Klis Fortress guarded Split for centuries. It's an easy trip (and easier to climb than it looks) to this imposing and fascinating fortress that served as a GOT filming location. Just don't call it Meereen.

Klis Fortress: The Key to Dalmatia

Klis Fortress, known as the Key to Dalmatia, defended Split for centuries and its history as a stronghold goes back even further. Perched atop a rocky cliff in between two mountains, Klis is unmissable as you descend into Split from by road. Unlike other forts that have since become tourist attractions, you can have your run of Klis Fortress (be careful!).

Tourism exploded following Klis Fortress’s use as a set for Meereen in Game of Thrones, but I happened to go there with a small-group tour on a bright sunny afternoon at the end of Split’s shoulder season, and we practically had the place to ourselves.

Klis belongs on your list of things to do in Split

If you’re in Split for more than a few days, I definitely recommend heading up there, because the views are spectacular and the site has a fascinating history. It’s not as hard as it looks to get up there these days, provided you have good shoes and average mobility, so don’t let the view from below stop you. For how to visit, see below.

Klis Fortress

My first glimpse of Klis Fortress

Just before we entered the last tunnel before the road wound down into Split Croatia, the rain ended. A rainbow broke out and the clouds opened onto a beautiful day. We came out of the tunnel, and that was the first time I laid eyes on Klis Fortress. I’d been in the Balkans for just about a month at that point and had seen my fair share of improbable sights, but that fortress, perched atop jagged rock like something out of a fantasy novel got my attention.

My seat on the lefthand side of the bus had stood me in good stead for views of the Adriatic on the way out of Dubrovnik, but I was legit jealous of the other passengers treated to this moment of genuine awe as the city of Split and the sea opened up before us.

Catching a glimpse of Klis from the highway

Learning a bit about Klis

I next saw Klis on my first day trip out of town, heading to Krka Waterfall and heard a bit about its history. Dating back to the Illyrians, who settled this area before the Romans, but becoming hugely important in the fifteenth century, where it was the intersection of the Ottoman Empire, the Venetian Republic, and the Hapsburg Monarchy. If an invading land army wished to attack Split, the only way through was this fort between the peaks of Kozjak and Mosor mountains. For centuries, no army conquered Klis, finally succumbing in the mid-16th century to the Turks, ushering in a time of Ottoman rule.

The top of Klis fortress, with the Oprah tower in full view. The rocky path was designed to keep invaders looking at their feet

About Klis Fortress

Game of Thrones filming location: don’t call Klis “Meereen”

At this point, I learned about the huge influx of visitors that happened with Game of Thrones. While most of the shots of the fictional city of Meereen were filmed in Spain, the famous scene where Daenerys liberates the people from Slaver’s Bay was filmed at the fortress.

I also learned that, while the people of Split felt a certain bit of pride over their connection to the series, they wanted Klis to maintain its identity as Klis (in other words, do not call it Meereen. Also, pro tip: Skip the GOT Museum in Split—it’s about as awesome as the final season).

Could I climb up Klis Fortress?

In truth, I hadn’t known about Klis’s connection to Game of Thrones and would have been unlikely to make it (the set looked different enough from the fort). I just wanted to get up there because it just looked super cool and imposing. However, I was also afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get up to Klis, because, well, that’s one steep hill. Your girl, while she loves to walk flat surfaces, is no hiker. If conquering armies couldn’t breach it, how could I? 

I debated trips up there for my first couple of weeks in Split before deciding that I wanted to try it, even if I didn’t make it all the way to the top. 

Klis Fortress atop an imposing cliff

An olive oil and wine tour in the shadow of Klis

However, when I really learned more about Klis was when I did one of the coolest food and travel experiences in my life with a tour of a fifteenth-century farm (and a true farm-to-table feast that may never be topped) in the shadow of Klis fortress. Our host, Marin, had grown up with Klis Fortress as his playground. On our way up to the farm from Split, he lamented the surge in popularity of the place due to Game of Thrones, especially since people didn’t seem to know its history.

From his land, I saw how the fort looked like it appeared atop the cliffs as if by magic. It’s hard to tell where the natural rock ends and the fortress begins.

A model of the Fortress of Klis

Climbing Klis Fortress with a small-group tour

In the end, I decided to visit Klis Fortress with a small-group tour (six of us), booked through Airbnb Experiences, that also included stops in the town of Trogir and the Roman ruins of Salona. Sadly, this tour does not appear to be available any longer. Our guide Jadran held a history degree and provided a lot of insightful context that day.

While the small museum in Klis provides some context, I don’t think that you’d get as much out of a wander up there without a guide (or reading extensively first). It’s still a fun scamper, but I recommend joining a group for this if you’re interested in history.

Klis Fortress, Looking up at the Oprah Tower
Looking up at the Oprah Tower from the parking lot

Oprah Tower

From the parking lot, you can see the Oprah Tower (no, it’s not named after our Oprah), the most prominent architectural feature of Klis. The Oprah Tower dates back to at least the fourteenth century and provided a critical defense for the fortress.

The rocky path to the main gate of Klis. Mountains and Cyprus trees are visible.
The rocks were designed to keep invaders looking at their feet

About that climb—rocky, but not long

On our way to Klis, I shared that I might not make it all the way up to the top of Klis. “Sure you will,” our guide said. “Really, it’s not that bad. I got a 90-year-old grandmother up there earlier this summer. You can do it.”

Well, I’ve met some 90-year-old grandmas who could put my hiking prowess to shame, but he was right. In these modern times, the climb is a lot easier. The parking area is quite a ways up the hill, and the path is a winding one. The most you have to worry about is losing your footing on the sharp stones (designed to slow down an invading army by making them look down their your feet, rendering them more susceptible to the arrows firing from above).

Swords! And then learning about the fortifications

We paid our entrance fee at the first gate (rebuilt by the Austrians in the early nineteenth century), and, as it was a slow day, we got to handle a (blunted, replica) sword! I felt very much like Xena at that moment. We then learned about how the fortress managed to keep out marauding armies.

Only one way up through the gates

First, as you’ll gather from terrain, there’s only one way up. And it’s paved with those jagged rocks to keep you slow and looking at your feet. It was terrible for horses (the Mongols didn’t do so well). If you made it up the first bit, you then needed to pass through four gates. The first was meant to block entrance. It had been rebuilt a few times.

The second and third gates were located higher and higher up the fortress. The gates were thick and easily fortified for defense. You could get the sense of just how difficult this fort would be to take. The final gate was essentially a shooting gallery (especially with the coming of guns) and used as a last defense.

Game of Thrones

Near the armory, you’ll find a plaque pointing out the Game of Thrones locations. I just might have to watch those seasons again to see the Klis locations (and also the ones at Diocletian’s Palace).

We also wandered through one of the defenses, which these days features a lovely view.

An armory turned Klis Fortress museum

The Armory, built in the 17th century, houses a small museum with weapons, armor, and uniforms (fun fact: the modern necktie has its origins in the Croatian cravat. The French thought it looked cool, and men can thank the Croatian army for their discomfort). Among the weapons were those made of bone. Eep. You can handle replica armor and (blunted) weapons in the museum. They are really heavy.

A medieval toilet at Klis Fortress, Croatia.
The toilet at Klis Fortress

A medieval toilet

You won’t miss the toilet built into the walls of Klis, and you won’t need to guess what it is. I’m not going to tell you what our guide told us about the toilet, because it’s gross. But I confirmed that he was correct.

The Church of Saint Vitus

The ruling parties changed over the years. Where a church had stood at the top of the Fortress of Klis, the Ottomans destroyed it and erected a mosque. When the Austrians gained control, they kept the existing mosque and reconsecrated it as the Church of Saint Vitus. The church, according Jadran, our guide, is one of the few Croatian examples of Islamic architecture blended with Christian.

The inscription reads: “1743: What faith has built, faith will preserve.”

The Views

At the top of Klis, you can both see just how impossible the fortress was to conquer, and, also, you can see incredible views down to Split and the Adriatic beyond. You also see the highway, the tunnel, and the terraced farms (including the one I’d visited) below. Even if all you did in Klis was look down at the scenery, pleased that you’d captured the uncapturable fortress, you would deem your time well spent.

Hard to imagine the violence of the place

As I stood there on a bright sunny afternoon, looking down over the village of Klis toward Split, it was hard for me to imagine the violence visited up on this place over the centuries. I did not hear screams, the whistle of arrows, clanging of swords, the firing of cannons and guns. This land has seen much warfare, but on that glorious day, one of my last in Split, all I felt was peace. I’ve wondered about that often.

Farewell, Klis

A last glimpse 

Alas, I left Split a few days later to continue my journey in Zagreb by way of a stopover in Zadar. As the bus headed toward the tunnel, I gave one last backward glance at Klis and bade my farewell to my time in Split.

Plan your trip to Klis Fortress!

Where is Klis Fortress?

Fortress Klis is located approximately 12km/7.5 miles outside of Split. The address is: Trg Mejdan 10, 21231, Klis.

Admission & hours for the Fortress of Klis

Check the website for the latest information, as hours can fluctuate with the seasons and change without notice. As of this writing, admission is €10, and the attraction is open daily from 9-17.

There’s plenty of signage in English to provide context.

How to get to Klis Fortress from Split

  • You can join any number of tours (I did) that will take you there. These often include other sites, like Salona. Tours often have the benefit of skipping the line if there are crowds (check your individual tour for to confirm). 
  • It’s not a long Uber or taxi ride (what I would have done, had I not joined a tour). Uber is fairly inexpensive in Split, but you might have some cell reception issues for the trip back.
  • There are local buses that get there as well from Split, the 22 will get you the closest, but it leaves every 90 minutes.
  • See the map for directions if you have a car.

When to go to Klis Fortress

Due to explosion of visitors to Klis Fortress thanks to its use as the set location of Meereen in Game of Thrones, this once sleepy tourist location now attracts thousands of visitors. I was lucky enough to visit on a weekday toward the end of shoulder season, and we had the place mostly to ourselves. If you’re able to, try to go during an off-peak time in order to truly get the most out of the experience.

Tip! Livestream

There's a livestream so if you're just headed there on your own, you could check crowds before you leave. Click on the icon to view it (if that doesn't work, right click the icon, copy the link address, and paste it into your browser)

How long to spend at Klis Fortress

How long you spend at Klis Fortress will depend on your interests. You could scamper up, take in the view and check it off your list pretty quickly, or you could spend a lot of time in the museum and really delve into what you’re looking at.

I spent an hour at Klis with my small-group tour, and I do wish that I’d had a little more time to explore at my leisure, but I did see what there was to see up there.

There's also helpful signage throughout

General considerations for visiting Klis Fortress

  • Wear good shoes, that rocky path was designed to trip up invaders.
  • Take it from me: Unless you have a significant mobility issue, you can climb up here. I had wondered about how much of this I would climb, and I didn’t have any problems getting all the way to the top. You start fairly high up. Just go slow and steady (having to tread carefully up the rocky path will help).
  • Take extra care when exploring, because the fortress lacks safety features you might expect elsewhere. This makes for a highly authentic experience but keep your head.
  • Wear sunscreen. You are completely exposed.
  • Bring a bottle of water with you, especially on hot days.
  • Klis’s identification with Game of Thrones is not always a welcome topic with locals, but there’s signage in the fortress telling you all about it.

Solo female travel

Other than it being advisable to take a little extra care in climbing Klis Fortress, as you’re on your own, there are no other concerns. You will certainly enjoy your time there solo!

Accessibility

This unfortunately is not an accessible attraction. The path was deliberately designed as such to ward off attackers, and it has been preserved as such.

Have you visited Klis Fortress?

If you’ve been to Klis Fortress already, or if this inspired you to go, what did you think? Share in the comments below!

Split travel guide and roundup

If you’re headed to Split, Croatia, check out my roundup from my month in that glorious city and subscribe for my FREE travel guide!

Take better day trips

While Klis isn’t a full day trip, it’s enough of an excursion that I’m counting it. Check out my tips and tricks for taking better day trips!