
Or book the top floor of the building for a longer or more luxurious stay with all the amenities you need and a view over the red terra-cotta rooftops of the old town. You can wave to the nuns hanging their laundry on the ancient fortress walls right across the way in the mornings, and watch the sun set over the distant hills at night all from the comfort of home.
How to Spend Three Days in Split, Croatia
Split is my favorite city in Croatia so far – urban and historic, full of surprises and great food, and just a short stroll from the beach. Visit for a few days, or stay longer and get to live the true Mediterranean lifestyle at its best.