When people think of Croatia, they think of Dubrovnik; with its immaculately preserved Venetian architecture, stunning setting along the Adriatic Sea, and many references in the annals of history, both Ragusan and Westerosi, it's easy to understand why Croatia's most famous city has been referred to as the "pearl of the Adriatic," for the entirety of its existence.
While Dubrovnik is a must-see for any Croatian travelers, it's Split, the pearl's northern neighbor, that stole our hearts on our two-week Croatian roadtrip.
Situated three hours north of Dubrovnik (along the most scenic drive in the world), Split is Croatia's second largest city and the epitome of Dalmatian life: vibrant yet lazy according to our AirBnB hosts, a sentiment we wholeheartedly agree with after spending four days in the city. We enjoyed it so much that we made the trek back to Old Town just a few hours before our flight to Germany on our last day, a feat made more impressive when you consider the horrendous parking situation. Like the points on Whose Line, the spots are made up, the laws don't matter, and there's no such thing as a space too small. We endured this all so we could eat at Brasserie on 7, a cafe we visited three times. It seems to be the only place in all of Croatia that serves a quality breakfast with friendly service. If you go, order the B7 Big Breakfast and marvel at the flavors emitted from seemingly normal tomatoes and mushrooms. Enjoy it with the Matea's Ice Coffee (40% sweet cream, 100% delicious) and try to keep up with how many languages the restaurant's staff speaks. Hint: you'll fail.
From breakfast, walk the innards of Diocletian's Palace, the impressively imposing ruins of a Roman Emperor's retirement home. It is described as Split's beating heart, and you'll have a difficult time determining where the ruins end and modern Split begins. While I traveled to Split with the preconceived notion that it would be tacky, I couldn't have been more wrong. Not only are the ruins well-preserved, but they entangle themselves in modern shops, restaurants, and houses, providing the perfect blend of antiquity and modernity.
If you're really keen on exploring Dicoletian's Palace without battling hordes of tourists, we learned that Croatia tends to sleep pretty late and you're more likely to have the place to yourself early in the morning. Just be forewarned that you might not have access to coffee or food for some time.
There are an endless number of nooks, alcoves, and shops both local and chain in Old Town, so it could be an all-day affair. Team C&C spent quite some time just looking for areas devoid of modern touch, like buildings overgrown with plants and a cordoned off cemetery in the heart of the ruins. Walking tours abound as well, so you'll have no shortage of options if you prefer that avenue. If you're as fortunate as we were, you'll get AirBnB hosts who relish in showing people their city on a personal level. Hotel accommodations in Split are expensive to come by anyway, and we guarantee they won't provide the same quality level.
If you find yourself exhausted of ruins (why're you even in Croatia?), walk along the Riva (waterfront) and allow yourself to get lost, picking up an ice cream cone (Croatians love ice cream almost as much as Mr. C&C and Joe Biden) along the way.
While it's something I tend to recommend in almost every new location (within reason and understanding safety concerns), Split is one of those cities that keeps on revealing itself, like an ogre or an onion. At one point, we found ourselves meandering through an old cemetery on a hill that, by what little evidence I could glean via moonlight, seemed to be the go to place for teenagers to make out. On another night, we found an outdoor restaurant by mistake (we were looking for a different restaurant, but Google Maps doesn't do so well in a city with thousands of intermingling Roman and medieval streets). It wasn't a culinary masterpiece by any means, but it was on the outskirts of old town with nary a tourist to be found, making it the perfect place for reflection and romance.
Once you've explored Split to your heart's content, you can check out some of the region's great day trips. Just a short drive from the city is Salona, the first Roman capital of the region and a place we dug through for hours. You'll also find Krka National Park an hour north by car, giving you the perfect opportunity to travel the mountainous Croatian countryside and enjoy the near Autobahn like feel of the Balkan nation's highway system. There are speed-limits, but do those matter when no one enforces them?
After two weeks in Croatia, fifteen different architecture styles from twelve different empires dating back a millennia, one dented rental car and roughly 1,242 miles driven, Split sticks with us. It's not the most picturesque of Croatia's cities, the biggest, or the most popular, but it was an enchanting location to spend four days of our Croatia roadtrip. I know we'll continue unraveling its mysteries for years to come.