Hack the Hidden City: Explore Split on a student budget

Travel hacks

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See Split, Croatia, on a budget, with off-the-beaten-track ideas that don’t cost much, local recommendations, hidden beaches, the best things to do and see, as well as day trips and unusual attractions

The Dalmatian Coast has seen an explosion in popularity over the last 10 — 15 years, with people from all over Europe and beyond discovering its wonderful weather, crystal clear seas, and delicious food. Here we look at the city of Split, and find out how you can get the most from your trip as Kiwi.com Hacks the City.

How much do you need to budget for a week in Split?

girl twirling in Diocletian Palace in SplitThe Diocletian Palace in the city center is a must-visit — Shutterstock

There is no easy answer to this question as it depends on your travel type and your budget. There are ways to live large on a vacation but also ways to keep it cheap. The average traveler in Split spends around 50-100€ a day excluding accommodation. Visiting sights, and going to restaurants, bars and clubs can leave a dent in your wallet. But that does not mean you can’t explore on a tight budget. There are many ways how to keep your trip cheap.

How to keep your trip to Split budget-friendly

  • Fly off-season:  Croatia in September and October is still warm enough to lie on a beach.
  • Check your accommodation:  Cheap hostels or couch surfing are great options if you spend most the day outside anyway.
  • Shop local and don’t eat out: Pack lunches, snacks, picnics and cook at your accommodation. But don’t forget to indulge in the local cuisine at least once. There are many small cheap eats for every budget.

secret beach strip in SplitDon’t miss out on a beach day. They tend to be pretty cheap if you bring your own snacks and drinks — Shutterstock

Create a cheap itinerary: Visiting sights doesn’t cost a thing

  • Keep away from tourist traps and explore away from the city center
  • If not necessary, don’t rent a car and take public transport instead
  • Most sights and national parks are free. Check beforehand where you’d like to go and how much it costs

Explore The Marjan Peninsula and Varoš instead

old ruins at Marjan peninsulaVisit the Marjan peninsula for some history lessons — Shutterstock

The Riva is the place most people will discover first, Split’s seafront promenade and the hub of city life. Featuring buildings such as the Diocletian Palace, the Bajamonti Dešković Palace, and a bunch of bars and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to begin exploring the city and getting your bearings. And of course, you should do that; the Riva and the Old Town behind are utterly wonderful. However, if you are on a tight budget, walking through without stopping is your way to go. There’s much more to see where you don’t have to spend a penny…

Cheap picnic with a view

view from old ruins to the bay at Vidikovac observation point (Marjan Hill viewpoint)Vidikovac observation point (Marjan Hill viewpoint) for a picnic with a view — Shutterstock

We’d urge you to move away from there and explore further, however. At the Riva’s western end, past the neo-renaissance Trg Republike, you’ll find the Crkva i samostan sv. Frane (the Franciscan monastery). From here, follow the sign to Marjan, up the stone steps, past the Vidilica Cafe and on through the trees along the hiking path to the Vidikovac observation point. From here you can see the whole of Split, its wide bay, and its crystal clear waters. It is the perfect spot for a picnic. So make sure to pack snacks and drinks you can buy in a local shop.

As you make your way back, be sure to bear right, as this will take you down through Varoš, a neighborhood dating from the 12th century, and a tottering, tumbledown maze of stone buildings with red-tiled roofs; quaint, quiet, and away from the main tourist spots to the east.

What Split is known for: Secret beaches

Kašjuni Beach at sunsetKašjuni Beach is more popular and crowded but still worth a visit. For a more laid-back and secluded vibe head to Ježinac beach — Shutterstock

The whole of the Croatian coast is home to thousands of wonderful beaches, and the area around Split is no different, but where to go to avoid the crowds and find a place of your own?

We’ll start with Kašjuni Beach and, sure, this one is pretty popular with the locals due to it being protected from the wind, but it’s got a good range of amenities, from food and drinks places to the possibility to get a massage. You could also head to the other side of the headland to Bene beach, which is quieter, and also features tennis courts and a running track if you’re feeling sporty.

Surrounded by pine trees, Ježinac beach is secluded and laid-back, and with shallow water and rocky spits jutting out into the sea, it’s a beautiful little bay around 25 minutes’ walk from the Riva. Like the two mentioned above, it’s part of the Marjan peninsula, but due to the water being shallower here, it’s popular with people who just want to relax, rather than swim or do watersports.

Alternatively, you could leave the town altogether and head to Ciovo Island. Around 30 kilometers from the city center, it has a number of beaches in hidden coves that are just crying out to be discovered. Inland, there are also traditional Dalmatian villages, with small stone churches and family-run restaurants and bars just waiting to show you a bit of local hospitality.

Castles and fortresses

view of the bay from fortressSome of the locations in Game of Thrones were shot in Dubrovnik, but Split got in on the act as well — Shutterstock

Much of the Dalmatian coast was used, as many people know, for some of the locations in Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik, way to the south, is the place most fans think of, but Split got in on the act as well.

Klis fortress, to the northeast of Split, is one such place. Perched on a hilltop looking over the rugged, scrubby landscape, across the city and all the way out to the sea in the distance, it truly is worth the trek. The outer walls and three entrance gates house a squat, domed church with amazing views from the very top, and there’s also a museum detailing the castle’s complicated history, as well as stills from filming Game of Thrones if you’re having trouble visualizing how it was shot. 

You could combine your trip to Klis with a visit to the ancient city of Salona, one of the most important archeological sites in Croatia. You have to pay your entrance fee at Tusculum, a building that was added as a research base in the late 19th century, but then you head on through to the ruins of a city that was written about as long ago as 119 BC. It was the administrative headquarters of the Romans’ Dalmatian province, but it was destroyed by invaders in the 7th century. Today, however, you can still see remnants of what must have been a mighty city: aqueducts and public baths, palaces, a cathedral, an amphitheater, and much more show that this was a place of some power.

Across the bay from Split lies Kaštel Gomilica. Built in the 16th century, it’s one of seven ‘kaštels’ along this part of the coast. Oddly, even though it looks like a castle, jutting out into the water, it is, in fact, residential. In fact, it was never a castle: it was built by Benedictine nuns. It’s easy to get to from Split, and if you find a knowledgeable guide, you’ll get a nice overview of this series of curious constructions and their history.

Happily, all of the places mentioned above are accessible by bus from Split, and none of them take longer than about half an hour to get to.

Meeting Mr. Meštrović 

Ivan Meštrović statue in SplitIvan Meštrović was probably the most famous artist in Croatia in the first half of the 20th century — Shutterstock

Ivan Meštrović was probably the most famous artist in Croatia in the first half of the 20th century. The sculptor, architect, and writer founded the Medulić group, who advocated for art based on Croatia’s rich folk traditions and heroes of the past.

His statue of the 9th-century bishop Gregory of Nin is one such work. Gregory held services in Croatian, going against the will of the church who insisted on them being given in Latin. The eight-and-a-half-meter sculpture (which, cheekily, has Meštrović’s own face) dominates the area between the Old Town and the Park Josipa Jurja Strossmayera, and it’s said that if you rub the bishop’s right toe, it’ll bring you luck.

 You could do a lot worse than finding out about Meštrović’s other works, and the Meštrović Gallery, located in the southwest of the city, is the place to do so. It contains wonderful examples of his work in bronze, marble, stone, and wood, and they’re dotted about the magnificent building and its gardens.

Other notable oddities

quaint little streets of SplitStroll through the quaint little streets of Split — Shutterstock

So, you like amphibians, do you? How about frogs, 507 stuffed frogs? Oh, you want them in amusing poses as well: playing tennis, sewing clothes, learning languages in a classroom, playing the violin? Well, it looks like Froggyland is the place for you because that’s exactly what it offers — 21 dioramas showing frogs doing human things. It’s truly unusual, but kind of sweet at the same time.

There are loads of ways to get out on the beautiful waters around Split, but one of the more novel is the Pirate Tour. Up to 15 guests can join this tour aboard a replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria. You can either book a half-day tour, a sightseeing tour with drinks and swimming, or a private tour; whichever way, the guides and crew all dress up in pirate garb, and the ship is decked out with skeletons and skull-and-crossbones motifs. Fellow sailors are encouraged to come in costume as well, so avast! me hearties, and join the buccaneering crew.

Finally, if you’re saving money by buying food from the shops, you could do a lot worse than head to Split’s Unesco-protected Spar supermarket. The 13th-century Mala Papalićeva Palača is the former home of a powerful medieval family and is loved by the residents of Split. However, the ground floor of the complex is privately owned, meaning in 2014, Spar rented part of the building and plonked a supermarket in there. There was nothing the local government could do, since the site was private, not city property and now, on a technicality, the supermarket is Unesco-protected by dint of being in a building that is. They’ve truly hacked the city.

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