Visiting Croatia’s Mighty Klis Fortress

For two thousand years, Croatia’s Klis Fortress (Kliška Tvrđava) has held a coveted position among Central Dalmatia‘s craggy landscape. The fortress has been the scene of dramatic battles over the millennia. In more recent years, it served as one of the filming locations for season 4 of Game of Thrones. Given its fabulous setting and captivating history, the Klis Fortress has undeniable appeal to both Game of Thrones fans and history enthusiasts looking to take a day trip from Split.

In this piece, I give an overview of the history of the Klis Fortress and include details about the Game of Thrones filming sites in the Split area. I also share highlights of our visit to the fortress and to the nearby Antoničin Mlin restaurant. This atmospheric restaurant is housed in a centuries-old watermill and serves up traditional Dalmatian specialties. The restaurant has earned present-day fame for being a Game of Thrones filming site in 2013.

Klis Fortress: A Brief History

  • As early as the 2nd Century BCE, Illyrian tribes (the Dalmatae) inhabited the area around Klis.
  • Over the centuries, this strategic spot (which straddles Mosor and Kozjak mountains), was also controlled by the Romans, Avars, Slavs, Croatian kings and nobility, Ottomans, Venetians, French, Austro-Hungarians, and Italian and German troops.
  • In 1990, Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia. Today, the fortress’ Oprah Tower again flies the red, white, and blue flag of Croatia.
  • In 2014, the Klis Fortress appeared in season 4, episode 4 of Game of Thrones.

Visiting the Klis Fortress

When we explored the Klis Fortress one February afternoon, the countryside was coming to life. Green patches added splashes of color to the rocky landscape. Almond trees burst with white blossoms. As we walked along the rugged pathways, we admired the extraordinary views of the countryside, the mountains, the azure Adriatic Sea, and a few of Croatia’s islands.

Shawn and I spotted a weathered canyon, ramparts, and look-outs. At times, we tried to imagine what battles took place at Klis over the centuries — especially during the period when it overlooked the border between the Ottoman and Venetian Empires.

Our hosts explained that the climate is different on the north and south sides of the fortress. The climate to the north is more Continental, but the southern, coastal areas are Mediterranean.

Shawn and I have visited other popular fortifications and castles, such as the Kotor FortressDubrovnik’s city walls, and the Neuschwanstein Castle. These tourist meccas can be swamped with visitors.

Klis Fortress, on the other hand, felt relatively undiscovered during our visit. With the exception of our small group, we only saw one or two other couples strolling the grounds.

We did see signs of restoration work. However, we also realized how much work was left to be done when we saw parts of the site that were so untouched that someone could have easily tumbled off the edge of a cliff.

Lunch at Antoničin Mlin, a Historic Mill and Game of Thrones Filming Site

We ended up exploring Klis for a few hours and worked up ferocious appetites. Hopping back into our host’s car, we bid farewell to the fortress and headed to the village of Žrnovnica via winding roads. On the way to Žrnovnica, we passed the stone quarry that served as another filming location for season 4 of Game of Thrones.

Tiny Žrnovnica is home to Antonica’s Mill (Antoničin Mlin) restaurant. This business is located in a watermill that still functions. Incredibly, it might have been built as far back as the 13th century. Originally called Benzon Mill, the historic building is one of the few remaining mills in the area.

Arriving at the stone mill, we felt like we’d stepped back in time. The restaurant was surrounded by an expansive green space. Fresh water raced underneath the mill. Inside the charming building, millstones revolved as they have for centuries, grinding a fine stream of wheat into wooden bins.

Antonica’s owner, cook, and waiter were delightful to chat with. One man mentioned that he was the one who’d caught the trout that we’d be feasting upon for lunch. The man had a twinkle in his eye when he showed us a photograph of himself playing the role of King Arthur in a theatrical production. In the photo, a small Lhasa Apso pup sat on his shoulder. He held a dagger and sword in hand, and a playful entourage surrounded him.

The lunch proved to be a traditional Croatian feast. We enjoyed homemade wine, as well as water naturally flavored with wild sage. Also on the menu were Croatian Swiss chard (blitva), grilled fish, and vegetables and meat roasted to perfection under a peka bell. When we returned to Split a few hours later, our bellies were very content.

Game of Thrones Filming Locations in the Split Area

Admittedly, I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones. However, during our three months in coastal Split back in 2014, Shawn and I couldn’t escape the hype surrounding this popular television series. 

From comments like “my brother was an extra and met Daenerys” to “our friend acted as a slave girl” to “they filmed a scene on the cobbled street in front of our office,” Split residents were excited and speculative about which scenes would make it into the upcoming episodes. Trailers helped them exercise their detective skills and pinpoint some Game of Thrones filming locations even before season 4 debuted.

Eventually season 4 was released, much to the delight of Split’s inhabitants. The Klis Fortress appeared in episode 4 as the city of Meereen. In addition, a few other Split-area locations were featured:

For more information about Croatia’s Game of Thrones filming locations, also take a peek at:

Klis Fortress
Straddling the mountains Mosor and Kozjak, the Klis Fortress has held a coveted position in Central Dalmatia for millennia.
Spring Flowers Klis Fortress
Looking out towards the Adriatic Sea and the Oprah Tower. On the right, spring blooms frame a section of the fortress’ defensive walls.
Klis Fortress Split Croatia

Klis Fortress Split Croatia Tour
A cobblestone walkway leads visitors up past Cypress trees and rocky walls with Agave plants. On the right, a father escorts his daughter through the Second Entrance. This portal has been restored several times, first by the Venetians after the 1648 attack, and later by the Austrians. This rose-tinted archway dates back to the 1820s.
Klis Fortress History Split Croatia

View Klis Split Croatia
The village of Klis below, bordered by emerald-green fields studded with almond trees bearing spring blooms.
Klis Fortress - Oprah Tower with Croatian Flag
On the west side of the Klis Fortress is the Oprah Tower, which was first mentioned in the 14th Century. It was rebuilt by the Venetians.
Klis Fortress History Game of Thrones Tour Split Croatia
Agave plants hug to the rocky walls of the Klis Fortress. Agave only bloom once and incredibly, some can live to 100 years old! On the right, the village of Klis, and the snake-like highway off in the distance that leads to the Dalmatian hinterland.
Daenerys Frees Slaves Klis Fortress
Our friend, Srđan, re-enacts a scene from Game of Thrones, season 4 when Daenerys frees the slaves. (This image shows this spot during the filming.)  In the distance is the city of Split, and the island of Čiovo encircled by the Adriatic Sea.
Klis Fortress Canon

Klis Fortress Tour Cat
A cat guards the entrance to the fortress while soaking up the Dalmatian sunshine and looking out towards the Adriatic Sea.
Game of Thrones Tour Croatia Rugged Mountains
A section of Croatia’s rugged Dinaric Alps.
Klis Fortress View of Split Croatia
Me and Shawn.
Klis Fortress Croatia Game of Thrones Tour
A look-out point frames the Klis Fortress’ Oprah Tower. On the right, almond and olive trees dotting the countryside around Klis.
Klis Fortress Tour Split Croatia
Within the Klis Fortress complex is the Church of St. Vitus. The structure was first built as a church, but after the Turks claimed the territory, they built a mosque here in 1537. When Klis was liberated in 1648, the Venetians converted the structure back into a Catholic church. The domed ceiling hints at its past as a mosque.
Klis Fortress St. Vitus Church
Light passes through iron-work on the door of St. Vitus.
Klis Fortress Tour Church of St. Vid Vitus Interior
St. Vitus’ Altar.
Croatian Queen Regina Klis Fortress
Archaeologists found these fragments during restoration work inside St. Vitus Church. This section seems to include the mention of Regina (Latin for ‘Queen’), which leads some historians to believe that a Croatian dynasty existed earlier than originally thought.
Klis Fortress Church Holy Water Font
This holy water / baptismal font on the left hand side of the church’s interior features detailed stone work. Its inscription dates back to 1658.
Klis Fortress What piety builds, piety preserves
Just above the entrance to the church is a stone plaque from 1743, written in Latin: “What piety builds, piety preserves.”
Klis Fortress Game of Thrones Tour Split Croatia

Klis Fortress Canon
A weathered cannon sits at the ready, making one wonder what dramatic battle scenes ensued here over the centuries.
Game of Thrones Klis Fortress Tour
The Austrians built this building, formerly an Artillery Barracks, in the early 19th Century. Today, only the ground floor remains as the top story was demolished in the 1930s.
Klis Fortress Spring Flowers

Flour Mill Restaurant Croatia
Antonica’s Mill Restaurant (Izletište Antoničin Mlin), situated on the Zrnovnica River, possibly dates back to the 13th century. It’s set to be a popular destination with Game of Thrones fans since it was visited by slave girl, Missandei in season 4.
Game of Thrones Mill Restaurant Croatia
The water wheel at the still-functioning mill generates energy to grind fresh wheat flour inside. On the right, friendly restaurant owner and staff members Marko, Slavko, and Dragana.
Old Croatian Flour Mill
A millstone grinds wheat into flour, as it has for at least the past five centuries.
Flour Mill Restaurant Croatia
Mimosa flowers add a burst of color to the exposed-stone wall interior of the restaurant.
Croatian Cooking
The mill’s owner tends to the fire cooking our peka, grilled fish, and roasted vegetables.
Croatian Grilled Fish
Sprigs of rosemary garnish a stainless steel platter of grilled trout (pastrva), a freshwater fish.
Croatian Blitva and Peka
Olive oil-drenched Croatian Swiss Chard (blitva) and a pan overflowing with peka (roasted meat, potatoes, and peppers). Polenta and whole-wheat bread accompanied these hearty dishes, along with homemade wine and water flavored with wild sage.
Game of Thrones Tour at Croatian Mill

Our Video of This Experience:

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

The Klis Fortress website features more information about opening hours and ticket prices, as well as the fortress’ history, architecture, and any special events taking place.

You can also take in the scenery via this Klis Fortress webcam or virtual tour.

How to get to the Klis Fortress:

The Klis Fortress is located above the village of Klis, 15 km (10 miles) north of the coastal city of Split. Driving to Klis takes approximately 20 minutes.

The first time we visited the Klis Fortress in 2014, our friend drove us there.

In 2020, we hiked to the fortress from the nearby city of Solin. The scenery along the way was delightful, but much of this hike was uphill. Still, I’d highly recommend the experience as it gives you even more respect for the fortress’ formidable position.

Parking: There are several free parking lots below the fortress. The closest one is at the base of the stairs leading up to the fortress.

Public transportation: Bus lines 22, 35, and 36 connect Split and Klis. To see prices and timetables, visit the Promet website.

Klis Fortress opening hours:

Opening hours vary throughout the year. Sometimes, there are even night tours.

You’ll want to confirm that the fortress is open when you plan to visit. You can call Klis Fortress staff at +385 212 40578 or contact them via the Klis Fortress Facebook page. They were very responsive when I sent them a message via Facebook Messenger.

Klis Fortress ticket prices:

  • Adults: 60 kuna
  • Children: 20 kuna

Accessibility:

Unfortunately, the Klis Fortress is not wheelchair-accessible.

When you explore the fortress, be mindful of steep drop-offs. Though the site was undergoing restoration work when we visited in early 2014, there were some sections where a mis-step could cause you to fall a considerable distance.

Accommodation in the Split area:

Shawn and I have spent a total of five winters and one summer in and around the city of Split, using it as a base to explore Croatia’s popular Central Dalmatia region. We’ve made it a habit to create new memories by staying in a different property each year. Over the years, we’ve had long-term stays in Split, Trogir, and Makarska.

We would happily revisit all of the following apartments. (Please note that some are affiliate links.)

  • Apartments Mirkec (Trogir) – We spent 7 wonderful weeks in this studio apartment, which is located in the heart of the town of Trogir. The apartment had good Wifi and a kitchen with all the basics. It was also perfectly situated in the heart of Trogir’s gorgeous Old Town, just a minute’s walk from the seaside walkway, the Riva. Trogir’s bus station was about a 5-minute walk from the Apartments Mirkec, making day trips using mass transportation easy.
  • Kaleta Apartments (Split) – These lovely apartments are located within Diocletian’s Palace (well, technically just a few meters from the Iron Gate). Our elegant studio apartment, called the “Diocletian’s Suite,” had lots of character — including Roman brickwork embedded into the wall. We had overhead views of life on Split’s Old Town streets, and we enjoyed chatting with the friendly owners, Novica and Negri. We spent about 2.5 months here.
  • Guesthouse F (Split) – This cozy studio apartment is located in Split’s Varoš neighborhood, just a few minutes’ walk from Diocletian’s Palace. With its quirky narrow streets and stone homes decorated with hunter-green shutters and flower boxes, Varoš is charming. One of Guesthouse F’s apartments was originally a horseshoe maker’s workshop, owned by Anja’s grandfather. Shawn and I dubbed it the “horseshoe cottage.” Aside from our central location, we loved having a tiny terrace. We also appreciated the kindness of our hosts, Anja and Miro. In total, we spent about 2 months here.
  • Viola Apartment (Split) – We spent roughly 3 months in this wonderful 2-bedroom apartment, which is also in the Varoš neighborhood of Split. The apartment also has a lovely sun porch and garden. It is in an old stone home, but the interior has recently been remodeled. We were in a perfect location for accessing Diocletian’s Palace and Marjan Forest Park, too. On foot, it takes about six minutes to reach Split’s most famous lookout point near the Caffe Bar Vidilica. The owner, Ljubica, lives upstairs. She is easygoing and helpful.
  • Apartments Missy (Makarska) – This 1-bedroom apartment was our home for about 5.5 months. The apartment is on the top floor and features skylights. A small balcony on the back of the apartment overlooks Makarska’s harbor — the views of Makarska’s dramatic mountains are wonderful! It takes about 8 minutes to reach Makarska’s bus station on foot. In a matter of minutes, you can also walk to Makarska’s Riva (seaside promenade), several grocery stores, restaurants, and cafés. The owners, Mise and Anna, are exceptionally friendly and helpful.

Looking for more Croatia trip-planning inspiration?

See my Croatia guide.

Thanks:

Hvala / thanks to our friend Srđan and his Game of Thrones Tour colleagues for allowing us to tag along on this maiden tour of the Game of Thrones filming locations. The tour appealed not only to the Game of Thrones fan in Shawn, but also to our love of history and Croatia’s delicious food.

These words, experiences, images, and opinions are entirely my own. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.

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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and a co-founder of Eloquence. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta, as well as Heidelberg, Germany. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Though they are currently nomadic, they look forward to establishing a European home someday. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

30 thoughts on “Visiting Croatia’s Mighty Klis Fortress

  1. A very enjoyable post! Your photos and historical information paint an excellent picture of this beautiful area and what it offers. I especially like the mill and would love to try their wine and delicious looking food!

    1. Glad you liked it, Marilyn. I’m with you about thinking the mill was pretty special. I’m pretty certain it was the first functioning one I’d been to, and I enjoyed imagining all the people who’d brought their wheat to be ground there over the centuries.

    1. Ina, thank you for sharing images from the impressive Klis Fortress. When we first spied it on the way to the hinterland last year, we were intrigued and couldn’t wait to visit someday. I’m happy we had that chance this winter. Its history is certainly deserving of more attention and it was fun exploring it before the masses do.

      1. Such a “small” place – Klis – and yet such grand history of great importance and human determination. Thank you Tricia for choosing to write about it and including such marvelous photos, which on their own evoke such wealth of history that is so “Croatian” – tells of harsh history and yet glory :D

    1. Mary Ann, glad you enjoyed the glimpse of Klis. Actually, knowing your appreciation of history, you’ll have to come to Split to see it in person. And doesn’t the sunning ‘guard-cat’ somehow remind you of Sunny D’s personality? :)

    1. Admittedly I haven’t seen any of the series either, Jenna, but as you said the sweeping vistas and dramatic history make a visit there very enjoyable! If you go with your sons, they’ll definitely need to resist the urge to explore the higher spots in a natural, child-like fashion. The site is still so under-developed that there are several sections with very steep drop-offs. I’m hoping the site will continue to get more preservation attention as a result of being a star in the upcoming series. :)

    1. Mark, the setting and views of the countryside and coast are definitely stunning. I confess that I’ve never seen the Game of Thrones before, which was filmed here. Are you a fan of the series?

  2. Now we do have to watch the Game of Thrones to see this majestic scenery and very beautiful historic location. All the glorious food made us hungry. Loved the video and photos.
    J+C

    1. Judit & Corina, a pleasure to connect, and thank you. Glad you enjoyed the scenery and glimpses of just some of Croatia’s wonderful wine and slow-cooked food. Did you know that the Dalmatian Coast is the Zinfandel grape’s ancestral home? It might be a fun destination for the Wine Dine Daily duo. :)

  3. Great series of photographs, makes me wish I could go back in time and walk along these ruins when they were in their prime…just to take a look at the view and see another world. Enchanting place (and the great meal you show at the end would make it all worthwhile!). Cheers.

    1. Randall, I also think it’d be fascinating to be able to travel back a few centuries and see how the defensive technology of the fortress has changed. Certainly, though, there’s something magical about strolling such an area and just imagining. I appreciate how ruins exercise one’s brain in a creative and curious fashion.

      1. Yes, this is one reason I love to travel ~ to appreciate the day as it is, but then also to imagine just how things were in the past. How I would get along and explore their history. Cheers.

    1. Gerard, Shawn and I both say thank you for your compliments. Video-making is something he’s enjoyed since he was growing up; it’s especially rewarding to share our accounts of such scenic and historic spots as the Klis Fortress. I’ve read it only gets about 10,000 to 15,000 visitors a year – it’s definitely deserving of more attention. :)

    1. Mayor Vetma, hvala lijepa – thank you! We look forward to returning to your beautiful city and stunning fortress again soon. Here’s hoping some of our readers will also discover these Croatian gems.

    1. Ruth, definitely a neat place; I’m hoping that Game of Thrones exposure will help get it some more preservation attention as well. I’ve never seen the TV show before, but am curious how the fortress will look on the big screen. Enjoy the weekend ahead!

      1. I haven’t seen it either, but I think I need ti check out an episode or two to see if I recognize any places. They also filmed in Iceland. Good point about the preservation attention…

      2. Sounds as if you’ve recently been to some of the filming hot-spots, Ruth. I saw an article in Business Insider yesterday that mentioned several entrepreneurs crafting Croatian travel itineraries costing thousands for GoT groupies. I wonder if Iceland has similar excursions.

  4. I couldn’t resist not to link Klis fortress story on my website. Website visitors will appreciate useful historical information but above all photos that say more than thousands words. I hope you don’t mind!

    1. Croato, I’m happy to hear that your readers will be able to learn more about the Klis Fortress via my post. I’m sure that with the Game of Thrones having been filmed there that the site will be seeing an increased number of visitors. Here’s hoping that’ll help further the restoration efforts too.

  5. After seeing your great articles, being a Croatian who lives abroad but returns to Croatia on average every second year I want someone to start a petition to preserve Solina and Klis and for the highway past Solina to be moved and the area further excavated. The Dijaspora would also donate to a cause like this a long as they knew the money was being used ethically. The Archaeological museum, Klis & Solin should be marketed as a day trip and one entry fee charged for all three. Profits should then go to restoring and excavation. I’m always surprised at how blazae Locals are about their country and take it for granted. Many also complain about unemployment but as a foreigner I see so many untapped opportunities in Croatia. One can’t just sit back and blame ybe government which is often the case in southern Europe

    1. Dani, thank you for your thoughts via this passionate comment. I agree that all three sites are very deserving of care and attention. I’ve never started a petition before, but I do wonder if you would have any luck with this website? https://www.change.org/start-a-petition (I’m not endorsing it, but I have seen others manage their petitions this way.)

      In what country do you live now, and what part of Croatia are you from originally? My husband and I have no Croatian ancestry (of which we’re aware) but after spending two winters there, the country does feel a bit like home. :)

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