In this guide, I will show you all best places to visit in Istria, Croatia. Istria is stunning, peninsular that allows you to discover the history of Croatia and get to the heart of Istria and it’s culture! Most visitors to Croatia often overlook Istria. However, from beaches, to Roman amphitheatres and the World’s Smallest Town, Istria has it all. Let’s find out why you should make Istria your next adventure and learn about the secrets of this beautiful region in Croatia!
Want to know more about Istria?
Istria is best discovered by road-trip. It is possible to use public transport to get around but you’ll be on a schedule as it’s not always frequent. If you are planning on using public transport, I advise checking out Rome2Rio to help you plan your route. I’ve put together what I think is the perfect itinerary to see the best of Istria. I spent a couple of weeks in the region, hiking throughout the mountains and exploring local towns and coastal cities. Here is my ultimate guide on the best road-trip for Istria! Let’s go!
Getting to Istria
Istria covers the Trieste region of Italy, the southern towns of Slovenia and the heart-shaped peninsular in Croatia. As you can see, it is easily accessible, depending on where you are coming from.
If you are in travelling from Venice, you can get a ferry directly to Pula, where this journey starts. Alternatively, you can fly into Pula airport, which offers cheap return flights to and from the UK, as well as other European capitals through budget airlines such as EasyJet. If you are already in Croatia, you can catch internal flights or enjoy the scenic drive up the Adriatic coast.
Getting Around Istria
As mentioned earlier, to get the most out of this trip, I recommend hiring a car. Hiring a car is easy to do and the roads in Istria are lovely and scenic to drive on, with well-marked roads and signage, as well as being easy to follow using a Sat Nav. I usually use Kayak to compare car hire companies in advance to negotiate the best options. The route will be starting in Pula, and from here you can easily hire a car from either the airport as well as several options from the city centre. We used Avis car hire for the Opel CrosslandX that we used for our route.
Day One- Pula
Our adventure starts in Pula! It’s a good base to start, as well as being where you will be travelling in from. I’ve produced a more comprehensive post here, with more details on Pula and top sites. There is so much to do and see, and you will enjoy your time in this incredible city. Top sites include:
- Start with a visit to Pula Arena- a 27BC Roman amphitheatre which is one of six largest surviving amphitheatres left in the world. Also, it is absolutely stunning and you will not be disappointed!
- Retracing the Romans. Once done marveling at Pula Arena, continue walking through the town retracing the Roman’s and marveling at architecture of the city. Additional highlights include the Temple of Augustus and the Arch of Sergeii.
- Finally, visit Kastel Fortress, a Venetian fortress built in the 1600’s to defend Pula and it’s harbour from any invasion. Not only is it an awesome place to explore, it also offers incredible panoramic views of the city to enjoy.
Day Two- Pula
Rise and shine! Are you ready for another day exploring this amazing city?
- Firstly, head underground to Zerostrasse, a tunnel system built during the wartime which could hold up to 50,000 people- virtually the entire city’s population.
- Next, check out the Istrian Olive Oil museum. The region is renowned for exquisite olive oils and this museum takes you through the production process and offers tasting sessions of it’s best oils.
- Make sure you jump on a boat and sail through Pula’s archipelago of 14 islands, Brijuni. Ensure you watch dolphins at sunset, explore the islands and swim in Pula’s crystal blue sea.
- Finally, finish your day in one of the many pizzeria’s in the town. Istria is heavily influenced by Italian cuisine due to it’s past occupation by the Roman’s and Venetian’s, therefore this is a pizza lovers paradise!
Day Three- Rovinj
It’s time to get up nice and early and take the 40 minute drive up the west coast towards the fishing town of Rovinj. A place that could give Venice a run for it’s money! The incredibly scenic town is straight off a postcard and you should spend your morning reveling in the delights that Rovinj has to offer. Rovinj was conquered by the Venetian’s who occupied the city from the 13th Century all the way up until the 18th Century! They fortified the city with a wall and built 3 gates to enter the city. You can enter the city through Balbi’s Arch and step into this beautiful old town.
Rovinj Top Sights
- Visit St Euphemia’s Basilica- a beautiful church and bell tower with a cool story behind it. The legend of St Euphemia’s sarcophagus floating to Rovinj, prompting the town dedicated the church to St Euphemia. Inside the church now is a sarcophagus with relics of St Euphemia, as well as 15th century gothic statues and 16th century artwork.
- Cimb the up the 60m church bell tower of St Euphemia’s to be given an absolute treat of a view.
- Next up, Ulica Grisia is a lovely walkway taking you towards the old town. Here you can find souvenirs and other local goods to commemorate your time here in Rovinj.
- Finally, enjoy a stroll in the old town. Grab a bite to eat and drink in one of the many eateries in town!
Discover Limska Fjord
Once you’ve spent the morning enjoying the old town and all it has to offer, I strongly recommend making the most of the various boat excursions on offer in Rovinj. Like Pula, Rovinj also has an archipelago of about 19 islands to enjoy a boat trip round. However, I recommend booking onto an afternoon boat tour to Limska Fjord. A stunning fjord that feeds into Istria from the Adriatic. I’ve linked to a recommended excursion provider who do daily tours from Rovinj to Lim Fjord and Pirate’s Cove, and it runs in the afternoon from 13:30 until 17:30- see here for more details on prices and booking.
Day Four- Motovun and Buzet
It’s time to wake up and head to our next Istrian town- first stop Motovun. Motovun is a stunning hillside town that will truly take your breath away as you approach the town which sits 886 ft above sea level. Much like the other towns in the region, Motovun was conquered by the Venetian’s in the early 13th Century. As a result, the Venetian’s fortified the city with walls which offers visitors with panoramic views of the surrounding area.
There are numerous vineyards in the area, and I highly recommend trying one. I suggest Benvenuti, a local run family winery! Once you’ve finished up touring the winery, head up into the town and begin to walk the walls. There are several eateries with terrace views of Istria to choose from! Stroll through the old town and visit the Church of St. Stephen.
Next stop, Buzet! This pint-sized place is only a 20 minute drive from Motovun, despite being small it is also known as ‘Truffle Capital’ of Istria. Due to the climate in the area, truffles have become the crowning glory and pride of Istria. First stop, the distillery! As well as truffles, Istria is famous for it’s traditional flavoured brandies. For instance, you can try flavours like mistletoe, honey and wild-berry! There are many ‘Aura’ shops throughout the region where you can purchase delicious brandies, however, the family run distillery is right here in Buzet! I recommend booking a guided tour of the distillery, which ends with a tasting session! Follow the link here to book onto a tour, you will NOT regret it!
Conclude your day by walking up to the top of Buzet. Similar to Motovon, Buzet is a hilltop town with amazing views as far as the eye can see. Enjoy the evening watching sunset from one of the restaurants in town. My favourite restaurant in town was Buzet Rest Stara Ostarija, where you can sample traditional Istrian foods. Additionally, if you decide grab a meal here do not miss out on the truffles, you can grab a variety of dishes which contain truffles.
Get some rest after a busy day in one of the hotels in town. Personally, I recommend staying in Hotel Fontana.
First order of the day, Hum! Hum is the Smallest Town in the World, despite being small it will not disappoint! Take a short drive from Buzet to Hum, in order to discover the medieval secrets and legends hidden within the town walls. I have put together a more comprehensive post here on my time time in Hum, however, to summarise the highlights:
- Firstly, stroll around the two cobbled streets in Hum. It won’t take you long! See the church and check out the Glagolitic script, an ancient language of the area.
- After that, our second order of the day is souvenirs! Check out one of the souvenir shops in Hum, you will be able to get some truly lovely gifts to take home.
- Round up your time in Hum by grabbing a meal at Humska Konoba, the only restaurant in town. However, do make sure that you reserve a spot here, because it’s popular! The meal I had here was the best meal I had during my entire time in Istria, ensure you try the Fuzi.
Now it is time to bid farewell to Hum and the Istrian hilltowns, in order to head back to the coast. Without a doubt, Croatia has some of the most stunning coastlines in the world, and Opatija is no exception. Despite it not actually being in Istria county, Opatija is still within the penisular and shouldn’t be missed.
Opatija is a gorgeous town which sits on the Kvarner Gulf with beautiful views of the large islands nearby. Opatija was actually as a substitute for the French Riveiera in the film Grace of Monaco!
Start your exploration of the town by visiting the Maiden with the Seagull statue. The story behind this beautiful statue is quite sad. In the spring of 1891, there was a severe sea storm in Opatija and a local man called Count Arthur Kesselstadt lost his life here. As a result of this tragedy, his family built Maiden statue to commemorate him.
Top Sights in Opatija, Istria
There’s plenty to explore in Opatija! For example, top sights include the beautiful Villa Angiolina which is a beautiful park with well-kept gardens. In addition, the gardens play host to two beloved fountains dedicated to Helios and Helena, two Greek deities who represent the sun and the moon.
Second stop on the agenda is the Church of St Jacob- a stunning abbey which is actually where Opatija earns it’s name, being the Croatian word for abbey. Once you’ve enjoyed the abbey, head down Opatija’s own version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame! Despite it not being quite as impressive as the original boulevard in Hollywood, this wonderful walkway plays homage to some of Croatia’s top celebrities, including Nikola Tesla and Goran Ivanisevic.
Round off your day by enjoying a leisurely stroll along the promenade which stretches 12km between Volosko down to beautiful Lovran, ensuring that you stop in one of the many restaurants and taverns located in the town.
Day Six- Mount Učka- Tallest Mountain in Istria
One of my absolute highlights in Istria was climbing three of the mountain peaks this area is absolutely spoiled with. Start off your day by getting your walking shoes on and heading towards Učka National Park. In addition to being a fantastic way to burn off some of the calories from all the food and drink consumed during your time here, it also offers STUNNING views of the area. There are several walking trials, all fairly easy to hike up the mountain, although for those not keen on walking, you can also drive up to the top and appreciate the views.
Učka is easily accessible from Opatija and you can follow the link to the Učka Nature Park official website here in order to find out more about the various hiking and biking trials on offer.
Day Seven- Back to Pula by Kamenjak
After an incredible adventure in Istria, it’s time to head back to Pula. However, we aren’t quite done yet! Before we say our final goodbye to Istria, spend the last day in a lovely area called Kamenjak.
Kamenjak is located within Premantura, a small tip at the bottom of Istria, south of Pula. In addition to being beautiful, Kamenjak is the perfect way to round off an action packed adventure in Istria. Kamenjak is a nature park packed with beaches, caves and bars to watch the world go by. You will be spoilt for choice here in Kamenjak, depending on your preference:
- Hit the beach! Go swimming and snorkeling in the coves and caves along the rugged coastline.
- Follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs! Just to make Kamenjak even better, you can find fossilized dinosaur footprints (follow the signs).
- Chill out! Finally, don’t forget to grab a beverage and snacks at the Safari bar.
Extend Your Time in Istria
If seven days isn’t enough time for you, then I recommend spending more time in Istria to explore the towns further. Other places worth visiting include:
- Porec- a beautiful seaside town north of Rovinj.
- Kotli- a small village between Buzet and Hum which has waterfalls and a lovely bar.
- Rabac- sitting on the Kvarner Gulf this town has lots of beaches for well-deserved RnR.
- Medulin– a town about 8km from Pula with a Roman villa believed to be the site where Constantine the Great had his son Crispus Ceasar.
Budget and Where to Stay
Croatia is a budget friendly destination, with Istria being no exception. Currency in Croatia is the kuna, with a conversion rate of £1 = 8 kuna. Taking this into consideration, you will expect to pay about £5-10 for a hearty main meal and £2 a pint. In addition to cheap food and drink, most of the tourist attractions are excellent value for money, varying from £2-£15 entrance fees.
Although I have referenced throughout the article, here is my recommended places to stay in Istria:
- Pula- La Preziosa Rooms– budget friendly, clean apartments in the heart of the city.
- Rovinj- Hotel Adriatic– room with a view.
- Buzet- Hotel Fontana– good buffet, lovely views and ample parking.
- Opatija- Hotel Admiral– for beachfront walks.
Rounding up, Istria will not disappoint. I found my time here to be one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. With that in mind, do not hesitate to plan your Istrian adventure. Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve been to Istria before, or planning to go!
Happy travels, Amy x
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