The first thing that strikes you on arrival in Split, Croatia, is how very busy it is. The quayside is lined with local ferry boats -- some wood-trimmed and charmingly old fashioned, with room for no more than about 12 passengers -- and there are hordes of young backpackers embarking or disembarking as they make their way around one of Europe's most beautiful regions.
Bigger ferries and cruise ships come into the main terminal, and from there it's a short but uphill walk to the Old Town with its market and the world-famous jewel that lies at Split's heart, the magnificent Palace of Diocletian.
En route you'll encounter plenty of those gap-year kids, some toting backpacks or wheeling cases, others sitting -- rapt in young love -- on the many wooden, sea-facing benches that line the harbor front.
Split's youthful buzz arises partly from its status as a university town and partly from its position as a jumping-off point for exploring Dalmatia's lovely coast and islands. So it's hardly surprising that it has such a young population -- and the affordable bars and lively nightlife that go with it.
But older travelers arriving by cruise ship should not feel left out, for there is much to enjoy in this delightful port, from elegant pastel-colored tea shops and great restaurants to even better shops.
There's also a museum featuring the works of Ivan Mestrovic, one of Croatia's greatest sculptors. And, of course, there's that magnificent palace, built by a Roman emperor around 2,000 years ago.
Split is a very easy port to navigate; simply turn left outside the shipping terminal and you can walk into town along the Riva (the harbor-front promenade), or head right (up the hill) and then left for Diocletian's Palace.
Be aware that traffic is heavy and drivers have a rather cavalier approach to stopping at crossings. (Don't just step out!)
The waterfront and streets around the palace are often thronged by tourists, so be prepared for crowds.
Taxi fares can vary. Be sure to agree on the rate in advance and check any "extras."
Croatia's currency is the kuna (the name refers to small, weasel-like creatures whose pelts were traded for goods in the distant past). One kuna is made up of 100 lipa. (For the latest exchange rate, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.)
You'll find several ATMs along the Riva promenade, which runs parallel to the port. (You'll find it to your left when you leave the passenger terminal.)
The locals speak Croatian among themselves, but fortunately for tourists, most also speak English. Basic phrases worth knowing include "Dobro jutro/Dobra vecer" ("Good morning/Good evening"), "molim/hvala" ("please/thank you") and "Racun, molim" ("The bill, please").
In an emergency, dial 112 or call 192 for the police, 193 for the fire brigade or 194 for an ambulance.
Foodies might enjoy a slab of Croatian fig cake, which comes in lavender, orange and almond flavors. Alternatively, try a jar of fig jam or chutney.
Figs are big here. So, too, are almonds, and little bags of locally grown nuts, coated in pastel-tinted icing, make good presents. Other cheap and cheerful mementos include locally made apricot biscuits and praline chocolate.
For something more lasting, check out Split's many jewelry stores or the stalls at the entrance to Diocletian's Palace, which feature small sculptures, clocks and dishes made from white Dalmatian marble.
The Dalmatian coast produces some fine wines; try Plavac Mali from the Peljesac Peninsula if red is your preference, or Posip from the area around Korcula if you enjoy white wine. If beer (known locally as "pivo") is your tipple, you'll be spoiled by the choices; try Karlovacko (which, not surprisingly, hails from Karlovac). Or for a real taste of Croatian history, sip a glass of Osjecko, Croatia's oldest beer, first brewed in 1697.