Split – a free city tour of the Diocletian Palace

 

Split - a free city tour of the Diocletian Palace

A view from below looking at a tower at the Diocletian palace

Split – a free city tour of the Diocletian Palace

 

It’s already 10am and I am impatiently waiting in the main square of the Diocletian palace for our free guide and tour to start, but nowhere to be seen. This is the first time I’ve signed up for one of those popular free city tours that are prevalent in almost every city in Europe. I was excited that there was a free tour program established in Split to visit some of the highlights of the Diocletian palace. Free being the hook, but I was really wondering if it was really free? And what if there was a catch, or would I really be wasting two hours of my visit to Split to hear some strange marketing ploy or a bait and switch type of gimmick to participating … hmmm, these weird thoughts start to cloud my mind while I wait impatiently for the guide.

Fortunately, after a few minutes a very respectable and attractive lady shows up at the square with a blue umbrella and sign stating ‘Free Split tours’, so we make a beeline to talk to her and fill out the short form she has us fill out. I eventually find out that these tours are often lead by volunteers from the area who know about their city, its history and other cultural facts to share with the group. Many tend to be university students, recent graduates or even in our case, a recently laid off attorney, who is volunteering and working for tips for their time leading the tours. The main attraction for them is being a native and showing something personal about their city and culture, while doing something positive within tourism that isn’t a ploy to milk tourists in visiting the area –  amen to that!

 

Peristil Square is- the main plaza of Split

Peristil Square – the main plaza of historic Split

 

Okay, lets start the tour our lawyer turned tour director bellows out to the small group like a drill sargent. Once primarily the expansive mansion and retirement villa to the roman emperor Diocletian, the palace fell into ruins after his death and the rise of Christianity in Croatia. We toured the remains and intact portions of the historic city including Peristil square, the main entry to the Diocletian palace and the stairway entrance and reception area, the mausoleum now converted to a cathedral.  Peristil square, A colonnade square with roman features included many unique finds shipped in from Egypt including the granate columns and black sphinxes sprinkled around the city. To the left of the square is the cathedral of Saint Domnius with its gleaming limestone bell tower (wonderful views to the entire city and coastline on top), the octagonal building which used to be Diocletian’s mausoleum and in typical Catholic fashion was converted into a cathedral.

Entering the cathedral first from the bottom church basement, we started climbing upstairs to the main octagonal interior room (original mausoleum) and the newer choral chamber and treasury. The tour around the palace included visits to the royal dining areas and adjoining vomit room (for those nobility that wanted to eat all day and then vomit all the food back out), the ramparts, and down to the bowels of the palace which used to be a huge water cistern and now houses galleries and an underground museum. Just to the west side of the palace is the Temple of Jupiter, which faces prominently into Peristil square – the catholics later turned the roman temple into a baptistery.

 

 

Split - a free city tour of the Diocletian Palace

The bell tower of St. Domnius

 

 

 

Split - a free city tour of the Diocletian Palace

Our free city tour guide with her friendly date

 

 

Hearing some beautiful A capella sounds in a huge open tower, our tour guide lead us to the original opening and waiting room area to the ancient Palace of Diocletian. The acoustics from the solid and rounded room with an open top created the perfect environment for local A capella groups to perform and hopefully sell some of the CD’s to visitors. Here’s a sample of one of the local men’s groups performing below.

 

Once the palace fell into ruins, the local population quickly took over the city and created their free-living quarters within the ramparts and areas that could be converted into housing. Now those tiny one bedroom apartments can easily go for a very good price in the market today selling amazing prices in Euro now that Croatia is part of the European union.

 

Split - a free city tour of the Diocletian Palace

A large square in the old center with many outdoor cafes and shops

 

 

 

 

The Mausoleum of Diocletian converted to a cathedral

The Mausoleum of Diocletian converted to a cathedral

 

 

 

Split - a free city tour of the Diocletian Palace

The old city walls and towers

 

On the side of the Temple of Jupiter the streets are relatively narrow even for roman standards, here the street below is the narrowest street in Split where you can only walk down single file. Following that was a tour of the basement of Split now housing a series of art galleries and boutiques and an underground museum tour.

 

The thinnest street in Split

The thinnest street in Split

 

 

 

 

The subterranean underground originally the palace cistern

The subterranean underground originally the palace cistern

 

We toured many of the walls and gates of the city including the Eastern gate or silver gate with the farmers market just beyond the gate. I posted earlier about the wonderful market of Split. Take a look at my post here, if you haven’t had a chance to read it.

 

The silver gate, one of four gates into Split

The silver gate, one of four gates into Split

 

So overall, It was a good tour for the two hours visiting all the key landmarks to Diocletian’s palace, including some of the converted buildings that were added on throughout the various centuries to present day Split. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour especially our guide, who gave us personal observations about their culture, history and current day transition to becoming an EU state.

I would recommend taking the Free tours and if you are interested here is some more information on the tours below: 

The tours start on time at 10:30am four times daily in Peristil Square, look for a person with a blue umbrella and a free city tour sign.

You must first register with the tours at the tour office prior to start go visit the website below for directions.

The tours of the remains of the palace take around one and one half to two hours to visit the historic portions of the palace.

The guides are volunteers and the tour is free but they do accept donations since most are students or do this as supplementary income.

You can visit the website for the free tours at their website here.

 

Split - a free city tour of the Diocletian Palace

Roman solders patroling the gates

For more  posts on visiting the fascinating city of Split,  Croatia – check out my other stories below

Farmers market in Split’s old town

Local foods of the Dalmatian coastline

Enjoying a day in Trojir, Croatia

Early morning fish market in Split

Split’s most photo worthy places to photograph
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30 Responses to Split – a free city tour of the Diocletian Palace

  1. Torsten April 18, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

    Really beautiful photos of a beautiful place 🙂

  2. Anda @ Travel Notes & Beyond April 13, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    Great pictures, Noel! If you only knew for how long I’ve been planning to go to Croatia and take my own photos. For now I will enjoy yours…

  3. Tricia April 10, 2014 at 12:57 am #

    We were lucky to have spent three months in Split earlier this year. Love to see so much of its charm and history captured here.

  4. Dave Cole April 6, 2014 at 10:28 pm #

    “Lawyer turned tour director” is exactly how I’d like to be referenced some day! Looks like she did a great job and your shots are beautiful.

  5. Lucia April 6, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Thank you very much Mr Noel for sharing your expresions about our tour and my charming hometown Split!

    Your guide

    Lucia

  6. denise April 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    What a beautiful city. The lovely honey coloured stone reminds me of home.

  7. Nancie April 4, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

    That’s one gorgeous city. I swear by the free tours. I’ve never been disappointed.

  8. budget jan April 4, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    I am glad you found the tour good value Noel. We were going to do the free tour in Seville, but it was hugely hot and it left at 11 a.m. Somehow a cool drink on a shady footpath seemed a better option. 🙂 I love the way you used the people in the thinnest street to emphasize it’s long thin appearance.

  9. Heather April 4, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    Split looks like an amazing place to explore! I’ve never taken a free city tour anywhere, but will be on the lookout for them from now on!

  10. Johanna April 3, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    We weren’t going to spend too much time in Split but I think your story and photos Noel have made me think otherwise. Definitely going to lock in a couple of days to explore on our way up to Plitvic Lakes me thinks – thanks for some awesome photos as ever 🙂

  11. muzachan April 3, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

    Beautiful city 🙂

  12. The Tablescaper April 3, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    Amazing photos!

    So wonderful to have you at “Oh the PLACES I’ve been!”

    – Alma, The Tablescaper

  13. Chris Boothman April 3, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    Sounds like you got great value for your free tour! I am always a little wary of the free tours as to exactly what they entail and whether they are really worth your time, but looking at your amazing pictures (as always, sorry if I seem to always ramble on about how good your images are but they astound me every time and capture the imagination which is what I hope you are trying to achieve!) this was a productive tour. Exploring the cathedral looks awesome regardless of whether it was with or without a guided tour.

    • Noel April 3, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

      Well surprisingly it was a good tour, in fact so that I did another free city tour in another popular city in Hungary.

  14. Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti April 3, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    Very good information about these tours, Noel. I’ve heard Croatia is a very interesting country to visit and Split looks fascinating! I love the ancient wall and narrow street.

  15. Keryn from Walking On Travels April 3, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    As always Noel, your photos blow me away and make me want to pack my bags and head out again 🙂

  16. jenny@atasteoftravel April 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    We visited Spit a couple of times during the seven weeks we spent in Croatia last year but just wandered around the city ourselves. We took a free walking tour in Zagreb and loved the concept. I wish I had known that there was one here. Fabulous photos as usual Noel!

  17. The Crowded Planet April 3, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    Great post Noel, and great pics as usual. Split looks like it has a distinct Italian feel, funny that even though I am Italian, I didn’t know how beautiful it was!

  18. The Crowded Planet April 3, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    wow, great place! looks like Italy a little bit… I must admit I didn’t know much about Split, but your great pics really made me want to go! Thanks Noel and congrats on the good work!

  19. Jackie De Burca April 2, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

    It seems that not only did you get a very good free tour, but you got a great guide, who made it extra special. The architecture is stunning, I was also unaware of Split’s history and the interesting mark that has been left on the city. It is somewhere to add to my list of places to go, I love the look of it, from your articles so far Noel.

  20. Renuka April 2, 2014 at 7:24 am #

    Wow, I want to be here! I love that narrow lane.

  21. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) April 2, 2014 at 7:22 am #

    I only became aware of the free city tour concept very recently and am hoping to try it in Slovenia later in the year – good to see they are generally well received and Split looks beautiful!

  22. Paul (@luxury__travel) April 2, 2014 at 4:41 am #

    I had no idea that Split had such beautiful architecture. I rarely hear of people going to Croatia – and even then they tend to head for the beaches – but this sounds like definitely one to put on my ‘to visit’ list.

  23. Lee Briggs April 2, 2014 at 4:25 am #

    I have walked past the Baths of Diocletian in Rome, but I had no idea that he had a palace in Split. And I was unaware that most cities in Europe had free city tours. Thanks for both of those pieces of information.
    Great photos and descriptions of the palace.

  24. Mary Calculated Traveller April 2, 2014 at 4:17 am #

    OOh – it would have been nice to go on a tour. When we were here last we just wandered about on our own and we knew that we were missing out on the history and inside stories that a guide would have shared. I’ll make sure to keep this in mind for our next trip to Split!

  25. Briona April 1, 2014 at 10:40 pm #

    Oh, seeing all these photos makes me want to go back to Split! Oh, and to see it in the sun. When I went, the rain was so torrential, the sea levels rose and flooded the streets and the palace, and all the tourists who were sheltering in the palace (myself included) had to be evacuated! We had to wade through 6+ inches of water to get to safety. I still enjoyed my time there though. 🙂

  26. Adam @ Round the World we go April 1, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

    What a beautiful city. I keep meaning to visit Croatia but I think it’s finally time I did this.. I love the photos!

  27. Suzanne April 1, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

    Fabulous shots – the tour was interesting too. I’ve done a couple if these ‘free’ tours and they’ve been very good.

  28. Corinne April 1, 2014 at 8:56 pm #

    Noel, Heading to Croatia in a couple of days. I might just take this tour. It sounds great.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 25 Travel tips and how to travel smarter - May 21, 2015

    […] Did you know that many cities around the world offer free walking tours? (Actually these are volunteers from the local area that hopefully will do a great job for free). Check the local tourism bureaus in the area when you arrive to find out about free events, free museum days or activities that are available for tourist to enjoy for free or a nominal amount. These are typically sponsored by the tourism office so it’s a great time to see something interesting and free. Lots of things are free online as an example you can set up Google alerts for updates on news and events to the destination you are visiting or check Trip Advisor for their top things to do in each place. I take quite a few free city tours when I visit a new destination, here’s one I did visiting the gorgeous city of Split in Croatia. […]

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