Split, Trogir, Šibenik
Chapter Four: split, trogir, šibenik
When your backyard is a Game of Thrones set, that’s pretty damn cool. I always feel energized when I approach Central Dalmatia. You will get addicted to the wine and sunsets here.. I never get tired of it. There’s so much more to the coast than just Dubrovnik during tourist season. Let’s explore!
Dalmacija, in any season, has been a transforming experience for me. No joke.
This is the region most people think of when they think of Croatia. The coastline. Game of Thrones. Cruises.
In my opinion, Dalmatia is in no way overrated. It’s a MUST-see. (experience is a better word)
Croatia’s Adriatic Sea mainland coast is 1,777.3 kilometres (1,104.4 mi) long, while its 1,246 islands and islets encompass a further 4,058 kilometres (2,522 mi) of coastline—the most indented coastline in the Mediterranean. (Read: A treasure trove of unique little beaches and coastline to enjoy)
There are still plenty of hidden gems that are unscathed by the usual crowds that visit the usual destinations.
There is SO much more to Dalmatia than Dubrovnik, which I tend to avoid except in the off season. With a little savvy, though, even the most popular places are totally worth visiting.
Since I’m not being paid in any way by the travel industry and I hang out in this region on a regular basis, I’m free to tell you about the caveats of visiting or living in Dalmatia, which I describe below.
However.. Central Dalmatia is a truly wonderful place. If you hang out long enough, you not only get used to it,, but happily become assimilated to the pace of life here.
I’ve picked up some Dalmatian habits along the way!
Markets: Enjoy, of course, but with a dose of “buyer beware,” especially near the coast. Learn how to say “I’m not a tourist. Please don’t charge me tourist prices, thank you.” / “Nisam turist. Molim vas nemojte mi naplatiti cijenu za turiste.” (Nee sam tourist. Molim vas nay-moy-tay mee naplatiti see-yen-you za tourist.)
I’ve been overcharged in both Split and Trogir. I even have a funny story to tell about a chestnut vendor (which I will save for a blog)
The customer service attitude in Split, especially at the end of the tourist season, isn’t stellar, in my opinion. Relationship marketing has not caught on here, in general, although there are some quite savvy business owners who get it. It does help to know this, and why it happens.
Be kind, the workers here are often pushed to the limit for very low pay. Many (not all) business owners appear to be fairly well-off, and are clearly taking advantage of tourists, cheap labor, and the land. This is the darker side of tourism, a reality in many places.
Instead of complaining, I do what I can.
I stay away from the tourist traps. I’ve found cafes, bars, and restaurants I return to because of he good vibes, reasonable prices, and good service.
I also make an effort to frequent the places that treat their employees well, as I think this helps make Dalmatia an even better place.
I stay away from places with not-so-great vibes and short-term vision at the expense of a better future.
I’ve talked to the loveliest people here.. such as the spirits and rakija vendor in the Trogir market, and have had the good fortune to meet and become friends with the owners of guest houses I’m happy to recommend.
Clothing: If you are looking to buy clothing, Trogir has many little shops filled with stylish, comfortable, and high-quality summer tops and dresses for good prices.
I have yet to shop for jeans here, which is my “benchmark metric” for shopping, because finding jeans that fit well is a daunting task for me.
General Shopping: The locals and expats in the area make regular trips to Split for errands, shopping, and taking care of business. There are several large shopping malls where you can find just about anything you may need, but I prefer supporting small businesses.
Be aware that the small neighborhood market chains like Ribola, Studenac, and Tommy may have limited inventory.
In the summer, make sure to check your receipt to make sure that you were not overcharged.
This can happen not only because prices are higher, but the stores are often overwhelmed by tourists, and the pricing/marking system is a disaster and merchandise is an unorganized mess. Katostrofa, as they would say here.
In the winter, they are all closed.
Essentially, these stores are designed for tourists who don’t pay attention and are not bothered by overpaying for sunscreen and beer.
If you are planning on a longer stay, plan on making trips to Konzum or a larger Tommy store.
Tech: If you need Apple support..there are a few Apple Authorized dealers, but no official Apple Store. (For this you may need to plan a trip to Zagreb) I have no experience with this yet.
The mobile shops: Service depends on who is working and the mood they are in. If it’s not a good day to get service, my advice, if you can, is to return another day. Going with the flow is always a good idea here.
Wifi is spotty on the islands. I’ve had more issues with connections from Trogir to a friend in Hvar than from distant connections around the world.
There are work spaces for digital nomads, which I still need to check out in Split, such as the Saltwater Workspace.
Split is very, very popular with expats, and a wonderful city to visit, but not my cup of tea for longer term living.
Housing: Almost everything here is set up for the tourism industry. Finding affordable housing, especially from May to October, can be very difficult.
(An exception may be Kaštela)
Heating is very expensive relative to the cost of living here. It’s also very inefficient. Go inland, and you will find that the residents have MUCH more efficient ways to heat their homes in winter.
Not in the coastal areas. As a tourist or temporary resident, you will likely need to rely on un-centralized electric heating in rooms with poor insulation. Be prepared so that you are not shocked by the heating bill.
Restaurants: The food in this area is generally excellent, but my advice is to get recommendations from locals and expats, as there are many mediocre tourist traps, especially on the “rivas” (waterfront)
The most perfect method of travel by land is the scooter.
The sound of scooters is part of the everyday background noise of almost any city here.
Walking and bicycle, my preferred methods, are a bit more challenging, especially if you live on an island or hilly area, which is very common, given the terrain on the coast.
The upside: With so much hill walking and swimming, you will get in shape!
Travel by boat: Many people travel here by boat. I’ve found the main company, Jadrolinja, to be very good. I’ve taken trips across the Adriatic and ferries from Hvar to Split.
Croatians are excellent sailors, so they have this industry down pat.
In fact, it is the preferred method of travel, and sometimes the most practical.
For example, if you are driving up the coast from Kotor or Dubrovnik to Central Dalmatia.. or taking a bus, keep in mind that you will have to deal with the weirdest border crossing on the planet: Neum.
The border itself is fine, but it’s the geographical location that is odd. Neum is a small strip of coastline that is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Travelers will need to have their passports stamped when entering and leaving. It can also create long delays during the tourist season.
My choice is to travel via catamaran. Krila has routes from Dubrovnik to Split, with stops in Mlejt, Korčula, Hvar, and Brač.
This way of travelling was fun, actually. Spending time in Dalmatia isn’t complete without some kind of travel by boat.
There are also private chartered sailing and yacht tours, which is on my list!
Boat taxis are another common method for making short trips between the mainland and islands, from larger islands to smaller islands, or for exploring nature parks (Hvar, Trogir, Šibenik)
Keep in mind that boat schedules CAN be confusing and change depending on the season. Make sure to double check schedules and allow enough time to make connections and transfers.
Travel by Bus: It’s actually pretty easy. Timetables can be hard to read at the bus stations. I usually look up inter-city schedules on getbybus.com and purchase tickets at the bus station.
The Split station is awful, and honestly, I hope they tear that thing down soon and start from scratch. Staff tends to be crabby. The toilets are hard to manage with luggage, and is run by a woman who quite possibly has the worst attitude I’ve ever seen. (I did not provoke and was kind, but it was mind-blowing to behold someone who clearly isn’t happy at ALL.)
There is no wifi, and the only way to gain access is by buying a coffee from a surly waiter/konobar in the adjoining cafe. I know tourists complain a lot about “surly” waiters and the defense is that tourists can be annoying, but I get it. I am always kind to waitstaff, because it’s a crappy job. I’ve done it myself. I try to imagine what it must be like in high tourist season. But in some cases, the best words to describe what is happening is “surreal surliness.” As in “Did I do something wrong?”
My advice for tourists: You are not crazy, and you didn’t do anything wrong, (unless you really are kind of a jerk) Just kill them with kindness and then get out as fast as you can. Use the toilet beforehand for departures, and don’t count on infrastructure like wifi or a functioning ATM/bankomat at the bus station near the main port.
Parking in that area is also terrible. Find lodging nearby beforehand, make arrangements with your host for pickup, or find a taxi. (I have not yet taken a taxi in Split.. I’ll get some info on this)
In contrast, the BEST bus station I’ve run across in the ENTIRE Balkan penninsula is the Šibenik station near the Riva. It’s clean and modern, the staff is friendly, they speak English, there is wifi, cafes where you can watch your luggage, and easily accessible toilets and food.
Trogir is fairly easy to navigate, once you get used to where the platforms are for inter-city, airport, and city buses are. There are easy places for pick-ups, drop offs, and taxis/Uber.
For travel within Split and Trogir, (Bus #37) I recommend paying the driver to save money. Have your ticket available, since controllers frequently board the bus at some point and check tickets.
During the spring and fall, the weather is fantastic. It can get hot during the summer, but oh my, the water is just perfect.
This isn’t, however, the tropical climate that many North Americans associate with vacation destinations. It can get COLD here in the winter when the Bura (north) winds blow.
Why Dalmatians still have not figured out how to properly heat and insulate a dwelling is still beyond my comprehension. Is it a denial of the harshness of the Bura?
Dalmatia is arguably not the easiest place to live or get around in, but trust me.. the Adriatic sea is truly divine and magical . No hyperbole here.
That’s why people from Zagreb and inland areas come here every year.
It’s that gorgeous, blue-green, crystal clear water.
I swear it has healing properties too. I always look and feel younger after having spent time in the Adriatic sea.
Keep in mind: The beaches here are not the typical sandy beaches that North Americans and even many Europeans may conceptualize. The small rocks can be hard on the feet, (ouch) so water shoes are highly recommended.
To me, the lack of sand is NOT a deal breaker. Comparing Croatian beaches to the sandy beach resorts in Florida is like comparing apples and oranges.
To me, nature provides so many ways to enjoy the water element in Croatia. Go in with this mindset and you can’t go wrong.
Overtourism is a real problem, especially in popular destinations like Dubrovnik and Hvar.
Measures are being taken to keep it under control, including limiting the amount of daily visitors in some areas (Dubrovnik walled city) and Hvar (rules to keep “partiers” from destroying the experience in Hvar grad/town)
Personally, I”m not a fan of cruise ships that deposit hordes of tourists that clog up the streets of old cities not meant to accommodate such large numbers.
The tourists coming from these ships traditionally don’t spend much money, don’t really fully experience the essence of Dalmatia, and diminish the quality of experience for everyone. I equate this type of travel with smoking. I’m polite about it in person, but you won’t see me advocate this type of travel on this website.
Keep Dalmatia the wonderful place it is, and spend some time here, in some of the lesser-known places. You won’t regret it.
Everything is CLOSED in the off-season.
For me, this isn’t SUCH a big deal, as I’m an introvert who spends a lot of time working from home, on my laptop.
But damn, there are days when you just want to find a decent dinner or get something done. This is when I get a little crabby at times, I admit. Mostly I just go with the flow.
It can also feel a bit cold and lonely in the middle of winter.. the complete opposite of the summer vibe.
Still, there is something about having an entire old city almost entirely to yourself. A good walk, followed by a visit to the places the locals haunt, is a gift in and of itself.
Note: The Christmas or Advent Season is also quite festive.
Do find ways to keep your spirits up during the darker months of winter, by meeting with friends, seeing a movie, etc.
What it taught me:
I’m going to be honest: Living in Dalmatia with limited funds can be a challenge.
Dalmatia has taught me to enjoy what I DO have. By learning to focus on all the natural abundance around me, rather on what was inaccessible to me at the time, I was happier, more relaxed, and had better “luck”
It has taught me that my health is important, and that there is hope for reversing the damage of stress simply by being here, eating high quality food, (sardines, olives, fresh produce) walking up those hills, and of course, swimming in that beautiful sea.
Some of my best friends are in Dalmatia, and some of my worst encounters with humanity have also happened here. I have learned who to trust. When you have a friend here, it seems to be for the long haul, which gives me hope.
Spending too much time worrying and working instead of getting out in the fresh air, enjoying life, and having faith that all will be ok.
Missing some fantastic photo opportunities: The most beautiful impromptu gathering in Trogir main square. Singers, after a wedding, singing classic Croatian songs. My phone battery died. Same with docking in Korčula at Sunset.
Not taking a trip to Krka national park from Šibenik by boat, but I will have another opportunity, I hope!
Beyond the Visual:
If you are lucky enough to catch a Klapa gathering, (traditional Dalmatian, often a capella singing ensembles) ..stick around!
Dalmatia smells like their version of BBQ: fragrant but not overpowering woodsmoke and herbs and roasting meat or fish, rosemary, lavender, and seawater, with a dash of sunscreen and a faint undertone of boat fuel and fish as you get closer to the water.
It is the most pleasant smell.
The food. The sea. Both require their own epic blogs.
Even (sladoled) has to be a part of the experience. Bella’s in Trogir and a place I found in Šibenik have the best sladoled, gelato, or ice cream.. I have ever had.
Dalmatia is a feast for all the senses.
The perfect Day
Wake up to sunshine and walk to the piazza to have a coffee. Afterwards, take a walk to a fortress or explore the city.
Midday is best spent swimming or on the beach. Take in the sun and sea and the slow, relaxed, Dalmatian vibe. Let it work its magic on you.
After a quick refresh, a drink on the Riva of Split, Trogir, or Šibenik is a great way to spend a late afternoon or evening.
My perfect drink: A Gemišt, or half white wine and half sparkling or mineral water. VERY Croatian, and perfect for summer.
If you can find a place with a view.. the sunsets here are spectacular.
On any given Saturday afternoon near a big cathedral or square, you may find organized or impromtu Klapa groups, or a wedding celebration in progress. Make sure your phone camera is ready to go.
For dining, I recommend staying way from the Riva. I love “Getting lost” in an old city and finding that perfect little spot to have dinner and a glass of wine.
The beach, any time of year, especially when it is not crowded. I’ve done yoga on the pier, swam out past the fishing boats, and watched the hard-core older residents on Čiovo island take their daily swim while sipping a beer and learning some new Croatian verbs.
The city of Šibenik really resonated with me for some reason. I felt down when I arrived, but wandering the streets of this city yielded some really cool surprises and lifted my spirits.
Watching planes land is also one of my favorite ways to unwind, and Trogir is in the flight path.
Klapa music, either traditional or pop-influenced
For me, U Dobro i Zlu by Boris Novković takes me back to the cafes on Čiovo.
At least one coastal city besides Split, (Trogir, ŠIbenik, Primošten, Vodice)
At least one island. (Korčula, Hvar, Čiovo, etc) I recommend not trying to visit too many, in order to really absorb the true Dalmatian experience. Polaaako! Take it EASY.
The Hinterlands of Split-Šibenik counties. This area is gorgeous, full of wine an history, and quite underrated.
Yeah.. it can be a bit overwhelming. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored in Dalmatia, even in the empty winterseason.
Digital Nomad Friendliness Rating:
Dalmatia is the “wildcard.” I’m not rating the entire region. Some places may rate an A, while others an F. (as in no wifi, eateries, transportation, infrastructure, etc)
Much depends on personal preferences, as well. For some, being near the sea is the #1 thing that makes them feel fantastic. And wow, I always feel great being near the Adriatic.
I’ve discovered that I do best in a bicycle-friendly culture. I also prefer not to deal with the stress of finding housing or paying inflated prices, so for the long term, Dalmatia may not be my first choice, but I’m open to future possibilities. When one is creative, who knows!
Dalmatia is Dalmatia. It’s a wonderful, beautiful place. Words don’t do it justice. Just go, and decide for yourself!