Gouged into the bedrooms and barracks of Emperor Diocletian’s third-century palace, compact Split is chock-full of historic sites to visit. But there’s more to this Game of Thrones filming location than just its ancient attractions and nearby beaches. From its central Roman forum, you’re just a 10-minute saunter through Gothic streets and grand Venetian plazas to the city’s bustling port, where speedy ferries are waiting to whisk you out on day trips to nearby islands. Getting to the islands is easy (and pretty cheap), but knowing which one most suits you can be tricky.

With that in mind, these are our top picks for a hassle-free extension to your Split city break.

For adventure, go to Brač

For adventure, go to Brač
Kite-surfing over Brač’s Golden Horn Beach / Image: Adobe Stock

Brač may be most famous for a beach – which you’ll likely have seen photographed from above, jutting out into the Adriatic – but don’t make the 50-minute ferry crossing just to laze around on Bol with the rest of the holidaymakers. This paradise for adventure-lovers has some of the best reefs in Europe and you can easily scuba dive its underwater forests of pink and canary corals on a day trip from Split. It’s also great for rock-climbing, kite-boarding and windsurfing, and has more than 600 miles of cycle routes, too. If that all sounds a bit energetic, you can book a mostly-downhill bike ride from the island’s highest peak (where the pics of Bol are taken) and free-wheel your way through its pretty, Baroque villages and fishing towns before catching the ferry back to Split. Easy.

For wine, drink in Vis

For wine, drink in Vis
Endless vineyards and olive groves – that’s life sorted on Vis / Image: Adobe Stock

If you like Californian wine, the 80-minute catamaran ride to Vis is a must, as the USA’s famous zinfandel has its roots in Croatia. Like other islands along the Dalmatian coast, Vis was once blanketed in vines, until a blight that lasted through parts of the 19th and 20th centuries killed many of the plants. Luckily, viticulture’s made a comeback in recent decades, with wine estates taking root once more. You can book an organised vineyard-hopping tour to taste its ruby-rich plavac mali and honey-sweet vugava lipanović varieties. Or, if you’d rather stay within 15 minutes’ stagger of the harbour, book a visit to ;the military tunnels-turned-cellars of the Lipanović winery.

For glamour, sail to Hvar

For glamour, sail to Hvar
Hvar Town looking pretty sweet at sunset, from the Tvrđava Spanjola fortress / Image: Adobe Stock

Hvar may not be the closest island to Split, but it’s the one that most people will disembark at. And who can blame them? Hvar Town, where the boat stops, is a little like a quieter Dubrovnik, creeping from the marina to the hilltop Venetian fortress in a flight of terracotta and stone. Follow the eager trails of travellers making their way up to the castle and stop for prawns and herb-flecked potatoes at one of the alfresco cafes blocking the narrow lanes. Later, find a sunny spot at one of the chill-out lounges that fan the bay, and spend the rest of the afternoon sipping Aperol spritzes and peaking over your sunnies at all the glamour and glamorous people.

For secret coves, kayak the Paklinski Islands

For secret coves, kayak the Paklinski Islands
Sail away... to the gorgeous Paklinski Islands / Image: Adobe Stock

Even if you’re looking for something more tranquil, it might still be worth making the roughly 60-minute crossing from Split to Hvar Town, because from there you can hire a kayak and paddle to the nearby Paklinski Islands. This series of uninhabited islands-cum-nature reserve is ideal if you want to get away from the crowds and find your own private beach to snorkel, with only translucent fish for company. If you’re not as keen on the solitude, a couple of the islands have restaurants, where yachting crowds drop anchor and hire private beach cabanas. In the summer, one of the islands, Stipanska, even brings in international DJs and throws the occasional, all-night open-air rave at Ibiza-style club Carpe Diem Beach.

For the simple life, try Šolta

For the simple life, try Šolta
It’s easy to forget the rest of the world when you’re on Šolta / Image: Adobe Stock

The 30-minute catamaran crossing from Split (around 60 minutes by ferry) is the only speedy thing about Šolta. Life here moves as languidly as honey from a spoon – which is quite apt, given that the island is famous for its rosemary-infused nectar. Sample the honey (as well as olive oil and tannin-rich dobričić red wine – allegedly enjoyed in medieval France and Vienna) on various culinary tours of the island, many of which stop at family-run cellar doors (wine tasting rooms). Just don’t forget to wash the honey off your chin first, during a dip in the sea.

For star-spotting, head to Korčula

For star-spotting, head to Korčula
Surrounded by paradise in Korčula / Image: Adobe Stock

The ancient Greeks may have put Korčula on the map, but it’s the likes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z that have made it (kind of) well-known. With a two-and-a-half-hour journey time by ferry from Split, it’s harder to reach than other islands and cities on the Dalmatian coast, which is probably why celebrities love it. But do consider a couple of nights’ add-on, if a day trip sounds too exhausting. Some claim that Korčula Town is the birthplace of Marco Polo (he’s generally thought to have been born in Venice, though this is now disputed), and there are lots of attractions linked to the famous explorer. It’s also widely considered to be one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the Mediterranean – rising up from the ramparts like a tiered wedding cake with its smart cathedral poking out from the centre. Stunning.

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