Croatia had been an afterthought for our family’s summer vacation. Our daughter, who loves the beach, asked if we could divert from our Major-European–City vacations to something, well, beachier. The rest of the family are not beach people. After some low-key crowd sourcing, we agreed on Croatia—beach for her, some history for the rest of us.
Before booking we knew July and August were the worst time for traveling to Croatia. The Germans and Austrians make their way down, typically by car, to the northern parts of Croatia. The southern parts, including Dubrovnik, are slammed with beach goers, cruise ships, and a younger party crowd. Split was the happy medium. We ended up spending six days in this fascinating city and here are our top suggestions for things to do in (and around) Split with teenagers.
1. Discover the Emperor Diocletian’s Retirement Palace
Split’s main attraction is 1,500-year-old Diocletian’s Palace, which is actually less of a palace and more of a small town enclosed by some “walls.” Since it’s the largest structure in the city, it’s certainly difficult to miss. Begin at the Golden Gate near the Gregory of Nin statue (don’t forget to rub his toe for good luck) on the north side and begin to wander the streets. Inside is the world’s oldest cathedral and a bell tower to climb with the best view of the city and sea. Unfortunately, the queue can be quite long so if it is, check back after 4 pm when the crowds lesson.
While wandering the narrow streets, there are plenty of small shops and vendors to explore. Allow for some time to really explore and peek around all the corners, especially away from the crowded areas.
Tip: If you can make time to wander the streets after 4 pm — when the cruise ships depart — exploring is much more pleasant.
2. Explore the Palace and Old City with a Guided Walking Tour
Walking tours are a fantastic way to cozy up with a new city. While it’s fun to just wander, a guide will provide details people, history, culture, fun facts, food, and in this case Game of Thrones filming locations. During this trip to Split, we logged our 11th walking tour adventure. Booked through Split Walking Tours, this tour (and guide) were one of the better ones we’ve done over the years. Our guide Marija, a native of Split and history major, knew all the ins and outs of this quirky city. We opted for the full two-hour tour which took us through Diocletian’s Palace and the adjacent old city. When it was all said and done, we paid about 62 Euros for the four of us, which more than we typically spend for a guided tour, but, this time, was worth the money.
Tip: Split Walking Tours generously provided a 10% discount for you with the code: LINDA. Enjoy!
3. Swim in Sandy Beaches on the Adriatic Sea
Croatia is known for its rocky beaches, which are quite lovely with fish and beautiful blue water. However Split has a small sandy beach called Bacvice Beach. Follow the Riva along past the ferry boats and you’ll hit the beach.
The sandy beach, as well as the adjacent board walk, has lots of lounge chairs and umbrellas, making it a perfect place to hang out with the family. Or even better, just send your kids by themselves. It’s small, but large enough to enjoy the Adriatic Sea without all the pebbles. Water shoes aren’t needed for this beach but are certainly recommended for most of the other areas.
Tip: The beach also offers stand-up paddle boarding rental and tours from this location, too.
4. Experience Dalmatian Sea Life and Explore the Islands
Unlike other tourists who hop around to visit several places in Croatia, we spent our entire time in the city and used it as a home base for a few day trips, including Hvar and Krka National Park. While there is plenty to do in Split, part of Dalmatian culture is the sea, and there is no better way to experience that than hopping on a boat.
Consider a speedboat tour: A variety of companies offer guided tours to visit nearby islands such as Hvar, Trogir, and Brac. Some offer a combo package of a three- or five-island tour that will include either the Blue Cave or Blue Lagoon. Most will take the entire day.
We opted for the shorter three-island tour through Splitlicious which took us to Trogir and the Blue Lagoon. Each journey between islands lasted between 20-30 minutes. The covered boat was big enough to manage sea sickness, but still small enough to be fun.
The only downside to this tour was too little time in Trogir. While the tour was fun and recommended, I would have like to spend another hour or two in this small quaint town and one hour just wasn’t enough. We planned ahead and had packed a lunch to cut down on trying to arrange finding food with limited time. Trogir isn’t worth a full day, but one hour was a bit too short to really wander the city and do some people watching.
Take a ferry: Since our island tour did not include Hvar, we decided to take the ferry from Split to Hvar and explore on our own. In the high season, ferries leave every hour and half (or so) between the two cities.
Hvar definitely had the French Riviera vibe to it with famous people such as Steven Spielberg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Cruise, and Beyoncé who park their yachts in the harbor. Filled with hordes of young beach goers, it’s still a beautiful city to explore. Hike up the hill to the Spanish fortress, sit by the beach or enjoy a coffee at one of cafes.
5. Take a Break, Enjoy the Coffee at a Cafe
Like so many other European countries, sitting at the café for coffee is part of Croatian culture. Every street has a plethora of places to sit outside, people watch, and leisurely drink coffee. The Croatia coffee “break” lasts between an hour and a half to three hours. They take coffee very seriously. Even if coffee isn’t your thing, sit and enjoy a beverage at one of the sea-side tables with cards or a board game. In the warmer weather, some cafes may even have fans or misters to help stay cool.
6. Climb up Marjan Hill to the Lookout Point
After the Cathedral’s bell tower inside Diocletian’s palace, the best view of the city and the sea is from Marjan Hill just to the west of the city. Follow the Riva toward the Church of St. Francis. There are two ways to get up the hill. The first is follow the signs and take the steps right to the top, which will take between 10-20 minutes. The second way, which will take you by a few restaurants, is through the streets. (I understand there is a third way up the hill, too.)
Tip: At the top of the hill is a small café and the old Jewish cemetery. After taking a few pictures, follow the path to the rest of the park, behind the hill, which leads to the another beach on the other side of the hill.
7. Cheer the Local Football/Soccer Team
Around town you’ll see the red and white checkered logo for the local soccer team, Hajduk Split. Our walking tour guide explained the importance of the local sport but warned that Hajduk fans, while loyal, were proudly cheering their often losing team. We scored tickets for the whole family for about $40.
Tickets can be purchased from various fan shops around town and kids under 18 are almost free. Be sure to not sit in the crazy fan section as it was like a college American football playoff game times 10. Be prepared to endure lots of drunken cheering, clouds of cigarette smoke, and dirty seats. Our family wasn’t thrilled with the experience, but it was memorable.
I’m not sure if this is the case at all soccer games, but when I went through security, my sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and lotions were confiscated and packaged up in a sealed envelope. The guard handed me a ticket to reclaim it when I left.
8. Visit the Strategic Klis Fortress
Just 12 km outside of Split, Klis Fortress commands attention high on the cliff. Now a major Game of Thrones location stop, the real fortress has been a strategic point since Roman times. Its inhabitants included the Romans (of course), Slavs, and several Croatian kingdoms, Austrians, French, Italians and Germans. It’s protected the region against the Mongols, the Ottomans, the Turks, and the Venetians.
9. Bargain for Souvenirs at the Markets
The narrow streets of Split are covered in markets. On the East side of Diocletian’s palace, wander the aisles of clothes, souvenirs (like soaps and lavender), local foods, and produce. Everyone is anxious to sell and bargain a little. The prices are good and the culturale experience is certainly one worth remembering.
My daughter was set on a blue and white stripped dress that seemed to be THE Croatian “uniform.” While on the hunt one afternoon solo, she found one she wanted and told the lady she would return. That lady did remember her and tried very hard to convince me I needed a matching dress. I’m sure I could have bargained for a better discount, but I got the dress for my daughter reduced by 25% after just a little haggling.