Escaping to Marjan Hill, the ‘Lungs of Split’ Croatia

Marjan Forest Park is often referred to as the “lungs of Split, Croatia.” The park’s pine forest exhales fresh oxygen into the nearby city — which is removed, but within walking distance. Marjan (or Marjan-Park Šuma, in Croatian) has been a popular recreation spot since at least the 3rd century. Back then, Roman Emperor Diocletian (who had his retirement palace built in Split) had sections of Marjan reserved as park space.

Shawn and I were drawn to the lush park for many reasons. First, it has magnificent views of the Adriatic Sea, as well as the neighboring islands of Brač, Šolta, and Čiovo. Part of Marjan is south-facing, meaning that the sunsets are extraordinary! (See Shawn’s video below for a peek.)

Marjan also has extensive jogging, cycling, and walking trails, as well as picturesque stone churches. Many of the peninsula’s tiny chapels were built centuries ago.

And if you’re lucky, you might even bump into some of Marjan’s resident donkeys.

Whenever we felt the need to escape our home away from home in Split’s bustling Old Town within Diocletian’s Palace walls, we made a pilgrimage to Marjan. On a few occasions we did a bit of foraging for wild asparagus. Other times, we enjoyed a picnic among the agave plants. Most afternoons, we’d see residents walking their beloved dogs or biking. We’d also spot ferries bound for the islands of Hvar, Brač, Šolta, and Vis. And sometimes we’d even glimpse a string of tiny sailboats being piloted by sailing students out on the twinkling Adriatic Sea. The latter two sightings tempted us to embark on an island escape ourselves.

Split Croatia Mountains
A ferry departing from Split heads out to one of the neighboring Croatian islands. Mount Mosor, where we went on a day trip hiking excursion, is visible in the background.
Hiking Marjan Split
Shawn walks a crushed limestone path framed by agave plants, wild fennel and wild asparagus.
Marjan Church Detail Split Croatia
Agricultural plots of land, and island Čiovo off in the distance. On the right, a sculpture of St. John the Evangelist adorns one of Marjan’s churches.
Jaksa Marjanu Split Croatia
A plaque at the entrance to Marjan Park.
Marjan Adriatic Split Croatia

Marjan Churches Split Croatia
The Church of St. Jerome (Sv. Jere). It dates back to the 15th century.
Marjan Croatian Flag
The Croatian flag dances in the late-afternoon breeze.
Marjan Split Croatia
Marjan’s iconic overlook, near the Vidilica Cafe.
Marjan Road Split croatia
The islands of Čiovo (foreground) and Šolta (background).
Marjan Sailing Lessons Split Croatia
Sailing lessons on the Adriatic Sea.
Marjan Split Croatia Aspalathos Flower
Aspalathos flowers, like those shown here growing on Marjan, are said to be the origin of Split’s name. An ancient Greek settlement named Aspalathos was once in the same location where modern-day Split is today. During Roman times, Split was known as Spalatium.  
Marjan Split Croatia Cave Churches
Some of Marjan’s churches are tucked into caves and cliffs on the peninsula’s southern side. The cliffs around this 15th century hermitage are popular with rock climbers.
Marjan Split Croatia Hermit Cave Churches
Detail of the coat of arms on the hermitage’s exterior.
Marjan Split Croatia Church Cave

Marjan Split Croatia Churches

Marjan Split Croatia Flowers

Marjan Split Croatia Hermit Caves Churches

Marjan Split Croatia Hiking

Marjan Split Croatia Path

Mestrovic Gallery Split Croatia
A bird’s eye view of the Ivan Meštrović Gallery. Meštrović is Croatia’s most famous modern sculptor, and he created the Gregory of Nin sculpture at the entrance to Diocletian’s Palace. This stunning seaside villa was built in the 1930s. We visited it during Split’s annual Night of the Museums event, when the grounds were aglow with candlelight and the air was filled with music.
Shawn Marjan Split croatia

Split Croatia Adriatic Sea

Marjan Church Reflections Split Croatia
St. Nicholas Church, which dates back to the 13th Century. St. Nicholas is the patron saint to fishermen, merchants and sailors.

Video of this Experience:

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • The eastern edge of Marjan Forest Park (Marjan park šuma, in Croatian) is a 10-minute walk from Diocletian’s Palace. There’s a café just to the west of the popular observation deck, but Marjan’s extensive greenspace also offers many wonderful spots to enjoy a picnic you’ve packed yourself. It took us about 1.5 hours to walk to Marjan’s westernmost tip near the Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries (Institut za oceanografiju i ribarstvo). We walked at a very relaxed pace, stopping to take photos and admire the scenery.
  • Shawn and I have spent two winters in Split, finding accommodation in apartments that would be packed during the summer months, but are practically empty during winter. During our first 2.5 months there, we stayed at the lovely Kaleta Apartments (affiliate link), which are located within Diocletian’s Palace. Our studio apartment (called the ‘Diocletian’s Suite’) featured much character, including Roman brickwork embedded into our wall, and overhead views of Split’s Old Town streets. Owners Novica and Negri were thoughtful citizen ambassadors too. Two years later, we returned to Split, staying in the charming Varoš neighborhood, which is known for its quirky stone homes sporting hunter-green shutters and flower boxes. For those 2 months, we stayed in quaint studio apartments at the Guesthouse F (affiliate link). We especially enjoyed our tiny terrace and the kindness of our hosts, Anja and Miro. One of Guesthouse F’s apartments was originally a horseshoe maker’s workshop, which previously belonged to Anja’s grandfather. Shawn and I dubbed it the ‘horseshoe cottage’.
  • If you’ll be staying in Split for a few days, you might be interested in the Split Card, which gives you free entry to certain museums and galleries, and reduced rates to others. Back in 2014, people staying in Split for 3 days or more could pick up the Split Card for free, but as of 2016, there is a fee to purchase the card. The link above details the current cost, as well as the participating museums and businesses.
  • Would you like more ideas to help plan your Croatian holiday? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.

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

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. 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. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

34 thoughts on “Escaping to Marjan Hill, the ‘Lungs of Split’ Croatia

    1. Hi Gerard, if it’s piqued your curiosity to visit Croatia, here’s hoping you will get the chance to do so sometime soon. :) Hope you’re enjoying your weekend – is it a sunny one in NY?

      1. We had a beautiful weekend. It was sunny and warm. However, today it is raining which is okay because it is Monday.

  1. Such a beautiful area, and the idea of heading out to gather wild veggies is perfect. I think I could be happy with days filled with sailing, blue waters and then finish it off with a picnic in the surrounding mountains/hills.

    1. Lynne, we actually went on this hiking adventure back on Valentine’s Day, and seeing the pictures nearly 4 months later has us yearning for those stunning views again.

      The hermitage in the opening shot didn’t have official access, but it did seem that intrepid visitors could sneak inside. I was so curious to see what the interior is like and can only imagine how stunning the views of the Adriatic Sea must be from that perch!

  2. Hi Tricia,
    Nice article and lovely photos. You’ve hit the nail on the head about Marjan – it’s where the locals go the escape the hustle and bustle of the old town. A lot of Splicani’s (that’s how the people of Split refer to themselves) say they’d go mad if they didn’t have Marjan to walk, run or cycle through. My wife and I spend 2-3 months in Split every year and we try to walk on the Marjan every day. There can’t be many cities where you can leave their centre on foot and ten minutes later feel like you’re in the middle of the countryside!
    The little churches on the south side are wonderful, as are the hermit’s retreats built into the rock faces. On the north side of Marjan there are lots of small pine tree fringed beaches and a tiny bay called Bene that has a nice little restaurant and some entertainment for kids – it’s a lovely place to take lunch.
    If anyone is visiting Split it really is worth taking half a day, or even a day, to explore Marjan. There’s a bit more about it here:-

    1. Hi Alistair, it was interesting to learn the name for Split residents since we were temporary Splicanis ourselves. :) Though we made it up to Marjan a few times, we never did get a chance to see the beaches you mentioned, nor the little restaurant on Bene. Certainly an excuse to return! Where do you and your wife live the other months of the year?

    1. Carol, knowing that you alternate between Australian adventures one year, and international ones the next, perhaps Croatia is a place you’ll want to journey during one of your upcoming European travels. :)

      I’m quite happy to hear that you’ve been enjoying the pictures and articles from the Adriatic Coast; thank you. Can you believe that these pictures were taken in February? Such a mild winter last year!

    1. Bespoke Traveler, I’ve thought the same thing as we’ve criss-crossed parts of Europe. Roman ruins, although fascinating, can sometimes be abstract to piece together, but Diocletian’s Palace is particularly interesting because of the city that grew up within it.

    1. Hi Terri, these were the only such churches that we saw built into the stone in Croatia, but since its landscape is so rocky, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more hidden away somewhere. Speaking of structures made of stone, when we were asparagus hunting last spring, we chanced upon a few shelters built 100+ years ago to house shepherds during storms. They looked like stone igloos, and were quite charming mixed in with the stone walls and flora.

  3. That photo of the bell tower and church in the puddle is just one of your many beauties, Tricia.. I know why I don’t get here very often- it’s because I always leave jealous :) I always liked the idea of Split as a base for the islands but it looks like a superb destination in its own right. I really would love to return to Croatia but it seems improbable.
    Are you back in Germany now? I seldom see your replies because we don’t both have WordPress accounts. It’s a shame, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to visit everybody you’d like. Thanks for your company today. I enjoyed it :)

    1. Hi Jo, oh no, no jealousy – hopefully readers just leave here feeling inspired. :)

      As a ferry hub, Split does make a great jumping-off point for exploring the islands, but we had plenty to keep us busy there for 2.5 months too!

      We’ve been on the go these past weeks, but are happy to now be settled in the Bulgarian countryside for a while. We’d been in Spain and France, then worked our way down to Bulgaria overland from Germany via Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

      Re: the WordPress accounts, I’m stumped on that, as I thought we both did have them. Either way, it’s lovely catching up from time to time. I’ll be eager to hear how your trip to France goes. Wish you a wonderful Wednesday!

      1. Wonderful! :) Here’s hoping you’re experiencing just as much sunshine there as we are in rural Bulgaria today, Jo. I think it’s going to be another sizzling day!

      2. To be brutally honest, that’s not going to happen here, Tricia. But we do have a little very windy sunshine. I’m hoping I will blow uphill to my t’ai chi class this morning :)

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