Split is the port of departure for the playgrounds of central Dalmatia, with ferries daily to the islands of Solta, Brac, Hvar, Vis, Korcula and Lastovo, but it is also a fascinating destination in itself.
Croatia's second city has a historic World Heritage Site and is backed by rugged limestone mountains and bounded by the clear blue waters of the Adriatic. Its charming old town is contained within the walls of a third-century Roman palace, built by Diocletian as a retirement home. You will also find Venetian Gothic and Renaissance Baroque stone buildings and, beyond the palace walls, sturdy fortifications built to defend the city against the Turks. Today the entire complex is an architectural marvel that deserves its recognition by Unesco.
Split's attractions are not just historic. Tucked away in its alleys you'll find chic cafés of exposed stone with minimalist white furniture and that play everything from world music to techno; cavernous konobe (taverns) that serve fresh seafood and local wines; and stylish boutiques.
Don't miss ...
Split's old town, including the Roman Peristil and Sveti Duje Cathedral in Diocletian's Palace.
The pazar (open-air market), where locals sell seasonal fruit, vegetables, cheeses, free-range eggs and flowers.
The Mestrovic Gallery, showcasing works in stone, wood and bronze by Croatia's most outstanding 20th-century sculptor.
A stroll across Marjan, a two-mile peninsula planted with pines, palms, agaves and cacti, offering fantastic views.
Dining on pasta with black truffles or monkfish with capers at Luxor (lvxor.hr) in a 15th-century palazzo.
A nightcap in the flame-lit courtyard of the arty Ghetto Klub, at Dosud 10.
An open-air evening opera on the Peristil, one of the highlights of the Summer Festival from mid-July to mid-August (splitsko-ljeto.hr).
A ferry ride to the island of Brac, to bathe on the golden Zlatna Rat beach in Bol (bol.hr).
A chance to browse the locally created paintings, jewellery and ceramics in the Podrum, the dimly lit underground passage from the seafront to the Peristil.
Srecko Zitnik's big bold-coloured oil paintings in his gallery (zitniks.com), hidden in a narrow side street off the Peristil.
Drink coffee at an open-air cafe on Split's marble-paved main square, Pjaca, with its elegant 15th-century Venetian loza (town hall).
The Old Town
Split's old town has been successfully reinventing itself for more than 1,700 years, and is still the place to be. Middle-class families prefer to live in the modern suburbs where they can find conveniences such as parking, so the romantic pedestrianised medieval town has been left to a younger arty crowd. It has a proliferation of alternative cocktail bars, galleries and boho-chic craft shops including Olujna Sisa, at Nepotova 5, which stocks one-off items of clothing and jewellery made by local designers.
Of the new hotels in the old town, this is the most stylish. The 15th-century building belies a slick modern interior and 21 rooms with minimalist walnut furniture, stained oak floors, earthy-coloured fabrics, flat-screen TV, free Wi-Fi, and black marble bathrooms with Pascal Morabito toiletries. Breakfast is served in a light and airy double-height space with exposed stone walls, and drinks on a first-floor terrace with boxy sofas, big white parasols and potted olive trees.
Details: Zadarska 13; 00385 21 308060; marmonthotel.com
Visit the new location of this eco-friendly store which stocks its own line of cosmetics made from essential oils and local herbs – try the deliciously scented Jadranski sapun (Adriatic soap), and the new Aromatica Eau de Toilette, combining rosemary, pine and sage. If you're buying presents, ask for them to be gift wrapped, which is prettily done with recycled brown paper, tied with raffia and decorated with shells and dried flowers.
Details: Subiceva 2; 00385 21 344061; aromatica.hr
Hemingway, overlooking the Poljud marina, is Split's coolest club. With a palm-lined waterside terrace furnished with wicker sofas, it's perfect for a sunset aperitif. After midnight, a party mood sets in with exotic fruity cocktails and open-air dancing – expect guest DJs from London and Amsterdam. With everything going on outdoors, Hemingway is unaffected by Croatia's new no-smoking law, introduced in May and still poorly accepted by the public. Details: VIII Mediteranskih igara 5; 00385 99 21199931; hemingway.hr
The Gallery of Fine Arts, just outside the palace walls, reopened in May after renovation. It centres on an internal courtyard garden and extends over two floors; the permanent exhibition features icons, old masters, and modern and contemporary art. Croatian works predominate, notably 19th-century portraits of various aristocrats by Vlaho Bukovac. There are also hazy Dalmatian seascapes by Emanuel Vidovic and bronze nude sculptures by Ivan Mestrovic as well as several pieces by important European artists.
Details: Kralja Tomislava 15; 00385 21 480151; galum.hr
The Spaladium Arena was inaugurated in January when it hosted the World Men's Handball Championship and is Croatia's biggest multi-purpose indoor sports venue. It seats 12,000, and will also be used for concerts, fashion shows and the sort of international events for which Split previously had no venue. The arena is part of the Spaladium Centar and is just a 20-minute walk north-west of the old town.
Jane Foster is author of the Footprint Croatia Handbook, price £13.99
Insider’s secret: Marina Ugarkovi, archaeologist
"You must visit Sustipan, the small peninsula to the west of the harbour. It's near the city centre, yet far from the crowds and has a special atmosphere. The incredible view back to town – the pine trees and the ruins of an old church – make this a very romantic spot."
How to get there
Croatia Airlines (0870 410 0310; croatiaairlines.com) flies to Split from London Gatwick from £154. Easyjet (0871 288 2236; easyjet.com) flies there from Gatwick and Bristol from £100.
Croatian National Tourist Board (croatia.hr); Split City Tourist Board (visitsplit.com).
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