Visiting Split, Brac Island and Bol: A Croatia Travel Guide
Located between Central Europe to the east and Italy across the Adriatic Sea to the west, Croatia has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. With castles nestled in the mountains, cities full of narrow, medieval streets, a rugged coastline of beautiful beaches and thousands of islands to hop around, it's difficult to know which part to visit first. So to help you narrow it down, we've picked the Dalmatia coast and chosen Croatia's second largest city Split and the neighbouring island of Brac to give you a small taste of what to expect.
Factfile on Croatia
- Capital: Zagreb
- Currency: Croatian Kuna - Croatia only joined the European Union in 2013, as yet it hasn't adopted the Euro.
- Language: Croatian
- Time zone: GMT + one hour in summer, GMT + two hours in winter
- Weather: July is the hottest month - Average temperature: 25C, Average sunshine: 13 hours, Water temperature for swimming: 24C
- Visas: If you have a European passport, you don't need a visa to visit. Other passport holders can apply for a three month tourist visa.
Split - The historic coastal city
Like many of the coastal Croatian cities, there is a strong Italian influence here, from the romantic and historic buildings to the food. This mainly Medieval city has a film-like quality and is very unspoilt, mainly due to a large part of it being a heritage site. It is however very much an outdoors city. So if that's your bag, head to the Marjan Hills for cycling and hiking, and numerous beach coves. When the weather is hot the locals don't have far to go, and Bačvice beach at the harbour in the centre of town is the place to sunbathe or party.
Things to do in Split:
One of the finest examples of Roman Antiquity can be found at Diocletian Palace - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These well preserved buildings make up the heart of the old town, where you might even spot local actors dressed up in Roman garb. To see as much of the city as possible, climb the Bell Tower steps of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius.
Take a stroll down the Riva promenade, flanked by cafes, restaurants and boutiques or visit the fish market (Peškarija) and discover the types of local fish fresh off the boat. If you want to venture out of the city, visit the impenetrable-looking medieval Klis fortress, which guards the gap between the mountains of Kozjak and Mosor.
FACT: Game of Thrones fans might recognise Klis's dramatic location from an episode of the hit TV show. Diocletian’s Palace has also been used in scenes from the programme - it's where one of the leading characters, Daenerys, trains her dragons.
Eating and Drinking:
Seafood such as sea bass, octopus, tuna and Brujet (a seafood stew) are worth trying, and restaurants will often pride themselves on selling the catch of the day. Two popular places to eat are Konoba Marjan or Dvor. The latter has an open air terrace and sea views, and should be booked in advance at peak times. The area around Split is renowned for the quality of its red grapes, so try and sample some of the local red wine. The Paradox Wine and Cheese Bar, next to Croatia's National Theatre is a great place to sample the local produce and cheese boards. Zinfandel wine bar also comes highly recommended. As well as more than 100 bottles of Croatian wine, their other speciality is a three-tired platter of local cheese, charcuterie and roasted vegetables.
Brac - An island overview
Brac is the largest island in the Dalmatian part of the Adriatic, and just an hour from Split by boat. Its most famous export is its white stone. Quarried on the island, it was used to build Diocletian's Palace in Split and numerous buildings and cathedrals around the world. This is an extremely picturesque part of Croatia, with its sparkling sea and beaches protected by pine woods. While on the island we recommend visiting the town of Bol, home of Brac's most famous beach.
DID YOU KNOW: The famous stone from the island was used in the construction of the White House in Washington DC.
Things to do in Bol:
For a great view of the island, walk five miles up to Vidova Gora, the highest point on the Adriatic. Close by is the Blaca Hermitage (also called a monastery), which was carved into the mountainside in 1550. It is now UNESCO-listed and a museum. You can only visit Zmajeva Spilja (Dragon Cave) on foot with a guide, but it's worth the hike to discover this tiny church with its carved reliefs. The long-running Bol Summer Festival runs from June until September, when you can watch open-air musicals, theatre performances and art exhibitions among other cultural events.
Sunbathing, swimming and watersports
The most famous beach is the triangular Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn), near Bol, which juts out from the island. This sandy-looking pebble beach, with a pine wood running along its length, can actually change shape depending on which way the wind is blowing. Head to the harbour where you'll find Bol's sailing, diving and windsurfing schools. You can also hire jet skis or try para-sailing.
Eating in Brac:
The food here has a Mediterranean feel, and they are very proud of their olive oil, grown on the island. Lamb dishes of all types are a main staple, and some of the dishes are made from the meat of lambs that have only been reared on their mother's milk. Look out for Vitalac on the menu, which are lamb skewers cooked on hot coals. Cheese is another island speciality. Made from sheep milk, it's left for 24-hours before being sliced, baked in sugar and caramelised. You should also try food prepared with the Brac condiment Varenik, made from the island's red grapes.
Croatian wine has had resurgence in recent years, and the island of Brac, with its historic vineyards, is a great place to sample some of the country's finest bottles. Visit the Stina Winery at Bol waterfront to learn more about the local wine. The grapes are grown in one of the highest vineyards in Croatia.
Getting there: Take the scenic route by ferry from Split to Supertar on the north of Brac. The ferries, which take around an hour, run from around 5am to 11pm from Split in the summer months. Get ferry times and prices here.
If you've been to the Dalmatia Coast we'd love to hear about your tips. Share your experiences by leaving a comment below. Find out more about holidays in Croatia