Split or Dubrovnik: where should you go first?

written by Helen Ochyra
updated 9/15/2021
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How to choose between Split or Dubrovnik? Both cities are star attractions in Croatia. Both have UNESCO World Heritage listed historic centres. And each is vibrant enough to retain a large, local population. Plus, both cities have Adriatic beaches, good food and bars with sea views. The information in this article is taken from The Rough Guide to Croatia, your essential guide for visiting Croatia.

But which should you visit first? Here’s our lowdown on what each city offers. Or if you prefer a tailor made Split and Dubrovnik trip get in touch and we can connect you with a local expert to plan and book your ideal holiday.

Split or Dubrovnik to soak up some culture?

Neither Split nor Dubrovnik are best explored in museums. Instead, these living cultural sites beckon you on to their sunny streets.

Split first grew around Diocletian’s Palace. And today’s medieval mix of buildings was superimposed onto a Roman blueprint dating back to 295 AD. Wander this historic quarter's alleyways and courtyards to get to grips with the city. Climb the bell tower of St Domnius to look over red roofs to the harbour. Settle on the steps of a café and watch local life unfold. Or considering staying at Kastel 1700 Boutique Hotel in the historic quarter itself.

Or take an evening walking tour in summer to soak up Split’s lively atmosphere.

People still live in Dubrovnik medieval old town. So a walk along the 25m high city walls can mean peering into windows. Or you could even join the true locals and stay at The Pucic Palace in the heart of the old town.

Dubrovnik's peaceful today. But from 1991 to 1992 the city was under siege. For an insight into this painful chapter visit the War Photo museum. This moving collection of photojournalism pulls no punches.

Ride the cable car up Mount Srd to see where locals defended Dubrovnik from the Serbs. Or learn more about the city’s past on a private tour with local guides.

Diocletian’s Palace lies at the heart of Split Croatia © Pixabay

Which city is best for authentic Croatian food?

Croatian food is fabulous. It uses the country’s excellent local produce creatively. And as Split and Dubrovnik are ports, excellent seafood and fish are a given.

Classic Dalmatian pašticada (beef stew) is on offer at every konoba (traditional restaurant) in either city. And Dubrovnik specialises in fresh oysters from Ston: Croatia’s ‘oyster capital’.

For authentic Croatian food in Dubrovnik stick to the restaurants south of Stradun. Head to Gruž for the best seafood restaurants and the city’s fish market. Avoid Prijeko to the north as it’s a tourist trap. And if you want food mixed with sightseeing take a local food and wine scene tour.

Finding authentic food in Split is even easier. Just make for streets west of the palace, towards the Varoš neighbourhood. Or book a historical & gastro tour with a local guide.

Authentic Pasticada is a local treat in Split or Dubrovnik © Fanfo/Shutterstock

Where to find the party in Split or Dubrovnik

A night out in either city always begins by finding the perfect pavement table.

In Split make for Riva. This strip of bars with large harbourfront terraces is the perfect spot to wave off the day’s cruise ships. Later, head to Diocletian’s Palace to perch on the steps and order a glass of local wine. Or if you want a less touristy hangout, keep moving upwards from the Palace.

In Dubrovnik, sundowners are best at one of the Buza bars. Buza means “hole” so you’ll find the bars tucked into the city walls. And beyond their small doorways expect tables perched on rocks and stunning Adriatic views. After, head back to Stradun and seek out tiny, traditional wine bars like D’Vino.

For lively nights in Croatia Split is hard to match © Danijela_St/Shutterstock

Swimming? Which is better Split or Dubrovnik?

The Adriatic has some of Europe’s cleanest waters. So you can’t visit Croatia without swimming.

In Split, head to Bačvice. This city beach is a walk from the centre and known for shallow seas. It also has a sandy seabed: unusual in Croatia. Or escape to Kašjuni beach on the southern coast of the Marjan peninsula. It’s about 4km west of Split.

Few Dubrovnik experiences beat swimming at one of the Buza bars. Just take a dip from the rocks, then flop down in the sun with a cold beer. Banje beach to the east, just outside the city walls, is another good bet. Chic Banje Beach lounge bar even offers sunbeds on the sands.

Sea kayaks are another great way to explore the coast in Split. You could also try cliff diving or snorkelling. And if you’re with a group of friends, book a private speedboat tour to cruise the Elafiti Archipelago from Dubrovnik.

Either Split or Dubrovnik is a good base for day trips

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Which city is the best base for day trips?

Split is midway on Croatia’s long Adriatic coast. So it’s better than Dubrovnik for seeing more of the country. Split also has more international flight connections. And Croatia’s fast motorways make touring from the city even easier.

Dubrovnik lies far south in Croatia and is good for island hopping day trips.

  • Take the short ferry ride to Lokrum Island for unspoiled woodland, monastic ruins and plenty peacocks.
  • Be adventurous and kayak from Dubrovnik to Lokrum.
  • Take a boat tour of the gorgeous Elaphite Islands to see olive groves and quaint hamlets.
  • The ancient city of Ston, Croatia’s ‘oyster capital’, is an hour’s drive along the coast.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is the top natural attraction in Croatia

What's the verdict? Dubrovnik or Split?

That depends – how good are you with crowds?

In summer Dubrovnik heaves with cruise-ship passengers and tourists. Split is the less crowded high-summer city. So on balance, we’d say pick Split for summer.

However, Dubrovnik is Croatia’s crowning glory for a reason – it’s spectacular. If you can’t stand crowds, visit off-season when it’s much quieter.

Ready for a trip to Croatia? Check out the snapshot Rough Guide to Croatia. Read more about the best time to go to Croatia, the best places to visit and best things to do in Croatia. For inspiration use the Croatia Itineraries from The Rough Guide to Croatia and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.

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Travel advice for Croatia

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written by Helen Ochyra
updated 9/15/2021
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Helen Ochyra is a Scotland-obsessed freelance travel writer and author of the critically acclaimed Scottish travel book "Scotland Beyond the Bagpipes", a Times Travel “book of the week” and one of Wanderlust’s “best travel books of 2020”. Helen specialises in British travel and is currently studying towards a Masters in British Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Helen's work has recently appeared in the Times, the Telegraph and Grazia among many others. She lives in London with her husband and two young daughters. Follow her @helenochyra on Twitter and Instagram.

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