Last summer, I was extremely lucky to have been able to go on a holiday abroad. Booked before we even heard about coronavirus for the very first time, it fit perfectly in the short time window when the pandemic in Europe was at its lowest point between waves 1 and 2 and most travel restrictions had been lifted. So today, I’m bringing you to Split, Croatia. A one day trip – covid safe, naturally.
Let’s start the journey with the statue of Grgur Ninski – one of three statues of Gregory of Nin, a Croatian medieval bishop (I’ve seen two of them, in Split and Nin, the third one is located in Varazdin). Rubbing the toe of the statue is said to bring good luck, and as a result it’s become really smooth and shiny over the years of tourists touching it.
The statue of Grgur stands right at the north entrance to the most iconic place in Split – Diocletian’s Palace.
Now, if you’re anything like me, hearing “palace” you’ll likely imagine a huge, beautiful castle with elegant interiors, dripping with gold and wealth – simply a residence of former kings and queens. And that’s… rather far from what Diocletian’s Palace actually is.
The best way to describe it is saying it’s Split’s entire Old Town, enclosed within tall, stone walls, with the main historic buildings in the very centre. The Palace covers a rectangular area of 30.000 m² with a gate on each side and was constructed in late 3rd century. Fun fact: there are around 3.000 permanent residents living inside the area of the Palace.
In the centre of the Palace stands the Cathedral of Saint Domnius. Majestic and beautiful, it was originally built as a Roman mausoleum and then reconstructed later in the 7th century into a Catholic cathedral. It is currently regarded as the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world that remains in use in its original structure.
There are five tourist attractions in this area with paid entrance: the inside of the cathedral, the bell tower, the crypt, the baptistery and a museum. You can buy individual tickets or one that covers multiple places with a discount. An adult ticket covering all five was priced at around 50kn (£6) in summer 2020.
There are three of these sphinx statues in the centre of the Palace, all in pretty decent condition for their 3000 years of age!
The inside of the cathedral – or at least the accessible, main chamber – seems pretty small for what looks like a huge building from the outside. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of detailed stone sculptures and gold ornaments and the interior is gorgeous.
If you want to choose which of the paid attractions to visit, I would definitely recommend climbing up the bell tower. Getting up there may be a bit of a challenge – accessibility wise, there’s no lift in the tower built between the 12th and 14th century and some of the stone steps at the start are really high. However if you’re able to climb them, it’s definitely worth a visit – the view from the tower is stunning.
One of my favourite things about Croatia is the contrast of the landscape on the coast. You look one way and see high, rocky mountains, then look back and you’re staring at the Adriatic Sea and some of the nearby islands which there’s plenty of alongside Croatian coast.
The hill covered with trees on the horizon in the photo below is a park I went to at the end of the day trip, you’ll see photos from it at the end of this post.
The third out of the five places to visit in the Palace was the crypt – a tiny chamber a few feet underground, with a small altar and a statue of Mother Mary. A nice place for anyone longing for some cool shade after walking in the Mediterranean sun for hours.
Next on the list was the Baptistery (also known as the Temple of Jupiter back when it was built in end of the 3rd century).
Finally, we visited the museum, where you can see lots of artifacts from various stages of the Palace’s lifetime.
Split came across to me as a town of stray cats. Wherever I looked, there was a cat or two in my sight. I got to pet some of them and they were absolutely adorable. It breaks my heart to see stray cats in the streets, but hopefully they do well? There is no road traffic in the narrow alleys of the Old Town and the winters in Croatia don’t get too bad, so fingers crossed.
Finally, to finish the day off, we went to Park Suma Marjan – a large park located on top of a hill just a short walk away from the Old Town. Climbing up there was quite a workout after a full day of walking, but the views were definitely worth it. The place was very quiet, with a much smaller number of tourists than the Palace. Although, because of the pandemic and the day being slightly off season (early September), there were probably less tourists in Split overall than there are on a typical summer day.
There were plenty of agaves and flowering opuntias in the park, as well as some more ancient structures – one I’ve seen was a tiny church from the 13th century, with a little bell tower on the side – all in perfect condition! There is also a zoo in the park, but we would have needed an extra few hours in the day to visit it as well. Hopefully, next time!
What an amazing day that was, it was great to relive those memories whilst looking through the photos. If you ever have chance to visit Split, or any town on the Croatian coast for that matter – don’t think twice! It’s a great country for sightseeing and bathing in the Mediterranean sun, and generally more affordable than comparable Western European holiday destinations.