Split is like Zadar’s slightly more full-on cousin, sitting further south along the Dalmatian coast. Despite it being more crowded and touristic, it’s got plenty going for it and the Old Town is a delightful treasure chest. Getting between Zadar and Split is easy enough with many buses plying the route daily. I booked in advance using GetByBus. You can also get tickets in advance at the station in Zadar. I would advise getting them in advance if you’re set on a particular service as this bus was packed, even in mid-September. The journey took just under 2 hours though the bus departed late as it was arriving from Plitvice. It’s another gorgeous journey (sit on the right if possible) and it passed by very quickly.
The bus station in Split is a chaotic affair but is ideally located on the harbour, just a 10 minute walk from the promenade and Old Town. Again, I was staying a bit further out at the fab En Route Hostel. Like my hostel in Zadar, it was about a 20 minute walk from the Old Town, oddly situated in a run down shopping complex. It was another fantastic hostel though with an excellent common room and friendly staff. It’s situated right next to a few restaurants, pubs and a supermarket, all of which are cheaper than their counterparts in the Old Town.
The Old Town itself is much bigger than Zadar’s and the promenade much swankier. It’s also more crowded but it was manageable in September – I imagine it’s less so in July/August when there’ll be a fight for those coveted shady benches. The Old Town is predictably a maze but that’s half the fun. Ditch the map and just wander amongst the winding cobbled streets. Occasionally they open up to big, open squares with performers, ice cream parlours and bars. Though it was more crowded, Split’s Old Town had a more buzzing atmosphere than Zadar’s. Zadar is a much more mellow choice.
There are ways to escape that hustle and bustle though. Split’s slightly odd position means you have to walk a little to savour that all important sunset. Following the promenade right the way round, you eventually come to an area of grassland which you can cut through. Following the path round, you arrive at a long rocky cliff edge which gives you a perfect vantage point for the beautiful sunset. Plenty of locals were here swimming, paddle boarding (with dogs!) or just admiring the view. It sits in front of a cemetery called Sustipan so if you Google that, you won’t have to rely on my hopeless directions.
Further along from Sustipan is the gigantic Marjan Park, a huge green space which towers above the Old Town and provides stunning views in just about every direction. I went the long way round, following the road around the entire circumference of the park, gradually winding my way up to the peak of Marjan Hill. This took a couple of hours. A shorter way is to take a set of stairs along Marasovica ul. They will be signposted as Marjan Hill. This takes you up past a cafe (Vidilica) and you can reach the summit in about 20 minutes. Whatever way you choose, it’s definitely worth spending some time in Marjan.
Food-wise, Split offers a bit more range for budget travellers than Zadar did. Of course, there’s still the fallback of the good old pizza slices (though the slices were more expensive and less tasty than in Zadar). There are plenty of restaurants in the Old Town too but most dishes will start from 80kn (£10). Towards the back of the Old Town in the higgledy-piggledy alleyways are some more budget-friendly haunts. I ate in Bifola and enjoyed a pasta dish and a beer for around £9. On my last night in Split I discovered To Je Tako, a tiny Mexican restaurant hiding in an alleyway near the Diocletan’s Palace. It was pretty cheap with big portions and tasted delicious. Some very filling quesadillas and a 0.5l beer cost me just under £10. The key to finding the budget eateries in Split seems to be to wander down the hidden alleys. I’m sure there are plenty more hidden gems.
Another hidden(ish) gem lies just outside of Split in the form of Trogir. Another Old Town, coastal destination, it’s more chilled than Split and makes a great, easy day trip. Bus 37 (the airport bus) heads there for 21 kruna one way from Sukoisan bus station (not the same station as the long distance buses arrive at). Trogir itself is a tiny island, connected to the mainland by a bridge, which can be walked around in 20 minutes but the Old Town is crammed full of the usual fare. If you’re not Old Towned out and you’re at a loose end in Split, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Oddly, wandering round so many Old Towns doesn’t seem to get boring. Each one is unique and has its own charm, and Croatia preserves and maintains them so well. Add to that the stunning natural beauty that surrounds them, and then endless number of ice cream stalls, results in each and every Croatian Old Town really proving its worth.