When visiting Croatia, most people flock to the dalmatian coast. I started my trip to Croatia with Istria, and what a way to kick it off! Amazing people, great food, beautiful fishing villages, and a lot fewer tourists than Split and Dubrovnik! In this guide, you’ll find plenty of recommendations of things to do, places to eat, and where to stay in this hidden gem in Croatia.
Where to base yourself in the Istrian Peninsula
First off, I’m going to tell you why we’re staying in Pula. The simple answer is, that it’s beautiful. Here you’ll find the sixth-largest amphitheater in the world, as well as Roman ruins dating back to the 1st Century AD. In the summer, you can join the Pula pub crawl to experience the nightlife in the area. Pula also has a lot of options for accommodation, making it considerably cheaper than other areas such as Rovinj and Poreč.
Hostel Antique is the perfect base for your trip to Istria. The rooms are really clean, and each bed has its own curtain and lamp. The kitchen area is also huge, and it’s a great place to socialize and meet some great people. If that wasn’t enough, the staff couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful.
The main town of Pula is quite small. Hostel Antique is located a 20-minute walk from the bus terminal, and it is directly in the city center. The location is perfect and you are less than a ten-minute walk to all of the main attractions of the city.
Pula is famous for its ancient ruins which date back to the first century AD. The best thing to do in Pula is to spend some time exploring this ancient city. If you’re looking for some more adventure, you can head out sea kayaking through the caves, or join the Pula pub crawl! We’re going to spend 2 days exploring Pula, one visiting the ancient ruins and spend one day kayaking through the caves.
What to do in Pula
Recommended Duration: 30 minutes to an hour
The largest and most popular attraction in Pula is the Pula Arena. This is the 6th largest amphitheater in the world, and it is in excellent condition. It is one of the only amphitheaters to have all four walls and three towers still standing, and is the most impressive monument in Istria.
If you want to enter the arena it will cost you just under €10. What I loved about this amphitheater is that you can explore almost the entire grounds. In comparison to the Colosseum, you have a lot more freedom to wander at your own pace. The ticket also includes an entrance to an underground crypt, which contains artifacts from the 1st Century AD.
It is believed that the amphitheater used to seat about 20,000 spectators. Today, that number is closer to 5,000. In the summer you can attend different concerts, outdoor cinemas, and even reenactments of the gladiator fights at the arena!
Temple of Agustus
The temple of Agustus is located in the forum and was constructed in the 1st Century AD for Emperor Agustus and his wife. Once used as a place of worship, the temple is now a small museum with ancient bronze sculptures. You can visit the museum in only five minutes, it’s that small!
If you aren’t interested in visiting the museum, you should still go to see the Temple. From the outside, you can see the incredible carved facade.
If you’re looking for a bit more adventure, then this is the perfect activity for you! Book a tour to kayak in to Pula’s sea caves, swim through the caves, and do some cliff jumping! we booked this tour, and would highly recommend it. Our guide was great, really knowledgeable and helpful! As an added bonus, you also get some great pictures after the tour to remember your day.
The tours last about 3-4 hours, and start at around €50. Although a bit pricy, it’s definitely worth it and is a completely unique experience in Pula.
Go to the Beach
Once you’ve fit in all of your sightseeing, make sure to have some time to relax at Croatia’s fabulous beaches. All of the beaches in Pula are pebbled but have a stone plateau nearby where you can sit out and relax. My top recommendation is Ciklonska plaža. The parking here is free, and it is less crowded than some of the other beaches in Pula. It’s also a great spot to do some snorkeling!
Arch of Segri
One of the most beautiful monuments in Pula. This arch was erected by a powerful Roman family, Segri, and is also referred to as the Golden Gate. It stands in the center of Portarata Square, next to a stage for cultural events. This site has some great information if you’re looking to learn more about the history of this arch!
This is the best place to watch the sunset over Pula. This is a fortress on a hill in the center of the town. This was a defensive castle that protected the city and was built between 1630 and 1633.
You can visit the museum inside the castle, and sometimes they hold events such as discos here. We grabbed some drinks from the nearby supermarkets and sat up at the Kaštel to enjoy the amazing views of Pula as the sun went down.
Sample Pula’s Nightlife
If you’re a solo traveler, or just want to meet some new people, you have to join Pula’s pub crawl. This is the most popular nightlife activity that Istria has to offer and it’s always a great way to make some new friends! The pub crawl costs €16, and includes free drinks, drinking games, and discounts on recommended spots in Pula!
Where to Eat in Pula
The Istrian peninsula is pretty famous for their incredible food. Being such close neighbours to Italy, it’s no wonder that they have some of the most delicious Pizza in the world.
I recommend that you check out Jupiter Pizzeria. They’ve been around for over 25 years, so they know a thing or two about making a good pizza. They have fantastic, homely food and are located in the center of Pula. They have a wide menu including pasta, meat, and seafood.
Rovinj is a small fishing village in Istria, and is probably the most picturesque village in Croatia! Wander down the narrow cobbled streets, enjoy a coffee by the port and visit the market to pick up some souvenirs. We’re going to spend one day on a road trip around Rovinj, Motovun, and Poreč.
What to do in Rovinj
Rovinj is a small, seaside city with a fishing port. This is one of the most beautiful places in
Istria Croatia, and you could easily spend a few days exploring here. We’re going to do a short stop here before continuing on our road trip, but if you have more time you could easily spend a day or two exploring this charming city!
Wander through the Old Town
The old town is quaint and romantic. The center of the old town sits on the headland, jutting out into the sea. The old town feels more Italian than Croatian, and it’s loads of fun to get lost in the narrow, cobbled stone streets. Wander into the boutiques, grab a coffee, and maybe even a few souvenirs! Just get lost in the beauty of Rovinj.
Pssssst, if you’re looking to grab a photo at the famous alley that ends on the water, you’ll need to go here. You can take a photo here for a small “donation” (a few kunas is fine), and you should also check out the beautiful boutique beside it!
Climb the Bell Tower
If you’re looking for a great view of Rovinj, then you have to check out the bell tower at Saint Euphemia’s church! After walking up the narrow stairway you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views of the city. It costs about 20 Kunas to visit the bell tower, and you’ll need to bring comfortable shoes and respectful clothing to enter the church.
Visit the Market
In the main square, you’ll find the farmer’s market, which sells local produce. This is a great spot to fuel up for your day in Rovinj! While you’re here, you may as well sample some truffles, a local specialty! You’ll find loads of vendors offering free samples.
Stroll Along the Harbour
Rovinj harbour is filled with the most picturesque fishing boats and an incredible view of the old town. Spend some time walking alongside the water, or grab a coffee at the nearby restaurants.
Where to Eat in Rovinj
Lunch at Tipico Green Garden
Since you have the car, I’d recommend stopping for lunch at a small, family-run restaurant in a vineyard. Tipico Green Garden is incredible, the food is superb, the staff is so friendly and you couldn’t as for a better setting! Although the best part about this meal is the gorgeous location, they don’t let this take away from their amazing food. There is a wide range of options from steak to seafood, and they also have a vegan menu. The food is also very affordable, and great value for money.
Cocktail Bar in Rovinj
If you’re looking for a cute bar to grab a drink in Rovinj, I’d recommend checking out Mediteranneo Cocktail Bar. It’s right on the water, and has the best view for sunset.
Pit Stop at Lim Bay
En route to our next stop, I’d recommend taking a small break at Lim Bay. This is a sunken karst valley and is widely recognized as Croatia’s most beautiful fjord. Drive alongside the water and make sure to stop and take some photos along the way! If you have more time, you can take a boat tour along the fjord or check out some of the hiking trails in the area.
One of the best-preserved medieval towns in the world, Motovun dates back to the 12th Century. The name Motovun means “a town in the hills”, and that’s exactly what this is! Perched on a hilltop, with a perfect vantage point of the nearby area and is an absolute gem in Istria.
What to do in Motovun
Walk the City Walls
The best thing to do here is to walk the fortress walls, which are over a thousand years old! It will cost you about €3, a huge difference from Dubrovnik’s city walls which are over €30! Although they can’t compare to the scale of Dubrovnik’s defense, they have more of a charm (and won’t break the bank). This should take you between 30 minutes and one hour, and you’ll get an incredible view of the surrounding area.
Stroll Through the Medieval Town
As I’ve mentioned, this is one of the best preserved medieval towns in the world. Take a step back in time and stroll down the cobblestone streets, looking at medieval churches and narrow alleys.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure, you can go paragliding and get a birds-eye view of this amazing town! This is the perfect adrenaline rush, and you can soar above the town with an instructor. There are two options for flights, one lasting 15 minutes and another lasting an hour. This is an experience you won’t forget soon, and will set you back about €200.
We’re going to end our roadtrip in another beautiful coastal town in Istria that is almost 2,000 years old! The main attraction of the town is the Euphrasian Basilica, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town has retained its ancient Roman structure, a great example of this is Marafor, a plaza with two temples. This is also a great area for restaurants and bars. We just went for a walk along the promenade, but if you have more time you should check out the SkiLift (bar and watersports) or head to Baredine Cave.
This area is also a great spot for some wine tasting (Istria is famous for their wine!). If you have some more time I’d definitely recommend spending a full day here and exploring the Old Town and nearby beaches.
And that’s it!
That’s it! Your perfect guide to spending 3 days exploring Istria. This is a place that will stick with me forever, it was absolutely incredible and I instantly fell in love with the charming cities and amazing people. I hope I’ve inspired you to move Pula to the top of your bucket list!
Thanks for reading,