- A Viking Cruise Shore Excursion in Split, Croatia
- Landmarks and highlights of a Split, Croatia walking tour
- Historical Complex of Split and Diocletian Palace
- Cellars of the Diocletian Palace
- The Vestibule
- The Peristyle
- Gregory of Nin
- Bell tower of St. Arnir
- Narodini (People’s) Square
- Riva Promenade
- A few Split tips
- PIN it for later!
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A Viking Cruise Shore Excursion in Split, Croatia
During each day of our 13-day Viking Mediterranean Odyssey cruise, we took advantage of included guided tours or optional shore excursions such as those we covered in a previous post. The included tours were generally about 1-1/2 to 2 hours long — sometimes a panoramic drive, sometimes a walking tour or both. The local guides were always knowledgeable and most often quite entertaining. There was always some free time to enjoy the destination on our own, too. And one of our favorite included excursions was a Split, Croatia walking tour and time on our own afterward.
It was exciting to stand outside on the Aquavit Terrace of the Viking Sea as we sailed into Split in the morning after an overnight cruise on the Adriatic from Venice. From the first sight of Split I was drawn to its Mediterranean coastal appeal — palm trees lining the port and rugged cliffs towering above the red-tiled roofs of the city.
Landmarks and highlights of a Split, Croatia walking tour
Although we spent only several hours in Split during our walking tour and on our own, we got a great introduction to this very appealing city on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia.
On the Split walking tour, we visited the Diocletian Palace and walked through the historic city center within its walls. We also had a good amount of free time to enjoy the city on the own and we spent it on a lovely lunch at a restaurant recommended by our guide and a pleasant stroll on the waterfront promenade.
Historical Complex of Split and Diocletian Palace
The Diocletian Palace was built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian as his retirement residence during the 4th century AD when his health prompted him to abdicate the position voluntarily. The exceptionally well-preserved palace (one of the best preserved of ancient Roman palaces) and the entire historical center of Split were designated in 1979 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (one of many on this particular Viking Mediterranean cruise). Inside the 15th-century walls surrounding the palace is a pedestrian only center of narrow streets with shops, squares, and markets. Some areas of the palace are still being excavated.
We entered the palace from the waterfront promenade via the Bronze Gate on the southern wall, one of four main gates.
Cellars of the Diocletian Palace
Beyond the Bronze Gate, we entered underground passages where there are numerous souvenir and craft shops along the marble streets. From Roman times to the Middle Ages, these areas were intended for various functions originally as foundation for the emperor’s living quarters above them and later for storage of food and wine, and other residential needs.
We moved through various chambers, including the one shown above that was a location for several scenes in Game of Thrones. In the series, this is where the dragons were kept within the slave city of Meereen. Mr. TWS said he wouldn’t have recognized it if the guide hadn’t highlighted it because the scene was very dark in the show (and of course there were no dragons during our visit).
The vestibule was once the formal entryway to the residential areas of the palace accessed from the Golden Gate, the main one in Roman times. Looking up as shown in the photo below, sun shines through what was once a domed top.
Peristyle Square was the main inner courtyard during Diocletian’s day where visitors to the emperor gathered and were meant to be impressed by the towering vestibule and architecture of the buildings. Even today it is a popular meeting point for locals. Of course, in summer you will find many tourists there as they tour the palace.
We were fortunate to arrive in the Peristyle in time to see a performance of the changing of the guards (at noon every summer day) in which an actor portraying the emperor gave a short and seemingly forceful speech from the balcony.
Adjacent to the Peristyle is the Cathedral of Saint Domnius built in the Middle Ages on the base of what was formerly the emperor’s mausoleum using materials from the original structure. The Temple of Jupiter (the only one of three temples that remains from ancient times) is on opposite side of the courtyard.
Gregory of Nin
Just outside of the palace near the Golden Gate is Poljana Grgura Ninskog (Gregory of Nin) Square. Prominently situated there is the statue created by Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović of its namesake who was a medieval bishop who went against the pope and official circles of the Church. Legend says that it will bring you luck if you touch his big toe, as the woman in the photo is doing in the photo below.
Bell tower of St. Arnir
This 18th century bell tower is a prominent landmark just steps away from the statue. It was part of a Benedictine monastery built in 1069 and later a Catholic convent dedicated to St. Arnir who was the Archbishop of Split (and who was stoned to death in 1180). Although the convent was destroyed in 1945, the bell tower and a small chapel remain.
Narodini (People’s) Square
Narodini (People’s) Square is a lively place just inside the Iron Gate at the western wall. The old town hall is located here as well as bustling restaurants and shops. The name of the square has changed over the centuries, but I read that locals most often refer to it as Pjaca (a Croatian form of the Italian-style “piazza“).
I was really drawn to the Riva Promenade on the waterfront and its carefree summer vacation vibe. Palm trees line the southern wall of the palace on the promenade where restaurants with bay views are filled with al fresco diners.
It’s not just about famous historic sites in Split. It is also a university town and has a youthful ambiance that you easily notice as you walk around, especially on the waterfront, I thought.
Mr. TWS and I enjoyed some time walking along the promenade after lunch and before heading back to the ship.
Back in our stateroom on the Viking Sea, we relaxed on our veranda with a glass of wine (a lovely thing to do on a cruise) admiring the views of the city and coastline, and watching people walking along the port. A lovely end to our short, but sweet, time in Split.
A few Split tips
Shopping tip: For Game of Thrones fans, you’ll find shops with souvenirs of all kinds, but don’t worry if you don’t find something you like in Split. On the Viking Mediterranean Odyssey cruise, the next port of call is Dubrovnik, a very prominent Game of Thrones filming location with more shopping opportunities.
Optional excursion tips: Viking offered several optional excursions from the port in Split. For us, as first time visitors, we found that the included walking tour was a great introduction to the city’s highlights and to Croatia. Other options included a visit to the charming village of Trogir, a cruise through the Croatia Archipelago, and exploring nature at Krka National Park.
Disclosure: Thanks to Viking Cruises for making our Mediterranean cruise possible, but the views and perspectives shared in this post as totally our own — as always.