Where else in Europe would you find a city that has ancient Roman ruins, an archipelago that was once the summer home of the former Yugoslavian leader Tito, a fortress, an underground bunker and beautiful beaches? Oh, and is PERFECT for those on a budget? Well look no further, because Pula has it all.
When people plan to visit Croatia, often they think of Dubrovnik and Split. However, in the stunning Istrian region of Croatia lies an absolute gem of a city, Pula. Here’s my 3-day guide to having an amazing time in this underrated city and why it should be your next European city break!
Getting to Pula
Flying to Pula is super easy from London, with regular flights directly from London every week with Easyjet. Flights also run from Glasgow and Bristol. During shoulder season (October), we flew for £26 return each and the flight was just over 2 hours long.
If you can’t find a flight to Pula which suits your schedule or itinerary, there are other airports you can fly to nearby and travel to Pula from there if you are hiring a car. This includes Trieste, Ljubljana and Zagreb. Flying into these airports would also make it a good reason to visit one of these cities, coinciding it as part of your visit to Pula!
When to visit Pula
Being on the Adriatic coast, Pula is blessed with a lovely, warm climate. Temperatures often exceed 30 degrees Celsius in the summer months. However, Pula is a seasonal place and I would recommend only visiting between April-October. Additionally, flights run directly this time of year, and this is for a good reason! Typically, outside of April-October, a lot of the bars and restaurants shut down for the season and the weather becomes quite chilly, so boat tours don’t run either. To get the most out of your time in Pula, I would recommend a visit during the end of May or September ideally. The weather is wonderful and the city is awake and ready for you to enjoy!
Retrace the Romans
Pula has a long and interesting history, and in 177 BC the Romans conquered Pula. As a result of the Roman rule, it has left behind many reminders of these ancient times for us to still enjoy. I would recommend spending Day One discovering all the Roman sites in Pula. I have put together a full walking tour here for more detail on the sites you will visit. To summarise though:
Stop 1- Pula Arena is one of only six of the largest Roman amphitheatres left in the World today, and is fully intact too. Unlike the Colosseum in Rome, this place is often much less crowded. I would recommend about 2 hours here. You will be given a guide to Arena to follow once you purchase your tickets. We paid 70 Kuna each to visit the Arena, which worked out at about £8 each. It was fantastic value for money!
Stop 2- From the Arena, it is a pretty 4 minute walk through the city to the Twin Gates. When Pula was occupied by the Romans, they fortified the city with a wall and built 10 gates. The Twin Gates are only one of the three remaining gates. A quick photo stop here.
Stop 3- The Gate of Hercules- another quick photo stop off at another one of the gates.
Stop 4- The Small Roman Theatre- a much smaller Roman amphitheatre compared to the one you just visited. Spend about 15 minutes here walking around the smaller theatre.
Stop 5- The Arch of Sergeii- next on your stop is the BEAUTIFUL triumphal Arch of Sergeii. There are a few wonderful bars and restaurants with outdoor seating here. Stop and grab a drink whilst you admire the view.
Stop 6- Next on your walking tour visit The Punishment of Dirce floor mosaic. A quick photo stop here to admire this well-preserved mosaic will suffice.
Stop 7- Finish at the Temple of Augustus and The Forum, a large square lined with a variety of restaurants and bars. Grab a bite to eat and explore the square.
After a late lunch enjoying the Roman ruins I recommend heading to the Istrian Olive Oil museum. It sounds a bit bizarre, but trust me, it’s worth a visit. Do the guided tour and make sure you carry out some olive oil tastings. The Istrian region is renowned for it’s exquisite olive oils. There is a shop at the end of your museum tour too, where you can purchase a bottle of your favourite oil to take home! The full museum tour, with guided tastings, a sample of the top 5 olive oils and a dessert cost 130 kuna or about £15 each. You can check out more here.
Morning- Fortress Kastel & Church and Monastery of St Francis
As well as Roman occupation, the Venetians also occupied Pula throughout the 15th and 16th Centuries. Pula was a key town for trading due to it’s harbour and location, and the Venetians wanted to protect the city and so in 1630 built Fortress Kastel. There is a small entrance fee of 20 kuna (£2.30) each, and there is a small museum of exhibits and then you can walk the perimeter, enjoying AMAZING 360 degree views of Pula and the Adriatic coast. Even if you just go for the view, it’s 100% worth it. We spent about 2 hours here wandering around taking photos.
Next, take an enjoyable 10 minute walk from Kastel and head towards the Church and Monastery of St Francis. Pay the small entrance fee (I believe we made a donation of about 40 kuna or £5), take a walk throughout this beautifully preserved Church and Monastery, dating back to the 1314. Take a walk round, but remember to be quiet and respectful because there are services and ceremonies often going on here. Head back into the town square for a well-deserved lunch after a morning of exploration!
Afternoon- Zerostrasse and Lighting Giants
In the afternoon, I recommend a visit to Zerostrasse! Zerostrasse is a series of underground tunnels which run underneath the city, built in WW1 to protect residents from air raids. These original tunnels could house approximately 6,000 people, after WW1, the Italians expanded the tunnels during WW2 and could hold approximately 50,000 people which was almost the entire population of the city! Take a tour throughout the tunnels and learn more about this fascinating place. Tickets were excellent value for money at 15 Kuna or £1.70 each!
After finishing up at Zerostrasse, I recommend a walk over to Harbour towards the Lighting Giants (Google Maps will take you there!), where they’ve turned the cranes in the shipyard into a work of art. Every evening from dusk til midnight, an extravagent light show happens with the cranes. There are almost 16,000 different colour combinations on the crane. Sit back and enjoy the show for a while. Once you’ve finished here, make sure you head back to the town to enjoy some traditional Istrian foods.
Day Three is all about the water! Just 2km off the coast of Pula is an archipelago of 14 islands called the Brijuni Islands, which have a fascinating history. The President of the former Yugoslavia Josef Tito made the islands his official summer residence and they playd host to over 100’s heads of states from across the world. After Croatia gained independence, the islands also played host to a safari park where two African elephants were gifted. The islands also have prehistoric footprints from the dinosaurs to explore!
Best Brijuni Boat Tours
In order to get to the islands, you need to join a boat tour. A walk along the harbour will leave you spoiled for choice, with lots of different boats, all shapes and sizes offering a variety of tours depending on what you are looking for. In the summer months, I highly recommend taking a full-day excursion out to the islands, these will take you out for 7 hours and provide you with a guide on the boat, a tour and time to explore all of the islands, a BBQ and drinks on the boat and swimming time in the beautiful blue water. Joining a group tour will cost you about 250 kuna or £28, which for 7 hours on a boat, with good food, unlimited wine/beer/soft drinks, tour guide and just an amazing experience is more than worth it! Private tours are more expensive but many boats offer this as an option too!
Other options for tours include a sunset dolphin watching tour. We did do this too, but we weren’t in dolphin season so we were told it was unlikely that we would see any, still we enjoyed a 3 hour boat ride with food, drink and watched an incredible sunset over Pula from the islands. It was the highlight of our time here in Pula.
Other Excursions- Kamenjak and Seagull Rocks
There are many other areas to check out in Pula and the surrounding areas if you are staying longer or chose a shorter boat excursion. This includes heading down to Seagull Rocks, a beautiful cove where you can swim and relax on the beach or down to Kamenjak, 35 minutes south of Pula with caves to swim in, cliff diving and beach bars. The area has so much to offer it’s visitors and you could easily spend a couple of days enjoying all the water activities the region has to offer.
Where to stay in Pula
There are a multitude of hotels, hostels and Air BnB’s to stay in, as well as a good selection of apartments. We stayed in the wonderful La Preziosa Rooms, right in the heart of Pula, with everything in close walking distance. These were self-catering apartments and perfect for what we needed, and incredibly good value. It was lovely to enjoy a coffee on the balcony every morning before starting our day of exploration. I recommend looking on Booking.com for all your accommodation needs, once you sign up and get an account with them you do get access to good discounts on properties too!
Where to eat in Pula
Pula is a foodie’s dream. The Istria region is renowned for good food, which is a blend of Balkan and Italian food. Pizza lovers, you will not be disappointed here! Some of the best restaurants I ate in included Jupiter Pizza, which served us the BIGGEST pizza we have ever seen and was exceptionally good. There is also a good selection of seafood restaurants with fresh fish served daily, our top choice was Hook and Cook.
Other Advice for Pula
- Pula is a completely walkable city, with all the main sites within easy walking distance.
- Pula is incredible good value for the budget traveller. We took £400 spending money out with us and for two adults over 4 days, between us, we spent about £300, which included our car hire.
- A meal for two, including a few beers worked out at about £20 in total in most restaurants.
- Public transport in the area isn’t the best. There are buses which run to some local towns, but to get to other places outside the city, your best bet is to hire a car. Read my post here about car hire advice in Europe.
- Pula hosts a string of festivals and concerts in the Roman Amphitheatre throughout the summer months. Check out in advance to see what’s on. The likes of Foo Fighters and Sting have played there!
If you are planning your next city break, I strongly would advise considering Pula! The city has so much to offer. I recommend coinciding it with a longer trip to Istria and hiring a car to travel the area. Read my post here for the Ultimate Istria Road Trip, you won’t regret it!
Thanks for reading, Amy x