Split and Dubrovnik are among the most popular holiday destinations in Croatia – and with many similarities between each other. Both contain a famous old town and beaches, and the archipelago unfolds right before them.
This article compares these details to make the choice between the two cities easier – Split or Dubrovnik?
The Old Town
The Old Town of Dubrovnik is more massive and more spectacular than the Old Town of Split that is not as clearly and fully fortified. In Split, the Old Town is more fragmented, and towards the west, it gradually integrates into the city – and the transformation may even go unnoticed. In Dubrovnik, as you walk through the sturdy gates of the Old Town, you'll know for sure whether you are inside the walls or not.
However, it is a bit more comfortable to stroll around the Old Town of Split, as the whole area is flat and evenly packed with shops, restaurants, apartments, etc. In Dubrovnik, shops are mainly concentrated on a few streets, and the rest of the area consists mainly of apartments, restaurants, and stairs.
Regarding attractions, it depends on your interests. There is a bigger number of spectacular churches and a couple of monasteries in the Old Town of Dubrovnik. The wall surrounding the Old Town and the adjacent Fort Lovrijenac are also interesting places to visit.
The history of Split is based on the history of Diocletian’s Palace, and hence the attractions are mainly focused on the palace – and how the Old Town has developed around the palace area.
There are numerous museums in both. There are no clear differences or advantages between either of the cities.
The Old Town of Dubrovnik is massive and spectacular, but may feel like a movie set – especially since there're only tourists around. The few locals around are mainly working in customer service tasks. While tourist groups move from one place to another during the summer, locals live their lives somewhere else.
If you book a holiday apartment in the Old Town of Dubrovnik and think you are living in the Croatian way, think again since even finding a decent grocery store may prove to be a challenge. However, in Gundulićeva poljana, there is a small market area in mornings and before noon to make up for this. The number of locals within the walls has dropped dramatically over the years, as most of the homes have been converted into holiday apartments for tourists.
The Old Town of Split (incl. Diocletian’s Palace) is integrated with the rest of the city, and conversely it is not solely a tourist area.
The largest Green Market of Croatia opens every morning east of the palace area walls. The fish market is on the other side of the Old Town, and there are grocery stores everywhere. People live a normal life in the center of Split, and the city is not just for tourists and for maximizing profits – as it sometimes feels in Dubrovnik.
One point for Split, 1-0
The surroundings outside the Old Town
This one is clearly in favor of Split. Dubrovnik is pretty much the same as its Old Town, while in Split, just the seaside promenade Riva with its terraces beats Dubrovnik’s surroundings outside of the Old Town. Dubrovnik doesn't really have anything similar.
It is quite nice to walk westward along the coast of Dubrovnik, but the same can be done in Split as well. In addition, Split offers much more: e.g., Marjan Hill with its beaches and forests, as well as various districts around the Old Town. This is also due to the fact that the number of inhabitants in Split is about four-fold compared to Dubrovnik, and hence Split has much more to offer.
One point for Split, the score is 2-0
Compared to Dubrovnik, the beaches in Split are more versatile, including sandy beaches with shallow water, even in the center. From the perspective of families with children, this is an easy point for Split.
In Split, the number of beaches as well as their versatility beat Dubrovnik. Just the Znjan Beach alone is almost longer than the beaches in Dubrovnik combined.
Split leading 3-0.
The selection of hotels
Dubrovnik has a wider selection of hotels, and therefore their average prices are also lower than in Split. The selection and prices of holiday apartments are also better in Dubrovnik. Regarding Airbnb, average prices are similar between the two.
If you want an affordable 4-5-star hotel with a good swimming pool in Dubrovnik, check out the Lapad or Babin kuk peninsula on the western side of the city. Near the Old Town, there are only expensive, luxurious five-star hotels (Excelsior, Hilton, etc.). There are some but fewer affordable hotels with a swimming pool in Split, mainly behind the eastern beaches. In Split, there isn't a similar concentration of hotels by the beaches to be found, as there is in Lapad, Dubrovnik.
One point for Dubrovnik, the score is 3-1
In both cities, the drive from the airport to the Old Town takes about half an hour. Both are connected with airport buses.
As for the Old Town, the shopping possibilities in Split are slightly better or similar compared to Dubrovnik. However, on top of that, there are three rather large shopping malls just outside the city center in Split (Mall of Split, City Center One and Joker). In Dubrovnik, there is only one small actual shopping center (Minčeta) next to Port Gruž.
Moreover, the market area near the Old Town of Split is much larger than that in Dubrovnik. In this category, the difference is clearly explained by to the larger population of Split compared to Dubrovnik, which is, after all, only a small town.
Split leads 4-1.
All of the most popular cities in Croatia are pretty crowded in July-August, and therefore it’s best to travel to the country in the spring or fall if possible.
However, Dubrovnik suffers more from mass tourism than Split. While in spring you can freely walk through the gates of the Dubrovnik Old Town, in summer there are traffic dividers for inbound and outbound pedestrian traffic to manage congestion.
There are a lot of tourists in summer in Split as well, but the busiest area with top attractions is so much larger than in Dubrovnik, and hence there is no congestion. In Dubrovnik, on the other hand, everyone heads to the center of the Old Town.
One point for Split, 5-1.
Croatia is a cheap country compared to countries in Central and Northern Europe, but it doesn't show in all parts of the tourist areas in Split and Dubrovnik. Local products and services are rather cheap, especially in Split, but imported products are almost at Central and Northern European prices. Also, you can save a lot by, for example, choosing a restaurant outside the most popular areas. Both cities can be cheap or expensive – depending on your choices and plans.
Restaurant prices in the top places of Dubrovnik are somewhat higher compared to equivalent in Split. In addition, some attractions charge a really high price, such as the entrance fee to Lokrum Island of about 26 euros per person (incl. transport), or the entrance to the city walls of about 33 euros per person.
Split, on the other hand, has higher accommodation prices, and therefore no points are awarded to either city.
Day trips on land
Around Split, there are an overwhelming number of day-trip destinations compared to Dubrovnik – ranging from national parks to old towns. Dubrovnik is rather isolated in the south. Day-trip destinations that are often listed in connection with Dubrovnik, such as Mostar and the waterfalls of Kravica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are in fact within a shorter drive from Split.
Only Montenegrin destinations are closer to Dubrovnik than to Split.
One point for Split, the score is 6-1.
Also the destinations of the archipelago are more diverse in front of Split. Of the popular islands in between, only Korčula is slightly closer to Dubrovnik than Split. The island of Hvar, for instance, is situated three times farther away from Dubrovnik than from Split.
One point for Split, the final score 7-1
If you’ve never been to Croatia and are planning a short weekend getaway, Dubrovnik will impress you more easily – especially if you’ve seen the Game of Thrones series. It is ideal not only for sightseeing, but also for a short active holiday.
The longer the duration of your stay, the more important the versatility of the environment becomes. In that aspect Split becomes a clear winner of these destinations.
If you want to explore both cities, they are connected by a four-hour-bus drive. However, a catamaran connection takes only slightly longer (less than 5 hours) and also provides a more relaxed way of traveling – with bar services included. There are stops on the most popular islands along the way. On larger car ferries, the travel time increases to 6 hours.
Text and images: Jussi Ryynänen