You can’t miss Diocletian’s Palace in Split. Literally. However, it can be hard to know what you’re looking at and to get all of the information in one place, because there are different museums associated with different parts, not to mention everything you can visit for free. Includes a detailed map you can use to help plan your adventure and find your way while you're .visiting this glorious UNESCO site.

Diocletian’s Palace IS Old Town Split, Croatia

Absolutely impossible to miss, Diocletian’s Palace, built in the late third and early fourth-century as the Emperor Diocletian’s retirement residence, essentially is Old Town Split, Croatia. Walking through the old city will amaze you. It’s all just right there! Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO heritage site, represents one of the best-preserved examples of Roman architecture, and yet doesn’t feel like a museum. The dynamic city of Split has grown up around this ancient palace.

Information about Diocletian’s Palace in one place, including a detailed map

While there’s loads of information about Diocletian’s Palace out there, I could not find one place that had (just about) everything you could see. I suspect this is because you can see some things for free, and others are spread out over three different museums. I put this together, because I would have appreciated it while on my visit.

This post shares how to tour Diocletian’s Palace, depending on your time, interest, and budget (it won’t cost you more than $20 to visit the whole shebang, but if you’re especially budget conscious, I have you) and the detailed map below provides what you need to plan your trip, as well as a reference for you while you’re on your adventure.

Visit Diocletian's Palace

Diocletian Statue in the Cellars
A bust of Diocletian in the Cellars

About Diocletian’s Palace

Emperor Diocletian and his retirement palace

If you know your history, you probably have heard of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (lived c. 245-311/312 CE; Emperor 284-305). Diocletian was the last well-known emperor to persecute Christians, which he went about ruthlessly. However, he tired of being an emperor and became the only emperor to retire, which he did in 305, after having a significant period of his reign spent as a co-Emperor.  He built his palace in what became the city of Split to live out his retirement near his birthplace tending to vegetable gardens (apparently, he really liked to grow cabbage), and he spared no expense building it. He built himself a grand mausoleum, a temple, grand halls, and more. Diocletian’s Palace must have been truly something to behold in its time.

Christians transformed Diocletian’s Palace

The Christians, however, got the last laugh, as just a few centuries after his death, his body was tossed out of his mausoleum and has never been found. The Christians transformed his mausoleum into a cathedral devoted to a man he had beheaded, St. Domnius, who became the patron saint of Split (fun fact: it is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world that is in its original structure—those Romans were good builders). The city grew up around the palace, changing over time.

Visiting Diocletian’s Palace today fascinates

To me, one of the more fascinating parts of visiting Diocletian’s Palace, like other historical sites, is that for much of its history, it was simply something that was part of the landscape (the cellars were used as dumping grounds) or used for other purposes. It wasn’t until much later that the historical significance and perceived need to preserve the heritage came to the fore. For a long  time, no one outside of Split even knew that this temple existed. Much of the palace has had restoration work done, but you can still get a very strong sense of what it must have looked like.

Diocletian's Palace

Visit Diocletian’s Palace for free

Without spending a single kuna, you can march through the gates, all four of them; stand in the Peristil; marvel at an ancient Egyptian sphinx that’s mostly intact (alas, crueler fates met the other eleven), stand where Diocletian stood; and walk through the Vestibul and a big section of the cellar. It’s just there. When I saw the Golden Gate for the first time, I thought, the Romans built this. Huh. Would you imagine that? And then I walked on through to head to a café. 

I would skip the museums if I was visiting Split for a day trip (I would climb the Vestibul; see below), because you can see so much and save time for more exploring.

The Gates

Diocletian’s Palace had four gates, now known by names after metals, where people entered the palace. See the map below for locations. From any of the gates, you can walk toward the Peristil (more on that below) or courtyard of the palace.

Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace

This was the entrance for Diocletian, and the Golden Gate (north gate) is truly something to behold. In fact, just off to the left if you’re facing the gate, there’s a little place where you can sit and do just that, which, if you happen to catch it when it’s not crowded (not an easy trick, but earlier in the day would improve your chances), is a lovely experience. My first morning in Split, I was wandering about and just came upon the gate and noticed a young man sitting off to the side in silence. I followed suit (enough of a distance away so as not to disturb him), and I recommend it.

This gate is the most imposing, and it gives you a good sense of just how grand this palace was back in its time. Just inside the gate is a vestibule (note, this is not the Vestibul), which was used for defensive purposes. Walking straight down the street will take you to Diocletian’s Palace.

Silver Gate

I like the Silver Gate (east gate) the best, because through it, you can see the cathedral, and it has lovely arches above it. If you’re entering through this gate and it’s any morning except Sunday, you’ll encounter the Green Market. It’s lovely at night.

Iron Gate

As of this writing, the Iron Gate (west gate) is undergoing some restoration, but if you look at it from its entrance to Diocletian’s Palace, you can see the archway. The later addition of the unique city clock (if you look closely, you’ll notice that it’s a 24-hour clock) provides the residents of Split with a meeting spot, if not an easy way to tell the time.

Bronze Gate/Southern Walls

This one, alas, is not all that interesting, but it provided the entrance from the sea to the Palace. Today it’s one of the ways you can reach the palace from the Riva. However, while the gate itself is not interesting, do be sure to back out a bit onto the Riva and look up at the walls, for they are truly impressive.

Peristil Diocletian's Palace

Peristil

This is the main courtyard of the palace, and it is nearly always jam packed with tourists like you. From there, you can look up to Diocletian’s Palace and imagine the retired emperor standing in view of the people from the main entrance.

The Treasury is to your right (see below), as well as the palaces of noble families. Below the entrance to Diocletian’s Palace are stairs leading to the cellar.

If you want to take a break, you can grab one of the purple cushions on the stairs of the Peristil and order something from the café. The prices aren’t too bad, considering that you’re sitting in the courtyard of a Roman palace.

Sphinx

Facing Diocletian’s Palace, to your left is St Domnius’s Cathedral (once Diocletian’s mausoleum). You won’t miss the sphinx, which is the only one of twelve taken from Egypt to survive the Middle Ages intact. The black granite sphinx is 3,500 years old and is the oldest thing in Split. Personally, I think it’s one of the coolest things to see in Split, and you can just do it for free.

Vestibul

I love the Vestibul, the rotunda with its opening looking up to the heavens. This was once the entrance to the imperial residence, but now we mere mortals can waltz on through. Statues once filled the niches inside.

If you’re lucky, you might catch traditional klapa singers, who perform acapella (give them a tip or buy a CD). See below for how to climb up to the top for an impressive view of Split for less than $1.

Diocletian’s Palace Cellars

If you’re doing a spin through the Palace for free, do make sure to at least check out the cellars, which you can reach by stairs (be careful—they’re a bit slick and steep). The free section leading to the Riva is a tourist bazaar, but it’s still impressive and gives you a sense of what it must have looked like. You can peek into the museum on either side of the entrance by the Riva, but to enter those sections, you will need to pay the entrance fee (see below).

Exterior of Jupiter’s Temple

If you didn’t head here straight from the Peristil, this can be a bit of a twisty turny journey (see the map below for location), and if you haven’t purchased a ticket, you’ll need to admire it from below, but the exterior of Jupiter’s Temple (which became a baptistery in the late antiquity) is still worth checking out. The entrance to the temple is original, as is the (sadly beheaded) sphinx, which you can get close enough to for some decent snaps.

Imperial Dining Room

Here, you’ll need to use your imagination, as not much remains other than foundations. These are believed to be where the rooms were held. Do note that a vomitorium was not a place where people went to vomit to make room for more food. They are passageways. I haven’t included the supposed spot of the Vomitorium, as I’m not sure if that’s what it is, but the walking tour I did of Old Town perpetuated the myth of the Vomitorium as a place to make yourself some more room.

Diocletian's Palace from the Peristil

Visit the Diocletian’s Palace museums: go a little deeper

While you can wander about a lot of Diocletian’s Palace, to really get a feel for things, it costs a little bit of money (about $17, as of this writing)—a bargain at twice the price, so far as I am concerned. It also involves three different tickets. When I visited the Yellow Ticket was the best available. Whatever is on offer that day that allows you to see the most, I would purchase that one. 

  • Yellow Ticket (HRK 75/€9.60; credit cards accepted):
    • The Treasury—Museum of artifacts from the original Palace through to the eighteenth century, mostly consisting of medieval religious art
    • The Cathedral/Mausoleum—This includes climbing the stairs of the bell tower, should you so choose and the crypt
    • Baptistery/ Jupiter’s Temple—To my mind, the best part (note: you can save 5 kunas/€.66 by opting out of this, but I don’t know why you would)
  • The Top of the Vestibul (HRK 5/€.66; cash only)—For incredible views of the city with fewer crowds and fewer steps than the bell tower.
  • The Cellar (HRK 50/€6.40; credit cards accepted)—For artifacts dating back to before the building of the temple and Game of Thrones bragging rights. This is part of the Split City Museum, but this ticket is sold separately

I didn’t intend to do the last two, but I couldn’t resist, as I was already in museum mode and figured that I would get more out of the total experience. It took me about four hours to tour everything. I took my time, but I did skip climbing the bell tower in favor of climbing the vestibule (I’m not a huge stairs fan).

NOTES:

  • With the exception of captions in the Treasury, and a guide in the Cellars, you will get very little context as you go through the sites.
  • I did the conversion into euros just to provide reference, and because Croatia is due to transition to the euro at the beginning of 2023. You can pay in euros in some places, but your exchange rate would likely be different.

Included with the Yellow Ticket

The Treasury

The Treasury Museum pf Diocletian’s Palace, where you buy your ticket, is to the right of Diocletian’s Palace, across from the sphinx. When you enter the Treasury, there’s an exhibit of the flooring and fragments from the original building, which was a temple devoted to Cybele. A medieval palace for a noble family in Split replaced the temple, and this houses the museum. Judging from some of the murmured comments I overheard, that the Treasury contains an exhibition of medieval religious art from the cathedral and churches around Split surprised more than just me.

For me, this was a happy surprise, as I happen to love medieval religious art. There’s something about the imagination in it that gets me, that and the fact that I feel so removed from it that it’s like falling through time. The museum contains illuminated manuscripts as well as reliquaries, which makes it distinctive to my mind (the reliquaries are very elaborate). I had climbed Marjan Hill the day before, and I noticed that some of the pieces came from churches I had visited the day before.

I found the small museum illuminative, but if what you are really interested in is Roman history, then you would not need to spend a great deal of time in most of the exhibitions.

The Cathedral/Mausoleum

Directly across from the Treasury Museum is the Cathedral/Mausoleum. You can’t miss it. The bell tower is the tallest structure in Old Town Split.

Diocletian’s Mausoleum became a cathedral

Diocletian had intended this structure as his mausoleum, where he would rest forever in eternal glory. Perhaps he should have been nicer to the Christians? They definitely got the last laugh, because they threw his body out of his mausoleum (it has never been found) and repurposed the building as a cathedral in the seventh century in honor of St Domnius. 

St Domnius was the bishop of Salona, whom Diocletian had beheaded. St Domnius is the patron saint of Split, and his cathedral is the oldest cathedral that is in its original structure in the world.

Additions to St Domnius Cathedral

That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been added to over the years. The bell tower came in the twelfth century and was replaced in the early twentieth century. Be sure to check out the doors, as they are considered to be an excellent example of Romanesque sculpture, depicting the life of Christ.

Entering the Cathedral

When you enter the cathedral, you’re in the original mausoleum, and it’s tiny in comparison with other cathedrals. There’s a choir added in the back of the building, which was added in the 1600s. It’s an interesting cathedral, but what got my attention was the ceiling in the main cathedral.

Bell Tower

The Yellow Ticket gives you the option to climb the bell tower. This has a reputation for being a bit scary (the metal stairs at the top aren’t the safest), and I’d gone for a hike the day before. I did not climb it, but maybe I’ll go back before I leave. Personally, I thought of it like going to the top of the Eifel Tower: the thing that you want to see in the skyline is the very thing you can’t see from that vantage point. See below for climbing the Vestibul.

Crypt

On the day I toured, the Crypt was not included in the ticket options. I am going to see if I can get in before I leave at the end of the month and will update this post, because I’d like to see it, too.

Baptistery/Jupiter’s Temple

Jupiter was considered to be the Roman Emperor’s divine father, and worship of Jupiter was essentially worship of Diocletian. This little temple, later repurposed as a baptistery has a mostly intact exterior, save for the missing columns and porch. Alas, the sphinx guarding the temple was beheaded in the Middle Ages (locals believed that the sphinx were pagan idols).

The carving on the exterior is all original. Inside, be sure to look up, because the faces on the ceiling are amazing. No one really knows why faces, making it something interesting to think about.

The temple now contains sarcophagi, as well as a 13th century baptismal fount, one side depicting one of the first images of a Croatian king (Peter Krešimir IV), and another with an intricate pentagram. Locally famous sculptor Ivan Meštrović donated the bronze sculpture of John the Baptist.

Climb the Vestibul

Visit this for a great view of Split, especially the Bell Tower.

While the Ethnographic Museum to me is one you can skip, you can pay five kunas to get a ticket to climb to the top of the Vestibul for a unique 360-degree view of Split. It’s about sixty steps to the top, and you buy the ticket at the main office. I highly recommend it.

Be careful if you try to get a photo looking down into the Vestibul.

Tour through the Cellars of Diocletian’s Palace

This also requires a bit of imagination, but it is fun. On a hot day, visiting Diocletian’s Palace Cellars (also known as the substructure) also a great way to stay cool. If you manage to avoid crowds as I did, visiting on a weekday in October, you will also find it quiet and oddly peaceful. This is the museum that will provide you with a map and some basic information.

The Cellars themselves represent one of the best-preserved examples of Roman substructures in existence.  They served as storage areas for the palace, but were filled with trash during much of their history. The cellars mirrored the structures above, and so this gives a very good idea of what the layout of Diocletian’s Palace looked like.

More than that, though, you will see some of the original wooden beams, a medieval oil press, mason’s marks, and exhibits of artifacts discovered during clearing out the cellar. Some artifacts predate the building of the Diocletian’s Palace. Don’t sit on them!

Make sure that you also visit the cultic area outside the cellar, as it is very peaceful (and a nice break from being in a basement).

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, the main hall may look familiar to you. It was where Daenerys kept her dragons when she was in Meereen.

Plan your visit to Diocletian’s Palace!

Below is the information you need to plan your visit to Diocletian’s Palace.

General Considerations

  • These sites are all contained within the pedestrian zone
  • Wear shoes with decent treads. Some of these old surfaces are slippery
  • Allow several hours for a proper wander if you’re going to do all of the museums in one day
  • Dress appropriately for entering the cathedral (it’s a good idea to make sure you can cover your shoulders if you identify as female). There’s a sign prohibiting bathing suits. I certainly hope you’re not walking around the Old Town in one
  • There’s plenty of places to get a drink or a snack around Old Town, and there are public restrooms available, though if you haven’t paid a ticket, you may need to pay a small fee to use one

Tickets and prices

Croatia is due to transition to the euro in January 2023, so I have included the price in kunas and converted to euros. Note that if you pay in euros as of this writing, your exchange rate will likely be different. Prices are subject to change.

  • Yellow Ticket (HRK 75/€9.6; credit cards accepted):
    • The Treasury—Museum of artifacts from the original Palace through to the eighteenth century, mostly consisting of medieval religious art
    • The Cathedral/Mausoleum—This includes climbing the stairs of the bell tower, should you so choose and the crypt
    • Baptistery/ Jupiter’s Temple—To my mind, the best part (note: you can save 5 kunas/€.66 by opting out of this, but I don’t know why you would)
    • NOTE: If a ticket is available with the crypt, pay the extra fee to see it
  • The Top of the Vestibul (HRK 5/€.66; cash only)—For incredible views of the city with fewer crowds and fewer steps than the bell tower.
  • Diocletian’s Cellars (HRK 50/€6.4; credit cards accepted)—For artifacts dating back to before the building of the temple and Game of Thrones bragging rights

Solo travel

This is a perfect activity for solo travelers (and it might help you if things are crowded and there are admission limits). Nothing other than general street smarts apply. Split is generally a very safe city.

Accessibility

While there are some places with ramps and elevators, I do not believe that all of these activities are accessible. Croatia received a grant some years ago to make Diocletian’s Palace more accessible. I have not found a lot of information on this, but this article might prove helpful.

Map

Get Directions

show options hide options

Follow along with my adventures in the Balkans and let me know what I can’t miss! And be sure to subscribe to get my weekly letter, where I share so much more! Sign up below!